The following are occasional reflections of St. Ann’s clergy or special visitors to our parish.
Call and Response
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, May 17, 2019
We recently reintroduced a sung refrain by the congregation during the singing of the psalm at our later service on Sunday. The refrain is a phrase or paraphrase from the text of the psalm appointed for the day. This Sunday, as the choir sings Psalm 148, our refrain will be, “Sing to the Lord a new song!”
This is as close as we get to a call and response style of congregational singing that is common in gospel music. The gospel tradition is alive and well in our church on weekdays during the theater residency that is now in its second week. Antigone in Ferguson incorporates a gospel choir into a new translation of Sophocles’ Antigone by Theater of War Productions artistic director Bryan Doerries, and I was filled and moved by the great strains of their singing as the choir rehearsed for hours in the lead up to opening night.
The power of gospel music builds when a soloist delivers a line of song echoed by and the choir, or when the full choir invites a congregation to echo a line.
For an utterly thrilling experience of call and response that will take you to the highest of heights be sure to see the film Amazing Grace, a documentary of Aretha Franklin’s live recording of her best-selling gospel album (called Amazing Grace) in a small Southern California Baptist church. You will hear the voice of God in Ms. Franklin’s singing and find it near impossible to resist her prayerful invitation to life in the Spirit.
The passage we read from the Gospel of John this Sunday harkens back to Holy Week from here in Eastertide. The text from John 13 is the conclusion of the passage heard on Maundy Thursday in which Jesus provides an example of loving service by washing the feet of the disciples.
Remember that the term “Maundy” is derived from the Latin word mandatum, or “commandment,” that Jesus issues and elucidates in John 13:34-35: “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.”
This commandment is less an order than an invitation or call. As Jesus’ call to love as he loved is echoed in Eastertide, our response – or refrain – can be lived, indeed embodied, through our loving, sometimes sacrificial, always reconciling service in his name.
All Manner of Thing
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, May 10, 2019
This has been an intense week. “Antigone in Ferguson” launched in our sanctuary Wednesday night; Fr. John and Mo. Kate spent a couple days gathered in conference with the clergy of the diocese for spiritual stimulation and retreat; and I’m just back from five days exploring an exciting program for the development of “early career” clergy at the University of Chicago Divinity School as a consultant on a project for the Lilly Endowment. There’s much that’s hopeful and important in each of those activities.
Meanwhile, in the world, the news seems unremittingly dark: another school shooting (three words that should never appear together) with another young person dying while saving others; another horrible cyclone hammers southeast Africa, causing death and destruction; global warming again remains unacknowledged by our leaders; and Rachel Held Evans, a young evangelical-turned-Episcopalian writer/blogger, theologian – source of wisdom, humor and invitation to her and every generation – has died tragically of disease at the age of 37.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, our calendar of saints remembered Julian of Norwich, the 14th-century English mystic and author of Revelations of Divine Love. In it, she shows us an image of the entire creation contained in the smallness of a hazelnut, a lovely way of expressing the ability of God to hold us tenderly in God’s hand. And from this book comes her most famous line: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” In this busy and frightening and resurrected spring, may we keep the faith she offers us.
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, May 3, 2019
Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
In the final chapters of the Gospel of John, the resurrected Jesus is patient with the disciples who, in their despair over losing him, don’t immediately recognize him. A series of moving encounters with the risen Lord includes the first for Mary Magdalene as Jesus calls her name, then for Thomas as he touches the wounds on Jesus’ hands, feet and side, and for all of the disciples together on the beach as Jesus invites them to share a breakfast he has prepared for them.
I love that Jesus provides his beloved companions time to realize who he is and come to know him intimately before he departs. Like the disciples, we don’t always appreciate what we’ve got until it’s (almost) gone.
By the time we bid farewell to him on Sunday, Chris Lee will have been among us as our seminarian intern for a full academic year. In some ways it seems like we’ve just gotten to know Chris and that he is leaving us too soon.
It didn’t take most of us very long to recognize Chris as an unassuming and approachable person with an authentic spirituality and dynamic gifts for ministry. He rolled up his sleeves right out of the gate to serve as an usher and as part of the hospitality team that welcomed our bishop and many guests to our church for the pro-cathedral designation ceremony in September. He then showed us that he was a skilled teacher of children and adults, a deep thinker, and an inspiring preacher. As the spring term rolled around, Chris helped organize parish volunteers for our outreach programs for the hungry and lined up musicians to accompany guests of the Welcome Table. Given that his commitment was a mere 8-10 hours a week, he will leave quite a legacy and a bit of a hole at St. Ann’s as his field placement comes to an end.
Yet Chris remains a member of All Saints Church in Park Slope and a resident of Brooklyn. Though it is yet unconfirmed, he will likely serve a nearby parish for a field placement in his final year at the General Theological Seminary. And, God willing and the people consenting, he will be ordained a deacon and priest in our diocese next year.
As Easter people, we can take stock of our time with Chris and of seeing and knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection in the ministry we have shared with him. If you can, please join us in sending off Chris with our thanks and hopes for his future service to the Church.
For the Beauty of the Earth
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, April 26, 2019
For the beauty of the Earth is a favorite hymn of mine. A reverie of praise, inspired by the wonders of the creation, it often springs to mind when spring is in the air. We will sing it Sunday as we hear the story of Thomas realizing the truth of Easter. The lyrics are by Folliott Sandford Pierpoint, who was also a poet. In 1878 he published a collection of poetry, The Chalice of Nature, which I share a portion of here in honor of Earth Day.
Dreamily gazing upwards,
And watching the clouds that fly,
Like the manifold shares of a vision,
Over the deep blue sky.
We have lost ourselves in heaven,
Gone up in a chariot of thought,
As Elijah of old in the fire car
To the heaven of heavens was caught.
We are drinking the nectar of Beauty,
The beauty that filleth up
The mighty chalice of Nature,
Her everlasting cup.
The nectar that God Almighty,
The Mercy, the great All-love,
Gives to His earthly children
To lift their thoughts above.
Sign of the Cross
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, April 17, 2019
The irony of the fire that destroyed the spire and roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris while it was undergoing restoration was lost on no one. As the building burned, the question on everyone’s mind was what would survive. Soon after the fire was extinguished, French president Emmanuel Macron brought a team inside to inspect the damage and made a surprising discovery. As a journalist with them reported, the group was awed by a vision of the cross still standing above the high altar and a sanctuary full of debris. Rather than death, they saw in it the promise of a new beginning and a sign of hope that resonates deeply with those of us who glory in the cross of Christ.
On Palm Sunday, we turned onto the road of Jesus’s passion along which we will continue to travel throughout the remainder of Holy Week. We move now toward the harsh reality of Jesus’ suffering and death, and as we do, the power of the cross comes alive as God’s intention to reconcile and restore what has been broken by sin comes into greater focus. Through the lens of the cross, we come to see how things which were cast down are being raised up and things which had grown old are being made new, and we are emboldened to embrace the great paradox at the heart of our faith.
John Bowring was a British industrialist, political economist, and man of letters whose professional career spanned the better part of the 19th century. He served as a Commissioner to France and Governor of Hong Kong, and famously attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. He managed to write 88 hymns, most of which appear in Unitarian hymnals, but two of which are in our own: Watchmen Tell Us of the Night and In the Cross of Christ I Glory. I share with you here the first verse of the latter hymn, an anthem for these and all our days:
In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.
A Changed Flickering Thing
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, April 12, 2019
Our journey of Lent culminates in Holy Week. As we stand at its threshold, I am reminded of a poem by Anita Barrows. Its title, Questo Muro (Latin for “this wall”), is drawn from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Dante has journeyed through the Inferno and is, at last, anticipating reunion with the one he has sought all along.
You will come at a turning of the trail
to a wall of flame
After the hard climb & the exhausted dreaming
you will come to a place where he
with whom you have walked this far
will stop, will stand
beside you on the treacherous steep path
& stare as you shiver at the moving wall, the flame
that blocks your vision of what
comes after. And that one
who you thought would accompany you always,
who held your face
tenderly a little while in his hands—
who pressed the palms of his hands into drenched grass
& washed from your cheeks the soot, the tear-tracks—
he is telling you now
that all that stands between you
& everything you have known since the beginning is this: this wall.
& the beloved, between yourself & your joy,
the riverbank swaying with wildflowers, the shaft
of sunlight on the rock, the song.
Will you pass through it now, will you let it consume
whatever solidness this is
you call your life, & send
you out, a tremor of heat,
a radiance, a changed
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, April 5, 2019
A beautiful illustration of musical performers inside our church accompanies an announcement of the Brooklyn Folk Festival in the listings section of this week’s New Yorker magazine and tells a blessed and hopeful story of our church in this moment. It’s an image of what’s possible when this faith institution seeks and supports partnerships with arts and cultural organizations whose missions intersect with our own.
The festival, which starts this evening and which we are hosting at St. Ann’s for the fifth year running, will draw hundreds of lovers of some very eclectic music into our sanctuary through Sunday evening. But at the height of the weekend on Sunday morning, the main events will be our two worship services.
We work in harmony – no pun intended – with our cultural partners, but we are the church first and foremost.
It is not new for St. Ann’s to host arts and cultural events, but there’s a growing appetite among our neighbors to use our sacred space to engage the minds, hearts and spirits of people through musical performance, visual arts, and spoken word events, as well as enthusiasm among our church’s leaders and members to welcome them.
Enter into this narrative Bryan Doerries, the final guest preacher in our Lenten series, “Reimagining the Possible.” Bryan’s innovations in theater and numerous honors and accolades for his accomplishments make welcoming him to St. Ann’s a distinct privilege. Even more exciting is that, as he takes his place in our pulpit, Bryan will launch a partnership between our church and Theater of War Productions for which he serves as artistic director. The three-month residency of his piece Antigone in Ferguson, with performances that begin at St. Ann’s in early May and run through mid-July, represents the next phase of Bryan’s engagement of audiences in reimagining the possible.
The Theater of War website states: “Antigone in Ferguson was conceived in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in 2014, through a collaboration between Theater of War Productions and community members from Ferguson, Missouri.…The project fuses a dramatic reading by leading actors of excerpts from Sophocles’ Greek tragedy with live choral music performed by a choir of activists, police officers, youth, and concerned citizens from Ferguson and New York City. The performance is the catalyst for panel and audience-driven discussions about racialized violence, structural oppression, misogyny, gender violence, and social justice, which serve as the core component of the event.”
As Christians committed to the reconciliation that Jesus preached and embodied, we know it is vital for fellow citizens to seek common ground through dialogue, which in divisive times like these, can happen only through risk-taking. Antigone in Ferguson does not preach to the choir, as it were. It does not insinuate a partisan prescription for co-existence into the proceedings, but rather invites those “with skin in the game,” as Bryan puts it, to speak their truth and listen to others’ truth. In his New York Times review of the spring 2018 run of Antigone in Ferguson at the Harlem Stage, Ben Brantley described it as a production in which “the audience becomes the chorus.”
Although the choir is not preached to in Antigone in Ferguson, it is integral to the piece. And so it will be an added blessing to welcome to the 11:15 am Holy Eucharist on Sunday guest artist Philip Woodmore, the composer and performer of the music for the production, who will provide piano accompaniment on several hymns and perform two anthems. We won’t have to wait long to attend a performance – which is free to the public – and hear the full choir.
We’re embracing an opportunity and ushering in a new era at St. Ann’s. Here’s to our willingness to welcome in partners to join us in a sacred mission to feed souls, heal divisions, and build bridges among people – and to what’s possible along the road of risk and freedom!
Introducing St. Ann’s Lending Library
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, March 29, 2019
Who doesn’t love books? Solid in the hand, with the heft of wisdom. I’ll admit I do like using my digital reader, especially on the subway, but I love the feeling of actually holding a book. And the best book is one that has been recommended by someone else. I love the enthusiasm, the “you have to read this!” excitement that conveys that person’s great experience of the book. Our church is now putting these two things together: we’re creating a small lending library, a cart of books that we are recommending to each other.
Here’s how it works: donate a couple of books of a spiritual nature that you have enjoyed but are ready to pass on. Note three key words or phrases in that sentence: donate and a couple and of a spiritual nature. You’re giving these to the church, and you won’t get them back. But please don’t clean off your bookshelves to support our library! Our invitation is to bring a book or two at a time. Also, please don’t bring your favorite beach novel or history of tractors. We’re looking for spiritual resources, biblical commentaries, church history, things you’ve enjoyed reading about the Christian faith or spirituality broadly. We’ll stamp them as property of the parish, put them on a cart that will be rolled into the parish hall on Sunday mornings, and welcome all to help themselves to a good read. Take a book at a time, try to remember to return it, enjoy!
I’m starting things off by donating two copies of my own book, Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City, that was the subject of my recent Black History Month presentation, It will be there now for anyone who wishes to read it. I look forward to seeing what titles you add to the shelves and indulging in our new lending library with you!
An Invitation from Dawood Mosque
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, March 22, 2019
Brooklyn is a city of churches, synagogues, meeting houses and mosques. One of its treasures is our local Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association. Priests, pastors, rabbis and imams are on a first-name basis here. We pray together. We know the feel of each other’s sanctuaries and our meetings, held once a month with rotating hosts, are attended religiously.
St. Ann’s hosted this past Wednesday and the seats overflowed with attendees. Dr. Ahmad Jaber, chairman of the Masjid Dawood (Dawood Mosque) and a fixture of the group, was asked how we could support his community following the terrorist attacks on worshipers at prayer in New Zealand mosques. Dr. Jaber reminded us of a longstanding invitation.
Our local Dawood Mosque was opened in 1947 in an unassuming townhouse on State Street — the first mosque to be established in New York State. For years at every Ramadan, the congregation has invited the wider community to an iftar (breaking of the fast). The month of Ramadan begins on Sunday, May 5, and we will again be invited to celebrate with our neighbors as they observe one of the five pillars of Islam, on a date to be determined soon.
It is Fr. John’s and my hope that together, the people of St. Ann’s can accept this invitation in a manner that conveys the Christian commitment to peace, love of God and love of neighbor.
Please continue to hold our Muslim brothers and sisters in prayer. As we move closer to the Easter season, more will be shared on this and other opportunities to support and befriend our Muslim neighbors.
Passion for the Possible
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, March 15, 2019
The word passion has its roots in Jesus journey to the cross. Passio, which means suffering, is found in the earliest Latin translations of New Testament texts in the 2nd century. It was centuries before passion came to mean “strong emotion” in the 11th century and more centuries still before Shakespeare construed the word to mean sexual desire.
In Lent, we engage the truth of Jesus’ suffering with trepidation and determination, as we move toward our prayerful contemplation of the height and depth of his passion in Holy Week and the promised hope that propels him forward.
We are blessed in this holy season for the chance to welcome into our pulpit four individuals who are demonstrating tenacity, persistence and a passionate resolve in their work to address personal questions and collective challenges that are big and entrenched. Their passion for the possible will inspire us.
Come to church these next four Sundays to hear from them, and expect an invitation to join them in embracing change, if you possibly can.
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, March 5, 2019
The gospel reading from Matthew heard on Ash Wednesday each year is a lengthy exhortation by Jesus to keep a low profile while participating in the practice of faith. Jesus insists that the giving of alms, personal prayer, and fasting are activities to be done “in secret.” This stands in contrast to the very public Ash Wednesday practice of bearing a cross in ashes on our foreheads, which is as popular as ever among Christians across denominations. At St. Ann’s, as many or more people come to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday as attend services on Christmas and Easter.
Contradiction or not, I see this as a positive development in an era of church decline generally and believe the desire to receive ashes reflects a bold commitment to a fresh start in a demanding new season of the Church year. It is way for Christians to visibly acknowledge the burden of sin in our lives and signifies our intention to turn to God for forgiveness, which is the very definition of repentance and the first and most important step on the road to wholeness.
During Lent at St. Ann’s, you will be offered many ways to stay the course and deepen your relationship to God, including ongoing and new opportunities for spiritual growth and renewal. The programs you will read about in the listing here below are resources in which you are encouraged to indulge. Be bold and embrace all you can, but pace yourself and count on good company while traveling on this next phase your faith journey.
Seasons and Transitions
Chris Lee, Seminarian Intern, March 1, 2019
This Sunday, the season of celebration we call Epiphany comes to end, and we begin preparing for a time of deeper discernment: the holy season of Lent. It’s a transition marked by a set of scriptural readings that are among the most remarkable in the Bible. I’m referring to Luke’s version of the story of the transfiguration in which the entire body of Jesus is transformed into “dazzling white” before the disciples on a mountaintop; and also to the story in Exodus of Moses’ face shining with the radiance of God after he spends 40 days in God’s presence at the top of Mount Sinai.
Folks like Peter and Aaron, who were with Jesus and Moses respectively on these occasions, found it hard to completely trust the vision of these holy figures. I think that’s because their transfigured state is deeply complex, conveying both the joy and the unsettling strangeness of God. The light of God that each casts is light that guides us to truth, but also exposes us in all our neediness; light that empowers us, but from which we can’t hide. It’s this light that we’ll want to carry onto our Lenten journeys, which I pray will lead us all into greater knowledge of ourselves, our world, and of God.
Speaking of seasons and transitions, I was rather stunned to realize that I have only a few months left with you. It seems like yesterday that Bishop Provenzano was here to designate St. Ann & the Holy Trinity as the Pro-Cathedral of our diocese, but it was the week after I arrived here last September!
Although I plan to be fully present among you and have some ambitious plans for this spring, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone again for the warmth and grace with which I have been received here. Please know that serving you has left a mark on me that is deeper than anything I can hope to leave for you.
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, February 22, 2019
This week the Church celebrates Frederick Douglass, Prophetic Witness, on February 20. Renowned orator, writer and statesman, Douglass was a leader of the abolitionist movement and women’s suffrage movement. On the morning of his death, as recorded in his 1895 New York Times obituary, Douglass attended a meeting of the Women’s Council. That evening he planned to deliver an address at his local church.
Douglass’ Christian example can hardly be overstated. Not least among his contributions to our tradition is his unapologetically progressive approach to Scripture. At a time when many Christians seized upon Bible verses that appeared to defend the status quo for women and African Americans, Douglass had enough faith to wrestle with their true meaning. We have a glimpse of this in his famous “Dialog between a Slave Holder and the Bible.”
Douglass’ fidelity to Scripture is a reminder that in order to keep the Word of God alive, we’re wise to “hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it” (Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Proper 28) anew and afresh, at every opportunity.
Nevertheless, God Loves
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, February 15, 2019
As Black History Month has proceeded, the news has been filled with one incident after another of politicians being caught in acts of racial insensitivity, and outright racism, either past or present. It hardly seems uplifting, this national spectacle. Are we as a people simply defined by our racism, sexism, ethnic prejudice, xenophobia, homophobia, and nationalistic jingoism?
As members of the Body of Christ, we have a more hopeful vision. We are all sinners, we do all fall short of the vision God has of us and who we can be, we do all fall short of our own vision of our best selves on a regular basis. In fact, we know that there are frightened and selfish parts of ourselves we’d rather no one, especially God, could see, but we are made aware by the Holy Spirit of our oneness in Christ’s Body nonetheless. And that “nonetheless” is key: it reminds us that we are connected even when we divide ourselves, that we are forgiven even when we act out of fear and envy, that we are called to be better people even when we fail ourselves, that we are loved even when we act in unlovable ways. And in that knowledge, we are called to tell the world of God’s love for us and for everyone, nonetheless.
The Miraculous Catch
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, February 8, 2019
This Sunday’s gospel story is set early on in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus walks along the shores of a lake at dawn. Three fishermen are pulling in their nets after a long, fruitless night and Jesus urges them back into the water to try again. The fishermen are James, John and Peter and this is the story of their call. In the end, they enjoy a miraculous catch. But it comes gradually, unexpectedly and on the heels of disappointment.
Black History Month
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, February 1, 2019
I am honored to kick off Black History Month with a talk about Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City, the 2005 book that grew out of my doctoral dissertation. In it I wrote about St. Philip’s Church, the first black Episcopal church in New York and the second in the country after St. Thomas’ Church in Philadelphia. The Rev. Peter Williams, the first rector of St. Philip’s, was also the second African American ordained in our denomination.
I pursued this history because I was intrigued that the Episcopal Diocese of New York managed to keep the congregation from being admitted into its annual conventions, and thus from functioning as a full Episcopal parish, for the first 45 years of its existence — due, of course, to simple and stunningly explicit racism — and yet changed course and voted to admit the parish in 1853, eight years before the Civil War. What caused this change, I wondered? And just who were the people of St. Philip’s that, in the same period that saw the creation of the first black congregations in other more welcoming denominations, insisted on gaining acceptance in an unfriendly one?
My explorations opened a window onto the intersections of race and religion in our city in that period, introduced me to a fascinating group of otherwise forgotten individuals, and provided a look at how the generally conservative structures of the Episcopal Church express a faith that can push the denomination in rather more activist directions than it often realizes it is going. I hope you’ll join me for this discussion.
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, January 26, 2019
A tradition of marking the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has faded over the last decade or so. Evidence of the decline of this observance is that the week has passed again this year with hardly a mention in church circles. The seeming shift away from concerns for Christian unity may reflect the growing divisiveness in our society over the last several decades, but more likely has to do with the broader investment of churches in interfaith relationships.
Still we can and must continue to pray for unity among the great variety and many expressions of Christian churches that share a devotion to Christ’s teachings.
This Sunday’s passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians follows from last week’s in encouraging unity within the Church. For Paul, the human body serves as a metaphor for the Church as the Body of Christ. To Paul, no member or part of the body is more important; each part supports the others and functions as part of the whole. No part can claim to dominate or function independently of the body.
Paul subverts accepted notions of hierarchy by saying, “[T]he members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this.”
The rigor with which St. Paul seeks to foster goodwill among believers demonstrates that the struggles of church life and governance are as old as the institution itself.
In pursuit of unity within the wider Church, and in parishes like St. Ann’s, I can endorse an operating principle for community organizers that I believe is at the heart of St. Paul’s teaching, which is that everyone has a piece of the truth.
There is goodwill and a spirit of unity at work at St. Ann’s that I celebrate, but never take for granted. It is a gift of God that requires intentionality on our part to preserve.
As we move more deeply into this new year, let’s recommit ourselves to encourage the unique gifts of our members and honor the contributions of all. Let us celebrate who we are in Christ and reflect the hope of the Church to foster unity within it and everywhere around it.
Letters from the Saints
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, January 18, 2018
The oldest documents in the New Testament are letters. Written by Paul from various ports, churches and prisons along the Mediterranean, they carry a particular quality that is often absent in more formal compositions. We can more easily imagine the sights and smells of the rooms in which they were composed, Paul’s state of mind. With context, they are a window not only to Paul but to the Holy Spirit, working through him.
I have enjoyed reading the letters of Martin Luther King, Jr. this week for similar reasons. Most can be found online through the Martin Luther King. Jr. Papers Project, a resource that includes not only big letters but small ones, including childhood notes, handwritten or composed on King’s first typewriter, complete with spelling errors. For the most part, these are the reports of a dutiful eleven-year-old to his parents. As Martin Luther King Senior, pastor of First Ebeneezer Baptist Church, and his wife traveled for church business, their son filled them in on life at home (bake sales, school registration deadlines, paper routes, sermon reviews).
There are instances, in the letters of Paul, when the Spirit of God breaks through with astonishing clarity. We read one such passage this Sunday, from 1 Corinthians. I find it to be the same with letters of Martin Luther King, Jr. With the benefit of hindsight, it is difficult not to see the Holy Spirit working through King, even in those early days.
Much of life may seem this way in retrospect. Part of what the season of Epiphany is about is recognizing the bright thread of God’s work as it unfolds.
Building and Connecting
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, January 11, 2018
Men build too many walls and not enough bridges. Joseph Fort Newton
As residents of North Brooklyn wonder whether their only means by subway to Manhattan will or won’t shut down this spring, Brooklynites in our neck of the woods can celebrate the 111th anniversary of the opening of the tunnel between the Brooklyn Borough Hall and Bowling Green this week!
Clearly we humans were made to be connectors, not dividers, though we are hearing more these days about disconnection than connection, about walls more than tunnels or bridges.
The quote here by Joseph Fort Newton compelled me to learn more about him. Newton was born in 1876 in Texas, attended seminary in Kentucky, and was ordained a Baptist minister before he turned 20. He served congregations in the South and Midwest and earned a reputation as a brilliant preacher. Newton’s sermons brought him fame in England where he lived and traveled for several years and urged understanding between the British and American people.
Newton returned to the U.S., continued his education in the Northeast and amassed numerous degrees. He was a prolific author. Among his most famous books is one he wrote early in his career that is still considered a definitive volume on Freemasonry called The Builders: A Story and Study of Freemasonry.
Newton was serving a church in New York City and editing The Christian Century when he was invited in 1925 by the Bishop of Pennsylvania to become an Episcopal priest and went on to serve several parishes in Philadelphia until his death in 1950.
Newton’s interest in building bridges over walls resonates with the gospel for this Sunday from Luke 3. For the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, we hear again of John the Baptist at the River Jordan acknowledging to those gathered to be baptized by him that one is coming who will baptize with the Spirit and with fire. Jesus also is baptized by John before these many witnesses. And then the voice of God is heard saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” God, the great bridge builder, reveals that what might seem like a divide between heaven and earth is an open border.
God connects heaven and earth in Jesus, the divine one who takes on mortal flesh for the cause of salvation. Jesus is the bridge whose life affirms our humanity. He orients us heavenward by inviting us to be kingdom builders on earth. Looking up and ahead to a new year, with the spirit of baptism to lead us, let’s roll up our sleeves and be ready to get to work building up and connecting for heaven’s sake.
A New Road
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, January 5, 2018
The story of the wise men is generally romanticized, and I am afraid we only helped to reinforce the most charming notions of the three kings in our Nativity pageant again this Christmas.
We would do well to admit that much of what is claimed about the magi is hard to prove. Were they kings, magicians, astrologers or Zoroastrian priests? And where does it say there were three of them? Yet, as we hear the tale of the wise men again on Epiphany, we would do well to embrace its lessons.
There is a dark side to the wise men’s tale. King Herod’s immediate response to them is fear that grows stronger as the drama unfolds. He is immediately suspicious and ultimately deceptive in his dealings with them. His attempt to thwart the influence of the newborn king (and the subsequent lengths to which he’ll go to destroy him) is a stark reminder of the threat to earthly power Jesus represents and of the danger Jesus will face throughout his life. Just as troublesome is the fact that the gifts presented by the wise men to Jesus are gold and frankincense with royal associations, but also myrrh with associations to death.
But then on the bright side there is the star! Among the most moving moments in the tale comes as Matthew explains that when the star they were following stopped, the wise men were “overwhelmed with joy.” I can’t help but remember arriving to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela at the end my pilgrimage last spring and rejoicing to the point of tears, and watching other pilgrims jump for joy. The feeling we shared was more than the relief of a weary traveler; it was genuine wonder and deeply spiritual, an experience I imagine also for the magi. These men come face to face with the incarnate God and fall to their knees.
We know this isn’t the end of their journey. As is true for all pilgrims seeking to know God, the wise men’s path will continue on ahead. They wisely reject the fear behind them and let the light inside them propel them forward. As Matthew tells us, “They returned home by another road.”
Among the great lessons of Epiphany is that the wise men from the East who are foreigners and outsiders will reveal the truth of God in Jesus to the wide world. Amidst the numerous and sometimes hard to explain traditions spun from their story, we celebrate their ultimate gift to generations in the Church.
Through our own encounter with God incarnate this Christmas and with the light of Christ inside us, may we step boldly into this new season, onto a new road along our journey of faith, with a joy that is deep and wide and casts out fear and that brings light and love to the wide world.
The Light of All People
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, December 27, 2019
On this first Sunday of Christmas we read John’s inimitable Prologue: In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
After a season of waiting, and the longest night of the year, the light has come again. It reminds me of an account of an early, indelible experience of God by contemporary Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister.
As a young teenager, kneeling in a dark cathedral one night, with no illumination in the church but the sanctuary lamp, I had an experience of intense light. I was thirteen years old and totally convinced that, whatever it was and wherever it came from, the light was God. Perhaps it was a good janitor working late, or a bad switch that did not work at all, or a startling insight given, given to a young woman, given gratuitously. I did not know then and do not know now. But I did know that the light was God and that God was light.
Between now and Good Friday, nights grow shorter. The days grow longer and we will be warmed by the light of God in Christ.
A Christmas Perspective
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, December 22, 2018
It is impossible for me to look back on the year gone by without considering the impact of my sabbatical experience this spring. I ventured across the Atlantic Ocean and spent three happy months in several European countries. The sabbatical was a success in every way, most of all in giving me a bit of perspective on my life at home.
Commentators lately are taking stock of the year just past, and also remembering a major event from 50 years ago, that is, the successful mission of Apollo 8 in which humans left earth’s atmosphere and orbited the moon for the first time in history. A great byproduct of the mission was the transmission of the iconic photograph by one of the three-member crew of astronauts, Major William Anders, called “Earthrise.”
In a just-published piece in the New York Times, Dennis Overbye considers the photograph to be “a gift of perspective at the end of a long, dark year.” 1968 was an exciting and in many ways exceptional year, defined in part by cultural shifts and political upheaval, including demands for civil rights, anti-war protests, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy—“the best of times and the worst of times,” as Overbye suggests.
The Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast from space stunned and stilled a weary and anxious American public. The crew broke a long radio silence by reading from Genesis 1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” began Major Anders, and Commander Frank Borman continued, “And God saw that it was good.” In retrospect, the triumph of the Apollo 8 mission is not merely in humans reaching the moon, but in us discovering earth.
I pray that you had experiences in 2018 as worthy of celebration as my sabbatical. But you and I know that across our nation, at our borders, and around the globe in 2018 the suffering of God’s people has been at least as extreme as it was in 1968.
At Christmas, we are reminded that God does not just gaze on the magnificence of the creation from a distance. For ages of ages God has seen and felt the pain of God’s people—that is, the whole human family—and has entered into it. In Jesus, God is present in flesh and blood.
Let’s make the highlight of this year the remembrance of God in flesh and blood among us at Christmas. Let us recall that God’s immeasurable gift of Godself in Jesus affirms all flesh and insists we never fail to see ourselves in one another. Let us acknowledge a world of communities and hearts convulsing with the pain of loss and alienation while struggling for peace and security, and accept that since God won’t turn away from these harsh realities we cannot either.
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, December 14, 2018
This Sunday we light the third candle in our Advent wreath. One can’t help but notice it’s pink. Dancers move among us at the offertory, and, in keeping with tradition, one of our members will set flowers beside the altar. It is Gaudete Sunday, named for the Latin gaudete, meaning rejoice — a bright spot in the dark season of Advent.
This week marks a shift in the nature of the preparations we make for Christ. Our penitential tone gives way to joy as we acknowledge the imminent possibility of encounter with God. Rejoice as you draw water from salvation’s living stream! sings the Psalmist. Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say Rejoice, writes Paul.
Christian joy is distinct from happiness. Henri Nouwen writes, “We can be unhappy about many things, but joy can still be there.…At every moment of our life we have an opportunity to choose joy.…It is in the choice that our true freedom lies, and in that freedom is, in the final analysis, the freedom to love.”
Urgent and Bold
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, December 7, 2018
Two things we can count on at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church on the Second Sunday of Advent is that we will hear from John the Baptist and gather for our annual meeting. One wonders if our forebears who identified Advent II as the date for the parish annual meeting saw the significance of this overlap.
John cries out in the wilderness with a message that is urgent and bold: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight!” He reminds us that the God of expectation has expectations of us.
At our annual meeting, we affirm the leadership of the church and take stock of our accomplishments in ministry over the past year. Of course, our most practical and important purpose at this gathering is, with the urgency and boldness of John the Baptist, to proclaim our hope in the one who comes among us and calls us to follow him into all truth, and set a course to pursue mission in the year (and years!) ahead.
We know that the coming one heralded by John will not settle in, but instead will move with us and challenge us to be bearers of his light that resists the encroaching darkness and grows stronger, even as we light another candle on the Advent wreath.
See you on Sunday!
In the Beginning
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, November 30, 2018
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
Thus begins “The Highwayman,” an overnight sensation when it was first published in England in 1906. The author is Alfred Noyes, a Romantic poet who turned to religious themes later in his life. While this particular poem is about star crossed lovers, it carries the current of anticipation that defines the season of Advent.
The first season of the Church year, Advent begins this Sunday. Its liturgical color is deep blue: we begin our year in darkness. As we await the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World, we light a new candle on the Advent wreath every Sunday in church.
Scripture draws from the prophets: Be alert! Isaiah cries. Prepare the way of the Lord…make His paths straight! Luke’s gospel, read this Sunday, is equally compelling. Stand up!…Raise your heads and be on guard…Your redemption is drawing near.
How will we prepare for God? What will happen when God comes? Anticipation, indeed. And what a way to start the new year!
King of Kings
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, November 21, 2018
The last Sunday before Advent, this Sunday, is the Feast of Christ the King, celebrating his rule over all creation. And every year as it arrives, I find I can’t get the Hallelujah Chorus out of my mind. While many aficionados think other sections of Handel’s Messiah are musically superior, the Hallelujah Chorus is the section that really gets stuck in our heads. I think of it as a classical music “earworm,” one of those tunes that dig into your ear and just won’t leave.
Some of the popularity is that it’s just so much fun to sing (or sing along with) — it’s full of bombast and loud voices leaping over and around each other. I loved singing it in church choir as a teenager. It also, of course, has the legend attached to it of England’s King George II standing during its premiere performance in London. And because he stood, everyone else had to (no sitting when the king stands), and everyone still does.
Why did George stand? Was he overwhelmed by the majesty of the music, the lyrics, Christ the King? No one knows. Did he really stand? No one knows that for certain either. But though we won’t be singing it in our services this Sunday, it would be good to let it echo in our ear as we come to church for this feast. The lyrics, from the Book of Revelation, sing our faith for this occasion:
Hallelujah! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
The Kingdom of this world is become
the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ:
and He shall reign for ever and ever.
King of kings, Lord of lords.
Celebrating 150 Years
The Rev. Kat Salisbury, Associate Rector, November 16, 2018
Today representatives of our parish join delegates from our 132 sister Episcopal congregations at the convention of the Diocese of Long Island. Lay and ordained people vote on matters ranging from church leadership to liturgical language, new ministries to the allocation of funds. This gathering is a fabulous example of how we work and move together as a Church. This year is particularly special as we also celebrate the 150th birthday of our diocese with the Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, who will be joining us in our work and worship.
Bishop Curry’s ministry is marked by spiritual vitality and a clear sense that God is calling the Church to an exciting and essential new chapter in its history. Below is an excerpt from his “Invitation to Practice the Way of Love.”
In the first century Jesus of Nazareth inspired a movement. A community of people whose lives were centered on Jesus Christ and committed to living the way of God’s unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial, and redemptive love. Before they were called “church” or “Christian,” this Jesus Movement was simply called “The Way.”
Today I believe our vocation is to live as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.…
…I pray we will grow as communities following the loving, liberating, life-giving way of Jesus. His way has the power to change each of our lives and to change this world.
Please keep the St. Ann’s delegation in your prayers as we discern our unique role in this movement. Feel free, as you are moved, to email church leadership with your own reflections of where God is calling our Church. And stay tuned for a report from this historic gathering.
A Prayer After an Election*
God of all nations,
Creator of the human family,
we give you thanks for the freedom we exercise
and the many blessings of democracy we enjoy
in these United States of America.
We lift up all our duly elected leaders and public servants,
those who will serve us as legislators and judges,
those in the military and law enforcement.
Heal us from our differences and unite us, O God,
with a common purpose, dedication, and commitment
to achieve liberty and justice in the years ahead for all people,
and especially those who are most vulnerable in our midst.
*Adapted from a prayer published on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, with special thanks to the Rev. Barbara Crafton who shared it this week with her Geranium Farm readers.
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, November 2, 2018
Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike. Psalm 139:12
Darkness gets more familiar this time of year in this part of the Northern hemisphere, but it never feels comfortable. And, just as the days are shortening, our country is experiencing a dark turn that is more than uncomfortable; it is intolerable.
Among the recent spate of terror-inducing threats and acts of violence that began over a week ago was one in our own neighborhood on the eve of Halloween when swastikas and racial slurs were etched in chalk onto the street and private property on a block in Brooklyn Heights. We must stand against the hatred that motivated each of these heinous actions, and the incivility demonstrated in all of it.
For the record, I have not lost hope for better days and believe in the good that persists among us as reflected in the great show of unity and solidarity of good willed people with members of the Jewish community at vigils and memorials for those massacred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last Saturday.
But the loss suffered by the families of those whose lives were so tragically taken is devastating and deep and their mourning will not end soon.
This is a season of the church year in which we remember those lost to us who we have mourned and continue to mourn. The gospel reading appointed for All Saints’ Day (November 1), which we’ll celebrate on Sunday, is the familiar story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus is brought to the tomb of his friend, the scripture says “he began to weep.” This is a rare glimpse of Jesus displaying his emotions in the gospels, and so moving, and so affirming of our grief on losing loved ones and friends.
Beyond grief, the families of those who died and our Jewish brothers and sisters are experiencing shock, anger and horror at anti-Semitism turning deadly. Yet the burden felt by our Jewish fellow Americans is our burden too, because we value our democracy, the free expression of religion, and our pluralistic society; and it is personal, because we support and share friendships with our Jewish neighbors, and because our community at St. Ann’s includes interreligious couples with one Jewish spouse or partner! There is no us and them; there is just us.
As in the face of all conflict, we’ll confront hatred with love. Though I’m getting the word out later than I wish, there is still time to participate in “Show Up for Shabbat” campaign organized by AJC Global Jewish Advocacy.
On Sunday, the gospel will remind us how Jesus asserts life in the face of death, and we’ll light candles to recall the lights of those souls and saints who have gone before us. During our sandwich-making and community meal for our hungry neighbors, we’ll write notes to the congregations at Tree of Life Synagogue.
And so we’ll march into the darkness, asserting life and light.
A Royal Priesthood
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, October 18, ,2018
When I was ordained to the priesthood in 1983, my bishop presented me with an ordination certificate that is encircled in large calligraphy with a passage from this week’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews: “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” It’s a great but somewhat obscure saying, a reference to the priest-king of Salem in the Book of Genesis who blesses Abraham in the name of the “God Most High.” The passage thus points back to Melchizedek as an example of one who is a priest by serving, not by birth — and then it points forward to Jesus as a divine example of the same. It is a bit daunting to be included by my ordination in such an “order,” which is why so many prayers are asked of the congregation at an ordination service. Many prayers will also be asked of all of us who are able to attend the service this Sunday afternoon at our neighbor, Grace Church, when they institute the Rev. Dr. Allen Robinson as their fifteenth Rector. It will be a joyous celebration — but not just of Dr. Robinson, for the service celebrates the congregation and all of its ministries as well. It is good to remember, then, that the status of the ordained is conferred by the bishop and the people of God — all of whom the First Letter of Peter calls “a royal priesthood.” After the order of Melchizedek, indeed.
Surviving and Thriving
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, October 5, 2018
Sunday’s gospel passage includes the second reference in a few weeks to Jesus inviting children to come to him and pressing his hearers to “receive the kingdom” as little ones. Add this to the list of ways Jesus goes out on a limb to give place to the gifts and concerns of the invisible and voiceless in society. Spotlighting children’s innocence and openness challenges us grown ups to seek hope beyond our disillusionment and cynicism. But Jesus is not naïve about children’s vulnerability and invites us to reckon with the tension of knowing that they can only lead and inspire us if we protect them.
The pain of too many stories of children being violated has been magnified recently by the gruesome accounts of widespread atrocities committed against children in the Catholic Church. There is clear evidence that the trauma caused by sexual violence endures for a lifetime, and also some comfort in discovering that many victims of abuse as children and adults are finding their voices and relief from the weight of their psychological and emotional burden of their experiences by bravely coming forward to tell their stories.
During the feedback session at a recent #MeToo forum organized by the Yale Divinity School, an attendee tried to persuade the panelists and audience that the use of the term “survivor” was inappropriate to describe victims of sexual violence. She insisted her Jewish parents from Poland who escaped extermination by the Nazis could more reasonably be thought of as survivors. Her concern was that the meaning and impact of the word “survivor” is diluted when applied so broadly. There was general agreement among the conference participants that the woman’s parents were indeed survivors, but so too the women and men who have suffered the horrors of sexual violence or abuse.
October is Women’s Cancers Awareness Month, and we believe and celebrate that the women in our parish and in our lives who came through breast cancer diagnoses and endured treatment are indeed survivors.
As the Church, we are called to accompany and encourage survivors wherever they are on their journey to healing. We are also called to boldly protect the vulnerable from ever being violated – a cause for which today’s winners of the Nobel Peace Prize were awarded. We are called to insure that the vulnerable entrusted to our care are safe always and, in all ways, to support one another to thrive and prosper.
Cover to Cover
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, September 28, 2018
Have you ever tried to read the Bible cover-to-cover, only to find yourself bogged down pretty quickly? Me too. Oh, over the course of my seminary education, I read it all, but that was course-by-course, not in order and not as a constant effort. I tried to go cover-to-cover several times before and after seminary, and I never made it past the middle of Leviticus! It’s hard. It’s old, archaic writing from a time and culture so radically different than ours that it just doesn’t read like anything with which we’re familiar. And once you hit the lists of laws in Leviticus, it gets really hard – for me, at least.
But here’s the key I learned: read it together, in a group! Read it steadily, a bit at a time, don’t be afraid to skim some big chunks, but get together with people and talk about what you’ve been reading. Then you can help each other push through. I did that, and it worked. And now I’m offering to do it again. Read the Bible with me! We’ll start next Thursday, we’ll meet monthly, and we’ll get through the Old Testament by May. Then we’ll do the New Testament next fall.
Why? Because the Bible is the foundation of our faith. Because it opens up a world of spiritual depth and understanding that is really quite extraordinary. Because it’s strange and quirky and powerful. Because each time we read some of the Bible, we have a chance to grow with God.
Deep and Wide
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, September 21, 2018
Sunday’s celebration and consecration of our church as pro-cathedral was as joyous an occasion as could be! The photos now posted in an album on St. Ann’s website tell the story beautifully. We will continue to celebrate and serve, enlivened by the support and trust extended to us by colleagues and friends from other parishes and many in the wider community. And we’ll begin a process of discernment of our new role in the diocese as the Spirit leads us together.
As the church, we hold onto joy as we respond to a world of need. Consider that on Sunday our parade along Montague Street to the church and glorious Evensong service took place on a temperate late-summer’s day as our neighbors to the south were in the throes of a pummeling by Hurricane Florence.
Our new status as pro-cathedral should provide a heightened sense of God’s expansive call to us. Among the announcements below, you’ll find an invitation to assist folks in one of the many hard hit communities in North Carolina by last week’s devastating storms. You’ll discover more opportunities at St. Ann’s to serve other vulnerable people and show hospitality locally, and to learn and grow in faith.
Which leads me to an important, time-sensitive invitation. Active members of St. Ann’s recently received a link to a “spiritual inventory” and were urged to complete it by October 7 as the first step of the Renewal Works program launch. You will hear much more about Renewal Works in the weeks and months ahead, but please know that the clergy and vestry has embraced the program to provide a means for us to explore our personal spiritual lives more deeply and to take the spiritual pulse of our parish. We believe Renewal Works will make it possible for our community to engage in what some in other parishes refer to as “The Great Conversation.”
And so we go, with joy and openness, launching a new era of ministry as we dive into new adventures in faith!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, December 15, 2017
In the dark,
Brighter than many ever see.
Through the soul’s own mastery.
And now the world receives
From her dower:
The message of the strength
Of inner power.
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.
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.