Tuesday, September 23, 2014

An Expression of Gratitude to the People of Grace Church, Oxford, MA

Gratitude is an important Christian discipline. St. Paul writes in one of his letters, “Give thanks in all circumstances!” Thanksgiving should be part of our daily and weekly worship. Psalm 105 prompts us: “Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name; make known his deeds among the peoples. Sing to him, sing praises to him, and speak of all his marvelous works. Glory in his holy Name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice” (The Book of Common Prayer, 738).

Giving thanks should also be a part of our prayer life. Here’s an excerpt from The General Thanksgiving, a component of Evening Prayer. “We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory” (BCP, 125).

Likewise, gratefulness is essential to our liturgy. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word that means to give thanks. Consider the words we hear so often during the Mass: “We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made know to us in creation; in the calling of Israel to be your people; in your Word spoken through the prophets; and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son. For in these last days you made him to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world . . . .” (BCP, 368).

I want to express gratitude for the privilege of worshiping and serving at Grace Church Oxford over the past three years. First, I give thanks to the Lord for leading me here. A friend, who knew that I was church-shopping, told me about this really friendly priest who hangs out at The Big I in North Oxford. Once I passed through your doors it was difficult to leave, especially noting your devotion to God through the liturgy—I’m a sucker for incense.

Thank you, as well, for the warm welcome I received on Palm Sunday 2011. In many churches newcomers feel either ignored or smothered. Here, newcomers are lovingly welcomed. I truly wanted to come back.

I am thankful for how you have befriended me over time. The list of friends I have here is long. And the relationships went wider and deeper when I became Parish Administrator. I appreciate the conversations we have had. I also value your invitations to return as I have the opportunity.

I am grateful for the privilege of serving at the altar. For me, being involved there intensifies the beauty of the Mass. My love for liturgy was highlighted several weeks ago when I worshiped at an Episcopal church in western New York State. A member of the congregation commented on the beauty of my voice (surely not my singing voice). I concluded that he was listening to my love of the language in The Book of Common Prayer.

Thank you for helping me adapt to a new culture. You do things differently here than I was accustomed to in Baptist churches. You have a different vocabulary (thurible, chasuble, tippet, and surplice are just a few examples) and different customs. For me, it was like entering a new people-group. But you made it easy.

I also value the time Fr. Al spent with me. What a privilege to work with a priest who has served for fifty-plus years. Over time, he helped me adapt to my new surroundings. I discovered that he’s like the Energizer Bunny. He’s like Gandalf the wizard, in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: He is full of wisdom, and he has a common sense approach to things. He inspires us all to say, “Sure, I’d be glad to!”

As well, it is important to say thank you to Anne Carter. She has been a constant and consistent encourager to me. She has the gift of building up people. That’s the literal meaning of encouragement: to build up. Fr. Al and Anne Carter surely make a great team.

That brings me to the staff at Grace Church. Fr. George, Barbara Hanc, Stephany Conley, Russ Rheault (from time to time), and I would gather with Fr. Al on Wednesday mornings. Timothy the cat was also privy to our conversations. I could never predict the topics we would discuss. We come from diverse backgrounds, so we have contrasting points of view that lead to interesting and (sometimes) intense conversations. Fr. George would bring up important theological questions. I, on the other hand, wanted to make sure we got through my long list of practical concerns. It all worked out.

And I recall the Discernment Committee. A group of newcomers and “old-timers” met with me during the fall of 2012 to discern whether the Lord was calling me to Holy Orders. I discovered that he was not leading me to become a priest in the Episcopal Church. So I’m thankful for the prayerful approach of each member. You were truly a blessing to me.

Finally, Judi and I want to express our gratitude for the wonderful farewell you gave us last August 31. Your gifts and well wishes only enhanced the blessings I have already received.

So I am grateful for my experience at Grace Church. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, members and friends of this church. I pray that the Lord will abundantly bless you for the grace you have extended to me.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Bio For a New Generation

Many of us began to admire C. S. Lewis when we read The Chronicles of Narnia. Devin Brown is aware that young people today are being introduced to Lewis by watching the movies, so he has written a biography that is “a concise introduction to Lewis and his best-known works for a new generation of readers, a generation who may know him only through the Narnia films” (xii). We will review Brown’s work by keeping an eye on that purpose statement.

A Life Observed is a concise introduction, for Brown masterfully tells his story in fewer than two hundred and fifty pages. It is one of the shorter biographies of Lewis: good news for his audience. The author begins by working his way through Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by Joy. More than half of this new biography has to do with Lewis’ conversion to Christianity. That makes sense, for Jack (the author often uses the nickname) spent slightly more than half his life coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Brown anticipates that his target audience will struggle with some expressions and literary references in Surprised by Joy, so he sheds light on many of them along the way.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Point to Ponder

"We need water and oil, bread and wine in order to be in communion with God and to know Him." Alexander Schmemann, page 121 of For the Life of the World