The Gift of Presence

Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.  - Albert Camus

Giving great gifts can be a bit of an art form. I know some people who really excel at it, but I suspect even then it comes from practice. Some clearly find more joy from this art and practice, where many of us struggle to balance hopes and expectations of gifts with what's available, both in time to search and budget to purchase a great gift.

Having received some really terrific gifts, I often hope to emulate the experience for others. I'm confident I fall short of this more often than I rise to it. Occasionally I find something I know will be a great gift for someone. I treasure those moments, but find more often great gifts come from a more deliberate searching. The searching begins internally, as we seek out what may suit the other. Only then, can the searching for the actual gift begin.

I hope that through Advent we might not only be diligent in our search for presents, but also for presence. Time to be present to one another, friends and family is a gift in and of itself. Just as with the gifts we give, be deliberate to set aside distractions and be together. For all of our searching for gifts to wrap, I imagine our memories are filled with more moments shared, than gifts received. The gift of presence is worth celebrating.

Blessings 
Fr. Paul

Enhancing our Advent Experience

“The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”  - Isaiah 40:5 

Part of our calling at Ascension is to honor the sacred seasons of the church year. Advent is a season of remembering, a time to reflect on what life was like before God became man in Jesus. Advent is a season for the present, that we may focus on our worship and the peace and love we know in God. Advent is a season of anticipation, we place our hope and expectation in the return of Christ. 

We have a long tradition of beginning the season with an intergenerational gathering. Our 'Advent Fest' includes some annual favorites, but also some new activities. It will include a display of 'Advent Word' that I'm particularly excited about. It is familiar to many on social media, but this year there will be a print representation created by many members and coordinated by Sarah Klitzke. 

In years past St. Nicholas has made an appearance in Children's Chapel. This year it will happen within our first Sunday intergenerational service. We invite all children to leave shoes in a designated area in the narthex on their way into worship. St. Nicholas will be present in the procession and join me during the sermon as we speak of Advent and more. The children can return to their shoes at the end of service and find a special treat.

Further, I would like to encourage you to arrive early each Sunday in Advent. We will offer a prayer as we light the Advent wreath shortly after 10am and there will be a special musical offering each Sunday. These can help us focus our hearts and minds as we gather for worship, as well as connect us in God's spirit. If you're unable to arrive early, please be mindful of others and the music being offered as you enter.

Last, I offer a few links to resources that may help us all live into the spirit of this season of Advent:
Advent Conspiracy: a plan to help us to worship fully, spend less, give more and love all, check it out here: https://adventconspiracy.org/
Scripture Union will be posting a special Advent Reading plan:  https://scriptureunion.org/
Forward Movement: a resource many of you use daily, offers some specific resources for the season as well: 
https://www.forwardmovement.org/

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Practicing Gratitude

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.” - 1 Chronicles 16:34

There are studies that support the notion that practicing gratitude leads to greater happiness. That is, if we intentionally establish ways to acknowledge positive things and celebrate what is going well, it has an impact on our overall attitude and emotional well-being. It can be as simple as stating a few things you are thankful for to another person each day.

Thanksgiving is a time when we tend to state what we are thankful for more plainly. Perhaps it can also be a reminder of the importance of this practice. Maybe it is something we need to do more often and more deliberately. Thanksgiving can be a reminder of the value of gratitude, as well as a time to begin new practices. If it is on-going, it diminishes our need to be comprehensive.

I am grateful for my family, near and far. I am grateful for the community here at Ascension and the ministry we share together. I am grateful for the safety and well being I am afforded living in Dallas. I imagine you share in some of these Thanksgivings, I hope you will share your gratitude with others in the week ahead.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Change Can Be . . .

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”  - Frank Zappa

Change can be challenging, even when there is clear motivation and positive direction throughout. As we prepare for the holidays, most of us have a heightened awareness about tradition. There are things we would rather not see changed; yet each holiday gathering is also utterly unique. Even if the same individuals gather year after year, we each have changed.

There are some exciting changes at Ascension. There are new individuals and families among us in worship. Please help us continue our welcome to them and connect them to ministry. Further, the renovation project in the Upper Building is finally underway. Planning for our other capital projects continues with more updates in the coming weeks.

As we move toward Advent, we also face some changes with our relationship with the Diocese. Bishop George Sumner announced that Bishop Wayne Smith will be providing oversight for the parishes wishing to offer marriage equality. To read his full announcement click here.  Bishop Smith is nearing retirement as Bishop Diocesan in Missouri, but will continue this oversight in retirement. As we face the various changes in life and in our ministry together, may we seek God's guidance in all we do.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Making a Commitment


“Many hands make light work.” - John Heywood

Thank you to all who completed a pledge card already, it is a powerful image to watch so many individuals and families come forward to the altar to make an offering. While it is only one aspect of how we can each participate in the ministry of Ascension, it does have an impact on much of what we do. Cards will remain available on the Welcome Desk and can be placed in the offering at any time. There will be more personal mission statements to share in the coming weeks too!


The vestry, staff and other leadership at Ascension are deliberate in our budget process and how money is allocated and spent. In part, we each strive to be good stewards, as well as honor intent of those giving. Our upcoming workday, this Saturday starting at 8am, is one way we can help reduce expenses. Targeted deep cleaning, landscaping projects, and more, reduce expenses and improve our campus for our own use and how we can welcome others.

As we come together, in our pledge commitment, in our work day, and in the life and ministry here at Ascension, consider how it also sustains you. While the acts of giving and serving may be outward offerings, most who do so regularly can also describe what they receive in the process. Perhaps there are others who may join us as we endeavor to know God's love, as we seek to share it with the world.  

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

The Feast of All Saints

For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus be fore ever blessed. Alleluia, alleluia!

The Feast of All Saints occurs each November 1st.  Many churches, ours included, celebrate it on the following Sunday. Often celebrations offer some acknowledgement of the saints canonized by the church as well as the saints we have known in our own lives. Our 9am formation hour will feature intergenerational activities to commemorate the Feast. Not sure who the patron saint of ice-skating is?  Come learn this and more!

The liturgy and music will also celebrate All Saints Day. It is particularly appropriate to offer baptism and three children will be baptized this Sunday. Also, All Saints has been our ingathering Sunday the past few years. The Stewardship Committee has prepared us well as we consider the mission of the church and our own mission.

Perhaps you can take this as a reminder to offer your prayers today, on All Saints proper, and remember those saints who have been present to you. Then, come on Sunday, prepared to recall the great cloud of witnesses of ages past, as we recall our own baptismal covenant and celebrate those being baptized in our gathering. Come, knowing that your presence is a blessing and consider your commitment, financial and otherwise, to our parish for the year ahead.

 

Welcome to a New Staff Member

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  - Romans 8:28

The staff and other leadership at Ascension are a tremendous blessing to me.  There has been a lot of development in our formation offerings over the past two years as Sarah served as our Director of Christian formation.  The formation committee and others recognized that asking one person to oversee formation for all ages was too much.  We set about to find someone to help.  Specifically, we began looking for someone who would serve as a "Youth Leader."

This week we welcomed a new staff member at Ascension.  Jordan Hammons is known to many at Ascension already for his role and excellence as a soloist and member of the choir and was confirmed at Ascension in 2016.  As we searched for someone to work with Sarah, Jordan emerged as a well qualified candidate.  He will be taking the lead role in organizing and planning the activities and retreats for our Ascension youth.  Sarah and Jordan will work together to develop a holistic approach to youth ministry at Ascension, empowering youth to grow as disciples of God.  

Jordan completed graduate study at Southern Methodist University in 2017. He has experience working with youth through the Boy Scouts of America, serving for 4 years in summer camp administration, including 2 years as Camp Director at Camp Horne in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Over the past four years, Jordan has also worked as a private voice teacher working mainly with high school aged youth, and recently, began performing with The Dallas Opera's education outreach programs. 

Please help us welcome Jordan to his new role here in our parish.

Blessings - 
Fr. Paul

Personal Mission Statements

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” - Maya Angelou

The personal mission statements that have been shared the last few weeks have been powerful. The Stewardship Committee arranged for different people to speak at each service, and it's wonderful to hear everyone's stories. At first the task of writing a personal mission statement can feel quite daunting, but many have mentioned the sacred meaning found in this process.

For some, reflecting on personal mission or purpose is routine, something done annually. For others, it may be new, or something only considered in times of change. Being intentional about the values we hold and what we are called to do is an important part of our faith. It helps guide us toward the most meaningful service as well as our most authentic self.

I expect that as this process continues, we will find some way to share more of our statements. Part of the beauty of doing this together is that we will see how our collective mission is the mission of the church. Let us connect and support one another to fulfill God's vision for our church. We cannot do it individually.

Blessings -

Fr. Paul 

 

 

Clergy in Cars

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” 

                                                               - Rollo May

The way we communicate with one another has changed dramatically in the last generation. Many of the options at our disposal today did not exist twenty years ago. Even those that did, telephone and print media for example, have changed significantly in cost and access.

The rapid expanse can be a blessing, but also a challenge to navigate. When there were fewer options to communicate online, everyone read their email more carefully. So there is a challenge in how to capture people's attention and retain shared information. Perhaps we are aiming at a moving target! 

Over the summer I began using more videos to share information with Ascension: "Ministry Moments" to offer insight to what is happening at church and "5 Minute Bible Studies" to offer formation for those unable to make the other offerings. This fall I started a new series, "Clergy in Cars."  

This series is supposed to be an encouragement toward spiritual conversation and a look at social issues through a variety of perspectives. It is also supposed to be fun, a reminder that even serious content can be fun. Recently, the series also afforded me an opportunity to take a short ride with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry! 

All of these videos are posted to our Facebook page as well as YouTube. The videos have been popular among Ascension members, but have also given us the opportunity to reach out to others, sharing the joy and love we find in Christ and in our community. If you haven't had a chance to see them yet, you can view them here.  

Blessings - 
Fr. Paul

This Sunday, we celebrate all students and staff at Ascension Day School

The first full week of October marks the annual Episcopal Schools Celebration. This Sunday, we celebrate all students and staff that attend Episcopal Schools, including our own Ascension Day School.  We have invited our Day School teachers, students and families to join us for formation and worship and will offer a prayer for them as a part of our 10:15 service.  We are delighted to have some of our ADS families already attending worship, and are looking forward to seeing more of them worship with us!  Please join us in welcoming them.

As a reminder, the first Sunday of every month is designated as our Intergenerational Sundays, where we have formation and worship together. All children remain in the sanctuary and there is no Children's Chapel on first Sundays. Worship is designed with the children in mind, and the new Creative Worship Center shelf by the sound board is filled with activities and tools that help our younger participants engage with worship. Children are welcome at any time during the service to use that area and bring materials back to their pews. There are also sensory toys available that children may borrow during the service to help keep hands busy if needed. 

During this week's intergenerational formation at 9:00am, the whole group will hear a Godly Play story, a method of telling scriptural stories in an experiential manner that we use with our youngest worshippers. Following the story, there will be questions and activities to encourage participants of all ages to have conversations and learn together. It is World Communion Sunday, and it seems appropriate for our intergenerational Sunday as we come together to celebrate God's love in our lives. 

I hope you will join us this Sunday, and every Sunday, for formation and for worship.

Blessings - 
Fr. Paul