Advent immersion

"Every year we celebrate the holy season of Advent, O God. Every year we pray those beautiful prayers of longing and waiting, and sing those lovely songs of hope and promise." - Karl Rahner

Advent is upon us.  We have begun well and may continue our focus throughout this sacred season.  Our worship will mark the progress of the season.  This Sunday we will continue our sequence of extraordinary preludes as we begin our worship.  During the procession you may see 'Saint Nicholas' who will help share this part of our history with the children during chapel.

Several people have commented how much they have enjoyed the Advent devotionals, which remain available on the Welcome Desk and kiosk.  The #adventword has also been a great way to stay focused on the season daily.  Even if you aren't on social media, you can see some of the posts through our website (see the 'Social' tab under 'Media', or click here).

I also want to note the Blue Christmas service that will take place next Wednesday at 5:30.  While this season is noted for hope and expectation, it is also very difficult for many.  Perhaps most especially for those who are mourning or experienced a loss recently.  The hope with this service is creating time and space to acknowledge our loss, to unite in prayer and move toward the Incarnation in peace.  I look forward to seeing you in church as this season continues.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul 

Advent is upon us

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. - Isaiah 40:3

This Sunday, December 3, marks the beginning of Advent and with it a new church year. Advent is a season of preparation and expectation as we anticipate the arrival of our Messiah. Our worship reflects these priorities and we hope to infuse the whole season with these qualities. We hope that our worshipformation and outreach will all work hand-in-hand to enrich this season.

This Sunday we begin with "AdventFest" at 9am. This intergenerational formation time will help us dedicate ourselves to this season of preparation. There are also several options for all ages, including some fantastic coloring sheets. Come early and allow yourself some time to move from station to station. There are also devotionals available for your use throughout the season.

I want to encourage you to be deliberate to arrive a little early throughout Advent not only to participate in formation, but also to be seated in the Nave by 10am to prepare for worship. While the procession won't begin until 10:15, those seated early will observe an extra prayer as we light the Advent wreath each week at 10:05. We hope to observe sacred silence as we listen to the vocal arrangement with each prelude leading us into worship.

The Live Nativity (December 17) is coming up quickly, too. Our set up will be a little different than in years past and we hope it will make it easier to be a part of it, and easier to share with others. Sign up here or on the sign up sheet in the Narthex to participate. There are roles and jobs for everyone!

Throughout Advent we will be collecting diapers to support our ministry partner Pamper Lake Highlands. Please bring diapers to the display in the narthex as you're able.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul 

In Gratitude

Day to day it is hard to maintain the perspective of how truly blessed we are. Our time and place in history is unique in so far as how well we are able to address general human need. Certainly, there is still great need in this world, yet as a whole, our needs are being met in unprecedented ways. This is particularly true in our country. 

As we gather for Thanksgiving, we do well to acknowledge this blessing as best we are able. Perhaps this can frame our thinking and expectation as we enter a season of great spending during the holidays. Black Friday gives way to spending that exceeds most needs. 

Acknowledgments of gratitude and love often take the shape of gift-giving in this season. In some cases, these gifts could be reconsidered for the sake of supporting a cause or organization of meaning. Other times, gifts themselves can support the needs of others. This Sunday we will welcome Honduras Threads during our "Ascension Ed" hour (9am in the Parish Hall). We will gather to hear more about their mission and ministry.  I hope you will join us.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Thanksgiving celebrations

"If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share." - W. Clement Stone

As Thanksgiving approaches, I enjoy many memories of gathering with friends and family.  It has held a unique place as a day where we celebrate Christian principles, with no specific liturgical celebration.  While I cannot image the other holidays without church, whether I am leading it or not... Thanksgiving has been a unique time to celebrate with family without these expectations.

This year marks a transition for us at Ascension.  We have provided a meal to the Fire Station for a number of years.  Having coordinated with them, we recognize our support will me most helpful on other days.  Even so, there are many ways we can support others in our expression of gratitude.  Gateway of Grace has a major event each Thanksgiving.  Given our connection to this ministry, I certainly encourage your support as you are able, you can sign up here: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/70a0e49afac2da46-thanksgiving3

May your celebrations of this feast be joyful reminders of the many blessings we receive throughout the year.

Blessings -

Fr. Paul

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

"'I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." - Revelation 1:8

Christ is ever before us, leading the way.  As we consider how we can reflect Christ to the world, we can consider what is, what was and what is yet to come!

We give thanks for what has been.  Last Sunday was a terrific All Saints Day celebration.  Baptisms are good cause for celebration and there was so much more too!  The ingathering was a great success with 83 pledge cards received and roughly 80% of the pledged dollars needed for the draft budget.

We give thanks for what is.  The weather has fluctuated widely over the past few weeks, the seasons are certainly changing.  Please come support the church work day this Saturday morning, these tasks are particularly important as seasons change.  Indoor and outdoor work, jobs big and small, there is something for everyone.  Come and join us, bring a rake or saw and a pair of work gloves if you're able.

What give thanks for what is yet to come.  As the season continues to change before us, there is much to look forward to at Ascension.  Part of our preparing includes the acolyte training this Sunday (at 11:30).  We need more adults and youth participants, please join us.  All of these things together help prepare us for the season ahead.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

All Saints Day

"I have always wanted to become a saint. Unfortunately, when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passers-by." - Thérèse of Lisieux

All Saints Day began to honor the sacrifice of early Christians and celebrate their perseverance that carried the faith forward through the first few centuries.  Saints remain central to our faith today.  Whether the canonized Saints of the church, those with verified miracles and more; or those faithful Christians who have gone on to the life triumphant, these saints help inspire us in our own faith.

All Saints Day remains a major feast in our church calendar.  In the Episcopal Church we expect to either baptize, or renew our baptismal covenant and more.  At Ascension we will do this and more.  It is a family service (as a first Sunday of the month).  This is exciting as we consider the baptismal commitment in a children's sermon.  This year we are also having our pledge in-gathering, as we seek to demonstrate our commitment to the church.  The service will also feature some fantastic music.

This weekend also marks the end of day-light savings time.  We hope you'll use this extra hour to come at 9am (or even a little earlier).  We will be celebrating our ingathering with breakfast tacos!  There will also several activities to honor the day.  There will be information about some interesting saints of the church.  And, I want to encourage you to bring a picture, or other depiction of a saint from your own life.  There will be a place to display these in the narthex, as a representation of how these saints have been a 'cloud of witness' to us all.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

On giving

“Money is not the only commodity that is fun to give. We can give time, we can give our expertise, we can give our love or simply give a smile. What does that cost? The point is, none of us can ever run out of something worthwhile to give.” ― Steve Goodier

The annual pledge drive is underway, most often we talk of stewardship, that is "all we do, with all that we have".  Certainly God (and the church) desire a commitment, one well beyond money.  Money is only one aspect of how our priorities are known, but an important one.

Our pledge and general giving to the church is different than all the other ways we use money.  It is not an exchange of goods or service like most of the money we spend.  It is even different than other charitable giving.  Giving to the church ought to be part of our spiritual disciplines, even in small amounts.

Our regular giving generally comes from our regular income.  It makes sense that in changes as our income and circumstances change.  Many are generous to make gifts to particular ministries as well.  This is helpful to ensure funding for specific ministries, but is ideally 'additional' giving, once some support to the regular budget has been offered.  Sometimes special gifts are offered as a gift or memorial, these often hold some special purpose in the church as well.

In addition to your pledge, I hope that you would consider two other aspects of financial support.  First, capital gifts, that is additional support for 'capital improvements'.  While we are still in planning stages, the staff and vestry are preparing for a capital campaign.  More information will be offered soon, but I believe it is important to note this as we plan.  Capital gifts often come from one's wealth or irregular income.  Perhaps you have pledged as a part of your income and want to direct giving from a bonus or inheritance.  Many have gifted stock as well, it is a way to share from one's wealth as well as eliminating a tax liability.

The other aspect is planned gifts.  I know that we are included in the estate of some of the members at Ascension, I believe others have also provided such an accommodation, but may not have shared their plan.  Planned gifts are often used to plan for the future of the church, these too sometimes come with a directive.  Many churches create a foundation or endowment for such gifts to ensure the intent is honored.

I am grateful for all who support Ascension.  I hope that these thoughts help offer some insight as you consider who you continue to support Ascension.  May the Spirit guide and direct us as we prayerfully consider this aspect of our faith.

Blessings -

Fr. Paul 

The lectionary... a continuation 'On Scripture'

Our Sunday readings are part of a lectionary, pre-selected readings.  There are two lectionaries in the back of the Book of Common Prayer.  One is for Sunday services, it is a three year cycle, labeled by letters ("A", "B", "C").  The other is a "Daily Office" lectionary, it is a two year cycle, labeled 'Year One' and 'Year Two'.  If one follows these you will read most of the Bible over two years.

A number of years ago the Episcopal Church voted to follow the "Revised Common Lectionary" on Sundays, rather than the one in the prayer book.  This aligns us with many other 'connected' churches, such as the Roman Catholic, Methodist and Lutheran Churches.  This means on most Sundays we hear the same readings as friends and family in these churches and have common ground for conversation!  That's right, you can share something from a sermon on Sunday (hint, hint) with a friend that attends another church and they may have heard a sermon on the same passage!

Both lectionaries 'begin' on 1st Advent.  We are currently in 'Year A', but will soon switch to 'Year B'.  This three year cycle focuses on a different Gospel each year, but includes readings from each Gospel.  This past year our emphasis has been on Matthew (Year A), and soon we will focus on Mark as we enter Year B.

The daily lectionary also hinges on Advent 1.  I remember what year we are in by thinking that "odd" years, such as 201'7' are Year 1 and "even" years, such as 201'8' are Year 2.  The only exception is the season of Advent... of course all of this is made easier when you can use a lectionary website to provide the correct readings.  I hope this insight into where we get our readings helps to connect you to our readings.  

Additionally, there are dozens of great readings plans that can help guide your reading of scripture.  Each has it's advantages, my hope and prayer is that we all spend some time with the scriptures each week.  This immersion into the story helps encourage and inspire us as we aspire to follow Christ.

On Scripture

The Bible is an incredible book.  I've heard it argued that it is actually a library of books, which is great if you've got a book reading quota to meet, but otherwise feels somewhat trivial.  It is a collection of writings and stories that tell a story.   I love the story. 

I found the story of God's people, as found in scripture, fascinating at an early age.  I've had many Bibles, but a few have 'stayed' with me longer, including a newsprint copy that caught my attention early.  In part, the reading plan in the back caught my attention.  I began checking off various readings as I made my way through as a teenager, although I never completed the task in that Bible.

In seminary I was struck by the fact that I was unsure if I had read every verse of the Bible.  Struck more so because I knew that part of the ordination service included my profession that I believed the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be inspired by God.  I did not think it was fair to make such a profession unless I completed the journey.  I had a lot of other reading to do, so I got more systematic.  This helped me complete the task, but the desire for the story continued.  

During my first year as a priest I reread the entire Bible with a few members who were studying for ordination, along with then Deacon (now priest) Ann Whitney.  During that year I also found a podcast "The Daily Audio Bible".  Now, I have read (and listened) through the Bible many times over.  With each subsequent reading I have moments where I think, "I love this part..." and "I don't remember this part!".

As much as I love the story, I also love what is not said.  It keeps my imagination turning and keeps me seeking understanding and thinking about God.  I hope that you too are reading scripture daily, or regularly.  How else might we engage with these stories together?

Fresh Food Day 2017

Ascension’s 7th annual outreach event for nearby neighbors was a huge hit! Over 300 adults and children attended Fresh Food Day 2017.

Because of the many volunteers and multiple organizations and nonprofits, participants enjoyed FREE fun educational activities focusing on healthy eating and lifestyle. Lets not forget the bounce house and professional face painter. Over 60 Ascension volunteers along with volunteers from Kids-U, The New Room, Moss Haven Elementary and Lake Highlands High School helped contribute to a wonderful day.

Some other groups and organizations involved included Richland College, Breast Bridge Network, Baylor Diabetes Health and Wellness, Junior League, Children’s Health, Dallas Water Department and Dallas Fire Department.

In particular, a special thanks and recognition goes to PepsiCo and Sharing Life Community Outreach for the donation of over 1000 lbs. of produce! Participants were able to take home large amounts of various produce to include apples, bananas, potatoes, peppers and carrots!
I am grateful for the Ascension volunteers who helped shine the light of Christ to the neighborhood giving their time and talent to contributing to a very special day for our neighbors in need.

Dabney Dwyer, Ascension Outbound

Click here for a video slide show of Fresh Food Day.