January 5, 2017 by
Dear members and friends of St. Barnabas, As many of you know, for the past nine months that I have been here St. Barnabas has been without a Senior Warden. I would like to thank Amy Sussman for the work she did in preparing the parish for a new rector and keeping the faith alive and active throughout the building process. I also would like to thank Dana Hess for her support, guidance, and hard work over these last months in her role as acting interim Sr. Warden. I am delighted to announce that we have a new Sr. Warden who will begin this month—Butch Willard! Butch has been an active member of St. Barnabas for a number of years, and has been involved in the greater Carroll County area assisting at the Holy Trinity Parish Cemetery and as a Master Gardener. He brings a number of skills to this position from his previous employment as a Human Resources Director in Columbia, MD and Richmond, VA. I believe that we will work together well as a team to provide leadership, identify our mission and goals, to help develop a strategic plan for St. Barnabas and to implement our plan and assess our progress. I look forward to working with Butch and all of you as we continue to make St. Barnabas a wonderful place to worship and grow in faith! Included below is a personal letter from Butch as he begins this new adventure. Yours in Christ, Mother Meredith *********************** As we begin the New Year and will later this year celebrate St. Barnabas’s 166th birthday, I would like to share a few personal thoughts and aspirations as I begin my tenure as Senior Warden of our wonderful parish family. First I want to thank Amy Sussman for her service as Senior Warden during the three year transition to call our new Rector and for leading our Stewardship program. Our recent past has offered a wonderful time of reflection. Amy, our Vestry and our Transition Team did an outstanding job of readying us for Mother Meredith’s arrival. These lay leaders and a multitude of other dedicated volunteers helped us identify our strengths and consider opportunities for improvement. Amy demonstrated a posture of calm and confidence. I’ve often heard Amy make the statement “All will be well, all will be well”. Thank you Amy. Secondly I would like to thank Dana Hess for serving the past six months as our Interim Senior Warden. Dana’s leadership is clearly visible and evident in every part of our parish life. We depend on Dana for much including Communications; Fund Raising; Vestry service and other miscellaneous activities. Thank you Dana. We’ve are blessed to have many dedicated lay leaders (Commission team members, Church officers, Vestry members, Volunteers, Wardens, Employees, etc.) who have prepared St. Barnabas for a bright future. I want to personally thank each of you. I’ve accepted this significant responsibility for several reasons: Mother Meredith challenged each of us during a sermon early in Advent by asking that we live out our faith by leaning into opportunities where we might make the most difference. I pondered that challenge for several days before our discussion about our vacant Sr. Warden role. Where could I make the most difference? To be open and candid about myself, I shared with Mother Meredith my personal strengths (macro thinker, strategic partner, perceptive, gaining consensus, action orientation) and flat spots that need improvement (not detail oriented, can be too candid at times, impatient, poor with minutiae, listening skills). I asked Mother Meredith about her expectations of our Sr. Warden. My summary of her response to this question follows: to serve as the rector’s warden. Not an assistant rector. Not as an employer or employee but to serve as her partner in our ministries. My goal is to become her lay advisor, encourager, supporter and confidante. I also asked about her personal aspirations and her long term strategic plan for St. Barnabas (e.g. our Mission, Vision, Core Values, Priorities and Goals). If we were to achieve our Mission of “Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve and Minds to Grow”, what would that look like in our everyday lives? Her response: with the Vestry & Officers to facilitate a living, forward looking strategy and actions for St. Barnabas which will reach into our communities (internal and external) and create a healthy thriving community. I’ve considered that after many years of personal volunteer experiences as a Greeter/Usher, Counter, Vestry person, Communications team member and Stewardship team leader/member, how might I best serve our parish family? Stepping into our Sr. Warden role seemed a natural fit at this point in my life. I believe God gives us the grace and gifts to serve as God pleases. Lastly but importantly, I asked my wife for her thoughts and concerns. As you might imagine, Terry is supportive and believes this is the right time in our personal and parish life for me to step forward and contribute. As we begin this New Year and ponder how we all will increase our personal faith journeys with Christ, I ask that you include Mother Meredith and her family in your prayers. I also ask for your personal support and patience with me as I grow into this new role. Lastly I ask that you continue stepping forward by leaning into our goal of bringing to life the mission of St. Barnabas Sykesville. Thank you, Butch
June 22, 2016 by
Our house sits about two long blocks away from Leadenhall street . On one side of that street is an office building; on the other is a wide expanse of concrete which is a parking lot used by the Ravens Stadium in the Fall and Winter and for Camden Yards and Orioles baseball in the summer. Right next to that parking lot is a cluster of abandoned buildings, walls falling over, windows broken out, and somewhere in there lives a man that my family refers to as “John the Baptist.” He looks exactly like how I picture John: He is thin, burned dark by the sun, and his curly hair and beard are matted and tangled. Frequently in the summer, I see him wearing just the costume described in Scripture: a belt around his waist holding a bundle of fabric about him. Usually when I see him, he seems deep in conversation, but there is no one else there; he seems deep in conversation with a legion of voices who live within him. Our local John the Baptist is wrestling with a very deep and uncontrolled mental illness. I suspect that he attempts to manage it with drugs and alcohol leading to all sorts of additional problems–but I don’t know that for sure. Occasionally I pass him on the street. When he sees someone coming, he will often stop whatever he is doing and stand stock still and turn away, as if to avert himself and his presence from those passing by. When it freezes, when it snows, when it thunders, we sometimes wonder about him, and wonder if he is okay. He doesn’t seem violent or dangerous. But I do find him disturbing. That’s not because I don’t have experience working with people with mental illness and chemical dependency. If anything, it’s the exact opposite. In the course of my ministry, I have served in three different hospital settings: North General Hospital in Harlem, John Hopkins Bayview, and St. Joseph Medical Center. In each of these I have always ended up working with the mentally ill and chemically addicted. It’s not something that I’ve chosen, but somehow my various supervisors have all had me lead spirituality groups for the mentally ill–and each time I have found them very rewarding. I don’t find my John the Baptist disturbing because I have no experience in working with people who display his symptoms, rather I hesitate to approach him because my experience reinforces the importance of working with very disturbed people within carefully monitored environments where both he and I can be assured of our safety and security. But the truth is that our society finds the mentally ill deeply disturbing. Our gospel for today from Luke introduces us to a figure who has no name. Indeed, when Jesus asks him his name, it is not the man but a host of demons within him who answer. This man lives among the tombs, without clothes, and is unclean. I don’t want to get into the issue of demons today; that’s a whole other issue that requires a lot of time and care to sort through. Instead, let me just say that the way that Luke portrays him seems deeply familiar to me. In the description of this nameless man, I see the face of our local John the Baptist; I see the faces of people I have known and prayed with in my spirituality groups. What jumps out at me, though, is what happens at the end of the passage. We see the man, clean, clothed, and in his right mind sitting at the feet of Jesus–and the people are deeply disturbed: by Jesus. They beg him to leave. They beg him to go away and not bother them any more. More than anything else, this is the point that stands out: they see Jesus as the disturbing one. There are two critically important things that I’ve learned about the mentally ill over the years that I’ve worked with them. The first is that they are just like you and me—only more so. That is, what makes them mentally ill is not that their personality or thinking is fundamentally different from other people, rather, that some parts or portions are bigger, larger, or exaggerated from what you find in other people. It’s not a difference in kind—it’s a difference in degree. They are just like you and me—only more so. When I see Jesus interacting with the Gerasene demoniac, when I see him encounter him and change him, I’m reminded of what the biblical John the Baptist preached: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” We have all of these construction sites around our house and we see all kinds of big trucks which my 5 year old nephew absolutely loves and one of them is the leveler or the grader that does just this—it makes everything smooth. That’s the image that John the Baptist is calling up here. Jesus is the great leveler, he is the great balancer, he is the one who has the power to make smooth. Jesus takes those exaggerations and distortions and, in this story, we see him level them out and smooth them down, and bring healing and wholeness and restoration. Not because he was asked, but because it’s part of who he is—it’s part of God’s desire for his whole creation, that things be put back into balance and that the whole world might be reconciled to one another and back to its creator. The second important thing that I have learned is that they are not “they”; they are us. I can’t give you a percentage but the majority of people that I saw on regular hospital floors were on anti-depressants or other medications to help control something that had gone out of balance. They are not “they”; they are we and us. And we don’t know how to deal with that. We don’t do well at dealing with that. The man in the Gospel was chained up and put under guard. It wasn’t so very long ago that we used to do things like that in this country too, and there still remains a stigma against people with mental health issues. Too often these issues are covered over or explained away as “laziness” or “weakness” or some kind of moral failing. This is a strategy our society uses to push these people away, to separate them off, and to make them into an “other” and a “them.” It urges people to cover it up, to hide it, to pretend it’s not there. Rather than seeking help, people self-medicate covering their symptoms or dealing with their pain by turning to alcohol or other drugs. But silence doesn’t make things better. Hiding the problem doesn’t make the problem go away. You can see the effects impacting relationships, and families, and family systems, and communities—even church communities. I won’t say that this is what is causing the addiction epidemic in our country, but I think it is a major factor in it. I won’t say that this is what is causing mass shootings and tragedies like what happened in Orlando or Aurora or Sandy Hook or other places, but I think it is a major factor in it. What do we do? I wish that I could stand up here and say that we all need is Jesus, that Jesus will take care of this for us, that all we have to do is to turn to him and everything will be fixed—but it doesn’t work like that. What I can say is this. As the church, we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to proclaim the message he proclaimed, to see the truths he pointed out, and to participate in God’s own project of calling the world back to himself, back to reconciliation and wholeness and balance. Jesus wasn’t willing to let the situation stand. He wasn’t willing to let the man stay chained up or running naked among the tombs. He did what he had to do to address the problem even if the end result was disturbing people who were used to the old way of doing things and getting kicked out of the region by the people who lived there. As Galatians reminds us this morning, the promise of salvation is for all; the message of forgiveness and wholeness is for all. Baptism breaks down all of the barriers that we like to create to wall ourselves off from people who are not like us. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” And we, as the church, are not doing our job if we are not recognizing and telling the truth about what is exaggerated or unbalanced in our own lives, and families, and communities. What exactly does that mean for us here at St. Barnabas? At one level, Jesus challenges us to follow in his footsteps by examine ourselves. Are there parts of our lives that are out of balance? Are there aspects of our lives that are exaggerated or distorted in ways that effect our families, our co-workers, and friends? And if so, talk to someone about it. Know that this is not what God wants for you, and let his grace direct you to the people or groups or resources who can help you. Talk to me, talk to a counselor or a doctor, but don’t stay silent. On another level, Jesus challenges us to follow in his footsteps by questioning the current system. By questioning and confronting a society that is ok with hiding away the situation and pretending it doesn’t exist. The consequences of that are dangerous—and sometimes even deadly. Not only that, Jesus challenges us to make a difference and to act out the wholeness that he—and we—proclaim. We can talk here as a parish about what we can do as a faith community. We can discuss what programs we can support that address mental health and addiction issues right here in our community. I can’t heal my John the Baptist, but maybe I can have an effect on systems and institutions that can, systems that can create a place that is safe and secure for him and for those who help him so that he can find the peace and wholeness that God wills for him. Because there is no “they” and “them”; in the light of the Gospel there is only “we” and “us” and “ours.” Let us pray: Blessed Jesus, who ministered to all who came to you: Look with compassion upon your whole family; fill every valley, level every mountain, make every rough place smooth until individuals, families, societies and nations may enjoy the blessings of wholeness and peace that only you can bring; through the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
June 7, 2016 by
I was driving somewhere recently and had the public radio station on and they did a story to mark the beginning of mushroom hunting season which starts in late spring and apparently goes through the fall. One poor reporter got sent out into the woods with a group of experienced mushroom hunters and they reflected on the art and science of mushroom hunting as they wound their way through a forest towards some known prime spots. Once they got to the right area, one of the hunters told the reporter what to do: the trick is to find the first mushroom. Because once you find that first mushroom, suddenly, you’ll start seeing them all around you. But the key is to find that first one. Partly this is biology: mushrooms will grow together and will often cluster around one tree or group of trees, so once you find that tree you’ll be in luck. But the other part is due to how human perception works. Once we find the first one, once we have that pattern in our head, then more will suddenly pop into view and we’ll be able to notice them easier. You have to know what you’re looking for. In today’s Gospel, Jesus works a dramatic miracle that everybody sees. Luke tells the story almost like he’s shooting a movie; he shows us the action. He starts with Jesus walking towards the gates of the town of Nain and he’s got this huge crowd behind him. Then the camera pans over to the city gates and we see a funeral procession coming out just a short way in front of Jesus and it has a large crowd behind it. In that tight spot where you go in and out of the city these two crowds going in opposite directions collide and in the collision, you see Jesus standing there in front of a woman, and behind her is the men bearing her son. There’s this moment of silence and stillness in the midst of these two loud crowds, a moment between Jesus and the mother. And then he steps past her, touches the coffin and calls out, and then the dead son sits up. I can see Luke going to an overhead shot as you see the reaction spread through these two crowds moving in a ripple away from the coffin as they figure out what has just happened. And then Luke focuses on that—on the reaction—getting into the stunned faces and letting us hear what they’re saying: “God has looked with favor on his people.” And then the words spreads not just here, not just in these two crowds, but across Judea. Luke could even wrap up his scene with a shot of one of those spinning newspapers that stops so you can read the big headline:” Jesus brings widow’s boy back from the dead!” This is a big moment, it’s a visual moment, it’s a public moment. And that’s actually unusual. We get to see this big moment—the crowd gets to see this big moment—and they recognize it for what it is, but so many of the moments of resurrection and restoration that happen in our lives aren’t like this. They’re much more private, they’re much more hidden, you have to find them, to notice them and then, once you do, more will suddenly pop into view and you’ll be able to notice them easier—but you have to know what you’re looking for. Now—in order to really get the scene that Luke is shooting for us, we have to know a certain amount of backstory. Our lectionary gives us part of that with our First Lesson. Elijah—one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament—raises the son of a widow at Zarephath. The result was that the woman recognized that Elijah truly was a man of God and was worth listening to. It’s not just that Jesus raised somebody from the dead, it’s also who he raised and how the crowd responded and also what it meant for his whole mission. In order to really get what Luke is showing us we have see that Jesus is doing the same kind of thing that Elijah was—he’s part of a bigger pattern—and that this, in turn, is part of God’s bigger pattern too. Whenever the Old Testament wants to talk about social justice, and about care and concern for people who are left out and who have no power there’s one phrase that it uses over and over: “the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in your land.” That’s important: “the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in your land.” Israel’s society was structured around families headed by men. You had flocks and grazing lands if you had a big enough family to keep the territory from other people who wanted it. The bigger your family and the more connections you had the better off you were. Family relationships were key; and that’s what these three groups didn’t have: widows, orphans, and strangers in the land were cut off from this system and cut off from access to the courts and justice. And that’s part of what made it even worse for a widow. Men were the ones who owned the property and the wealth and who were listened to by the law courts. Women started out as the property of their fathers, then they became the property of their husbands, and then—eventually—they became the property of their sons. Women were dependent upon the men who had access into the whole system of power—and without them, things didn’t go so well. That’s why it was so dangerous to be a widow. In a time without social security or anything like that, a woman was entirely dependent for her income and her survival on the man who took care of her. And that’s the really key part of these two stories that we miss if we don’t understand this point. When a widow lost her son, she wasn’t only seeing a beloved child die. She had already seen his father die and along with him her status and situation. But now she watches her son die as well. And along with the child died her income, her protection, her security, the only voice she had who could stand up for her legally. When Elijah first comes to the widow at Zarepheth, he finds her gathering sticks to make one last meal before she and her son die of starvation. It’s just been one thing after another after another for her. Losing her husband, losing her income, her safety, her security, her identity. And now it’s her son. It’s just one more thing piled on top of everything else she has been going through. When Elijah raises her son, it is a moment of resurrection and restoration. Her son is restored to her and not just her son but her identity and place within the wider world. When Jesus reaches out his hand and breaks all sorts of religious laws and directions by touching the coffin and calls out for the widow’s only son to get up, it is a moment of resurrection and restoration for her. The whole community knows that she is no longer alone and no longer cut off. Both Jesus and Elijah have shown with vivid examples that God’s care and concern is for everybody, not just those the society listened to; but to even those without a voice: with widow, the orphan, the stranger in the land. In the last few years we’ve been seeing a lot of those “Keep calm and carry on” signs. Now, of course, there are all sorts of variations that play on it or use it to make a particular point. I find it so interesting the degree to which these have caught on. Just like the widows who kept having bad situations piled on top of them one after the other, those signs were from a time when all sorts of bad things were piling on. You may have heard the story of where those came from. The slogan and the poster were created in Britain in 1939, just before the Second World War broke out. England had been in an economic depression just like America had, and fear had been rising as they had watched the growth of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. The government produced millions of these posters to help bolster public courage and resolve in the face of air bombings and yet one more thing. Of course they didn’t actually get used then, and most of them were destroyed to be turned into other products. I think the slogan resonates with us so much because that’s how so many of us are feeling right now; like so many things are piling on top of us. That’s not to say that we’re necessarily facing anything like the London Blitz or like the widows of Ancient Israel, but so often it feels like one thing after the other. The miracle we see in our Gospel today is big and public. It’s a miracle that everybody sees. But in showing us that big miracle, I think Luke—and Jesus—are showing us something much more important. That resurrection and restoration is a part of who God is. That God is present with us and is acting and restoring and resurrection in much quieter, more private ways that we might even miss if we don’t know what to look for. No word spread about Elijah. He didn’t have a big audience. And yet even in the privacy of that upstairs room, resurrection and restoration were happening. And—in the places we live, resurrection and restoration happens. One of my friends has been going through a rough time over the past few years. She liked to swim and run before she got injured. First her knees gave her trouble so she had to stop running; then her shoulders started giving her trouble and she had to stop swimming. And, you have to understand, for people who do these kinds of things—this is when we see people; this is where our friends are. For her, losing these activities was a loss of more than just a sport, her whole social structure and support system is part of this. The last time I saw her, she was so excited—she had been introduced to a new nutrition system that had completely changed the way that she ate. After a while she started noticing that all of her injuries were getting better. Her knees and her shoulders were starting to heal, and she was able to start up her activities again. It was so nice to see the joy in her face and the excitement in her voice as she talked about the benefits of this new way of eating. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t public, it wasn’t particularly “religious,” but what I saw in her was resurrection and restoration. Things were coming back together. Something that had been broken had been made whole. Something had occurred—and she wanted—needed—to share it. Resurrection and restoration is a part of who God is. God is present with us and is acting and restoring and resurrecting in much quieter, more private ways than we expect. Big miracles are great; we love ig miracles. But far more common are the smaller moments, the private moments, that things that don’t even look or feel “religious” in the way we think they might. Because God isn’t just about religion—God is about life, and life is where we’ll find him changing us and converting us and transforming us and restoring us and resurrecting us to point where we have to talk about it and can’t stop sharing about it. But—just like the mushrooms—we have to see it. These moments of resurrection are all arounds; but we have to find them. We have to have that little shift of perception, find the first one so that we can see them all around us. That’s your job this next week. Just like looking for mushrooms—the key is to find the first one. Where is that for you? Where is it hiding? Are you overlooking it? Or have you not yet realized what it is because it does seem like what you expect? But it’s there, inviting you into resurrection. And that’s what God wants for us. To be whole. To be plugged in. To be restored and resurrected. Let us pray: O God, whose blessed Son made himself known in signs and wonders, but chiefly in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
May 31, 2016 by
Spring has always symbolized new beginnings for me as long as I can remember. There are the obvious changes with the weather; it usually begins to warm up a bit and I put away the winter clothes and bring out the spring clothes. I love to clean out drawers, closets, files and do some deep spring cleaning around the house. Outside the trees begin to grow new, green leaves on their branches and flowers begin to bloom. New life is all around! So too is true in the church. We celebrate Easter, a principal feast highlighting the resurrection of Jesus and the new life given to us through him. Here at St. Barnabas we are in the midst of new beginnings; worshiping in our newly restored sanctuary and beginning a new journey and pastoral relationship with a new rector. I am a not only new to the St. Barnabas community, this is my first rectorship as well! With all of these new beginnings it seems like the perfect time to get into the modern world and start a blog. In this space I hope to share my thoughts and ideas, sermons and adult forums, upcoming events and to be a resource for clergy and lay people. I invite you to join me on this exciting adventure!