The following are occasional reflections of St. Ann’s clergy or special visitors to our parish.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, May 7, 2021
Restrictions on large gatherings are beginning to lift statewide, and we will move toward more openness at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity. But we will remain vigilant in following health protocols and take every precaution to keep each other safe, as the threat of Covid infection persists, and the challenge of vaccine access and vaccine hesitancy endures.
Meanwhile, the scriptures in this season call us to act boldly and decisively where we can.
In last week’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles, Philip interprets the scripture for the Ethiopian to whom he has been sent by the Spirit, and when they come to a body of water along the road they are traveling, the Ethiopian asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” And the baptism takes place immediately.
The passage from Acts this Sunday follows Peter’s sermon about the wide reach of God’s mercy and acceptance. Here the disciples acknowledge their surprise that some Gentiles were among those who received the outpouring of the Spirit while Peter was speaking. Peter then asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” and he gives instructions for them to be baptized.
We will proceed with caution where we must, but we can respond without hesitation to the longing for renewal and life in community that we see in the hearts of God’s people now, and as often as the Spirit reveals it.
The Vine and the Branches
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, April 29, 2021
Minard LaFever, architect of our church, must have known this Sunday’s gospel by heart. I am the vine, you are the branches, Jesus says.
A vine motif beginning at the base of our Sanctuary’s stonework culminates in ripe grapes just below the ceiling. Nearer to the ground, stained glass windows depict Jesus’s lineage not as a tree but a sturdy family vine. These forms convey the sense that the roots of our faith are deep and very much alive.
This year I’ve been struck not only by the loveliness of spring flowers but by the power at their source. Flowers are not decorative. They have work to do; essential work of conveying new life. They are the fruit of passion, if a tree can be said to have passion. The tree devotes great resources and energy to their formation, with nothing to gain for itself. Flowers are gifts, freely given, for the life of the whole.
The Easter season begins with re-birth and, from there, moves to growth. Jesus goes into considerable detail, employing this metaphor of the vine, to describe the nature of spiritual growth in God. Even with success comes inevitable, and necessary, pruning. The branch is in service not only to the root but always to the flower. This requires continually making space for something new.
Joy and Sorrow
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, April 22, 2021
The parable of the Good Shepherd in John’s Gospel reminds us of the unconditional love and sacrifice that God freely offers. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” There is a comforting intimacy when Jesus then says, “I know my own and my own know me.” We feel loved, and deeply seen. And he quickly adds that this is not an exclusive club: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also.” He extends his loving embrace to all.
This is cause for rejoicing, but our joy is tempered by the somber knowledge that this passage foreshadows his crucifixion. Our only path toward resurrection, hope and new life is through the Cross — perhaps the most famous incident of brutal state violence in human history. Living under an imperial occupation, Jesus knew all too well what it was like to have someone’s knee on his neck.
When the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial was announced this week, there was a collective exhale around the world. As we remembered George Floyd’s final words “I can’t breathe,” we inhaled deeply, and then breathed out, as if trying to breathe for him.
My emotions were tangled and confused, and I stopped to wonder if it is possible to feel deep sorrow and joy at the same time. I was elated, yet simultaneously felt gutted, on the verge of tears for hours. In testimonies since the verdict, members of George Floyd’s own family described being wracked with grief, while feeling pride that his death would change the course of history.
This Gospel challenges us to sit with complex emotions. The Good Shepherd will love us, guide us, and never leave our side. But to change the course of salvation, that path must go through the Cross. As we face our own versions of state violence, may we carry our mixture of joy and sorrow with dignity and courage, and pray that it inspires us to continue the faithful work of dismantling racial injustice.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, April 16, 2021
The Gospel readings this week and last include accounts of Jesus’s appearances to the disciples and others and the stunned disbelief of those who see him after his resurrection. During my recent vacation in Easter Week, I stood face to face with two beautiful birds called Harris’s hawks. Although far short of an encounter with the Risen One, the presence of the divine in these creatures elicited an initial feeling of incredulity.
These were no chance meetings. They took place during a 90-minute session of falconry, my best Christmas gift ever that took until early spring to redeem. Like the disciples, my disbelief soon turned to wonder and gratitude, and my sense of responsibility to be a more faithful steward of God’s creation was magnified 100-fold.
Earth Day is next week on April 22, and I pray that the occasion encourages us all to recommit to do our part to preserve and protect the planet. We may be helped by a few individuals with whom our church is collaborating on an exciting project. As announced for a few weeks now, the artists’ collective I.D.A. will present a series of live, interactive, outdoor music and dance performances entitled, “Embodied Activism,” something of a sacramental offering by performers who will seek to articulate through movement and song the hope of restoring our environment that has suffered the ravages of human abuse and degradation for generations and centuries. The one-hour event starts at 5:30 pm next Thursday and takes place along Clinton Street in the gardens on either side of the entrance of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity and directly in front of the church. If you can’t make it in-person, watch for a video that will be available in the days following.
May this Eastertide be a season of stunning human and wild encounters that move us to wonder and inspire us to take up the cause of caring for the creation that is God’s gift for our shared use with all creatures great and small.
Present for Every Step
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, April 2, 2021
Today, as we strive to find meaning in our individual and collective struggles and a world in pain, we are invited to meditate on Jesus’ Passion and death. In the unfolding story of redemption, it is on this that our hope hinges. The collect for this Good Friday acknowledges the interrelatedness of it all: “Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” Let us commit ourselves to be present for every step of the journey.
How Christians Look
The Rev. Dr. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, March 26, 2021
Last week a Saint Ann’s School sophomore told me he wanted to learn more about Christianity. I asked him what he’d done so far, and he said he had started reading the Bible. I told him that was great, but suggested he start by seeing what Christians look like, which is easy enough to do by tuning into different styles of worship services on Zoom from the comfort of his home. But I also suggested he could see what Christians look like by attending a Zoom webinar at the school this past Monday that featured the Rev. John Merz, Vicar of Ascension Church in Greenpoint and a Saint Ann’s School alumnus, talking about the North Brooklyn Angels mobile hot meal program he helped create, as that is a great example of faith in action.
This week we can take advantage of the same combination of opportunities. Holy Week features a series of special worship services – Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday – as we complete the run-up to the joy of Easter. As we participate in those services, we can observe in one another how Christians look when we attend to our relationship to God. And our community can tune into a Zoom webinar, “Love and Hunger,” hosted by St. Ann & the Holy Trinity this Monday, March 29, at 6:30, that will feature Fr. John Merz, with his colleague Neil Sheehan. The two will reflect on the work of North Brooklyn Angels, the food program they co-founded that is such a marvelous embodiment of the Christian faith – as is our own Pop-up Pantry. You’ll find more details about both the webinar and our pantry program in the announcements below, and I commend them as a great finish to the Lenten season of self-examination. How are we attending to our relationship to God, and how does our faith take action?
Women We Celebrate
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, March 19, 2021
As Women’s History month draws to a close, St. Ann’s celebrates women who have made outstanding contributions to our common life at the Unsung Heroines event this Sunday. It’s a tradition I look forward to every year (thank you, Nancy Nicolette!).
Celebrating women ought to come naturally to St. Ann’s: We are the mother church of our diocese. Our name honors both Jesus’ grandmother and Ann Sands, an 18th century educator and founding member of our parish. I think it’s safe to say that we enjoy lifting one another up. It is a blessing to be among people who feel this way, and a particular gift of our community.
We’re not the only Episcopalians celebrating women this week. On March 15 the United Nations launched the sixty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, a conference dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and advocating empowerment of women. The Episcopal Church sent a delegation, a portion of whose statement reads as follows:
Our Christian values are the reason the Episcopal Church has affirmed United Nations international conventions, agreements, and declarations calling for just and equal treatment of women and girls.…Episcopalians support women and girls through their mission, programs, legislation, policies and advocacy by congregations, dioceses, schools, seminaries, agencies and networks. The Episcopal Church celebrates recent progress for and by women and girls, but laments that no country has achieved gender equality, progress is slow and structural inequities persist. We are alarmed by COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on women in health, caretaking, unemployment, poverty and violence against women – deemed a “shadow pandemic” – and the risks of long-term regression. We highlight these urgent priorities:
· Prioritize marginalized women and girls in planning, resource allocation and programs…
· Increase women’s access to power and decision-making positions…
· Promote gender equality education and eradicate violence against women and girls.
The group’s full statement may be read here.
Whatever this year’s delegation accomplishes, I applaud their use of Christian values and just and equal treatment of women and girls in the same sentence. I ask you to join me in holding them, and all the women we love, in prayer as these important and holy conversations take place.
The Virus of Scapegoating
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, March 11,2021
In late 2019, reports of a mysterious and deadly virus in China started to surface, yet some of us might still have considered it a distant problem, literally on the other side of the planet. But the world gets smaller every day. In a few weeks, it tore through Italy. When COVID-19 ravaged a nursing home near Seattle in February 2020, and then hit scores of other facilities around the country, suddenly it was no longer a “foreign” disease.
But those first reports from Wuhan, China, laid the groundwork for one of the oldest human responses to a crisis: scapegoating, another type of virus. The Book of Leviticus describes the ancient ritual of purification and atonement as symbolically laying the collective sins of the community onto two young goats: one slaughtered, the other cast out into the wilderness. But a deadly virus is not caused by “sin.” It has no consciousness or motives. It doesn’t care about its host’s behavior, let alone its culture, language, or skin-color. Somewhere along the way, we began to associate illness with sin, and to dehumanize fellow children of God, treating them like goats led to the slaughter.
The former administration’s insistence on calling it the “China virus” was both immoral and scientifically irrational. As described in a recent statement out of the Bishop’s Office concerning the rise in anti-Asian violence, this scapegoating has led to trauma, violence, and even death.
John’s Gospel this week beckons us to come into the light, “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” Many of goodwill have shined light into dark places, seeking to expose the evil that lurks in the shadows of our worst selves. Several diocesan members are engaged in the Church-wide curriculum, Sacred Ground, and other programs of study and action, striving to unveil our long history of colonization and racism. Shining light onto things once hidden is a key step toward healing and reconciliation. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once famously wrote, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
This fragile earth, our island home, has now made a full revolution around the sun: one year of remote learning, online worship, physical distancing, and devastating losses of loved ones. Our grief has been compounded by being denied the simple act of weeping in one another’s arms. Yet even with the restrictions, we at St. Ann’s have spiritually held each other in the light. On this first anniversary of pandemic life, more than ever we must continue to shine the light of Christ into the darkest places, even when it exposes wounds that we’d rather not see.
Renamed by God
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, February 26, 2021
n this week’s reading from Genesis 17, God finalizes what is perhaps the central covenant in all of the Hebrew Scriptures. God renames Abram and calls him, Abraham, and Sarai becomes Sarah, sealing the Abrahamic Covenant. With that, an entirely new idea is established in the ancient world: monotheism.
In Genesis 12, God tells Abram and Sarai to pull up their tent pegs, leave the only home they had ever known, and head toward the land that God would show them. And God said to them, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” And they are promised many descendants, giving the covenant three key parts:
1. Promise of Land: a Home
2. Promise of a Great Nation: Citizenship: Security, and Sense of Belonging
3. Promise of Many Descendants: Family
Home. Citizenship. Family. As we approach the one-year mark of this pandemic-wilderness-journey, the promises embedded within our Abrahamic Covenant are more pronounced than ever. Homes are being lost, the “promise of a great nation” has been badly wounded in our fragile democracy, and the promise and joy of family rests against a heartbreaking backdrop of far too many deaths, and the loss of in-person fellowship.
As we begin to see light at the end of this long pandemic tunnel, many of us feel profoundly changed. I don’t feel like the same person that I was a year ago. Like Abram and Sarai who walked into an unknown future as Abraham and Sarah, will I be renamed, made anew as God’s own? If a new name is engraved onto my heart, what will it be? You, my dear friends in Christ, have managed to survive this past year. In this time of covenant renewal, what will God rename you?
In a Flash!
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, February 11, 2021
Sometimes the best part about preaching is the lens it brings to the week before a sermon. The Daily Office works for many of us in the same way. A single passage can cast an unexpended light on the everyday. My lens this week is the story of the Transfiguration. Here, Jesus stands high on mountain and is suddenly suffused with light. To those who witness it, his changed appearance is laden with indescribable meaning.
The Transfiguration is always read on this last Sunday in Epiphany. It’s like a fireworks finale to the church’s season of light. So I had it in mind as I read an article this week: a small town story that made it big.
The story takes place in the Shetland Islands off the Northern coast of Scotland. Here, an employee of the local recycling center, Paul Moar, intercepted a cache of old, photographic slides intended for the trash. The photos, captured in the 60s and 70s, were throwaways: too ordinary for the photographer to keep.
But Mr. Moar saw in them something else altogether. Cast in a new light these humble images – boats on a gray harbor, quiet hills, a farmer crouching down to feed a lamb – offered glimpses of a bygone era. “My jaw hit the ground,” he said. “Some were these amazing snapshots into island life, others just scenic photos. But I knew I’d stumbled on a little bit of treasure.”
Mr. Moar digitized the slides and put them on Facebook, where they caused a similar sensation. They struck a chord and became “an unexpected bright spot in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Slides, of course, need the proper light in order to be appreciated. The same is true of a lot of things. This Sunday, in the story of the Transfiguration, God casts a new light on Jesus and we, along with a select few disciples, are invited consider afresh who and what we see in Him.
Pause and Breathe
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, February 4, 2021
As is typical of Mark’s biblical account, Jesus is very busy this week! Mark’s Jesus is usually in a pretty big hurry. He has just left the synagogue where, as Fr. Craig discussed last Sunday, he was “teaching with authority.” He removed an “unclean spirit” from someone, and is now walking into the home of Simon and Andrew, where he is immediately asked to heal Simon’s mother-in-law. Then, with barely a pause, crowds of suffering people in need of healing — indeed, along with the whole city — gather at the doorstep. And in that one day, Jesus heals and heals: no one is turned away. Having laid hands on literally hundreds of people with healing prayers over the years, especially during hospital chaplaincy, I’m exhausted just reading this account.
For the next day, Jesus is planning to venture into the neighboring towns to do even more preaching and healing; but first, before dawn, he rises before anyone else and goes out to a “deserted place” to pray.
There are several instances in the Gospels where Jesus does this. His respite is sometimes translated as “a “deserted place,” “a lonely place,” “a quiet place,” or that he “withdrew to the wilderness to pray.” Although it’s only a brief mention, I think it’s significant. Even Jesus needed that space to recharge: to pause and breathe, to gather his strength for yet another 16-hour day. And of course, that pause, and then that deep breath, is how we enter into prayer: slowly inhale, exhale, and center oneself for prayer.
Lent is less than two weeks away. Last year at this time we were on the eve of a shutdown, and our Lenten wilderness journey turned out like nothing we could have previously imagined. Once again, we are about to journey out into that “deserted place” to pray. But after nearly a year in the midst of a global pandemic, for many, that “quiet place” might feel more like a “lonely place.”
Pandemic fatigue is real. For me, working from home has, in many ways, been more exhausting than life before this, when I was running all over our 118-mile-long diocese. I think there has been a tendency to overwork to compensate for our isolation, with little delineation between being on or off duty. But even Jesus, in the midst of his most urgent ministry, took moments to pause and breathe — and then pray — in that deserted, quiet, and perhaps lonely place.
Yes, there is much to do, many people to feed, and many who need the healing love of Christ in our broken world. And we will continue to do these things throughout our Lenten journey, and beyond. But we should also pay attention to Jesus’ example — and in our own quiet, deserted places — take those moments to pause and breathe as we enter into the prayerful and Holy Season of Lent.
Fear and Love
The Rev. Dr. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, January 28, 2021
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Ps.111:10
My brother Charlie has taught rock and ice climbing for his entire adult life. I’m terrified of heights, so I’ve only once gone climbing with him, and I didn’t last very long. I remember asking Charlie how he overcame his fear, day after day, doing this extremely dangerous thing. He told me that he never wants to overcome fear, as it is fear that guides his decisions about how far to go, when to turn back, and whether he is remembering all of his safety practices. Those who climb without fear, or ignore their fear, he said, tend to make decisions that get them in trouble. On a rock face or ice wall, then, you need to use your fear as a tool even as you go beyond it.
Though there are numerous Bible passages that tell God’s people not to be afraid, the author of the psalm appointed for this Sunday sees fear as my brother does. If you are encountering the divine directly – God or one of God’s emissaries or God in Jesus – you should be afraid. Divine reality is of a totally different order than our reality, and if it doesn’t make you a bit afraid, you’re probably not treating it as truly divine. So be afraid of God’s power, God’s cosmic realm, God’s omnipresence; as the psalm reminds us, this is the beginning of wisdom, not the end. Start with fear as an acknowledgement of the otherness of God, and then be amazed that God crosses that otherness, that fearful boundary between us, to assure us that we do not need to remain in fear. We can go beyond it, into God’s love.
Image: Charlie Townsend on the Moonflower Buttress of Mt. Hunter, Denali National Park, Alaska
Called to Unity
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, January 22, 2021
In a week and a season when calls for unity are being issued from the halls of Congress to the steps of the U.S. Capitol, we find ourselves in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The annual observance that is now over 100 years old invites leaders and members of major Protestant denominations, the Orthodox Churches, independent churches, and the Roman Catholic Church to come together to celebrate their common faith and heritage in Jesus Christ. The occasion provides another reminder – with this week’s inauguration ceremony – to honor our shared identity with others that can be obscured by differences and disagreements between us.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins with the Confession of St. Peter that is observed on January 18th. We read a familiar text on this feast from Matthew in which Jesus asks the disciples who others say that he is and then asks them who they believe him to be. Peter “confesses” or declares that Jesus is the Messiah and, in response, Jesus tells Peter he will be the Rock upon which the Church will be built. In other words, at the moment Peter acknowledges who Jesus is, Jesus shows Peter and the disciples who they are called to be.
Of course, we know that Peter will struggle to live up to the expectation placed on him and that the Church over generations and centuries will resist living into Christ’s ministry of reconciling love.
The prospect and benefits of unity for the citizens of this nation and the members of the Church seem as elusive as ever. But I share the faith in humanity articulated by Amanda Gorman who was catapulted to fame this week as the youngest inaugural poet. Almost a year before she delivered, “The Hill We Climb,” she wrote at the start of the pandemic a poem called, “The Miracle of the Morning,” a stanza of which reads:
While we might feel small, separate, and all alone,
Our people have never been more closely tethered.
The question isn’t if we will weather this unknown,
But how we will weather this unknown together.
Amidst insistent discord and misunderstanding, this moment calls us as Americans to recommit to our enduring and hopeful work of seeking common ground for the future good of the country and as the many who are one in the Body of Christ to be repairers of the breach for the sake of the Kingdom.
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, January 15, 2021
Epiphany is a season of seeing and showing, and this Sunday’s readings are populated by visionaries. We hear of the near blind prophet Eli passing the torch to young Samuel, who enjoys visions at night. Jesus references Jacob’s great dream: a ladder to heaven, with angels ascending and descending. We find that Jesus, himself, is among these dreamers as he describes his own vision of Nathanael sitting under a fig tree.
What do we make of visions and dreams? These come to us on MLK weekend, when America remembers a prophet and martyr who, for years, conveyed his vision to a white majority in the language of dreams.
Many of us have dreams of our own. Do we believe them? In the Bible dreams can be misleading: Paul considered interpretation to be a gift of the Holy Spirit. But we tend to know instinctively when and how a dream is true. Our challenge is more often not the validation but the execution of a dream. When Jesus tells Nathanael about his vision, Nathanael’s belief is just a first step; a precursor to lifelong commitment. Discipleship, and dreaming, takes work.
“Take the first step in faith,” Martin Luther King, Jr. is quoted as saying, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Lament and Healing
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, January 8, 2021
My reflection is a kind of bookend to Fr. Craig Townsend’s last week in which he announced a special guest presentation at this month’s Psalms Project gathering.
On the evening of the Feast of the Epiphany this week, the Rt. Rev. Carlye Hughes, Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, led our Psalms Project class in a discussion profoundly relevant to the moment, entitled “The Psalms and the Blues.”
Bp. Hughes reminded us that, to revive our spirits, there are times when we need to lament, to air our losses. A lament, she explained, is different than a complaint. If you voice your pain in lament over and over again — get it all out — it turns into something else: an opportunity to turn toward healing. She compared this to the release we feel when we finally break down and cry after the shock of a terrible event. She also noted that the alleged grievances of those who attacked the Capitol building earlier that day probably needed to lament their own loss of an idea, of how they thought life would be in a nation where they have always been dominant: but they did not lament at all. They were not voicing their pain on a path that would lead to healing.
Psalms of Lament can be an opportunity to wail, scream, cry, and even shake our fists at God: “O God, why have you forsaken me?!” And there can also be an undertone of anger and frustration: “Are you even LISTENING to me?!” An authentic blues singer’s voice is laced with sorrow: it cries out in pain, and perhaps even anger. Psalms of Lament are often sung to sorrowful minor-key tunes (used in both Anglican Chant and Jewish rituals), but outside the box, we can also imagine other genres: the blues, a wailing guitar riff, a screaming punk-rocker, or the acoustic ballad of a singer-songwriter. It is fitting to sing our songs of lament through tears, our voices cracking and strained with pain.
As we ended our class on Wednesday, Fr. Craig noted that one of the deepest wounds during the pandemic has been our inability to lament together, in person, for funerals, of course, but also the simple need to grieve together and lament fully during our ordinary days, in these inexplicable times.
Bp. Hughes helped us to see that the Psalmists’ words are necessary for our survival, and that each of us has our own cadence, rhythm and embodied movement within them. We put ourselves inside the words of the Psalms of Lament, and in turn, the words put themselves in us.
So, my sisters and brothers, go ahead and sing the blues. Lament. Release the pain. With the help of the Psalmists, the enduring and persistent love of Christ will help us to move toward healing, as one body.
The Bishop and the Psalms
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, December 31, 2020
While I was at St. James’ Church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, one of my duties from 2003 to 2015 was to serve as the Coordinator of the Lilly Program. Funded by the Lilly Endowment, the program created full-time positions for two newly-ordained clergy, fresh out of seminary, to be mentored by the senior clergy and lay staff. I served as their primary mentor and coordinated their duties and learning goals with the rest of the staff. The new clergy were known as Lilly Fellows. It was a wonderful program that, after the Lilly grants ran out, continues to this day as a single position at St. James’ known as the Rockwell Fellow, named for a former rector.
One of the second pair of Lilly Fellows, from 2005 to 2007, was a fabulous priest of abundant energy and powerful faith named Carlye Hughes. Participating in the Lilly program meant that she rotated through all of the major ministries and worship leadership positions at the parish. One of her memorable contributions was to spend four weeks with the parish’s Wednesday Morning Bible Study with a curriculum she created on the relationship she found between the psalms and the blues.
The Rt. Rev. Carlye Hughes is now the 11th Bishop of Newark, elected in 2018. She is the first woman and first African American to serve as bishop in that diocese. An early project of hers was to create a curriculum on race and faith for use in the diocese; it is that curriculum which we clergy adapted for our use as a four-week series this past fall. I am delighted that Bishop Hughes will join the Psalms Project on January 6 to share her thoughts on the psalms and the blues.
All are welcome to join us; further information is found below.
While I was at St. James’ Church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, one of my duties from 2003 to 2015 was to serve as the Coordinator of the Lilly Program. Funded by the Lilly Endowment, the program created full-time positions for two newly-ordained clergy, fresh out of seminary, to be mentored by the senior clergy and lay staff. I served as their primary mentor and coordinated their duties and learning goals with the rest of the staff. The new clergy were known as Lilly Fellows. It was a wonderful program that, after the Lilly grants ran out, continues to this day as a single position at St. James’ known as the Rockwell Fellow, named for a former rector.
One of the second pair of Lilly Fellows, from 2005 to 2007, was a fabulous priest of abundant energy and powerful faith named Carlye Hughes. Participating in the Lilly program meant that she rotated through all of the major ministries and worship leadership positions at the parish. One of her memorable contributions was to spend four weeks with the parish’s Wednesday Morning Bible Study with a curriculum she created on the relationship she found between the psalms and the blues.
The Rt. Rev. Carlye Hughes is now the 11th Bishop of Newark, elected in 2018. She is the first woman and first African American to serve as bishop in that diocese. An early project of hers was to create a curriculum on race and faith for use in the diocese; it is that curriculum which we clergy adapted for our use as a four-week series this past fall. I am delighted that Bishop Hughes will join the Psalms Project on January 6 to share her thoughts on the psalms and the blues.
On Time Arrival/Open Doors
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, December 24, 2020
I am behind in my preparations for Christmas, which is par for the course, as I have felt like more was left undone than done throughout the long Covid-19 season. Many colleagues in ministry and many others in a variety of fields and even those not currently working have commiserated with me about this pandemic era phenomenon. I assume my family and friends won’t be surprised if their greeting or gift from me doesn’t arrive on time.
Thankfully Christmas will come without delay – and not a moment too soon – and this holy day will be celebrated alternatively, awesomely and on time at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity!
Our service, on video this year, is the product of weeks of meticulous planning and preparations by many people. The video opens with a welcome by all of the parish clergy, and among the supporting cast in the service are dozens of St. Ann’s members who recorded readings and prayers. Particularly noteworthy are the contributions of Mo. Kate Salisbury and the children and parents of our Sunday School who set a very high standard for a virtual Christmas Pageant; St. Ann’s director of music and organist, Gregory D’Agostino, accompanying a quartet of singers and a harpist; and perhaps most of all, our videographer and editor, Ellen Reilly, whose monumental efforts to stitch together the many and disparate elements of our celebration resulted in a magnificent and deeply spiritual offering. I hope you’ll have a chance to watch the hour-long service sometime between later today and tomorrow. You’ll find more information about it in an announcement below.
My big announcement is that the doors of our church will be opened tomorrow from 12 noon to 2:00 pm. Though we cannot gather for worship this Christmas, it seems important to invite nearby members and neighbors to reflect on the meaning of this holy day in our sanctuary and to see up close how beautifully the church has been decorated. Please come by if you can and know that, whether we see you or not, prayers of gratitude will for offered there for you.
On the threshold of this Christmas, we are more ready than ever for “the Sun of Righteousness to scatter the darkness from before [our] path,” as we prayed at the conclusion of our Advent services, and to welcome the fullness of the Christ light to shine brightly on our lives, communities and world. In fact, during some of the most challenging times of the year past, this light exposed old and emerging inequities and injustice. As we receive this light at Christmas, may we become bearers of the light, ready to engage in the still undone restorative work of kingdom-building begun in God’s incarnate Son.
God With/In Us
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, December 16, 2020
Years ago, I bought a painting at an art exhibition at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. It’s a small piece that I still treasure by a contemporary artist named Paul T. Smith. While this artist’s work is not strictly religious, the painting is a representation of the Annunciation in which an abstract human and female figure appears with words etched onto the canvas that read, “Insert God here.”
Stop and Smell the Roses
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, December 10, 2020
Snow was falling, but when I arrived at the Parish Hall yesterday morning, the rose bush by the door was in full bloom. Its liturgical timing was perfect.
This third Sunday in Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday (Gaudete from the Latin term rejoice, which begins the old Roman rite). In many churches, it’s also called Rose Sunday. The Advent wreath’s dark candles give way to a pink, or rose-colored, one. Some clergy wear rose-colored vestments, and we remember Mary, in the blossom of youth, singing to Gabriel: My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:47) Gaudete Sunday is a release from Advent’s austere and penitential overtones; it is a day set aside for joy and awareness of God’s blessings.
I wondered this week whether the old adage stop and smell the roses comes from Rose Sunday, but, it turns out, the adage isn’t old at all. It began with the modern golfer, Walter Hagan, describing his secret to the game. Later, folk songs took the saying in fun directions (check this out, by Ringo Starr.) If not born of liturgical tradition, the sentiment nevertheless applies to this Sunday. It’s a day dedicated to spiritual encouragement and refreshment and a reminder that part of faith is holding onto joy.
Unprepared to Prepare
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, December 2, 2020
As we approach this Second Sunday of Advent, I’m mindful of Canon John’s message on Christ the King Sunday two weeks ago, when he reminded us that it’s not merely an end of the old liturgical year, but rather, it’s an “opportunity for a reset.” Those were words I needed to hear. I have never felt the need for a reset as much as I have as 2020 comes to a close!
And then last week, Mo. Kate provided reassurance that God’s time/clock (kairos) is different than ours, and that one day we will be released from the limits of how we currently understand “time.” Time in this pandemic has been strange, moving in ways that have felt outside of our prior notions of time. How often have you heard comments like, “Remember five years ago, back in March?!”
Last spring our journey into the Lenten “wilderness” felt more visceral than in past years. Where was our annual certainty about how the story would end? This year, we had no idea where our narrative was going, or what would happen to us. And now that we’re in Advent, we hear John the Baptist — “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness” — telling us to “prepare the way of the Lord.” But are we able to predict, to envision, what it is we are preparing FOR? There’s a feeling of déjà vu: an uncertainty of the future in this Advent Season that feels comparable to the wilderness uncertainty in Lent 2020. Where is our story going? What will our worship lives look like? What will school look like? I have a thousand questions and I feel woefully unprepared to prepare!
I am a little surprised that my faith in God has not substantially faltered over the course of the pandemic, but I must confess that (at least in part) my faith in humanity has taken some hits. But my hope and prayer in this Advent is to allow myself to be wide-eyed and surprised, to maintain a child-like faith. And at the same time, make peace with my uncertainty, be still and wait for God to come, and to reset so that the light breaks through the darkness in new and surprising ways. I hope to prepare for the coming of Christ, even if I don’t quite know exactly what I am preparing FOR.
As we hit our collective reset buttons, and turn our hearts and minds toward God’s measure of time (rather than our own human notions of time), let us “prepare the way of the Lord,” even in these most uncertain times, when so much seems unpreparable.
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, November 20, 2020
What I have always liked about this season between Pentecost and Advent – a season that draws to a close this Sunday – is that an old church name for it is “ordinary time.” That makes it sound so simple, doesn’t it? Not that there’s been anything that has felt very “ordinary” these past few months, between the Black Lives Matter movements and the presidential campaign and election and now the second rise of the COVID pandemic.
In the church world, though, the time is “ordinary” not because it is routine, but because it has an orderliness to it as we progress back toward the cyclical celebration of the life of Christ that characterizes the rest of the year, from Advent (coming), to Christmas (birth), to the kings’ arrival (Epiphany), to ministry and its consequences (Epiphany season and Lent), to death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter), to the ascension and gift of the Spirit (Ascension and Pentecost).
We repeat this cycle every year, and it is always special – each piece of it marked with moving toward or basking in a particular celebration. But then it is ordinary time again: time to simply hear the word and celebrate the faith and move from Sunday to Sunday in that faith. Perhaps attending to that stately rhythm, intentionally or unintentionally, helped you with a life that otherwise seems to go from crisis to crisis? I hope so.
I hope as well, however, that you are ready to leave the orderly ordinary behind, and move toward re-integrating Christ’s life and presence into your life, and our life together. It may not be ordinary, but it will be powerful.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, November 13, 2020
It’s all about numbers these days, as record votes cast in the presidential election and record Covid cases reveal the two sides of the history-making moment in which we are living.
The parable Jesus tells in the Gospel passage appointed for this Sunday seems at first to be about numbers. In it, the master of a household who is preparing to go away for a long time entrusts different amounts of talents to each of his three servants. A single talent represents a very large sum and so the master’s exaggerated gifts provide the first clue that Jesus wants his audience to think big and symbolically. As with all Jesus’ parables, this one follows a divine logic without any easy conclusions, but an important bottom line.
The master, who represents God, boldly rewards the servants who trade and double his gifts with an invitation “into his joy” and punishes the servant who hides his gift and returns no more and no less. Yet I insist the lesson here is not that our individual relationships with God are transactional in nature.
As I see it, while he entrusts a different sum to each servant “according to his ability,” the master’s expectation is the same for each of them to make more of their gift. God is equally invested in each of our unique gifts and the potential multiplier effect of them when they are put to good use. God does not add up the returns but rejoices in every great and small way we make the most of what we have been given.
Vigilance Amidst Uncertainty
The Rev. Marie A. Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, November 5, 2020
In this week’s Gospel — the parable of the 10 bridesmaids — there is a lot of uncertainty. How much oil should we bring for our lamps? What will happen to us if we run out? When will this bridegroom arrive?? How long must we wait… and wait… and WAIT?!
I am not by nature a patient person, and like most people, uncertainty makes me uneasy. And we have had a week of profound uncertainty, in this most uncertain of years. As I write this, we don’t know the election results; and even if we know them when this lands in your inbox, there will still remain mountains of uncertainty about the days ahead.
The bridegroom isn’t here yet; he’s a day late for his own wedding! What are we supposed to think? The parable tells us to “Keep awake” (or perhaps a better translation might be, “Be vigilant!”). We are supposed to come prepared, be ready… but how are we supposed to prepare, when we don’t even know what we are preparing FOR?!
As the days get shorter and darker, we know this means that we are nearing the Season of Advent, a season of anticipation when we wait in darkness for the Light of Christ to break through. It is natural to feel discomfort with waiting, but as Canon John and I were discussing the morning after the election, we are a people of expectation and hope. And yet, paradoxically, we are also an impatient people who often demand to know what’s next. We want to know the day, the hour!
But Jesus exhorts us to “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own” (Matt. 6:34). And this week (in Matt. 25:13) he encourages us to “Keep awake [be vigilant] … for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Whatever happens tomorrow, our job is to be vigilant today. We may not know what comes next, but our vigilance, our alertness — even in a sea of uncertainty — will help us to stay on the path of love and hope, a path upon which Jesus has invited us to walk with him.
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, October 29, 2020
This Sunday we gather virtually and in person for the feast of All Saints. In our city, All Saints Sunday has long coincided with the NYC Marathon and if you are dogged enough to make it to church on that day you can’t help but appreciate overlapping themes of strength, endurance and the well run race. This year is different. Virtuous neighbors are not racing up Fifth Avenue but wending their way through voting lines. Roughly 70 million Americans have already cast their ballot: more than half the total turnout in 2016.
The comparison to saints of old still holds. While I have never (yet) run a marathon, I do have the dual privilege of being both an American citizen and a Christian. Both identities insist on the power and responsibility of making choices for the common good.
“I have said this before, and I will say it again,” the late Rep. John Lewis said, “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy,” as evidenced by a photo of one of St. Ann’s own, Margaret Victor, in a recent New York Times story, who embraced this sacred privilege.
Wherever you cast your vote in the days, ahead you do so with the blessing of our Church and in the company of saints who, throughout centuries, have seized the opportunity to exercise their God-given conscience.
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, October 23, 2020
The broadest definition of “love” that I can think of is something like, “a connection that is cared for.” That covers everything from the most intimate of relationships to the desire to feel and act upon the connections that we apprehend between ourselves and all others, no matter how distant or different we are. In fact, for me, it points to something even broader: the connectedness of everything in the universe, not just living beings, but all of creation – and it is a connectedness that is cared for by its Creator, the God we worship and believe is incarnate in Jesus Christ. The question raised by the Great Commandment that is featured in this Sunday’s gospel passage – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – is whether or how we can return that love, that caring for our connectedness to that Creator.
It strikes me that the key to this question is to see the Great Commandment as a starting point, rather than a goal to be achieved. If I can start by believing that God’s love is manifest in the connectedness of all of creation, then really I seem to be saying that God is love itself. And then might I see all of my individual loves – for family, friends, humanity, the universe – as deriving from that love itself? Then the call is not to turn ourselves toward God as an end goal, but to feel that love of God’s in which the whole universe is swimming and act on it, turn it to others. Thus to see the first part of Great Commandment as where we begin is to then impel us to the second part, to love one another as intimately or as broadly as the situation requires.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, October 16, 2020
In a familiar encounter in Matthew, Jesus is posed a question by religious leaders attempting to entrap him: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Jesus asks his antagonists to tell him whose face appears on a coin, to which they respond, “The emperor’s.” And Jesus then tells them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Walking the fine line set out for him, Jesus makes it clear that a tax paid to the oppressive ruler is not ultimately an endorsement of his leadership. Without offending the powers that be, he cleverly acknowledges how everyday people may choose their battles against injustice, while embracing the real hope of change.
In this election season, everyday people will endorse and support candidates whose leadership they believe will help bring about a better future. In this stewardship season, we pray that good folks like you will offer an endorsement and support for our church. We’ve navigated our way through the last challenging months the best we knew how, sustaining our ministry at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity by the grace of God and the enduring generosity of our members.
Looking ahead, we will be challenged to meet the spiritual needs of our members, sustain outreach to our neighbors, and uphold our mission here. Your continued generosity will remain critical for us through the storms of uncertainty we will face, and I am grateful to count on you.
Stay tuned for more about the “Staying Connected” stewardship campaign and know that your commitment of time, talent, and treasure to St. Ann’s in 2021 will serve as more than an endorsement, but as an investment in the hopeful and just future that everyday folk like us are invited to co-create with our God, who reigns in glory everlasting.
The Rev. Marie A. Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, October 8, 2020
The parable in this week’s Gospel is, well, let’s face it… a little bizarre. Right off the bat Jesus tells us that the whole scene is to be compared to the kingdom of heaven. Everything starts out just fine. The king announces a big banquet for his son’s wedding and sends out invitations. But after the invited guests rebuke him, it takes a very dark turn. The ensuing violence and mayhem are a wildly disproportionate response, but that’s the point: it’s a parable, not an account of actual events!
In the parable, the king realizes that “those invited were not worthy,” so he instructs his servants to go into the streets, and to invite the commoners, saying, “invite everyone you find … both good and bad.” Jesus is directing this parable to a group of religious leaders, and they definitely get the message: they’ve been uninvited, and the gates of the kingdom will be opened to the people who they have oppressed and looked down upon.
The violence and harsh judgment in the parable is jarring, but I don’t believe that the punishment is a message about God acting spitefully. There are natural, inevitable consequences of saying NO, of turning our backs on goodness and generosity, and choosing a path of “outer darkness.”
As this pandemic drags on, many of us are feeling social distance fatigue, and we may be finding it harder and harder to say YES to things. We’re exhausted, we’re sad, and some of us are even traumatized. But, we still have a choice when it’s comes to God’s grace, which is mercifully offered whether or not we deserve it: we can say “yes” or we can say “no thanks.” Everyone is invited to the party, including those of low estate, and even those who may have behaved badly in the past. The truly good news is that we only need to say “yes” to God’s invitation.
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, October 2, 2020
For the second week in a row our lectionary takes us to a vineyard. RoThe Rev. Marie A. Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, oted in Israel’s prophetic tradition, the image of God’s vineyard summons an expectation of labor and reward. It inspires the architecture of our sanctuary. If your gaze wanders up its columns you find ripe grapes and loose leaves overhead. Looking sideways, you see a sturdy, stained glass vine at the base of our windows.
We return to our corner of the vineyard this Sunday. While remote worship will continue throughout the season, for the first time in more than six months, we will also celebrate Holy Communion in our church. In the interest of safety, only a small portion of our community will be able to gather here each week, but it is a significant step in a return to familiar, sacred ground. See the announcement below for details about attending in-person worship.
As we return to our sanctuary one of our prayers, Psalm 80, in verse 14, invokes God’s presence here with us: Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted.
Judgment and Prophesy
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, September 24, 2020
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on September 18, was a child of Brooklyn, and Borough President Eric Adams just announced that the Municipal Building across the street from the Borough Hall will be named in her honor. She was an institution and a national treasure, as well as a woman of faith.
Prayers offered for Justice Ginsburg on the first of three days of official mourning and remembrances for her began with, “Baruch dayan ha’emet,” Hebrew for, “Blessed is God, the true judge.” Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, co-senior rabbi of Congregation Adas Israel in Washington, D.C., presiding at yesterday’s ceremony, continued by saying, “To be born into a world that does not see you, that does not believe in your potential…and despite this to be able to see beyond the world you are in, to imagine that something can be different: that is the job of a prophet.”
Justice Ginsburg will be remembered for her many brilliant opinions, which helped enshrine freedoms for women and all Americans, as well as for her prophetic words. As she continues to lie in repose at the Supreme Court before becoming the first woman to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol tomorrow, I share some of her wisdom and wit that resonate with our values as Christians and citizens.
- [I would like to be remembered as] someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.
- As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.
- I try to teach through my opinions, through my speeches, how wrong it is to judge people on the basis of what they look like, the color of their skin, whether they’re men or women.
- Don’t be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. These just zap energy and waste time.
- Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.
We give thanks for the life and legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and send her off quoting Matthew 25:23, familiar words of which she could not be more worthy: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, September 18, 2020
Two years ago this week, many of us processed from the Brooklyn Promenade and marched through the front doors of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity for a glorious ceremony to designate our church the Pro-Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.
Bishop Provenzano chose to renew the status bestowed on the Church of the Holy Trinity 150 years before, when a vote to establish the Diocese of Long Island took place inside and the then rector was elected its first bishop. The building served as the Pro(visional)-Cathedral of the new diocese from 1868 to 1887, when the Cathedral of the Incarnation opened in Garden City, New York, and became the new seat of the diocese. Our building remains one of the architectural jewels and the Mother Church of Long Island. In 2018, our bishop affirmed the long-standing significance of the justice-focused ministry to the people of Brooklyn, Queens, and all of New York City, embodied by generations of Holy Trinity’s and, since 1970, St. Ann’s members. We continue striving to honor our legacy and live into our identity by persisting in faithful service to God’s people in this generation.
It won’t be long now before our church holds us literally. Details of a plan to re-open the church for in-person Sunday worship are being finalized. If nothing changes between now and then, we will hold our first indoor in-person service at 10:00 am on Sunday, October 4. This service will be greatly modified from our traditional Sunday morning liturgy. It will be more like a brief and quiet Wednesday evening Eucharist at St. Ann’s. Those who attend must follow all health safety protocols, including wearing masks and refraining from singing. We will require registration and limit the numbers of people we welcome. Such restrictions and constraints stand in contrast to our most basic understanding of Christian community and our call to a ministry of hospitality — and as members of a parish named for St. Ann, who is traditionally represented by a door among other symbols.For the foreseeable future, we will continue to offer a recorded Sunday liturgy for those who do not attend in person, followed by a Zoom coffee hour at 11:30 am.
Last week our recorded service began by opening our church front doors, which seemed fitting for our St. Ann’s Day celebration at the start of a new program year. And although our church entrance has remained physically closed these last six months, I contend that the work of our church has not stopped for a minute since early spring. St. Ann’s, along with many of our sister Episcopal parishes and other houses of worship, soldiered on in service, pivoting, adapting and adjusting to meet the unprecedented challenges of the moment. Whatever ups and down we face in the coming months, the doors of our church will remain open – literally or figuratively.
This is and will remain the hallmark of our church and pro-cathedral that is identified with St. Ann, whose mission and ministry continue to be grounded in the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ, and guided by the Holy Spirit.
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, September 10, 2020
This week I returned from a long planned, three-month sabbatical. I am deeply grateful to have had this time. A year ago, I imagined it might be a chance for spiritual housekeeping: weekday afternoons with books I’ve meant to read, Sunday mornings in pews I’ve meant to visit. The time turned out to be something else altogether: a deep, steep dive into so much I take for granted. There were few books for me this summer. Home, community, family and faith grabbed all of the attention. The blessing of this particular sabbatical was not just in the time apart, but in the return. Thank God for faithful companions and a church home. Thank God for the spirit of love and hope so alive in the people of St. Ann’s. This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Saint Ann (mother of Mary) and we launch our program year. I am anxious to take up our common life again, to share our faith and put our heads together at this time when so much good work is needed. God bless you, as always, for keeping the lamps lit.
Psalms in Focus
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, September 3, 2020
As a congregation, we’ve been spending a lot more time with the Book of Psalms lately, have you noticed that? On Sundays, with the absence of Holy Communion, our attention is focused on the Ministry of the Word. A psalm has always been central to that part of our worship, but it seems more noticeable now. Those of us who join in our Morning Prayer service online every weekday and Evening Prayer (in-person and online) every Wednesday, now find ourselves turning frequently to the Psalter in the back of the Book of Common Prayer to recite psalms together. These services are drawn from the ancient monastic worship practice of gathering every three hours for prayer and praise, during which the entirety of the 150 psalms would be recited over the course of a week. We don’t cover these poems in quite that short a period, but we do follow a lectionary that rotates through all of them a few times in the course of a year.
So what are we to make of the psalms? We can sing them, chant them, read them responsively as we tend to most of the time now, and some of them, or at least some of their best lines, will resonate with us as expressions of faith or hope or lament or petition. I’m excited to invite everyone to dig into the psalms together, to take our time with them, to explore their structures and patterns and language, to see if we can make them our own. The psalms do express the full range of human emotion and experience in the context of faith in the living God, so let’s make them resources for our personal lives of faith as well as our corporate worship.
Plan to join me in the Psalms Project, to read and pray all 150 psalms slowly and deliberately over the course of this academic year.
Life Over Profit
The Rev. Marie A. Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, August 28, 2020
In this week’s Gospel passage, Jesus gets pushback from Peter as he reveals to the disciples his own fate: he must endure great suffering, be killed and be raised. That’s the plan, but Peter doesn’t like it. He wants to cling to his earthly teacher.
What jumps out for us in this passage is “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter’s love is sincere, but Jesus sees the Devil pushing Peter toward the human things, rather than the heavenly things. As our lay-preacher Darren Glenn reminded us last week, we must turn our eyes toward the divine discernment, and reaffirm that the sacred presence of the Divine resides in every person.
But it was another verse that really shook me: “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”
Exactly 15 years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina made landfall. On a mission trip to the Mississippi coast 6 weeks later, I stood next to a hand-painted sign in the front yard of what had been someone’s home, in a neighborhood where every home was reduced to rubble: where people’s clothing and debris were knotted to the branches of every tree in sight. That yard sign contained this verse of scripture, and it catches in my throat once again.
The people on the Gulf Coast who survived had lost everything. Yet these neighbors — even in their darkest hours — acknowledged that there was no “profit” in clinging to the things that had been their “whole world,” when compared to their life, given by God. The worldly cost was in the billions, but I could almost hear the voice of whoever made that sign, saying “They’re just ‘things.’ We have our lives. We have our Jesus.”
And as I look across our nation now and see the devastating fires out west, the relentless heat waves, the violent storms across the Midwest, and the hurricanes battering the Caribbean and the southeastern states, my heart and mind wander right back to that Mississippi neighborhood. If I were faced with the material losses that millions of others are facing right now, would I turn toward the Divine and say, “What will it profit me to maintain my worldly possessions, but forfeit my life?”
God brought us into being and gave us the gift of life. Our living God calls us to face these challenges together, as One Body in Christ; and even in the midst of tremendous losses, we are reminded that the pursuit of earthly gains is overshadowed by the value of our sacred lives.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, August 21, 2000
In the Covid-19 era, we continue to live with so much uncertainty and don’t expect clarity anytime soon about returning to a familiar experience of school, work, and church. Fortunately, the Gospel appointed for this Sunday attests to the unique gift of certainty that Jesus can provide us.
In a pivotal moment in the episode, when asked along with the other disciples by Jesus who people say that he is, Peter declares, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter’s breathtaking and heartening conviction leads to his instant designation by Jesus as the rock on which he will establish the Church on earth and the leader of the ministry he will entrust to his followers.
We know Peter as the guy whose faith is repeatedly tested by his fears, demonstrated once again in the episode immediately following this one in which Peter challenges Jesus’ assertion that he must suffer, be killed and raised to fulfill his mission, and is just as instantly put in his place. The Church will suffer the same pattern of fits and starts in its faithfulness over the generations and centuries.
Yet Jesus’ assurance here that no force of opposition will deter or ultimately dismantle the Beloved Community created in his name is a timely reminder that amid the chances and changes of this life and in the face of our enduring uncertainty, we can rely on the grace, mercy and power of Jesus to remain the truest and surest foundation of the Church and our lives.
Great faith in this promise is reflected in a familiar spiritual and personal favorite of mine, “On Christ the Solid Rock.” I will close with the first verse and refrain of this moving hymn, which we can call to mind to confront the fears that persist in testing us:
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.
Faith Over Fear
The Rev. Marie A. Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, August 6, 2020
This Sunday’s Gospel is almost too familiar: Jesus walking-on-water is the subject of thousands of internet memes and colloquial expressions. But despite its ubiquity in our culture, this story is no less profound. Peter’s somewhat failed attempt to put faith over fear is something we can all relate to.
Water is a central character throughout Scripture: from the very beginning in the waters of Creation in Genesis, to the River of the Water of Life in Revelation. Holy water is poured over us as infants in baptism, and in many churches, sprinkled over our caskets as we prepare to enter into life eternal. It is no wonder that our diocesan-wide Creation Care ministry has chosen the gift of water as one of our focal points. But alongside its many blessings, the dangers of water are also to be respected, as the flooding of this past week’s storm reminded us.
As Coronavirus cases continue to climb across the country, it is not due to a lack of faith, but rather a waning of a justifiable fear of this deadly virus. Faith can still be ours, even as it sits alongside our fear of those things that we do not yet understand. Our human fears are real and undeniable, but we must remember that God is with us in the storm, and with God’s help, we will hold fast to one another. Faith is ours, even as we confront the fearful days ahead.
Prayer and Compassion
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, July 31, 2020
After several recent Sundays of observing Jesus the teacher of parables, we meet Jesus the worker of wonders this week in the story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Given the demands of teaching in the pandemic era, this shift strikes me as an occasion to tip our hats to all teachers presently working wonders to educate their students. Jesus manages to do something most educators are struggling to achieve these days, which is to meet the needs of all under his care; but there is encouragement here for teachers and all of us.
It is valuable to note the two essential elements in Jesus’ demonstration of power. One, of course, is that he offers prayers before he shares the meal. Even before we know how he will accomplish the great feat of feeding 5000+ people, we learn that upon encountering the crowds he is moved with compassion to help and heal them. So too can our honest acknowledgment of the pain in our midst and our enduring faith in the God of abundant love empower and sustain us to address, as best we can, the expansive and growing needs of our neighbors.
The kingdom of heaven is like….
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, July 23, 2020
Five images for the kingdom of heaven are offered in this Sunday’s gospel passage from Matthew, each introduced with this same opening phrase. “The kingdom of heaven is like”: a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a pearl, and a net full of fish. The first two are images of a small start growing into something large, the second two are about recognizing its amazing value, and the last points to a final sorting of good and evil. None of these images are about what it will be like to be in heaven – nothing about streets of gold, reunions with those we’ve lost, the wings and harps we’ll all have in a life of eternal perfection. Nor are they about how we will get to heaven – there’s no route to travel, no mountain to climb, no map of virtues, no questions at the pearly gate.
Jesus has a different focus to his message, and it is the essence of his “good news,” the gospel itself: we don’t have to find a way to the kingdom of heaven because it is on its way to us. Something small and seemingly insignificant is slowly revealing itself to be important and valuable – and to recognize its coming is to be counted as “good.” The kingdom of heaven then seems to be neither reward nor punishment, but rather a movement of God toward us to gather us in. The images add up to be about Jesus himself: the God incarnate whose presence and message of love is the most precious thing in the world.
The Streets Are Speaking
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate, July 10, 2020
This Sunday, Matthew brings us the “Parable of the Sower;” or as Bishop Bill Franklin renamed it, the “Parable of the Seeds,” in a sermon he has prepared for diocesan churches this week. On June 21st, Bp. Franklin brought our parish a powerful sermon filled with stories — and you might even say parables — of his time growing up in Mississippi in the 1950’s. Those stories were both poignant and timely, giving us a firsthand account of his witness to American Apartheid, not only from the Deep South decades ago, but also more recently in Buffalo, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s hometown. Bp. Franklin reminded us that white supremacy is not bound to a particular region, or time in our history. As we hear the children of God cry out from our streets today, we know that the sin of racism is still central to our story. As Bp. Franklin, and others, have said, “The streets are speaking: we need to listen.”
This past week, Bishop Franklin has recorded a sermon for the whole Diocese, and while I was scheduled to preach to you this week, Canon John and I decided that we would again cede the pulpit to our Assisting Bishop. Because we at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity heard his powerful stories on June 21, we are going forward to the second half of his sermon for this week, in which he shares some of his more recent insights and observations. These modern-day stories are parables in their own right, and are inextricably linked to the stories witnessed in his childhood in Mississippi.
The “Parable of the Sower” — or “of the Seeds” — is much more than a lesson about gardening, or a tale of “good seeds” vs. “bad seeds.” It’s a parable about God’s extravagance, God’s abundance, in which God tosses the seeds EVERYWHERE: the beautiful dark and rich soil, the rocks, the sand… everywhere! An observation also made by biblical scholar Elisabeth Johnson is that “the sower keeps sowing generously, extravagantly, even in the least promising places.” It’s almost indiscriminate. God tosses an abundance of seeds, and they land where they land: sometimes even onto the streets of our city.
Like many of you, COVID-19 has given me a constant sense of feeling unmoored from our foundations. It’s as if the former “ground” has been swept away. Everything is being dismantled. The soil is now shifting as a re-energized movement to truly reimagine policing is breaking new ground. We are reimaging what life would be like in a world without our manmade divisions and boundaries of race and class and gender. We find ourselves living in our own parable, a time of sowing new seeds, even as the soil beneath our feet often feels unsteady.
As I reflect on all of this, I keep hearing the refrain of an old hymn, “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” God is abundantly and extravagantly, tossing seeds of hope all over the place, even onto the pavement. Perhaps the “solid rock” on which we seek to stand is to be found in our streets: “The streets are speaking, and we need to listen.” The sower sows extravagantly, and God’s generosity and “power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20) If we truly listen to the sounds of the streets, I pray that it will yield a bumper crop of Christ’s love.
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, July 3, 2020
My Jesus, I believe that you are truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. I love you above all things, and long for you in my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though you have already come, I embrace you and unite myself entirely to you; never permit me to be separated from you. Amen. (St. Alphonsus de Liguori, 1696-1787)
I am confident that you are all missing communion as much as I am. I am equally confident that you are missing gathering together as the Body of Christ in person as I am. To that end, Canon John and the Vestry Subcommittee on Reopening are working hard at moving us, slowly and cautiously, toward the days when we can resume in-person gatherings in our church and partake of the Blessed Sacrament. But we are not there yet; it is not yet safe to do so.
The new outdoor Wednesday Evening Prayer service is a first small step in that direction. But as we head into the heart of summertime, we are also making a couple of small changes in our Sunday service to reflect our current reality. First, our Sunday liturgy will take place live online via Zoom in a webinar-style meeting, rather than in a pre-recorded video. This will give us, we hope, an even more vivid sense of being together while being apart. And second, starting this Sunday, we will conclude our worship by saying the Prayer for Spiritual Communion above.
The genius of the Christian faith, I believe, lies in its absolute forthrightness in addressing the difficult sides of life while simultaneously proclaiming our joy in the gifts of our mortal lives and our eternal lives. The cross, our central symbol, embodies this paradox: it is an instrument of horrible suffering and death – the worst our life can hold, endured by our Savior Jesus; and it is the reminder of his resurrection, the best part of life, the promise of the eternal love of God.
It is well for us to hang onto that combination in our current time of trial, to ameliorate our disappointment at the loss of fellowship and sacrament, and to bolster our awareness, during this absence, of our spiritual fellowship with each other and God. Let us pray St. Alphonsus’ prayer together, then, to address both our pain and our thankful joy.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, June 25, 2020
As we hear the cries of God’s people through the trials of these trying times, we are not standing on the sidelines, but embracing our active role as witnesses to the history we are living, seeking to address the urgent need for change, equity and racial justice that the pandemic and scourge of violence against men and women of color by police has exposed. I wish to share with you a statement condemning white supremacy and systemic racism issued this week by the Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association. A story about the statement was published in today’s edition of the Brooklyn Eagle.
Our own Mo. Kate Salisbury and the Rev. Adriene Thorne, Senior Minister at the First Presbyterian Church, took the lead in composing this statement, which was signed by all of the clergy of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity and our colleagues in virtually all of our neighboring houses of worship. May we persist in word and action to engage faithfully together in the self-examination and the dismantling of racists systems to which we commit here.
Interfaith Clergy Statement Condemning White Supremacy and Systemic Racism
The Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association (BHICA) is composed of neighborhood imams, ministers, pastors, priests and rabbis who have gathered once a month for decades to represent thousands of faithful neighbors at the table. As a multi-faith group we affirm that every person is made in the divine image and possesses inherent dignity and worth. The recent death of George Floyd as a result of police brutality manifests the evils of white supremacy and systemic racism. We condemn these and all forms of racial violence.
White supremacy mars the image of God that is reflected in all of us and corrupts God’s intention for society. Systemic racism is insidious; it permeates our public, private and spiritual lives in ways we often fail to comprehend or acknowledge. Black lives matter and we stand in solidarity with all who suffer from the scourge of racism. As people of faith we join others of good will in striving to dismantle systemic racism. We lament our complicity in racist systems and commit to personal and corporate self-examination.
In the spirit of respect and love we commit to the sacred struggle for racial and social justice as we celebrate the possibility of transcendent change.
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, June 12, 2020
In the prayer of consecration during Holy Communion – a service we are all missing so much! – the priest describes the action of the service as the congregation’s “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” “Thanksgiving” is what “eucharist,” the formal name for the service, means, and it is obvious that we are giving thanks and praise for the life and death and resurrection of Jesus in our worship. What is less obvious is why this is a “sacrifice” on the part of the congregation. I believe that giving thanks to someone is a sacrifice because it is a recognition of something we did not, and perhaps cannot, do on our own – we sacrifice a bit of our claim to independence and self-sufficiency when we acknowledge what another has done for us. And so it is in the Eucharist: we cannot do what God did for us in Jesus, so we give thanks.
This Sunday morning, at coffee hour, we will offer another sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving when we give thanks to God for the births of twin daughters, Emma Grace and Luna Julieta, to Jenniffer and Léon Willis. The service found in our Prayer Book, Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child, is short and sweet and very moving. It precedes any concern about baptism – which we all look forward to being part of! – by reminding us that the first thing we need to do is thank the Lord of Life for these new lives. We speak often of the miracle of life, and it is helpful for us Christians to remember where that life, and all life – including the resurrected life – comes from.
Jesus on the Move
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, June 6, 2020
I want to add my voice to the chorus of those denouncing the brutal killing of George Floyd by the police and acknowledge what I believe is obvious, which is that in the nearly two weeks since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, we’ve seen a national movement for civil rights and human rights for African Americans and people of color reanimated.
The connection between structural racism and the disproportionately high toll of the Covid-19 pandemic on communities of color was coming into stark focus when the video of George Floyd’s murder went viral. Watching a human being treated so inhumanely by those whose job it is to protect and defend the public naturally sparked outrage in the hearts of citizens of goodwill and confronted us all with the truth that to look away is to be complicit in a system that denies men and women of color their dignity and equality.
The Gospel story of the commissioning of the disciples we’ll hear in our Sunday worship service tomorrow will reassure us at this crucible moment in history.
In the very last verses of Matthew 28, the final chapter of this Gospel, Jesus says, “go…and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This, incidentally, is the only explicit reference to the Trinity in any of the Gospels, making the passage a particular favorite for this Trinity Sunday. Most significantly, we observe Jesus here entrusting the building up of the body of faithful people, the Church, to those who who need him there with a mix of hope and doubt.
In his first address as Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in November 2015, Michael Curry summed up Jesus’ call to the disciples this way: “Follow me and I will help you change the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends.” He then refers to the events in the 28th chapter of Matthew as the start of the Jesus Movement, concluding:
Now is our time to go…into the world to share the good news of God and Jesus Christ…to be agents and instruments of God’s reconciliation…to let the world know that there is a God who loves us, a God who will not let us go, and that that love can set us all free. This is the Jesus Movement, and we are…the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement in this world.
Bishop Curry continues to echo in his preaching and witness Jesus’ challenge to a hopeful, but often reluctant, Church to be agents and instruments of change – which makes recalling Jesus’s parting words to his companions so critical now.
Jesus’ assurance to them to “remember I am with you always, to the end of the age,” is a reminder that Jesus is one with us, as he is with the Creator and Sustainer of all that is; that through the Spirit, he remains co-missioner of the Church, on the move with his followers along every journey of solidarity with the marginalized and vulnerable, for the sake of love and justice.
Life in Spirit
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, May 29, 2020
on those who await your appearing.
You Whom the Lord had foretold
suddenly, swiftly descend.
Forth from the Father You come
with sevenfold mystical offering.
Pouring on all human souls
infinite riches of God!
Pentecost focuses our attention on that most mystical person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the birth of the Church and the promise that each of us has the breath of God within.It’s customary to wear red on Pentecost – a reminder of the flames that appeared above the apostles’ heads as the Holy Spirit descends. Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, whose Pentecost sermon will be broadcast in services throughout our diocese, including our own this Sunday, has encouraged us to do the same at home. One more way to keep the Spirit alive, wherever it finds us.
Courage and Imgination
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, May 7, 2020
The Gospel appointed for this Sunday begins with Jesus telling his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Like us, the disciples seek a roadmap to navigate the uncertain terrain of the life of faith, which Jesus offers in declaring, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Yet there is no getting around the fact that the pursuit of this direct path to the hopeful future Jesus promises will require courage and imagination on our part.
Sunday is Mother’s Day, an occasion to celebrate the courage and imagination put to work by many women to guide their children along right paths and meet the many challenges of parenting. This week at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity, we have a plan to honor all of the mothers in our church circle and in your lives in a special way. We invite you to send a photo of yourself with your mother and, if you are a mother, a photo of you and your child/children to the parish administrator, which we will incorporate into the Morning Prayer service on Sunday.
Most of you know that Fr. Craig Townsend’s mother, Sara, had been hospitalized over a month ago and was battling a Covid-19 infection. Earlier this week, she tested negative for the virus and was finally discharged to a rehabilitation facility. Fr. Craig believes that the prayers of seven different churches, including St. Ann & the Holy Spirit, helped make this possible. Neither he nor his siblings could accompany her out of the hospital, but he was grateful for video evidence of her magnificent send-off by the hospital staff that he has welcomed me to share with all of you.
I will also share with you, if you don’t already know, that today is my birthday. Celebrating this year may require a bit of courage, but more imagination than usual, given the restriction on gathering. My plan for this evening is to watch “The Oedipus Project” produced by Theater of War Productions. You will remember the group as our cultural partner that took up residence in our church a year ago this week to begin their 10-week run of Antigone in Ferguson. “The Oedipus Project” is their latest offering, which they describe as “a dramatic reading of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King as a catalyst for powerful, guided conversations about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.” As with Antigone in Ferguson, I expect the classical drama and facilitated discussion of the urgent themes that emerge from it to provide an opportunity for catharsis. Theater of War Productions is offering free access to this live event, as always.
My birthday season will extend at least through the weekend and I hope to celebrate with you at our next Zoom Coffee Hour this Sunday, May 10, at 12:30 pm. You are encouraged to come to the gathering with your favorite dessert in hand!
Each by Name
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, April 30, 2020
In this fourth week of Easter, after weeks archiving the events of Holy Week and the Resurrection, our lectionary sets down its chronological account and breaks into song.
It is Good Shepherd Sunday and the readings draw from rich pastoral imagery throughout Scripture to reflect on the nature of our walk with God. In psalms, parables and prayers, God is presented as the one, true shepherd, and we as members of God’s flock. The imagery conveys a fundamental sense of belonging to God and one another.
Sheep are best known for their flocking instinct: one is always more likely to follow the group than strike out alone. Honed over millennia, this instinct reveals a deep-seated faith in sticking together. In the 10,000 years that sheep have made their way in the world, beset by all manner of predators and errant guides, they appear to have placed all their chips on the value of community.
But a particular insight of this Sunday’s Gospel (John 10:1-10) is that living for the whole in no way diminishes the individual. God knows each of us by name, calling each of us toward the common life in a distinct and particular way.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, March 20, 2020
We are a long way from knowing the full impact and calculating the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic, but certain present realities are coming into greater focus. We now have clear and alarming evidence of the high rate of infection locally – meaning in New York State and particularly in Brooklyn among all five boroughs. And we know that the governor’s order to close all non-essential businesses and further restrict the movement of New Yorkers as of this Sunday evening will take the limits of our personal interactions to a new extreme.
In other news from the top, Bishop Provenzano announced yesterday to his clergy that he is extending the suspension of public worship and gatherings in all churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island at least through May 17. This necessarily means prolonging the hardship of our physical isolation from one another and the prohibition to pray and serve alongside each other. And, while this is the right and only choice for our bishop, the certainty that we will not mark the days of Holy Week and celebrate Easter in our church is a heartbreaking development.
From where I sit as I write, I can see a flowering magnolia tree outside my window. And my heart both sinks, as I realize most of you will miss the blooming of our own magnolia in the corner garden of our church, and sings, as spring arrives with signs of life and hope appearing just when we need them.
While not quite a symbol of spring, an encouraging development for our parish is a new subscription to Zoom and our evolving plans to meet online through this platform. Please create a free account on Zoom when you can and stay tuned for opportunities to connect in the coming days.
Arriving soon is a video of the Lent IV Holy Eucharist that will be available for viewing on the parish website this Sunday morning. A highlight of the service is Mo. Kate’s sermon about the story of Jesus’ encounter with the blind man in John’s gospel. In it, Mo. Kate makes the case that in Jesus’ restoring sight to the man is the hope of spiritual clarity and a deepening faith for us in the midst of the daunting uncertainty we currently face.
Though it is clearer than ever that fighting the spread of illness will get harder before it gets easier, I am certain of and profoundly grateful for our enduring connection.
St. Patrick’s Breastplate
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, March 17, 2020
I write to assure you that your church is here for you in this difficult time. I continue to pray for occasions of calm for you amidst the certain fears caused by what’s known and unknown about our current public health crisis.
I want to let you all know that I and Mo. Kate are doing well and carrying on as best we can. We are strategizing about ways to support you now and in the coming days and weeks. This afternoon, we participated in a great call with colleagues in our deanery, that is, Episcopal churches in Northwest Brooklyn, a circle of friends with whom we will collaborate and from which we will draw strength regularly. And tonight we’ll meet by conference call with our vestry to envision leadership for our parish in this challenging new era.
Please know that you can expect a steady stream of communication from the clergy and leaders of St. Ann’s throughout the wilderness journey we are on and remember you can reach out to Mo. Kate, Fr. Craig or me, if you need anything at all.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day and, of course, this year the holiday will be marked without any of the usual, occasionally raucous, traditions. As the Church commemorates him on this day, I want to share words attributed to St. Patrick that may provide some comfort and encouragement now. I will admit to being inspired by our Presiding Bishop, the Geranium Farm (lately powered by own Carol Stone), and a deanery colleague who all referenced this prayer of St. Patrick in some form over the course of this day.
I close, then, with verses of the hymn, “I Bind Unto Myself Today” that is sung to the tune St. Patrick’s Breastplate and that speak of the power of God and the imminent presence of Christ in every season of our lives:
by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and one in Three.Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
The Woman at the Well
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, March 13, 2020
This Sunday we approach the half-way point of Lent. Our gospel reading is set at midday. Jesus, tired and thirsty, approaches a well in the region of Samaria. The well would have been deserted at this time of day — the custom was to gather water in the cooler hours of morning. But Jesus finds someone there who is thirsty too. Their quiet, otherworldly conversation has become a classic Christian text.
“The hour is coming.” Jesus says, “when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem….when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
It is a reminder that Jesus often worked along the margins, calling us beyond what we assume we understand. In a liturgically complex season, it’s also a reminder that God is present beyond conventional worship — beyond the mountain and the temple. We meet God in solitary moments, as well as communal ones.
This year, in particular, Lent finds us displaced from our daily routines and expectations. God is here with us, as well.
Safety and Hope
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, March 6, 2020
In an encounter with Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel, a Pharisee named Nicodemus confidently declares that Jesus is from God. He quickly learns what he has yet to know, as Jesus provides revelation upon revelation about himself with which Nicodemus can barely keep up. We are told Nicodemus comes to Jesus “by night,” an expression used by John the Evangelist throughout this gospel to indicate the limits of one’s understanding. Nicodemus leaves more enlightened and is yet somehow still in the dark, which is often our experience too, even as we come to know God more fully.
We are in a similar bind regarding the Coronavirus. We had what you might call fair warning about the potential for it to reach our shores, but the pace of its spread and our increased vulnerability to illness have stunned us.
Over the last week, as more and more cases of COVID-19 infections are identified, states of emergency are being declared across the country. All sorts of institutions are attempting to adjust to the heightened concerns for public safety and making decisions with implications that are global and local, economic and social.
In the Episcopal universe, our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, announced that the House of Bishops will gather “virtually” instead of meeting in Texas this month. And the Episcopal/Anglican delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women just learned that their conference next week would be cancelled. The group shared word about International Women’s Day, which is today, to reinforce for their constituents the stakes for their continuing efforts, which I share with you for the same reason.
As scientists, physicians and pharmaceutical companies pursue medical responses, we wish to address faithfully the concerns about the spread of the virus among us at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity. At our services last Sunday, we implemented policies to protect ourselves and one another. These new health safety guidelines, which will remain in effect at least through Lent, require our church full of hand-shakers and huggers to refrain from physical contact. While the sudden shift took some off guard on Sunday, it was heartening to see the goodwill among those in both congregations on full display.
Stepping into the wilderness of the weeks ahead, we are more heartened still that Jesus the Light reveals to the faithful in every age God’s many blessings from above and assures the future Church that in him God exposes a heart of love for the world. We are enlightened enough, then, to face the changes and chances of this life with confidence and hope.
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, February 28, 2020
Things to Do in the Belly of a Whale
Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.
“Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale” by Dan Albergotti from The Boatloads. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008.
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, February 21, 2020
Reparations is the process to remember, repair, restore, reconcile and make amends for wrongs that can never be singularly reducible to monetary terms. The process of reparations is “an historical reckoning involving acknowledgement that an offense against humanity was committed and that the victims have not received justice.”
A quote from the webpage of the Committee on Reparations in the Episcopal Diocese of New York by Bernice Powell Jackson, Executive Minister for Justice Ministry of the United Church of Christ
On Sunday we bring the season of Epiphany to a close, launching ourselves into Lent next week with Ash Wednesday. This transition provides an interesting conjunction of faith perspectives. “Epiphany” means “to bring to light, to reveal,” and refers specifically to the manifestation of God in Christ that began with the visit of the Magi, and Lent is a time of self-examination and repentance in preparation for the joy of Easter.
At the heart of this conjunction this year sits a forum being offered Sunday afternoon, “Race and Reparations,” facilitated by Cynthia Copeland, Co-chair of the Committee on Reparations in the Episcopal Diocese of New York. This committee in our neighboring diocese has spent the past few years in a process of bringing to light the history of the involvement of the diocese and its parishes in the furtherance of slavery, and then of using that self-examination for repentance and a desire to make amends for those historical wrongs. Might we also consider, then, how to bring our own parish’s history, and our diocese’s history of involvement with slavery to light, and consider how to repent for that history and make amends?
We are called in our baptisms to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” a process of constant epiphany. Let us explore together how we might repent and address a history in which that calling was explicitly ignored for persons of African descent.
The Love of Work
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, February 14, 2020
At the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, tourists are far more interested in visiting the Bocca della Veritá outside the church than they are in seeing a relic of St. Valentine inside. Admittedly, testing the legend that a liar’s hand will be bitten off by the “mouth of truth” – a ritual made famous in the 1953 film Roman Holiday featuring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck – is more fun than gazing upon a skull crowned in flowers.
Today on Valentine’s Day, I am reminded of the challenge of love that one might confront at a martyr’s shrine or anywhere.
St. Paul famously expounds on the work love requires of the Church in I Corinthians 13. In verses 4-6, he movingly states, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not exist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” To be clear, Paul’s interest is not in romantic or familial love, but agape or charity expressed by one member of a community toward another. Paul addresses the resistance to such love in the Church in Corinth throughout his epistle. In I Corinthians 3:1-9, which we’ll read this Sunday, he bemoans how the members refuse to live as “spiritual people,” as they persist in jealousy, quarreling and “behaving according to human inclination.”
Today on Valentine’s Day, I celebrate the will and work among us at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church to be spiritual people and embody agape love. This is not always easy and sometimes means engaging in healthy debate and disagreement. Yet through our efforts and investment in relationship within our community comes the hope of modeling and inspiring agape love in a world where envy, arrogance and deceit have come to define us.
May Paul’s assertion of the truth that “love never ends” encourage agape people like us to persist in love’s enduring work.
The DNA of Mission
A Reflection by the Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin, Assisting Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, February 7, 2020
It was a privilege to spend last weekend with the clergy, lay leaders, and the congregation of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity. I offered two lectures on your history and a Sunday sermon about the future mission of this Pro-Cathedral.
Eighteen months ago, when Bishop Provenzano re-designated your church as the Pro-Cathedral of the Diocese of Long Island, he described a “mission-focused strategy to reinvigorate our ministry in the City of New York, especially the five million people who call Brooklyn and Queens home.”
The notion of dedication to a holy purpose stretching beyond the borders of a parish to serve a great city, and even the nation, is very fitting as we contemplate this aspect of the identity of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity as a cathedral. Gothic cathedrals began to rise across Europe in the 11th century. They were stairways to the heavens and doorways to God, an offering of beauty and faith. They were the town square, the place where civic achievement was commemorated. They were places of refuge for anxious people in danger as well as for pilgrims who wanted to deepen their faith.
In my lectures, I explained that in the DNA of both St. Ann’s Church and the Church of the Holy Trinity is the past identity of leading the Episcopal Church and civic movements in the U.S. with far reaching impacts.
Charles Pettit McIvaine, Rector of St. Ann’s Church from 1827-1832, made the parish the center of the Evangelical Movement for the entire Episcopal Church. John Edgar Bartow, a layman, built the Church of the Holy Trinity from 1844 to 1848 to be the model High Church for Brooklyn, with free pews for all, a Gothic space marked by the beauty of holiness, with the first figural stained glass in the United States. The first bishop of the Diocese of Long Island, Abram N. Littlejohn, who served from 1868-1901, first named the Holy Trinity as a Pro-Cathedral with a dedication to social justice. That mission was expanded to civil rights and peace advocacy during the controversial, but influential, ministry of the father and son team of John Howard Melish and William Howard Melish, from the early 20th century until 1957.
The Grammy Award-winning composer Jennifer Higdon describes what the mission of an urban cathedral might be today: “Blue—like the sky. Where all possibilities soar. Cathedrals—a place of thought, growth, spiritual expression, serving as a symbolic doorway into and out of this world. Cathedrals represent a place of beginnings, endings, solitude, fellowship, contemplation, knowledge, and growth.”
You are now embarking on the inauguration of a new monthly Compline service. Compline is liturgical worship that accomplishes exactly what Jennifer Higdon says cathedrals should be doing now: “Creating the sensation of contemplation. And quiet peace at the beginning, moving towards the feeling of celebration and ecstatic expansion of the soul, all the while singing along with that heavenly music.” And because Compline is a flexible service, it offers a time for homilies or presentations that address important New York City issues, as you did on a broader scale with your Stonewall 50 commemoration last June. Combining a forum with Compline could give this congregation a unique identity within the wider community, where millions ache for connection in a city of strangers. Such an identity is already a part of your DNA.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, January 31, 2020
This weekend will be defined by connections between the past, present and future of our church.
Tomorrow we’ll host Bishop William Franklin, the newest assisting bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, who will preside at a forum called “Church as Sacrament” highlighting how the social justice orientation of St. Ann’s Church and the Church of the Holy Trinity in previous eras might inform the mission priorities of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church and Pro-Cathedral now and in the years to come.
Bishop Bill, as he known, will return as our guest preacher on Sunday, the Feast of the Presentation. The centerpiece of this feast of the Church is an episode recorded in Luke 2:22-40 in which Jesus’ parents, in accordance with Jewish practice, present their firstborn male child at the altar of God in the temple.
The passage features an encounter of generations and a passing of the torch. The aging holy man Simeon receives the child and both he and the prophet Anna acknowledge Jesus to be the embodiment of a promised hopeful future for a community shrouded in the darkness of oppression and despair. Simeon responds to the sight of Jesus with his song, declaring him to be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to [God’s] people Israel.”
The Feast of the Presentation has also come to be known as Candlemas as the use of candles emerged in the early Church and continues today to provide a visible expression of Simeon’s assertion of Christ’s defining light for the world.
As we receive the torch passed from Simeon and Anna through generations of the Church and to our forebears here, may the embodiment of mission in our pro-cathedral now and for the ages assert the light of truth, love and justice for a community that longs to see and embrace it.
Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association Response to Anti-Semitic Violence in our Region
For decades now, the clergy of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church have participated in the Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association. I currently serve with Rabbi Molly Kane as a Co-President and Canon John serves as Secretary. This month we called a special meeting in order to craft a statement responding to recent anti-Semitic violence in our region. I found the process of working together in this way to be inspiring. Mindful of the upcoming International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, I share our statement below.
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, January 24, 2020
The Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association is composed of neighborhood imams, ministers, pastors, priests, and rabbis who have gathered once a month for decades to represent thousands of faithful neighbors at the table.
As a multi-faith group we affirm that every person is made in the divine image and possesses inherent dignity and worth. We are enriched by the spirituality of one another’s traditions and impoverished when any member of our community is threatened or diminished.
We are hurt and sickened by recent attacks on Jewish people in our region.
Attacks on visibly religious people are attacks on religious life, itself. Anti-Semitism is an expression of evil and a crime against the human family. Religious bigotry insults the loving and life giving spirit at the heart of the world. It mars the image of the God that is reflected in all of us, collectively.
The Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association values religious diversity and interfaith bonds. We support our Jewish brothers and sisters in the face of anti-Semitism and at all times.
The God we call by many names calls us to protect all the varieties of peaceful religious expression: they are essential both to knowing God and to the spirit of our neighborhood, city, and nation.
We invite those who fear our differences to embrace the joy of diversity and join us in peace.
Imam Dr. Abdalla Allam, Islamic Mission of America, Dawood Masjed
Nancy Black, Brooklyn Monthly Meeting
The Reverend Canon John E. Denaro, St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church and Pro-Cathedral
The Reverend Joseph D. Dewey, Resurrection Brooklyn
The Reverend Mark Genszler, Christ Church Cobble Hill
Pastor Klaus Dieter Gress, Zion German Evangelical Lutheran Church
Father Dominique Hanna, Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral
Dr. Ahmad Jaber, Board Chair of Dawood Mosque
Rabbi Molly G. Kane, Brooklyn Heights Synagogue
The Reverend Mark Labe, C.O., The Oratory Church of St. Boniface
The Reverend Ana Levy-Lyons, First Unitarian Congregational Society
Rabbi Serge A. Lippe, Brooklyn Heights Synagogue
The Reverend Erika K. Meyer, Grace Church
Pastor Clint Padgitt, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Cantor Ayelet Porzecanski, Brooklyn Heights Synagogue
The Reverend Dr. Allen F. Robinson, Grace Church
The Reverend Katherine A. Salisbury, St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church and Pro-Cathedral
Pastor Julie Sløk, Danish Seamen’s Church
The Reverend Marie Tatro, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island
The Reverend Dr. Craig D. Townsend, St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church and Pro-Cathedral
The Reverend Adriene Thorne, First Presbyterian Church
Rabbi Samuel Weintraub, Kane Street Synagogue
The Reverend Dr. Brett Younger, Plymouth Church
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, January 17, 2020
This weekend we reflect on the ministry of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is remembered in the Church calendar on April 4 as a martyr, but for most Americans it is this birthday weekend that recalls his prophetic witness.
Samuel is the prototypical Biblical prophet. His defining crisis was the theft, by Philistines, of Israel’s charter document: the Ten Commandments. At a critical juncture in the conflict Samuel calls Israel into repentance rather than war and in their vulnerability Israel’s treasure is restored. The Ark of the Covenant is returned and Samuel erects a stone to mark the occasion. He calls the stone Ebenezer, Hebrew for Stone of Help, declaring, “God has helped us, thus far.”
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, January 10, 2020
This Sunday we mark the Baptism of Jesus and read St. Matthew’s account of the occasion. This is one in a trinity of events that churches within Christendom emphasize in celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany, that is, the “manifestation” or “revelation” of God in Jesus to the world. The others are, first, the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus, and then Jesus’ appearance and first miracle at a wedding in Cana.
Of course, the revelation of God to us is continuous. Where have you seen God revealed so far in this New Year? With the world so much on edge, where are you looking for or hoping for God to be manifest? And, as we celebrate the revealing of the Light in this Epiphany season, how will you manifest that light and God’s love in these days?
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, January 3, 2020
Arise, shine, for your light has come! (Isaiah 60:1) These words set the stage for our celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany this Sunday. They herald a joyful response to the realization, once again, that God is with us. It suits the natural season, too, as the longest night of the year slips behind us and we see sun’s light on the rise again. Isaiah’s words are words of hope. Hope for a new year. Hope for a new decade! Hope for any soul in need of renewal.
Epiphany affirms that light and life in God are indefatigable.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, December 20, 2019
A poem for the season by civil rights activist Howard Thurman expresses the challenge of arriving at the threshold between Advent and Christmas, acknowledging the likelihood of darkness persisting beyond our celebration of the light of truth revealed in Jesus. Still Thurman claims the joy, hope, courage, peace, grace and love delivered in the Savior’s birth and commits to the ongoing work of justice we are called to embody as bearers of the light.
I Will Light Candles this Christmas
I will light Candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
To those I will see tomorrow on Clean-Up Day, and/or on Sunday for church, bible study and caroling, and to those who will set off on holiday travels before the weekend, with whom I am so grateful to share the work of light-bearing, I wish you a blessed and very Merry Christmas!
Just in Time
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, December 13, 2019
Now more than halfway through Advent, I am grateful for the opportunity to pause amidst the hectic and occasionally unsettling nature of this time and this season. On Saturday, the Rev. Mark Genszler, priest-in-charge at Christ Church, Cobble Hill, will facilitate a morning program of quiet contemplation from 9:30 am to 12:00 pm at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity. I hope Fr. Mark’s compelling invitation to “For the Time Being” will entice you to join us and share in this just-in-time embrace of stillness:
For what do we wait? And, how shall we live in the meanwhile, while waiting collectively and individually? For the time being, all creation is groaning in labor, subject to decay, as St. Paul writes in Romans 8:22. We look backward in time to what God began anew in the Incarnation; we look forward into the infinity of the future, held in God’s hand; we look inward, meditating on what is being brought to birth in our own life; we look outward, as many have before us, so we may read the signs of our times with compassion, energy, and eyes of justice. What implications might this have for our inner life, and our collective life as a species in a time demanding ecological and political action? The offering of this reflective quiet half day, involving prayer, collective silent meditation, and guided reflection, is an invitation to pause briefly amid your seasonal preparation, and listen for what is being brought to birth in you and around you.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, December 6, 2019
It’s here! Not Christmas (yet), but the parish annual meeting. As you’ve been hearing, our once-a-year gathering to do the business of the church takes place this Sunday, December 8, following a joint worship service at 10:00 am. We need all of our members to join us, and I know you’ll be there if you can.
Our annual meeting is, among other things, an opportunity to take stock of the accomplishments of the year gone by along with some goals as yet unfulfilled. It’s also important to acknowledge our many resources at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church, including resources of buildings and sufficient funds to operate and support our mission and ministry. And then there is the immense resource of people at St. Ann’s, that big-hearted and generous lot of you who commit your time and talent to keep our church thriving. You give and you share with one another and many others, as you faithfully seek and serve God.
Among our people, we lift up leaders here and at Sunday’s meeting we’ll elect a warden and vestry members to new or renewed terms of office. We thank warden Claudia Barber and vestry member Wladimir Lewis-Thomas de Rosier, who have completed six years of service and cannot stand for reelection, as we enthusiastically submit the following slate of candidates: Halley Potter Taylor, who is running for a 2-year term as warden, and Barbara Gonzo, Sven Heemeyer and Elise Roecker, who are running to fill three open vestry positions. Nominations for warden and vestry may also be made from the floor.
Our elections and all of the work of our meeting is a spiritual exercise by which we take stock of our first and greatest gift, which is the love of God for us and the world made manifest in Jesus. It is this love beyond measure in this season ripe with expectation that informs and inspires all our business and commitments at St. Ann’s.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, November 27, 2019
In the last few days, a steady stream of Giving Tuesday emails has filled our inboxes with invitations to donate to all sorts of good causes on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. In them we see the wisdom of not-for-profits appealing to our better natures amidst the overindulgence and consumerism that is encouraged over this holiday weekend.
We might think of Advent as #GivingTuesday extended over four weeks. The Church invites us against a backdrop of dread in this season to act for good. On Advent I this Sunday, Jesus warns us in the Gospel reading from Matthew to “keep awake…for you do not know on what day the Lord is coming.” But the Collect of the Day reminds us that by grace we might “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Rather than feel discouraged, we are empowered to remain vigilant in cultivating and caring for what matters most.
A focus on climate justice at St. Ann’s in Advent is meant to draw attention to an issue that gets overshadowed by other priorities, despite the mounting evidence of present and looming environmental disaster. On Advent I and Advent III, we’ll hear from two guests preachers – our new neighbor, the newly appointed priest-in-charge at Christ Church, Cobble Hill, Fr. Mark Genszler, and Jeff Levy-Lyons of the Jewish Action Climate Network respectively – who will invite us to take stock of the resources we possess to combat climate change as citizens and people of faith.
We don’t need to wait for Advent and Giving Tuesday to heed a wise and timely call to persistent and sustained activism on behalf of the planet as #FridaysforFuture begins a series of global climate events this Friday, November 29. Those behind this growing movement assert that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” to act for our future, which makes perfect sense for us who understand ourselves to be Christ’s hands and heart in this world.
On this eve of Thanksgiving, I thank God for the Church and people of goodwill everywhere that remind me to #GiveEveryday in loving response to the gift of God in Jesus and all the blessings of this life, including the world God made and loves.
The King is Dead! Long Live the King!
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, November 21, 2019
This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. It is the last and final Sunday of the Christian year and gives us occasion to choose Jesus’ rule of life for ourselves.
To us as Americans, the notion of a king may feel outmoded – every American child is well versed in the pitfalls of monarchy. But monarchy has deep appeal: it predates history. Perhaps its most compelling promise is that of permanence, longevity beyond any given lifetime.
The proclamation The king is dead. Long live the king! came to mind this week in contemplating Christ on the cross. That phrase originated centuries ago in France as a way of reassuring subjects that the death of a king does not mean the death of a kingdom. Uttered in a single breath, it pronounces, simultaneously, the death of the monarchism and the ascension of the heir. The circle is unbroken.
A Wealth of Generosity
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation and Parishioner Carol Stone
Carol Stone, retired Wall Street economist and still part-time economic commentator, was to have partnered with me in last Sunday’s talk, “God and Mammon: Money and the Bible.” She became ill, though, and was unable to participate. I spoke on a few aspects of the topic in her stead, but here are her thoughts on one of them.
The earliest Christians were not at all rich themselves, but they were able to support the work of the church and the neediest people in the church. Paul writes (II Cor 8:1-15) about the generous giving by members of the “churches of Macedonia” – that is, those in Thessalonica, Philippi, and Berea – to a collection he was taking up for the poor of Jerusalem. He is encouraging the people of Corinth to join in.
Human society in that time was still agriculturally based and the economy was therefore quite tenuous. There was a ruling class that was well off, but the farmers and farmhands had little money. Yet, Paul tells the Corinthians,“during a severe ordeal of affliction, the Macedonians’ abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity…. they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints.” Clearly their attachment and loyalty to the love taught by Jesus and brought to them by Paul inspired them to support Paul’s collection.
I read this scripture passage as I prepared for the presentation last Sunday, and I heard myself say out loud, “My goodness, is that stewardship, or what?!” It seems like we, who are much better off than they were, could well be inspired by their example, as Paul urged the Corinthians to be.
Around the Table
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, November 8, 2019
At our 9:30 am Sunday morning service known as Early Church, the prayer said by the priest as we gather at the table for the Holy Communion begins this way:
Now the table is set. At this table we are in the company of Jesus, and all who love him. At this table Jesus shares food and drink with those who seek him: the old and the young, the poor and the rich, the weak and the strong.
At both our Sunday morning services, we are blessed to have a great cross-section of people at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity who don’t fit easily into categories. Broadly speaking, “old and young, poor and rich, weak and strong” about covers it. What’s true for everyone at St. Ann’s is that we all seek and find a place around the communion table.
It’s also true that we all play a part in supporting the ministry of St. Ann’s. By some combination of our time, talent and treasure, every member brings something to the table, as it were, and helps to keep the doors of our church open to sustain our many programs of faith formation, outreach and Christian service, as well as our various partnerships with neighbors far and wide.
I take stock of the great resource of people at St. Ann’s in the lead-up to our stewardship campaign that begins this Sunday. Over the course of the next several weeks, every member will be invited to give in every way she or he can so that our church can thrive and continue to be a spiritual and community resource in the coming year.
It is timely and wonderful that, as our conversation about giving begins, the associate for faith formation, Fr. Craig Townsend, and parishioner Carol Stone will offer a program this Sunday called “God and Mammon” to highlight what the bible has to say about our relationship to our money. You won’t want to miss this presentation. As is always the case at St. Ann’s, there will be something in it for everyone.
The Company of Saints
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, November 1, 2019
In the New Testament, the term saints (agioß) is used in the plural and always in lower case. It means holy and set apart and is applied to every member of the fledgling Church. Nearly one thousand years passed before a universal canonization process was developed – a thousand years before anyone became a Saint, with capital “S.” Until then, most holy women and men were remembered, revered and loved locally by those removed from them by just a few degrees of separation.
All Saints harkens back to this early sensibility, preserving the notion that holiness is local, home grown and idiomatic. As we celebrate the Feast of All Saints this Sunday, we light candles for the saints who have gone before us – a countless host who have shown us something of the knowledge and love of God. We welcome Jake Sebright as he is baptized into the Communion of Saints and imagine our own place among them, each of us holy and indispensable to God.
Keeping the Faith
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, October 25, 2019
The NYC Marathon is just over a week away and it comes to mind, as St. Paul declares in this Sunday’s Epistle from II Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Biblical scholars argue against Paul’s authorship of II Timothy, but it seems entirely plausible that these were his sentiments as he suffered imprisonment and faced martyrdom.
The sense of finality expressed here is poignant when compared to passages from earlier in Paul’s ministry, as for example, in Philippians 3:14, in which he describes himself as “press[ing] on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.” Paul’s satisfaction at this fateful moment gives us reason to take stock of our own present experience.
Beyond the faith we place in people and institutions that can sometimes fail us, we seek to emulate Paul in committing ourselves to faith in the eternal promises of God. Such faith requires endurance and endures setbacks. We may become weary and tempted to give up, and just as often find our faith supported and renewed by the faithful with whom we journey alongside. In every season, as we strive to keep the faith, we honor an inheritance from generations of others that we are blessed to share. Our embrace of faith makes us part of something bigger than us in which our participation – rather than our success or failure – is the point.
In other words, though few of us will ever run 26.2 miles at a time, we are fellow marathoners in faith.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, October 18, 2019
For better or worse, two things are consuming me these days.
One is the current state of the world, to which Jesus offers the best response I can conceive in the opening line of this Sunday’s Gospel lesson: “Jesus told [them] a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
The other is the planning and preparations for our coming gala fundraiser, Gather In! on Friday, November 1 – just two weeks from today – about which I am rejoicing! I know it will be great, especially if all of you who can will join us.
On the Way to Jerusalem
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, October 11, 2019
Luke’s gospel this week (Luke 17:11-19) reads like an old folk tale. Jesus and his companions are “on the way to Jerusalem.” As they travel toward the house of God they meet various and sundry people hoping to get there, too. Samaritans, lepers, Jews and Gentiles: what will it take to enter the presence of God? In speaking to them, of course, Jesus speaks to us.
The story of this journey comes in the weeks that our Jewish brothers and sisters mark the beginning of a new year in the Hebrew calendar (5780, calculated from the Biblical stories of creation) and celebrate Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. These high holy days are marked by atonement, repentance and reunion with God. They are a time to draw closer to the spirit at the heart of the world.
Sunday’s Eucharist is an opportunity for us to do the same. Or, in the words of our fall fundraiser, to “gather in.”
The Saint and the Sultan
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, September 27, 2019
Long before coming to St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church I’d heard of the Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association, whose members have met faithfully over decades to enjoy one another’s company. This year I am honored to serve, with Rabbi Molly Kane, as the group’s co-president.
When I describe this group, it tends to strike people as a very modern thing to do. But interfaith dialogue, and mutual affection, is old.
This Sunday, St. Ann’s welcomes Paul Moses, author of The Saint and the Sultan, to tell us about the meeting 800 years ago of Francis of Assisi and Sultan al Malik al Kamel, of Egypt, at the height of the Crusades. Both leaders left that encounter desiring peace. Francis would encourage friars to emulate Muslims in certain aspects of prayer. The Sultan would ultimately grant Franciscans access to holy sites in Jerusalem.
Stepping into this old story helps me imagine possibilities in our own context. “Start by doing what is necessary,” St. Francis said, “then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Francis himself was living proof.
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, October 3, 2019
If you want to know what Episcopalians believe, there is no source of doctrine you can look to. Instead, you have to watch how we worship and how we act. What we say and what we do, in church and in the world, express and embody what we believe.
Consider all of the expressions of faith taking place in our parish right now. We’re restarting the Book of Books Book Club (tonight!) and committing to read the entire New Testament over the course of the year – an act of faith for sure – and all are welcome to join in! We have engaged in an array of activities over the past month as part of our “Instruments of Peace” series inspired by the peace-making legacy of St. Francis. His was a life of faith we strive to emulate inwardly and outwardly. The series culminates on Sunday with a display of puppets and songs, the blessing of animals, and by welcoming our guest preacher, Ravi Ragbir, the Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, at the 11:15 am service. Ragbir is Ecumenical Canon for Immigration Ministry in the Diocese of Long Island, an honor bestowed on him by our bishop at St. Ann’s in February 2018, and he is the embodiment of godly service. The New Sanctuary Coalition accompanies, advocates for and seeks to defend vulnerable immigrants, asserting that our communities should be places of welcome and peace for those who come here seeking a better life. And we continue to gather around the communion table to recall Jesus’ embodiment of faith and service in his life, death and resurrection. By showing up as we do for all of this, we embody our faith and accept our call to be the Body of Christ for one another and the world!
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, September 19, 2019
n the lead up to this week’s United Nations Climate Action Summit we have been reminded emphatically about the fragile state of the environment, the evidence of the global impact of climate change, and the potential future impacts on us if we do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As the alarm continues to sound, I have had in mind the quaint and comforting old song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” It was triggered when, during a news segment about the UN conference, a reporter made the stunning claim that we are held by the climate. It was an obvious and revelatory statement. And it occurred to me I do not want something that holds me to flinch, give in, give up or be compromised in any way.
And I cannot help but consider then the reality and metaphor of our historic church building, which serves as a dwelling place for God and also a container for our worship and work with God to usher in the kingdom on earth. We do not require a building to be the church, and yet, as long as we inhabit the space, we are called to be stewards of it and ensure that it stands safe and strong to serve its mission.
Amidst our priorities as the church comes the invitation to prayerfully support and, if possible, join the action for climate justice this Friday, September 20, with members of fellow parishes in the Diocese of Long Island and other people of good will. (See the announcement below.) In Genesis, God the creator entrusts the care of creation to humankind, and so even as we are held in God’s hands and enfolded in God’s loving arms, it is a matter of faith and our duty to protect and preserve the environment that holds us.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, September 6, 2019
Years ago, the Rural and Migrant Ministry rallied support for farmworker rights in New York State with a video called, “We Gather.” Of course, the title of the piece referred to the cycles of harvesting fruits and vegetables on farms across New York, but also the efforts of faith groups and others mobilizing to advocate with and for farmworkers who, until just this year, were unfairly excluded from state labor laws.
It took decades of persistent and tireless organizing, lobbying and praying to persuade the New York State legislature to pass a law this spring to guarantee farmworkers a day of rest, overtime pay, and the right to collective bargaining.
We are in a post-Labor Day weekend back-to-school mindset, but many of us were on the go and busy throughout the summer. And our cycle of prayer and worship continued as those of us who could be in church gathered for weekly services at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity.
As we carry on in mission and ministry, I am grateful for the tradition of designating a day at the start of the new program year to take stock of the many blessings of life in community at St. Ann’s. This Sunday we’ll celebrate St. Ann’s Day at Early Church and the 11:15 am Holy Eucharist by lifting up the awesome gifts that God entrusts to us: our resourceful and diverse community and our faith in one another; our call to serve each other, most especially those in need; and our treasured buildings into which we welcome many to gather in partnership with us.
The fruits of Christian love – things seen and unseen – are borne out over the long haul through the constancy and shared commitment to the way of Jesus so much in evidence at St. Ann’s.
And so onward we gather with the certainty of our cause amidst the changes and chances of this life.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, July 5, 2019
In his weekly reflection for the Renewal Works program in which we at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity continue to participate, my colleague, the Rev. Jay Sidebotham, shares with readers that the Fourth of July is one of the few national holidays in our liturgical calendar. As a reminder, it is through Renewal Works that we are exploring opportunities for spiritual growth together. Jay’s challenge here is to consider “what this Independence Day has to do with our lives of faith.”
In pondering the matter for himself, he finds that the word “independence” is nowhere in scripture, but notes that the word “freedom” appears many times.This leads him to Jesus’ assertion that in him we will know the truth and the truth will set us free. Jay’s claim then is that the truth Jesus taught “is a call to discover freedom not so much in our independence but rather in our dependence on God and our dependence on each other.”
Jay entitled his eblast “Dependence Day,” but the piece and, indeed, our national holiday might just as well be called “Interdependence Day.” As people of faith and Americans, we can claim that we need God and one another to maintain the rights and freedoms we hold so dear and value so greatly.
Our hope in God and our concerns and aspirations for ourselves on this occasion are lifted up in a prayer for our country in the Book of Common Prayer. I took the liberty of contemporiing what is printed, but, if it interests you, you will find the original text on page 820 of the prayer book.
Almighty God, you give us this good land to inhabit. We pray that we will show ourselves always to be people who are mindful of your blessings and who desire to do your will. Bless the nation with honorable industry, sound learning, and civility. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes of those who were first here and who for generations and still come from many nations. Give those we entrust with the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, by following your divine law, we may show forth your praise among people everywhere. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, sustain our trust in you. We ask all this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Courage and Pride
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, June 28, 2019
In 2011, I was blessedly called as priest-in-charge of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity, a church where a bold commitment to tolerance and inclusion of LGBTQ people and others facing discrimination in the wider world was deep and unbending. Where else but at St. Ann’s would young and old, richer and poorer, people who grew up Episcopal and in other traditions, people of many ethnicities, people in straight and gay interracial couples, people living with HIV and AIDS, disabled and differently-abled people, people who identify as gender fluid and transgender, and families, including same gender couples with kids, all feel like they belong? I am afraid the answer for several generations and still in 2019 is in very few faith communities.
An article in yesterday’s New York Times describes the courage it took for lesbian and gay people to stand up for their rights by participating in 1970 in what is considered the first pride parade to mark the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.
The parade was no less than a protest, with organizers acknowledging their uncertainty, if not outright fear, by admitting, “What it will all come to no one can tell.” The poster announcing the march added, “It is our hope that the day will come when homosexuals will be an integral part of society — being treated as human beings.” This story and the history mined and reported as the 50th anniversary of Stonewall is commemorated this year has deepened my gratitude for the risks and sacrifices of my forebears in the LGBTQ liberation movement.
The Church at its best affirms the pursuit of human rights and equal rights and civil rights of every group that is ostracized, alienated and oppressed by society. Today we are reminded by our friends at the Geranium Farm how the second century bishop, Irenaeus, living in a time of great hardship for the Church, encouraged believers by asserting that, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
We have a long way to go in affirming the full humanity of LGBTQ people, people of color, women and many others in the Church and society, and it still takes courage for most of us to be our truest selves and love ourselves. Just this week, a home in Carroll Gardens belonging to a gay couple with children and cars on the street outside it were defaced with spray painted anti-gay slurs and epithets. Such behavior is cowardly, but nonetheless instills fear.
What comes to mind for me is the great hymn, “God of grace and God of glory,” and the refrain in one stanza that serves as a prayer for this and perhaps all time: “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days!”
As I seek to live with courage and pride, I can say for certain that I will march in this year’s NYC Pride Parade on Sunday with gratitude for generations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer heroes on whose shoulders I stand, as well as for my ever affirming family and friends, and for the Episcopal Church and its beautiful, exceptional expression in the community of St. Ann’s.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, June 21, 2019
In the final month of my sabbatical a year ago now, I stood where people gather annually and watch for the light at the arrival of the summer solstice. Early last June, I was at Stonehenge where for a fleeting moment on the solstice the sun hits the center of the altar of the 5000-year-old pre-Christian sacred site. And on the day of the solstice, I was in Chartres Cathedral with other visitors gathered around a single square cut stone on the ground onto which light shines once a year through an almost imperceptible pinhole in a stained glass window along the south transept.
In New York State, farmworkers and their advocates at Rural and Migrant Ministry and elsewhere have waited for decades for the light to hit just right through the darkness of the conditions of their employment. Since the 1930s, farmworkers have been excluded from state laws that protect the rights of laborers. This Wednesday, it was as if the sun, moon, stars and all the planets aligned when a bill finally passed guaranteeing overtime pay, a day of rest and a right to unionize for those whose work brings food to our tables.
In the gospel reading appointed for Sunday, a man possessed with demons finds his way into the sights of Jesus, the light of life. The man was long plagued with unclean spirits, a situation Jesus determines to end. Jesus casts the demons out of the man and into a herd of swine that self-destructs. The man rejoices, but those who know him are threatened by his newfound freedom and the power of Jesus to liberate the oppressed.
For ages upon ages, those in power have been slow to embrace the cause of the oppressed. But where Jesus’ light exposes unfairness and his liberating love insists on justice, hope that cannot be extinguished is set ablaze, and we will rejoice!
Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, June 14, 2019
While Mother’s Day was made a federal holiday in 1915, Father’s Day didn’t become official until President Richard Nixon declared it so as part of his re-election campaign in 1972. That’s not a very auspicious beginning, given the context of that campaign and its result (Watergate break-in, ignominious resignation). And here we are in the world of #MeToo, gender fluidity, women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights, mansplaining, and assorted other challenges to the less-than-impressive history of patriarchal hegemony, the idealized nuclear family, and the father’s role therein — only now to see those challenges met with the backlash of conservative movements trumpeting male privilege as if it were a problem that men are being deprived of their right to be dominant. Well.
A colleague of mine, a female Episcopal priest, used to say, “The screaming is always loudest when the change has already occurred.” And we Christians should be the ones arguing vociferously that the change has not only already occurred, but that it occurred two thousand years ago. It was Jesus who described himself as a hen gathering her brood under her wings (Matt 23:37), which seems to indicate a pretty good comfort level with expanding gender roles. And it was Paul who said that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, …slave or free, …male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28), which certainly argues against any gender or other hegemony at all.
So let’s embrace this Father’s Day (and last month’s Mother’s Day) as an opportunity to savor families in all our crazy forms and expressions. Let’s celebrate the rearing of children as a multi-person process. And let’s enjoy the fact that this year’s celebration lands on Trinity Sunday, when we can lift up the God of all creation as our true Father and Mother, whose Child has brought us salvation, and whose Spirit links us in oneness.
The Spirit of American Youth
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, June 7, 2019
Seventy-five years ago on June 6, 1944, roughly 160,000 Allied troops landed the beaches of Normandy and engaged in a battle that would tip the scales against Hitler’s Third Reich and secure the liberation of France from Nazi control. The casualties were great on both sides. The American Cemetery in Normandy, constructed just after D-Day, contains 9,388 American burials and the names of 1,557 missing soldiers. In the center is a bronze statue, titled Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves, that is difficult to look at without recalling Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
We mark other anniversaries this week as well. In worship we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost – the birth of the Church. On Sunday afternoon, we host our diocese’s commemorations of the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, widely considered the catalyst for America’s gay liberation movement.
These pivotal moments came with great personal cost, often to the young. In considering their confluence this week, I am reminded of all those engaged in conflict for the common good. It seems that our Prayer for those in the Armed Forces of our Country (p. 823 of the Book of Common Prayer) applies especially, but not only, to those in uniform:
Almighty God we commend to your gracious care and keeping all those caught in conflict for the common good. Defend them by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations, give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, May 31, 2019
Yesterday was Ascension Day. Today is the bicentennial of the birth of Walt Whitman. And I am compelled to compare the ways that both Jesus and Whitman boldly acknowledged the depth of their connection to a place and community.
Whitman was a proud Brooklynite and lover of New York. In these excerpted verses of his famous poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” he celebrates where he’s from with poignancy and joy:
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd…
I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came upon me…
Who was to know what should come home to me?
Who knows but I am enjoying this?
Who knows, for all the distance, but I am as good as looking at you now, for all you cannot see me?
I like to think that Whitman’s passion for people and particularly his compassion for the downtrodden – “the least among us,” in Jesus’ words – was fostered early on as a student of St. Ann’s Sunday School. In a podcast produced by the Brooklyn Eagle, where Whitman briefly served as editor, historian John Manbeck says, “Whitman defended the farmers of agrarian Brooklyn, as well as small businessmen, workers, and even taxi drivers.” In other words, he was a man for those times and our times.
Jesus’ commitment to his community while on earth and for the ages is expressed repeatedly throughout his ministry. In our celebration of the feast of Ascension on Sunday, we’ll revisit the scene of his departure in the final verses of the Gospel of Luke and in the first chapter of Acts (also authored by Luke). This episode finds Jesus behaving with his disciples like a parent with her children reviewing all she needs them to remember while she is away on a business trip. And with a nod toward Pentecost, Jesus assures his disciples of his continued presence among them through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The ascension window in St. Ann’s provides a stunning memorial to this episode. This grandest of William Jay Bolton’s suite of first-in-the-nation figural stained glass windows rises above the high altar conveying upward movement through color and design, as Jesus remains hovering over us in a posture of perpetual intercession on our behalf.
We understand the ascension not as distinct from but inextricably linked to Jesus’ death and resurrection to fulfill God’s plan of salvation. We might also see Jesus’ stepping aside as critical for the building up of the Church, which Jesus entrusts to those who witnessed the reconciling work begun in and through him.
We are inheritors of Whitman’s Brooklyn and the love of God for the world in Jesus. This Sunday we will baptize young Ellis Ann Gonzalez-Flamenco, share in communion and community around the altar and Welcome Table, and explore ways to deepen our faith at a parish forum. May this and our enduring witness to the truth of the Gospel further the kingdom of God in ours and all future generations here, where Christ abides with his Church, even to the end of the ages.
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.