Friends, we invite you to share with us in the creation of a Prayer Tree in the Chapel of Trinity Church!
In the autumn of 2019 – just prior to quarantine! – Chuck and I traveled to Wales. Our destination was the ancient Cathedral at St. David’s, Wales. After landing in London, in our rental car, we made a rapid stop in Avebury, England. We visited massive neolithic standing stones at the Avebury Henge and Stone Circles (https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/avebury/history/).
At the Avebury Village parish church – in the middle of these ancient monuments – we found the door open. We also found a lovely prayer tree blooming with pink hearts! Each heart contains a prayer – a name of a beloved, living or deceased; a prayer held closely to someone’s heart.
St. James Avebury has been a house of prayer for 1500 years. It was a departure point for pilgrims journeying to Santiago de Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem. I could feel centuries of prayer in that place. As you can see from our tourist photos, the prayer tree is a sacred thing of beauty and memory. We added our own names and prayers, and it felt like a lovely, healing offering to God!
Creative, artistic spirits here at Trinity are helping us build our own Prayer Tree – and it will take each of us to bring it to life! As you know, our Chapel is open for individual prayer. You will find colorful construction-paper hearts - and yarn with which to tie the hearts onto tree branches. We invite you to write your prayer – a name, a concern, a memory, a longing – and tie it to the tree.
Our tree will be available on Valentine’s Day! Invite a friend or neighbor to add a prayer. As we journey together in this season, our prayers will grow and blossom … and our Trinity Prayer Tree will bloom with love and spirit!
Wednesday, February 17th is Ash Wednesday, the traditional threshold into the season of Lent. With Christians around the world, we enter into the holy season of Lent with penitence to prepare our hearts and lives for Holy Week. Ashes have long been an outward and visible sign of an inner spiritual reflection on our mortality, our human limitations and failings.
This year, Ash Wednesday falls just after Valentine’s Day, a powerful reminder of our need for God’s all-encompassing love for us. One of the Hebrew Scripture readings assigned by our Lectionary for Ash Wednesday is taken from the book of Joel. God implores us: “Return to me with all your heart.” (Joel 2: 12) Together, let us return to God on Ash Wednesday, God who is longing to welcome us home.
Trinity Episcopal Church will offer two ways to cross this ritual threshold into Lent on Ash Wednesday.
First, at 12:00 noon on our Labyrinth, we will offer an outdoor and socially-distanced prayer and ‘touchless sprinkling’ of ashes on our heads. Permit me to remind you that the imposition of ashes is considered optional according to our Book of Common Prayer. We can meditate upon our penitence and mortality without wearing ashes upon our body.
Apparently, sprinkling of ashes on the head is a more ancient practice than making the sign of the cross on the forehead! So, to be safe, this year, we will return to this more ancient practice.
Second, we will offer a live-streaming Ash Wednesday Service at 6:00 pm on Wednesday, February 17h. Please join us in heart and mind and spirit as we pray together! When we arrive at the place in the liturgy for the imposition of ashes (p. 265 Book of Common Prayer) we will offer instead moments of quiet reflection. We will invite you - in your own homes - to your own individual observance on mortality and penitence.
“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church,
to the observance of a holy Lent …”
Tonight, we celebrate Epiphany, the coming of the Light. God knows, this day, we need light. We need revelation! Matthew tells of wise men following a star - to the revelation that is the Christ Child. At one church I served, the children presented an Epiphany Pageant every year in January. It was a wonderful, family-friendly play. Carpenters built up a stable in front of the Altar.
The young people acted out the drama of the Holy Family and 3 exotic Kings who come bearing gifts. We sang the beloved carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” There is mystery and magic. The Disney version, appropriate for all ages. Perhaps you, too, as a child, dressed up in a bathrobe and a Burger King crown and processed down an aisle carrying chocolate gold coins, fake frankincense or myrrh.
The hymn ‘We Three Kings’ was written in 1857 by an Episcopal rector named John Henry Hopkins, Jr. We think he wrote it for a Christmas pageant he directed at General Theological Seminary in New York. It’s perfect for little people wearing bathrobes for costumes processing solemnly down the aisle.
O Star of Wonder, Star of Night,
Star with Royal Beauty bright,
Guide us to Thy perfect Light.
Now, Singer Patti Smith – a punk rock artist – has a slightly different version, a darker version of this beloved carol. She sings the verses of the carol in a haunting voice, a minor key. But she also includes - as a reading – between the verses – other parts of Matthew’s story.
The part where Herod separates children from their families, where he murders children to get rid of baby Jesus. Patty Smith gives us the R rated version of the same story, which should come with trigger warnings. The adult version of the Epiphany Pageant has spies, evil, madness, the quest for power, weapons of massive destruction.
We Three Kings of Orient Are. Who are these guys, the Magi? Scholars tell us they were probably not kings. Instead, they were followers of ancient wisdom traditions, likely from Persia. We think they were Zoroastrian priests from Persia. Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest religions in the world, the official religion of Persia – now Iran - before Islam.
These priests Interpret dreams, tell fortunes, read horoscopes, study astrology. The prophet they follow – Zoroaster - also miraculously born to a virgin. Like Jesus, Zoroaster started his ministry at age of 30, after being tempted by Satan. Zoroastrian priests believed they could find other miraculous births – other prophets - by reading the stars.
We Three Kings of Orient Are. As Matthew tells it, these three sages discover and follow the star that appears above the Christ Child. They go searching for a baby. They’re not interested in politics! But they bump curiously into Herod, who wants to enlist them to spy for him! Oh, that sly voice of conspiracy: “Hey, if y’all find that baby, come right back and tell me exactly where I can find him!”
We have these curious figures, the Magi. And we have evil Herod, feeling threatened. Is baby Jesus a rival King? History and politics tell us what happens when those in power – who will do anything to hang on to power - who may also be crazy – start feeling threatened. The madness of King George! The nice story from the children’s Epiphany pageant quickly turns brutal.
Herod wants the Magi to be spies. But our wise men are warned in a dream. They choose to actively resist a corrupt, evil leader inciting violence. They find courage to reject that sly, craven voice of conspiracy. We hear this voice in our own waking nightmare, do we not? This sneering, narcissistic, abusive voice. The strong man, the bully, who will destroy anything in his path. We know this is real.
The Magi refuse to give Herod what he wants. Instead, they use their own wisdom, their ancient internal GPS to find a different way home. On Sunday, we spoke of Joseph listening to God in his dreams. Today, the Magi listen to their dreams.
T.S. Eliot has a poem about the ‘Journey of the Magi’. It begins:
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."
A bit of Anglican history: These opening lines of Eliot’s poem are actually a quote from a really old Nativity sermon (in 1622!) by Lancelot Andrewes, a prominent scholar and clergyman in the Church of England during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I.
Eliot’s poem has the magi complain about grumpy camels lying down in melting snow. They grouse about less-than-spectacular accommodations along the way. It ends with the magi, nearing the end of life, reflecting back on what it was like to return home, changed by what they experienced. “No longer at ease … (with) alien people clutching (worn-out) gods.”
Why did these seekers after wisdom make this uncomfortable journey? A journey that left them no longer at ease with their own ways? When we go seeking after Spirit, the journey changes us. It gives us courage to resist Herod abusing his power. We cannot go back to the way we used to be.
The life of the Spirit is one of holy interruptions and of discernment. We ask: ‘Where is God, in this surprising experience of pain or joy?’ I know some of you are enduring terrible trials. Some of you, unexpected hope. We ask together - what does this mean? The deeper meaning is revealed in time. The wise men, at the end of their lives, still wondering.
The adult pageant, the Herod part of Epiphany, is so very real. The violence. The fear. We see it today. Literally, today. Today we see the grievous harm wrought by those who enable the malice of a tyrant. Will today be the day we face down the bully and finally, finally, say “No!?” Will we, today, return to what is RIGHT, repudiate one who misuses might!??
Shame, shame on those who enable the malice of a tyrant. This is a time of profound concern in our nation. On THIS Epiphany let us be calm, and support one another. Let us claim and proclaim the LIGHT of justice, of freedom, of law, as we witness the sorry culmination of what has been a season of oppression. As we witness sordid chaos soiling a land of equality and freedom.
Let us find courage in our Christian faith, which proclaims, in all things, that justice, healing and love will prevail. On THIS Epiphany - the LIGHT shines in the darkness and darkness will never overcome it.
A human history filled with petty, small, weak Herods abusing their power, provoking insurrection … THIS is precisely what makes the interruption of the Incarnation so powerful, still. That God comes to us - defenseless and vulnerable, yet filled with holy power - boggles the mind, still. That God comes to show us mercy and service, sacrifice and LOVE – in the midst of this chaos and this pain – this is as radical today – and as necessary - as it was 2000 years ago.
And we, we must be agents of that mercy and service, sacrifice and love. Agents of equality and freedom. Not someone else. We must be. We must stand up for what we believe in. We have a theology, we have a faith, we have a voice of moral leadership. We must use it.
We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts, we traverse far
Field and fountain
Moor and mountain
Following yonder star.
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
In December days, you remember - re-live, perhaps - the catastrophe, the killing of twenty children and six adults at school. Children and adults you know and love, in a school your children attend, in a town you call home. A tragedy that will always be part of who you are.
The days leading up to an anniversary of loss are days when we feel more fragile, days when our bones hurt and a heaviness lays upon us. Our souls are more tender, our wounds more raw. They are days when, also, we may be more spiritually aware of the surprising presence of God with us in our pain, the surprising love and accompaniment of our companions in faith.
I join you now some eight years after 2012, and I will never know what it was to be here at that time, to endure what you endured. I remember my tears that would not stop at a hastily-gathered vigil of prayer at the Episcopal Church I then called home. I remember even the shawl I drew close around me, seeking comfort as I prayed with all of you from afar.
As I listen, now, to sacred stories you share with me of that time, I grow in awareness of the ongoing impact of 12/14 – and of the tremendous outpouring of love and support you received from far and wide.
This past weekend, we prepared to celebrate the 2nd Sunday of Advent with our virtual life-streaming worship. We also prepared to create a video offering for a virtual Service of Remembrance organized by the Newtown Interfaith Council. On Saturday night, two surprising things happened.
First, Jesus showed up on the front steps of the church. The traveling statue of Jesus as a homeless man, a man of sorrows, a suffering servant. He has visited before, and I suspect he times his visits to coincide with this anniversary. Jesus sits on the top step, wrapped in a blanket, the mark of a crucifying nail visible in his outstretched hand. I am strangely comforted that this vision of Christ is physically with us at this time.
Second, I received an email from Trinity Episcopal Church in Southport. A member of that parish had driven to Newtown in the storm to leave us a lovely wreath, decorated with 26 roses. Every year, they remember Newtown, and they pray, with us. We were able to display their gift in our filmed remembrance. I will share their email here.
“Trinity Southport honors the lost children and adults of Newtown each year without exception at this time. We pray for them during our services, our pulpit adorned with a wreath bearing twenty white roses and six red roses in their memory. (The wreath itself is commissioned annually by David and Judy Nessel, beloved parishioners here. It was the conception of their daughter, Amy, quite ill of the cancer that was to take her, during the year of your tragedy.)
The wreath for 2020 is at your Trinity now, placed at the top of the outside steps that go to the back entrance of the church. We hope you receive it in the spirit of love and hope and warmth with which it is given. Retired Bishop Suffragan Jim Curry blessed it and the memories you all are living this morning just after the pre-recording of our virtual service for Sunday. The service, with the Bishop’s important and hopeful sermon addressing the issue, will be posted on the Trinity Southport YouTube and FaceBook pages at some point tomorrow afternoon.
Trinity Southport shares with your parish, with Bishop Curry, and with many others belief in the necessity to work to curtail gun violence.”
Friends, we are not alone in our remembering. We are surrounded and upheld by the prayers of so many good people of faith; people who are witnessing and advocating on our behalf for policy changes so this pain does not need to happen to other communities.
I invite you to find comfort in the presence of Christ, acquainted with suffering, and the loving accompaniment of untold others, seen and unseen, as we walk through December days.
May God bless you and keep you, and bring healing,
Rev. Andrea Castner Wyatt
May God bless you and keep you, may God’s face shine upon you in this season of harvest, of Thanksgiving. May we find moments of stillness and of peace – in the midst of it all – to ponder God’s gifts to us, and our many blessings. Yes, there is much that is hard, this Thanksgiving. But we are invited, always, in all things, to listen for the still, small voice of God, and to be drawn into gratitude.
Poet Wendell Berry writes:
The incarnate Word is with us,
is still speaking, is present
always, yet leaves no sign
but everything that is. (p. 78; Given, 2005)
Please, find a moment to pause – even with turkey and baking and Zoom calls and missing those who are not with us, even in sadness and worry and loss – a moment to breathe, and realize that God is with us, all around us, in us, among us, in the space between us. Let us be thankful. May God be gracious to us; may God give us peace.
Blessed Ones, just after Thanksgiving, we stand on the threshold of Advent, a time of mystery and promise. I want to let you know about some offerings this Advent from Trinity Church as we anticipate a season unlike any other in our lifetimes.
First, this first Sunday of Advent, November 29th, we will commission Patrick DeBrock as our new Verger! Patrick has been preparing and training for this liturgical role for some time. Rather than wait until we are all back in the Sanctuary, we want to recognize his new role now – at the beginning of a new liturgical year – as a sign of commitment to our future together. Please, join us virtually, and reach out to Patrick to celebrate his offering of himself.
On three Friday Evenings during December, at 6:30 PM, I am offering an ‘Advent Conversation and Compline’ gathering on Zoom. We will gather virtually, but face-to-face, in an informal way on December 4th, 11th and 18th. Bring a cup of tea, and join us for an informal time of checking in with each household, and praying together the service of Compline from the Book of Common Prayer. It will be important to stay connected in this season. You will need to sign up through our Church Office to receive the secure Zoom link.
Also, on the second Sunday of Advent, in addition to our 9:30 AM service, we will also offer an Advent Service of Lessons and Carols, live-streaming from our Sanctuary at 5:00 PM on December 6th. May we dwell in the richness and beauty of the scriptural texts and songs proclaiming our hope of new life to come.
Finally, we will offer an Advent Healing Service on Monday, December 21st at 6:30 PM, live-streaming from our Sanctuary. As we approach the solstice in creation around us, we will acknowledge the ‘longest night’ and the truth that for many this will be a difficult season of darkness, waiting for light. Some churches call it a ‘Blue Christmas’ service, recognizing those who are grieving during the holiday season. But we will call it a Healing Service, drawing on a tradition already present at Trinity. This Advent we will create space for those who are not feeling ‘jolly,’ and listen for God’s voice in the deep richness of the season.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to walk with you; we are all held in God’s hands.
As I write this weekly E News message, we are still awaiting results of our national Election. Thank you for joining in prayer on the Eve of voting. We continue to pray together, in a non-partisan fashion, for our nation.
We await a final tally of votes. But we already see - in this time of waiting - that we remain sorely divided as a nation. One commentator I read remarked that this is the most divided our nation has been since the 1850’s. I found this an ominous comparison, since a mention of that historic era surely refers to the build-up to our Civil War. We have work to do.
We are reminded - so powerfully - that our wounds as a nation date back to the colonialism and slavery that characterized our founding. Over time, we added layers of immigration and assimilation that we now describe as a “melting pot.” Surely, it is this diversity that gives our country its greatness! But our original wounds are still right there, under the surface of our society. At times, in our United States, those wounds break wide open. This is one of those times.
As we move forward together, post-election, I commend to you a new conversation at Trinity Church highlighted in this E News – a program of study and dialogue hoping to deepen our understanding of racism. I have sat with a small group for a month now to design a process for this conversation. I feel so very blessed to be able to serve with such thoughtful and wise Christian leaders! I look forward to including other voices in this conversation.
This is the most important work of Christian Formation I need to engage in. I need to learn about our history - in Newtown, in our nation, in our Church. Deepening my understanding will help me reach out to my sisters and brothers who are suffering, to build bridges and relationships that can help heal this nation in years to come. Join us!
May the peace of Christ be with you,
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
This coming Sunday we remember the Saints of Christian history – and of our own lives. We will pause, in the midst of everything around us and within us, to acknowledge the presence of the communion of Saints. We will feel the love of a ‘Cloud of Witnesses’ who are, actually, with us all the time.
Certainly, we take inspiration from those Saints of our faith, who have, in the words of St. Paul, “run the race with perseverance!” Their example of following Jesus – in complex and painful times in human history – can nourish our following of Jesus in our own equally complex and painful time.
The Collect from the Book of Common Prayer for this Sunday names the ‘mystical body’ that is the Church, the body of Christ:
All Saint's Day November 1
“Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one
communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son
Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those
ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love
you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy
Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.”
All Saints Day is a mystical day. A day when the veil between this life and the next is more transparent. We glimpse eternity. On All Saints Sunday, we will read, prayerfully, names that we have all submitted … names of those who are Saints in our own lives and memories. Poet May Sarton has a lovely poem about ‘All Souls.’ Here is one stanza:
“Now the dead move through all of us still glowing,
Mother and child, lover and lover mated,
Are wound and bound together and enflowing.
What has been plaited cannot be unplaited--
Only the strands grow richer with each loss
And memory makes kings and queens of us.”
We are enriched indeed by the memories of love that transformed our lives; love that lives on still, and always will.
This year, on All Saints Sunday, we will pray from the Sanctuary will all those worshiping with us online … yet another mystical connection in the body of Christ made possible through amazing live-streaming technology!
I want to highlight a paradigm shift we are living. Live-streaming worship, available on-line, is our primary worship offering at Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown. Let me say it again. The live-stream is our primary offering of worship. Participate in it through our website, through our Facebook page.
Inviting a few people – 25% of our capacity – to pray in the Sanctuary is part of making that live-stream worship happen for all of you. The mystical connection of the body of Christ – through space and time and history – in this life and the life to come – through technology! We are connected whether we are in the Sanctuary or not!
I encourage you to remain safe. Worship with us online. Our leadership has, this fall, discerned a need for some who wish to worship in the Sanctuary to do so, following rigorous safety protocols. The timeline of that discernment is unfortunately accompanying a timeline of what could be an autumn surge in virus levels around us.
The Wardens and I are tracking a state map, which shows virus levels on a town-by-town basis. Yellow is caution, orange is a growing threat, red is threat. If Newtown turns yellow, we will – with love! – no longer invite people to the Sanctuary to be part of live-stream worship. Live-stream will continue to be our primary worship offering. And we will get through this pandemic, together.
Dear Members and Friends of Trinity Church,
We proclaim, during this year’s Stewardship Campaign, the importance of “Renewing our Spirits in Community.” Re-kindling our connection with each other – and with our wider community. This is what will help us not only to endure this time of trial, but also to thrive … even in the midst of ongoing challenges. We will get through this pandemic, together.
We thank you all for your faithfulness through the months of the Coronavirus pandemic. This time of separation has been difficult in many ways. Life as we knew it changed, and it will continue to be different in months to come.
Since my arrival, we have experimented with outdoor worship and fellowship. We experimented with Gazebo Office Hours. We now offer worship streaming live from our beautiful Sanctuary, an adaptation we would never have dreamed of in our pre-pandemic life! Change and adaptation all around.
How can we share the good news of the Gospel, follow Jesus as he heals and transforms, find sustenance in each other’s presence – even as this pandemic continues? Well, our experimentation continues!
The Re-Opening Task Force, the Vestry and the Worship Commission want to share good news about our common life as a Trinity parish family. Beginning on November 1st, Trinity will again offer in-person worship at 9:30 AM in our sanctuary.
We will invite a limited number to share in our live-stream worship, through prior registration, utilizing safe procedures. It is not yet safe to share in congregational singing, and we will continue, at present, to share in spiritual communion, with no distribution of bread or wine. We urge those in high-risk health categories to worship with us at home!
Our live-streaming worship offers comfort to all who continue to shelter safely at home. Our most fervent prayer is that ALL in our Trinity family remain safe. Those over the age of 65, those with health conditions or compromised immune systems, all who are most vulnerable to the effects of the virus … we encourage you to prayerfully consider your safety and remain at home.
Friends, please be assured that we will monitor virus levels around us and determine on a week-by-week basis whether to invite you to the Sanctuary.
Peace be with you, Rev. Andrea
On behalf of our Worship Commission, I invite you to gather with us on the evening of Monday, November 2 to pray for peace and justice in our national election. As people of faith and hope, let us be together in heart, mind, and Spirit, praying for healing and new hope across our land.
Friends, our role is not to be partisan, but to lift up ethical and moral voices in our Christian tradition, sharing readings from scripture and from our Book of Common Prayer. I do encourage you to use your right to vote, to express your conscience as an active participant in our common life.
We plan to gather because we believe God’s Holy Spirit is present in our national life. Individually, we express this belief in a variety of ways according to personal conscience. Collectively, we express this yearning through prayer.
Let us pray for a peaceful transition; for the polarization and demonization which has characterized this election to cease. As the pandemics of COVID19 and of racism continue around us, let us pray for healing to be real. Let us pray that those elected will be guided by God’s Spirit to strive for justice and peace for all of God’s children, for all of God’s creation.
Stay tuned for details of time and location – virtual participation will be possible.
Peace be with you, Rev. Andrea
“Wilderness without a Map”
Matthew 9:35 – 10:23
Rev. Andrea Castner Wyatt
June 20, 2020
Trinity Episcopal Church, Newtown CT
When Jesus calls us to follow him, when he sends us out to serve, as lay people and clergy, a GPS would be helpful. When we are on a journey, or a pilgrimage, we want a road map - a clear set of directions, a destination, landmarks, some sense of certainty about the path. Poet William Stafford says: we “want a wilderness with a map.”
In the life of the spirit, following Jesus, there is often no such thing. When we least expect it, we can find ourselves praying, along with Trappist monk Thomas Merton, “MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.”
When Jesus calls us, in Matthew’s Gospel today, when he sends us out to serve, we “want a wilderness with a map.” Instead, we’re off the grid! And sometimes, when we look to the Bible for help, we can’t even get the story straight! The story of Jesus calling fishermen to be disciples - it’s in each of the four Gospels, and it’s different every time!
Matthew, today, and Mark tell it when Jesus is just beginning his ministry. John tells it AFTER the resurrection! It is a story of reconciliation between Jesus and Simon Peter. In Luke, Jesus simply informs Peter “from now on you will be catching people.” It is a proclamation, not an invitation.
With Brother Merton, today, we cannot see the road ahead. We cannot see where it will lead. We met and gathered today wearing masks, actors in a strange play with no script where we don’t even know how to greet one other, social distancing. Can you tell I’m smiling, underneath my mask? My lipstick budget has gone way down!
We’re in the midst of a catastrophe, a global pandemic. There are no rules for how to do this. How do you do a job interview in the time of COVID? Lockdown restrictions are easing, but people are still dying. When will we have treatments, a vaccine? How do we be church, when we cannot gather?
We “want a wilderness with a map.” This life of discipleship, this pilgrimage of the spirit, requires of us a radical sense of openness to the unknown, the unexpected; tragedies, surprises, serendipity, grace. We embark on a journey with Jesus. We don’t know where it will lead. He doesn’t tell us what it will look like. It looks different for each and every one of us, because God’s creation is infinite in its diversity and variety of design.
What of those fishermen who follow Jesus? They drop their nets and walk with him – literally – from town to town, as he preaches and teaches and casts out demons and lays his hands on people and heals them. They walk with him as he performs miracles, as he gets angry in the temple, as he prays. They walk with him to his death; they walk with him in renewed life. Walking with Jesus – no GPS, no map.
Jesus asks for help. Did you notice that?? Wise people know when and how to ask for help. He knew he couldn’t do it alone! Jesus gives some pretty fascinating instructions. 1. Don’t pack too much. Travel light. Stay nimble and flexible. 2. Be wise as serpents, innocent as doves. Wow. You will be tested. Be savvy. 3. If people can’t accept your gifts, shake the dust off your feet and keep moving! Don’t let anything disrupt your inner peace. 4. Stay humble. Remember it’s the Spirit who speaks through you. You are just the vessel.
Jesus collects people to serve with him. Walking with Jesus also means walking with each other. In the late 1980’s, I was a Chaplain intern at Boston City Hospital, supervised by a Catholic nun. Sister Michele would listen to me, as I spoke of tragedies I saw unfolding in hospital beds. She listened to my frustration at pain I witnessed - AIDS, gunshot wounds – and how there was nothing I could do to make it better.
I will never forget the day she said to me: It’s not about fixing things. “This is a ministry of accompaniment.” We simply walk with people, and share their journey. I have a better understanding now of the power of presence.
Being Church these days is a form of ‘wilderness without a map.’ How do we minister to people, how do we grow disciples - when they’re out there, not in here? How do we fish for people? We have to re-frame our whole paradigm, and that’s not an easy thing to do. After a recent Annual Meeting, I found myself saying ‘We could spend all our time maintaining the bureaucracy – the organizational structure - of yester-year … but I don’t think that’s what Jesus is calling us to do.’
The Holy Spirit is alive and well in unexpected places and people. I found something so compelling in the Episcopal Church, I upended my life to be part of it. It was disruptive. I lost a lot. But I discovered creative, spirit-filled people experimenting with new ways to reach people with the message of Jesus.
I listened to a podcast recently, people who do mission development in our Episcopal Church. And there was the voice of my friend Tom Brackett, who works with the Presiding Bishop. He caught me in his fishing net, gave me hope at a time when I despaired about church. He was talking – on this podcast - about that feeling I named after Annual Meeting – that the organizational structures we created generations ago may actually stifle or inhibit the work of the Spirit.
He said: It’s like people who build (or inherit) a beautiful bird cage and sit around wondering where all the birds are. Those birds are beautiful and they’re out there! Rather than tinkering with the cages, how can we get out there - and find and welcome and bless the birds we long to be around? And invite them.
In 2006 my favorite preacher Barbara Brown Taylor published a book called Leaving Church. There’s a picture on the cover of a bird sailing blissfully out of its birdcage. At the time, I too was leaving a church, and people in it I loved. Jesus was beckoning me to follow him onto the street, a peripatetic ministry called Hospice, on the sacred threshold between life and death. I have always found God in margin places, liminal spaces, places of tragedy and loss.
One of the questions I was asking back in 2007 was this: how can you build a house around a guy who is on the road? How can we build a church around a Savior whose ministry is out in the world? We gather, we are fed, we are sent: how we do so is changing, has been changing for 2,000 years now. Perhaps change is the constant. It is, after all, a Gospel of transformation; how we live it … is in constant motion.
I was up late the other night, and did some research on your founder the Rev. John Beach, whose conversion caused “alarm and consternation” in Newtown. He may be my new personal hero! I formally left the UCC a dozen years ago, and I still haven’t found anyone else who renounced Congregational ordination vows to become an Anglican priest. Now I have John Beach. Beach seems to have fallen under the sway of Samuel Johnson, one of 7 Congregational clergy who renounced their ordination in the ‘Great Apostasy’ at Yale to become Anglican clergy. A colonial wilderness without a map.
I found a blog on the history of Redding about Rev. Beach in 1731:
‘From a serious and prayerful examination of the Scriptures, and of the records of the early ages of the Church, and from the universal acknowledgement of Episcopal government for fifteen hundred years, compared with the recent establishment of Presbyterian and Congregational discipline,’ he was fully persuaded of the invalidity of his ordination, and of the unscriptural method of organizing and governing congregations as by them practiced.
He therefore, ‘In the face of Almighty God,’ had made up his mind to ‘conform to the Church of England, as being Apostolic in her ministry and discipline, orthodox in her doctrine, and primitive in her worship.” Boom! Now I have a companion on my lonely journey.
These days it’s not about an epic battle between Congregationalists and Anglicans in a colonial context. Our time of ministry is so very different. Some call it the end of Christendom, that long era when Church held a prominent place in society. It’s more like we’re back in the earliest days of the Jesus movement – trying to figure out how to share the Gospel to people and cultures who’ve never heard of it! We are those early disciples and apostles, sent out to serve. 1. Pack light. 2. Be wise. 3. Keep moving. 4. Stay humble.
Ministry in the time of COVID, in the latter days of Christendom, is forcing us to experiment with new ways of being church! Is this coming year a digital hybrid, some here, some at home? Would Rev. Beach film a sermon with his IPhone camera, Zoom with his peeps?? I bet he would!
We want a wilderness with a map. Instead, we have our creativity, our willingness to innovate and adapt, a sense of humor – and humility! – and we can find new ways to share the gifts of our Anglican heritage with a new generation. We have each other, spirit companions on the way. Jesus and the disciples and the apostles, we’re on the road TOGETHER. That’s the way it always has been, and always will be. Maybe, that’s all we need. Thanks be to God. Amen.
The Rev. andrea castner wyatt
The Rev. Andrea Castner Wyatt is honored to accept the call of Trinity Episcopal Church to serve and lead as Rector. She looks forward with joy to walking with the people of Trinity Church, and to discovering with you what Jesus is up to in Newtown, CT. Contact Rev. Andrea at email@example.com or by calling 203-426-9070.