THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION
4520 LUCAS & HUNT ROAD
NORTHWOODS, MISSOURI 63121
July 29, 2015
Dear Friends in Christ,
As a kid growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, I was fascinated by my father’s service in World War II. Like most of his generation, he was reluctant to discuss the gruesome details of combat and his participation in it. What he often shared, however, was the “wisdom” acquired in battle. Among the observations that most impressed me was his assertion that, “There are no atheists foxholes.”
To be sure, Dad didn’t originate this quote. In fact, its authorship has long been disputed. But regardless of the source, it seemed to me then (and still does now) that it captures an important dimension of the human condition. In times of extreme fear, distress and pain, virtually all of us turn to some power beyond ourselves – to “god.” For some, it may be the God made known to the world in Jesus Christ while, for others, it may be a generic god – a vague and nondescript force that takes shape only in the mind of the person crying out for help. Important in both cases, however, is the recognition that there are times when our powerlessness is brought into sharp focus and our very survival depends on something beyond our control. “There are no atheists in burning buildings.” “There are no atheists on sinking ships.” “And, there are no atheists in ICU’s.”
Our response to these and similar crises seems universal. We call upon whatever “god” we imagine to protect and deliver us from the adversity we face. Our fears may be captured in a loud scream, a simple plea or a humble request. Although these expressions manifest our common humanity, our responses say something distinct about each of us. For some, the god to whom they cry has no name, no enduring presence and power that only is imagined. That god has no ears for our pleas.
Yet for Christians, we know our God. Our God knows us. And, the power of our God is present in every aspect of creation, in the death and resurrection of his Son and in the life of the church – the very Body of Christ. This is the God to whom we come in prayer – in our daily lives, as well as in moments of terror. And, this is the God who both hears and responds to our prayers.
These past few months I’ve had a great deal of time to pray, as well as reflect on the nature of prayer and our expectations of it. Priesthood notwithstanding, I have to admit that far too often I’ve taken the privilege of prayer for granted, sometimes even dismissing it as a bother in an otherwise jam-packed day. However, Mary’s illness has scared me to the core and, as such, deepened my prayer life in ways I could never have imagined. “There are no atheists in the face of a life-threatening disease.” Nor are there casual Christians or inattentive priests!
While direct access to God through prayer is available for all the seasons of our lives, I’ve come to understand my Dad’s pointed observation. It truly is in those moments of utter powerlessness and fear that prayer comes into sharpest focus and our total dependence on God becomes real.
My expectations of prayer also have been clarified. Illnesses, break-ups and losses are experiences we share and hurt us in ways we can barely express. Invariably, we want to make them “right.” We pray that God will resolve them. And, we expect that God will answer us … in just the way we want. That’s what we do when we’re scared.
In these past weeks, however, I’ve come to treasure the counsel of St. Chrysostom at the close of both Morning and Evening Prayer: “Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us …” Regardless of our perceived needs and fears, we’re reminded that the God whom we worship and to whom we pray has a far broader (and more informed) perspective. Our prayers, in fact, are answered not necessarily with what we want, but with what truly will save us. As St. Chrysostom concludes, “granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.”
All of our lives are filled with a unique mix of joy and pain, each providing the context for prayer. My abiding hope is that we continue to grow in our conversations with God – both when we’re in the “foxhole” and when we’re not. And, I hope we increasingly learn to listen for the voice we need, not the one we think we want.
Although in the midst of summer vacations, reunions and travel, the work of Ascension continues.
· On Sunday, August 9 at 10:00 A.M., we’ll join the members of All Saints’ Episcopal Church for worship and their Annual Picnic at Vinita Park City Park. No services will be offered at Ascension that day. Please bring a side dish if you are able.
· The Bishop’s Committee will meet in the sanctuary on Sunday, August 16 from 12:30 – 3:00 P.M. to begin our strategic planning discussion. Lunch will be provided.
Please note that the attached schedule for August does not include acolytes. This summer, our youth have been engaged in other family and school activities and, therefore, often unable to assist. To avoid confusion on Sunday mornings, we’ve decided to temporarily suspend the use of acolytes. A training program for parents and youth will be scheduled for September prior to re-instituting the acolyte ministry.
May God continue to bless you and your family with immeasurable grace.
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION
4520 LUCAS & HUNT ROAD
NORTHWOODS, MISSOURI 63121
June 30, 2015
Dear Friends in Christ,
Addressing the Union of Black Episcopalians in 2008, The Reverend Greg Jacobs offered a particularly pointed assessment of the state of black Episcopal congregations and our tenuous future. Nationally, our numbers are decreasing. We’re getting older. Our financial stewardship has declined. And, we’re not “raising up” future clergy from within our own faith communities. The bottom line: we’re at risk for extinction – unless we take charge.
Jacobs also noted that we can’t count on the amount of financial support we’ve historically received from our dioceses and the national church. They’re as challenged as we are! Increasingly, we’ll need to assume even greater responsibility for the life and health of our congregations, our ministries and the stewardship of the spiritual, financial, capital and human resources entrusted to our care.
Admittedly, The Reverend Jacobs’ analysis is broad and does not necessarily describe the unique history or current challenges confronted by a specific congregation. Nevertheless, his concern for our collective future as black Episcopal congregations is well-grounded in fact, and his “call to action” must be taken seriously.
Although the parishes in the Diocese of Missouri are working diligently to embrace the diversity of the communities they serve, All Saints’ and Ascension Episcopal Churches are the only predominantly black congregations and, as such, have both the unique opportunity and responsibility to give distinctive presence and voice to the sensibilities, aspirations and concerns of our community. To be sure, our congregations differ markedly in history, culture and civic presence. However, together we share the broad span of the black experience both in St. Louis and nationally.
We also share the challenges to black congregations illuminated by The Reverend Jacobs. Neither of us has recovered from the migration of population to the suburbs. Our lay leaders and clergy are aging, and our outreach to young people and families has met with limited success. While both congregations are financially stable, serious questions about long-term financial viability loom on the horizon. Our buildings and administrative support are increasingly expensive to maintain. And, although our congregations have lovingly embraced white clergy and their ministries, Father Dunnington and I would readily acknowledge the cultural deficits inherent in the absence of black colleagues in ordained leadership.
These challenges are quite real and will need to be addressed, hopefully while we are relatively healthy and not in crisis. No doubt, we can independently muddle through the issues we are facing. But, although “going it alone” may be temporarily satisfying, such an approach ignores the scope of our challenges and the limits of our individual congregations. More to the point, it calls into question our understanding and practice of Christian stewardship , our faithful use of the gifts entrusted to the Body of Christ – not to individuals or even congregations, but to the entire community that is the Church.
Alternatively, we can together seize the opportunity at this unique point in time to begin serious conversation and discernment on how, as the core of the black Episcopal community within the diocese, we might best be the presence of Christ for all whose lives we might touch. This is just the discussion Bishop Smith has invited us to pursue in a letter recently sent to the leadership of All Saints’ and Ascension, a copy of which is attached. Specifically, he has requested that we explore the:
· distinctive and common elements of our respective histories, missions and ministries;
· specific challenges we face and our hopes and aspirations for the future; and
· relationships, organizational model(s) and resources that will foster substantive collaboration and strengthen our ministries within the larger community.
Bishop Smith has asked that a written report summarizing our discussions and recommendations be submitted to him by the end of this year.
The Bishop’s Committee and I are developing a process and schedule for our congregational “fact finding” and analysis, as well as the eventual conversation with the All Saints’ community. I look forward to sharing this with you as soon as it is complete. In the meantime, let us look forward together with faith, hope and the certain knowledge that God will lead us into a future beyond our expectations.
Although in the midst of summer, our work continues.
· Staff meeting will be held on Wednesday, July 8 at 11:00 A.M. in Rev. Deb’s office.
· The Bishop’s Committee will meet on Sunday, July 19 from 12:30 – 3:00 P.M. to begin our annual strategic planning process. Lunch will be provided.
Please join me extending hearty congratulations and our deepest appreciation to Tarell Gray, Donnetta Jones and all who assisted with Vacation Bible School and our summer meals program.
Finally, Mary and I are profoundly grateful for your concern, care and prayers as we deal with her illness. We also appreciate your understanding and flexibility as we respond to her needs.
May God bless you with a gentle spirit, generous heart and servant’s hands.
Again, this year Ascension Episcopal Church week long vacation bible school ended on Friday, June 26. Average daily attendance was about 13. The children were engaged in bible stories discussion, craft and games. They also assisted in watering the plants and flowers before leaving for the day. Breakfast and lunch was provided. Several church members assisted, led by Tarell Gray and Donetta Jones.
On Sunday June 7, members of Ascension Episcopal Church traveled to Crestwood and joined members of Church of the Advent for their annual picnic. Since it was about 84 degrees lunch was served indoors in the recreation room after which we took a tour of the sanctuary and the vegetable garden which provide fresh vegetables for Advent Peace Meal Project.
Members of Ascension and Church of the Advent Playing Water Balloon Toss
Webmaster, Ascension Episcopal Church, St. Louis Missouri