All the Saints of Saint Paul
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Last Sunday, we marked All Saints’ Day, and what a day it was! I found myself physically feeling wrapped by the saints as I heard the different harmonies being sung, saw individuals light candles and bring pictures to the front tables, and especially as we gathered around the table. I was particularly struck during the children’s time by the confident response of one of our children when I asked, “Where do we see pictures of saints?” He confidently said, “in the pews!” He is most certainly right. In our baptism, each of us are named holy and set apart to do God’s work. Each of us is named a saint as we are baptized into the communion of saints. This brings to mind two thoughts regarding the holy work we have the privilege to do here together and I wanted to share them with you.
First, all the saints at St. Paul. As hard as we might try on Sunday mornings to connect with others, there are still faces and stories that I don’t know, and my guess with many new members, this might be the case for you too! In an effort to share these stories, we’ll be working on a new section that will appear periodically in the e-news called, “Humans of St. Paul.” This idea is inspired by one of my favorite photo blogs, Humans of New York which attempts to be an exhaustive catalogue of typical New York City’s inhabitants. The project has morphed over the years to include not only photographs but also quotes and stories of people that Brandon Stanton, the site’screator meets on the street. What I so appreciate about Stanton’s work is that he is focusing on humans whose stories are often untold. We often hear stories of famous saints at church but equally as worthy are stories of all the unknown saints whose lives bear witness to a God of startling grace and mercy. We all have stories that are worthy of being known, and it is especially important that we find spaces to do that at church.
Second, a specific group of saints at St. Paul, the confirmation students. We have seven thoughtful students who are spending the year thinking about what it means to be baptized into this sainthood. This year, our confirmation students took some time to create a covenant. We discussed what our promises would be for each other as we gather, eat, question, learn, and pray together. We thought of it in terms of three different areas: promises with each other, the community, and God. Pr. Goodman, Megan, and I were all impressed at the seriousness withwhich the students took on this task. While the students and teachers are the ones who have signed this covenant, we also invite you, as the congregation members to see how you might actively fit into those promisesby encouraging their faith formation! Don’t be afraid to ask them how their week is going, what they struggle or delight in at school or at church, and how you might best support them as they try and figure out where they fit in this community. Not only will you be blessed by their response, but you will also be giving witness to the promises of support you made when they were brought to the font.
Continually thankful for your saintly work,
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This week, I have experienced what Krister Stendahl coined as “Holy Envy” – the ability to recognize elements in another religious tradition that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition. I’ve seen pope emoji pop up on twitter, I’ve imagined his simple black leather shoes hitting the concrete as he walks to shake President Obama’s hand, and I’ve been captivated by the crowds who fill the streets with a great devotion just to get a glimpse of him zooming around in a little modest Fiat. And while I’ve been enchanted by the Pope’s visit this week, I know that this isn’t the case for everyone. Some of my dear friends, and even many in our community at St. Paul, have complicated, messy, love-hate relationships with the Catholic church. It is important to recognize the entire spectrum of emotions that Pope Francis’ visit may stir up.
The Pope’s trip has made me re-visit the document put out by the Lutheran World Federation entitled, “From Conflict to Communion.” It is quite lengthy, but buried deep down (88 pages in) after a thorough discussion of our shared history and the individual gifts and wrongdoings of both Lutherans and Catholics, you’ll find this ecumenical imperative: “Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.” For Lutherans, especially for those of us on the East Coast, it seems like a week that could – or perhaps, should - be ripe with encounter and conversation with our Catholic neighbors, co-workers, and classmates.
I know for me, I’m particularly intrigued by how this visit is in many ways unlike past papal visits as Pope Francis is spending a significant amount of time with people who are usually pushed out of the public eye. It seems as if the Pope is taking the words we heard in last week’s Gospel incredibly seriously, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." He has done this by visiting a prison in Philadelphia, Catholic Charities in D.C., and a school in Harlem. The reformist spirit of PopeFrancis’ papacy reflects many of the values of the Lutheran Reformation. In particular, his emphasis on climate change, income inequality, and poverty closely aligns with the ELCA’s goals for advocacy. The Pope’s visit has inspired me to pick up my phone and reconnect with several of the young and powerful Catholic women whomI became friends with during my time at divinity school. Hearing their stories of how they live out their vocations and sharing in our mutual frustration for the denial of women in leadership in the Catholic church, has given me much gratitude and energy for not only their work, but my own work.
While there is time and space to recognize our differences and critique problematic aspects of this visit, I think it is important to also ask ourselves, “How might our encounter with the Pope and our Catholic sisters and brothers (even if simply from social media or t.v.) transform us this week?” Continually, in our desire to transform, how might we - the people of St. Paul - live out our faith this week?
Introducing Vicar Alissa Oleson
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“May the sacredness of your work bring light and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.” - John O’Donohue
Greetings from the new worker among you, your vicar. I’d like to share a little of my story as I begin my year with you. I grew up in western Michigan with three sisters, where my mom served as a Lutheran pastor. I studied Biology and Religion at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio (some of you might even know my classmate, Vicar CJ!). After college, I worked at a neighborhood center in Wilmington, Delaware serving with Lutheran Volunteer Corps. I also played in the beautiful woods of North Carolina for several years as the program director at an ELCA outdoor ministry site. I received my Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School in 2013, where I was particularly interested in Jewish-Christian dialogue and worked as a Young Adult Coordinator at University Lutheran Church. I finished up my “Lutheran Year” at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. I enjoy laughing (and bad jokes!), running really slowly, attempting new yoga poses, listening to and learning about people’s stories, and baking treats of the chocolate variety.
Most of you will meet me on Sunday, the day before Labor Day. As I begin my internship at St. Paul, this seems like a fitting time to think a bit about work. Above, you’ll find part of a blessing from one of my favorite poets, John O’Donohue. What draws me to O’Donohue’s blessing is that he isn’t just speaking to leaders in the church about their “sacred work,” but rather, he is speaking to everyone. O’Donohue’s beautifully crafted words nod to Luther’s idea about work and vocation. Luther fought against the distinction that only priests, monks and nuns were fully involved in the service of God. Instead, Luther insisted that through baptism, we all join in the priesthood of believers, meaning that everyone could be in full service to God in the work they were each called to do – teachers, maintenance workers, lawyers, students, mothers, and vicars alike (the list could go on!).
In his writings, “To the Christian Nobility,” Luther wrote, “…A cobbler, a smith, a peasant – each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops. Further, everyone must benefit and serve every other by means of his own work or office so that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, just as all the members of the body serve one another [1 Cor. 12:14-26]…” And while we often talk about our work and vocation in terms of jobs – especially in a community that is a powerhouse for academia and careers – it is important to remember that all responsibilities and callings that people have in life are vocations. Being a parent, partner, citizen, child, caretaker or member of St. Paul are all vocations and all very much sacred work.
I so look forward to journeying together this year in this sacred work of loving God and our neighbors. I’m ready to hear stories of your vocation(s). What you do matters! But first, enjoy the celebrations and rest of Labor Day.
With gratitude for the work you do,
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A year ago at this time, my predecessor, Vicar Douglas Barclay, was taking me out to lunch and passing the baton as I was to begin my short time in your midst as a partner in the work of worshipping and loving God and one another, walking humbly together, and working for justice.
What a ride!
I am so deeply grateful to have been the 34th pastoral intern in the rich history of St. Paul. I am grateful for your patience and presence in the life of your interns, and particularly in mine, as I have learned to have a deeper, richer, and more humble pastoral voice and identity.
I am particularly grateful to Megan, Kira, Paul, and Dennis, who do so much work unnoticed and behind the scenes that make St. Paul such a vibrant place that is able to witness to the Gospel in such a powerful way. They each have been blessings in my work, and I am so grateful for them.
The partnership of the internship committee, Mike Morse, Susan Lee, Eric Haugen, and Jeanne Woodward has been a refuge in the ups and downs of a year, and I am humbled by their work with me.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t say a word about Pastor Ross (see what I did there! J). His guidance, his trust, and his counsel are something that I will be forever grateful for. His gifts make him not only a wonderful pastor, but a wonderful human being, something that I think goes sometimes unnoticed, but it is his wry sense of humor, his own sense of himself, and his intuition have helped to partner with you all to make this place what it is.
One of the greatest joys and pains of this pastoral work in entering and leaving a community of Christians, and the tradition of writing letters to those congregations goes all the way back to the writings of Paul, who would write letters to different congregations after visiting and spending time with them.
This Sunday, we will hear and I will preach on some of the last words of the Apostle Paul to the one of those congregations at Ephesus, and then next week, my last, we will celebrate the baptism of Morgan Badzey.
I can’t think of a better way to end my time with you.
And now, I’m off to have lunch with the soon-to-be 35th vicar of St. Paul, Alissa Oleson, to keep this glorious tradition of vicarage at St. Paul alive and well.
Yours in God’s Grace,
Marriage in America
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This last week in our life as Americans, and Christians, has been one filled with emotion, for many jubilance, and others sorrow. For some, the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage caused jubilance, and for others, it clearly did not. For us here at St. Paul, it is a chance to remind ourselves that we are a congregation that is Reconciling in Christ, which means:
that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities share the worth that comes from being unique individuals created by God;
that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are welcome within the membership of St. Paul upon making a common, public Affirmation of faith; and
that as members of St. Paul, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are expected and encouraged to share in the sacramental and general life of this congregation.
More than anything, this means that St. Paul is a safe-space for LGBT people and their families to experience their full worth as God’s beloved and to enter in to the mission and discipleship of this community of Jesus Christ. I believe this is crucial, even if we may not all agree (which if opinion polls are true, I am sure we don’t) because so many spaces, religious and otherwise, remain unsafe for LGBT people, even now with marriage rights being granted.
Our Presiding Bishop, Rev. Elizabeth Eaton sent leaders a letter this week that, in part, read: “Last week the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision announcing the right of same-gender couples to have equal access to marriage. For many members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, this decision is a welcome sign of hope and a time for celebration. Other members of this church do not agree with the court's decision and remain deeply concerned because of their understanding of Scripture.
This decision affects each of us, some profoundly, and we are not of one mind. Let us continue to accompany one another with prayer, love and mutual respect as we reflect on this new reality and remember Paul's words in 1 Corinthians about the enduring power of God's love.”
For my perspective this is an opportunity for the Church and for all of us to accompany one another in renewing our commitment to forming stable families, which is one of the greatest gifts of God and one of the clearest indicators for the potential for human flourishing. It is a chance to say that marriage isn't profound on its own, or because of a fleeting notion of love, it is profound in its fidelity and creative potency because it is something we are called into as a vocation of joy by God. Marriage is a witness to the One who in fidelity and creative power made this whole weird cosmos. As ReconcilingWorks put it in their press release after the Supreme Court decision: “For Lutherans, marriage and family life is a vocation, one of the ways God does God’s work in us and through us for the sake of the world.”
The Church has an opportunity here, to talk about what marriage CAN be for all people who feel called with another person to it, not what it "has" been. We need to be up to the task, because marriage is one of the greatest sacramental witnesses to the saving work of God.
Let's get on it.