Looking Back and Moving Ahead

By Helen Schmidt
August 4m 2016


            St. Paul has been a part of my life for almost my entire life. There was a brief period of time right after I was born that my family attended a different church, but I don’t remember any of it so I don’t think it counts. I grew up at St. Paul. I remember the old fellowship hall with the mural of Noah’s Ark on the back wall, I remember singing ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’ in the old kitchen, and I remember holding Pastor Henry’s hand while we prayed during Children’s Time before the sermon, and I remember when the addition was put in and how different everything seemed. I went through Sunday school and Godly Play and confirmation and then helped teach some of those same classes. I’ve helped set up and clean up after so many coffee hours that I don’t even want to think about trying to count them. And now I’m nearing the end of my stint as the parish administrator. I think the one thing I haven’t done here so far is preach a sermon. Needless to say, being a part of St. Paul has had a huge influence on who I have become as a person.
            This is why it was so strange for me when I got to college at Texas A&M. Though I grew up and have been involved with a church my whole life, religious culture in Texas (and especially at A&M, which has been ranked as the most conservative college campus in the nation) is very different than it is in Massachusetts. One of the first girls I met there told me she wanted to be a missionary and go to India to spread the Gospel. I had never met anyone like that before. My roommate was nice enough but we had very different views on life and faith. She believed that unless you proclaimed aloud that Jesus is your Lord and savior, you would go to hell. My conception of the afterlife is much more nuanced. These two young women were not outliers. There were Bible study groups everywhere. One of the most popular weekly events on campus is a non-denominational worship service called Breakaway, held in our sports arena. Every week it is packed. And through all of this is an unspoken pressure to fit in.
            I didn’t attend church weekly my freshman year, and that’s something I hope to change as I head into my sophomore year. Being in such a different religious culture shook me. At times I felt much more religious, and at times I questioned my ties to any sort of church at all. Everyone there seemed so sure of their faith and it was so different from mine (even though we believed in the same core stories and ideas) that I found myself thinking, “If this is what it means to be a Christian, I don’t want to be one.” I was going back and forth between two extremes, neither of which felt right to me. There are a few ELCA churches in College Station and I wish I had looked into them last year. My hope for this year is to find a middle ground at one of those churches- one where people are welcomed as they are. And if I can’t find that place, I’ll make it myself.

            On another note, next week will be my last week here at St. Paul as Parish Admin. I'd like to thank everyone who has made my time here so meaningful and fun! Ross and Alissa keep asking me to drop out of college so I can keep working here, but unfortunately I would like to fulfill my higher education and get a degree, so I must leave.

New England School of Lay Ministry

By Lynn Geraci
July 28, 2016

As a recent graduate of the New England Synod School of Lay Ministry, I was asked to write a reflection on my experience. As I was preparing this, at the last minute I came across a reflection and prayer written by Joyce Rupp, a Christian author and retreat director that really resonated with my heart’s prayer, but of course, she put it much more eloquently. 

Source of my life, Home of my spiritual heritage, pick me up from the path of my fruitless wanderings.  Carry me back to you, the birthplace of loving kindness.

Be tender with my fears.  Draw me out if I tend to pull back.  When I get buried in the darkened corridors of uncertainty, help me emerge from my mud-laden shell of confusion.

Reorient me in the right direction that leads toward you.  Show me time and again how to arrive where I belong.  Encourage me to eagerly seek your presence.

Remind me often that you are my Source and true Home.”

As I read this, it really seemed to express my prayer and my journey through the Lay Ministry program.  In a very life-giving way, it helped pick me up and lead me to a deeper and clearer understanding of the direction I was supposed to be going on in my faith journey.  I found myself feeling that Rupp’s prayer had been mine for a long time.

About two years ago, I felt like that lost turtle, trying to peak my head out to find which direction to go and hoping the path would be shown to me.  Then, I saw the blurb in our Sunday bulletin about the program.  I was struck with the theme of that year being on the way Lutherans interpret the Bible. After some prayer and searching for more information on their website, I talked to Pastor Ross and began that September.  And WOW, what a journey it was.   

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Who Is My Neighbor?

By Alison Roberts
July 12, 2016

Dunkin Donuts coffe and a fire extinguisher

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Luke 10:25-37
  25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
  29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
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  A couple of years ago a fire started in the apartment building where I live. There are 49 apartments in our building, but the fire started just after 4am, so nobody was awake and nobody noticed it. The smoke alarms didn't even detect anything because the fire started outside on a balcony. We all kept sleeping while the fire grew bigger and bigger.
  Luckily we live across the street from a Dunkin Donuts that opens at 5am. Staff arriving early for work that morning -- Harmoney and Mohammed -- saw the flames coming from our building and called 911. Mohammed also ran over to the nearby police station to be sure help would come as quickly as possible. Thank God for these people who saw our distress and took action when we couldn't!
  The first thing I noticed that morning was a loud commotion in the hallway around 4:30am. I woke up and called 911 when I heard someone kicking in the door of the apartment across the hall. The 911 dispatcher told me there was a balcony fire, and then suddenly I heard the fire alarm, so I put on my shoes and made my way outside... I was surprised to see so many firefighters already working on the fire -- there wasn't any smoke in the hallway yet -- but firefighters were bringing in lots of equipment and they also had someone on a huge ladder fighting the fire from the outside. By the time most of us woke up and got outside, the firefighters had already contained the fire, and it was only a few more minutes before they had it completely extinguished. No one was injured and very little property damage occurred. This felt like a miracle because balcony fires can be especially dangerous in large apartment buildings like ours.
  It was early July, so the sun was beginning to come up as we stood outside in our bathrobes watching the firefighters. When it got to be 5am, some of us walked across the street for coffee (and to use the bathroom, since we weren't allowed back in our building yet) and we heard the story of how the Dunkin Donuts staff saw the fire and called 911. We talked about feeling grateful for all the people who took care of us that morning: the Dunkin Donuts staff who called 911, the 911 dispatchers, the firefighters, and all the people over the years who had the foresight to spend time and money developing systems and equipment to make this emergency response as efficient as it was. When we heard that the cause of the fire was an improperly discarded cigarette, we started talking about how we all have a responsibility to think of our neighbors in everything we do...
  Many times when we read Jesus' parable about "the good Samaritan," we have a tendency to want to identify with the Samaritan in the story -- we say to ourselves, "God calls us to help everyone who needs us!" But I don't think this is exactly how Jesus intended for us to hear this story. Jesus was answering the question, "Who is my neighbor?" -- so, since Jesus ended the parable with the question, "Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" (instead of asking from the Samaritan's point of view, "Who was the Samaritan's neighbor?") -- therefore I think Jesus intended for his listeners to identify with the man who was beaten and vulnerable, rather than with the Samaritan who helped him.
  The difference between these two interpretations is significant.
  If we focus too much on the Samaritan helper, we might end up seeing ourselves as mini-messiahs who must constantly be saving the world, which is both arrogant and unhealthy. This attitude leads to ego-superiority and compassion-fatigue and guilt.
  However, if we identify with the man who received help from the Samaritan, we might get a sense of the same gratitude my neighbors and I felt when we were saved by the Dunkin Donuts employees and the firefighters. The theme is interdependence. The answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" is: "You'd better hope ALL the people around you are your neighbors! Because you need them as much as they need you." I think Jesus was using this parable to tell the Pharisees that no matter how powerful or "chosen" or important we think we are, we will always need some kind of help from others. It's about learning to notice how interconnected we all are, and letting our response to our neighbors flow from that.
  The fire started in my apartment building on a Sunday morning just after the 4th of July in 2014. Since then, I always think back to it when Independence Day rolls around, because it reminds me that none of us is truly independent -- instead we are all INTERdependent, both as individuals and as nations.

Hymns Are Inspirational Treasures

By Rev. Duane Steele
June 28, 2016

Duane sits at the piano in the sanctuary.

  Do you have a favorite hymn? I have so many "fave" hymns that it would be very difficult to single out just one. Hymns are essential nutrients for my very being! Some strengthen or inspire. Some are played or hummed just so I can experience a shot of happiness, and/or some renewing energy. I believe that music's like a photo album of the soul, activated when we sing, hear, or play tunes we treasure most.
  My favorite spot in St. Paul Church's sanctuary is my reserved seat at the beautiful grand piano whenever I'm called upon to play for Sunday worship. I play a certain hymn, and in spirit I'm anywhere I choose to be, and the voices of St. Paul's people blend with those of every time and place. I can momentarily revisit the people of the little town of Hillsville, VA where the piano was always barely in tune, and most of my parishioners praise The Lord with that certain mountain twang others can imitate, but never quite duplicate. Then I return to the present, and rejoin you as the words and music flow on in that endless harmony called life. I realize, as I sing or play the familiar refrains that hymn-singing is probably the only musical tradition still in existence where the assembly is invited ... No, encouraged to sing along. I don't always play hymns exactly as they're written because I believe that hymnal versions of harmonies are often just suggestions upon which to build, and to create an atmosphere where we can sing, and sometimes change keys, and just enjoy the hymn for the hymn's sake!
  I'm aware of a growing need to preserve, and cling tightly to my "fave" tunes, especially the hymnody that is at the heart of our Christian life and heritage. Hymns are, after all, just about the only music we can all still sing with all of our voices blending as one voice praising God!
  I wonder, as I prepare to play the hymns I have chosen for these summer Sundays, what's on your mind as you turn to the gathering hymn, or the hymn of the day. Every hymn, even the many I don't care much about, has a message to share from the authors of words and melody that's meant to touch even those who "can't carry a tune in a bucket." When I hear, sing or play "Lift High The Cross," I'm a little sad and nostalgic because the very first time I heard it was on a September day at a convocation introducing LUTHERAN BOOK OF WORSHIP. It was just two months after I arrived to take up my position as Pastor of Gladesboro Church in Hillsville, VA. I sing or play the hymn, and smell again the ink that had barely dried on the pages of those new green books I wish we were still using today. But "Lift High The Cross," like all of my many other favorite hymns, possesses the power to pull me back to the past when I sang it with others from my congregation, and propel me forward to the present, where I am part of you as we sing it. Our voices mingle with voices everywhere singing in harmony, or slightly off key. As the hymn invites us to "lift high the cross," we mightily proclaim the love of Jesus Christ!
  Whenever I become really depressed, and no other music will raise me from a despairing moment, I reach into my heart, or into my vast music library to find some hymns to sing or hear or play on the keyboard. Gradually, the text and harmonies wash over my soul, and "peace, like a river attendeth my way" once more.
  Hymns are more than just pages randomly selected for worship once a week. They're textual and melodic moments when we raise our voices as one voice, and our song, no matter how well or how badly we sing, draws us all together in the presence of God. When we sing, let's just be carried on the melody, and allow ourselves that moment of renewal a favorite hymn provides.

Beginning with God

Clifford Green

By Clifford Green
June 22, 2016

  I often wonder about beginning our worship with the confession of sin. Not that we shouldn’t, but right at the beginning of the service? Is sin what God is most interested in? Surely God is more interested in faith and loving our neighbors. Or maybe it’s not even about us in the first place, but about God and God’s purposes.
  When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the first words were not about us, but about God: “hallowed be thy name.” And what does that old-fashioned word “hallowed” mean? It means to honor and respect, to revere, to glorify and worship. Of course, that’s very different from the casual, mindless way the name of God is mentioned countless times every day – not “hallowed be thy name” but “oh my God” or simply “OMG” in Twitterspeak. Anyway, the second thing Jesus taught us, after honoring and glorifying God, is to pray “thy kingdom come.” Another old-fashioned word, not used much in a democratic republic. But the meaning is clear – we are praying for the reign of God, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are not praying that God will sanctify our status quo, even a much improved status quo. We are praying for the fulfillment of all human history, for the kingdom of Jesus the Messiah, the kingdom of ultimate shalom, the kingdom of God’s perfect justice and peace, God’s love and truth.
  Then, once we have focused our thoughts on God’s glory and goodness, and God’s loving kingdom, we should indeed pray “and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
  Churches don’t change liturgies quickly, and rightly so. But perhaps we could begin with a reminder that Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, as in this verse from Psalm 118: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

Clifford Green joined St. Paul two years ago after a twenty-year membership at Resurrection Lutheran Church, Roxbury. He edited several volumes of the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition and currently serves as Bonhoeffer Chair Scholar at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

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