This week at Ascension

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." - John F. Kennedy

I have heard from many of you regarding the Capital Campaign.  It is an exciting time, as we consider the possible changes to the campus.  It is also a challenging time.  I am grateful for the support and encouragement I have received, but also for those who are willing to express their worries and concerns.  I find that I am learning a lot this Easter season.

Even as we wrestle with some of the process and particulars together, I feel blessed by the faithfulness of all.  The willingness to pray and seek God in this process is essential and the desire for that is deep here at Ascension.  The presentation from last Sunday is available via YouTube here and through the Capital Campaign page of our website.  Soon emails will go out as we work to schedule small group meeting where more Q&A can take place as well.

As we continue our walk through the Great 50 Days of Easter more information will be available, as well as opportunities to discuss the campaign.  I look forward to this time of conversation and prayer.  I expect that it will help us to continue to offer dynamic and life-changing ministry at Ascension and within our community.  

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

A Prayer to offer throughout our Capital Campaign

Join us in prayer throughout this season of Easter, as we hold a capital campaign.  See more details about the campaign here.

Heavenly Father,
Your son, Jesus, established your Church as a welcoming and loving home for all who seek You and inspired our forbearers to build Episcopal Church of the Ascension to be a place of prayer and community for all your children. We offer prayers of gratitude for the sacrifices and the hard work of previous generations of parishioners who have helped make our parish what it is today.  Help us to maintain that legacy through strengthening our communion and continuing to grow in faith, hope and love as we repair, renovate and address our youth, formation and outreach ministries’ needs. May we be as generous as we look to our future and Let Our Light Shine.  We humbly ask You to send your Spirit, guiding our parish community during this crucial time. Bless our capital campaign with a heightened devotion to prayer, a growing commitment to service and sacrificial levels of generosity as we work to advance the life and ministry of Ascension. We ask this through Christ, our Lord.
Amen

The power of observing Holy Week

"The washing of the feet and the sacrament of the Eucharist: two expressions of one and the same mystery of love entrusted to the disciples, so that, Jesus says, “as I have done… so also must you do” (Jn 13: 15)."  – St. John Paul II

Our Holy Week celebration have begun well with our Palm Sunday services.  Last week I noted a few significant elements of each service.  As we continue our walk through Holy Week I wanted to highlight a few things.  There are still times available during our prayer observance that begins at the conclusion of our Maundy Thursday service.  The best news is that most of them are in the morning (not the wee hours either!) of Good Friday.  It's not too late to sign up in the Narthex, or simply to show up to spend some extra time in prayer. 

As I read an email from another cleric this week, he spoke of the power of attending all of the services this week.  He was quick to acknowledge, that in addition to full schedules, there were often parts of a service that deter us.  Whether the foot-washing of Thursday, or the sorrow of Good Friday...yet we loose something when we miss one or more of these.  He concluded with a promise, one I can make as well.  If you attend all three (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil) it will change your life.

Together, these services call us to a renewed faith and sense of purpose.  As we prayerful consider our mission and purpose at Ascension, I hope you will also commit yourself to completing the Parish Survey.  Your input is essential as we consider our call and plan for our future.  Help guide our walk together by spending some time providing some feedback.  You can access the survey here.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Holy Week

 

"No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown." – William Penn

As we prepare the enter the final week of Lent, several unique liturgies emerge.  These are have been a part of our tradition for generations.  They have a unique place in our prayer books, as very few holy days have their own liturgy.

Palm Sunday celebrates a triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  This day is also marked by the reading of the Passion Gospel.  This tradition has taken many forms.  The challenge, in part, is how to offer a longer portion of the Gospel, as any smaller segment excludes too much of the story.  Many churches also use palm branches as a part of a large procession, bring the story to life.  We also tend to include intergeneration activities during the formation hour at 9am.

The liturgy Maundy Thursday recalls both the institution of the Eucharist, as well as Christ washing the disciples feet.  The Eucharist is more familiar, as we practice it every week and rarely wash the feet of one another.  The connection between the humbling nature of foot-washing and the Eucharist is one we ought to carry with us throughout the year.  This service is made complete with the stripping of the altar, that is the removal of all items in the sacristy.  It is reminiscent of Jesus being taken away from the garden.  A prayer observance continues in the church until the service on Good Friday.

Good Friday is a solemn occasion as we remember the crucifixion.  We gather for prayer and reflection.  It is the only day the church expects us to fast from the Eucharist.  Where the sacrament is received, it would be from reserve sacrament from the Eucharistic prayer is universal.  This service often includes Stations of the Cross (although we will forgo that this year at Ascension), or some reading of the Passion Gospel.  The Passion Gospel for Good Friday is always from the Gospel of John, whereas we read from the synoptic Gospels on Palm Sunday.  This year we will also reinstate the tradition of a veneration of the cross, although the practice will look different than in years past. 

The Easter Vigil can properly occur anytime between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter.  It begins with the kindling of new light in the form of a flame.  The first part of the service includes a magnificent chant and readings that mark the story of God and the faithful who have followed God.  It often includes baptisms and is properly the entrance into Easter.  As the first Easter proclamation is made, more candles are lighted and the fullness of the church lighting is offered.  It continues with the first Eucharist of Easter. 

I hope this overview helps entice you as we prepare for Holy Week.  There are more formation and fellowship offerings throughout this week, noted the announcements.  I am looking forward to experiencing these powerful liturgies with you once again.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul 

Mission

"Outstanding people have one thing in common: An absolute sense of mission." - Zig Ziglar 

The word "mission" has Christian connotations.  Even as it is used in secular context, it is often to reference the deep, abiding sense of purpose that Christianity holds in sharing the Gospel.  The Book of Common Prayer defines the mission of the church within the catechism, "The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ."

The vestry of Ascension adopted this as our mission statement too.  It is precise, yet inclusive.  The catechism goes on to say, "The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love."  This is all true at Ascension, in our gathering and serving the community around us, we fulfill our desire to restore unity between God and all people.

More often, when we speak of "mission", it is in reference to an annual youth trip, one that is focused on serving others.  This use of the word, aligns with the aforementioned descriptions too.  And, just as our various meetings and ministries fulfill our purpose, so too, the particulars of the youth mission vary from year to year.  

This year our youth are preparing for a trip to Alaska.  This is more extreme than many prior mission trips, our prior connections there have helped ease some of the typical challenges.  Our youth will certainly need our support, in prayer and in their fundraising to complete this aspect of our collective mission.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Confirmation, Reception, Reaffirmation....

"In the course of their Christian development, those baptized...are expected...to make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism and to receive the laying on of hands by the bishop." - Book of Common Prayer (page 412).

The sacrament of confirmation has endured some criticism in recent generations.  It continues to be a meaningful affirmation of faith and connection to the broader church for many.  As we begin our confirmation classes once again, I am reminded that it is paired with reception and reaffirmation as well.  This bears some explanation, more than we are able to offer in the course of the rite itself.

Each of these are a public affirmation of faith.  The particulars of each depend largely upon one's personal history.  Baptism precedes each, as a rite that is shared with all of Christendom.  Baptism is a declaration of God's saving grace in our lives.  Confirmation is an affirmation of the baptismal promises.  Further, it is a way of showing that one intends to live out their faith in a particular denomination.  Ascension maintains a tradition that requires persons to be confirmed in order to serve on vestry as well

Reception applies to those who have been confirmed in another denomination.  Often someone has been confirmed in the tradition they were raised.  Just as we do not re-baptize those who have been baptized in the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; so too we honor prior confirmation by receiving those who have already received this sacrament.  Most often those being received have attended the same preparation as those being confirmed, as a continuation of their formation and study of our particular denomination. 

Reaffirmation then is an opportunity for those who have been confirmed to publicly reaffirm this decision.  While all present at a baptism or confirmation will renew their commitment and say the Baptismal Covenant, the reaffirmation is a bit more involved.  At times, a reaffirmation follows a time when one has been absent from the church, or even placed themselves a part from God.  At times, it is done to acknowledge a spiritual development in one's life.  Perhaps it is something we should all consider from time to time, a public reaffirmation of the commitment we have made to God and one another as a body of faithful disciples.

If you are interested in participating in any of these rites, please let me know.  While our confirmation classes are underway, I welcome the conversation and possibility of your participation, now and in the future.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul 

Call to prayer

The sermon yesterday included a call to prayer.  If you missed it (or want to share it or listen again...) you can hear it here or on iTunes.  This is not a comprehensive guide, but a hopeful nudge to remove barriers.  As I suggested yesterday, the Psalms may also give voice to our prayer even as we struggle to find the words.

We cannot wait for legislation, even as we advocate for it.  We cannot wait for others, we must seek God's way, that we might help facilitate meaningful change.  I wanted to provide a little more direction on the "how" to pray, particularly as we seek to change the world.  First, we pray for God's guidance.  

"Lord God, we seek to do your will.  Guide our hearts, our thoughts, our will.  Reveal to us how we can be effective followers of your way and share your truth.  Give us words that encourage sharing, give us words to respond to hatred as you would, rather than as our egos would respond.  Help us relinquish control and our own preconceptions, that your will may be done.  Amen."

Then, we must pay attention (listen).  God will guide us.  It often amazes me how these prayers are answered.  Don't be discouraged if you need to repeat a prayer like this a lot.  In fact, as we truly listen to one another we may need to offer it more frequently.

Next, I believe we are all tempted to pray that the "others" heart may be changed.  This is not unlike prayers for a sports team to win?  Even when we cannot see how the other's thoughts can be reconciled with God, they need to be heard (and God loves them... truly loves the 'other').  

"Lord God, as I seek to do your will I seek change in the world.  This will require change of me and of others.  Lead me to actions that are pleasing to you, guide my listening and my words.  Help me to listen.  Help me to see the good in others, even when we disagree.  I want to be faithful to your plan, even as it requires change of me.  Amen."

May we each remember to rely on God.  May we each remember to pray faithfully.  May we allow God to guide us, in our interactions with others and in our living.  May we be guided by the example of Christ, seeing true power coming from love and grace, rather than sword or throne.

Notes on Liturgy

"Liturgy is the means that the church uses to keep baptized Christians in living touch with the entire living holy community as it participates formationally in Holy Scripture." - Eugene Peterson

The 'liturgy' or order of our worship is consistent, passed through the ages.  It centers on God's word, as we find it in the scriptures and the sacraments of the church.  Even as some elements change to acknowledge the passing seasons, the shape of the liturgy is relatively unchanged.  I want to offer a few notes that may help enrich your participation in our liturgy.

First, do not underestimate the power of arriving early.  Our culture leaves us rushing from one thing to the next.  If you can find a way to arrive a few minutes early to get situated it will magnify your experience of everything that follows.  Perhaps this will be a Lenten discipline for some?

The Celebrant guides the worship.  Watching the celebrant helps one to know when to sit, stand or kneel.  They also guide the pace of worship.  Listening to the celebrant, along with those close to you helps us pray together, rather than simply in the same space.

Music enriches our worship in many ways.  Here at Ascension we are blessed with a dedicated choir, talented direction and musicality as well as with an instrument that further enhances what is offered.  Music can add to the synchronicity of worship, uniting our voices and connecting our hearts rhythm.  The power of music is sometimes palpable, particularly after an anthem or solo.  We may be accustom to applauding for a performance, however these works are offered as worship.  Awed, reverent silence is more appropriate in worship.  Expressing your appreciation for a piece to the choir or soloist following worship is also meaningful.

There is more to note about our liturgy than can fit in one post, next week I will offer a few more notes, particularly on receiving the sacraments. 

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

 

Lenten Disciplines

This post is the follow up to our 'Ascension Ed' sessions on Lenten disciplines, it can of course be used by all who find it here.  Look for updates to this post in the next week, as we all prepare for Lent

Prayer

  • The Book of Common Prayer 1979 - https://dailyoffice.wordpress.com/
    • Following the book can be complex, but worthwhile, the website or “eCP” app simplify following this liturgy
  • Common Prayer - http://commonprayer.net/
    • This prayer book includes a liturgy for each day of the year, the “Pocket Edition” is abbreviated and requires a little more of the user. 
  • There are many versions of the Book of Common Prayer, both based on location and by date.  For example, here in the United States our current prayer book is the 1979 BCP, the prior book from 1928 remains a great resource for prayer.  Similarly, the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer has become popular as it offers an easy to follow Daily Office as well.

Meditations

Scripture

The body is a gift from God, how we care for it is important.  Lent can be a time when we take on disciplines that may be good for our body or Creation in general.

Eating Practices

  • Observing a Kosher Diet: this would likely require some adjustments to accomplish in its purest form, but could also help one immerse themselves in scripture
  • Daniel Diet: another Biblical example of eating, both of these not only require a participant to engage with scriptures, but experience the purpose of dietary laws, both in their need for obedience and how they set God’s people apart from non-observers 
  • Being Vegetarian: a simpler approach.  While not “Biblical” it would likely require you to make some changes.  These changes are likely to be better for you and for the demands on creation 

Physical Practice

  • Walking or Running
    • In addition to the benefits of the activity itself, running and walking can help you engage with God and community.  It can be used as prayer time, or a time to meet your neighbors or fellow pedestrians.
  • Yoga: it is good for the body, mind and soul.  Finding the right class for you can be a challenge, maybe Lent is a time to commit to trying a few and finding a place that allows you to practice well and improve your mindfulness.
  • Quiet stillness: this can be a more difficult challenge than the others!  Carving out a set time to just sit.  You can be intentional in your listening, or simply enjoy being.
The earth is a gift from God, how we care for it is important.  

Ecological Practices

  • Line drying laundry: it will reduce your electric bill...but more importantly it can reduce your contribution to Climate Change.  Perhaps you can use the time you hang the laundry as a prayerful moment too.
  • Eliminate plastic bags: it is easy to forget that these bags add to our petroleum dependence AND have created a substantial pollution on land and at sea.  Use Lent as a time to commit yourself to not using any plastic bags.
  • Do an energy audit: examine your electric use at home or work and see where it might be reduced.  This could include reducing the amount of driving you do, either by carpooling, public transport or bicycle.

Heading toward a New Year

"It is always during a passing state of mind that we make lasting resolutions." - Marcel Proust

I have always enjoyed the act of making resolutions more than the keeping of them.  The last few years I have had some success in keeping resolutions, although I imagine some of that comes through the making of more modest (reasonable) resolutions?  I also believe that in the life of the church we have several opportunities for this: the church new year, the calendar New Year, and shortly thereafter, Lent!

I digress, lest we get to Lent too quickly...  I will offer a few possibilities for you as you contemplate possible New Year's resolutions.  Daily Prayer and reading of scripture are terrific goals.  These may seem lofty, indeed they may be, but very worthwhile.  Indeed, these (or any) may be easier than ever to keep with helpful apps that help remind you to read each day.  I've long favored the "Daily Audio Bible" podcast as a means to immerse oneself in scripture.

There are a few areas at church that could benefit from additional volunteers too.  We need both Ushers and Greeters to serve on Sunday.  Both of these opportunities work as teams, so you're not required every Sunday, as well as on-the-job training with others.  These ministries are incredibly important to our current members and any guests.  We are also looking for more volunteers to help with Food Pantry pick up days.  These are generally on Saturday, a group of volunteers meet to pick up groceries (usually at Wal-Mart) and deliver them to the pantry at Ascension and to Tasby Middle School.  If you are interested in either of these opportunities, or finding other ministries that suit your talents let me know, I'll help connect you with the right leaders here.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul