Rector’s Messages

610 of 33 items

E Pluribus Unum

Dear Parish Family,

There are many religious light bulb jokes: How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? None. Lutherans don’t believe in changes! How many Mormons does it take? Five. One man to change the bulb, and four wives to tell him how to do it. There are also many religious food jokes. The Romans Catholic hierarchy is like Irish stew. The savory chunks of meat sink to the bottom while the fat rises to the top. (That was told to me by a Catholic priest). And what about us? The Episcopal Church is like a fruit cake, a variety of fruits and nuts all held together by the dough! Some say “if you don’t laugh, you will have to cry!” Now is a time in our national life when we must ask the question, “What keeps America together?” Are we one nation just because of the dough—because of economic interdependence, or do we share some basic values and beliefs that are essential to our national well-being? Our national motto on the Great Seal of the United States, E Pluribus Unum, is Latin for “out of many, one.” The traditional meaning and origin of the expression was that out of many colonies, which became states, emerged a unified nation. In recent years, it has acquired the additional meaning that out of many peoples, races, religions and languages a single nation has been created. A London-based Huguenot, Peter Motteau, originally coined the phrase for his eclectic magazine “The Gentleman’s Journal”, (1692-1694).

Following the cataclysmic recent election, however, it has been revealed how deeply divided the country actually is. We are not living up to our motto: we are not one! This is more than slightly the result of two decades of emphasis on political correctness and diversity as cardinal civic virtues. Too many Americans have begun to trumpet the agendas and uniqueness of their own subgroup and what differentiates them, rather than trying to articulate and emphasize what unites us. Thus we have Tea Party Americans, NRA Militias, Black Lives Matter Americans, Latino/Latina Americans, Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Americans, Women’s Liberation Americans, Americans with Disabilities, Evangelical Americans, and many more special interest groups. Will we ever be able to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again? America’s founders, largely basing their thought on essential religious and ethical principles, strove to create a new nation where privileged birth and uniform religious affiliation were no longer the underpinning of the social order, but where individuals had equal rights balanced by equal social obligations, where (as in Anglicanism itself), the rule of tradition and scripture was balanced by recourse to reason, debate and peaceful democratic transition and where executive, legislative and judicial authorities were balanced and separate. A just balance of power and initiative was the goal. Some have blamed the elevation of the virtue of toleration to be the highest modern civic virtue as a main reason for our present divided state. And it is true, if we examine the origins and purpose of toleration, that we find it has become a seriously distorted version of what our forefathers intended.

After centuries of decimating religious and territorial warfare, the 18th century “Age of Reason,” led by such thinkers as John Locke, ascribed to a doctrine of peace through toleration of differences UNTIL the divine gift of human reason could provide answers which all disputing parties could accept. Differing religious parties and different political parties would learn to reason together, come to compromise solutions, and avoid the disastrous bloodshed that had engulfed the previous centuries.

The point is that toleration was regarded as a virtue of temporary truce between adversaries, not as the ultimate ethical attitude and solution to all conflict. Therefore, today, the false concept of relativism — that truth is unknowable, therefore that all values and lifestyles are equal and acceptable—is a key factor eroding our objective of unity. Likewise many conservatives believe that toleration means others can have their own “media,” but that one has the right to ignore them and listen only to commentary and news they agree with. We Christians have the additional values of forgiveness, love of neighbor and love of enemies to guide us in reformulating a sense and purpose of national unity. Such virtues are not merely sloppy sentimental attitudes, but the determination to value every person as a child of God and to treat others not just as they demand to be treated, but in light of God’s will as to what is in their best interest and the interest of the whole society. That is the way we must love our own dear children, not merely indulge their individual immediate wants, but to consider the needs of the whole family and its future. This is not easy to do! I suggest that we all begin by focusing our minds on what unites and should unite us, rather than on what divides us. That way—to use an old advertising slogan— “we keep our eye on the doughnut and not on the hole!” That is the beginning of our way back to making E Pluribus Unum a proud affirmation, not a forlorn hope.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

Advent

Dear Parishioners,

On November 27th, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we begin our Advent preparations. Advent is a season observed as a time of expectant waiting for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is a version of the Latin word meaning “coming,” commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah and to be alert for his Second Coming.

Advent is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day (30 November), in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, and in the Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars. Practices associated with Advent include keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath, praying an Advent daily devotional, as well as other ways of preparing for Christmas, such as setting up Christmas decorations.

It is unknown when the period of preparation for Christmas that is now called Advent first began – it was certainly in existence from about 480 A.D., and some have even said it goes back to the time of the Twelve Apostles. This has led to the conclusion that it is “impossible to claim with confidence a credible explanation of the origin of Advent.” Associated with Advent was a period of fasting, known also as the Nativity Fast. The theme of readings and teachings during Advent is the preparation for the Second Coming, while also commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas. Traditions vary in the relative importance of penitence and expectation during the weeks in Advent.

The usual liturgical color in Western Christianity for Advent is either violet (or purple) or blue. In some Christian denominations, blue, a color representing hope, is an alternative liturgical color for Advent, a custom traced to the usage of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and the medieval Sarum Rite in England. This color is often referred to as “Sarum blue.” On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, rose may be used instead, referencing the rose used on Laetare Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent.

Many churches also hold special musical events, such as Nine Lessons and Carols and singing of Handel’s Messiah oratorio. The antiphons for the Magnificat at Evensong in Anglican churches each day mark the forthcoming birth of the Messiah. They form the basis for each verse of the popular Advent hymn, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” During Advent, the Gloria of the Eucharist is omitted, so that the return of the angels’ song at Christmas has an effect of novelty.

In recent times, the most common observance of Advent outside church circles has been the keeping of an Advent calendar, with one door being opened in the calendar on each day in December leading up to Christmas Eve. The keeping of an Advent wreath or crown is also a common practice in homes and churches. The readings for the first Sunday in Advent relate to the old testament patriarchs who were Christ’s ancestors, so some call the first Advent candle that of hope. The readings for the second Sunday concern Christ’s birth in a manger and other prophecies, so the candle may be called of Bethlehem. The third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday after the first word of the introit (Philippians 4:4), is celebrated with rose-colored vestments. The readings relate to St. John the Baptist, and the rose candle may be called of joy or of the shepherds. The readings for the fourth Sunday relate to the annunciation of Christ’s birth, so the candle may be known as the Angel’s candle, recalling their proclamation of peace on Earth. Where an Advent wreath includes a fifth candle, it is known as the Christ candle and His lit during the Christmas Eve service. The concept of the Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century. However, it was not until three centuries later that the modern Advent wreath took shape. Research points to Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808–1881), a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor, as the inventor of the modern Advent wreath in the 19th century. During Advent, children at his mission school in Hamburg, would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. In 1839, he built a large wooden ring (made out of an old cartwheel) with 20 small red and 4 large white candles. A small candle was lit successively every weekday and Saturday during Advent. On Sundays, a large white candle was lit. The custom gained ground among Protestant churches in Germany and evolved into the smaller wreath with four or five candles known today. Roman Catholics in Germany began to adopt the custom in the 1920s, and in the 1930s it spread to North America, and has become an established tradition in our Episcopal Church.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

 

 

 

 

Saints And Angels: No, Not The Sport Teams!

Dear Parishioners,

As a boy, I sang in the men and boys’ choir at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Baltimore, Maryland.  Since he was our patron, his festival day, September 29th (or the following Sunday) was always a big occasion with special music and a big luncheon after the main service.  Naturally his stained glass representation in full armor, backed by a legion of angel warriors, and with a shield bearing the motto “Who is like the Lord?”, made a big impression on me.

When I taught the Confirmation class as chaplain of the Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, I asked the 9th and 10th grade students to think of a modern Christian “Saint”, and describe that person.  I had hoped for a description of Martin Luther King or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but instead, the students described a little old lady sitting on her porch rocking chair reading her bible.

Many people today, especially our children and youth, think of angels and saints as a bunch of wimps.  Angels are fluffy feminine things with white wings and long golden hair or children’s cherubic faces with wings instead of ears. Saints are folks from past generations quaintly depicted in stained glass or stylized stone figurines.  What a shame! Forget Batman and Superman!  Forget Wonder Woman and Spiderman!  Saints and angels are the true super heroes of the galaxy!

Angels are the personification of the most powerful forces that exist and impinge upon our lives.  In Psalm 104, storm winds and flames of fire are described as angels of God, his messengers and servants.  Michael is the general of God’s Army who defeats Satan and his angels in battle and expels them from heaven down to earth. Gabriel sounds the trumpet signaling judgment day when destruction will come to the whole earth and all human works.  Raphael embodies God’s healing power and so forth. In the New Testament, it is angels who break off the chains of St. Peter in prison, who roll the great stone from Christ’s tomb and proclaim his resurrection, who startle poor shepherds in the fields and send them off to search for a newborn child who will change history.

As for Saints, have you seen the Episcopal publication “Holy Women, Holy Men”, our church’s “canonized” list of saints and their special deeds and days?  Or have you ever looked at the calendar in the front of the new prayer book?  The 2007 edition lists such people as Polycarp, the courageous Bishop of Smyrna, martyred in 156, Thomas Becket, martyred in 1170, Latimer and Ridley, martyred in 1559 and Jonathan Daniels, Civil Rights martyr in 1965.  Brave and brilliant women are not forgotten such as St. Agnes, Roman martyr in 304, Monica, mother of St. Augustine, 387, Hildegard of Bingen, 1179, Dame Julian of Norwich, 1417, Queen Emma of Hawaii, 1885, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Liberators of Slaves. Mother Teresa, recently canonized by Rome, will, I am sure, soon be added to our Anglican list.  Some “saints” we remember are famous, like John Donne, John Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Patrick and Francis.  Others are obscure like Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, Bishop of Shanghai.  All were imperfect humans, who by God’s grace let their lives and deeds count for something good and strong, something that we and our children should be taught to emulate.  “All of them Saints of God and I mean, God helping, to be one too!”, in the words of Hymn 293.  So when your kids or grandchildren talk of the latest “superhero” film, ask them if they know anything about an Archangel or tell them about a real person who we remember for being one of God’s heroes, a Saint.  And remember all of the above on September 29th, St. Michael and All Angels day and November 1st, All Saints’ Day!

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

 

 

 

 

New Words For Basic Things

Dear Fellow Parishioners,

Some of you may recall the Danny Kaye film with his comic routine “They used to call it dance; now they are doing choreography!” Lots of Christian terminology has changed over the years since Oliver Cromwell remarked “new presbyter is only old priest writ large!” Some of the change is helpful and some of is doubtful. We don’t say “Christian education “or “Sunday School” much any more, instead we refer to “Christian Formation” and even the seminaries use the term “priestly formation” to state their raison d’etre. I prefer to speak about “Christian growth and development” or “lifelong Christian learning,” because that’s what we’re really talking about, especially as we approach our new fall programs. And there is a valid point in changing our terminology.

Psychological research has proven that our minds, emotions and personalities do not remain static when we reach 18, but rather that adults as well as children pass through developmental stages and changing perspectives throughout our lifespan. Some people do seem to get “stuck” at one level of feeling or understanding, but for most of us (as an example) the challenges of aging and an increasing consciousness of our own mortality cause profound changes in our thinking and overall outlook as we become “senior citizens”. Our understanding of what it means to be and live as Christians changes at different stages in our adulthood and prompts us to learn and practice new spiritual insights. What was once comfortable, familiar religious habit is often experienced by us as inadequate and unsatisfying. Many instances in Holy scripture show us how the stress and suffering of adult life caused prophets and saints to struggle spiritually and with God’s help and grace to reclaim their faith at a higher level and with new understanding and maturity. One Eastern Orthodox writer, in commenting on the lives of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, said that westerners don’t understand that a Russian can be a believer and a doubter at the same time! He was really talking about the constant battle we have between faith and skepticism that is only resolved by achieving a new stage of Christian growth and maturity, only to be challenged by an advanced level of spiritual conflict. James Fowler, a theologian and teacher at Emory University made this topic of ongoing religious growth and development the theme of his book “Stages of Faith”.

What does this have to do with us, here at Manakin Church? It means that our Christian Formation Committee is busy brainstorming, debating and planning a whole range of expanded programs and activities for this Fall and coming years, not only with the education of our children in mind, but with the needs and concerns of church members at every age level from cradle to grave. Our goal is to ensure that in the future all our members may find opportunities for growth in their spiritual lives to meet the changing conditions and challenges both in ourselves and in our society. Expect to be asked to join this discussion and to try new educational opportunities and worship experiences as we move into a new church year.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

 

 

Getting to know you – A message from The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer, our interim rector

Dear Fellow Parishioners,

Most of us remember the pleasant melody from “the King and I “ beginning “getting to know you, getting to know more about you . . .” Now I am not Yul Brynner, but I am a bit bald on the top where I don’t notice it (but you can), and I am the new boy on the block that you are getting to know. I am also doing my best to get to know you, and I have several hundred names and faces to learn while you have just one. My dear wife, Ann, if she were still living, would be of great help in this task at which she was much better than I am. However, I have begun to meet with both individuals and groups in my short time among you.

I will use this messenger column as an official “thank you” note to express my gratitude to Bob Pinkham, Linda and Brooke Doggett and Linda and Chuck Catlett for hosting me at their homes and feeding my body as well as my soul. I have met with Birdie Lighthiser and Paula Price to discuss pastoral needs and Stephen Ministry responsibilities. Tricia Kohlbeck and Pat Rock have enlightened me concerning the mysteries and ministries of the altar guild. (Note the spelling is “altar” – i.e. God’s everlasting throne and table, not “alter”, which would indicate perpetual worship changes).

On Monday, June 20th, I participated in a Christian Formation/Education Committee meeting chaired by Elizabeth Vaughan and Drew Wilson and Junior Warden, Holly Walker. I got to know members as they “brainstormed” concerning future Sunday School and Adult growth and development ideas. Chandler Williams and the Search Committee had me as their guest at an informative and productive Search Committee meeting. The Vestry likewise included me in their most recent deliberations. By the time you read this, I will have joined the Worship Committee in a planning session and met with your interim provider of pastoral care, The Rev. Martha Jenkins.

For the warm hospitality and welcome given to me on these occasions and following each Sunday worship service, I am thankful and honored, and I especially want to acknowledge and thank your wardens and Vestry members who have shouldered the task of leading the congregation since your previous rector retired. I hope and expect to meet and begin to know many more of you during the weeks ahead. We will soon have a computer, email address and a cell phone for text and voice messages to reach me personally. Meanwhile, let Wendy know if you would like to see me and she will put you on my calendar. I normally expect to be in the office Thursday afternoons, most Fridays and some Saturdays; God willing and my wayward spine cooperating! You are a fortunate congregation to have Wendy, Rita and Jo as a devoted, long-serving staff. With their able assistance, we will set our sails to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit and move together where God takes us, learning more about each other “day by day”.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer