Monday, December 22, 2014

Dear Loved Ones | Michelle Despain, Parish Administrator

Saturday, December 20, 2014

To: All of my Friends, Loved Ones, Fellow Parishioners, the Diocese of Utah and the Community Groups of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

Dear Ones,

I first came to St. Mary’s a little over seven years ago. I was leaving behind the practice of a faith that no longer gave me what I needed to feed my spirit. That hot summer day in August 2007, I was welcomed warmly by my dear friend Mac Baldwin. His gentleness and kindness were such that I felt as though I had merely been away for a while and he was welcoming his friend home again. As I sat and listened to the sermon being preached that day by one of my dearest friends, Julia Martinez, she uttered one simple phrase that touched my soul so deeply that I began to weep. What was that phrase? “God loves you just as you are.” For the first time in a very long time, I felt God’s love begin to heal my wounded spirit. I also knew that it was going to take a very long time to completely heal those wounds. I needed time to breathe, to listen, to study and to take a ‘time out’ for myself without anything else diverting my focus on healing my soul. I knew that St. Mary’s would be the place I would feel welcomed, nurtured, and yes, loved.

As most of you know, after only a few months of coming to St. Mary’s, I was asked to be the Clerk of the Vestry, and during that assignment of service, I was also asked to be the Parish Secretary. As time went on, my responsibilities increased, my title became Parish Administrator and I was required by Rev. Peter’s predecessor to work on Sundays. I did, as asked, but unfortunately, the ‘feeding’ of my soul began to lose precedence. Even though I dearly loved my position, my original need for coming to St. Mary’s had become eclipsed by duties and worries that everything was ‘just right’ for every service, so others soul’s could be fed. Rev. Peter, in his wisdom, assured me at the beginning of his service here, that with very few exceptions, I could be a ‘parishioner’ on Sundays. Even still, I was always running around doing something that required my attention.

As Parish Administrator for the last six years and nine months, I have discovered that God has blessed me with many gifts that I never really realized I had. Throughout his time here, Rev. Peter has helped me to recognize some of those gifts. He has been (and continues to be) a constant support to me, as does Bishop Scott. They have believed in me when I could not believe in myself and they are currently helping me to have the ‘tools’ necessary to help make some of those gifts ‘blossom’.

My greatest joy, as Parish Administrator, has been to serve my fellow parishioners and all who walk through our doors, be it a new visitor, the homeless, or those who belong to the many community groups that we welcome here. I have been blessed with love for all of you. I have laughed with many, cried with many. I have offered a listening ear with the assurance of confidentiality to those who have had no one to listen, and I have tried to share that phrase that so touched my heart in the beginning ― “God loves you just as you are.” We are ALL equal before God and his love and grace are given freely and unconditionally. I love “My Groups” and it is that service that I will miss the most, but I hope, in time, I will be able to serve all of you in some such capacity ― if that is what God has planned for me to do.

I have missed being with all of you these last four months. Life is so unpredictable and so fragile. Many of you did not know I was ill, and I did not take the time to really listen to my body, so things got really bad. In reality, I was told in August that if I had waited a few more days, I likely would not have survived. A lifetime of being used to pushing hard through any illness, or pain, almost cost me my life this time. I did not know there was a terrible infection smoldering inside of my body. An infection that had also caused my kidneys to start failing. The weeks of antibiotic transfusions, working through kidney failure with severe fluid retention, extreme pain, and several other complications, has left my body very weak. My recovery is taking so much longer than I had hoped. I am still in treatment and having physical/ occupational therapy. I am progressing, but it is very slow and I have no idea how long it will take for me to be whole again. This time my body was hit hard and I am not as young as I used to be. That 39th birthday has come and gone many times now! I have not felt a greater outpouring of love, as I have these last many months. To know that I have been in your prayers and your hearts has literally kept me going.

I love this quote from Helen Keller. “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” I have been looking so long at the “closed door” that I could not see that God was indeed giving me a gift. The gift to be able to take the time to ‘feed my spirit’ ― as I had desired in the beginning.

As I have said above, I love all of my friends at St. Mary’s, the Diocese of Utah and all of the members of the community groups. You all are my love and joy, and this has been a very hard decision for me to make. I have greatly appreciated all of the prayers, cards, phone calls, food and visits since my hospitalization and now recovery. God has blessed me, indeed, with many friends. Through much soul searching and many tears, I find that my ‘season’ to serve as Parish Administrator has now come to an end, and deep in my heart, I want to do what I think is best for St. Mary’s and for me. This time, God was ‘screaming’ in my ear, “Michelle, remember why you came here. Now step back. Take care of your body. Nourish your spirit. I am gifting this time to you.” I am very sure that God will open another path of service for me here ― when the time is ‘right’ for me. I have to trust that.

It is my hope, that you all will support me in this decision and trust with me that that other “door will open” in time. So, it is with love for you all, and hope for the future, that I submit my resignation, as Parish Administrator, effective December 31, 2014.

I will still be here. I am not leaving St. Mary’s. One day, hopefully soon, you will see me sitting in the sanctuary with you, but this time, at least for a while, I will be your fellow parishioner ― worshipping, listening, learning and ‘nourishing my spirit’. I ask just two things of all of you. One: When I return, you won’t make me cry. I look really ugly when I cry and it messes up my makeup. Two: I ask that you all support Kiffer in agreeing to take this position. He is a very gifted and talented young man. He has my blessing and I extend my hand to him during this transition. OK, I fudged— Three: Please don’t give Rev. Peter a hard time. He needs all of the love he can get! I made this decision in the best interests of my own health and the ‘health’ of St. Mary’s.

With love and gratitude in Christ,

Michelle Despain

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Who is Mary | The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

For 2,000 years Christians have had a problem with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Even the Evangelists provide differing views, from a nagging, hovering parent (John) to humble and devoted servant of God (Luke). Historically, Protestantism has virtually ignored her (find a Presbyterian or Lutheran church named after her), while elements of Roman Catholicism have elevated her virtually to deity (some medieval theologians began speaking of a Quaternity instead of a Trinity).

On the other hand, Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy have had a more nuanced view of Mary. In Orthodoxy she is called theotokos, the God-bearer, she who faithfully bore the Son of God. In Anglicanism Mary is held as the exemplar of Christian servanthood, as she willingly followed God’s request of her delivered by the archangel Gabriel (Luke). Indeed, Luke emphasizes Mary’s archetypal role in the words of her sister Elizabeth, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord." Note that Mary is blessed not because she is the mother of Jesus, but because she believed in the promises of God.

In modern times Mary has been seen by feminist theologians as the model of womanhood, her identity given to her in history not by a man but by God. This is in stark contrast to the more conservative branding, found in Protestantism and Catholicism, in which Mary is the example of powerless humility—she who “knows her place”—she who gives up all power and authority to be nothing but a servant—that is, her humility prevents her from access to any positions of authority in the Church. Of course, this position ignores the evidence that in the years immediately following the Resurrection of Jesus it was Mary who became the prime mover in reviving the closest followers of Jesus who had been scattered and disheartened: she may have been the first among the apostles until her frailty or death made room for Peter to take the leadership of the apostolic band.

The Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday in Advent is the story of the Annunciation (Luke 1, 26-38), the announcement by an angel of an imminent radical change in the life of a Palestinian peasant woman. It is a passage worth contemplating—reading again and again, and sitting with in silence—at any time of the year as each of us deals with the chances and changes of our own lives.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Stir Up Sunday! | The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

One of the lovely things about a liturgical church like The Episcopal Church is the richness of our traditions. It is not necessary to have an Advent Wreath in the church during the season of Advent but it is a rich, pleasant, and lovely thing to have in place as a reminder of the darkening days outside as the church gets brighter inside. One of our traditions is that we open our worship with the Collect of the Day, a prayer that collects our thoughts as we enter into the movement that is our liturgy. There is a proper collect for each Sunday, each feast day, and a variety of other things.

The Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent begins, “Stir up your power O Lord and with great might come among us…” That prayer has been in place for centuries. Coincidentally, since Advent 3 is usually ten or so days from Christmas, in England it was the weekend on which the plum puddings were prepared—stirred up—so that they had an opportunity to, well, ferment for at least a week. Somebody noticed a connection, and Stir Up Sunday was born.

This coming Sunday, Advent 3, we will observe Stir Up Sunday with homiletical nod to English cuisine (not necessarily a contradiction in terms) as we continue to get ready for Christmas.

Note that the Fourth Sunday of Advent at St. Mary's Church is also the greening of the church—we hang the greens and set the flowers and candles in preparation for our Christmas worship. Our time of fellowship following the service will take place in the church as we work together to beautify our worship space.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent — A Needed Time of Preparation | The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Every year, during the first part of December, somebody will approach me and ask why don't we sing more carols during Advent. The curmudgeonly answer, of course, is: “Because it's Advent; not Christmas. Christmas doesn't start until December 25th.” Although this is technically correct, it's not a particularly helpful response to the question, nor is it entirely correct. The more accurate answer is, “Because I believe that the Church stands for something different and offers something than the world offers, and at this time we are offered a time of reflection and preparation for the Celebration of Christ's coming.” 

(As a footnote Consider that the three Sundays following Christmas are some of the least attended services of the church year. If you like singing Christmas music, these are the Sundays to sing it.)

American culture has evolved—or we should say devolved—into a mad dash for immediate gratification. Advent, as does Lent, reminds us that important things require preparation, consideration, contemplation, and most of all good judgement. One of the things that the Anglican tradition has stood for is the centrality of a few core beliefs and actions over against a long and detailed list of rules and expectations. One of those essentials is the value of patient judgement, which requires us to slow down and prepare—that is, to be considerate and thought-full.

As the one responsible for leading this congregation’s worship I hope to instill a discerning heart and a thoughtful mind in our members. The music of our worship is meant to support our prayers and beliefs. We need time to discern and contemplate what Christmas means for us and our families. That is the purpose of Advent.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving | The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

You have heard me say that I try to live a life of thanksgiving. The short version of the story is that I realized, in a time of some personal crisis, that thanksgiving was a consistent element that had been missing from my life. I undertook a discipline of giving thanks that I follow to this day.
Of course, one might say, that thanksgiving is supposed to be a mark of a Christian. Yes. However, how often do we find ourselves trapped by guilt or sorrow or fear and forget to give thanks? Our Sunday worship should never be anything less than a joyous occasion of thanksgiving—that’s what the word eucharist means—that allows us to give thanks, even in the midst of international crises like Ebola or ISIS, even as we follow the trajectory of events from Ferguson, Missouri, even as we live with unemployment, ill health, or death.

There are several prayers of thanksgiving in The Book of Common Prayer. The most familiar is the one that concludes Morning or Evening Prayer. There is a collection of thanksgivings in the BCP that begins on page 836. My favorite is the first one, “A General Thanksgiving.” It begins, “Accept, O Lord, our praise and thanks for all that you have done for us.” That is not a bad mantra or repeated prayer. It is a great way to begin or close a day. It might be a good thing to write on a slip of paper and keep in your wallet or purse.What are you thankful for? How do you remember to be thankful? And, how do you express thanksgiving in your life?

Note: before the section of thanksgivings is a small collection of graces—thanksgivings—to be used before meals. Consider using any of these as you gather to give thanks this week.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Christ: The King?!? | The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

In this part of the Church Year the lectionary carries some dark tones as we enter the darkest time of the year. The Gospel themes are focused on the Christ who is the King, culminating in the King’s birth at Bethlehem. This coming Sunday is the Last Sunday after Pentecost (25 weeks ago!), also known as the Feast of Christ the King. The Gospel reading begins, “Jesus said, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.’”

In America’s democratic society it is difficult for us to reinterpret the Biblical language of kingship. Perhaps reflecting on the trouble the Jews had with their kings can help. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel consider the base and corrupt late kings of Judah and contrast them with a good shepherd who indeed “controls” the sheep but does so in a way that ensures their well-being. The kings use their power for personal gain and glory but bring only trouble and destruction to their people,; the shepherd uses his power and knowledge for the good of the flock. The kingship of Christ is monarchy subverted.

In the Gospel reading the king is enthroned, but turns the kingly power on its head: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew gives us this remarkable picture of the Final Judgment in which one group is left out of paradise because they did not know that their king was in fact the poor and needy among them. “But we didn’t know!” they cry! “You do now!” responds their king. And now we know it as well.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Symbolism in our Symbols

You may have noticed that St. Mary's has recently transitioned from using the fleur-de-lis to using the Episcopal Shield as our primary symbol on our website, facebook, newsletter, and service bulletin. But you might be wondering: "Why the change?"

While the fleur-de-lis will continue to be an important symbol for St. Mary's, the Episcopal shield helps visitors quickly associate our congregation with the Episcopal Church, and the 80 million member, Anglican Communion.

The shield is also richly symbolic: The most distinctive part of the image is the red cross placed over a white background. The white represents the purity of the Christian faith that moves us all to do good; while the red cross represents the sacrifice of the martyrs, and more importantly, the Son of God. Together these are a reminder of our salvation in Christ, and the dedication of the saints who have come before us.

In the upper left hand corner of the shield there are nine white crosslets arranged on a madonna blue background. The background color is associated with Mary, as she is traditionally adorned in blue by artists. The nine crosslets represent the nine original Episcopal diocese in America. Together these remind us of the history of our faith, from it's beginnings with the incarnation of God, to it's more recent history, with the establishment of the Anglican Church in America.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stewardship at St. Mary's | Notes from Peter's Sermon

St. Mary's Church is guided by five core affirmations: Worship, Acceptance, Sanctuary, Caring, and Roots. These five words remind us of our baptismal covenant and help us to live with purpose and meaning as we seek to follow the will of God. In keeping with our commitment to these five principles our Church has continually developed ways to impact and bless the Provo Community.

Over the past few years, Ruth Eldredge has lead our music ministry in making St. Mary's a home for dozens of talented musicians and singers. This endeavor has brought people from many traditions together, and has helped break down barriers that have for over a century separated various Christian denominations. In worshiping together as one body, we fulfill the Lord's prayer that all Christians "may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."

St. Mary's Church aims to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for all who come through our doors regardless of age, race, creed, color, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, marital status, and socioeconomic status. We, as does God, accept people as they are and believe that everyone has gifts, talents, and skills to contributed to our community. We ordain women, perform marriage ceremonies for gays and lesbians, and encourage our members to be welcoming to all.

St. Mary's is home to over 18 support groups that provide a sanctuary for those living with addiction, or who are in need of love and care. Each week more than 400 people come through our doors seeking salvation from the harsh realities of the secular world. We believe that by providing a safe space to those who are marginalized by the rest of society we are living the Lord's great command to "love your neighbor as yourself."

For nearly 45 years, St. Mary's has worked with the Utah Food and Care Coalition in it's mission to feed the poor and the needy. Each month members of our congregation provide needed supplies and services to those who would otherwise go without a hot meal or a place to sleep. Our mission to provide for those in need is one of the most important things that we do, and we're very proud of our partnership with the Food and Care Coalition.

St. Mary's Church is rooted in historical Christianity. Through our liturgy we are connected with saints dating back hundreds of years and to over 80 million members around the world today. The Anglican Communion offers it's communicants a rich tradition and history that is accessible to people of all levels of spirituality, and it hopes to continue to do so for years to come. Our communion is open to anyone who is seeking to deepen their relationship with God through adoration of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Friday, October 31, 2014

All Hallows Eve: A Christian Tradition

Many people of all faiths and traditions love to celebrate Halloween, but most of them have forgotten the important Christian roots of this festive holiday. "All Hallow's Eve," or "All Saints Eve" as it is known in the liturgy, has a rich tradition of tricks, treats, and tales.

One of the most famous Halloween stories, an Irish folk tale, goes something like this:
"A long long time ago, On route home after a night of good ol' irish drinking, Jack encountered the Devil and tricked him into climbing an apple tree telling him, "These apples are something neat, covered in caramel they're quite the treat." 
Once Satan got to the top, Jack quickly etched the sign of the cross into the bark at the bottom, thus trapping the Devil up in that tree.  
So, the Devil struck a bargain with Jack that he would never claim Jack's soul. So, After a life of sin, drink, and mendacity, Jack was refused entry into heaven when he died. 
The Devil, Keeping his promise, refused to let Jack into Sheol and instead tossed him a live coal straight from the fires of hell. It was a cold night, so Jack placed the coal in a hollowed out gourd (pumpkin) to stop it from going out, since which time Jack and his lantern have been roaming the earth looking for a place to rest."
Some of the most beloved Christian Activities for All Hallows' Eve include carving "jack-o-lanterns," praying for and placing candles on the graves of our loved ones, and trick-or-treating. The last one is among one of  the most popular; but its origins to our lost to many:
"By the twelfth century it was customary for children, dressed in black, to parade from house to house begging for any christian offerings of sugar, flour, or other ingredients to make 'Soul Cakes.'"
Because this "soul cake" tradition is likely the origin of "trick-or-treating" our youth at St. Mary's still make these tasty doughy treats each year in late October to celebrate Christian Charity and festivity. But the story of the soul cakes also remind Christians to remember the poor and the hungry. So we hope that this Hallow's Eve you'll also consider those less fortunate who need more than just candy once a night, and pray for them that their bellies may be full and their hearts may shine. This is our Prayer this Hallows Eve:
"O Gracious Lord, we pray for those who are in need of thy bounty, especially for our friends at the Utah Food and Care Coalition. We pray that we may be instruments in thy hand and that we may be generous in our givings. We pray for the souls of those who are lost and who seek thee day and night. We pray that we may be tools in thy hands, and a light to their feet, that they may find thee and come to thine peace, Through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen."

Monday, June 30, 2014

All Are Welcome | Notes from Peter's Sermon

"Whosoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whosoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
At the center of the christian experience is this idea of being ready to receive anyone at anytime as if you were receiving Jesus himself. In fact, three out of the five affirmations here at St. Mary's have to do with creating a welcoming sanctuary full of acceptance and care. You might recognize that this is a very high standard for community, but it's a standard that has been an important pillar of both the monastic and lay life of Christians.

One of the fist Christians to put heavy emphasis on being welcoming was St. Benedict of Nursia. He is considered by many to be the founder of ascetic life in the Christian tradition. His community lived by strict observance to what is commonly called the Benedictine Rule. Chapter 53 of the rule emphasized that guests are meant to be welcomed with gracious hospitality and be treated and protected while under the monastery's care. In other words, anyone in need who comes to the door of a Benedictine establishment must be received. In some ways Benedict's rule is the philosophical foundation for hospitals and emergency rooms.

We live in a community where we are use to being a minority, in fact, In Utah county congregations like ours make up only 1% of the population. Because of this we know what its like to be excluded, discouraged, discriminated against, and ignored. Here in Utah, Episcopalians don't set the rules. We live in a majority culture as a small small minority. This experience helps us to know what it's like to be forgotten and in need of community, and because we know what it's like we must be the ones who reach out with welcoming and hospital arms.

In conclusion we should consider one last story. When the savior was gathering in disciples he was surrounded by those whom he referred to as his " little ones." Literally he used the Greek word micron. This word denotes more than smallness, it also gives the connotation of insignificance. There are some members of our community who we might consider "small" and "insignificant" from a social perspective. These are the ones that we must welcome into the Church—The marginalized, the rejected, and the discouraged.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Relax | Notes from Peter's Sermon

Philipp Melanchthon was a friend of Martin Luther's and would eventually go on to take an important role in the religious reformations of the 16th Century. Phillip was also deeply conservative in his views, almost puritanical. After many years of trying to live perfectly Phillip wrote to Martin Luther in an almost discouraged tone. Luther replied to that letter, "God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong...Shall we sin the more that grace may abound?"

Of all the things Luther taught, either privately or publicly, the sentiment "Be a sinner, and sin strong" is perhaps the most troubling. Sidestepping the validity of this teaching, there is something else valuable to learn from his remarks, namely that Christ came for the sinners not the saints. Without sin, there cannot be grace, and without grace there cannot be salvation. This is not to say that we should "abound" in sin, but rather that we should RELAX, and not stress about it so much. We don't have to be perfect, there is only one who was. So...Relax in Christ, rest in his care, and remember your inadequacies are not relevant to your salvation.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Trinity Sunday | Notes from Peter's Serom

In the early 20th century there lived a young priest named William Temple. Like many people in the world, William had doubts regarding his christian faith, specifically in respect to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. As a young priest William began to feel insicure teaching it and despaired that he had no choice but to leave the priesthood behind. However, William made the important decision to continue questioning his faith, rather than leave it behind. Many people in the world believe that doubt is the opposite of faith. However, this is not so. The opposite of faith is despair. Like Williams, each of us will struggle with various doctrinal questions, but we need not suffer in the process.

One of the most hotly contested doctrines throughout history has been that of the Trinity. The trinity first became prominent in Christian thought early in the 100's AD. While the trinity is still considered a great mystery of the Church, it's important to note that the doctrine as we understand it today was not formalized until the Council of Nicaea in the 4th Century. Even then the creed seemed to have been an uncomfortable compromise for it's authors, who had doubts themselves.

One of the beautiful things about our faith is our chance to question the answers, doubt the wonders, and ponder the mysteries. In fact, it is the duty of a Christian to doubt—because doubt is part of faith. Through continuous appeal and examination we develop a richer understanding of God and his creation. Through doubt we develop confidence, which coincidentally in the latin means "with faith." When we put our confidence in the Lord we endure with him, and he endures with us. So our prayer is this: that we may doubt with confidence, that we may abide with the Lord and in his care.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Deseret News: Musical Exchange

Musical exchange allows for 'sharing of gifts' between Mormons, other faiths

Published: Tuesday, May 20 2014 6:51 a.m. MDT
Updated: Tuesday, May 20 2014 6:51 a.m. MDT

More Photo's available Here
PROVO — An Episcopal congregation in Utah County is reaching out to its neighbors at BYU and in the community through music.
The congregation of fewer than 100 at St. Mary's Episcopal Church helps the county's homeless through the Food and Care Coalition, and to those addicted by opening its doors for 12-step meetings. However, the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook realized that creating a venue for musicians would be an additional "win-win" service opportunity for his and other congregations.
In medieval England, churches with red doors indicated that they were sanctuaries for criminals. The red door outside St. Mary's, 50 W. 200 North in Provo, indicates that the church is a safe place for all, including aspiring musicians, Father Van Hook said.
He and St. Mary's full-time organist Ruth Eldredge reached out to former and current students at Brigham Young University to let them perform or practice at the church, regardless of their major or profession.
"I think music is one of the most practical ways possible to reach out to the community and to connect with the community," said Eldredge, a member of the LDS Church.
In August, Father Van Hook visited BYU organ professor Don Cook and asked if St. Mary's could host beginning organ students. This was the first time in more than 20 years as a professor that a leader of a non-LDS congregation had approached Cook for the opportunity, rather than the other way around, he said.
Two of the college's 16 students accepted in the fall, although neither were organ performance majors. Natalie Durham, a piano performance major, said the experience was one she would repeat.
"The role of organist in the meeting was certainly one of being a leader. There wasn't a conductor at all, so it was all up to me as the organist to lead. The congregation actually followed my phrasings! That was really exciting," Durham said in an email. "Everyone was extremely surprised to hear that it was my first time ever playing organ for a congregation. Several individuals told me they hoped I would come back again."
This partnership may seem unusual given that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make up 98 percent of the county's religious adherents,according to City-Data. Catholic members make up 1.1 percent of those who are affiliated with a religious congregation in Utah County, with the remaining 0.9 percent of the religious belonging to those of other faiths.
The high density of members of the LDS faith is precisely why there is a need to reach out to other congregations to get professional experience. With three full-time and two part-time professional organist positions in the LDS Church, most organ performance majors at BYU assume they will spend their careers playing for another congregation.
This was the case for Andrew Unsworth early in his career.
He played the organ at Catholic and Lutheran churches while growing up in upstate New York and majored in organ performance at BYU. While earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees, he played for Baptist, Lutheran and Catholic churches and was the BYU organ scholar at the Cathedral of the Madeleine for two years.
“It really opened my eyes to all the good that those churches do in the community,” he said.
After completing graduate work, he returned to the Cathedral of the Madeleine as a full-time organist for five years. He came to appreciate the commitment and passion of other religions and the time and love they put into their worship music.
"The idea to make something beautiful and to offer it to God, that's something that I really admire and respect," Unsworth said.
He credits his current position as Tabernacle organist for the LDS Church to the practical experience he gained while playing for other churches.
“I don’t think I’d have my job on Temple Square if I hadn’t been a cathedral organist,” he said. “Ultimately it’s been a positive experience for me in which I have grown spiritually and musically.”
Student organists are just the tip of the iceberg for BYU performers at St. Mary's. Eldredge has roots at BYU, where she completed her undergraduate degree and taught for eight years. Now she spends part of her time scouting out current or former BYU students who are willing to sing or play for St. Mary's church. Sometimes these positions are paid and other times students are volunteers. So far, violists, oboists, vocalists, cellists and those who play the French horn have assisted in liturgies.
A six-person interfaith choir just wrapped up six weeks of performing at St. Mary's. Logan Bradford was among those who performed.
Rehearsals and singing at the service were held right before Bradford's LDS sacrament meeting, which he said was an ideal way for him to prepare to worship. He said he was impressed by how welcoming the leaders and members of the congregation are.
"We more or less kind of became temporary members of their congregation. They grew to love us and we grew to love them," he said.
In addition to giving musicians a way to gain experience and earn a little money, the performances provide an interfaith experience that Eldredge says is vital for coming together as a community.
"You don't have to look very far to see (that) not every spire in Utah County is an LDS Church spire," she said.
For Eldredge, the musical exchange provides an opportunity for understanding other religions in the community. "This isn't an us (vs.) them. This is an us."
In addition to bringing in worship music, Father Van Hook hopes to attract aspiring musicians for recitals and performances. St. Mary's became one of few venues for musical performance after the destruction of the Provo Tabernacle and its subsequent conversion into an LDS temple. He admits he is not a musician, but said he has been told that the acoustics in the chapel are ideal for performances.
“It’s a sharing a gifts, not a matter of belief,” Father Van Hook said.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Rediscovering a Flattened Earth | Notes from Peter's Sermon

In Acts 1 there is a line of scripture that most of the time goes unnoticed. It reads: "The Apostles all joined together constantly in prayer along with the women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers." Throughout Luke's writings there isn't often a time when something important happens without the author mentioning the presence and importance of women. However within a hundred and fifty years the patriachal culture of the Roman Empire would subsume the early Church and women would be relegated to objects instead of equals.

The Lord is unchanging, he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, the Church continues to evolve, grow, and blossom. The bible contains the core of Christian teachings, all things necessary to salvation. However, this does not mean that our understanding of the Bible is fixed. God leads the Church today as he has through all generations and speaks his will through the people. While many christian churches disagree, the Episcopal Church has heard that call and has ordained women since the 1970's.

Our mission as a church is to rediscover that the world is flat. Not geographically, but in the Lord's eyes we are all equal. Men, women, and children. Blacks, hispanics, and Whites. Priest, Deacons, and congregants. Gays, Lesbians, and Straights. In God's eyes we are all his children and the playing field is flat. In recent decades the church has begun to address these inequalities. We've blessed same-sex marriage, we've ordained women, and we've fought against the evils of racism and income inequality.

The Lord expects his body and church to stand for justice, to aid and care for those who can't protect themselves, and to speak out against inequality and unfairness. Perhaps not since the time of the fall of Rome has the middle class become so eroded, and the gap between the rich and the poor so wide. Those who don't read their history are doomed to repeat it. We believe in being responsible stewards of our land, nation, economy, and neighbor. We proclaim that the world, at least in the eyes of God, is flat; and all his children deserve an equal opportunity for success and happiness in this world.

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