Upcoming Lenten Series

“When spiritual conversations become an everyday reality,
you'll have a front-row seat as God changes people's lives.” - Mary Schaller & John Crilly

The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations was first presented at Ascension in the fall of 2017 as a part of a workshop titled, "Church Beyond the Walls." Co-author Mary Schaller was here to help present the material at that time. Since then, I have found the book to be an inspiration toward curiosity and better conversations. It has influenced my preaching and is, at least in part, the inspiration for "Clergy in Cars."

So, when the Formation Committee asked if I might lead something during Lent, this material was high on my list. I thought it would be helpful to explain a little more about the material and how it will be offered here at Ascension. Copies of the book will be available starting this Sunday for $12. It is also available as an e-book if you prefer. The book is not required for your participation, but I believe you will enjoy reading it as a part of the course.

The first Sunday of Lent (March 10) during Christian Formation will present an overview of the material and introduction. The book has four parts, which will be covered in the remaining 4 Sundays (March 17, 24, 31 and April 7). Following the presentation portion there will be time to engage with the material. A printed guide will be available for each person to help us engage in spiritual conversation.

We really want this to be available for everyone and recognize that not everyone is able to be present on Sunday at 9am. The presentations will be recorded to help more people access them. Each Wednesday evening during Lent, a group will gather at church for dinner and to watch the presentation together and have conversation about it. It will also be posted online, along with the guide. We hope that this combination of methods will help the whole parish engage with this life-giving material.

Blessings 

Fr. Paul 

Annual Parish Meeting

So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already. 
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11 

The Annual Parish Meeting took place last Sunday at 9am. It was good to see so many members participate. Thank you for coming to take part in this important gathering and listening as we consider our common life. Whether you were present or not, the annual meeting booklet remains an important resource for us. Copies of the booklet will remain available at the church.
 

One thing to highlight in the reports is Dabney Dwyer's retirement as Outbound Director at the end of March. I intended to touch upon this in my report as well.  Dabney has been such an integral part of our Outbound programs. We will do more to recognize her and the other Outbound ministry leaders on Sunday, March 24th during the 10:15 service. Mother Marci will offer staff oversight and leadership in Outbound as Dabney retires. They have been working together over the past year in anticipation of this transition.

The vestry held a short meeting following worship this past Sunday. Together we elected Jane Burruss to continue to serve as Treasurer and Harry Breda to continue in his role as clerk. We elected Todd Rutenbar to serve as Junior Warden. I also shared that Jane Taber will serve as our Senior Warden. We are blessed with many talented and dedicated leaders in our vestry, our staff and our committee chairs. I hope we will continue to connect members to our ministries and help them share in this leadership.

Blessings - 
Fr. Paul 

Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage involves doing something with whatever faith you have. 
And faith, like muscle, likes being worked.

- Charles Foster (in The Sacred Journey) 

Some define the spiritual discipline of pilgrimage very narrowly, a once in a lifetime journey to a particular place. Others define pilgrimage very broadly, the Christian life is a pilgrimage. My inner Anglican seeks a middle way.  Including the whole life of a faithful Christian diminishes the particular act I mean by pilgrimage. I believe pilgrimage could include a variety of destinations, but a deliberate intention to move away from ordinary and toward something sacred.

Pilgrimage is decidedly different than a vacation. The primary difference is internal.  Indeed, a group of people could have the same travel itinerary and it could be vacation for some and pilgrimage for others. Sarah and I had the opportunity to travel to Israel while we were in college. I believe it was pilgrimage for both of us, although it may have been more of a vacation for some that were in the same group.

We prepared, along with a larger group, with books that helped cultivate expectations for the places we would visit. While the sites we visited were familiar from scripture, our study added to the depth of the experience. Like many spiritual disciplines, pilgrimage may be amplified in a group experience.

Our Ascension youth have benefited from pilgrimage and are in the process of planning another this summer. Perhaps we can each learn from their planning and experience as we interact with them over coffee on Sundays!

Blessings -
Fr. Paul 

Tithing and Other Forms of Giving

"A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed."

- Proverbs 11:25 

The series on spiritual disciplines continues this week on tithing and other forms of giving. If you've missed the prior disciplines they remain available on our website. Giving is a very personal topic and the particulars can remain private, but it is an important spiritual discipline that deserves our attention. Different faiths and churches interpret the spiritual discipline differently, but most include some form of giving to others.

For some, it is a matter of how and when to give. We receive many requests from organizations and individuals. Our giving is between us and God, but others do end up involved as we make our choices. Some faiths refer to giving alms. That is a practice of giving to the poor, most often directly. We can do this collectively, too. At Ascension we give alms through clergy discretionary funds. This method helps us to become more involved than when we give in passing.  Giving alms is an acknowledgment of our own blessings and helping those less fortunate.
  
Giving to the church is in some ways an "all-in-one" approach. Money received by the church supports ministry. Some goes to direct services through outreach, while other supports all the various ministries of the church. We can offer alms and give back to the community while also sustaining and supporting a ministry together. The upcoming annual meeting is a time when the budget is shared and we can consider how our total funds are being allocated.

As to tithing, it refers to a specific practice of giving one-tenth of one's income. For many it seems an impossible standard. No matter one's income, a tithe shows that giving is a priority. When I find that someone tithes, I always try to ask about their practice, when they started, what it has meant to them. There are too many stories to recount here, but each time I am moved by powerful stories of the experiences shared.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Fasting

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

-Matthew 6:16-18

The ancient spiritual discipline of fasting is part of many world religions and cultures. There is a long-standing Christian practice of fasting prior to receiving communion each week. This may help you understand how the "early" service became popular! Other short periodic fasting helps accentuate the significance of the sacraments, prayer and God.  

Longer fasts are common in Lent. Sometimes we commit to fasting from a particular food or act for a longer period of time to remind us of what matters most. Others fast from food for days at a time. While this is not possible for some, and hard for all of us to motivate ourselves to do it, it can be quite rewarding. Perhaps you fast already. If so, I hope you will consider sharing the experience with others.  

Several years ago, prior to our arrival at Ascension, Sarah led a youth group on a 30-Hour Fast. The fast began upon arrival for a weekend retreat on Friday evening and was broken late on Saturday evening. Some were reluctant to sign up for this retreat, even the adults, when considering how cranky some teenagers get without food. I believe all found the experience rewarding. Even a fast of this length drew our physical awareness to God. 

Each of us can benefit from the spiritual discipline of fasting. I do hope you will consider it and be deliberate, consulting your doctor if you are unsure. 

Blessings - 

Fr. Paul

Honoring the Sabbath

If you don't take a Sabbath, something is wrong. You're doing too much, you're being too much in charge. You've got to quit, one day a week, and just watch what God is doing when you're not doing anything. “

                                                               - Eugene H. Peterson

Sabbath is a difficult spiritual discipline. In an era that coined the phrase "24/7," we must be deliberate to create sabbath rest, although I might argue this has always been a challenge. And why is that? Theoretically this should be an easy one to master, take a day off. Who doesn't want to do that? And... it's a commandment! 

There is no shortage of excuses, but I imagine few are legitimate. It may be difficult to honor it on a particular day, as some have work schedules that require Sunday shifts. Beyond that the scriptures include reasons why one might break the sabbath, such as "if your ox is stuck in a ditch you may work to free him." Perhaps this is the litmus test, you might ask yourself, is this truly an "ox in the ditch" type of moment?  

The sabbath is time dedicated to God. The sabbath is a reminder that we are not slaves. If we routinely miss the sabbath we might very well be slaves in the modern world. The sabbath is more than a day of rest, it does subtle work on us beyond what we might imagine. What marks your sabbath rest?  What can you do to mark the day as holy and connect with God?  

Part of my sabbath practice has been to not open my email.  Some wonder what the harm in checking in could be, but I have found it leaves me thinking about work throughout the day. Sometimes even small steps can move us toward a deeper observation of a spiritual discipline. I hope you will seek to make the sabbath holy, I believe it is a practice that is truly transformational.

Blessings -

Fr. Paul

Our Daily Prayers

"Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays." - Soren Kierkegaard

Amid this Christmas season, we also approach the celebration of a new year. In the church the first of January is a celebration of the "Holy Name." This follows the Jewish custom of naming a child on the eighth day. For many it is also a time when we set resolutions for the year ahead. So, it is fitting that I would continue a series on spiritual disciplines. If you haven't been following along, the last two weeks we covered the "observation of sacred seasons" and "sacred meal," which can be found on the blog page of our Ascension website. 

This week we will consider "fixed-hour prayer," that is, our daily prayers, particularly those offered more formally. Acclaimed author and theologian Phylis Tickle writes, "Fixed-hour prayer is the oldest form of Christian spiritual discipline and has its roots in the Judaism out of which Christianity came. When the Psalmist says, 'Seven times a day do I praise You,' he is referring to fixed-hour prayer as it existed in ancient Judaism."  

The Baptismal Covenant includes a commitment to "the prayers," which I see as a call to set at least one time a day to offer specific prayers to God. Indeed, many of us offer prayers of petition and thanksgiving throughout our day; this is setting a time to be deliberate. Perhaps it will be part of your New Year's Resolution? There are many resources to help guide our daily prayers. I'll include some links below to help you get started.

The Daily Officea website that makes praying the daily office simple:  If knowing which pages and prayers to turn to is slowing you down, this will be your site! It places everything in line for us to pray morning or evening prayer, updated daily.   

Common Prayera website born out of a movement called "New Monasticism":  This group desired a renewed call to daily prayer. The group created a great resource, available in hard copy for those who prefer it (on Amazon here) but all prayers are also on the site. 

Mission St. Claire I have less personal experience with this site, but have heard many say it is their preferred site for praying the daily office.  

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Sacred Meal

Holy Communion was a web, a web of people being stitched together.  And tomorrow, we would need to be stitched together again.- Nora Gallagher 

As we approach the fourth Sunday of Advent, I want for us to continue to examine spiritual disciplines. This week we consider our Sacred Meal. I begin by calling it "Sacred Meal" because I believe that it is holy and that it connects us with the other Abrahamic faiths. While Jews and Muslims practice some sort of a sacred meal differently, they still observe it as a discipline.  

The Christian practice of the sacred meal goes by many names, such as  Holy Eucharist, Communion, and the Lord's Supper. The Episcopal Church favors "Eucharist," which comes from the Greek "eukaristia" which is literally translated as "thanksgiving." This is an act of mutual gratitude between God and those who gather. It cannot be done alone; it requires community. 

The practice of receiving Eucharist regularly will transform you. Through the Eucharist, we receive Christ Himself. We are nourished by His body and blood. I find that the moments after I receive Communion are deeply profound. My awareness of Christ within me and those around me is elevated. Those moments offer a richness in prayer I cannot otherwise discover. I come to the altar expecting to be transformed and hope that you do too. Come, join the Sacred Meal and draw near to Christ and one another.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Observation of Sacred Seasons

The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge
that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

- Henri Nouwen

The observation of sacred seasons is an important spiritual discipline. Taking time to consider what each season means to our faith and brings to our lives can help establish a rhythm of spiritual consideration. Where we might otherwise allow weeks to turn into months and months to years, these seasons can help draw our awareness to what has changed in our lives and what remains the same.

The liturgical changes have helped accentuate Advent as a season of anticipation, planning and repentance. Please plan to arrive early to be inspired by the additional sacred music. This week we will have guest musicians, a brass quartet, that cannot be missed!  It will harken the coming of God Incarnate.

Spiritual disciplines are worth our commitment. I expect to write of others soon, fixed hour prayer, sacred meals, fasting and more. Each of these has the capacity to transform us as we make a commitment to seek God through them. Perhaps the best news of all, is that it is never too late to start, or recommit to these disciplines that draw us closer to God.


Blessings -
Fr. Paul 

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