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.