All Saints Reflection

The saints are awesome. With such a great cloud of witnesses, it is humbling for me as an up-and-coming pastor to live up to their legacy. Whether dead or alive, whether they’re famous saints or every day saints, I revere their persistence to follow the gospel, sometimes even unto death. Paul, Ambrose, Augustine, and Peter for crying out loud! Are you kidding me? Don’t forget those every-day saints, either. Grandpas, uncles, aunts, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers are all among us, too. Who are the saints in your life?

With all of these feelings that come with the saints: humility, gratitude, awe, I need to catch my breath and reflect on the importance of All Saints Sunday. Looking to this week, I realize that I have much to learn about the saints and their importance in my life from an unexpected source, the Catholic Church. On this All Saints Sunday, we build on the celebration we felt last week on Reformation Sunday, to opening our minds and hearts to that same wider Church from which we broke 499 years ago.

This is a time when we can embrace our Catholic sisters and brothers, so that we can learn from their ability to cherish the deep wisdom and gift that the saints offer each and every day. All Saints Sunday is a celebration and a reminder of those people who, despite their brokenness, were chosen by God to do great things in the world. All Saints Sunday is also a time for us to uplift those saints in our everyday lives who impacted us and continue to impact us in deep and meaningful ways through small, regular acts of love.

A story comes to mind when I think of commemorating and celebrating the saints every day, as the Catholics do. Once when I visited Saint Paul, Minnesota, a group of friends and I decided to take a walk through the gargantuan Cathedral of Saint Paul. As we entered through the large oak doors, I noticed that there were statues and shrines around the sanctuary. Later, I found out that these shrines were for the national patron saints of the many immigrants who settled Minnesota. To name a few: Saint Anthony of Padua (Italy), John the Baptist (French Canadians), Saint Patrick (Ireland), Saint Boniface (Germany), Saints Cyril and Methodius (Slavic Nations), and Saint Therese (protector of all missions). I was in awe of these memorials to the saints that protected those peoples on their journey to America. What a cool way to give thanks to those saints that came before us and who still watch over us!

Luther believed that all baptized people are saints. This All Saints Sunday, we get the chance to remember, celebrate, and commemorate the witness of those saints who have gone before us and who are among us here and now. We invite you to bring a picture, token, memorial of a saint in your life to church this Sunday, so that we can be reminded of the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. There will be a table at the front of the sanctuary for you to place those items and, if you chose, sign a card in their memory. The cards and writing utensils will be provided in the Narthex as you walk in. You can place the cards and tokens on the table at the front of the sanctuary before the service. Please join us on Sunday to remember, honor, and commemorate all those saints in the great cloud of witnesses. Thanks be to God!

To conclude, a quote from professor and theologian Mary Luti, "Faced with intractable fears and exhausting complexities, the world whips out the sensation, the quick fix, and the magic of celebrity. The church's ancient wisdom offers instead 'mystic sweet communion with those whose race is won.' We have the saints, and if we look carefully, we find that they are us—extraordinary signs that ordinary vulnerability, love and repentance, courage and perseverance still count. For a lot. For everything."

Happy All Saints Sunday, saints of God!

Autumn Reflection

Harvest season is my favorite time of year. Entering into autumn, our complacency is shaken. That old, stale summer air turns fresh and crisp, a cue that we are entering newness. Schools are now in session, the kids have gone back to college, and the programs have started up at St. Paul. Every year, this season reminds me that life is not stale. We may follow new opportunities to grow, to help others, and to see God differently in the world.

Now in October, the dynamic colors of this world are in drastic change. The autumn season reminds me that we too, such as our faith and understanding of God, undergo constant development. But this change isn’t always easy or as obvious as we would like. Sometimes we may feel stuck or as stale as the late summer air. Autumn, despite its appeal for some, may be saddening and challenging for others. Luckily, such as the cold fall air, we have each other to freshen our perspective on God’s presence in our lives. We have each other to learn from, to walk with and support as we go through the joys and challenges that change may bring.

The ambivalence of change, whether joyful or sad, may be stabilized by our faith of God in our midst. Although we may not know what lies ahead, God is active in our lives through the people around us. We are guided and supported by Christ so that we may see each other more clearly, and love one another more fully. Paul’s verse in 2 Corinthians 5:17 says just this, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”. I enjoy autumn because I am reminded of the changes we undergo in life with Christ in our midst.

In May, I traveled to Nebraska with a seminary class to learn about rural Lutheran communities. During that short week, I learned the importance of a supportive community throughout uncertain times. One particular farmer told us a story about a man who passed away at the beginning of harvest season. Without his ability and knowledge to harvest the crop, his family was left helpless as the corn ripened in the field. Within three days, the family’s neighbors used their combines, large harvesting machines, to clear the field of grain. Amidst this loss and despair, both at the loss of the man’s life and the value of family’s crop, God’s presence and love became known.
Like the combines that harvested the neighbor’s field, God shows us that we are supported and loved through uncertain changes. Amidst a shifting season, I am reminded of God’s never-ceasing presence in this world. Thanks be to God.

-Vicar Alex
In Our Prayers
We pray for Cathy Venkatesh and her family upon the death of her father, Joe Richardson, who died from a stroke last weekend during a family visit. We will make an obituary available next week.

Greetings!


A few summers ago I was a counselor at a Lutheran Bible camp in Montana. We were tenting in the wilderness and one morning before dawn, I was awakened by an unpleasant noise. An obnoxious reverberation, almost deafening, forced my eyes wide open. Was it a bear outside of my tent? No, it was Mike, my tent mate. Now I was fully awake!  I emerged from the warm refuge of our tent, thanks to Mike, and into the cool morning of late June, I felt particularly refreshed. The sun had not yet risen and the mist still hovered over the nearby river. This was a delicate scene, which was soon broken by the sun’s rays.   

Although I was roused at an unintended time, I was glad to be greeted by the breeze, the flowing river, a view of these peaks, and to be embraced by God’s creation on that chilly morning. A rude awakening soon led to a moment of grace and gratitude.

We may not always be certain, but God’s presence is always with us.  Going around life’s corners may be tricky and we may feel unsure of what’s to come. Despite our fear, we may be reassured that God is always active, creating new things in our life, and taking us to new places.  God is there to ensure that we are met with new challenges, new relationships, and new ways of seeing Christ in the world.

Each week, we come together to hear and to learn more about where God is active in our lives.  Especially for me as the new Vicar, I will often need your thoughts and prayers as I grow into a pastor.

God’s presence will guide us to learn new things about one another, how we live out our faith, and, most certainly, in worship. All of your faces and names are new for me, as well as your stories.  In light of all this newness, I am eagerly anticipating getting to know each and every one of you.

Whether we plan for it or not, God is with us each and every day. From day to day and from week to week, God will reveal new things in this sacred space we call Saint Paul Lutheran Church. Thanks be to God.

Goodbye!

During one of my first Sunday worship services, after I sat down from preaching, Pastor. Goodman leaned over to me and whispered, “watch out, you just might fall in love with them.” As I prepare for one last Sunday worship with you all, all I have to say is, he was right. I did. Often, when I’m not quite sure what words to say or to pray I start flipping through the Psalms and it isn’t long before I find the words that my heart needs to hear.  Today, I am struck by Psalm 138 which begins, “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart,” but a few lines later says, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble…” I have to admit that I feel much like the Psalmist this week - living in this space between grief and joy. I am so full of gratitude for this year of learning and ministry that I got to do with you all, but I am also feeling sad for leaving you all as I begin as pastor at Good Shepherd in Quincy.
My guess is that this experience of living in this space that holds joy and grief side by side, is not one that is unique to me but familiar to many of you. When we lose someone we love we hold our gratitude for the life they lived and the joy at the love they shared with us alongside the grief of losing them. Or, if you’ve experienced grieving a difficult diagnosis, but you have also found the joy in the friends and family who showed up to walk with you through it. Or, perhaps the events of our times have you sad and dismayed, lamenting what once was, but you have also experienced the great joy of watching your children or grandchildren grow and learn and that has you so very thankful for God’s faithfulness.
            I am thankful for the space you gave me to find my voice (cantoring for the first time was terrifying!) and build confidence. I am thankful to have experienced growth as a “norm” and to learn what it looks like to work as part of a staff who take their work seriously, all with a good bit of laughter. I am thankful for the privileged space you let me dwell - by your dying ones, at the baptismal font with your newest ones, and in the midst of difficult conversations about your life together.  I am sad to leave the intimate spaces of communion in the round, beautiful music and the flood of children who come up for children’s time. I am sad to leave a dedicated social ministry team and an intern committee who cared deeply about my learning. I’m sad to leave a supervisor who treated me like a colleague and most of all, I’m sad to leave all the humans of St. Paul whose stories point to a God whose faithfulness is ever-present.    
Grief and joy. Lament and thanksgiving. They exist together. That is reality. That’s the reality we all live in every day. There is immense grief and sadness in our world and in our own lives, but at the same time there are things happening each minute that bring us great joy. And throughout all of it, as the Psalmist claims, God’s faithfulness is ever-present and endures forever.
I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart for all who have taught me and loved me as I have sought to teach and love them. May you all find comfort and hope in the steadfast love of God that endures with each of us forever.
 
With gratitude,
Vicar (almost Pastor!) Alissa

No Reservations

June 15, 2016

  This past weekend, I was grateful to have the opportunity to attend New England’s Synod Assembly. This year’s theme was “No Reservations.” Beyond my initial snarkiness around the irony that we indeed had to make reservations for this event, it was a powerful theme for what, for me, would be an inspiring weekend. We live in a culture where reservations and perceived scarcity are the norm. We hear “there is not enough” and “there is definitely not enough for that person” all the time whether it be through media messages or the way we create budgets. While this might be the dominant narrative in our country today, the church - WE - don’t have to buy into it. We can live by another narrative. We are called to live by Jesus’ story in which there is enough for everyone. We are called to live out a story in which there are no reservations on love, grace, acceptance, food, water or care. There is enough for everyone (and that means EVERYONE).
  We heard from Mikka McCracken, Director of Planning and Engagement for ELCA World Hunger and U.S. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), known for his work to end hunger. Over and over again as they talked about the work that we as the ELCA or our country are doing (or not doing), they continually had us reflecting on questions together. If you had $50,000 that you could only spend outwardly, how would you use it? What are you doing to end hunger on the local level? On the international level, how are you working to empower women? Is your pastor preaching about a God of abundance? What holds you back from talking to your representatives about why hunger matters to you as a person of faith?
  In asking these questions, we were constantly challenged not to think or answer about them in abstract ways but rooted in our own contexts in the work of the congregations in which we are a part. I was inspired by congregations who organized youth walks for hunger to their local city hall, got dirty in community gardens in the midst of a busy suburb, or spent their Lenten seasons delving into issues of hunger alongside the story of Jesus. Just as I was encouraged by the work of so many in the Synod, I found myself proudly sharing about the work of St. Paul, particularly the work led by our Social Ministry Committee (SMC).
  As your vicar, I’ve only been here since September, but I’ve seen the fruits of raising money for uniforms for children in South Sudan, food collected for Arlington Food Pantry, gifts given to children at the holidays, engagement in climate change, troop care drive, conversations around barriers and stereotypes, children and families making key chains for Good News Garage, and supporting the work of Ascentria Care Alliance during Easter (and much more!). I was particularly inspired by the trip several of us took to New Lands Farm in May. For me, as we walked around new tilled grounds, hearing the sounds of different languages coming from different corners of the fields, and seeing beautiful and fresh buds come out of the ground, this is where I saw the theme “no reservations” come to life. It was empowering seeing new Americans - both women and men - having the space and freedom not only to grow foods but to be able to pass their skills along to their children on their own terms. For all these efforts, support, and financial contributions - THANK YOU! You all are working toward a vision where everyone has enough!
  I have been so impressed by the leadership of Cathy Venkatesh, Lysa Hynes and the entire SMC has taken in visioning and planning out what it might look like for St. Paul to give of themselves with no reservations. They’ve made serious efforts this year to think deeply about the past and future of how we’ve lived/will live with or without reservations. And yet, if I’m honest, I wish I saw more of you actively engaged in this process! Don’t be afraid! Come with no reservation to the opportunities that have been planned, send e-mails or drop into a meeting with your passions, pray without ceasing, or volunteer to plan the next event! Take a risk and sign up for a morning of volunteering with Seafarers on June 25 or take an extra look at the newly updated Arlington Food Pantry list and help to fill the narthex baskets to the brim! May we boldly be a people who not only experience a God of no reservations, but love our neighbors with no reservations!

Faithfully,
Vicar Alissa

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