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Reflections

The following are occasional reflections of St. Ann’s clergy or special visitors to our parish.

Renewal
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, September 14, 2018

Exactly 150 years ago, the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island was first voted into being in our sanctuary, but the story didn’t end there. This coming Sunday, September 16, at a festive Evensong service, Bishop Lawrence Provenzano will designate our church to again serve as a diocesan center.

We have come full circle. And as we approach Sunday’s celebrations, I have the sense of a water wheel nearing the top again, preparing to gather and convey the power of the gospel. At the altar Sunday morning, our congregation will renew its Baptismal vows. We also launch Renewal Works that day — a churchwide program designed to renew and revive the spiritual life of every parishioner.

Thus prepared, we will gather on Sunday evening with our bishop, clergy and laity from throughout the diocese to recommit ourselves to doing our part in conveying God’s good news to the five million people who call Brooklyn and Queens home.

It is a call that reminds me of a favorite post communion prayer:

Loving God, we give you thanks for restoring us in your image and nourishing us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. Now send us forth a people, forgiven, healed, and renewed; that we may proclaim your love to the world and continue in the risen life of Christ our Savior.

***

Celebration and Call
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, September 6, 2018

A great moment in the life of our parish is just over a week away. As you have been hearing for many months, Bishop Lawrence Provenzano will designate St. Ann & the Holy Trinity the pro-cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island on Sunday, September 16. The significance of this designation cannot be understated. Nearly 150 years ago, our historic church hosted the convention of area clergy that voted to establish our diocese and to make the then rector of the former Church of the Holy Trinity, the Rev. Abram Newkirk Littlejohn, our first Bishop. After Littlejohn’s consecration on January 27, 1869, our church served as the diocesan pro-cathedral until the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, New York, opened in 1885.

In some sense, the designation of our church as pro-cathedral this month is church history repeating itself. An important difference is that the cathedral in Garden City remains the center and heart of diocesan life. Bishop Provenzano intends for our church to provide a space for him to extend the ministry of the cathedral in the densely populated western region of our diocese. In a just published press release, the bishop says, “As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the diocese this year, this pro-cathedral designation is both a recognition of the historic role of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity in our diocese and it is a mission-focused strategy to reinvigorate our ministry to the people in the City of New York, especially the 5 million people who call Brooklyn and Queens home. St. Ann & the Holy Trinity will become the official place from which the bishop of the diocese can speak to the people of New York City.” The responsibility of the day-to-day operation of St. Ann’s will remain in the hands of the rector, vestry and people here, but we will be expected to host our bishop and sister parishes for special ceremonies, services and celebrations. This is an immense honor for us.

The fact that the pro-cathedral designation ceremony is one of many church and community events on St. Ann’s very full fall calendar makes the transition to our new status fitting and natural. But we are a living institution that continues to evolve. And so we joyfully embrace the challenge of taking on a new role, and understand this moment as both a cause for celebration and a call to discernment.

The gift and implications of this season in our community’s life will be a focus of our 10:00 am joint services on this coming “St. Ann’s Day” Sunday and the following. Please plan to join us on these occasions and, of course, for the special Evensong service at 5:30 pm on Sunday, September 16, at which Bishop Provenzano will place his seat (“cathedra” in Latin) to signify the return of our church’s pro-cathedral identity and the start of a new era of ministry at St. Ann’s.

***

A Long Prayerful Weekend
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, August 31, 2018

Labor Day for most Americans is more importantly an occasion to guarantee a long weekend at the end of the official summer season than for a prayerful observance. If you aren’t familiar with the history of this holiday, or if you’ve forgotten it, it is worthy of an Internet search.

A great resource to help us reflect on the significance of Labor Day is Interfaith Worker Justice, an organization that encourages people of faith to uphold the blessing of work and the rights of workers every day.

The Collect for Labor Day in the Book of Common Prayer is a beautiful articulation of the hopes of the Church for workers in every age:

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Here’s to our prayerful observance of this holiday – and to a long weekend! May they inspire and renew us to continue the work of ushering in God’s reign of justice on earth.

***

Psalm 34
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, August 24, 2018

Every Sunday during the past month, the lectionary’s gospel selection has been taken from a single chapter in John, Chapter 6, the “Bread of Life Discourse.” Each week, John has offered a new lens through which to contemplate holy bread: it’s been like a season within a season.

But there has been another strand of Scripture moving through worship as well – Psalm 34. We’ve read a few verses each week and will finish the psalm on Sunday. It’s to this psalm that I turn my attention now, given the content of current news coverage:

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry. . . . The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

These words of praise are also words of encouragement. They express the grace that we reaffirm with our trust in God every Sunday at St. Ann’s.

***

Thirsty
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, August 16, 2018

This time of year, thirst is often what you feel stepping out in the lunchtime sun or onto a sweltering subway platform. No wonder it’s a major theme in the summer lectionary of John’s Gospel..

This week we read again from John, who frames the whole of Jesus’ ministry with the concept of thirst, from Jesus’ first miracle in Cana, turning water into wine, to His dying words on the cross, “I thirst.”

We’ve heard stories of Jesus leading people over dusty hills and salty seas, offering bread and fish for sustenance. At long last, He offers true drink “gushing fountains of endless life.”

This Sunday is one for refreshment, gratitude and hope. It reminds me of the poem by Mary Oliver:

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the hour
and the bell; grant me, in your mercy,
a little more time. Love for the earth
and love for you are having such a long
conversation in my heart. Who knows what
will finally happen or where I will be sent,
yet already I have given a great many things
away, expecting to be told to pack nothing,
We were born this way. Physically, spiritually.
Accept the prayers which, with this thirst,
I am slowly learning.

***

Fighting Fires
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, August 11, 2018

The wildfires still raging in northern California are horrifying and we will continue to pray for victims, survivors and firefighters. I cannot help but see in them a metaphor for other fires in our national life that are difficult to combat and can devastate communities.

The organizers of a white-supremacist rally that took place a year ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, will gather again, this time in Washington, D.C., on the first anniversary of the occasion this weekend. This prospect has put everyone on edge as opponents of the group plan counter demonstrations. Last year, clashes between the two groups resulted in the tragic death of the young activist Heather Heyer.

We live in a society in which we value an individual’s constitutional right to free speech. Yet hate speech of any kind cannot be tolerated, particularly when it incites violence. White supremacy is un-Christian, un-American, and immoral, and has no place in a blessedly pluralistic society like ours. And the racism that clearly fuels the cause of these nationalists is pernicious and ugly. All Christians, with other people of good will, must persist in the struggle to end it.

We look to Jesus and those who imitated him in resisting evil and oppression non-violently, like Martin Luther King, Jr. They taught us that the battles we wage against injustice in the name of our faith must pursue reconciliation, even with those whose cause we rightly condemn. We believe no one is beyond redeeming and, despite the dissonance in our viewpoints, we acknowledge a common humanity with our opponent.

St. Paul is straightforward and eloquent in teaching faithful reconciliation between Jewish Christians and Gentiles in the early Church. In this Sunday’s passage from Ephesians (4:25-5:2), he says, “Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. . . . Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

The pursuit of reconciliation for the Christian, in other words, presupposes that there is something in it to be gained by those on all sides of an argument. We can be angry, but we must not be consumed by it. We can speak our truth, but we must consider how our words “may give grace to those who hear [them].”

By raising the stakes in the battle against the fires of hate, there is hope of mutual reward.

***

Beyond the Wall
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, August 3, 2018

San Pedro Sula, with a population of 1.5 million people, is the second largest city in Honduras after the capital Tegucigalpa. Until last year, it had the highest per capita homicide rate anywhere, making it “the Murder Capital of the World.” (It is now second to Juarez, Mexico.)

In an earlier era, Diana Dillenberger was determined to protect particularly vulnerable children whose families were caught in cycles of violence in San Pedro Sula and, in 1988, she founded a residence and refuge for orphaned girls there as a ministry of the Episcopal Church, a cause championed by her husband, the Rt. Rev. Leo Frade, then Bishop of Honduras.

The walls of Nuestras Pequeñas Rosas (Our Little Roses), as the orphanage is called, are high and dreary, but they protect the residents from the danger and abuse on the outside that still plagues them. Thanks in part to our guest preacher this Sunday, Fr. Spencer Reece, their voices have broken through to us and are being heard widely.

Fr. Reece is a poet and priest who lived with and taught poetry to the girls at Our Little Roses and helped to have some of their poems published last year in a collection he edited called Counting Time Like People Count Stars.

One poem in the collection is “My Honduras,” by Astrid, aged 17, which ends with these verses:

Who is paying attention to my message?
My home is full of memories
where I was born and where I learned
no matter what

you have to go on with your life.
I still don’t know my future.
I still don’t know my way.
But remember this of me:

I will always love my country.

The book inspired a newly released documentary film, “Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Love Poems from the Murder Capital of the World,” which we will screen after our later service and coffee hour at 1:30 pm.

The sermon and the film screening will provide us with an opportunity to see beyond horrific statistics and through the overwhelming realities faced by the girls of Our Little Roses, to listen to them, honor their humanity and perhaps, like Jesus, to respond with compassion to meet their needs.

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The Doors of St. Ann
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, July 27, 2018

Yesterday, Christians around the world celebrated the feast of Saint Ann, mother of Mary, grandmother of Jesus Christ. Our own parish transfers St. Ann’s celebration to September 9 this year, but it is still timely to celebrate Ann and our own grandparents, literal and spiritual.

Though unnamed in the New Testament, Ann appears in writings as old as the second century. Her story directly echoes that of Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel. Ann and Hannah are, in fact, two versions of the same Hebrew name, meaning favor or grace.

The symbol of Saint Ann is a door: a point of entry between the human and the divine.

Our parish has worshiped in four sanctuaries during its some 240 years of history. It is delightful to learn that none other than Hannah greets us as we enter our current sanctuary doors. Bending over the young Samuel in the William Bolton stained glass window, she leads us and him into the temple.

This must surely be a coincidence, as our sanctuary was originally The Church of the Holy Trinity. Still, I like to think of it as a wink from Ann. How like a grandmother to surprise us in this way and keep us ever under her care.

***

Holy Sabbath
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, July 21, 2018

The importance of Sabbath time was reinforced for me during a retreat I made at the end of my recent sabbatical. Among the welcome materials provided to the monastery guests was a pamphlet written by one of the monks entitled “Rest.” In it the reader is reminded that in the first account of creation in Genesis, among all that God creates, God calls only the Sabbath holy.

The gospel passage we’ll read in church tomorrow begins with the disciples reporting back to Jesus about their work in the mission fields. They tell Jesus about all they had done and taught. Jesus responds by offering them some time to retreat and reflect on their work and this encouragement of intentional Sabbath time is a lesson for us.

Of course, just as soon as Jesus and the disciples set out to a deserted place, the crowds who hope to be taught and healed follow them. The place they land is anything but deserted.

The message here seems to be that we are called to respond to human need on God’s time and not according to our own schedules. In other words, the holy time of rest and reflection we embrace may be interrupted. Our bigger challenge may be the way we find distractions to keep us from setting aside time for rest and reflection. In an ironic twist, being intentional about Sabbath can be work.

I am certain that later that day or before too long, Jesus and the disciples found time to rest in God. For them and us, establishing a rhythm of holy Sabbath time in our lives is as essential as our readiness to help and heal a hurting world.

***

Jesus Movement Dispatches
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, July 13, 2018

At this week’s General Convention of the Episcopal Church (held every three years), the language of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry set the tone: our church is referred to as the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.

A Jesus Movement Budget was passed prioritizing racial reconciliation, evangelism and care of creation. Cuba has been admitted as a new diocese. Plans are in place to supplement the 1979 Book of Common Prayer with additional rites using gender inclusive language by 2021. Same gender marriage may soon be celebrated in any Episcopal parish in the country. Further dispatches from the 2018 General Convention may be found here.

Our church has wind in its sails this summer. Wherever this finds you, may you also feel the breath of God.

***

Takaways
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, July 5, 2018

Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way. Psalm 84:4

I am back from my sabbatical and look forward to sharing stories of my time away and catching up on parish news! For the moment, I want to tell you about a few of my big takeaways from the last few months.

As most of you know, I was on the move while on sabbatical. I visited several big cities, including Rome, Madrid, London and Paris. I also passed through many small towns and villages while on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and to Canterbury. And, though it may sound obvious or cliché, the world got a little bigger to me while I was traveling.

One of my most memorable encounters was on the Camino de Santiago. A German fellow I met delighted in his numerous friendships with fellow pilgrims and how the list of contacts in his mobile phone was growing. I asked him how he would remember everyone, and he said it would be easy, because he used the last name “Camino” for every new entry. This brought home for me that all of us pilgrims, wherever we were from and whatever motivated our pilgrimage, were members of the Camino Family!

I considered myself a pilgrim everywhere I roamed and, virtually everywhere I ventured, I found myself a welcome guest in churches. The doors of the most welcoming churches were open wide and, even with masses of tourists inside some, they provided space for rest and reflection. Welcome was also communicated symbolically where a sense of order was maintained and concretely with signage.

Signs in smaller and larger churches were used to convey community histories, programs, the status of restoration projects, and ways to get involved. And, with few exceptions, signs in churches in multiple languages directly and boldly appealed to visitors for financial support! The best and most sophisticated signage appeared in the biggest churches and cathedrals, but it was generally effective everywhere it appeared.

I saw this as generous, hospitable and smart, if not exactly radical, exposing the heart of the people in each place.

As often as such welcome was extended to me, I thought of my own big-hearted community, the St. Ann’s Church Family of pilgrims! When I return to our church this Sunday, July 8, I will be ready to get to work with you on some proven and new ways to show our collective heart to a world of pilgrim guests seeking peace and much more inside our sanctuary.

In closing, I want you to know I am filled to bursting with gratitude for my experience over the last three months. I felt God’s presence and your support every step of the way. Also, relying on the kindness of strangers never failed. People everywhere graciously offered directions, advice or local information. I bring my certainty of God’s grace, my joy for the church, and a renewed spirit of adventure into the next new phase of ministry with you.

Finally, in this July 4 holiday week, I acknowledge our dependence on God in all things and celebrate the ties that bind us as Americans and citizens of the world, and I wish you a very Happy Interdependence Day!

***

Choosing Love
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, June 27, 2018

I’m a huge fan of the World Cup tournament taking place in Russia right now. As it heads this weekend into the knockout stage, the tension mounts with each game, as it’s “win or go home.” I’ll be watching whatever matches I can. I’m finding, however, that the absence of an American team this time around makes it easier for me to just enjoy what the Brazilians have called for years the “joga bonito,” the beautiful game. I can root for anyone I want, and I care less about who wins than attending to the beauties of the play. Lionel Messi of Argentina, for example, controlling a long pass against Nigeria with his thigh, and then his toe before it hits the ground, then putting it into the far corner of the net – stunning.

My attitude is shaped, oddly enough, by my faith. Winning may be essential to all sporting events (otherwise they would just go on forever!), but it is inimical to Christianity. We Christians claim that all are beloved children of God, and that the key to life is therefore caring for one another, not winning. So let’s assert that ethic in any and every setting we can find. Through the love of Jesus Christ, God shows us that putting the other first is the relationship that is lastingly beautiful, and that embodies our eternal participation in the kingdom. Winning may feel great in the moment, but it just leaves one alone at the top. Let’s choose love.

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Peace. Be Still!
The Rev. Bernie Jones, Diaconal Intern, June 22, 2018

In Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus is with his disciples at sea. To their surprise, he calms the waters of a storm, saying to the sea, “Peace. Be still!” This eases their fears.

For Christians today, living in the midst of daily crises, there is a question we might think about. How do we find peace in the midst of the storms that surround us? It can seem there is no peace but we want it. We crave it. This is our challenge today, finding our own sense of calm and peace in a troubled world. May we be blessed in our attempts to find and build peace in the world around us.

***

Belief and Unbelief
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, June 15, 2018

Our Wednesday Bible Study this week had a conversation about the phrase, “I believe; help my unbelief.” It’s said by the father of a boy from whom Jesus casts out a demon (Mark 9:24). In her 2005 book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott quotes her Roman Catholic priest friend “Father Tom” on a similarly paradoxical note: “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.” I’ve been using this latter line in conversation since at least the early 1990s, and I keep trying to find out where it originally comes from. Online searches lead to theologian Paul Tillich (slightly different quote), former bishop Richard Holloway (2013 memoir; is he quoting Anne Lamott?), and then back to Lamott again and again.

I get a weird enjoyment out of my inability to pin down a quote about doubt – it seems oddly appropriate. Both of these lines point to the strange difficulty of remembering that our faith is just that: faith. It is what we believe to be true without knowing for certain whether it’s true or not. We hold it to be true, we act on it as if it’s true, and I certainly hope that it’s true – but when I treat it as certain, I overstep my bounds. Only God knows anything about God for certain. Lord, help my unbelief. Help it to keep me humble, and help it to grow ever more into belief.

***

Family Pride
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, June 8, 2018

Tomorrow St. Ann’s will join Episcopal churches around the borough in the annual Brooklyn Pride Parade. If you’ve never tried evangelism before, this may be your chance! Walking in the name of love and dignity puts us right in step with Jesus who, in this Sunday’s gospel, describes a teeming throng as his family.

A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And Jesus replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
Looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!

All of us can take joy and pride in being God’s children. Tomorrow’s parade is an opportunity to invite other members of God’s family, particularly those in the LGBTQ community, to find a spiritual home at St. Ann’s. If you are not walking please hold us in your prayers.

***

Sabbath Outreach
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, June 1, 2018

As we head into June, and Fr. John’s pilgrimage heads toward Canterbury, it strikes me as a good time to remind ourselves that the call to follow Christ is not a seasonal call. Rest, enjoyment of God’s creation and our own creations, a general slowing-down whenever and wherever possible – these are all excellent ways to bask in summer’s joys. But the sabbath of Sundays, summers and sabbaticals is also a good time to contemplate our participation in Christ’s mission to bring the kingdom to all, to the marginalized as well as to the worshipping community. Am I, as Jesus did, choosing to reach out in love to others? Are we as a community offering that sabbath rest to ourselves only, or to the wider circle of God’s people, especially those in need? Jesus reminds us: It is good to do good on the sabbath.

Here at St. Ann’s we have three opportunities to do good on sabbath: our ongoing outreach projects of sandwiching-making and the Welcome Table on the first Sundays of the month, and our support of Volunteers of America’s Operation Backpack. Please lend a hand if you can.

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The Face of God
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, May 25, 2018

This Sunday we celebrate Trinity Sunday and the mysterious, miraculous nature of God. We also hold in prayer over Memorial Day weekend those who have died in service to our country. Fighter pilot and poet John Gillespie Magee, Jr., expressed this wonder at the presence of God. The son of Anglican missionaries, Magee died at the age of 19 in a World War II-related training exercise. His poem, “High Flight,” is read often at Arlington Cemetery and appears on many headstones of aviators and astronauts.

Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.

Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,

Where never lark, or even eagle, flew;

And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

***

Pentecost
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, May 17, 2018

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among (the disciples), and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:3-4)

Pentecost (“fiftieth”) in the Jewish calendar, is the festival fifty days after Passover that marks the giving of the Torah, the Law, at Mt. Sinai. These days, that festival is more generally called Shavu’ot (“weeks,” counting seven weeks and a day from the end of Passover), in order to distinguish it from what has become the common name for one of the four most important Christian festivals. (Easter, All Saints, and Christmas are the others.) In the story in the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples had gathered in Jerusalem for this festival, along with their fellow Jews from around the region. And on that day, which also happened to be the fiftieth day since the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire. We Christians celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, because here, the gift of the Spirit granted followers of Jesus the ability to preach the gospel in any language to any people. Pentecost for Christians, then, marks the giving of the power to proclaim the gospel (“the kingdom of God has come near” – Mark 1:15); the power to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, making new Christians; and the power to make manifest the presence of the Risen Christ every Sunday. So wear something red in honor of the tongues of flame, and come hear the story as we read it in many tongues!

***

Living Courageously
Bernie Jones, Diaconal Intern, May 11, 2018

Today is the Seventh Sunday in Easter, and we are celebrating Ascension Day, the day when Jesus finished his earthly ministry and returned to the Father.

It has been seven Sundays since Jesus was crucified, died, buried, and then rose from the dead. Over the course of forty days, Jesus lived among his disciples, ministering to them and teaching them. He trained them for the work ahead, the time when he would no longer be among them. How courageous the disciples had to have been! They probably worried they were going to be on their own. But they really weren’t. Jesus was clear that the Holy Spirit would arrive at Pentecost and persist through the ages. The disciples would be infused with the strength, knowledge and wisdom they would need to minister in Jesus’ name.

This is our joy of the end of the Easter season, that we can live courageously because the spirit of the Lord is with us.

***

Liberty Pilgrimage
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, May 4, 2018

On Saturday, Mo. Kate and I will lead the Vestry on a local pilgrimage designed by Mo. Kate when she was in seminary. Let’s unpack all of that sentence a bit more! The Vestry, for anyone new to the Episcopal Church, is the group of parishioners elected by parishioners to serve as the governing board of the parish. Mo. Kate and I have planned this pilgrimage as part of the Vestry’s annual retreat, a day set aside not for tending to the business of running the parish (and what a busy business that is!), but for attending to the spiritual lives of these parish leaders. How does our Christian faith help them to make decisions for the well-being and ministry of this place? Such a question requires regular contemplation.

Mo. Kate calls the journey she designed the “Liberty Pilgrimage.” It traces a path among sites associated with the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brooklyn, from Green-Wood Cemetery (situated where a significant part of the battle was fought) into Park Slope, and then all the way to the Statue of Liberty. We will walk a portion of this pilgrimage on Saturday, learning some of the history and contemplating the nature of liberty—the constitutional liberty of our nation, and the liberty our faith proclaims in salvation in Jesus Christ. This latter liberty is freedom from fear and death, and freedom to care for others in Christ’s love. How might our faith help us all to use that freedom?

***

I am the Vine
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, April 27, 2018

In the Gospel of John, before his crucifixion, Jesus engages in his farewell discourse with the disciples. He showers them with metaphors — images by which to know and remember him. Nearly all begin with the sacred words, I am. I am the Good Shepherd…the way…the truth…the light.
This week we hear the final one of these: I am the vine, you are the branches.

It’s a beautiful metaphor for springtime. Even in the city we celebrate fresh shoots, buds, vines. This image reminds us that the fledgling shoots are less vulnerable than they appear, each an expression of the fundamental, irrepressible source of life.
*** 

The Good Shepherd
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, April 20, 2018

St. Augustine argued in The City of God that all political systems in the City of Humanity are and always will be inherently flawed because they are the creations and expressions of flawed, sinful human beings. Our hope for solutions to human problems, then, will always be disappointed if we think that any system – and any human leaders – will come up with solutions satisfactory to all. This is not to say that we should simply give up and give in to systemic flaws – we are called always to seek justice for all God’s children, to work together to assure the rights and privileges of equality before law and government.

Augustine argued that it is in the City of God that we should put our hope for perfect solutions, perfect justice. But here on earth we are all sinners, and we will always therefore disappoint each other if we expect perfection. When we remember this, then we can think of our relationships and our society in terms of love rather than disappointment, of common goals rather than frustration. Then we can lean on the image of Jesus as our good shepherd, the one leader whose agenda will always be to include all, to love all, to save all. Following this shepherd, all is possible.

***

A Full Heart
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, April 5, 2018

My heart is full after a magnificent sabbatical send off! It was a blessing to be with so many of you and to be presented with your original prayers, a sturdy walking stick, an exquisite compass and – something no pilgrim can be without – flip flops, for my journey.

The reflections I offered following the presentations were insufficient to convey all that I was feeling. I am sure I will come up short again here, but I must thank those who were involved in planning a great party, those who cooked and baked the wonderful food that was served, and those who moved things along throughout the evening. I especially want to thank Mo. Kate Salisbury who surely organized the most thoughtful activities, from the prayers, to the labyrinth walk and slide show. Fr. Craig, the wardens, members of the staff, and all of you – even those who were only able to be there in spirit – also played a part in making the occasion and this moment of transition truly holy.

As I make my way, I want you to know that the privilege of having a sabbatical to look forward to is not lost on me and is nothing I take for granted. I recognize this opportunity for an extended rest, time away from work responsibilities and for spiritual refreshment that is built into my agreement is a rare gift and generally unheard of in most professional arenas beyond the Church.

My heart will remain full with gratitude for you and I will hold you in prayer every step of the way throughout my travels in Italy, Spain, England and France. From across the miles, we will continue to be fellow pilgrims journeying with God.

(Please note: One can keep up with Fr. Denaro’s trip on Instagram @pilgrimjohnny2018.)

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Walk Where Jesus Walked
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, March 30, 2018

A tour organizer promoting a Holy Land pilgrimage sent me an information packet and a sample promotional announcement that includes this pitch: “Walk Where Jesus Walked.” I pray that the liturgies of Holy Week at St. Ann’s are a means for you to make a holy journey with Jesus along the way of his passion, while right here in Brooklyn. If it is the more affordable option, it’s a costly spiritual challenge nonetheless. It’s also the one sure road to a blessed Easter.

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Leaving Nothing Out
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, March 22, 2018

Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly.
leaving nothing out.

Wendell Berry from his collection Leavings

This Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. We move from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to his crucifixion on Good Friday. In Christ, God leaves no aspect of human experience untouched. Grace leaves nothing unrestored. In Holy Week, we summon the patience to walk with God through elation, suffering, and the quiet of death to witness resurrection.

You are invited to join us in church in ancient services particular to this week designed to leave nothing, and no one, beyond the reach of redemption.

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Children of God Together
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, March 16, 2018

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the falling together, and a little child will lead them. Isaiah 11:6

As teenagers across the country walked out of schools yesterday to protest gun violence, this passage kept entering my mind. We Christians take the passage as a pre-figuring of Christ, but maybe we need to let a more generic meaning hold for it these days. Yes, it describes a utopia, a perfect world that we all know in our grownup minds cannot be achieved in the real world – and so yes, we Christians see this as a vision of the perfection of heaven that only God can bring about, and that we believe Jesus as child and man and risen Lord is leading us toward. That’s all good.

But maybe the “peaceable kingdom,” as the world this passage describes has come to be known, will be brought a little bit closer to reality if we adults stop talking, stop managing, stop enumerating obstacles, stop rationalizing, and just let the children – little ones, teenagers, all the ages that keep getting shot at and killed – lead us. After all, they are the ones who have grown up in this world we made: a world where lockdown drills and actual shootings are just part of how school works. They are the ones who seem to understand that only when we cling to our bone-deep connections as human beings – as children of God together, as we Christians put it – will we find any kind of peace at all.
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Spring Ahead and Be Still
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, March 9, 2018

I have never really minded losing an hour of sleep at the start of Daylight Saving Time. This year, however, time seems to be racing, as my long-awaited sabbatical approaches. (I will be away from April 8 to July 8.) I suddenly find myself resenting the idea of being denied a single minute to get things in order! I finally had to admit to myself that I no longer imagine getting everything done before I go – but I nonetheless will go!

The illusion of time challenges us all, whether we are enduring a prolonged personal trial or enjoying an experience we wish would never end.

We are in the midst of the season that pulls and pushes us emotionally and spiritually in many directions at once. In Lent, we journey over many weeks into the unfolding story of Jesus’ most difficult days with an awareness of the joy of the resurrection just beyond it.

As we reach this midpoint in Lent, we would do well to take stock of where we are in this moment, to be present to the variety of our feelings, and to consider where God is in our experience now. While we can’t help losing an hour of sleep this weekend, we can contemplate the gift of this time.

We can be intentional, that is, in returning to what centers and grounds us while on our earthly pilgrimage. Even as time carries us forward, we can pray on and embrace the divine invitation extended in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God!”

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Journey to the Center
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, March 2, 2018

Our series “We Are Pilgrims,” which has focused on the tradition of pilgrimage in the bible, Christianity, and many faiths, has been inspiring. In his monthly presentations, Fr. Craig Townsend has reinforced the idea that our spiritual journey is one of pilgrimage with God and how actual pilgrimages made to holy places in various parts of the world come to symbolize the divine path along which we all are invited to walk.

For the presentation on the Way of the Cross of Jesus last Sunday, Fr. Craig teamed up with St. Ann’s parishioner Jacqueline de Weever who recently returned from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. We were blessed to hear about and see images of the places or stations on the Via Dolorosa along which Jesus is believed to have journeyed to his death on Mt. Calvary. This path is one that pilgrims have been traveling for centuries.

In her book, Pilgrimage—The Sacred Art: Journey to the Center of the Heart, the Rev. Dr. Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook explains that in the Middle Ages Christians vowed to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to walk in the steps of Jesus. But because it was impossible for many in the West to travel this distance, the ancient practice of walking the path of a labyrinth was adopted by churches, where labyrinths were installed in the floors, including in several major cathedrals in Europe.

While there is great mystery about how and where the tradition of the labyrinth’s use began, Dr. Kujawa-Holbrook asserts that the ancients walked them “for spiritual insight, prayer, protection, healing, and pilgrimage to the center.” And she adds, “[As] Christians began to reinterpret this tradition for themselves, the purpose of the labyrinth became a symbol of the soul on a journey toward God. Walking the labyrinth was thus a pilgrimage along the one true path to eternal salvation.”

Within a few centuries, the labyrinth became a controversial symbol and fell out of use, until the last century or so when it has regained popularity in Christian churches and in the wider culture.

As part of our exploration of pilgrimage, and in anticipation of my forthcoming sabbatical, which has a pilgrimage theme, we have acquired our very own labyrinth for St. Ann’s. If you are in church this Sunday, you will be offered a preview of it and invited to use it between our two morning services and after the 11:15 am Holy Eucharist.

Through the remaining weeks of Lent and Holy Week, and as often as we can make it available for use at St. Ann’s, may our new labyrinth become a spiritual tool to enrich and enliven our walk with God.

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Take Up Your Cross
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, February 23, 2018

This week’s Gospel records Jesus’ unsettling invitation: Take up your cross and follow me. Even now, the image of the cross is a startling reminder of mortality. For Jesus’ contemporaries, it also would have carried a strong association with Rome.

The Roman Empire had used the cross for generations to intimidate and control its subjects. When Pilate sentenced Jesus to crucifixion for the state crime of sedition, Jesus joined thousands who had been killed to preserve the Roman status quo.

An extraordinary thing happened, in 337 AD, when Constantine, Rome’s first Christian emperor, abolished the practice of crucifixion in honor of Jesus. Sozomen (400-450 AD) wrote that Constantine regarded the cross with “a peculiar reverence” that led him to repurpose this instrument of death into a symbol of redemption.

Lent is a season to follow Constantine’s, and Christ’s, lead: to take up our cross – whatever robs us of life – and transform it into something life giving. To discover that necessary evils are no longer necessary at all.

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Facing Darkness Again
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, February 17, 2018

During his Ash Wednesday sermon entitled, “I Don’t like Lent,” Bishop John McKee Sloan of the Diocese of Alabama announced from the pulpit, “I’m not any good at [Lent] — I don’t enjoy it.” He came around to claiming the importance of the season saying, “During Lent we face the darkness that we caused. We face the separation that we put between us and our Lord. Just as we need sour to understand sweet, I don’t think we can understand light without darkness.”

Bishop Sloan doesn’t reference the tragic school shooting that took place on the afternoon of Ash Wednesday in South Florida. Perhaps he hadn’t yet heard about it. Or perhaps, after hearing about it, he was at a loss to speak to the reality of yet another mass shooting in our country, this time one that left 17 people dead, including adults and teenagers.

Many of us will admit we don’t particularly like or enjoy Lent, but I pray that throughout this season we find ways to confront sin at work in our lives and surrender to God’s will and life-affirming love.

Many of us also will admit we don’t like guns, and so the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, offers us a focus for our spiritual work in Lent. The charge to face the darkness we have caused challenges us to acknowledge our shared responsibility in a system that allows for the proliferation of firearms within society, including those designed for military combat, that surely separates us from God. May we discover a renewed strength and courage in these days – in the name of the dead and their surviving families – to call our elected leaders to account to make us and our fellow Americans safer in our schools, churches and communities by preventing easy access to guns. And may we be peacemakers always.

Tomorrow’s preacher at St. Ann’s, the Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons, Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn Heights, may help us. Rev. Levy-Lyons has written a book called No Other Gods: The Politics of the Ten Commandments, and I have faith that, in the wake of this week’s school shooting, she will enliven in us a godly response to the commandment, “Thou shall not kill.”

Like it or not, we are called to face the darkness of death as we step into Lent. Blessed are we to be pilgrims on the way of the cross of Jesus that leads to life.

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Black History Month
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, February 8, 2018

February is Black History Month, a celebration begun as “Negro History Week” in 1926 by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (founded by historian Carter Woodson). President Gerald Ford, during the events of the US Bicentennial in 1976, recognized the expansion of this celebration to a month in some quarters, and it became a national observance. Thus we embark on an annual reminder of the positive contributions of African-Americans to our nation’s history – but also reminders of the past and still ongoing traumas of racial conflict and oppression. I believe this is to call ourselves continually to try to live up to the highest ideals of freedom, equality, and justice on which this nation was founded. To acknowledge the ways we as a nation have traumatic histories that are often buried – not only African-American histories, but Native American, Asian-American, Latin-American, to say nothing of gender and sexuality – is to remind ourselves that this national project will never be complete, and will always require that we keep our eyes on who we want to be as a people.

As Christians, we have a particular perspective on this problem: we are the people who believe that we are all sinners who fall short of the vision God has of us and for us, but that we are nonetheless still loved by that God in Jesus Christ – and that we are therefore always called to live in response to that love, to strive to move beyond our sin, to become the people God created us to be.

Let us then all observe this Black History Month to further our knowledge, to expand our embrace, and to lift one another to see ourselves as flawed but beloved creatures of our God.

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Super Sunday
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, February 2, 2018

Our big Sunday at St. Ann’s will begin long before the first pass of the Super Bowl is thrown. We will have the privilege of welcoming Ravidath Ragbir, the Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City and our neighbor in Brooklyn Heights, to our church and into the pulpit at the 11:15 am Holy Eucharist. In the weeks since I last wrote about him in my reflection in this e-newsletter, Ravi has received an enormous amount of local and national attention. He is a long-time immigrant rights activist who was recently detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) and now faces deportation. You can read about his situation here.

Though Ravi has been granted many stays to his deportation as his case to vacate a 2001 felony conviction moves through the courts, he has lately become a target of an aggressive campaign by ICE against high profile immigrant advocates. The religious community has rallied around Ravi. As you know, two of our bishops joined an interfaith show of support for him at a rally and prayer walk on the day he was detained. Bishop Lawrence Provenzano will preside at the service. The Very Rev. Michael Sniffen, Dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, is expected to attend. There is a great chance many guests, including some politicians, will also join us. This is a unique opportunity for us to extend hospitality to the wider community and an initial pivot toward our coming new status as the Pro-Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. Most significantly, this is our chance to rally around Ravi and all those who are vulnerable in the current anti-immigrant climate in our country.

In addition to all this, our plans to make sandwiches and provide a community meal for our hungry neighbors are still on! And as planned we’ll have in the midst of our gathered community the Saint John’s Bible — a profound and impressive reminder of the gospel call to embody God’s living word. So on this super Sunday, let’s embrace this big chance to walk in love, as Christ loved us, and to be the church in action.

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You Are What You Write
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, January 14, 2018

Scribes were, for centuries, the primary stewards of the Word of God as well as teachers. Once solely responsible for the reproduction of sacred material, scribes in ancient Israel uttered every word they wrote and bathed each time they inscribed the name YHWH. The spirit of a scribe’s work is summarized in Deuteronomy 11:18: You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus travels to Capernaum, where his teaching garners immediate and rapt attention. “He teaches with authority,” people gush, “not like one of the scribes.”

In the medieval era, scribes were rendered practically obsolete by the printing press. Yet even as economic demand for their work diminished, the spiritual value in transcribing sacred texts by hand persisted.

In the two weeks leading up to Lent, St. Ann’s will house a rare edition of the Saint John’s Bible, the first handwritten Bible to be completed in the modern era (see Announcements below). Beginning this Sunday and throughout the season of Lent, we will consider the art of sacred writing and its role in our modern piety. As the saying goes, “you are what you write.”

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Still Dreaming
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, January 19, 2018

In the story of the calling of the first disciples from Mark’s gospel we’ll hear this Sunday, Jesus invites the fisher folk to join him in “fishing for people.” Of course, Jesus does not mean casting a net to snag new recruits. He means meeting people where they are, affirming their worth and their dreams, and inviting them into community with them.

We too are called to the work of discipleship to bring the truth of God’s love to others, often at a cost, as seen in the lengths to which Old Testament prophets to Martin Luther King, Jr. went to help others realize their dreams. We are being called in this very moment to honor and support the fragile dreams of our neighbors.

Last week, two of our bishops and diocesan clergy, including Mo. Kate and I, and many people of goodwill attended a rally and participated in a prayer march, called a Jericho Walk, for Ravi Ragbir, the director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. Ravi was appearing before Immigration and Custom Enforcement officers for what should have been a routine check-in. Ravi arrived to the U.S. as an immigrant from Trinidad in the mid-1990s. He was a green card holder until he was charged almost 20 years ago with a felony conviction as an accomplice of a non-violent crime. He has been required to appear before immigration authorities since 2006, each time being granted an extension of his stay. His hearing last week ended with Ravi being detained. His lawyers continue to work to prevent his deportation and reunite him with his wife, an American citizen, and his 22-year old U.S.-born daughter from a previous relationship.

The only thing that changed about Ravi’s situation is that he has become a more forceful advocate and defender of vulnerable immigrants.

Ravi wants something that I believe we as faithful disciples can support, which is that he and other immigrants – including those known as DREAMERS – can hold onto their dreams of a better life and live in freedom.

In the name of the God of love, may we be ready to “drop our nets” and stretch beyond our comfort zones to meet people where they are and support them in holding and realizing their noble and sacred dreams.

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Sacred Dreams
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, January 14, 2018

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

From the Address Delivered by The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

This Sunday the Bible offers us its dreamers – those who see in the dark. We read the call of Samuel who hears God say his name in the middle of the night. In the gospel, Jesus recalls Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder.

Dreams are sacred. They may be as close to the Holy Spirit as we come and it is often the role of the prophet to articulate them.

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Winter Sojourn
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, January 4, 2018

T.S. Eliot’s poem The Journey of the Magi begins this way:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

The heavy snow swirling in the bitter cold wind today, just days before the fast approaching Feast of the Epiphany (January 6), gives this verse a particular poignancy. Eliot’s famous poem is a surprising and at times haunting meditation on the experience of the “wise men from the East” who are led far from home along a difficult path to an encounter with the Christ child. In the third and final stanza of the poem, we learn that years later these sojourners are still puzzling over the impact and meaning of what they witnessed. I encourage you to read (or re-read) this challenging and very moving poem in its entirety.

Throughout the fall, Fr. Craig Townsend invited us to think of our journey of faith as a life-long pilgrimage with God and to find parallels to our own experiences in those of biblical sojourners and generations of spiritual pilgrims.

Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season and ushers in a season of light. As we hear about the magi in Matthew’s gospel on this Epiphany Sunday and pause with them to take in the wonder of God made manifest in humankind, may it inspire more than questions, but hope and new insights for the next phase of our continuing journey and the next chapter of our unfolding story at St. Ann’s.

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Hope Springs
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, December 22, 2017

Things have turned around just overnight. There will be more minutes of daylight today than there were yesterday, thanks to the arrival of the winter solstice. Hope does truly spring eternal, and very particularly with the arrival of the promised gift of God in the One who comes – and is coming still – to save us and usher in a new era of abiding, enduring peace the world has never needed more.

You are invited to join us for a very full day on Sunday through which we’ll move from expectation to celebration, starting with Advent IV morning services at 9:30 am and 11:15 am, and continuing with the Family Christmas Eve service and pageant at 4:00 pm, picking up again with caroling at 9:00 pm, immediately followed by our Festival Eucharist of the Nativity at 9:30 pm.

O come, o come, one and all!

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Navigating Darkness
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, December 15, 2017

She,
In the dark,
Found light
Brighter than many ever see.

She,
Within herself,
Found loveliness,
Through the soul’s own mastery.
And now the world receives
From her dower:
The message of the strength
Of inner power.

Langston Hughes

This Sunday the Church celebrates “Rose Sunday,” a bright spot in the often penitential season of Advent. Our liturgical color shifts from blue to pink for just this week and we turn our attention to Mary as she bursts into song – the Magnificat – upon learning God’s plan for her.

This poem by Langston Hughes was not written about Mary. It’s titled Helen Keller. Deaf and blind, Helen took a leap of faith holding the hand of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, who was herself visually impaired. Together they navigated darkness to open a new way of life for themselves and others. Mary, Helen and Anne share the faith that God has a vision for us, even if we cannot yet see it ourselves.

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The Holy Unexpected
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, December 1, 2017

Advent begins this Sunday.  It is the first season of the Church year.

The prophet Isaiah is read nearly every Sunday in Advent and sets much of the tone for the season. Beleaguered by war and foreign occupation, Isaiah longs for a renewed sense of God’s presence.  “Oh! That you would tear open the heavens and come down!” he cries.  “You are the potter and we are the clay.”

At the outset of winter, nature begins to looks stark. The air is cold. Only a few leaves cling to the trees.

And yet Advent encourages us to perceive these changes not only as loss, but as a preparation for something new. This season carries us through the longest night of the year to a miraculous birth.  Advent is a season to practice hope, and to prepare ourselves for holy – and wholly unexpected – ways of knowing God.

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