Rector's Annual Report

I would like to begin by saying what a privilege it is to have served these many years with the finest Associate Rector I know of anywhere. Deb, when you retire at the beginning of March I hope you will carry with you my deepest appreciation for your gifts, your passion for Christ in this Episcopal Church, and for your collegiality with me a fellow priest.

It is a privilege as well to work with the other members of an incredibly gifted, creative, and hardworking staff; and such a deep, talented, and smart bench of lay leaders. I count every day serving here as a blessing.

I thought this year that rather than trying to give an exhaustive overview of our ministries, I would just focus on few key or even signature elements of our life and ministry as the people of St. Barnabas Episcopal Parish.

It has been quite a journey for the people of St. Barnabas these past few years…and 2016 not least among them.

To recap.

After more than a decade of living both with a building whose systems and spaces were long ago overtaxed and with hearing God’s call to renew and restore this base for Christ’s ministry we, finally, were able to answer that call.

In a courageous act of faith, in both God’s call and each other, we put together teams of people and put together the means to get the job done.  With tremendous financial support from John and Jane Foster years ago (and again recently) and then the amazing support of Rhondda and Peter Grant, we found the grace and inspiration, each of us, to dig faithfully and deep. Thank you each and every one.

People stepped up at the right moments with the right gifts, experience, and energy to take on the tasks required by such a monumental renovation. It is not possible in this moment to thank by name everyone who gave from their heart in the practical, shoe leather, roll up your sleeves tasks. But, as you know, there is one person who cannot be thanked enough by us all. Drawing together the inspiration and efforts of well over 100 members of St. Barnabas Jim Hayes incarnated all that in managing this project. He devoted thousands upon thousands of hours to making this project run as smoothly, professionally, and economically as was humanly possible. Our deepest gratitude goes to you Jim. Our deepest gratitude goes to Claire as well for her commitment to her and Jim’s commitment.

Now, after 14 months away, we have returned and we are gathering in understanding of what God will ask of us as we journey though both this new year and the next 125 years in the life of this parish.

Even before we returned a lot of work was undertaken by members of this parish to envision both hope and paths to further our ministry and mission. Visioning groups were convened to pray and look to the future. Certain priorities began to be sensed for both near and long term effort.

The Communications Committee continued their work looking at how we might more effectively and efficiently communicate among ourselves as a parish but also might communicate to the community around us our amazing story of welcome, inclusion, and commitment. Their efforts, lead by Helen Baron, combined with the energy and expertise of David Millis and Robbie Hobine, have resulted in our having an amazing new website. For some this may not mean a whole lot but the website is a nexus for sharing news, information, invitation, and coordination of much of what people put their hearts and shoulders to here. We have also begun to make use of “Google for Nonprofits” which will, among other capabilities, make coordination of calendars among staff, clergy, and parish groups a breeze.

The Communications Committee has also received a draft Communications Plan that offers a road map for sharing the Good news of Christ as we live it here at St. Barnabas. And now Robbie Hobine has stepped forward as our new Director of Communications.

We also have a new position of service in our midst. Who knew the apotheosis of Timothy Hepp would be as Verger!  The joy Timothy brings to this office of servant leadership is wonderful!

I believe with the possibilities our renewed spaces offer, with the information we have generated about St. Barnabas over the past three years, combined with a demographic analysis we have of the neighborhoods around us, coupled with the communications plan and the tools we have now acquired we are in a position to do something we have not done in a decade, perhaps more. We are equipped to formulate and articulate a strategic plan for St. Barnabas. Not only can we ask but we can give a clear answer to such questions as what do we want to look like in five years time? What is God calling us to be in five years time? And, of course, how will we get there?

That is exciting! But of course our life of ministry and service isn’t located just in the future it is a living reality in the here and now.

While we were away and now that we are back we have continued, with Tina, in our ministry to children, youth, and families. Adult formation continued in the Adult Forum and the Wednesday bible study and 25 years of EFM. We continued to support the WHI and CCN. With Deb’s guidance Caring Companions and Share the Care reach out to those in need among us. Yes, in this past year some have have said goodbye, and we mourn and miss as well others who now live that greater life in God through Christ. At the same time we joyfully we have said hello to new brothers and sisters in Christ. We have, as one colleague puts it for the love of Christ worshiped, fellowshipped, baptized, married, and buried.  For the love of Christ we have taken our place in the beloved community of the Holy Spirit. And much, really all of it has been deeply personal and most don’t even know what we have done.

A few samples: near Christmas, during that deep cold spell, we helped a struggling young man and his mother to relocate for work. A night in a motel, shuttling belongings, and a couple of bus tickets helped two of our country’s economic refugees retain some dignity. During that same cold spell of course the WHI was hosted but another individual was helped to shelter out of the cold.  A woman facing relocation received tremendous help in cleaning out, clearing out, and landing in a new place to live. A person who has struggled with age discrimination in finding work and has battled throat cancer found encouragement and concrete support. A grandmother raising her grandchildren, whose husband just walked away with all their possessions, was able nonetheless give her grandchildren their Christmas because of St. Barnabas.  

Closer to home, we supported those in our midst who are deeply hurting, facing family crises, facing spiritual crises, and even their own mortality and you don’t even know we have done so.

Granted, these, and many more, weren’t flashy, trumpet blowing, “look how good we are” actions but they are certainly consistent with Christ saying: “when you give to the needy don’t let your right hand know what your left is doing”. And again to those gathered before the throne: “In so much as you have done this to the least you have done this to me.”

While this is the Rector’s Annual Report to the Parish this is the sermon time and I would be remiss in not speaking of the gospel…specifically today’s gospel from Matthew and that portion of the Sermon on the Mount we call “The Beatitudes”.

I don’t know about you but when I read the Beatitudes I get a little queasy. I remember one of Teve’s conversations with God in “Fiddler on the Roof” where he says, “I know we are Your chosen people, but, once in a while, can’t You choose some one else?”

By that I mean, the poor, those who morn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for water, food, and righteousness, the persecuted…their very condition means there is something deeply wrong and disordered in human relationships. Teve is complaining to God of the poverty and ill treatment of his people and village in Tsarist Russia. Human institutions and a will to power are disordered and the havoc they create finds over and over again the same targets for oppression, scapegoats for destruction. Even the seemingly benign or even positive beatitudes indicate the disorder of human relationships…mercy and purity of heart can only really be seen in contrast to what is not, peacemakers are needed where there is no peace.

In this disorder, this pain, this nightmare it is sometimes hard to grasp what is that blessedness Christ asserts is to be found there.

In the third chapter of his gospel John, as narrator and theologian, explains that the fundamental, pre-existing condition of everything, the reason anything exists at all is love.  We all, I’m sure, can recite some version of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

John sees God as the God who loves and gives…unconditionally. In a wedding when, less often now than before, the question is asked, “Who gives this man, or woman”, or, as I prefer it, “these two to be married”. Those who give are giving for love; giving these two to one another for the beauty of love.

Yes, there is a foreshadowing of death in that word “gave” but the gift of God in Christ to the world was the gift of love and life. If there is condemnation and death there as well… it is not from God but from us. For John then goes on to say, “For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Saved, I insist, for love and life.

God so loved the world that God gave the Son, the Christ. And Christ so loves the world that Christ gives the world the church.

Dietrich Bonheoffer, Lutheran Pastor, martyred by the Nazi’s, in his slender book “Life Together” says “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ…We belong to one another only through and in Christ.” This, he says, “clarifies the goal of all Christian community they…[are] bringers of the message of salvation.” That is a fine definition of the Church.

Christ, gives the world the Church for the same reason that God gives the Son…for love. Even in the deepest darkness of this world God gives the Son to the world for love and Christ gives the world the Church…for love.

In the end the blessedness in the beatitudes—for the poor, the meek, the mourners, the hungry and thirsty, the persecuted, for those who know no peace, or whose purity of heart has long since been shredded—that blessedness isn’t pie in the sky when you die…it is us. Their blessedness is to be found in the Church, through us, in as much as we belong to one another, in and through Christ, and are faithful messengers and agents of God’s love.

To close, we have 125 years of experience in being those faithful messengers and many of those years were dark indeed. But, as we were reminded at Warren UMC, “There is not enough darkness in the whole world to put out the light of a single candle.” St. Barnabas is being called, I am convinced, to be the light of Christ’s love here on this corner, in the city and world around us, and there may be more dark years to come where that light is desperately needed. It is no small vision. It would be preposterous if there weren’t so much evidence that it is already happening right here and now—but it is a vision which is neither more nor less than Jesus’ instruction to both Peter and to the Church he gives to the world: “…if you love me, feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs.”

Faithfully,

Paul+

 

Welcome to the New Year!

Gilbert K. Chesterton, the British author, lay theologian and sharp observer of the intersection of the human soul and the world, said of New Year’s resolutions:

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose, new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.”

I’ve decided to take Chesterton’s words to heart. Here are some resolutions I have made for 2017 and for most of them I’ll need some partnership if they are to be well kept!

1.     Conversation. In my Christmas letter I extended the invitation to conversation. I would like to begin this year in conversation with as many members of St. Barnabas as possible. I am open to those conversations being about anything (except the Bronco’s season). Some may have a desire to talk about your relationship with me as Rector of St. Barnabas. I have asked Jim Banks (a member of the vestry and a therapist) and Rev. Deb Angell to be available for those conversations. Mostly for a clear objective presence. Please contact me directly or through Carol and we can set an appointment.

2.     Christian Formation. Sometimes we need a little pause as they say to “Sharpen the saw.” I have acquired a resource for looking back at the roots of our faith to help us be more fully followers of Christ. The resource is called “Pilgrim”. Why Pilgrim?

Even now, back at our base for ministry, as Christians we are always on a pilgrimage of faith to God’s reign with Christ. Pilgrim has been developed to help local churches to look at the dimensions of that journey, as individuals and as congregations, and to help in inviting others to join us in our journey of faith. More information will follow but for now know it consists of two stages called “Follow” and “Grow”. Each stage has four sections divided into six sessions. Sessions are about 80 minutes and could be on Sunday or a weekday evening. Follow is especially is good for inquirers and those who would like to prepare for baptism or confirmation. While not as broad as Education For Ministry – Pilgrim offers enough scope to allow people to take an in-depth look at our journey with Christ both as individuals and as members of the church.

I’ll be sending out more information but initially I would like some input as to when people think this might best be scheduled. You can take a look at some information about Pilgrim here: https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/pilgrim/welcometopilgrim.pdf

3.     Preaching Workshop. Speaking of sharpening saws I have long wanted to attend the annual “Festival of Homiletics.” Which is a week-long event offering workshops, lectures, and symposia for clergy and others called to preach in the church. This year it is in May in San Antonio. Meeting with well known preachers, authors, and other preachers offers a chance to be renewed and learn. It’s been a long time since my homiletics courses in seminary. I am planning on attending this year!

4.     A Night to Shine. With our now completely handicapped accessible facilities we are in a position to reach out to people we really haven’t been able to before. The Tim Tebow Foundation sponsors and promotes an international event every year around Valentine’s Day: “A Night to Shine”. It is a prom night for people with special needs and an opportunity for congregations like ours to share the love God has given us with some much of our society simply do not see or do not see as inherently valuable and beloved.

I will arrange to attend one here in the Denver area to take a fist hand look at what is involved. If you would like to go with me it is February 10th 5PM-8:30 PM.  You can take a look at a video about it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCBKUEObk0w

Christmas 2016

"The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light."
(Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16)

Dear Saint Barnabas Family,

At this time of the shortest days and longest nights of the year the challenges facing our nation and our world may seem insurmountable – I find it important to think of this moment in time as a chapter of the ongoing story of God's work in our world.

Much of both the Old testament and the New were written in times when it seemed that all the odds were against the people of God and their desire for justice and peace in the world. Many of the most comforting and prophetic texts were written by people living in times of political uncertainty, war, and even exile. Some of Paul's greatest letters were written as he awaited execution in prison. And it was at time of deep political and economic oppression when our God chose to be born into a poor human family to bring a message of God's love, healing and salvation to a broken world.  Again and again Scripture tells us that in the darkest moments, God shows us light.  God tells us that God's Dream of a world that knows justice and peace is unfolding right now, and that we all are a part of God's work in the world. For me, this unfolding story gives me hope. Hope that in the end, love wins. God's peace and justice will reign.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has said, "The Christian community is meant to be a mutual hope society, with each one offering courage to another whose hope has waned, insisting that even in the darkest of night, new life is being prepared." Maybe now more than ever, we all need, and our world needs, a "mutual hope society."  Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church continues to tell our sacred story so that together we will be built up in hope. And, it is important to remember that story isn’t static!

The New Year will see us continuing to settle into our renewed base for ministry. We will be listening for what the Holy Spirit might be saying to us through these renewed spaces about the next chapter of our story.

I do want to hear what any member of the parish has to say about your own, mine, or our ongoing story.

My office hours have shifted in the past year. I am now in the office Tuesday through Thursday (and Fridays when I’m not preaching the following Sunday) 10AM to 6PM. As always Carol will hold my Thursday afternoons and evening as a predictable period to make an appointment with me. Also, again as always, when I’m in the office my door is open. If you drop by I’ll be glad to see you.

The birth of our Lord and Savior reminds us that we are sons and daughters of God with him. We are baptized into Christ’s mission to love God and to love our neighbor. The Spirit inspires and empowers us to be “Christ’s Light” to a broken world.

May God richly bless you, all those whom you love, and all whom you are called to serve in Christ’s name, in this holy season and always.

Faithfully in Christ,

Paul+

After the Election: Standing Up, Standing Together

One hundred and fifty years ago, twenty-five years before St. Barnabas became a parish, our reunited country was in great turmoil.  The previous year had seen both the end of that atrocity we call the Civil War and President Lincoln’s assassination. While the Union had been preserved the ties that bind remained severed and the healing of the nations wounds was still largely a dream.

A month before his assassination, President Lincoln made his second inaugural address.  In it he voiced the fear that the war would “If God wills…continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword…”

But he looked beyond that to the day the war would end and the next great national project could begin “To bind up the nations wounds…and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves.”  Some of the most determined warriors of that struggle shared Lincoln’s final hope. Even as he conducted the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee instructed his men to go home and wage peace with as much vigor as they had waged war. Another Confederate General, the brutal Nathan Bedford Forrest, addressed his disbanding troops saying:

“Civil war, such as you have just passed through naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred, and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings; and as far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings towards those with whom we have so long contended, and heretofore so widely, but honestly, differed. Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities, and private differences should be blotted out...”

He concluded his address saying:

“I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers, you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor…”

Our times, seemingly, are as contentious as that period after the Civil War. Anger and hatred fester in our public discourse. Some feel validated by winners of elected office and at liberty to commit acts of astonishing hatred. The free exchange of ideas has been exchanged for a juvenile jeering that invokes the worst of our collective emotions.

Yet our own history points us toward a different way. If such enemies as Lincoln, Lee and Forrest could see a path beyond war and division is there a reason we cannot walk that path? If they could be as passionate for healing and community building as they were in prosecuting their side of the war is there a reason we cannot be equally passionate for healing and community? They knew anarchy lurks behind, not far behind, festering division.  In such times it takes courage to walk a different path, to play a different role.

We, the people of St. Barnabas have a role in this time. We can be a force, as President Thomas Jefferson put it to, “Restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.”

None of us can be sure yet of all of that role entails, but, as I suggested a couple of weeks ago, one place we can begin is by publically standing with those who are most insecure and vulnerable right now. In this Advent season we can be part of the light of Christ breaking into the world, we can begin to play our part by standing in love, and as neighbors, with those who are most at risk for acts of hate.

I have here an initial draft of a letter I would like us to send to religious and community organizations such as The Center, the Islamic Center, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Sikh Community Center, Temple Micah, Shorter AME Church and others we think appropriate. There is a copy for each of us to take and sit with for a little while. We can all have opportunity to share input at the Adult Forum or with me in conversation or even email before we sign and send these letters out.

I’ll close simply by reading the letter.

 

Dear Faith or Community Leader

For 125 years the people of Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church have come together as a family, have come together as a faithful worshiping community, have come together to open our doors and reach out in service to the people of this city of Denver. In all those years we have not been shy in partnering with other faith communities and organizations to contribute to the greater good. Our hearts have found great joy in all of this.

In this time we find our hearts are heavy.

It is impossible to close our eyes and pretend not to see a great upwelling of anger, scapegoating, and hate in our country, state, and city. It is impossible to close our eyes and pretend not to see that those who increasingly are targets for acts of anger and hate are too often in places of great vulnerability and insecurity.

From insult and assault committed against women, children, and others who have virtually no defense or defenders, to the desecration and destruction of houses of worship, the incidence of hate crimes continues to rise.

Our hearts break when we hear of women being assaulted for wearing hijab. Our hearts break hearing about grade-school children being bullied by fellow students and even teachers because of the color of their skin, their country of origin, or their religion. Our hearts break hearing of members of the LGBTQ community being harassed and assaulted for simply being themselves.

Our hearts break knowing so many groups feel as if it is open season and fear that they are being hunted: Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Gays, Hispanics, Blacks, Arabs, Asians, Native Americans, the Disabled. With over 1,000 reported incidents of hate crimes in November alone there is more than enough reason for fear.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed that people everywhere ought to be free from fear and free from want, and ought to be able to enjoy freedom of worship and freedom of speech.  If these freedoms are denied to anyone in this country they are denied to us all.

It would be so easy to succumb to hatred for those who are, in these days and in this city, seeking to deny others these freedoms. But, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of our country’s greatest prophets, taught, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”  And of course the one we follow as Christians calls his followers to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Rejecting hate we choose to stand up in love and as neighbors.

We want your community to know you are not alone, together, we all belong here, we are neighbors. If there is joy in this time it is found just there – together we are neighbors in what actually makes this country strong – our diversity. We want you to know in these fearful days we stand with you in love, as neighbors, as children of the same race – the human race – and children of the God who loves us all.

What we can do we will do to be loving neighbors. Your community doesn’t stand alone in facing hatred. We stand with you. We all stand together.

Sincerely,

The People of Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church

To the Rector

One idea that was passed along to me recently is that of an annual questionnaire on various aspects of the ministry of the Rector. Questions might include subjects like Worship services, sermons, pastoral care, community & larger church relations, communication, parish values...

Not a bad idea but perhaps it might go a bit more into mutuality with questions like how do you feel about your faith walk? What kind of support do you need in your ministry as a baptized Christian? How can the parish support you in deepening your spiritual gifts? What is the toughest question about faith you wrestle with?

I'd like to have such a questionnaire be a place of give and take, where questions and hopes, doubts and answers can be shared as a means for growth and empowerment. 

I invite any member of the parish who would like to work with me on development of this type of questionnaire to please give me a call and let's explore this together

The Election

In this election year a few thoughts from the Episcopal Public Policy Network

Election Engagement

“If we who are Christians participate in the political process and in the public discourse as we are called to do — the New Testament tells us that we are to participate in the life of the polis, in the life of our society — the principle on which Christians must vote is the principle, Does this look like love of neighbor?" – Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, March 2016

Episcopalians can live out our call to care for our neighbors as ourselves by engaging in the public square. This November 8, our nation will head to the polls to decide a number of important elections, and there are many opportunities for Episcopalians to engage in this electoral process. Official Episcopal policy recognizes voting and political participation as acts of Christian stewardship...A faithful commitment to political participation aligns with our Baptismal Covenant’s promise to “strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.”

A Prayer

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States (or of this community) in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.