Rector’s Messages

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Sharing Our Gifts

This month’s message comes from Holly Walker, Junior Warden.

Dear Friends,

Scripture tells us, “To every thing there is a season.” I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot lately as I watched the calendar transition from summer to fall. I wondered why these seven words kept coming into my mind at the most unusual times. The answer to my question emerged, when I slowed down, took a deep breath, opened my eyes and really looked. It was then that I noticed a hint of autumn gold highlighting the leaves in a tree. I realized that soon, the landscape would be a riot of color and that somehow all those different colors, created by a variety of trees and plants, would work together to form a beautiful and interesting scene. This is God at work – his visual reminder that He has blessed each of us with unique gifts, and when we bring those different talents together in service of Him, we weave a strong and vibrant faith community. This is what’s at the heart of Manakin.

Read the articles in this newsletter, the announcements in the Sunday bulletin and your Manakin e-mails. Visit the church’s web site or Facebook page. Take a look at the bulletin boards in Denny Hall. You’ll discover the wide range of talents and ideas that support the activities and work going on at Manakin. You’ll find Manakin’s children and youth raising money to purchase a goat that will provide life-changing gifts to a faraway village; our Stephen Ministers quietly providing care; food being prepared for those who are hungry; a blessing for the animals who bring joy to our lives; sacred music sung by a vocal ensemble visiting from half a world away; the Men of the Church busily planning their annual Brunswick stew sale, which raises money for church projects; Christian Formation leading faith-building activities for all ages; and so much more. This amazing variety of activities paints a vivid picture of the many areas of interest at Manakin, and at the same time, it shows the harmony within our Parish as we all work together to spread God’s word and love.

Blessings,
Holly Walker, Junior Warden

“Expectations”

Dear Parishioners,

As I was working on my doctoral dissertation, “Moral Development and the Community of Faith,” I had the opportunity to visit many Episcopal church schools, as well as other institutions. One of the schools I visited was St. Paul’s School, a boarding school near Concord, New Hampshire, which has an international reputation for excellence. It was founded in 1856 on property donated by Dr. George Cheyne Shattuck, Senior Warden of Boston’s Episcopal Church of the Advent. At many boarding schools the first thing that new students receive is a set of keys and locks to keep their belongings in secure lockers or dorm rooms. Not so, at St. Paul’s! They endeavor—with surprising success—to establish a “community of trust” among their students, not through a strict set of rules and punishments, but rather through the example of behavior set by senior student leaders. They have an “in confidence” system, whereby a student can share concerns about dorm misbehavior with faculty mentors without fear that they or another student will be punished, but that together they can work to resolve the problem before it gets out of hand. Finally they tell incoming students “we don’t have a list of rules here, we have a set of expectations!”

I like that word! Living up to a community’s “expectations” is so much better than feeling you are under the compulsion to live up to a strict set of rules and regulations. If expectations are internalized they become a much superior motivation for behavior than the eyes of Big Brother enforcing his rules. One meets expectations because one does not want to let the family, the school, the larger community down. One wants to meet the expectations of parents or loved ones in a way that differs from taking orders from a boss or a drill sergeant. In fact, there is a theological and scriptural basis for this approach to community life. St. Paul tells us that we are no longer living under “the law”, the Mosaic tablets of God’s commandments and their rabbinic derivatives. We now live by grace, knowing that a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ is what “saves” us, not our deeds or obedience to “the law” (which is impossible for us, as sinners, to achieve on our own.) As people set free by Christ, we act in accord with God’s “expectations” of his sons and daughters not in order to “earn” his favor. We act in thanksgiving for His free, undeserved gift of forgiveness and grace. We have the power and the will to meet Gods expectations much of the time because He is there to help us, not because we fear His anger or punishment. His “expectations” are another way of talking about His will for us. Trust in his mercy and forgiveness is another factor helping us to do His will as we pray “thy will be done.”

We belong to a Christian family community. What then are some of the expectations we have for those who become members of the community? Some Christian churches are very strict about their rules of membership. The Episcopal church may seem to be too lax about its expectations, but they are quite evident for those who care to look, and who take their baptismal promises seriously. These are our basic expectations: to turn away from following temptations of “the world, the flesh and the devil” and “to follow Jesus Christ” as our savior and leader; to “love on another as he has loved us.” In very practical terms we expect our members to make three basic commitments: regular participation in our worship of God, and on going commitment of financial support of the parish and God’s kingdom at large and the gift of our time and talent to serve the needs of our church family and minister, in Christ’s name, to the cause of justice and reconciliation in the wider world.

Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

What Would Jesus Do?

In some Christian denominations there is a tradition of moral discussion based on asking the question, “What would Jesus do (or say)?” Unfortunately this question in most cases is focused on individual, personal situations such as how to deal with an angry spouse, a disobedient child, finding a purse or wallet in the street, or faith-challenged friend in the hospital. These are all good considerations, BUT! We have to remind ourselves that in the Old Testament and much of the New Testament, the moral focus was not on individual morality, but rather on the actions and decisions of the whole community of Israel, of the nation, the culture, the people as a whole. Through action or inaction Israel had forsaken the Lord and turned to false gods. Judah had abandoned the covenant. Hosea’s message was that the whole nation had become an unfaithful wife and sharing her favors with other nations through unreliable treaties and worthless alliances. In the New Testament, Jesus accuses the whole party of Pharisees with hypocrisy, whitewashing the tombs of the prophets while acknowledging that their fathers had murdered them. Jesus proclaimed a New Covenant community, not just individual salvation. He came to initiate the new Kingdom of God, not merely to help you or me change our foolish ways. His kingdom was “not of this world,” but he was killed because it interfered with and challenged the values of the powers of this world, as when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers or required that people choose between what belonged to Caesar and what belonged to God. His disciples had to decide whether to follow the laws of Rome and the Temple hierarchy or the law of God as renewed and interpreted through the love of Christ.

Members of the early church could have escaped persecution if they had stayed at home to pray, quietly signifying a belief that “religion was a personal thing.” But no, they felt compelled to join in communal worship, gathering together to break bread and offer common prayer and thanks to God, as Jesus had commanded them to do, and praying “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven!” Therefore, today, I want us to think of asking “what would Jesus do?” as a community, His church, His kingdom in the midst of the kingdoms of this world. What tables of moneychangers should we as a Christian community be trying to overthrow? The tables of Wall Street and the Banks too big to fail? The tables of the “one percent?” What work of the Good Samaritan, of those who helped “the least of these,” should we be concerned to continue through our voting and protests? The goal of universal health care for every citizen of our earthly nation? How, today, should we enable little children to “come to Jesus?” By helping them to discern right from wrong using mass media and social media? But perhaps also, showing our concern for their future by providing all social classes with debt-free, quality education not only through high school, but beyond. Perhaps, collectively as Christ’s church, we should affirm the message of his parable of the laborers waiting to be hired in the marketplace, and provide job opportunity and training for all, especially disadvantaged groups, in spite of the complaints of those who have worked harder or longer that “this is unfair!”

Finally, perhaps, as members of a diverse, worldwide Christian Community, we should insist that all our earthly kingdoms strive to actualize Jesus’ message to the Samaritan woman, that racial and religious divisions of the past shall become meaningless as we learn to worship God “in Spirit and in Truth,” not on this or that mountain, acknowledging “being made of one blood, to dwell on the face of the whole earth.” If all of this smacks of mixing “politics with religion,” I reply that together we should read, mark and inwardly digest our Scriptures, recognizing that as a “people of God,” as well as individuals, we hear a calling to be active, not passive, in bringing in God’s Kingdom, to strive – with Christ’s help – to transform the kingdoms of this world, not to withdraw from them or make false peace with them.

Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

Do you want to know more about being a candidate for Confirmation or Reaffirmation?

Dear Manakin Family,

Nearly every one of you was baptized as an infant or young child at Manakin or another church. (If there is anyone who has never been baptized, or is in doubt about when or where this took place, we have a short rite of “Conditional Baptism.” Ask me or the office about this.)  Your parents and godparents made baptismal promises in your name to renounce evil and “accept Jesus Christ as Savior.”  They also promised to be responsible for seeing that you would be brought up in the Christian faith and life. Normally, in the Episcopal Church, this means that when someone is old enough to make mature promises, that person will renew his or her baptismal commitment to Christ in the presence of our Bishop and receive the “laying on of hands” in Confirmation, with prayer for help of God’s Holy Spirit.  Others may have been confirmed elsewhere and are received into the Episcopal Church by the Bishop.  Still others may have been confirmed at a young age, been away from an active faith and church life for some time, and may want to “Reaffirm” their commitment to God.  This also takes place in the presence of our Bishop.  Finally, there are some who are questioning about making such a reaffirmation, or want to know more about how the Episcopal Church understands the Christian faith and what it teaches.

Therefore, we are preparing for one of our bishops to come during April, 2018, two or three weeks after Easter Day which comes on April 1st.  We want those adults who would like to prepare for confirmation or any of the above-mentioned purposes to meet with me and Dr. Julia Eliades, our Christian Formation Director, to discuss possible times for preparation sessions and an inquirers class to begin in the Fall, or to discuss questions about being confirmed, reaffirmed, etc. We have chosen to meet after church at 11:00 a.m. on Pentecost Sunday, June 4th (for no more than 20 to 30 minutes) and hope you will attend.  If that is not possible, and you still want to be received or reaffirmed in 2018, please call Wendy in the office to give her that information, 794-6401 or to indicate that you will be present on June 4th.  Thank you, and God’s peace be with you.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

 

The Ministry of Hospitality

Dear Friends,


Many Christians do not know that throughout history the religious orders in the church, monks and nuns, considered hospitality as a key responsibility of the religious life. Monasteries always included a guest house and were the only safe medieval overnight lodging available to travelers and pilgrims. The sick and crippled were also taken in, sometimes for long periods. In England today, nurses are still called “sister” as a holdover of terminology from past centuries of religious orders’ healing ministry and hospitality. The Gospels clearly state Jesus’ call for us to “take in the stranger” and visit the sick. The parable of the good Samaritan illuminates this aspect of the Christian calling. And do not forget how in the Old Testament we are taught by the story of Abraham that through hospitality to guests and strangers we “may be ministering to angels unaware.” The fate of Sodom was Gods’ retribution for its failure to show hospitality to the sojourners who were welcomed by Lot. We could find many more examples in Holy Scripture.

 Today, we Christians must find new ways to express and embody this tradition. Certainly it is a main reason why most Christian denominations support our active ministry to refugees and those who have been persecuted and driven from their homelands. Likewise, our parish churches are involved in programs to feed the hungry and provide overnight shelter to the urban homeless and troubled in mind or spirit. It is a ministry that has led to Ecumenical sharing, since in any given town or city one congregation seldom has the resources or manpower (usually mostly lady-power) to provide meals or lodging on a continuing basis, so, in most localities seven or more churches share the weekly round of hospitable service. Our churches need to consciously be places of hospitality on Sundays. Most congregations have breakfast or coffee hours, and everyone, not just appointed greeters, must show a welcoming attitude to visitors no matter what their race or social class. Do we only talk with our friends on such occasion or do we try to bring those we don’t know into our circle of fellowship?

Finally, hospitality is not merely doing nice things for strangers and visitors. The attitude we show to each other and to outsiders is of critical importance. It must be an attitude of kindness, not fault-finding or indifference. I will always remember the first time I heard a performance of Handel’s Messiah. It was at the Naval Academy Chapel, and right afterwards a young lady, who was a friend of those I was with, came up with a copy of the oratorio’s score and announced, “they made six mistakes,” while the rest of us were thinking of all the beauty we had just heard. Some of us seem to come to worship God with the same attitude, looking for mistakes in the bulletin or music we don’t like. I hope we can all show more kindness to each other in this regard; giving compliments and suggesting things that we would like, rather than looking for things we don’t like (which may be things someone else does like). If such an attitude of mutual kindness could pervade our gatherings, the atmosphere would be noticeable and attractive to visitors and newcomers. Episcopalians at large don’t do as well as some other denominations in creating an atmosphere where both grief and joy can be shared and where mutual kindness and real caring are evident and experienced. Some have called Episcopalians “God’s frozen people.” It is the ordained pastor’s job with the other church staff to join in and foster a positive welcoming atmosphere but it must be in cooperation with every other member of the community of faith, not as “professional” substitutes for a comprehensive spirit shared by all our members.

Remember the last worlds of our Maundy Thursday Gospel.   Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another: Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another.” That is the true meaning of Christian hospitality.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer