The following are occasional reflections of St. Ann’s clergy or special visitors to our parish.
Spirit and Flesh
The Rev. Canon Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, September 28, 2023
This weekend St. Ann & the Holy Trinity and Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights will host one of the most exciting young theologians of our time, Cole Arthur Riley. She, and others, will be part of a two-day event starting on Friday evening and concluding on Saturday afternoon entitled, “Spirit and Flesh: Our Bodies, Our Blackness, Ourselves.” Reflecting on Black bodies, Arthur Riley discovers the sacred in her skin, and helps all her readers to discover their own sacredness too.
This past spring, the clergy in our deanery, and some parishioners of St. Ann’s, read and discussed her 2022 book, This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us. To quote author Danté Stewart, “This Here Flesh is a gospel of what we remember…and tells the story of how we get free.”
To me, Arthur Riley’s work pulls brilliantly at an almost 80-year-old thread, connected to the great Howard Thurman, author of the seminal and timeless book Jesus and the Disinherited. When I started reading Thurman’s book the first time, I felt he was speaking directly to my ministry in the 21st Century Episcopal Church, and directly to how I was struggling and striving to understand the complexities of white supremacy, and how it had embedded itself into everything, everyone, and everywhere in American life. I was about halfway through the book when I happened to look at the copyright page and was stunned to read: “First Published, 1949.”
For example, when Thurman examines the crisis of the Black American’s sense of self-worth, he writes that “(Jesus) recognized with authentic realism that anyone who permits another to determine the quality of his inner life gives into the hands of the other the keys to his destiny.” Arthur Riley continues that thread: “Our liberation begins with the irrevocable belief that we are worthy to be liberated, that we are worthy of a life that does not degrade us but honors our whole selves. When you believe in your dignity, or at least someone else does, it becomes more difficult to remain content with the bondage with which you have become so acquainted. You begin to wonder what you were meant for.”
Under imperial rule, Jesus was disinherited and oppressed, and denied the full rights of citizenship, just as African Americans and so many others have been denied in our nation, and for whom true freedom remains elusive. Together, and with the help of these brilliant theologians, we can start to remember the gospel of how we get free, and in God’s eyes, learn what we were meant for.
I hope you will join us both tomorrow at 7:00 pm at St. Ann’s for the first part of this wonderful event and again for Part II on Saturday at 12 noon at Grace Church.
The Rev. Elise Hanley, Associate Rector, September 22, 2023
I will be away from St. Ann’s this Sunday, as I will be Godmother to my niece, Bridget Ann Hanley, as she is baptized at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Bay Shore. While I am so excited to be at this happy occasion, I am sorry I will miss the conversations Canon John will lead after both services about transitions.
We clergy tend to talk a lot about transition. The Church is changing: attendance has been in decline for some time. We are beginning to feel the effects of a clergy shortage, especially as Baby Boomer clergy are retiring en masse. So we may try to focus on positive change instead, like the ways parishes are being creative and innovative. But change is hard regardless, even good change. Change can be stressful, even exhausting – yes, even good change.
Many of you know that my mother has Alzheimer’s Disease. It has been a rough transition for our family. I can be overwhelmed at times with sadness when I consider how much I have already lost of my mother, and how much more I have to lose. I try to focus on the positive, to be present to her and enjoy time together. But I also feel my preemptive grief, and I cannot help at times but cry and wonder aloud to God why God allows so much suffering in our world.
I do not like brightsiding. Brightsiding tends to be well-meaning yet toxically positive attempts to offer comfort, insisting that no matter one’s situation, one must be positive. Instead, I appreciate the many good examples in the Bible of lament! From the Book of Lamentations to Job to the Psalms, we are allowed, even encouraged, to express our grief, fear and disappointment. It is okay to lament when change and transition are difficult – it is even holy to do so.
I hope you will have helpful conversations in a safe space that allows for lament, reflection, and even thanksgiving. And, adapting a closing Collect from the service of Compline, I pray: May we who are made weary by the changes and chances of this life always find rest in God’s eternal changelessness.
The Rev. Craig D. Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, September 14, 2023
The “Camino de Santiago” refers to a set of medieval pilgrimage trails across Spain that lead to the city of Santiago de Compostela in the country’s northwest corner. The city has claimed to have the body of the apostle St. James (Santiago in Spanish) since at least the 9th century. It is a historically dubious claim, but one that turned the city into one of the great Christian destinations, with millions traveling over at least the last thousand years to reach the cathedral and offer devotion to the saint. I have walked portions of three different routes over the years, leading groups from the parish where I last served, St. James’ Church in Manhattan. You will also remember that Canon John walked one of these routes during his sabbatical a few years ago.
As Canon John announced in church last Sunday, I am heading to Spain this Sunday to undertake a Camino once again. I will walk the last 80 miles of the French Route (Camino Frances), which runs from the Pyrenees across north-central Spain. Along the way, I will encounter stone crosses like the one pictured here that dates to the 14th century. They were erected by towns to proclaim their eagerness to support pilgrims on their journeys. This is a representation of the spiritual dimension of the Camino that I find so powerful: the faith of those who erected these crosses, of the people of those towns and villages who helped pilgrims along the way, was and is as strong as the faith of those who walked – and in walking, I can feel my faith strengthened by all of theirs.
A pilgrimage is an effort to take time away from the busy-ness of life and intentionally journey with an awareness of the presence of the living Christ. It is therefore an acting-out of that awareness we Christians seek to have even within the busy-ness of our normal lives. I ask your prayers that my pilgrimage may be a holy one, and that it may also remind us all of the joint pilgrimages we make with each other in Christ.
Note: Fr. Craig will share his Camino journey with our church community through daily posts and photos, which you can enjoy by following St. Ann’s on Instagram @stannsbrooklyn.
Take Up Your Cross (With Playlist)
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, June 22, 2023
The Gospel for this Sunday is especially challenging. It follows on the heels of the passage we read last Sunday in which Jesus summons and sends out the disciples to proclaim the kingdom and teach and heal God’s people. Here he warns them of certain conflict and controversy as they seek to lead people onto the path of light and life. He says that because his message is not easy to hear, his messengers can expect to be reviled. He says he did not come to bring peace, but a sword, and explains that his word will turn members of the same household against one another.
Jesus is the voice of reason and realism for us who daily experience conflict and controversy that affects us directly and indirectly. We also know that Jesus responded to every act of violence directed at him with nonviolence. Even as he reminds his disciples that there is nothing comfortable about true discipleship and invites them to deny themselves and take up their cross, he offers them words of comfort and encouragement.
Jesus tells his friends repeatedly not to be afraid as they step out in faith. He says the enemies of the cross can kill the body, but not the soul. And he assures them they are of more value than many sparrows.
Most hopeful to me is Jesus’ suggestion that we can counter despair and danger with boldness, which is how I interpret his instruction here: “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” These are words to motivate every oppressed group in history to speak truth to power.
I want to encourage you on this first full day of summer with a short playlist of both meditative and energizing songs inspired by this scripture for the season ahead through which I pray you find opportunities for restoration and re-creation to support and strengthen you on your faith journey. Here are links to: “What You Hear in the Dark,” by former Jesuit Dan Schutte; two different versions of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” one by Mahalia Jackson and the other by Whitney Houston; “Break My Soul,” by Beyoncé; and “Walking on Sunshine,” by the Katrina and the Waves. I hope you can make space and find time to enjoy them.
The Twelve, and More
The Rev. Dr. Craig D. Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, June 15, 2023
Matthew lists the twelve apostles in our Gospel reading for this Sunday as follows: “Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.” Mark has the same list, but Luke drops Thaddaeus in favor of “Judas, son of James,” not to be confused with the infamous Judas. John has no list at all. How is it possible that our Gospels do not agree on something as fundamental as who the “inner circle” was around Jesus?
Some of that confusion is caused by the terms for that inner circle. It doesn’t really help to call them the twelve disciples. Everyone who was following Jesus was a student of his, which is what “disciple” means. And all disciples are also apostles, as all are “sent out” or “sent from” (Greek apo-stello), as in the Great Commission in the Gospel on Trinity Sunday: “Jesus said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations….” So, if everyone was a disciple and every disciple was an apostle, maybe it’s reasonable that there’s some confusion about who were the Twelve, the ones Jesus considered his closest followers.
Rather than worry about the discrepancy, I find a freedom in it. It’s a reminder that we are all disciples, always learning more about who Jesus is. And we are all apostles, sent out to spread his teachings and his love, and we don’t have to fit some list. Two of the Twelve, Matthew and John, wrote Gospels, while Mark and Luke were just two other apostles whose writings we came to count on. And Paul wasn’t even one of the Twelve or an original follower at all, yet he was the apostle of the Mediterranean, founding churches by land and sea.
As we consider these narratives of the calling of apostles, how do you think about your call? What is your Gospel? Who is Jesus to you? Next academic year, I propose we spend a Wednesday evening each month looking at the many gospels available to us and how we create our own out of that abundance. I hope you’ll join me.
The Company We Keep
The Rev. Canon Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, June 9, 2023
In this week’s Gospel, Matthew — a former tax collector — describes his decision to follow Jesus. He immediately answers the call, and the next thing you know, Jesus is sitting at Matthew’s table with his unpopular dinner guests. The Pharisees are predictably annoyed and interrogate the disciples: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
It’s hard to discern if the Pharisees are disapproving of Jesus’ actions in their hearts or just upset that Jesus is being seen with these people. But either way, there is no denying that we are often judged by the company we keep, and many adages reinforce that. “Bad company corrupts!” “One bad apple spoils the barrel!” “Bad company is the devil’s net!” “You can’t run with dogs without getting fleas!”
But I hesitate to judge the Pharisees too harshly. The company that we keep does indeed make a difference in our lives, and that can be good and bad. As a parent, I monitor the company that my children keep. I don’t want them to be negatively influenced, or worse, unsafe. We all want to raise righteous children who can be positive influences in the lives of others. It gives me comfort — and yes, pride — when my children are more like Jesus: strong and secure enough in themselves to do what might be unpopular and centered enough to know that so-called “bad apples” don’t have the power to alter the core of who they are.
LGBTQ+ Pride month always causes me to flash back to my younger years, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when being an “out” lesbian was very dangerous in perhaps all but a handful of neighborhoods in the world. I was an early bloomer and never really “in the closet,” even in high school. In college, there were students who would not be seen with me in public or sit with me in the dining hall, even classmates who were quite fond of me, some of whom were themselves gay but closeted. They would sometimes come to visit me privately under the cover of night to remain unseen. As leaders in the Amherst College Gay and Lesbian Alliance, we had to find a meeting place that was not public, and carefully negotiated with the college administrators a meeting room above their offices in a building that was deserted after business hours.
I’m not comparing my queer siblings to tax collectors and sinners. On the contrary, the Interfaith Pride Service that St. Ann’s hosted last Tuesday demonstrated how proud everyone should be to be seen with all our guests. Many of them remarked afterwards how during most of their lives, they never could have imagined such a holy and joyful gathering. Until recently we were the tax collectors and sinners, unworthy to sit at the table, and in some parts of the nation and the world, we still are. But in our sanctuary last Tuesday, we showed that we and the company we keep are beloved children of God, and that we are very good company indeed!
The Great Evolving Commission
The Rev. Canon John E. Denaro, Rector, June 1, 2023
The Gospel passage for this coming Trinity Sunday gets off to an awkward start. In the final scene and closing verses in Matthew, the disciples find Jesus on the mountain where he called them after his resurrection and we are told that, “when they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.”
Any hint of doubt among his friends does not deter Jesus from entrusting them with the work of ministry. He meets them where they are and gives them what has come to be known as The Great Commission. He tells them to “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.”
The Great Commission has been used to motivate and justify missionary efforts to impose Christianity on people of other cultures and religions for centuries, and yet a 2019 study suggests that more than half of all Christians have never heard of it.
Our celebration of the Trinity invites us to wonder again about what it means to be faithful Christians in a pluralistic world, and I believe that contemplating the Trinity can help. Our tradition teaches us that we worship “One God in Three Persons,” whose unity in diversity reflects the hope of God for humankind, which is for all people to be bound to God and to one another despite or because of our differences. The idea of bringing the Church to the world is evolving to mean embodying the expansive love of Jesus in all we do and say wherever we roam.
Today marks the start of Pride Month when the Church can stand with all who feel alienated from and unworthy of God’s love because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The LGBTQIA+ Pride Interfaith service that we’ll host at St. Ann’s next week will be an opportunity to show the love of Jesus by extending welcome to and praying with our neighbors who are not only Christian, but Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist.
Jesus promises in the Gospels that he will not abandon us, and just last Sunday, we recalled the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church at Pentecost. Here Jesus offers a particular assurance to his friends to remember that he will be with them (and us) always “to the end of the age.” By his co-missioning, we are not sent out on our own, but rather we are invited by Jesus into a partnership to demonstrate the love of God for all of us.
While we may never fully understand the notion of God in three persons, we can embrace and celebrate it! And with faith and room for some doubt, we can heed The Great Commission for a new age.
Come, Holy Spirit!
The Rev. Elise Hanley, Associate Rector, May 25, 2023
Last Saturday I attended the Consecration and the Ordination of the Rt. Rev. Matthew Heyd as the new Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of New York at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The Cathedral was packed full of clergy and people from all over the diocese and the wider Episcopal Church.
In the Ordination Services in the Book of Common Prayer for deacons, priests, and bishops, there is a wonderful moment when the Holy Spirit is invoked, shortly before the ordaining bishop lays hands on the ordinand. At Bp. Heyd’s consecration, we sang Veni Sancte Spiritus. The organ and the choir started quietly and, as the hundreds in attendance joined in singing, the hymn swelled to a loud and harmonious cry: ”Come, Holy Spirit! Come, Holy Spirit!”
As the hymn slowly faded, we embraced the next rubric in the service bulletin: A period of silent prayer follows. From hundreds of voices singing to pin-drop silence.
That very hymn, followed by silence, was sung at my own ordination in that same cathedral seven years ago, and it still gives me chills. At my own and at every ordination, after the silence, the ordaining bishop will lay their hands on the ordinand, sometimes with other bishops or priests also laying on hands. And in that moment, I can’t help but think about the story of the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21. The weight of those hands is remarkable, and I wonder how it compares to how the Apostles felt with those tongues of fire on their heads! The Holy Spirit, the breath of God, still blows powerfully through the Church giving us new gifts and abilities for ministry.
We will celebrate Pentecost this Sunday, and we welcome you to take part. In our reading of the Pentecost story in Acts, we will invite everyone in attendance to help read Acts 2:4 in different languages: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” We also encourage everyone to wear red, which is both the liturgical color of the day and a reminder of the fire of the Holy Spirit. Together we will celebrate the birthday of the Church, and all the gifts and abilities the Holy Spirit gives every one of us.
The Rev. Dr. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation
This edition of our e-news should arrive in your inboxes on Thursday, May 18, which is the Feast of the Ascension (and we’ll have the Ascension story as our first reading this Sunday). One of my favorite portrayals of this event is this 1513 painting by Hans Süss von Kulmbach, with the disciples and Mary gazing skyward and Jesus’ earthy bare feet dangling from the top of the frame. It is not, perhaps, as dignified or glorious as my other favorite, which is our own stained-glass window that rises behind the altar.
Ascension Day is always celebrated on the Thursday that is the fortieth day after Easter. According to the opening of the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus spent forty days appearing to his followers in various ways, thereby bookending his ministry with the same period of time he spent in the desert at the beginning. Then Mary and the disciples got to watch him vanish into heaven.
Acts was written by Luke (or a follower of Luke’s) as the second volume of his gospel, narrating how the disciples began building the community that would become the Church. The Ascension story is followed in the next chapter of Acts by the Pentecost story (which we celebrate next Sunday), the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire upon the disciples, empowering them for the task ahead. I find the movement in these two episodes quite powerful: the ascent of the risen Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit remind me of the angels going up and down on Jacob’s ladder. These wonderful images assure us of the linkage between heaven and earth, God and creation, the human and the divine, even as Jesus is leaving our world. I think that’s why I like the feet so much!
Mothers, Orphans and Sacred Adoptions
The Rev. Canon Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, May 11, 2023
In the portion of John’s Gospel that we will hear this Sunday, as Jesus prepares to depart, he reassures us, saying “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” The word “orphan,” and its derivatives, appears 56 times in the Bible, to commend orphans to our care or address concerns of abandonment. The logical remedy to orphanhood is, of course, adoption, which appears at least 18 times in scripture. God, in the form of Jesus, is adamant that he will never leave us parent-less. In baptism, we are “marked as Christ’s own forever.”
Mother’s Day can be a joyous celebration for some, a sad occasion for others, and, for many, a complicated day at best. My own motherhood journey has been multilayered: giving birth to a disabled child and then losing her, giving birth a second time to a healthy child, the loss from my partner’s premature pregnancy, and then adopting a child.
Maggie and I drove through a snowstorm on the NJ Turnpike on New Year’s Day to meet our youngest child twelve years ago. Chloe was two days old and, as far as we are concerned, she adopted us that night. It was one of the best moments in our lives. Two days later, we met her birth mom who was very young and had two other children, one of which she was able to raise herself. New Year’s has no doubt been a complicated holiday for her since then.
The story of a dear priest friend of mine who adopted three children illustrates how complex adoption is, and how the thread can run in multiple directions.
One of my friend Caroline’s attempts to adopt did not turn out as hoped. The birth mother was carrying twins and her pregnancy was high risk. Both children were very sick when they were born, and they did not survive. The birth mom allowed Caroline to baptize the twins before they died, and asked her to be with them at the time of death, since the birth mom could not bear to do it. My friend remained with the young mother for a few days after the ordeal. When she began the process of adopting these children, Caroline expected to be a caretaker to them – and she was, at the sacred moment of their deaths. Her encounter with them and her spiritual adoption of the birth mother were unexpected and sacred experiences as well.
We navigate complex relationships, mixed with joy and sorrow. When Jesus says, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you,” I also take that to mean that our mothers and caregivers, and our children — through blood and adoption — live in us too. And that God lives within all of us. I take comfort knowing that Jesus does not leave us orphaned, that our adoption is now and forever, and that it takes many forms in our lives.
The Rev. Canon John E. Denaro, Rector, May 5, 2023
It will come as no surprise that as I approach my milestone 60th birthday this Sunday that I am feeling a bit wistful. I could muse about time and aging, but I want to keep this reflection brief and focused.
One place I instantly go when contemplating my life journey is to my experience walking the Camino de Santiago, known in English as the Way of St. James. Some of this you’ve heard before, but since I’m getting older, I hope you won’t mind my repeating myself.
It was along the relatively short portion of the pilgrimage route I traveled in Northwest Spain in 2018 that I encountered actual milestones. Of course the markers along the Camino measure kilometers traveled, and the distance between them varies. Nonetheless, whenever they appeared, they provided a sense of accomplishment for me and my fellow travelers.
Even more helpful than these concrete markers were the many yellow arrows painted anywhere and everywhere – on trees, walls, and often on the pavement – indicating the way to Santiago. Thanks to these frequently spotted symbols, it was clear there was only one way to go and virtually no way to get lost.
For me and the countless other pilgrims on the Camino who made it to Santiago and the Cathedral of St. James, the journey of life continues.
Long before my time on the Camino and since, I have been traveling the Way, as the earliest followers of Jesus referred to the Christian life. In the Gospel passage that we’ll read at services on Sunday, Jesus invites his disciples to know him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And so we march on with fewer obvious indicators to keep us on the path, except for those we provide one another. It brings me great comfort and joy, as I mark this milestone, to have you for fellow travelers on the next phase of my journey of life and faith!
The Good Shepherd
The Rev. Elise Hanley, Associate Rector, April 27, 2023
One of my favorite musical settings of Psalm 23 is the one by Howard Goodall, which was the theme in the opening titles of The Vicar of Dibley, a BritCom I have long loved. You can listen to it here. This Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday, always the Fourth Sunday of Easter, and the psalm appointed is always Psalm 23. The gospel always comes from John, with Jesus identifying himself as the Good Shepherd: a shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. A shepherd who came so that they may have life and have it abundantly.
People often ask me, “If Jesus is the Good Shepherd, does that mean we are just dumb sheep?” A common misconception is that sheep are dumb and passive. Sheep are very social animals, and they become very distressed when they are not with other sheep. Young lambs form deep bonds with their mothers and will form playgroups with other lambs to frolic together. Sheep have impressive cognitive ability, and experience emotions just like we do, including fear, happiness, boredom and anger. They can distinguish individual differences, and have good memories for humans and other sheep. So, sheep are not dumb, nor are we “just dumb sheep.”
And yet, sheep need a shepherd. A shepherd provides protection against predators, harsh weather, and parasites. A shepherd will guide and care for their sheep. We too need a Good Shepherd: one who will find us when we get lost. One who will lay down their life for us. That Good Shepherd is Jesus.
We must listen carefully for the Good Shepherd’s voice, calling each of us by name, leading us along to where we need to be. Jesus refers to the voice of a stranger that the sheep will not follow. Such a voice can be lurking in what sounds or seems spiritual. It takes discernment to recognize and hear God’s guiding voice within us, to hear our shepherd. The word “pastor” comes from the Latin word which means shepherd. Your pastors and priests too are here to offer guidance, protection, nourishment, and care. We need Jesus as shepherd and protective gatekeeper, providing what we need most: abundant life. Life not only as the force of God that gives us breath and being, but life in which we can have meaningful vocation and purpose, participation in a supportive community, in sustaining and loving relationships, and finally — eternal life in God through Jesus. We will still face struggles in life, but we can find care and nourishment in being a part of Jesus’ flock.
The Ministry of Recognition
The Rev. Canon Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, April 20, 2023
The Road to Emmaus story in Luke’s Gospel this week is one of the great post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. His disciples are walking and talking with him along the road, probably for a long while, but they don’t recognize him until they return to the house. Jesus takes the bread, blesses and breaks it, and shares it with them. In that sacred moment, the scales finally fall from their eyes.
But why is it that Jesus’ friends keep failing to recognize him? In John’s Gospel, Thomas didn’t recognize him until he saw and touched his wounds. And Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him standing next to the tomb, until he called her by name.
Eastertide — the 50-day season from Easter Sunday until the Day of Pentecost — is a time our senses should be heightened and we observe the world emerging from its winter slumber. We recognize things anew. The approach of Earth Day this Saturday is a reminder to see and recognize God’s Creation fully — and also the need to recognize one another. The failure to recognize Jesus in this post-resurrection time is not just a failure by Mary Magdalene, or Thomas, or the disciples on the Road to Emmaus: sometimes we too don’t, or won’t, see what’s right in front of us. Easter Season is the perfect time to recharge our “Ministry of Recognition.”
Several years ago, when the Muslim ban was put in place, anti-Muslim violence was on the rise. In response, several of our community partners — both secular and faith-based — started talking and teaching about how to be an “upstander,” a person who intervenes to support someone being harassed, discriminated against, or otherwise dehumanized. For example, if someone screams at a woman on the subway to take off her hijab or calls her offensive things, another passenger might sit down next to her, make casual conversation, ignore the offender, and subtly disrupt the action. A group of clergy leaders across the country is now planning upstander trainings for faith communities as a way of standing with our queer and transgender siblings, particularly in areas where we are most under attack.
There are a million ways to recognize, or not recognize, those around us. Nowhere was this more evident than in the recent shooting by a man in Kansas City of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, who was picking up his younger brothers and mistakenly rang the wrong doorbell. Thankfully, Yarl survived, but many times, humanity’s failures of recognition have deadly consequences.
It is during Eastertide that we see the risen Christ most powerfully for who he is; and in turn, Christ calls us to see one another for who we are. I want to see you, to recognize you. And I want you to recognize me. Let’s embark on the Ministry of Recognition together in this joyful season.
The Force of Holiness
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, April 6, 2023
In the last few years, I have come to expect faith news from the local police force. Really.
You should know, if you don’t already, that in July 2020, Deputy Inspector Adeel Rana of the 84th Precinct of the NYPD, which includes Brooklyn Heights, was the first Pakistani and first Muslim to become the captain and commanding officer of a precinct in the entire department. He was promoted to his current rank in late 2021. But what makes D.I. Rana truly unique among his peers is his commitment to honoring the many and diverse faith traditions represented within the 84th. From the earliest days of his tenure right through today, Rana has made it his business to inform the wider community about the holy days and seasons of various religions and religious customs practiced in local houses of worship and homes.
D.I. Rana’s recent emails have heightened my appreciation of the blessed convergence of holy days this year within Islam, Judaism and Christianity (the three Abrahamic faiths). A notice from him arrived on March 22 about the following day’s start to Ramadan. He explained that Ramadan is a monthlong commemoration of the revelation of the Qur’an, with daily fasting by Muslims worldwide to grow in God-consciousness and moral excellence. Late yesterday afternoon came his message announcing the beginning of Passover observances that mark and memorialize the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt and enumerating the accompanying rituals. As we move today into the Triduum, or three days, of commemorating the Passion and death of Jesus, culminating in our celebration of his resurrection, I anticipate a message from Rana to wish his Christian neighbors a Happy Easter.
Against a backdrop of frequent violence in our streets, conflict between and hardship for so many of our neighbors here and in communities across the country, D.I. Rana seems motivated to emphasize the great pursuit of the holy. This is not the kind of assurance I generally seek from the local precinct, but I welcome it. Rana’s impulse can benefit the members of his force and all of us, and I pray that it endures throughout his tenure.
We step off onto our journey along the Way of the Cross today knowing that the road of spiritual pilgrimage is wide. In the company of so many others who are engaging the divine in these holy days, our dance with mystery amid the shadows and light, hurt and hope, suffering and salvation in our own faith story is enriched and enlivened.
The Arc of Palm Sunday
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, March 20, 2023
I think of Palm Sunday as the overture to Holy Week: it states all the themes that will be delved into more deeply in the days to come. We start with the triumph of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with a cheering crowd to greet him. This is both the opening of the service and the piece of the story unique to the day, hence the attention we give it as we process through the neighborhood with our palm branches.
We move from this triumph, however, to a preview of the mixed emotions of Maundy Thursday with the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist, and Jesus’ loneliness in the garden narrated in the first part of our reading of the Passion Gospel. Then it’s on to the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus, with the same crowd – us – now condemning him to death, which is the entire focus of Good Friday.
But then in the Eucharist, we announce and make manifest that triumph to which we will give all our attention on Easter, Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death. The arc of triumph to tragedy to triumph is then completed – and we go back into the world carrying the joy of Christ’s presence in our lives to bolster and sustain us in the face of sin and suffering.
Thus, we Christians keep the cross before us: the means of death that leads to the glory of eternal life, the symbol of both sin and resurrection. Our faith does not allow us to turn a blind eye to the realities of human life, to pretend that all is well in Jesus; rather, we assert that, as Julian of Norwich put it, “all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” God in Christ has made that promise. Acting it out in our worship is what can give us the strength to act on it in our world. May the overture lead us into the holiest of weeks.
Three Years of Covid
The Rev. Elise Hanley, Associate Rector, March 16, 2023
This week marks three years since Covid-19 closed our churches, schools, and workplaces. Three years since going to school suddenly meant going on Zoom and Google Classroom. Three years since our lives were upended and forever changed. Three years since whole industries shut down and jobs were lost.
It has been three long years, over which too many lives have been tragically lost, and too many more continue living with the disabling effects of Long Covid. With God’s help, may we be a people not willing to forget.
This anniversary feels even more poignant, as I fear we may be tricked into thinking things are back to “normal.” We have resumed drinking from the Common Cup at St. Ann’s. Many of us are no longer wearing masks and are able to go about our lives again as we please. It’s hard not to think that we are on yet another precipice, not fully prepared for what is to come. But isn’t that how life is every day for people all over the world? And wasn’t it true for Jesus, as he fasted for 40 days, preparing himself for the Way of the Cross?
On this anniversary, may we pause and hold space to grieve, reflect, and remember. May we also reflect on what we have learned, commit to being our best selves, and take better care of each other when crisis strikes again.
With God’s help, may we be a people not willing to forget:
• The hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who lost their jobs due to the Pandemic;
• Those who had to stay “home” in abusive environments;
• The frontline essential workers who had to keep working, and who cared for the sick and provided for our daily needs;
• BIPOC New Yorkers who died at twice the rate of white New Yorkers, not only due to structural racism in healthcare, but because three-quarters of NYC’s frontline essential workers are people of color, and more than half were born outside of the U.S. (NYC.gov);
• The children who lost parents and caregivers to Covid-19;
• All those who could not be with their loved ones when they died, or who could only be present by phone or video call.
Let us remember and pray for the estimated three million souls who lost their lives to Covid-19. With God’s help, may we be a people not willing to forget.
Women by the Well
The Rev. Canon Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, March 10, 2023
It is fitting that the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman by the well (John 4:5-42) would be read on the Sunday following International Women’s Day, March 8. It is a day when we recognize the accomplishments of women around the world, and also acknowledge and spotlight the profound struggles that many of us endure, most especially our sisters in developing nations. Because most women are lower-paid or unpaid, undervalued, and are often primarily responsible for the care of children, the vast majority of women are poor. Last year there were approximately 388 million women and girls living in poverty. In many regions, their lives are further complicated by the lack of access to clean water. No doubt many of today’s women would feel a kinship with the Samaritan woman in this story.
About two billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water, a lack that disproportionately impacts women. As the primary collectors of water, women are the first to be exposed to water-borne diseases, directly affecting their health and often resulting in high infant mortality rates and birth defects. Two thousand years after this Gospel story takes place, many women’s lives don’t differ all that much from the Samaritan woman’s as the need for “living water,” and clean water, persists.
Jesus has stopped to rest from a long journey, and the woman comes to the well at noon, the hottest time of the day. Then, and today, most people fetch water in the early morning, or around dusk, when the sun is lower. But because she is “a woman with a past,” I suspect that she would rather endure the intense heat, when no one else is there, than face the ridicule of others.
In the first century, Jewish men weren’t supposed to speak to Samaritan women, and certainly not without their husbands present. Yet hers is the longest conversation that Jesus has with any one individual — male or female — in the entire Bible, and he offers her the gift of “living water.” She is overwhelmed by his compassion and acceptance of her, an outsider. Without being told, he already knows her life story and the struggles and stigma that she endures. He does not judge her. She instantly recognizes him as a prophet, a man of God, and goes on to evangelize her entire town.
I will leave you with a prayer that I crafted and read at morning prayer on Wednesday, March 8, in observance of International Women’s Day:
Gracious God, whose love embraces the whole world: we pray for all women and girls around the globe who face prejudice, inequality and gender disparities. Comfort those who suffer from the pain of war, violence, poverty, loneliness and abuse. Bless us all with confidence, strength and solidarity, and empower us to bring peace to our communities, our homes and our hearts. May the light of your love bring all women and girls hope for a brighter future, and the freedom to be our true selves. We ask these things through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Who’s on First?
The Rev. Dr. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Foundation, March 2, 2023
Spring training has begun, baseball is in the air, and I think of Abbott and Costello’s classic routine, “Who’s on first?.” The doubling of meanings and sounds – is the first baseman’s last name “Who” or “Hoo,” or something else altogether? Is the second baseman’s last name “What” or “Watt” or what? – creates a wonderful confusion, rendering a simple conversation about the local team into an exercise in surrealism.
Jesus’s fascination with such wordplay is on full display this Sunday. Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, and begins the conversation by asserting his belief that Jesus is a teacher come from God; presumably, he has a question he’d like to ask. But Jesus cuts him off and takes charge of the discourse by saying that no one can see the kingdom of God without being “born from above.” Or does he mean “born again”? The Greek word there, anothen, has both meanings: spatially, it means “above,” while temporally it means “again.” This puts Nicodemus in a twist: he’s an old man, he can’t be born a second time, can he? Is Jesus cracking a joke?
Then Jesus takes it further: he distinguishes between those born of the flesh and those born of the Spirit, and says that the latter are like the wind: you can hear it but not see it and therefore cannot really know where it comes from or where it goes. And yet, the Greek word pneuma, like the Hebrew word ruah, means both wind and spirit – and also breath! Three, or even four, meanings are being played with here, leaving Nicodemus much like Lou Costello: lost and confused. Are true believers born of the wind, or are they born of breath, the breath of life, or are they born of their individual spirits, or are they born of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit?
Is Jesus just practicing a great comedy routine here? Or are we meant to understand that we cannot really understand how God works, and we’ll just have to watch the story unfold? Jesus seems to be telling Nicodemus: watch where this story goes, and you’ll see the world being saved. Comedy is a great force for humility (as is trying to hit a baseball). Perhaps it is not inappropriate in this season of Lent to find ourselves humbled while being amused.
Signs of Life
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, February 23, 2023
I was alone in the church with just one other person early yesterday morning during a brief lull in visitors coming to receive ashes. It was a rare moment of complete quiet in the space, except for the gently whispered prayers of the man sitting in a pew not far from where I was seated beside the altar.
The experience got me thinking about the stories of search teams in Southern Turkey and Northwest Syria moving quietly through the rubble of buildings and homes destroyed by the recent massive earthquake there as they listened for sounds and signs of life amidst so much death. Their intention was not to abandon anyone who might still be rescued, and indeed several people were discovered alive and saved after being buried for days. These rescues could not completely counter the earthquake survivors’ unfathomable losses, but every one of them was cause for rejoicing.
Lent begins by asking us to confront our mortality and the fact of suffering and death in our experience. But we will move most faithfully into and through this season, not with resignation, but by listening for and attending to the signs of life where hope is waning: On our southern border; in the lives of refugees and migrants seeking safety and security; in communities plagued by drug dependence and addiction; in the struggle to expose and heal the wounds of racial injustice; on battlefields in Ukraine and elsewhere; in politically divided homes; and in the halls of state houses across the country and even in Congress.
As Jesus embraced the cross and offered himself for the life of the world, may the cross in ashes we received on Ash Wednesday be the mark of our commitment to pursuing reconciliation, restoration, and resurrection anywhere and everywhere it is possible in our midst.
The Rev. Elise Hanley, Associate Rector, February 16, 2023
Next week is the 10th anniversary of my first date with my spouse, Chris. Our first date didn’t begin well. We met online and had seen each other’s photo, but when we both arrived at the restaurant, we didn’t recognize each other. Have you ever done that? Stare someone you know straight in the face and not recognize them? We both thought we’d been stood up! Embarrassed and unsure, I ran outside and texted Chris from what turned out to be about 15 feet away to say, “Where are you?” Chris finally came running out with a look of “What is wrong with you?” on his face, while also smiling and throwing his coat over my now cold, rain-soaked self, encouraging me to come inside, warm up, eat something. At that moment, our faces lit up, and we recognized each other. I also recognized a glimpse of God in him — our God who always comes running out to find us, to say, “Get in out of the cold, warm up. I’ve prepared a feast for you. Have seconds. Stay a while.”
How do we recognize Jesus? This Sunday is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, when we hear the story of the Transfiguration, a full and glorious spectacle if ever there was one: God’s out-of-town tryout for the Resurrection! Jesus is transfigured and transformed. It is a moment that invites us to recognize Jesus in a new way as we prepare to enter into Lent. Through the Transfiguration, Jesus calls us to not be afraid in a world that is too often terrifying. And we who have seen and recognized Jesus are called to not hoard his goodness, but to share it as widely as we can, trusting that as we do, we too will be transfigured and transformed along the way.
Big Little Sins
The Rev. Canon Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, February 11, 2023
This week’s continuation of the Sermon on the Mount goes in a slightly different direction. Jesus reviews and interprets a few of the Ten Commandments, examines the reasoning for these rules, and reinforces the accountability and responsibility that we have to others for the good of our common life together. He gives examples of how seemingly minor transgressions can lead to bigger ones. Murder is clearly wrong, but anger and insults against our neighbors, and then failing to reconcile, can take us down a very dark path.
Jesus reiterates that he has come not to abolish the Jewish Law, but to fulfill it. Yet we might be confused by this passage, since it’s one of the only times that he seems to depart from the Law, or at least from Jewish custom, and that is on the matter of divorce. Although it was decided by the husband only — and still is in ultra-orthodox communities — divorce was then, and is now, permitted.
His teaching on adultery and divorce might put many 21st-century Christians on edge. We don’t live in a society where “the one, forever person” is very common, or even a reasonable expectation in our social context. Most of us don’t advocate that people remain in a loveless marriage, or worse, an abusive one. But I don’t think Jesus was advocating for that either.
His society was one of intense male dominance and privilege. An abandoned woman was doomed to poverty, disgrace, and even death. Jesus, and the Hebrew Prophets before him, repeatedly prioritize the care of the widowed and orphaned, because women and children left without husband or father were immediately placed on the lowest rung of society, left vulnerable and impoverished. It may sound strange, but I tend to view Jesus’ no-divorce policy as a way to secure women’s dignity and safety within the constraints of a rigidly male-dominated society —dare I say, a protofeminist stance?
It may seem absurd to us today that “coveting,” just looking at and thinking about another woman, could be a serious sin. But as with the commandments that we regard as “more serious,” like murder, the little transgressions — insults, arguments, and refusing to reconcile — are often the precursors of the big ones.
To paraphrase Pastor Karoline Lewis, when we engage with a portion of a Gospel, we are always engaging with the whole. When we look at these few lines, we remember that they were preceded by the Beatitudes and our calling to be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World, then followed by our calling to be radically generous and to love those whom we find it hardest to love. Taken as a whole, I believe our God/Rabbi/Teacher is looking out for all of us.
Being Light Together
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, February 3, 2023
Jesus goes big in the opening verses of the Gospel passage appointed for this Sunday from Matthew 5. He tells the disciples and the crowds to “Let your light shine,” which sounds a lot like God calling forth the day with the words, “Let there be light,” at the start of creation in Genesis 1. Once day is separated from night, God gets to work filling the earth, sea and sky with creatures and creeping things and finally tells humankind to be fruitful and multiply, which I take to mean more than procreate, but to engage in the work of caring for, growing and increasing all that God deems to be good.
Jesus follows suit in Matthew 5 as he addresses his followers in the second person plural, declaring, “You all are salt….You all are the light of the world!” He is saying to his disciples then and through the ages that together our brightness is intensified and multiplied.
Conversely, the prospects for humanity to shine collectively is diminished when the light in anyone is hidden. Jesus knew there would be those intent on obscuring the light in themselves and others, and he seeks to break the pattern by saying, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket.”
In his response to the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry bemoaned the lack of a Good Samaritan at the scene of the violent assault on him at the hands of police officers. Not one of the perpetrators of the attack or the medical professionals who were called to the scene acted with urgency to assist Nichols in his suffering. They passed by and stood by as his light slowly went out.
Bishop Curry is hopeful and heartened that there are still Good Samaritans among us, those who act to preserve the life and light in those the world would leave for dead.
There is a concept promoted by leadership experts about people serving as “multipliers” or “diminishers.” In the workplace, multipliers make the people around them better performers. I don’t wish to overstate the relevance of this business model, but there is a correlation between the idea that we can be more than the sum of our parts and Jesus’ assertion that we collectively are light.
Our call is to be partners with one another in shedding light and being light together. As the season of Epiphany continues, let’s recommit to never standing by and allowing our shared light to be diminished, and go big with Jesus to extend, expand and multiply the Light of Life that the darkness cannot overcome.
The Micah Mandate
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, January 26, 2023
What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
This famous line from Micah ends our first reading this Sunday. It still resonates some 2,800 years later as a powerful response to our natural inclination to think first about what we want God to do for us. We pray always, as we should, for God to heal our friends, our family, ourselves, our world; to bring peace; to guide us and our leaders; to forgive us; to accompany us. We tell the stories of Jesus, God Incarnate, doing these things for people both during his earthly existence as well as in and through the lives of his followers, his saints. And this is, no question, an important part of our lives of faith.
But Micah calls our attention in the other direction, not to what we are to ask for, but to what we are to do. We are to act in our lives with God, not just try to propitiate God to get God to do things for us, as Micah outlines, but act with God in how we move in the world.
- Do justice, not just call for justice or advocate for justice, but do it. Treat everyone we encounter equally, as of equal value.
- Love kindness: Care for others, surely – feed them, clothe them, be present with them in their troubles, but also care about them, care about their joys and sorrows, care about them as we care about ourselves.
- Walk humbly with God: In every act and every word, assume that we don’t have all the answers, so instead cultivate the desire to point ourselves in the direction in which God is moving God’s creation. In other words, slow down, look around, lend a hand – do what you can.
In the face of the never-ending tragedies of human existence, act in the faith that every act matters. Oh Micah, how simple you make that sound!
The Rev. Elise Hanley, Associate Rector, January 19, 2023
I once led an Adult Formation Study on hymns entitled, “Will You Come and Follow Me?” Of all the hymns presented, it was the title hymn that no one knew, and when they first heard it, no one liked it! “Will You Come and Follow Me” is also known as the “The Summons,” and despite being in our supplemental hymnal Wonder, Love and Praise, it isn’t often sung often in Episcopal Churches. The words were written by John L. Bell of the Iona Community, and set to a bouncy Scottish melody called Kelvingrove.
I can understand one’s negative first impression. The melody has a catchy, “Sunday School” rhythm that can sound childlike, or worse, be an annoying “earworm.” But behind the melody we find the text surprisingly set in Jesus’ voice, asking important questions:
“Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?”
Last week we heard the story of Jesus telling the first disciples to “come and see,” and the calling of Simon Peter in John’s Gospel. This Sunday we hear Matthew’s telling of Jesus calling the first disciples, Simon Peter and Andrew, and saying “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And we are told that “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Jesus then calls James son of Zebedee and his brother John, and they leave their boat AND their father. It begs the question of how we heed Jesus’ call: will we leave everything we know behind to follow Jesus?
“But I’m already following Jesus!” one might say. Or, “It’s not responsible to drop everything!” Yes – and – in my experience, Jesus continues to call us again and again, sometimes making new and surprising demands on us to live a life of faith.
Jesus further asks in this hymn, “Will you leave yourself behind? Will you care for cruel and kind? Will you set the prisoners free? Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?”
Following Jesus isn’t easy. Blessedly, we get more than one chance through grace to pause, reflect, and pivot: to leave what we don’t need behind and take on what we do and follow Jesus. What is it you or I need to leave behind now? What is Jesus summoning each of us to do now to love and heal our broken world?
Reaching for the Promised Land
The Rev. Canon Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, January 12, 2023
It strikes me as fitting that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Epiphany Season. Our Collect this Sunday asks that God’s people “may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory…to the ends of the earth.” Although born an ordinary, flawed human being just like the rest of us, Dr. King certainly managed to shine a light throughout the world.
His observance this coming Monday might primarily be due to his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered in the presence of a quarter million people — and millions more on television and radio — from the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. While that speech and its global influence is reason enough to observe his birthday each year, I believe the speech that most exemplifies his prophetic voice, and his greatness, is the very last one he gave. On April 3, 1968, in a church in Memphis, on the eve of his assassination, he made his “I’ve Seen the Promised Land” speech in support of the striking sanitation workers.
The reason we admire Dr. King is not his charismatic presence on television. Dr. King’s gift was in seeing those whom society-at-large chose not to see, in appreciating the unappreciated. He spoke for the voiceless, the mistreated, the dehumanized, and those who were taken for granted — and no group embodied that more than the Black sanitation workers in Memphis.
This week I went to Mt. Sinai Medical Center to witness and support the nurses that have been on strike (photo). As of 2:00 am on Thursday morning, it appears that a tentative settlement has been reached — which will still need to be approved by a union vote, and signed by all parties — for the approximately 7,000 nurses at Mt. Sinai in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. These essential workers were on the picket line starting at 6:00 am on Monday morning. Hospital management had shipped in replacement workers and paid them about four times the hourly wage that they pay their current staff nurses. But the strike wasn’t even primarily about wages, but rather, the insufficient nurse-to-patient ratios that make it impossible for nurses to deliver their highest levels of care.
Further, the New York State Nurses Association hasn’t the resources to pay the health insurance premiums for such a large workforce while they are on strike. So, ironically, our army of heroes who carried us on their backs throughout the dark days of the pandemic — at great loss and personal sacrifice — have been out in the cold, and uninsured.
The start of the pandemic in 2020 gave us all, especially here at its epicenter, a renewed appreciation for those we often take for granted: emergency medical technicians and other first responders, doctors, and especially nurses. If Dr. King were alive, I have no doubt he would have been on the pavement with the nurses this week.
As he said near the end of his speech to the striking workers in Memphis just hours before his death, “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” Let us all pray that his prophecy comes to fruition.
What We’re Made Of
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, January 5, 2023
This Sunday at our celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany, we’ll hear again about the experience of the wise folk in the Gospel of Matthew. You will remember that these Magi were moved to make their journey from the East to see the one they called the king of the Jews who they say they knew was born because “we have observed his star at its rising.”
The Magi, by tradition, were astrologers who follow the star in two stages, first and not insignificantly, to Jerusalem for an encounter with King Herod, and then to Bethlehem.
The star that leads the wise folk to Jesus is a literary device and metaphor, adding layers of wonder to this great tale. For me, the joy of celebrating the manifestation of Jesus to the wider world represented by these Gentiles from afar, is in recognizing Jesus as quite literally a star.
God made manifest in Jesus is the Divine One who is at once also fully human and therefore stardust, as modern astrologers have confirmed to be true of humankind. Ever since the Big Bang many billions of years ago, all of creation has contained elements of star explosions or supernovas. “There are a whole bunch of different stars that have contributed the elements we see in our own solar system, our planet and those found within you,” says planetary scientist Dr. Ashley King in a piece called “Are We Really Made of Stardust?,” on the website of the Natural History Museum in London.
The season of light we call Epiphanytide is a chance to consider again that Jesus’ light shining through the darkness is intended to reflect our own light back to each of us, a glimpse of which we see in the encounter of the Magi with the holy child. We are not easily convinced that we too are bearers of light (and stars!). King Herod, and a host of rulers threatened by the prospect of Christ’s light dimming their power, learned they could not snuff out the light of love, not even by his violent death on the cross. All sorts and conditions of people have resisted the power of light and love in them for generations.
The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope a year ago on Christmas Day was a major advancement for professional stargazers providing them with once unfathomable insight into the vast expanse of interstellar space. In an NPR interview, Operations Project Scientist Jane Rigby described the JWST as “a present that took about six months to unwrap, and that unwrapping process was one of the most fun and exhausting and exhilarating times of my life.” She reminds me that though we may need time, the more we’ll learn to revel in and honor the stardust we share with him and our neighbors – the heavenly substance from which we are all made – and the more possible it will be to create a world lit up by love.
The 12 Days of Christmas
The Rev. Elise Hanley, Associate Rector, December 29, 2022
As my husband Chris and I were driving to my brother’s house on Christmas Day, we listened to a wonderful program of Christmas music on the radio. And then, the presenter announced that we’d next hear “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Chris and I hate that song, and we both reflexively went to change the station. But we were a bit too slow, and good thing we were, as we immediately realized this wasn’t the usual “12 Days of Christmas.” No, this was the Boston Pops arrangement, which brilliantly works in tunes from such shows as “The Sound of Music,” “Oklahoma!,” “Swan Lake,” and such songs as “The Can Can,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, and “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. By the time it finished 10 minutes later, Chris and I were laughing and cheering. We were very glad we didn’t change the station. You can listen to this fun arrangement here.
It is a good reminder to expect the unexpected at Christmas. And Christmas is not just a day but a season, and we are still in the 12 Days of Christmas, or the season known as Christmastide. I hope we can all continue to celebrate through the Feast of the Epiphany, a day also known as “Little Christmas” among certain cultures and communities.
There was a theory that “The 12 Days of Christmas” was used to secretly pass on the beliefs of Christianity. According to this theory, each gift on the list symbolizes a different aspect of our Christian faith – for example, the one “Partridge in a Pear Tree” is Jesus, the “Five Gold Rings” are the five Gospels (which includes the Gospel of Thomas). Many have dispelled the theory as just a rumor.
Every year since 1984, PNC Bank has been tracking the price of each gift in the song with the PNC Christmas Price Index. You may enjoy seeing how much these gifts would cost in 2022 – $197,071.09 – which represents the total cost of all the gifts bestowed by True Love when counting through each repetition of the song, totaling 364 presents. Wow! Who knew swans were so expensive?!
As the 12 Days of Christmas continue, I count you as a priceless gift of the season and wish all a healthy and Happy New Year!
Come Darkness, Come Light
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, December 22, 2022
As I am writing on the winter solstice, December 21, the New York Times has an editorial in which Margaret Renkl says that she likes to think of this not as the shortest day of the year, but as the longest night of the year. She’s arguing for a greater appreciation in contemporary culture for darkness – for less obsession with keeping the lights on to allay our fears and more enjoyment of the mysteries of the dark. I’m intrigued. I’ve always enjoyed nighttime, that period when my favorite prayer says, “the busy world is hushed.” (BCP p. 833, #63.) I like the sense of being wrapped in a dark and quiet cloak, of wondering as Renkl does what might be going on out there that our eyesight cannot see, of feeling like I’m getting away with something as I stay up late. The best is when it’s snowing at night and both light and sound are muffled and the snowflakes are lit by the streetlights…oh my.
But then, that’s the real joy: it’s not so much the darkness itself as the constant contrasts between dark and light. The way the skyline sparkles as you come into LaGuardia on a flight at night. The way the woods are so mysteriously dark just beyond the halo cast by the house lights at my brother’s in New Hampshire. The way hope is embodied in the lone candle being processed up the aisle during the service of Tenebrae.
The light of Christ is coming into the world this weekend – this day – every day. The mystery of God’s love in a world of suffering and joy and pain and hope, of scary and snuggly darkness and blinding and illuminating light is a mystery to be embraced and plumbed. May that love find us welcoming this season.
God Is With Them
The Rev. Canon Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, December 15, 2022
n the passage from Matthew’s Gospel that we read on the Fourth Sunday of Advent an Angel from God visits Joseph in a dream telling him that the child that Mary carries is special: conceived by the Holy Spirit. Quoting Isaiah, the angel says, “they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
Our Incarnate God comes to us not as a grown person on a throne in a lofty castle, but in the form of a baby, born to a teenage mother in a stable. As I have wrestled with my faith throughout my life, particularly in times of doubt or despair, I often center myself by remembering my faith as a small child. Child-like faith – not to be confused with a child-ish faith – is one of the most pure and beautiful things in the world.
I once heard a fable about a village experiencing a drought. The people were asked to all gather in a field at a certain time to pray/sing/dance for rain with one voice. They brought drums and bells and other items to perform their rituals. But there was one little boy who held the faith of his entire community in his hand. He simply arrived with an umbrella.
As we await the coming of the Christ Child, and all the innocence and child-like faith that Jesus represents, I am struck by the tragic anniversary that just passed. December 14 this year marks the 10th anniversary of the murders of 20 children and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Southwest Connecticut. Every one of them was a gift from God. In their short time on earth, they were living proof that “God is with us.”
One way to honor and remember them is to envision them with Jesus, playing and learning, as a group of small children together in a classroom, happy and safe. We wrap our arms and prayers around all of them, and we name them: Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, and Allison. And likewise, their loving and courageous teachers: Rachel, Dawn, Anne Marie, Mary, Lauren and Victoria.
They shall call him Emmanuel. God is with us, and God is with them.
The Rev. Elise Hanley, Associate Rector, December 8, 2022
This Sunday is the Third Sunday of Advent, my favorite Sunday in Advent! The Third Sunday is also known as Gaudete Sunday, gaudete being the Latin word for “rejoice!.” The Third Sunday of Advent is also commonly associated with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, for we read Mary’s Magnificat, the Song of Mary, every year.
The text of the Magnificat is from Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s praise of God spoken in response to her cousin Elizabeth’s greeting and blessing. And what Mary proclaims isn’t mere sweetness of devotion – Mary’s Song is prophetic and revolutionary. It is subversive! Just read verses 51-53, here in the Contemporary English Version translation:
51 The Lord has used his powerful arm
to scatter those who are proud.
52 God drags strong rulers from their thrones
and puts humble people in places of power.
53 God gives the hungry good things to eat,
and sends the rich away with nothing.
To quote the Rev. Carolyn Sharp, we should see Mary as “a girl who sings defiantly to her God through her tears, fists clenched against an unknown future.” Oppressed and marginalized people throughout the ages have been inspired by The Magnificat to believe that God can truly bring about liberation. The Magnificat has even been viewed as so dangerous by corrupt leaders in power that they have outright banned The Magnificat from being recited in liturgy or in public.
My favorite musical rendition of The Magnificat is Rory Cooney’s “The Canticle of the Turning,” which he set to an old Irish Tune, “Star of the County Down.” I invite you to listen to it here. It is a wonderful Advent song that begs the question, “could the world be about to turn?” Evoking both lament and hope, we may find it to be our own prayer in this season:
My heart shall sing of the day you bring!
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn!
As we make our way through the busy and sometimes overwhelming holiday season, may we, like Mary, sing the good news of God! Even when the news only seems bad, may Mary’s Song inspire us to never lose our Advent hope, and work for God’s justice for all God’s people.
A Quorum and More
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, December 1, 2022
These days, so many elections are decided by the narrowest of margins, giving the word “majority” new meaning and the idea of a mandate nonsensical. Yet, despite deepening divisions among the American electorate, hope springs eternal that those in office will govern with the best interest of all whom they represent in mind.
At St. Ann & the Holy Trinity, we may differ on matters of politics and parish life, but we are of one mind and heart about following the way of Jesus. Still this community of faith that is focused on matters of the spirit is also a religious corporation with governing structures and subject to the laws of the state for such institutions. In order to conduct the once-a-year business of electing leaders at our annual meeting, we must achieve a quorum of members present in person or virtually.
A quorum is both a majority of eligible voters and the minimum number necessary to proceed with the meeting. We’ll reach or exceed the quorum for our annual meeting this Sunday, but what is most important is that we “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” as St. Paul prays for the church in this week’s epistle from Romans.
Our by-laws require us to hold the parish annual meeting on the Second Sunday of Advent, when we hear again the cry of John the Baptist echoing the call of the prophet Isaiah to prepare the way of the Lord. As stewards of a legacy of service in the name of the One who has come and is coming, may we with one mind, heart and voice execute our business and persist in our mission, enfolding the past and present and looking to the future in hope and expectation – all to the glory of God.
Giving Thanks for St. Ann & the Holy Trinity
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation November 23, 2022
I first came to St. Ann and the Holy Trinity, as most of you have heard me say many times before, in 1984, as the Associate Rector. I served for three wonderful years under Bill Persell, now the retired Bishop of Chicago, and then I moved into academia by becoming Chaplain at Trinity School on the Upper West Side. And now I’m back! Retired and part-time, but still – what a joy it is.
Which is to say that I’m delighted to have a moment here to state that my thanks for being at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity is very high on my Thanksgiving list. I was not even 30 years old the first time around, only two years out of seminary, very new to the ordained ministry and completely new to Brooklyn, and this parish was enormously important to my formation as a priest. And now it has given me a parish home again, a place to preach and teach and lead worship in my retirement – all of which has also led to the work I’ve done and continue to do in the history of our church and others in complicity with slavery and the slavery economy. I am so grateful to Canon John and the Vestry for giving me this opportunity to continue to serve Christ and his Church.
My thanks then, to one and all – and my gratitude takes a very concrete form. It is Stewardship season, and I will once again pledge to St. Ann and the Holy Trinity, as I have since returning here six years ago. I will promise to again support this parish in the coming year with my money as well as my time and my faith and my love. I hope that you will all join me in that support as well. Thanks!
The Rev. Elise Hanley, Associate Rector, November 10, 2022
Joining a new parish as a new priest is both exciting and sometimes nerve wracking! I love meeting new people, and beginning to develop new and meaningful pastoral relationships. And the first step? Learning your names!
I am very sensitive to remembering, pronouncing, and spelling names correctly, probably due to people getting my name wrong throughout my life!** My name was often misspelled as Alise, Alyse, Ilyse, and most commonly, Elsie. In seventh grade, my social studies teacher took a daily roll call, and every day, she called me Elsie Hanley. I gently corrected her the first time. By the third time, my classmates began to join me. Two weeks in, she was still calling me “Elsie,” and the entire class would respond in unison, “IT’S ELISE!!” That became such an in-joke, that Elsie remains my nickname with some of my closest friends. I was named after my mom’s Aunt Elise, who died shortly before I was born. When I was a young child, my dad often joked that Beethoven wrote “Für Elise” just for me, and I found great glee in calling him out on that.
St. Ann & the Holy Trinity also has quite a name story! I’ve quickly been corrected in my understanding that the parish’s joint name was the result of a merger, and then am reminded that St. Ann’s moved into the closed building that was once the Church of the Holy Trinity. Once again, names matter.
The Kente Cloth Stole
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Aspcoae for Faith Formation, October 21, 2022
When I was first at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity as Associate Rector from 1984 to 1987, William Howard Melish was still alive and had been invited by Bill Persell, the Rector, to assist at services every Sunday. William Howard had been the Associate Rector of Holy Trinity Church when his father, John Howard Melish, was Rector, and he took charge of the parish when John Howard was pushed out. The complications and controversies around the demise of Holy Trinity in the 1950s, however, are not my topic today.
I was intrigued, back when I began, that William Howard never wore a seasonal colored stole, but instead always chose to wear one made of kente cloth. He told me that it was given to him by Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, after he led the country to independence from Great Britain. President Nkrumah had flown William Howard to Ghana in September 1963 to preach at the memorial service for American author and activist W.E.B. Du Bois, who had died in self-exile there. Nkrumah did this shortly after the state funeral and burial to follow the instructions in Du Bois’ will, and he gave William Howard the stole on that occasion.
This story is not told in the definitive biography of Du Bois; in fact, I can find no account of it anywhere. But I think it is a story that needs to be told. What sort of friendship and mutual support between the two men would lead to this result? Mary Jane Melish, William Howard’s wife, used to say that William Howard and the playwright Arthur Miller, who were friends, helped Du Bois buy Miller’s townhouse on Grace Court, making Du Bois the first Black American to own property in Brooklyn Heights. Can we learn more about that?
With the assent of our Vestry, I am announcing here the launch of a parish research project to learn and tell the story of the relationship between these two remarkable men. Not long ago, we examined the history of our two antecedent parishes’ complicity in slavery and the slavery economy. Our work on this project will include mining the parish archives and many other sources for insights into the connections between Holy Trinity and the nascent civil rights movement. I believe that doing such historical research is a form of social justice activism. Would you like to assist me in this project? Please email me and let’s get started!
Persisting in Prayer
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, October 14, 2022
Jesus knew that the struggles against injustice can be exhausting and seem hopeless and in the Gospel passage for this Sunday he shares the parable of the unjust judge and the widow, which he says is about “the need to pray always and not to lose heart.” In the parable, a judge who is generally uninterested in dispensing justice finally gives into the appeals of a widow who insists on being heard. For those burdened by inequities that are so often overlooked, ignored, or dismissed by those more fortunate, the pursuit of justice requires persistence and audacity.
We need Jesus’ reminder that we can persist audaciously in calling for justice through our prayers that are offered privately, proclaimed corporately, and embodied individually and communally.
In the 1990s, the many Sudanese teenage males fleeing their war-torn country and walking hundreds of miles to find safety came to be known as “The Lost Boys.” One of these young refugees, who was resettled in Louisville, Kentucky, and assisted by a local Episcopal church, reacted to this moniker by saying, “We were lost to our families, but we were never lost to God.”
In contrast to the unjust judge, Jesus points to God’s compassion in asking, “Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” The so-called Lost Boys knew that refugees and migrants pray with their feet with God as a constant companion.
This Sunday, before or after you hear the Gospel of the day, you might consider praying through service in the company of our friends from an organization audacious enough to call itself Repair the World. (See announcement below.) The mission of this Jewish-led enterprise is to work tirelessly for justice on behalf of the poor and marginalized through small and powerful acts of compassion. They will gather volunteers in our parish hall from 10:00 to 11:30 am to learn about immigrant justice and assemble hygiene kits for migrants whose long journeys for safety and security have led them to New York City.
We will not lose heart! On our knees and on our feet, we will continue to strive for justice and peace among all people in prayer and action.
A New Priest for St. Ann’s
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, October 6, 2022
Today I bring you the happy news of the call and acceptance of the Rev. Elise Ashley Hanley to serve as Associate Rector of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church and Pro-Cathedral! I share here Rev. Elise’s biography and ask your prayers for her during her last weeks of her current position and as we prepare to welcome her on Sunday, October 30, when she will join our community in mission and ministry in Brooklyn Heights and beyond. We rejoice in the blessings ahead for our life together with Rev. Elise among us as a partner in Christ’s service!
The Rev. Elise A. Hanley (she/they) attended the General Theological Seminary, graduated from Union Theological Seminary in May 2016, and was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York in October 2016. Rev. Elise’s first call was as Associate Rector at Trinity on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut, where she also served as Assistant Chaplain to the Episcopal Church at Yale. Rev. Elise returned to the Diocese of New York in February 2020 to serve as Associate Rector of the Church of the Epiphany on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, providing pastoral support to a community in a leadership transition, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, and seeing them through a successful move into a brand new, 35,000 square foot church building.
Prior to seminary, Rev. Elise worked at Marble Collegiate Church as Director of Mission and Outreach. They also provided volunteer support for and helped oversee the outreach programs of their sponsoring parish, St. Bart’s, including their 365-night-a-year women’s shelter. Elise is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and worked as a stage and production manager on, off, and way off Broadway prior to discerning a call to the priesthood.
Rev. Elise is married to Chris Ashley, who serves as the Administrative Chaplain at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. They make their home in Forest Hills, Queens, with Ted, a rescue mini schnauzer, and at least three cats. A long time vegetarian and animal lover, Rev. Elise spends free time volunteering with a neighborhood cat rescue and at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan, and also enjoys running, traveling, and learning the Irish language.
Nevertheless, Faith Persisted
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, September 29, 2022
This week’s Gospel tackles the elusive idea of “faith.” What exactly is it? How much is enough? Can it be measured? Inquiring Apostles want to know!
Jesus responds that faith isn’t about meeting minimum standards, or doing what is required and expected, such as the servant doing chores for the master, or the farmhand plowing the field. It’s what the farmhand is paid to do, so why say “thank you,” right?
This might be challenging language to 21st Century listeners, especially Luke’s underlying assumptions: domestic servitude was omni-present and part of their daily life. But as in so many of Luke’s stories and parables, Jesus employs a metaphor that his hearers would have understood, as uncomfortable as it may sound to some of us.
Throughout these chapters in Luke, faith emerges as a persistence — one might say a stubborn persistence — in reaching out to God. Faith is taking the risk of trusting, and being confident in God’s love of justice: a steadfast belief in something you can’t prove or explain, even when every force in the world is telling you NOT to.
This Saturday, our Creation Care team will convene a group of people from around the diocese and start forming our “Green Teams” that will continue and deepen the work of environmental justice. At the moment that I write this, Hurricane Ian is hammering the West Coast of Florida with a force rarely seen. We are scared and despondent about how/if we can turn around the terrifying realities of climate change. Some think we are foolish to even try. But the very fact that we persist in this work, IS, in itself, our act of faith. However daunting, we insist on doing it anyway.
Bishops and Inclusivity
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, September 22, 2022
The Greek word episkopos, from which the name of our church is derived, came into the English language as “bishop.” The Greek means “overseer,” and the primary job of a bishop in the earliest days of the Church was to oversee first a congregation, and eventually an array of congregations in a geographic area, that is, a diocese. This has, since the beginning, given bishops a particular power to offer a vision for their churches and for the broader Church of what the life of faith in community can look like and be. Through the sacraments of baptism and communion – initially the purview of bishops alone – but also through confirmation and ordination, bishops make manifest who belongs to the community and, therefore, to whom God’s grace is offered.
This Sunday at 3:00 pm St. Ann & the Holy Trinity will host several historians and theologians, including yours truly, to reflect on the powers and limitations of the office of bishop through the lens of the Right Reverend John Henry Hobart, whose service as the third Bishop of New York (when the diocese was the entire state) in the early 19th century changed the course of the Episcopal Church. In conjunction with the 200th anniversary of Hobart College – founded as Geneva College by Hobart and named for him after his death – the other presenters and I will explore Bishop Hobart’s legacy, warts and all. We are fortunate that the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, an alumnus of Hobart College and our Church’s first Black Presiding Bishop, will open the program via video. The Right Reverend R. William Franklin, an Assisting Bishop of our diocese, will also be on the panel (see details below). In addition to the college, Bp. Hobart founded numerous churches, vastly increased Episcopal membership in the state, offered a “higher vision” of the church that saw grace made available to all, and opened the door to welcoming African Americans and Indigenous People. His politics distorted his vision and limited the impact of his efforts, but once he opened that door to membership for those who had been marginalized, it could not be closed again. Hence Hobart set in motion the movement to a more inclusive future for the Episcopal Church that continues to this day.
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, July 28, 2022
I came to St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church as Associate Rector in 2014. Canon John interviewed me in his old office, which is now the Community Room on the second floor of the Parish House. That day Barbara Gonzo was busy with stewardship administration in what was then the parish office and is now the finance office of Saint Ann’s School, our tenants. Shortly after I joined the staff, Canon John and the vestry had arranged for us to work in the basement of a local real estate office, as renovations took place in the Parish House.
I was new to this place, but I had heard of St. Ann’s for years. Ian’s and my first NYC apartment was on the ground floor of a building around the corner on Pierrepont Street where Claudia Barber happened to live. Fr. Craig, my longtime supervisor at St. James’ Church, Madison Avenue, served here in the 1980s and his stories of towering stained glass, a priceless organ, and Communist intrigue in the days of Holy Trinity Church gave me a picture life over the generations.
Of course, I have heard many other stories about our church since arriving here. One was told by Frank Kain of a defining moment, on September 11, 2001, when he and his fellow warden decided to leave a message on the answering machine of the then Bishop of Long Island letting him know that they would open the doors of the church, which had been closed for a brief period over a dispute, so that New Yorkers streaming home across the bridge could have a place to pray. The doors have been open since.
I learned while planning a Sunday School lesson years ago that the symbol of Saint Ann is a door. For me this means that somehow, Saint Ann, the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus, serves as God’s point of entry into the human condition. I can think of no better symbol for a saint, or for a faith community and when I reflect on the many ways in which St. Ann’s has opened its doors through the years, I realize how much the people of our church have been doing God’s will.
Thank you for opening your doors to me. For praying with me this past eight years. The Psalmist writes, Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. In many ways St. Ann’s answered my prayers before even I knew what they were.
I will continue to hold the people of St. Ann’s in my prayers as I answer a new call and ask you to do the same for me. By this I know we will remain connected, held fast in the love of God, and a part of God’s wonderful plans for the Church.
New Worlds, Reordered Priorities
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, July 14, 2022
I was privileged to attend a lecture by astrophysicist Jackie Faherty from the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History about the just-released images from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) earlier this week. The presentation at the Bell House in Gowanus was the latest offering of the Secret Science Club which provides free access to science-related events here in Brooklyn throughout the year. Professor Faherty was perfectly giddy as she described how the enormous satellite was bringing stars, galaxies, and new worlds into the sharpest focus to date using infrared technology and a patchwork of mirrors as it orbits the earth from a million miles away. She was joined by a fellow scientist who navigated software to compare images from the Hubble Space Telescope to those from JWST as she highlighted what the new images revealed and the prospect of more learning from the treasure trove of pictures to come, even as she acknowledged the many mysteries this advanced equipment would not soon solve. I was mesmerized and deeply moved by all that she shared.
It is not a great leap for me to imagine that Mary of Bethany in this Sunday’s Gospel passage from Luke is similarly mesmerized by Jesus as she sits at his feet. Their startling encounter in which Jesus shares himself draws Mary from the preoccupations that dog her sister Martha, who chooses first to prepare the meal for their honored guest rather than listen to him. The passage is often interpreted as judgement of Martha who Jesus says is “distracted by many things.” It’s clear, however, that Jesus is inviting Martha to reorder her priorities and choose “the better part” like her sister.
The wide attention the JWTP images have received in the last several days encourages me that more people will shake off their preoccupations and increasing pettiness and allow the wonders and mysteries of the heavens to offer some perspective on their often-misguided priorities for their own and the world’s benefit.
This Gospel story always causes me to recall my ordination to the priesthood, which took place on the feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany on July 29, 1992. I can admit that over the last 30 years I too often made a priority of my “to do” list, which I rarely get through, and neglected my prayer life and perhaps did more talking than listening. It is not too late for me or any of us to prioritize meditating on God’s Word and Jesus’ teaching and listening for the Spirit to guide our actions and service for the sake of our neighbor – and perhaps find rest for our weary souls in the process.
Who Is My Neighbor?
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, July 7, 2022
Oh, those annoying lawyers! Always trying to test and interrogate us, especially Jesus. Like most diligent attorneys, the fellow in Luke’s Gospel this week has done his homework. He has memorized the Law, and his answer to Jesus is technically correct, at least with regard to the words written on the scroll: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” But that last part is the rule in question. Wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus responds to this question with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a man is robbed, badly beaten, and left for dead by the roadside. The first two passersby, upright religious leaders, just walk on by and do nothing. But then a foreigner, a Samaritan, does the wounded man a great kindness. And there is far more underlying this parable than one man doing a good deed for another. The Samaritans and Judeans were blood enemies. They avoided any interaction, and held each other in contempt.
So in this fraught context, it seems a fair question to ask: Who IS my neighbor?
As rabbi and teacher, Jesus tells us this: the Law inscribed upon the scroll (or, in our case, on the page or the screen) is, on its own, not enough. It must also be inscribed upon the heart. Love-of-neighbor was not to be confined within the borders of Samaria, or Judea, or Galilee; nor should it have been. And despite the hundreds of other borders that we humans have erected since then, love-of-neighbor remains fluid, borderless, expansive. It is a thing not only to be learned, but also to be lived.
If we define “neighbor” as broadly as Jesus suggests, many of us might feel that love-of-neighbor is in short supply lately. But if the pesky lawyer — the one trying to test and trip up Jesus — can grow and take the law that he has learned with his mind and inscribe it onto his heart, so can we. As instructed, we must “Go and do likewise.”
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, June 30, 2022
As we approach the July 4th weekend, I recall a recent discussion at Wednesday Bible Study of the term indivisible. We were discussing the Trinity, but most of us associate this term with the Pledge of Allegiance.
The pledge was drafted by a Civil War veteran and later edited by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy, who published it in 1892 to be used by youth around the world to honor their own countries. Specific mention of the United States of America was added in 1923. The pledge was formally adopted by Congress in 1942, and it was not until 1954 that President Dwight Eisenhower prompted Congress to insert the words under God.
Today, our pledge, which is recited hand over heart, reads as follows:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Lovely words, all of them. The most powerful, to me, is indivisible. Not uniform. Not of one mind or one heart. But devotedly of one body.
Is it possible anything can truly be called indivisible? Paul believed that, by the grace of God, it could be. He maintained that the spiritual and ethical integrity of the Church depended on diversity and identified love, not uniformity, as the guide toward the common good.
Paul writes to the church in Galatia (Galatians 5:1-15), “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Independence Day is not a religious holiday. It can be an occasion to revisit this Christian understanding of community, and to imagine anew the role God has for us in moving a diverse group toward the justice and peace God envisions for everyone.
The Rev. Dr. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, June 16, 2022
Juneteenth became a federal holiday last year, stamping national approval on the celebration of the end of slavery in this nation that has been held among Black Americans since the enactment of General Order No. 3 on June 19, 1865. That order, by Union general Gordon Granger, enforced the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 in the state of Texas, the last state of the Confederacy to hold on to institutional slavery. This celebration has become particularly important to me since I began the work last year of investigating the history of the complicity of our parish in slavery and the slave economy, work that I continue now as the Historian in Residence for Racial Justice for the Diocese of Long Island. In that capacity, I am helping churches in the diocese like ours that were founded before the Civil War undertake the same research into their past. Currently there are a dozen congregations working with me on the project, known as Uncovering Parish Histories. This is important work, as we as a parish and as a diocese come to grips with the reality of that history and its legacy in our culture today.
I grew up outside Syracuse, New York, and attended public schools. In seventh grade we studied New York State history. I remember learning about the Iroquois Confederacy, how to start a fire with two sticks and a strip of leather, and what linsey-woolsey clothing was, but I don’t remember ever learning that slavery had been legal in New York State, or that it did not end until 1827. Jesus said that the truth will set us free; my version of that when it comes to this work is that one cannot unlearn what has been learned. Efforts to learn this legacy are not undertaken to shame or demonize, but to go forward in faith with the knowledge that our nation, our state, and our churches cannot credibly stand for racial justice without acknowledging the history of racial injustice. Let us all, then, celebrate Juneteenth on Monday in the belief that claiming our past injustice enables us to affirm with the prophet Amos that God wishes all humanity to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, June 9, 2022
It’s commencement season and this year, after countless pandemic-era cancellations of in-person ceremonies, graduation is on. I recently proudly attended my goddaughter’s graduation from Columbia Journalism School. And this week, after two years of alternative approaches, Saint Ann’s School, our historic partner and good neighbor, returns to a longstanding tradition of holding its high school graduation exercises in our church sanctuary. (I know this primarily because strains of Pomp and Circumstance have been wafting up to the parish office for days!)
Graduation exercises are called commencements because, with their coursework completed and degrees in hand, graduates begin a new chapter of their life journeys. Yet graduations are also occasions to look back and lift up shared experiences and the spirit of a place that keeps members of a class connected to one another and their school for a lifetime.
I cannot help but feel a resonance with commencement season following the announcement on Sunday that St. Ann’s associate rector, Mo. Kate Salisbury, will leave us to start a new ministry at the Cathedral of the Incarnation this summer. Over the course of her eight years among us, Kate has contributed greatly to our common life and shared in the many joys and challenges we have experienced as a community of faith. I am confident that as she moves into a new phase of her career, we all will continue to carry the memory of our time together and retain our connection that has been enlivened by the sweet, sweet Spirit at work at St. Ann’s.
This is the same Spirit we celebrated on Pentecost last Sunday and that this week on Trinity Sunday we recognize as a distinct expression of the One God in Three Persons sustaining and binding us one to another in the family of God’s Church.
The Holy Spirit
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, June 2, 2022
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit. At our service in the sanctuary, our Sunday School will reenact Acts 2, an origin story reminiscent of Genesis, when God breathes new life into Adam. Here, God’s Spirit rushes in among the Apostles and animates the new body of Christ: The Church.
I love the symbols of Pentecost. The Spirit is expressed as wind and fire: earth’s fundamental (and sustainable!) sources of energy. This reminds me that while God does not change, God is always on the move. There are times in faith when we need wind in our sails, or a fire lit under us. The Holy Spirit is a gift from God to serve that need.
This Holy Spirit may move us to march for gun safety this weekend. It may carry us to a Pride parade this month. It may uphold us through any of our own private challenges. Access to the Spirit is a standing invitation.
God does not change, but God moves. Our project as people of faith is to honor this aspect of God, to remain open to God’s movement in the world, and discern together where God is calling us next.
The True Love of Peace
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, May 25, 2022
This Thursday, the fortieth day of the Easter Season, we celebrate the feast of the Ascension — the final elevation of Christ’s human nature to divine glory and the near presence of God, and the disciples’ last opportunity to say goodbye to the one beside whom they had served. This weekend as our country marks Memorial Day, we also remember those who, through military service, sacrificed their lives in the service of universal peace.
The Book of Common Prayer includes this petition in its remembrance of military heroes: Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. Kindle in every heart the true love of peace, and guide with thy wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth.
It is impossible to observe either holiday this year without a looming awareness of the escalating gun violence in our country, most recently visited upon Uvalde, Texas, elementary school children and adults in their classrooms, where peace surely should reign. Something is deeply wrong in our country, for which we bear inescapable responsibility.
Over the past decade, since the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, sister organizations Moms Demand Action (including more than just moms) and Everytown for Gun Safety have built a coalition for common sense gun laws in America. There are ways in which you can join them and take action now.
On Saturday, June 4, beginning at 12 noon in Foley Square, Lower Manhattan, I will participate in the annual Moms Demand Action rally and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I invite you to join me.
Facing Parallel Pandemics
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, May 19, 2022
As another Covid surge reminds us that the pandemic is far from over, parallel public health crises also persist—the relentless scourge of racism and gun violence. The tragic mass shooting in Buffalo last weekend was the latest expression of the lethal consequences of white supremacist views embraced or tolerated by increasing numbers of Americans and the vast proliferation of firearms in circulation that far outnumber the nation’s population. Though we may feel discouraged, our commitment to resisting and turning back the tide of violence and hatred must endure. In the wake of the Buffalo massacre, the members of the Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association produced a statement that will hang outside our houses of worship. It reads: “Our faith communities stand with survivors of hate-based violence and grieve those lost. Love must win.”
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, spent part of his childhood in Buffalo and later served there. For him, the tragedy was personal. We share his emotional and ultimately encouraging response with you here:
My heart is heavy with the news that a white supremacist gunman took the lives of 10 children of God in Buffalo on Saturday. I grew up walking distance from the scene of this hateful crime, and my friends and I used to ride our bikes around the neighborhood. Buffalo’s Black community raised and formed me. I grieve with the city and people I love.
The loss of any human life is tragic, but there was deep racial hatred driving this shooting, and we have got to turn from the deadly path our nation has walked for much too long. Bigotry-based violence—any bigotry at all—against our siblings who are people of color, Jewish, Sikh, Asian, trans, or any other group, is fundamentally wrong. As baptized followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we are called to uphold and protect the dignity of every human child of God, and to actively uproot the white supremacy and racism deep in the heart of our shared life.
Please join me in prayer for the shattered families in Buffalo. Please also join me in expressing profound gratitude for the intervention by Buffalo police that likely saved many other lives. Even amid tragedy, even when manifestations of evil threaten to overwhelm, let us hold fast to the good. It is the only way that leads to life.
Bishop Provenzano and the other bishops of our diocese also offered a powerful statement in response to Buffalo shooting as well as one in Laguna Beach, California, also last weekend.
Our Church will not be daunted and against many odds is leading with love to ensure safety, security and promise for all God’s children.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, May 12, 2022
It is at first disorienting that the Gospel reading from John for the coming Fifth Sunday of Easter is an excerpt of the scene of Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper. It turns out what connects this episode recalling a dark moment for Jesus to this season of hope and promise is that it takes place where Jesus first appears to the group after his resurrection. More importantly, it is future oriented in its call to the apostles and the members of the Church they helped to establish to be “Resurrection People.”
On a trip to Italy years ago, I visited the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan and saw Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Last Supper. The painting, like the many renderings of the scene one can see across Italy, is called “il Cenacolo.” Cenacolo is a term deriving from the Latin for dining room as well as attic. Leonardo’s Cenacolo, in fact, is a fresco on the wall of the refectory or dining room of the monks’ residence at the 15th century church in keeping with a widespread tradition of cenacoli appearing in refectories of convents and monasteries in that period and beyond. I suppose I should mention that a reproduction of the Last Supper was prominently displayed in the dining room of my childhood home. Perhaps this was the case for you too.
A rendering of the Last Supper found its way into the dining rooms of religious communities, private homes, and behind the altars of countless churches, as in our own, to recall Christ’s self-offering while sharing a meal and particularly the Eucharist, as he instructed. This week’s passage reminds us we are not only invited to know Jesus in the breaking of bread around the holy table, but to make him known. Here Jesus rejects vengeance as a response to the betrayal and loss he faces and instead asserts the commandment to love. “By this,” he says, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So, as we continue to celebrate the 175th anniversary of our church, we can add to the list of building highlights the Cenacolo above the high altar in our house of worship that provides an enduring call to love for us Resurrection People and all who gather at table with us.
The Good Shepherd
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, May 5, 2022
About 20 years ago, I joined women and girls in my extended family for a hiking trip through Northern Ireland to celebrate the ancestry of my maternal grandmother. For a week we made our way across grassy highlands perched high above the sea. Too steep for farming, this has long been the terrain of shepherds.
I knew already that a good shepherd stands ever ready to defend their flock (David and his slingshot, for example). On this trip, I learned that sheep can also at times be their own worst enemies. This has something to do with physiology: like a turtle, a sheep that has fallen belly up can do little to help itself. It depends on a shepherd to turn and coax it back on its feet.
This week is Good Shepherd Sunday, an occasion to celebrate in word and song a time-honored, pastoral image of God. The metaphor of a shepherd who helps us to our feet again is spiritually distinct from one who simply hurls stones at our enemies.
The stories we read in Easter speak again and again of getting up. When Paul, blinded by rage, is struck down by a vision of light, a voice from heaven tells him to stand again. In a visit to healing waters, Jesus exhorts a man laid low for years to “take up your mat and walk.” This week, a female disciple, Tabitha, rises from her death bed. For every time the Gospel says to “go down,” there are seven times it encourages us to “get up.”
This is an image of God for which I am deeply grateful. It also seems a wonderful image to carry with us on Mother’s Day, as we celebrate beloved mothers and grandmothers who, by hook or by crook, have helped us stand tall.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, April 29, 2022
I was delighted to kick off the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the opening of our church last Sunday and said we could anticipate many opportunities throughout the coming year to mark the occasion.
In my sermon, I hailed the immense accomplishment of Minard Lafever, the architect of the landmark building that has been entrusted to us. I didn’t mention that he was self-taught in his profession and that he got a late start in comparison with his contemporaries. The lore about Lafever is that at age 18 he walked 50 miles to obtain his first book on architecture. I am reminded by this story of how we can surprise ourselves with our abilities when we are determined to achieve something on which our minds and hearts are set.
As Eastertide unfolds, we hear in the Gospel last week and this coming Sunday about surprising resurrection appearances by Jesus to his disciples. This week, Jesus meets his companions on the shore of the sea, where they are discouraged by their failure to catch fish. He tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat, which results in a haul too big to bring in easily.
I believe because we expect God to show up as God has for the communities that have inhabited our building over generations, because we remain committed to keeping our doors open and welcoming God in our members and neighbors who are drawn to worship and create in the sacred space, and because we are open and ready to go the extra mile to achieve God’s unfinished project here, we will be pleasantly and joyfully surprised by what we can do together.
I’ll close with words by St. Paul to enliven our faith in God’s dream for us at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity: Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God, from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus, for ever and ever. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Illuminating Our Stories
The Rev. Dr. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, April 21, 2011
One hundred and seventy-five years ago this coming Monday, April 25, the doors of our church were first opened. It was then the Church of the Holy Trinity, and you can read all about it here. We will mark this anniversary in various ways over the course of the year – stay tuned for more information.
The history of a church is always a complicated thing. It requires a great deal of money to build one and maintain one, which means that any church is from the beginning in a compromising relationship with wealth and culture: while a church tries to be “in the world but not of the world,” to paraphrase a number of gospel passages, there is nonetheless a minimum amount of worldliness required. As we’ve learned over the past couple of years, the founders of our parish were faithful and quite forward-thinking about their faith, but they were also deeply entwined with the slavery economy that provided the engine for much of the city’s financial growth. This does not disqualify us from celebrating our founding, but that celebration needs to also name and claim a history of racial injustice.
The towering spire that was a beacon for those sailing into the harbor is long gone, a piece of our history laid to rest. The stained-glass windows, however, remain our glory. Can the light shining through them, illuminating the stories that are the foundation of our faith, illuminate our complicated relationship with the world we inhabit and to which we offer our faith, hope, and love? Let us remember that God came into the world, inhabiting it as Jesus of Nazareth, not to condemn the world but to save it. I believe we are called to that work as well.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, April 14, 2022
The theologian and Hebrew Bible scholar, Walter Bruggemann, says the Psalms reflect the rhythm of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation in our experience. As we journey with Jesus in these final days of Holy Week through the disorienting events of his Passion, we will hear again in Psalm 22, verse 11, the psalmist’s plea, “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help,” and the cry in the opening verse, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” that is echoed by Jesus from the cross.
Broadly speaking, we can consider the last two years to be a period of collective disorientation that has led to a range of responses for us individually from feeling lost and untethered to desperation and rage. Life in the pandemic might explain, on the one hand, the so called “great resignation,” the phenomenon of unprecedented numbers of people leaving their jobs to follow a new professional path and, on the other hand, extremes of behavior by people whose skewed perceptions and misdirected anger have led them to hurt themselves or others.
At a service for the clergy on Tuesday, our bishop shared appointments of new deans in each region of the diocese, starting with Brooklyn where, he said jokingly, “all things begin.” It so happened that Bishop Provenzano, who never misses a chance to highlight his Brooklyn roots, made this remark as the story of a tragedy in our borough of immense proportions was unfolding for a worldwide audience. In a season of increased gun violence here and in cities across the country, a gunman fired at morning commuters on an N train causing multiple injuries and the worst subway disaster on record. We grieve with and will continue to pray for the victims of the shooting, as we bemoan how this incident has created a heightened level of anxiety among New Yorkers and visitors here and set back the progress of our reorientation.
As I reflect on this week’s shooting, I will share with you that our bishop has committed diocesan funds to support a gun buyback program to take place in Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau County that Mo. Marie Tatro and I (but mostly Mo. Marie) are helping to facilitate. We are grateful for the bishop’s leadership and hopeful this will be one among many efforts to redirect our society enduring a long, disorienting period of rampant gun violence resulting in the injury and deaths of untold numbers of Americans.
We are blessed to follow Jesus in these holy days on the Way of the Cross along which the promise of self-giving love to reorient and restore us is revealed. Let’s embrace this chance to move forward together, step by step as witnesses of Christ’s suffering, and then proclaim Christ’s resurrection, echoing the words of the psalmist we hear on Easter, “On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it!” (Ps. 118:24)
Vestry Member Mary Johnson, April 7, 2022
A number of years ago, I was blessed to have Palm Sunday be one of my first Sundays at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity. I had never participated in a Palm Sunday procession before – as I held tight to my frond and tried to keep up with the words to “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” I was lit up by the bold, joyful affirmation of faith we were bringing to our block of Brooklyn Heights. In a season of solemn meditation and solitary repentance, how remarkable to embrace such a profound expression of community and triumph.
Two Lenten seasons ago, the timbre of solitude and solemnity was all-too consonant with the early stages of the pandemic. Nevertheless, just as our “sweet hosannas” rang out on Montague Street, our creativity and resilience won out in keeping our connection strong: filmed Sunday services were masterfully compiled, hymn recordings were seamlessly stitched together, and a Zoom Morning Prayer ritual was established that is still going strong today. (
In a time when we are beginning to feel our world extend its first tentative buds into “normalcy,” there is an understandable urge to keep these buds modest, and to – as Sven so eloquently described in his sermon last week – allot only the most restrained resources to their preservation. We are fearful of frost, whether it be in the form of new virus variants, or anxiety born of new threats to our neighbors far and near.
But as Jesus instructs his disciples in this week’s Gospel: the Lord has needs of us. God’s tender love and infinite power allows us to forsake our fear for the sake of serving Him. Even in the presence of frost, we will lay down our cloaks to pave His way.
These past two years have proven our spirit of service in spades. Acting as Outreach Committee chair has allowed me to appreciate firsthand how this spirit has endured at St. Ann’s, whether it be through our flourishing food pantry, our impactful Forums, or our ongoing collections in support of our community members in need. In persevering through a cold time of suffering, our love for our neighbors never ceased to bloom.
The Gospel concludes with a powerful affirmation of the resilience of God’s word that brings to mind our own indomitable spirit: “I tell you, if these [disciples] were silent, the stones would shout out.”
This Sunday, as our voices fill Montague Street once again, as we hold our palms high and feel the welcome return of holy water splattering on our upturned faces, let us drink in the blessing of resurrected traditions, and of being a Resurrection people.
God’s Abundant Love
Vestry Member Christina Rouner, March 24, 2022
Though I’ve always found the story Jesus tells the Pharisees and tax collectors about the Prodigal Son to be heartening and a comfort in many ways, it also irks me. The older, non-prodigal brother’s complaint of unfairness seems reasonable. His father’s response never quite satisfies the injustice that one son is being celebrated for returning, while the other who has remained present and faithful is ignored. Surely that can’t be how God works.
But two things struck me anew as I meditated on the passage this week.
For the first time I understood why Jesus tells the story. The Pharisees are put off by the fact that Jesus, as a purported holy man, “sits down with sinners.” To answer this, Jesus offers a parable that illustrates so well that God welcomes all of us who have gone astray, back into God’s heart, when we are able and ready to journey back, and will do so again and again. Recognizing this helped me see that we are all both brothers in this story. We all have times when we feel at home with and deeply connected to God, living in her house and abiding closely in her presence; but so too do we all stray and become alienated, distant and even dying to the love of God, and only later are we reborn into God’s love. The two sons represent all of us at different times in our faith journey, at time at home with and at time astray from God.
The second thing the passage helped me realize is how often I fear there won’t be enough. We live, culturally, in a scarcity mindset. We automatically assume that if more is given to someone else that must mean there will be less for us. But here God invites us to move into a mindset of abundance. The younger son returns home and asks directly for forgiveness and acceptance. In a sense, the older son hasn’t had reason to recognize the depth of his father’s love. He hasn’t yet been desperate, so he hasn’t yet asked for more from his father, even though he may desire it. The father here is like God from whom we can ask for as much as we need.
This reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with an Episcopal monk who was very dear to me. He explained that God loves each of us with all of God’s love. God’s love isn’t like a pie that gets evenly divided among us. We are each the recipient of all of God’s love. This is a very hard idea to get one’s head around, but I believe it is somehow exactly what Jesus’s parable means to convey.
Patience and Resolve
Vestry Members Claudia Barber and Barbara Gonzo, March 17, 2022
As we continue our Lenten journey, we are called to remember our past, our ancestors, and our history as Christians and as a parish community. We find connections in the readings for this Third Sunday of Lent: in Exodus, where God calls Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt; in I Corinthians, where St. Paul reassures the community of God’s faithfulness in providing a way to endure; and in the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus urges patience and resolve.
These are challenging times as we watch the struggle of the Ukrainian people and, yes, the Russian people. We pray that they may find enduring peace and freedom in their own lands.
Past and present vestries and our whole parish community at St. Ann’s have been challenged in far less significant ways to take up the mantle and lead in difficult periods. St. Ann’s Center for Restoration and the Arts was resident in our church from 1979 to 1999, when it moved to Dumbo and became St. Ann’s Warehouse. After its departure, the parish was tasked with building a stronger parish community. We since have expanded our outreach, restored the roofs over the side aisles of the church and completed the renovation of our Parish House, among other major projects. Like Moses, we may not have felt prepared to do these things, but we endured with patience and resolve.
Looking to the future, there is much more to do, including encouraging individual spiritual development, supporting the wider community, and committing to the restoration of the landmark church in which we worship. While we may feel we are not wholly prepared for the numerous tasks before us, we know our church and we feel confident that the vestry and the parish community together will find the way through the wilderness, with patience and resolve.
Vestry Member Elise Roecker, March 10, 2022
We are grateful that for the remainder of Lent individual members of the vestry of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity will offer reflections informed by the appointed scriptures and themes of the season.
The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent speak to the feeling that the world is against us, the individual, alone and abandoned. How can we go on when we are surrounded by obstacles on all sides? Even Jesus loses his patience in this week’s Gospel, saying, in effect, “I’m just doing my work! I’ll be done in three days! Will you all please calm down?”
We have all felt this way. When I agreed to serve as the chairperson of the Building & Grounds Committee in 2020, my second year on the vestry, I knew that we had a sacred space in dire need of much work, but I underestimated just how much attention it needed. Just as for some in this week’s readings, the task feels insurmountable. Abraham asks God, “How can this be possible?” He is not a young man; he has no children. How will he become the father of not one but three great religions? In our Gospel reading Jesus is exasperated with the people of Jerusalem. He heals and he teaches, and he wants to take them under his wing; yet the Pharisees tell him to flee for his life. How can he fulfill his purpose when he is blocked at every turn?
By comparison to Abraham and Jesus, our task is so minor as to seem trivial. And yet as we are faced with it, it seems gargantuan. How do we keep this building standing for another 175 years? Every time I feel that I understand the scope of our work another problem arises, and I am frustrated. I deeply feel our obligation to preserve this sacred work of art, this gift that prior generations have given to us. And so, the only the only option in the face of obstacles is to do what Abraham and Jesus did: square our shoulders, take a deep breath, and pray. We will follow the path God sets before us, walking one step at a time. We may not be the ones to complete the journey, but we will do our part to keep the story going.
Windows for Learning
The Rev. Dr. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, February 24, 2022
I’ve recently said yes to a request from friends in the administration at Saint Ann’s School to fill in as a history teacher for a 4th grade class for the rest of the school year. I just started this week. The curriculum is wide open, meant to give teachers a chance to introduce the idea of “doing history” to these students by focusing on things we personally find interesting. I decided, therefore, that we would begin our time together by learning about stained glass windows, particularly our wonderful Bolton windows. We’re exploring the history in the windows — the Bible stories and what they tell us about ancient Israel and the beginnings of Christianity — and the history of the windows: the history of stained glass, of the Bolton brothers, of the founding of Holy Trinity Church in 1847. For the second day of class, then, I brought them over to the church to see things firsthand.
I was surprised and pleased when two of the other history teachers, hearing about the plan, asked if they could come along to learn more about the church. And the kids had a great time: we learned some fun words like narthex and clerestory, we found student Isaac’s name in the Jesse tree windows, we enjoyed the colors spangling the floor and columns as the sun shone through. We gathered in front of the Nativity window for a close look at how many details of the story of Jesus’ birth are worked into the depiction. And I realized that I was replicating a Christian practice of the past thousand years or so: as they sketched details that grabbed their fancy, I was using the stained glass windows to teach Bible stories to those who had not read them. The passing on of such knowledge, whether for reasons of faith or just cultural importance, is a powerful benefit of this building. I hope you take advantage of such opportunities as well — it’s quite a heritage of faith we have here.
The Sacred Right to Vote
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, February 10, 2022
Most of us are familiar with the Beatitudes, or blessings, in Matthew’s Gospel (5:3-12) in which the status of the meek, merciful, pure of heart, and peacemakers are elevated. Also called the “Sermon on the Mount,” the elevation of the lowly is literally symbolized by the fact that Jesus says these words from a high place, which positions him closer to the heavens.
This week in the Lukan version of the Beatitudes, we see two key distinctions between Matthew and Luke. First, rather than eight (or some say nine) blessings, Luke’s Gospel has Jesus delivering four blessings and four “woes.” The blessings and woes depict a holy realm where everything that we think we know about privilege and power are reversed.
The second difference in Luke’s Beatitudes, often called the “Sermon on the Plain,” is the physical location of Jesus. Here, Jesus remains on a level plain, or level playing field, with the crowds. Rather than standing on a mountain to preach, Luke tells us that Jesus “looked up at his disciples” and delivered his sermon from below.
We all know that the world is not a level playing field, and nowhere is that fact more obvious in our democracy than in the field of voting rights. Technically, the 15th Amendment granted Black men the right to vote in 1870; and in 1920, the 19th Amendment extended it to all American women. Yet it would be many decades before we would put any teeth into those amendments. In May of 1865, Frederick Douglass famously said, “Slavery is not abolished until the Black man has the ballot.” A century later, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed. The result was to move us closer to the realm that Jesus described in which the powerless and the voiceless were empowered and given a voice.
And yet today, through various schemes, such as gerrymandered redistricting, unnecessary ID requirements (accompanied by false claims of widespread voter fraud), limiting polling sites in communities of color, voter intimidation, and many other tactics, the right to vote is under attack.
As a way to honor Black History Month, St. Ann’s Outreach Committee will host an online forum on February 28, from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm, bringing together legal strategists, advocates and theologians to discuss restoring and building on the gains we believed had been won. Voting is one of our most basic legal rights, and ensuring access to it is a sacred ministry that has deep roots in the Black Church, which anchored that movement throughout the 20th century. Now, in the 21st, all houses of worship should be sharing that weight.
Jesus tells us again and again — through the “Sermon on the Plain” and the “Sermon on the Mount” — that the playing field must be leveled in order to restore us to wholeness and be welcomed into his kingdom. Jesus stands in the midst of a great multitude, shoulder-to-shoulder with those in need of healing, calling us to break down the old, unlevel barriers that still challenge our church and nation.
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, February 4, 2022
New York City may dodge the worst of this week’s major weather event affecting many other parts of the country, but the storm that hit last weekend packed a punch. By Saturday morning, there were several inches of snow on the ground, but our sexton James White couldn’t travel, and our relief sexton, Paris Stokes, was sick, and when I headed over to the church to do some shoveling, I expected to go it alone.
I had barely gotten started when I was approached by a man with a shovel in his hand who asked if I needed help. I did not hesitate to say yes. He told me his name was Damon and the two of us got right to work.
The gospel passage appointed for this Sunday is Luke’s version of the calling of the disciples. We find Jesus near the end of Luke 4 beginning to teach and heal on his own, but it is not long before he seeks out company. Here in Luke 5, Jesus and his soon-to-be disciples are strangers who develop an instant trust in one another. Simon Peter wonders about but does not hesitate to heed Jesus’ suggestion to let down the fishing nets that had been used all day without success, and when he does, they are soon filled to the breaking point.
Damon appeared when he did and the two of us quietly persisted in our shared task for as long as it took to clear a path around the church. We succeeded in this discrete project which, whether I ever see him again, was a bonding experience for me.
I find it reassuring that Jesus sought out the company of strangers to pursue his ministry of proclaiming good news to all, an enduring project that has been entrusted to us in our time. The disciples, as we know, became friends Jesus loved to the end. The members of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity, who were once strangers, are fellow disciples now bound to one another and who continue to show up for each other and for the many we are committed to serving and supporting out of our abundance. Among the many blessings of life together in community, particularly in the darkest days of winter and amid intensifying loneliness caused by the pandemic, is knowing we don’t have to go it alone.
Seeing the Unseen
The Rev. Dr. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, January 27, 2022
“All lives matter!” is the conservative riposte to the slogan that has driven much work for racial justice and reconciliation over the past couple of years. And of course it is true: we are all God’s children, and all of our lives matter. But that is to miss the point: as the killings of Black people by police and vigilantes continue to plague our nation, the impetus of “Black Lives Matter” is to call attention to the fact that the overwhelmingly White power structures of this country have treated Black lives as if they didn’t matter for far too long.
In the same vein, then, we begin Black History Month next week. It is true that all human history is important, but this month’s celebration reminds us that the overwhelmingly White power structures of this country have for too long elided and ignored the history of Black people – just as March’s celebration of women’s history reminds us that the overwhelmingly male power structures have elided and ignored the history of women.
The past half-century has seen an explosion of work by scholars on many aspects of Black history. Personally, I’ve become quite intrigued by the economic history of slavery that has been opened up over the last fifteen years. We Christians are reminded by Paul that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) In order to achieve such unity, however, we must attend to the particularities of humankind, see that which has been made unseen, and dedicate ourselves to the need to actively include those who have historically been marginalized in our ongoing vision of the people of God.
Listen to Your Mother
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, January 20, 2022
Last week in John’s Gospel, Jesus (albeit reluctantly) obeys his mother’s orders and saves the wedding reception by changing water into wine. I’m sure the happy couple and all of the wedding guests were immensely relieved that Jesus listened to his mother!
This Sunday we jump back into Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus has come home to worship in his childhood synagogue. This is an important detail, since Luke is the only Gospel that includes details of Jesus as a child.
Here, we find the adult Jesus — quoting Isaiah, as he often does — giving a succinct, powerful sermon that encapsulates the essence of his ministry: bring good news to the poor, release the captives, recover sight to the blind, free the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
We can’t help but notice some parallels between his sermon and Mary’s words in The Magnificat, spoken while Jesus leapt in her womb. Mary proclaims that God scatters the proud, brings down the powerful from their thrones, lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry, sends the rich away empty, and has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
In his childhood synagogue, Jesus unveils the core of his identity: he shows us exactly who he is. Might we speculate that one of his most important teachers was his mother, and that his early formation was shaped by her similar vision of ministry, the stories she told him, and the life she lived?
In true Epiphany fashion, his mother also contributes to our recognition of Christ’s bright light, showing us who he is and where he came from. After all, other than God, who would know him better than his mother?
Becoming Beloved Community
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, January 13, 2022
Five years ago, in 2017, the Episcopal Church articulated a long term commitment to racial healing, reconciliation and justice. In naming this commitment Becoming Beloved Community, it employed a term coined by philosopher Josiah Royce and later popularized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For Dr. King, the beloved community described a society of justice, peace and harmony achieved through steadfast, faithful and non-violent engagement.
A number of initiatives have grown from this commitment: from the National Church’s Sacred Ground series, offered last spring at St. Ann’s, to our exploration of the parish’s historical ties to the slave economy.
This Sunday we hear of Christ’s first miracle: changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana. This miracle was instantaneous. Most take time, and work. All miracles are about change: God’s power to transform the world God has made and continues to make.
We’ll take part in an aspect of change on Sunday as we partner with Repair the World to serve the needs of our community (see below). We can also carry the spirit of beloved community into the new year in ways large and small. It is a powerful invitation not only from the Church, but from the Holy Spirit.
Dr. King spoke of the beloved community, and miracles, in this way:
But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men. MLK, Jr., from “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” 1956.
The Season of Epiphanies
The Rev. Canon John E. Denaro, Rector, January 7, 2022
We’ve crossed the threshold into a new year and, with yesterday’s celebration of the Epiphany, a new season. A small crowd of us gathered this week to mark this feast at our Wednesday evening Eucharist where we heard again the story of the wise folk following the star to the place of Jesus birth. Both Mo. Kate in her reflection last week and Fr. Craig in his sermon on Sunday referred to the joy and wonder of the Magi in their encounter with the Incarnate One. Fr. Craig also rightly pointed out that nowhere in scripture does it say that these faithful travelers were kings (or that there were three of them!), but I remain a fan of one tradition that grew out of the myth about these men.
Until recently, we’ve gathered after our Epiphany service to share a King Cake, a custom the recent Covid surge prevented us from indulging for a second year in a row. The fun of it is in one of us discovering the figurine of the Baby Jesus (or a coin, in our case) in her or his piece of cake. (Parishioners Carol Francescani and Colleen Heemeyer have both produced the simple and scrumptious confection over the years, with one excellent example pictured above.) We’ve made it a practice to crown that lucky person “Sovereign of St. Ann’s” for the coming year, an honorary title with no particular duties assigned. Baked into this somewhat silly ritual is a lesson about the prospect for joy in our continuing quest to know Jesus more fully.
Of course, after experiencing the ultimate “a-ha” moment in coming face to face with Jesus, the journey of the Magi continued beyond the manger along a road as full of twists and turns as the one before us now. In addition to navigating our certain personal challenges through the persisting pandemic is the great work of healing our deepening political and social divisions, which the first anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol and on our democracy yesterday reminds us we cannot ignore.
The Church identifies the Epiphany as not one, but three manifestations of Jesus to the world represented by the wise folk as well as the witnesses to Jesus’ baptism and his first miracle at a wedding in Cana. This gives me hope that while our journey of faith in the season ahead will not be a piece of cake, it holds the promise of discovering God in unexpected places and seeing Jesus in the masked and unmasked faces of our neighbors, the epiphanies or a-ha moments that spur us on in humble and joy-filled service.
A New Star
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, December 30, 2021
Strange, bright flowers bloomed this week in St. Ann’s garden – mahonia japonica. They do not typically blaze out like this until late January, and their early arrival may signal climate change. But it is hard not to celebrate them.
St. Ann’s volunteer gardener, Elizabeth Michel, loves their scent – like Lemon Pledge (in a good way). Jacqueline de Weever was inspired to write a little diddy (see below).
When I rounded the corner and saw them, tall and resplendent, I thought of the Christmas star. We celebrate its rising this Sunday: a herald of the good news of God in Christ. It’s as though our garden has produced the pageant that we could not this year.
When the magi reach the resting place of the star, and come face to face with Jesus, they are overcome with joy. They fall to their knees. With an outpouring of generosity, they offer the best of what they have to God. What a posture in which to begin a new year.
I’ve done my best to take a page from their book today. I went online this morning and completed my pledge for 2021. I made a new pledge for 2022. I took time to appreciate the radiance in our garden: a beacon and invitation to everyone who finds themself on a journey with God.
why this early bloom?
Your yellow petals open wide
to swallow up our gloom.
This mild December
sparks your splendor
scents the air
with your perfume.
Jacqueline de Weever
Light and Wonder
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, December 23, 2021.
We are one day into winter on this side of the solstice, and however imperceptible (in this hemisphere at least), we can expect more light than darkness in the days ahead. As the sun sets tomorrow, we will be filled with the light and wonder of another Christmas – and not a moment too soon!
Since I last wrote to you, it has become clear that I cannot attend Christmas worship in person. By yesterday, it became painfully obvious to Mo. Kate and me that, given the risks, it is inadvisable to host a family service and children’s pageant this year. There will be no community caroling and just one scaled down Christmas Eve service at 8:30 pm at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity, with limited congregational singing. I will participate remotely. The service will be live-streamed for those who wish to attend online. If you can, show up or tune in as early as 8:20 pm for an extended prelude of Christmas music for organ and trombone.
My own and many of your plans for this holiday season have been upended, and what are we to do? We can thank God that Christmas will still come and we are still here. We can celebrate the joy we discover in unexpected ways and places. And we can welcome the saving light delivered in the Christ child that breaks through the darkness of our days offering hope for the generations.
May you and your loved ones have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! And may we all carry our joy into the season of challenge and promise ahead.
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, December 16, 2021
This week we read a portion of Luke’s Gospel that contains The Magnificat, also called The Song (or Canticle) of Mary. Its name comes from the first word of the prayer in Latin (“Magnificat anima mea Dominum,” or “My soul magnifies the Lord”). It is one of our oldest hymns, having been recited and sung in the Church and in religious orders for centuries. (For evidence of the strong thread connecting ancient Jewish prayers to ours, compare The Song of Hannah in I Samuel 2:1-10, composed around 550 BCE, to the language of The Magnificat.)
The Magnificat is both beautiful and subversive. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor/resister murdered by the Nazis, said “The Song of Mary…is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung.” It has been widely embraced by oppressed people throughout history; most recently, by the mothers of the “disappeared” in parts of Central and South America. It is a song of reversals, upending the power structure. God scatters the proud in their conceit, casts down the mighty from their thrones, lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty. It’s no wonder that oppressive regimes have long tried to silence the faithful from singing its verses.
It is also the longest passage spoken by a woman in the Christian scriptures: a particularly stunning reality given that this woman is an unmarried, pregnant teenage girl. Moved by the Spirit, Elizabeth — Mary’s older relative — continues this social reversal by embracing Mary instead of shaming her, welcoming, blessing and celebrating her, and taking her in for three months.
Elizabeth will soon give birth to John the Baptizer, and the child leaps in her womb at the sound of Mary’s voice: a clear sign that the Incarnate God is near, and also, I believe, a reflection of the loving bond between these women, and a crucial foreshadowing of the significant relationship between Jesus and John that is to come.
Hearing the voices of women in the Bible is often like detective work. Women, enslaved people, and other outcasts are largely silenced. Yes, on occasion we hear a few words from them — the Syrophoenician and Samaritan women, the disabled men crying out to Jesus, an accused adulteress — and these passages are like finding buried treasure. But generally, we must “read beneath the text,” look for clues, listen to the many male voices and try to imagine who else is in the room.
But this week, we hear a rich, full conversation and proclamation from two holy women who are central to our salvation history, and that is very good news indeed!
The Rev. Dr. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, December 9, 2021
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Philippians 4:4
The season of Advent was designed to echo Lent: a time of preparation, through self-examination and penitence, for a great celebration of God’s love in Jesus Christ. And thus as Lent is broken once, on the fourth Sunday of the season, as a reminder that the preparation is aimed at the joy of Easter, so Advent’s penitential practices are suspended once as well, on the third Sunday. These two dates are known as Laetere Sunday in Lent and Gaudete Sunday in Advent – both words being Latin for “rejoice.” The purple or blue vestments for these seasons may be set aside for rose-colored garb, to call attention to this change. Few churches actually have rose vestments, however, so in Lent this change is not very obvious. In Advent, however, we have one clear marker before us: the Advent wreath that features one pink/rose candle among the four.
So we are called this Sunday to remember what we are preparing for – perhaps not, however, the same thing that our consumer culture thinks! The gifts, the meals, the trees and ornaments, the tinsel both metaphoric and literal that festoons the season, are all meant to be expressions of the joy we feel at Christ’s coming into the world. Let us take a moment, then, this week and this Sunday, to set all the hustle and bustle aside and feel, in our heart of hearts, God’s love. That, too, is a form of self-examination: in the darkest time of year, in all our troubles and sorrows and fears, can we don rose-colored glasses and celebrate the evidence of God’s presence and love? Paul has it right: again, I say, rejoice!
Business as (Un)usual
The Rev. Canon John E. Denaro, Rector, December 3, 2021
The Gospel text for the Second Sunday of Advent each year features John the Baptist crying in the wilderness to herald the coming of the Messiah and acting deliberately and urgently to proclaim a new era.
Advent II is also the Sunday on which the parish annual meeting at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church is held, which can seem mundane in comparison. But our work at this gathering is not now or ever business as usual. This year as every year, we are intentional in organizing the gathering in part because it is our legal obligation as a religious corporation to hold the meeting. But each year that we engage in the business of the church this way, it is principally so that we can coalesce around a renewed vision for mission and remind ourselves that this time, like all time, requires urgent action for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the pandemic era, our church has faced the added challenge (or advantage) of having to be light on our feet and adaptive to change. Last year we took the unprecedented step of holding our annual meeting entirely on Zoom. This year we can gather in person again to take on our work, and those who cannot be present are welcome and encouraged to attend by the livestream – another first!
In this season of great expectation and new hope, even amid our enduring challenges, we too are heralds of the coming Savior with John the Baptist. It is once again a blessed privilege for me to recall where we’ve been and turn toward the future with you unusually dear people who are primed to act in love for good!
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, November 24, 2021
Thanksgiving is at the heart of our faith. The Eucharist draws its very name from the Greek eucharistia, which means gratitude. Specific prayers of thanksgiving are enumerated in our Book of Common Prayer beginning on page 836, and every service of worship has an aspect of giving thanks.
Faith is also at the heart of every Thanksgiving; gratitude expresses not just admiration (or relief) but relationship.
If you find yourself charged with offering prayer this week, you might draw from the many prayers in our tradition. You could speak from the heart or invite a moment of silence to reacquaint yourself with the ever present, ever generous Spirit of God. Thanksgiving is a moment to recalibrate our perspective, to gather in peace, and to rest for a moment in the love at the heart of the world.
Blessings to you in this week of thanksgiving,
A General Thanksgiving (1979 Version)
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, November 11, 2021
Shortly after moving to Brooklyn Heights in 2007, I remember discovering the Brooklyn War Memorial in Cadman Plaza and being moved by the closing lines of its inscription:
To the heroic men and women of the Borough of Brooklyn…May their sacrifice inspire future generations and lead to universal peace.
America celebrates Veterans Day on November 11. In other parts of the world, this is known as Armistice Day because it was on this day in 1918 that World War I Allies signed a peace agreement with Germany securing the end of the Great War. After years of unprecedented fighting, where nearly 10 million soldiers from 30 countries were killed, November 11, 1918, promised universal peace. This day still carries that hope.
Tonight, St. Ann’s hosts a diocesan-wide service of Evening Prayer honoring veterans. Earlier in the day, children will participate in a day of service here. This is done to honor not only those who have died but all who have served to protect and preserve the peace.
John McCrae (1872-1918), a Canadian soldier, in 1915 wrote a poem In Flanders Fields describing poppies growing wild among soldiers’ graves. Written at the height of World War I, shortly after McCrae had buried a friend, the poem describes veterans’ legacy of service. To me, it also speaks of resurrection hope.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Going the Distance
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, November 4, 2021
It’s especially hopeful to anticipate the upcoming Marathon Sunday after a “gap year” for the race caused by the pandemic.
I loved this week’s New York Times article about the one runner in this year’s 50th NYC Marathon who ran in the first NYC marathon. Larry Trachtenberg, who grew up in Long Island City and lives in Eugene, Oregon, was a high school senior when he joined 176 others in the 26.2-mile event in 1970. At the time, he had mostly run 2-mile-long courses, and yet he completed that marathon with a 32nd place finish. This year he will be among 33,000 other runners in what he says should be, but likely won’t be, his last marathon.
The marathon remains a great metaphor for the life of faith and most of our experience of living. The greatest goals we set for ourselves require stamina, discipline and patience to achieve. We do best to measure our success in stages and celebrate the milestones we reach in pursuit of a dream. We may be tested and suffer setbacks and challenges along the way and find we need to employ emotional and spiritual inner resources to go the distance.
In the Times article, race director, Ted Metellus, who grew up in the Bronx and is the first Black person to fill the role, emphasizes the big picture, explaining that the marathon’s 50-year legacy has to do with more than just the runners. He says, “It’s the volunteers, it’s the community, it’s the partners.”
This resonates deeply for us, as the NYC Marathon coincides with All Saints Sunday, a celebration of our communion with a great cloud of witnesses, the faithful who have gone before us and now rest from their labors, and who, I believe, cheer us on from the sidelines of the race of faith that continues for each of us.
Through the monumental challenges of these days, we’ll go the distance to the finish lines of our numerous personal and collective marathons with the discipline of prayer, trust in God’s grace and mercy and the support of the saints in heaven and on earth, among whom surely are the past and present members of the community of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity.
Creation Care: The Greatest Commandment
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, October 28, 2021
Mark’s Gospel this week conveys a message we’ve all heard many times. We are to love God with all that we are and with all that we have; and then, we shall love our neighbor as ourselves. These two commandments are above all others. But how are we to fully demonstrate that love? Sacrifices and burnt offerings? No, Jesus says, that’s not it.
God created us, this world (and beyond), and everything in it. So one of the best ways to honor and show our love for God is to treat God’s creation, and its creatures, as precious and holy. Yes, our worship and songs of praise matter; but if we bring our sacrifices and offerings to the altar without the true acts of love toward God and all that God has created, our offerings are empty gestures.
What is most precious to you in this world? What do you hold with the most care and gentleness in your hands and heart? It is likely your child, your spouse, or as we learn each year on the Feast of St. Francis, perhaps a loyal, furry companion. Everyone and everything that we love is intrinsically connected to our environment, and we must begin to approach God’s Creation with the same tenderness and love that we give to our beloveds.
This Sunday at St. Ann’s we will welcome our diocesan Missioner for Environmental Justice, Fr. Matthew Moore. He and I will host a discussion after church on the Care of Creation, how it is central to our Christian faith, and what we can do to live into our commandments more deeply. Put aside your despair, keep faith in what is possible, and join us. For with God, all things are possible.
Recognition, Reconciliation and Justice
The Rev. Dr. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, October 21, 2021
This week I held an official launch event on Zoom for the project I’m overseeing as Historian-in-Residence for Racial Justice for the Diocese of Long Island (as I announced in an eblast last spring!): the study of the involvement of parishes in our diocese with slavery and the slavery-driven economy. There are 34 churches that existed prior to the Civil War, and I hope to get all of them – over the next three years – to do the research the students and I did last year. (See the results here and here.) Tuesday evening’s event was informational for anyone who wanted to attend, and I was able to tell those who did that there are four churches already engaged with me about this work – and I’ve since heard about one more! It was all very exciting.
I’ll talk to anyone anytime about this work: about the fascination and tragedy involved in this research, about the importance of knowing and acknowledging this difficult history, about the ways it can feed our energy to work for racial justice among God’s people. And most importantly, what I want to convey is that this is not about bashing our forebears or our nation. We need to be honest – slavery has been socially acceptable in many times and ways, not just here – but it has never been morally defensible. We need to acknowledge the ways the White people of this nation exploited Black people, treated them with cruelty, and carried a power advantage into the present day. What makes our nation great, in my view, is our ability to call ourselves to account, to see anew the principles we claim, and to try once again to live up to them.
We Christians, who live by a relationship of sin and forgiveness with our God, should be among those leading this process. I hope that we at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity can continue our conversation about what we’ve learned, partner with those who are engaged in that learning now, and together lead a movement in our diocese for recognition, reconciliation, and justice. I look forward eagerly to seeing where this takes us!
The Waters of Baptism
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, October 14, 2021
At the end of the Creation story, the Book of Genesis describes four rivers that flow from the Garden of Eden to the far corners of the earth. Nahar is the Hebrew word used here for river. It also means to shine and to be radiant. Just like the light God calls forth in the beginning, this water goes forth to give life to the world.
Baptism initiates the Christian life. Water, of course, is essential to its practice. Baptism can be contemplated in many ways, but I often remember these rivers – their source at the heart of creation, their continual self-offering and exuberance. In baptism, we take part in their movement.
Since its earliest practice the preference for water used at baptism is that it be fresh and flowing – in Biblical terms, living water. Jesus was baptized in a river and in our churches, water is ceremoniously poured into the basin to gurgle and splash before it is blessed, recalling its origins as a flowing stream.
I have read that a life of faith should be like a freshwater stream: full of life, continually in motion, neither enlarged nor diminished when someone chooses to draw a cup.
It is a special gift to celebrate baptisms in church. This Sunday, our community celebrates that four children, Emma, Luna, Eva-Sofia and Lila, are to be baptized at St. Ann’s Family Church service in the Peace Garden. We are thrilled by these new beginnings in our midst, by the opportunity to renew our own baptismal vows, and to imagine the future of our shared life in faith.
In the Name of These
The Rev. Canon John E. Denaro, Rector, October 7, 2021
There are 82 million forcibly displaced people in the world, more than at any time in history. Nearly half of these individuals are children.
There is an ongoing migration crisis also, not just at our southern border but around the globe, as unprecedented numbers of people flee poverty, political instability, and the effects of climate change in search of a better life.
The Episcopal Church has assisted those seeking safety from war and persecution or the chance for a new life since the 1880’s. In the 1930’s parishes around the country joined forces to provide for steamship passage for refugees fleeing Nazism in Europe. The poster here with the image of the Holy Family in flight was created in 1938 in the Diocese of Southern Ohio to connect our faith story to this effort. It reads: “In the name of these refugees, aid all refugees through interest, friendship, gifts.” The image became the logo first for the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief and then for Episcopal Migration Ministries.
We are followers of Jesus who became a refugee as a child. In his name, we should strive to do all we can to support and protect refugees and migrants.
I am grateful that a group of local parishes has begun a conversation about assisting some in the wave of Afghan refugees that will be resettled in the U.S. in the coming months. And I am thrilled that St. Ann & the Holy Trinity will host a one-week run of the play, Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes), highlighting stories of the many who have experienced the challenge of migrating to our country. (See details in the announcement below.)
As you’ve heard often, one of the symbols for St. Ann is a door, and it follows then that extending welcome and hospitality should be a hallmark of our church. Knowing we are not alone in our concern for the great numbers of people seeking safety and a new life, we’ll commit ourselves to accompany those we can on their journey.
God’s Creation and Us,
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, September 30, 2021
This week’s Gospel, is a continuation of Jesus’ message that we must receive the kingdom of God as a little child. Jesus teaches the disciples that the awe and wonder of seeing the world through a child’s eye is a holy thing indeed, and that their world must be protected at all costs.
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and in many churches, a big part of this observance is the Blessing of the Animals. For most of the children in our parishes, this is one of the most fun Sundays in the church year, perhaps second only to the chocolate overload of Easter Sunday! Bringing our pets and stuffed animals to church is a lovely tradition, but the Feast of St. Francis signifies much more. It is a celebration of the beauty of God’s Creation, a reminder of our deep connections to and reverence for it, and our stewardship of it.
As we hear Jesus telling us to embrace our childlike faith, we can’t avoid confronting our failed stewardship of this planet, and its impact on these “little ones” and their future. The unprecedented frequency and intensity of recent storms has overwhelmed us. Hurricane Ida killed over 50 people in the Northeast, and over a dozen in New York City, largely in overcrowded basement apartments predominantly occupied by immigrants and people of color. I never thought I would live to see a day when my neighbors would drown in their own homes.
Climate change is the domino that knocks into every other problem, and it takes advantage of our weaknesses. Exorbitant housing costs result in overcrowded and dangerous dwellings, and when the deadly storms come, the most vulnerable are hurt. Air pollution increases asthma rates, especially in children. Rising sea levels and devastating storms batter places like the Caribbean and Central America, destabilizing governments, destroying homes and agriculture, resulting in waves of climate refugees.
So let us heed the words of our Savior and look to our holy innocents as motivation to turn around this threat to God’s creation: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, September 17, 2021
Fall is here! I know many families are excited to get back to school. At St. Ann’s, we’re excited for the start of a new program year too, as our educational ministries get underway. (The clergy are so excited that we decided to share some of our own school photos, above.)
The Sunday lectionary provides a perfect text for the return of Sunday School this week, as Jesus says to his disciples, “Whoever welcomes a child in my name, welcomes me” (Mark 9:37). To me, this comparison is less about age than it is about curiosity. It’s a bold image of God, charged with potential.
This season is an invitation to explore big questions, ancient wisdom and fresh information. We are blessed to be in a parish that is serious about spiritual and intellectual growth. St. Ann’s has rich opportunities for adult formation this fall, from tomorrow’s film screenings on Evolving Perspectives on Race to Fr. Craig’s series on The Exodus Tradition, to Libby Schrader’s October 1 concert and discussion of groundbreaking feminist theology.
No matter our age, we are invited to be students this fall. This effort to love God with all of our minds also tends to keep us young at heart.
The Rev. Canon John E. Denaro, Rector, September 10, 2021
It is difficult to fathom that the terror attacks on our nation on September 11, 2001, took place 20 years ago, and that a generation of Americans has grown up in a post-9/11 world. Though these years have moved us further from the tragedy of that day, anniversaries have a way of bringing us back to the event, in mind and heart.
We’ve moved through multiple other national and international crises in the last two decades, and we are in the midst of several others now, including a global pandemic. I find that as the ground continues to shift under our feet, we remain steady and achieve some measure of healing by pursuing opportunities to build community.
Nothing has reassured me more in the decade I have been at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity than the annual commemoration of 9/11 by the Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association. Within the “Borough of Churches,” our neighborhood is home to Christian congregations, synagogues, a Quaker meeting house and Dawood Masjid, the oldest mosque in New York State. My local colleagues are often challenged to coordinate schedules for shared events, but each year the 9/11 service on the Brooklyn Promenade that began on the first anniversary of the attacks is enthusiastically supported and attended by virtually all of us and many members of our respective congregations and the wider community.
The vision of all of us gathered each year and again tomorrow evening brings to mind words of encouragement from St. Paul to a community in conflict, in his Letter to the Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” As Americans, we engaged in mutual support for first responders and one another in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but it was not long before our individual and collective wounds caused division among us, an experience that seems to play out with each new tragedy we face as a nation. As Christians we must do everything possible with people of faith and all of our fellow citizens to counter this tendency and advance God’s dream of a Beloved Community committed to justice and peace.
A great tradition of the 9/11 commemoration on the promenade is the sounding of the shofar by the longtime leader of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, Rabbi Serge Lippe, at the conclusion of the ceremony. The shofar is a ram’s horn customarily played on Jewish high holidays to signify mourning or celebration. As we hear it again tomorrow, it will signify both mourning of the great losses of 9/11 that the nation continues to grieve, and celebration of the hope we rediscover in coming together as a diverse group bound in mutual support, respect and love.
Touching the Untouchables
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, June 24, 2021
Physical contact has always been central to our Christian faith, but throughout the centuries, there have also been rules about who we should and should not touch. The same was true, even more rigidly so, in the Israel of Jesus’ day, which makes his healing ministry that much more stunning. The people were awed by the miracles themselves, but also shocked by those whom Jesus was willing to touch: lepers, foreigners, outcasts, public sinners, people of other religious beliefs, the sick, and many others branded as untouchable, especially hemorrhaging women. Some feared contracting physical illness, but the bigger fear was that touching could transmit spiritual uncleanness and immorality.
This week’s Gospel from Mark is one of many examples where Jesus is willing to traverse borders of strict religious customs. He puts love over man-made directives. And even when Jesus is not the initiator of the touch, the power of his healing love abides. When the woman hemorrhaging blood stretches out to touch his cloak, she doesn’t ask permission. Jesus is startled by this, but nonetheless admires her determination, chutzpah and faith, and she is healed.
COVID-19 caused us to pause the many healing prayer ministries across our diocese. The deprivation of human contact overall is probably one of the biggest spiritual fatalities of the pandemic. People who seek healing prayers understand that the laying on of hands is not a lay or ordained person performing a “magic trick.” But through the Spirit’s power, our physical contact with each other conveys our love, and our deep desire for another’s wellness, which is healing indeed. As we slowly, cautiously reopen and find ourselves in more physical contact, Mark’s Gospel reminds us how healing that really is.
Carrying Truth Forward
The Rev. Dr. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, June 17, 2021
Many of you watched the presentation that several Saint Ann’s School students and I made on May 23 on our research into the complicity of the original St. Ann’s Church and Church of the Holy Trinity in the institution of slavery and its economic benefits, and more of you have since watched the recording of that presentation that is available here. Jesus said to his disciples, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” It is disturbing to learn the truth about our past as a congregation – that many of our founders were slaveowners, and that many profited from slavery-driven commodities such as cotton, sugar, and tobacco – but knowing that truth should set us free to face it, address it, and carry it forward with us in our ongoing work for racial justice.
This week, I presented a first draft of my final report on this topic to the parish vestry, which began what I’m sure will be rich and difficult conversations as a congregation about how we want to carry our history and our truth forward. One next step that I am excited to announce is that the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island has named me Historian-in-Residence for Racial Justice, a half-time position beginning this fall. I will work with other congregations in the diocese that existed before the Civil War to undertake this same research, to pursue the truth of their complicity in and benefit from the institution of slavery. I will also be looking for ways that the members of these congregations, as well as in ours, may have worked to end slavery. My work is likely to expand to an investigation of parishes founded in the 20th century that may have legacies related to white flight, sundown towns, and other forms of racial injustice.
One of my students said that investigating this history was his form of social justice activism. I will gladly claim that characterization, and I hope it will inspire all of us to fulfill our Baptismal Covenant promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
Sing, Pray, Give
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, June 10, 2021
It has been a source of joy for all of us to be able to sing in church again over the past month, and it has brought to mind the heartening expression, “Singing is praying twice.” Authorship of the phrase long attributed to St. Augustine continues to be debated, but I stand by the notion.
A variation on this theme at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity this summer is, “Listening is giving twice.” Beginning today and continuing weekly on Thursdays at 6:00 pm through September 2, St. Ann’s will host a concert series that will once again give an array of local musicians the opportunity to perform in public, but this year also benefits our Pop-up Pantry, which marks a year in operation this month! More than 9000 people were provided meals through our pantry in the last year, and our church is committed to keeping the pantry doors open. But the funds we have set aside are not sufficient to meet the persistent needs of our guests.
Our pantry has succeeded in serving our neighbors in need this long because of the outpouring of vast donations of food and generous financial contributions by community members, including many of you. Through our Summer Concert Series, friends of St. Ann’s can enjoy some great music performances while helping to sustain our vital ministry. You’ll find details in the announcement for tonight’s concert featuring 15-year-old banjo player and singer, Nora Brown.
Here also is news of partner events that will fill our sanctuary with music in the coming days and weeks, including a not-to-be-missed concert by the Queens Symphony Orchestra coming to our borough and church to offer a program featuring our own director of music, Gregory D’Agostino, on organ this Saturday.
After the struggles and losses we’ve faced over the last year and more, we can embrace the gifts of praying, singing and giving together in our sanctuary and rejoice in their multiple benefits.
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, June 4, 2021
From the Daily Office to the Liturgical Calendar, the Church has always found ways of marking time. Our calendar has seven seasons, oriented around feasts (Christmas, Easter) or their anticipation (Lent, Advent). An exception is the season in which we find ourselves now, called Ordinary Time.
Expressed liturgically in the color green, Ordinary Time is the field in which our other seasons are set. It is not called “ordinary” because it is not special, or even precious. Ordinary as in ordinal numbers, refers simply to the act of marking time. In our tradition this can be holy work: “Teach us to count our days,” writes the Psalmist, “that we main gain a wise heart.” (Psalm 90:12)
One of my favorite meditations on time comes from Joseph Mazur in his book, The Clock Mirage: Our Myth of Measured Time. Mazur reflects on his first summer job, back in the 1950s. He was fifteen, working at his uncle’s silkscreen business in midtown Manhattan.
Time in that shop stood still for most of every day. “Why?” I asked myself. “Why did the hands of the clock not budge when I looked at them, and move when I didn’t?”
Other innocent questions surfaced, followed by some answers. Why time fools us, sometimes contracting and sometimes dilating. Why it speeds with age, at the end of a vacation or on beautiful days at the beach. Why it slows down at the beginning of a trip, in an emotional change, when waiting for a boring lecture to end or for water in a pot to boil…
I still don’t have all the answers, but time and I have come to a mutual understanding. I now give it my attention. It pays me back with a headwind against going gently into that good night of my being’s end.
Time does like attention.
Sometimes ordinary time is the best time. I am glad to be spending it together, in our community of faith.
Toward Truth and Unity
The Rev. Marie Tatro, Priest Associate at St. Ann’s and diocesan Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, May 28, 2021
Within the Gospel this Sunday is John 3:16, seen behind the goal posts in many football games: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” But perhaps football fans should edit the sign to “JOHN 3:16-17,” because the next verse contextualizes it: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” On its own, verse 16 might seem to exclude non-believers who are doomed to perish, denied eternal life. But verse 17 pivots toward Jesus’ open arms.
This week’s Gospel passage, as a whole, lifts up the unity of the Three Persons in one God on Trinity Sunday. As Trinitarians, we strive to mirror that unity in our own lives when we proclaim that we are the One Body of Christ, held together by God’s love for us.
Last week on Pentecost Sunday, Fr. Craig and Saint Ann’s School students brought to light associations with slavery and slaveholding in our church and invited us to reckon with our past in meaningful ways. Then on Tuesday our parish hosted a Vigil for Justice on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death where we reflected on the present-day reverberations of our racist history, from state violence against Black and Brown bodies, to the disparate impacts of COVID-19. The by-products of our history are evidenced all around us.
The impulse to see the face of God in George Floyd, and countless others, was expressed by millions all over the world this past week. We can’t stop there. We look toward the unity of the Holy Trinity to help us chart a course toward truth, and a beloved and unified community.
The Power of the Spirit
The Rev. Canon John Denaro, Rector, May 21, 2021
The scriptures for Pentecost Sunday reveal a few of the many dimensions of the Holy Spirit at work among us sustaining our life in community.
On Pentecost, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the apostles that moved them out of the shuttered upper room where there were gathered and into the streets of Jerusalem where they proclaimed God’s deeds of power, as recounted in Acts 2. As the Spirit descended in tongues of flame upon them, the followers of Jesus found their voice and could communicate with people from many nations in the native language of each.
The story in Acts marks the fulfillment of Jesus’s promise to the disciples in John 15 to send the Advocate, who he describes as “the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father [and] will testify on my behalf,” adding, “You also are to testify.”
Animated by the Spirit of truth, this coming week we will confront the past relationship to slavery at St. Ann’s Church and the Church of the Holy Trinity, with help from Fr. Craig Townsend and the Saint Ann’s School students he guided through a research project this year; and, with our bishop, we will we mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd.
On each occasion, we will do our best to find our voice and name our part in the perpetuation of systems of oppression and commit ourselves to the restorative change to which we are called by the Spirit as witnesses to the Good News in Jesus Christ.
We’ll do well to remember St. Paul’s assurance in Romans 8 of another manifestation of the Spirit who “intercedes with sighs too deep for words” when we don’t know how to pray about the painful realities we face in our lives, in the Church and all around us.
In our pursuit of God’s justice, whether we find our voice or not, we go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit!
The Rev. Dr. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, May 14, 2021
At the 2006 General Convention, the Episcopal Church’s national leadership gathering, a resolution was adopted that called on all Episcopal congregations to explore whether they had a history of complicity in the institution of slavery and of deriving economic benefits from that institution. Under our current Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, the national church has renewed that call as part of its Becoming Beloved Community campaign. And the past eighteen months’ rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the accompanying resurgence of awareness of continued white privilege, forms of white supremacy, and violence and prejudice toward Black Americans by white-dominated structures and populations, raises this question with ever-greater urgency: For St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church to participate with truth and credibility in racial justice action, shouldn’t it first be aware of its own historic participation in the foundations of racial injustice in this nation?
As many of you have heard, I have spent this academic year working with six students at Saint Ann’s School to research the ways in which the original St. Ann’s Church (founded in 1784, when slavery was still legal in New York) and Holy Trinity Church (founded in 1847, twenty years after slavery became illegal) were connected to slavery and slavery-driven economies (cotton, sugar, tobacco, etc.). It is shocking to discover how deeply entwined these churches were with slavery, and it is even more shocking to learn how deeply slavery permeated every aspect of life in New York City and Brooklyn. We are bringing our research to a close, and I look forward to presenting our findings to the parish on May 23, Pentecost Sunday. (See details below.) We need to acknowledge our history, lament and respond to it, and then decide how to become active in our Church’s call to become “repairers of the breach,” working for reconciliation and justice. I look forward to those conversations.
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.