On Sunday, August 10 just like in previous years, members of Ascension Episcopal Church joined members of All Saints Episcopal at their annual picnic at Vinita Park. The weather was vey nice with average temperature but ideal for a Sunday outdoor service. The Rev. Dr. Marc Smith celebrated the Holy Eucharist while the sermon was delivered by Rev. Michael Dunnington, Priest-in-Charge of All Saints Church.
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION
4520 LUCAS & HUNT ROAD
NORTHWOODS, MISSOURI 63121
July 30, 2014
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last Sunday’s Gospel, the “Parable of the Mustard Seed,” proved an unexpected preaching challenge. To be sure, the story is well-known. Despite its extraordinarily small size, the mustard seed eventually grows into one of nature’s largest shrubs and, then, becomes a huge tree. I recall hearing more than a few sermons based on this text, almost always equating the tiny mustard seed with the “grain of faith” that ultimately blossoms in the Christian heart and life. In fact, I also remember the necklaces worn by many of the girls in my Sunday school class with a single mustard seed suspended in a small plastic globe, a reminder of the faith planted in baptism that would grow and mature throughout their lives.
But, there’s a problem with this beloved parable. You see, mustard is actually an aggressive and particularly noxious weed. It was like the kudzu of the Ancient Near East. So, what to do with this text? Compare faith to an invasive weed that smothers everything in the field in which it’s planted? Ignore science and simply treat the mustard seed’s incredible growth as Jesus’ useful (although somewhat awkward) metaphor for our journey of faith? Or, dig into the text a bit more deeply to get a better sense of what he wanted us to understand about “the kingdom of heaven?”
As I soon discovered, there’s much more to this parable and the ones that followed and, consequently, any number of themes that could be pursued. But, what struck me most in each of them was the sense of wondrous surprise at the unexpected. OK, “the kingdom of heaven” is full of surprises. That works. But wait a minute, what’s this “kingdom of heaven” stuff? As I said, this text is a preacher’s challenge.
Perhaps because of the use of the word “heaven” and our natural association of it with eternal life after death, the temptation is to interpret these parables solely in a future context. And, because of that, we’re likely to conclude that they have little relevance for us in the “here and now.” But if we do, we miss the point of Jesus’ ministry on earth and his continuing presence in our life together as the church. “The kingdom of heaven” is best understood as “the reign of God.” And, that “reign” began with Jesus’ birth, continues today and will be perfected at the end of time. Now, we’re making progress! “The kingdom of heaven” is not just our hope for the future but is being lived out today in our own lives and faith, both of which will be marked by the unexpected – by surprises.
Several weeks ago, the Bishop’s Committee approved a strategic plan and budget for next year. Both are grounded in the significant progress we’ve made in the past few years, lay out our expectations and are optimistic about our future. But, as last week’s parables remind us, God’s reign is full of surprises, and we would do well to anticipate challenges and opportunities we cannot even begin to imagine. Like you, I don’t know what they’ll be, but I’m looking forward to the journey. My prayerful hope is that you’ll join in as we travel together.
Some things are, however, predictable.
· On Sunday, August 10 at 10:00 A.M., we’ll again join All Saints’ Episcopal Church for a joint worship service, Eucharist and picnic at Vinita Park City Park (behind City Hall). Please plan to join this joyful celebration and, if you can, bring a covered dish or dessert. No services will be held at Ascension that day.
· As part of the service with the All Saints’ community on Sunday, August 10, we’ll also recognize C. J. Baker and Margaret Scott, Susan Young’s daughter, and offer special prayers for them as they depart for college. C. J. will attend Southern Illinois University –Carbondale, and Margaret will be a freshman at Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla. They join Ascension parishioner Fredrea Black who will begin her sophomore year at Lindenwood University in St. Charles.
· On Sunday, August 17, we’ll recognize our pre-school, elementary, middle and high school students during our 11:00 A.M. Eucharistic service and offer our prayers for their growth and success in the coming school year.
· The Bishop’s Committee will meet in the sanctuary on Sunday, August 17 immediately following our worship service.
· On Saturday, August 23, our middle and high school youth will join in the clean-up of Deaconess Anne House in preparation for the arrival of the 2014 – 2015 class of Episcopal Service Corps members. We’ll depart from Ascension at 9:00 A.M. and return by 2:00 P.M. Transportation and lunch will be provided.
· Simeon Prince Kofi Nuamah, grandson of Sylvia and Prince Thomas, will be baptized at Ascension on Sunday, August 31 during our 11:00 A.M. service. Please keep Simeon, parents Cindy and Gordon Nuamah and the Thomas family in your prayers.
· MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Ascension will host an outdoor yard sale on Saturday, September 6 from 8:00 A.M. – 3:00 P.M. to raise money for our parish hall renovations. If you have items to donate to the sale – toys, tools, dishes, electronics, sports equipment, board games and furniture – please bring them to the church by Monday, September 1 so that they can be organized and priced for the sale. We need volunteers to assist with the sale and help with the BBQ. Please sign up on the sheet posted in the parish hall.
May God continue to bless us and open our hearts and minds to the surprises of his kingdom.
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION
4520 LUCAS & HUNT ROAD
NORTHWOODS, MISSOURI 63121
June 30, 2014
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Season of Pentecost, which begins 50 days after Easter and continues until Advent commences in late-November, is the time each year that we explore the summons to Christian discipleship and the ministry of the Church. The lessons from Scripture, prayers and hymns we’ll share in the months ahead will focus our attention on discipleship and, hopefully, offer new insights, challenges and opportunities as we seek to be Christ’s presence in our community.
The work of being a Christian – being a disciple – is no easy task. Although Jesus himself provides us with the model, there’s no playbook – no step-by-step guide – that gives us an answer to every specific situation we encounter. To be sure, Scripture grounds our understanding of the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. The tradition of the Church, developed over 21 centuries, provides a context for the ways in which all who have come before us have responded to the challenges of their times. And, the God-given gift of human reason allows each of us to critically engage with the issues of our time. But, the fact remains that there is no “formula” for Christian discipleship. Each of us, each community of faith and each generation will have to discover its own path.
I think Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun and mystic who lived in the 16th century, understood our dilemma particularly well. As she struggled with her own call to discipleship, she finally concluded that,
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to lookout
Christ’s compassion for the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is going about doing
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men
Perhaps, there’s no better way to begin this Season of Pentecost and preparation for discipleship than the simple and profound recognition that you and I are charged with nothing less than “being the presence of Christ for all whom we might serve” – the very Vision of our Ascension community. By God’s grace, may it be so.
An important part of our discipleship is the stewardship of the building with which we’ve been blessed. We’re in the midst of “re-imagining” our sanctuary for the way we worship today and our hopes for the future. We’ve had meetings with the consultants recommended by our bishop, toured our facility with them and received their initial recommendations for the renovation of this space. This week, we’ll be interviewing three architectural firms to assist with developing alternatives for our consideration.
In the meantime, the renovation of our parish hall continues. I’m very pleased to report that the diocese has awarded us a grant of $3,800 to assist with the completion of this project. While significant, we’re still $1,500 short of the funds required. Later this summer, we’re planning a “yard sale” to dispose of our old tables and chairs, as well as other unused or dated items – the proceeds from which will help close this deficit. I hope you’ll consider donating items for this sale, including: furniture; tools; small appliances; toys; and dishes. Recognizing that we’ll need to pay to have the unsold items hauled away, please make sure that your donated items are in reasonable repair and working order. Once the sale has been scheduled, I’ll forward additional details.
After a particularly busy spring, July will provide us with an opportunity to “catch our breath” and finalize our 2015 strategic plan and budget.
Finally, on behalf of the entire congregation, I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to Donnetta Jones, Tarell Grey, Sondra Harrell, Betty Brown, Cee Cee Sarber and Machelle West for their incredible efforts to make this year’s Vacation Bible School and Summer Meals Program a resounding success!
May God bless you with a gentle spirit, generous heart and servant’s hands.
Twenty-one children participated in Vacation Bible School 2014 at Ascension the week of June 23. Bible study, devotions, games and arts and crafts packed their five days together. "The kids had a blast," said Donnetta Jones, director of the program, "and so did all the adults who helped!" Again this year, Ascension partnered with St. Louis County to provide breakfast and lunch each day for the children. The VBS-ers, joined by family and friends, concluded their week with song and dance in the church sanctuary.
On Thursday June 29, Ascension Episcopal Church celebrated its 125th anniversary with a special service at 5:00 P.M. and was joined by the choir of Christ Church Cathedral. This service commemorates the presence of Ascension in the St. Louis Community for 125 years. Despite several moves in the intervening years, the Ascension community has remained committed to its presence for those in need. The service was followed by a dinner at the parish hall after which the usual ceremony of releasing balloons ended the day's activity.