When You Wish Upon a Star …

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I know. My photo is not  a great picture of the chapel, dedicated to the memory of our 60 parishioners who died with AIDS and to those who loved and cared for them. Our prayers and response to the AIDS crisis tested and deepened our faith community  and formed me as a priest.  At the top of the chapel window is a little star named Philip. And this is the star’s story told mainly by his sister Ann and a little bit by me.

This is my last Around this Block post and it is about a far-flung All Saints’ family.  As a matter of fact, one brother lives on as a star!  The sibling closest at hand is All Saints’ Connie Curry, a longtime civil rights activist, lawyer, writer and great public servant for the city of Atlanta.

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Connie with Mississippi’s Winson Hudson, the “grandmother of the Mississippi movement.”  Connie has given voice to so many civil rights heroines. Her books focused on the  previously ignored stories of the  women.

Here is an article that gives you a sense of Connie’s journey.  We have quite a legacy, dear Saints, in the Civil Rights Movement.   Connie can’t get to church much but she lives in midtown and loves to hear from her friends.

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Silver Rights was Connie’s  breakout book.

When you are lucky, one relationship leads you into a new world, and getting to know Connie led me to her brother Philip and a family that loved him strong and well.  Here is Sister Ann’s memory of that time.

When I traveled from my home in Savannah to Atlanta earlier this summer, I wasn’t thinking of All Saints Church or my brother Philip Holloway, who had been a member there. My mind was on my sister Connie Curry, who had recently been in and out of the hospital multiple times. Though she is as headstrong, funny and irreverent as ever, Connie needed help .

Then I learned that Martha Sterne is the church’s interim rector. Martha had come to see Connie at Emory Hospital and had a chance to see our sons, Walker and Coran. I hadn’t seen Martha in years and years.

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Ann Curry and I just hit if off during Philip’s illness so many years ago. One of the great joys of this year is reconnecting with people with whom I had shared the deepest human experiences—baptisms, renewals of vows after you’ve lived into them a while,  terrifying illnesses and operations, wondrous healings and yes, heartbreaking but also healing funerals.

Ann again:  After such a warm reunion with Martha, I attended early church, listened to her homily, took communion, and studied the tiny star in the chapel window our family had dedicated in memory of Philip.

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Here is Philip’s star, top of window closest to the chapel altar on the cemetery side.  God bless Lisa Bell-Davis who climbed way way up on a ladder to get this pic. Hello Philip! I think his sisters and his mother got NASA or somebody to really name a star after him!

Philip’s darling sister Ann, again:  In July 1995, Philip was living and dying at Haven House, a hospice house for people with HIV/AIDS. No one thought he would make it to the Fourth of July, so I came to Atlanta from Tennessee to join our mom Isabel, who had been staying in Midtown for several weeks, and Connie, who lived there. I remember walking with Connie to Haven House, through Piedmont Park to 14th Street, expecting to see a hearse. Instead we were greeted by hundreds of runners pouring into the park as the Peachtree Road Race ended. As we stood there, unable to cross the street, I looked and on the front porch of Haven House, sitting in a high back wheelchair sat Philip, waving like the Queen of England. He lived another 15 days.

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This Halloween photo with his sister Ann is the closest I could come to Philip waving like the Queen of England.  OMG, he was adorable.

Haven House was an amazing place. The nurses worked so hard caring for patients. I remember Isabel, sitting on the porch with a nurse named Walter as he smoked a cigarette. “Walter,” she said, “you need a vacation!” (I bet my mother told him to stop smoking too!) Walter, who had the largest, gentlest hands, was never too tired to rub Philip’s feet since neuropathy had set in. Philip loved that.

On one early morning visit, I asked Philip if he needed anything. Without batting an eye, he replied, “YES, I want some cheese and crackers and some very fine champagne.”

(Martha here:  my memory of that time is stopping by occasionally to Haven House which I believe was yellow, to see Philip and that the day he died, the Spirit had nudged me over there. Philip loved  Robert Shaw’s  Rachmaninoff’s Vespers and I remember the Nunc Dimittis filling the room with this gorgeous good news:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

I believe that revelation happened in and through Philip at that very moment and into eternity.

Here’s Ann again:

Weeks later, before his memorial service at All Saints, another brother, Ian, and I went to Patterson Funeral home to pick up Philip’s ashes. We stopped by Ansley Mall liquor store and, appropriately, bought a case of champagne. As we drove back to Philip’s apartment, Ian said, “Do you have the ashes?” I said, “No, you’ve got the ashes!” … neither of us had the ashes. Upon returning to the liquor store, the nice woman behind the counter asked why we were back. “Aw, honey,” she said, after I told her. “I lost someone recently. I can help you find him.” I still think that would make a great country music song title, “I left my brother’s ashes in the liquor store.”

After the service (officiated those 22 years ago by Martha), Harry Pritchett buried most of Philip’s ashes in the church’s Memorial Garden. The remaining ashes were sent to be spread at the Valley of Elke in Northern Chile, a place Philip loved. Then, we celebrated his life with some cheese and crackers and some very fine champagne.

I learned a lot through Philip’s illness and death. I learned how incredibly loving and accepting my family was… How my mom took charge and cared for her son.. How patient my husband Enoch was, while I traveled back and forth to Atlanta… How doctors and nurses kindly helped AIDS patients die with dignity. On numerous trips, my brothers came from Florida and New Jersey to help care for Philip. Connie and the neighbors in Midtown rallied even as they had already witnessed the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS.

I’ll never forget what a great community All Saints Episcopal Church was during that time.  Philip died surrounded by love and song and blessing. To this day, he remains one of my favorite people and I miss him still.

Fast forward twenty years to June 26, 2015, I also couldn’t help but think of Philip and his partner of ten years, Bob as my husband and I gathered with hundreds of others in Johnson Square in downtown Savannah cheering and celebrating the passage of the marriage equality act. Earlier that morning my son Philip Walker, named for his uncle, sent me a text that read, “Mom all f%$@ing 50 states!” I took a moment to let that sink in.

I am grateful for circles and reconnections and grace and a tiny star in All Saint’s Chapel.

Ann Curry

(Martha again) And beloved Saints, I am grateful as well.  For all the love we share and for how God passes that love on and on and on even to the furthest star.  I’ll be taking a big pause from All Saints’ but God willing I’ll see you again.  God bless you and when you look up at that little star way way high in the chapel, remember all the days the saints have been through and thank God for the power and the glory and the love and the hope for tomorrow for all God’s children.  And remember, When you wish upon a star, your wish just may come true!  My prayers sure have spending this year with you.

Martha +

Star squared up

 

How did Ray get to be Ray? (Hint: Happy Fathers Day!)

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It’s no secret. Ray and Beth have been among my dearest All Saints friends for going on thirty years. I know, THAT’S CRAZY! Because the Chenaults are only fourteen years old!

I am always curious about how people get formed.  We don’t just come out of nowhere like Venus rising from the sea!

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Botticelli’s painting tells us something huge about the miracle of beauty coming out of nowhere. But look at those around Venus. Some folks had to be there for her.

I am especially curious about artists.  How do they find their way?  For instance, how does a little kid from Fredericksburg, Virginia, become one of the most best organist-choirmasters in the world?  I asked Ray Chenault the other day what his growing up was like.  And he told me about his childhood world.

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Baby Ray

 

We talked especially about two men who formed him both as a person and as a musician.  We all have Fathers in God and so here’s Ray thanking the Good Lord for his.

My dad was the number one tenor around Fredericksburg, Virginia, so he would often sing at weddings and funerals.  He also would take me around to lots of revivals, bringing me along to play the piano. And he was the choir director at our church.

 

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Ray grew up at Salem Baptist Church where his dad was choir director. Now his sister is the organist!  Look at their website.  Cool!!

 

And every day my father delivered milk – we’d be getting around  the route – and he would stop and talk with an old couple for an hour – I would want to be going home to play but my father would spend as much time as it took.  He was greatly beloved.  And he taught me that you learn a lot from people

On Sunday mornings, in order for him to be at church and direct the choir,  he would have to get up at 2:30 in the morning to do the milk route. Then he would come back and pick me up to play the piano and we would go sing with some nursing home people.  He did that nursing home stop every Sunday morning – about 8 am – we would run a bunch of hymns. It was an old retirement home and it wasn’t really kept too clean.  My dad knew the power of music!

Then we would go to the radio station and he would be the vocal soloist on the radio station.  He sang things like “How Great Thou Art” and “His Eye is on the Sparrow”.

Then we would come back to Salem Baptist Church where he was the choir director. He was not much trained in music.  He’d say to me hit “Rock of Ages” or something,  and then all of a sudden people would start singing.  My dad totally lived the importance of music and connecting with people.  He was my hero.

My mother was very organized. She made us march to a strong tune. She had my father marching, too!

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God bless Mr. and Mrs. Chenault!

 

At a family celebration, somebody asked my father what would he do differently in life. And he started crying and said “I’d like to be like my son. I’d like to have the opportunities and success my son has had in music.”

(A thought from Martha:  I think we sometimes live out the un-lived dreams of our parents.  I really do. I believe I lived into the Episcopal Church as my father would have loved to.  I think I lived a life working outside the home in ways that were not open in my mother’s time and place.  It’s all good.)

Here’s Ray again.  My first organ teacher was Harold Abmyer, Mr. A.  Mr. A had judged me in a competition, so he knew I played the piano, and he and my parents were friends.   My mother would invite him to dinner occasionally. She was a great cook – roast beef and mashed potatoes and blackberry cobbler!

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Blackberry season is NOW!!  Celebrate  Ray’s mom with a great blackberry cobbler! Easy to make with good store-bought pie crust, blackberries and a little butter and sugar. Go for it!  (I bet Mrs. C. made her own crust, but we gotta start somewhere.)

Mr. A.  came to the house one Friday night and ate dinner and he usually played after dinner, but that night he asked me to play.  And he said tomorrow morning I am coming to pick you up for your first organ lesson and you’re not going to say no. So I went and had my first organ lesson.

And I don’t know what it was but I knew that I had found my profession. Then I started practicing and took to the organ like a duck to water and progressed quickly and studied with him for three years.

My little sister, who is a fine musician, wanted to study organ with Mr. A. so my father asked Mr. A to take her on.  Mr. A. told our dad, “I don’t teach young kids.”  And my father said, ” You are making a mistake. This is your legacy.”   So my sister studied with him, and he eventually taught little nursery kids all the way up to grown ups with great success and joy.  

Mr. A. was the organist at a big church, Fredericksburg United Methodist, and he had me helping him with their choral music.  On a Palm Sunday the first hymn I ever played on the organ for a church program wasAll Glory Laud and Honor.”    Mr. A. sat right on the bench beside me with his hand on my back giving me courage.

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Ray and Mr. A. You can sense the deep love and respect.

 

As I mentioned, Mr. A. had lots of young students after my sister and me. And he helped many find careers. He listened to my father – that was his legacy.  I always made sure he knew how important he was in our lives. I went back and played his funeral.

I’ve gone back to all my teachers and let them know how important they are to me. Having been a teacher at Lovett, I know what that means. I remember Beth had a kid who misbehaved. Years later, the kid wrote the headmaster and said Mrs. Chenault was the one who kept me in school. What that kid treasured most – that mentorship.

Beth and I met in college. I saw Beth first day in music class. And that was that.

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I love this picture SO much.  You can see the years  ahead.

I think we Saints may forget that “Mr. and Mrs. Chenault” taught high school and middle school  for over thirty years and led the Fine Arts Department at Lovett.

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I wish this Lovett chorus practice photo was better.  But just stop and think about what it means to call young people to excellence day after day. And remember, Ray got this from his dad and Mr. A.  God bless those who teach and inspire others to teach.

Surely the loving family feel and lush all-in-it-together sound of our parish choir come from the Chenaults  having learned everything there is to know about the formation of young people all those years. My daughter teaches at Lovett and she tells me the Chenaults are still iconic role models there to this day, years after they left.

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Some Valentine’s Day at Lovett.  Who knows when? The Chenaults never change.

Even today we have Lovett alumni in the choir and every year we have a number of GSU students who sing with the Chenaults. I love to go to choir practice because it feels like good family.  People laugh and work hard.  The friendships are inter-generational.  The older members are pals and mentors, and the younger members bring life and fresh, gorgeous voices.  Beloved Community.

And it’s no coincidence that Karol Kimmel and our children’s choirs have that same deep family of God structure.  Like the Chenaults, Karol is that holy combination  of gifted professional artist and gifted, loving personhood.

And it is so good to know that people never grow out of our choirs.  People that move out of town come back when they can.  (I’m looking at you, James Marshall and Susan Bolen among many others.)  College students come back and sing in the youth choirs and reconnect with one another.  Also, there literally is no telling how many musical careers have been launched by singing at All Saints’.  Thanks be to God.

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To learn to attend, to blend, to sing out your truth and know it is part of the whole.  Holy Spirit.

We are blessed at All Saints’.  Choral music is not a product for our consumption. Music is a living gift of faith to be offered and passed around and around, and the children and adults in our choirs are being formed as they form us.  Think of that moment at the end of the service when you have turned to follow the cross out into the world and the choir is all across the back of the nave and they move into a descant and a young GSU student conductor is usually leading everybody and we all sing our hearts out. That may be my favorite weekly moment at All Saints’.

May we always remember that we belong to the great Chorus of Creation in the name of the One who sings us into being and gives us voice and teaches each and all of us the gift of our very own song.    

 

Martha +

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simon!

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The Rev. Simon Mainwaring is our new Rector.  My heart is full of joy and not just because I get to go back to eating bonbons, reading novels, and hanging out with Carroll and Flash and our family.  I am truly, truly  joyful because this particular human being and this family  are coming.  

I asked some members of the Search Committee and Vestry and two priest friends who have encountered Simon to describe your new rector and then I pulled pictures off the internet so  here you go!

From Search Committee member:

First AHA moment: I initially got to know Simon through his responses to the Diocese application. Clear from the beginning that Simon has a deep faith, sound theological grounding and keen intellect. But what really caught me was his passion for sussing out our christian call to be a church “in the world’. What does that mean for us in a changing downtown Atlanta neighborhood and frankly in a pretty scary global community. I was intrigued by his church’s community outreach to the beach community their around their property and the growing hispanic population in San Diego. Was clear to me that while Simon is grounded in tradition, liturgy and Episcopal worship, he can comfortably stretch himself to boldly follow the Cross out into world and meet folks where there are outside the four walls of his parish.

Second AHA moment: I had the privilege of visiting Simon’s parish for Sunday service. St. Andrews By the Sea is not by any means a “resource” parish. They operate on a very lean budget. HOWEVER, you never got a sense of scarcity in the parish. The Word coming from that community is abundant life. Joyful hospitality for all who entered the doors, including the homeless population that lives around their block. It was as warm, welcoming and authentic an experience as I have had in a long time in a church pew. The tone of course was set by Simon and his staff. I have to say I came away feeling very sure that the Holy Spirit was alive, well and doing good work at St. Andrews By the Sea.

Third AHA moment: As part of our parish visit, we would ask the candidate and his wife to pick a restaurant for us to have dinner together as a group. Simon and Monica insisted that we join them and their children for dinner in the rectory. After a few weeks on the road doing these kinds of visits, a home cooked meal and a relaxed casual evening around a family dinner table was a welcome respite. Such easy hospitality … They had me at hello!

And this from a priest colleague:

Gentle and kind, deep and good.

And this from a Vestry member:

Simon has a sparkling intellect, an insuppressible but gentle sense of humor and a passion for Christ.  He has a special way of connecting with people.  I can’t wait for the people of All Saints’ to join in the fun.

Simon is a fit but relatively unimposing man.  During the worship portion of his interview with the vestry, he delivered a brilliant, humorous and inspiring sermon.  Then, during Eucharist, he bowled us over by chanting the Great Thanksgiving beautifully.  It was clear by this point that we were   dealing with a heavyweight.

And this:

He is so easy to be around and just exudes happiness and fun.  Simon is extremely talented, doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously and is up for the challenge of All Saints’ and the block.  They both seem to enjoy life and adore their children and each other.  We are going to have fun with them. 

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And this:

With Simon as our leader, people near and far will know that All Saints’, Atlanta is open for business.  He will invite the world into the church and help lead the church into the world.

And this:

Monica has an inquiring mind, a warm heart and a charming presence about her.  Gracious rector’s spouse, priest in her own right, and mother of three–look out.  This is going to be exciting!

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Here’s Monica in San Diego with two Dominicans who are her friends and also dear friends of my best priest friend in East Tennessee.  God’s love is so interconnected.  This makes me happy. 

 

And this:

Simon is a warm, real, smart, and passionate Christian. The love felt within his immediate family (with his wife Monica and their three children) was palpable; and he also spreads that love wherever he goes. Every person we interviewed was so positive about how he handles every aspect of life as a rector. Seeing how he has positively impacted lives through his vision and his pastoral care was impressive. The tears of sadness which will pour out from San Diego as he leaves will surely lead to tears of joy for us lucky ones at All Saints’.

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Goldfish blessing. Lovely!

And dear ones, the rest will unfold!

Martha +

 

“Celebrate Me Home!”

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This is who we are!  Party Animals and also at-Home-in-the-Body of Christ!

This week marks just about the one year anniversary of my being back here with the Saints.  The final rector candidates are wonderful people, and we can look forward to the call of the new rector of All Saints’ Church pretty soon!  When I look back over the circle of the days of this year, over and over I am remembering how much FUN it is to be church with you.  How good-natured you usually are, how hilarious you can be, how real you always are.  Churches sometimes are not able to be these things which is too bad.

Betty Derrick mentioned to me that great “Celebrate me Home” song from Kenny Loggins and wrote us a note that gets at the feel of All Saints’ on our best days. And even on our bad days.

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Betty Derrick gets it: the heart of the universe is celebration. Betty is a one of the wonderful Agnes Scott women that are all around All Saints’. She retired from AT&T after thirty years and then circled back to Agnes Scott for eleven years as special assistant to the President. She knows life-giving community.

 

Here are both of us thinking about you and the great dance of All Saints’.  Betty is in italics.

Some people joke that Episcopalians know how to party. (I have always taken it as a compliment.) It may be accurate but falls short of the essential truth, I think. What we really know how to do, at least at All Saints’, is celebrate.  We mark the small and great moments of our life together with song, streamers, flowers, beautiful liturgy, procession and even cymbals. The Psalmist would be proud.

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Every time we gather, we are remembering and hoping for a feast! Already but not yet! That’s the deal!  

One of my favorite celebrations is the rite of baptism. There are colorful banners with each child’s name. We reconfirm our own vows as a church family… and then we sing the welcoming message to Harry’s grand melody and march through the sanctuary to applause. How wonderful is that!

Betty and I are also both into the pet blessings!

I love the smiles.

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And I love the meetings.

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Thank you God.

And I love the public displays of affection.

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A lick on the nose is a true gift of love.

And the blessings!

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Here’s Betty: I learned an important lesson at the Blessing of the Animals several years ago. At the time I owned a young, frenetic, frighteningly intelligent border collie named Scout. By the time we took our place for the blessing, Scout had wrapped me around several lamp posts and provoked a number of other dogs by staring at them. When Walter Smith asked what I wanted him to pray for Scout, I answered “a calm and peaceful disposition.” Walter looked me squarely in the eye and replied, “I don’t think that is Scout’s nature.”

He proceeded to pray for a patient and understanding owner!

As I drove home with Scout, leaping from the front to the back seats, I thought: “that man just said I was the problem.” It was a lesson that not only changed my relationship with Scout but one I have remembered often with people. The Blessing of the Animals may seem a frivolous celebration to some, but it holds a lasting instruction for me.

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At our best we don’t just tolerate one another; we befriend one another, in spite of, no because of our differences. This is Flash with his old Mississippi friend Toby. Nothing first-hand to do with All Saints’  I just like the picture, and it reminds me how All Saints’ isn’t an end in itself.  Our community points to the power of love in far-flung corners of our lives apart. That is why we exist, dear ones.  That’s it.  Practice celebrating life at All Saints’  and carry it out the door.

My favorite and very complex celebration this year was Maundy Thursday.  It is a night of betrayal and a night of love because that’s the way human beings roll.  We had a supper that turned into eucharist in Ellis, which is exactly how the last supper turned into the first eucharist—in a secular room lit by the light of the love of Christ.  And we washed feet.

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Strange and deep.  This.

Betty brings up one of our other best celebrations.  Rarely do I sit at the back of the sanctuary, but I always try to for the no stress children’s Christmas pageant. From the back one has a good vantage point to see all the ears of the animals—or one year, the claws of a lobster.

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Yes, that is a tiger heading to the manger.

I love that there are not just three “wise people”. We can use all the wisdom we can find. A friend worked on the pageant a few years ago when there were traditional costumes. More children volunteered than there were outfits. She stayed up many nights making angel wings. As she said, “ the heavenly host is not a finite number.” Indeed.

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No Words.
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Here’s Betty and her new friend, Mr. Chips. She says He was a little bit of a surprise. He came as a puppy from the border collie rescue and was advertised to be 45 lbs. like his mother. Forgot my biology-he’s 84 lbs and more like his Staffordshire Bull Terrier dad but all sweetness.

From the beginning of life to the remembrance of lives well-lived, we rejoice and celebrate. Through tears and laughter, we celebrate. We are reminded that each day is to be celebrated. We have good reason to celebrate. All are welcome at God’s table and we are home.  

 

AMEN BETTY!  THANKS FOR CELEBRATING US HOME!

Do you get into ‘Good Trouble’? Hope So!

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Lori Guarisco has laughing eyes, and she is always getting people into “good trouble” as John Lewis calls it. A gazillion people at All Saints’ have gotten into good trouble at Threads, our  mission dedicated to clothing children in need with dignity.

Lori is a dancer and performance artist as well as the coordinator of Threads.  She is a delight on so many levels, and right now I am remembering an Easter story that Lori told recently on the night of the Keep Threads Hanging On Auction.  Here is what she said:

“People just want to be loved. as long as that is true there will continue to be children who need to be clothed.

So thank you for helping make that happen.  I really love how so many of the auction items don’t have a starting bid. Instead they are marked as ‘priceless’, which is what Threads is – ‘priceless’.”

 

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People donated priceless stuff to the Threads Auction, including hours and hours and hearts and minds and art and all manner of things to delight.

Lori continues, “Just this week we have served 42 children – ten were here this morning!   The Saturday morning the children were all refugees—and no surprise they are artists— and they are the ones who painted the windows of Threads!

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Windows of Light and Handprints and Heart-thrilling colors!  Painted by refugee children.

A couple of days ago, we served 32 children including Quinton.  Quinton is about nine years old, and he and his grandmother and brothers and sisters came in pulling empty suitcases with a voucher that they had received from our newest referral partner, Markus Autism Center.

The grandmother explained to me that they had their suitcases because they were on their way to Michigan.

MICHIGAN! I Cried,  I’M FROM MICHIGAN! I WAS BORN IN KALAMAZOO!

The grandmother says I WAS BORN IN KALAMAZOO, TOO!

So immediately we are friends!

 

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Lori is from Kalamazoo! Who Knew?

(Martha aside: If we just take a moment, we will almost always find common ground.  Lori and the grandmother found Kalamazoo! Some time today, look for common ground with a stranger.  Common ground helps. I promise.)

 

 

As Quinton begins to look around, i explain to the grandmother how Threads works. That everything is free. That everything is washed. That all four children will get new shoes, new socks, new underwear.  And she bursts into tears.

And right about that time Quinton has discovered the EASTER RACK!!

And on the Easter Rack, he has found a full suit in his size including a tie and a shirt! With a big smile on his face he lifts it off the rack and announces to everyone:

I can wear this to my father’s funeral!

You see, that is why they were traveling to Michigan.

And that is priceless.”

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Jesus keeps telling us these two things: Fear Not and Love.  Priceless.

Thank you, dearest Lori. Thank you for all the love and expertise and diplomacy and creativity you pour into Threads. 

And thank all the rest of you ‘Thread-ians’ who buy the clothes, bring the clothes, sort the clothes, display the clothes, handle the records, shop with the children, get a kick out of your Threads friends and days together, and all the other beautiful moments done with love that keep Threads hanging on.  You are all Good Trouble Makers.  And You are all priceless.

 

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Here I am between  Two Very Good Trouble-Makers—Lauri Begley and Melanie Hardin.  I just put this picture in because I like being surrounded by kind geniuses!

Finally here’s the courtyard as that Threads Auction evening was coming on. It was the Saturday of Easter Week.  There were mysterious and beautifully dressed children floating everywhere.

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Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.   (T. S. Eliot)

But T. S., I beg to differ!  Around this block, we do try time and again to bear reality. We try to love God’s world, really.  Sometimes we fail but sometimes we do love so powerfully. Some moments we do  hold the real world in our arms, just like our Savior Jesus held the little children, we love the Children of God with compassion, practicality, and yes some really cool threads.

Happy Eastertide.

Martha +


 

 

How will you “Live Lent” this year? Want some ideas?

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The Sheffield Building in front of Piedmont Hospital started early with an  extreme Lent. Are you in demolition mode to make way for a really new life? Or are you needing a stillness?  
Do you need to get outside of yourself?  Or turn more deeply into your interior world?  One leads to the other.  Pray? Fast? Serve?  They all circle around when done intentionally, attentively. Whatever way you Live Lent this year, know that the world so deeply needs intentional, attentive persons.  How will you be one?   It all adds up.

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The All Saints’ kitty goes by many names (I call her Kitty), and does not Live Lent.  She doesn’t need to.  She lives authentically every hour of every day.
But the rest of us need some  practice.  We forget who we are and Whose we are.   Here’s Kim Jackson on the subject:

In the Adult Formation series, “Preparing for Holy Days,” the participants learned from our Abrahamic cousins some new ways to prepare for Holy Week during Lent.  Some might borrow from the Jewish tradition and take the time to offer sincere apologies to those in our lives whom we have offended. Since Lent is a season of repentance, how much deeper might our experience of this season be if we actually picked up the phone and repented for that time when we hurt a friend or brother?

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You don’t need the latest equipment for Living Lent.  Need to talk to somebody? Do it.
In the Islamic tradition, Muslims dedicate a time for prayer FIVE times a day. What if we decided to pray five times a day during Lent? Would you run out of things to pray about? Or, would our hearts break open in new ways?

Several class participants shared different practices and disciplines that they’ve taken on over the years. We offer these as tried and tested ways of being present during Lent:

  • Pray the Daily Office. Helen Pinkston-Pope tried this one and said, “Doing the daily office helped me have the holiest Holy Week in my life.” (http://www.missionstclare.com/english/)
  • Subscribe (and READ) the All Saints’ Daily Lenten Meditations
  • Fast from one meal each day and use that time to pray instead of eating.
  • Pray family devotions each night using Compline. (Kim)
  • Unsubscribe from Social Media and replace it with meeting a friend once a week for face-to-face conversation.

What fits YOU??

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Lent does not need to be grim and steep and sterile.  Really.
Here are some other possibilities from the staff and vestry:

From Leighton Stradtman (vestry and search liason): “I’ll prepare for Lent by having a colonoscopy. (OKAY, LEIGHTON! That’s the spirit!) And each day during each day of Lent, I’ll fast (there’s that word, “Fast” again) from complaining and write a short note of gratitude to someone who has shaped my life.

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This is Flash and Carroll in our dog walk. When I get too busy and self-important, I fast from my life (not good) and  fence myself out from our intimate world.
(Also do you sometimes let the best be the enemy of the good? That fences you out.) Our treasurer Charlie Ogburn  has modified his Living Lent through the years for what really works for him. He writes

  1.  I say the Lord’s Prayer silently to myself once a day.  
  2.  I don’t finish any food placed in front of me.  I can eat anything, but only 1/2 to 3/4 of what is on the plate.  
  3.  Alcohol restriction:  I tried to eliminate it completely, but that was too hard and awkward (business dinner: “why aren’t you having a glass of wine?”).  So I allow a couple of days a week, which can be “borrowed” backward and forward.  

Charlie adds, for me, fasting is about a daily (or hourly) reminder of our connection to God, And I lose about 10 pounds, which means all of my clothes fit for another year.  And I REALLY celebrate Easter.

Here’s one more approach to fasting from Louisa Merchant through a Muslim community where she was working.

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Living lent means living as if you cannot live alone in peace.  Because you can’t. I can’t.
Louisa says, “I’ve never had a Lenten practice, but I did have a Ramadan one because I worked at a Muslim school and everyone fasted, even the little kids, and so, I of course, did too.  I remember Ramadans as some of the happiest times at the school.  Sure, it was hard to go all day without food, but that wasn’t nearly as noticeable as the palpable presence of a communal and abiding calm, a peace among the brethren that was so tangible it will almost barometric, not freezing but cold and so clear.  This is what I wish for us this Lenten Season.   A chance to feel the communal centering, to be encouraged by the presence of others who are going within and to not only find the still, silent voice in ourselves, but to find it most of all in our togetherness.”

One of my favorite beloved communities is the Cathedral Book Store.

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Sally Hansen volunteers at the Cathedral Book Store which has GREAT SPIRITUAL PRACTICE BOOKS. Sally says she “gives up” for Lent. Brilliant!! What would be a gift for you to give up??
Here’s Vestry member, John Frazer Giving Up Negative Thinking:  “I will try to be more positive in thoughts  in hopes that those will develop into my reality, Fake it, tell you make it. (John says he’s not sure faking it  is a Lenten practice. I told him It DEFINITELY IS. Act your way, fake your way into a more authentic way of being in the world.)    

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This sounds good. Here’s an example of what you can get at the Cathedal Book Store.
Here’s a heartening note from Clay Jackson, the chair of the Rector Search Committee!

Besides giving up only  soft drinks, which is hard for an Atlanta boy to do, I cannot honestly admit to an annual Lenten practice. I would tell you that after conversations with many amazing clergy over the past few months, I have experienced a bit of a spiritual awakening. I will try and nurture that feeling during this season.

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Whoever is our new Rector is a blessed person.  Coming to a parish with  a tree of life with roots and many branches. And many ways to Live Lent.  Thanks, Clay for helping her or him find the way.
More Lenten practices tomorrow!

Martha +

 

 

 

God in a box? There’s a back story.

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Every loving feast is a child and a foretaste of this feast, spiraling through time without beginning or end. (And no indigestion.)

The first time I took communion in the Episcopal church I was as filled as if I had eaten “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.”   (Those are the words of Isaiah describing the messianic feast at the end of time, and we often read the words at funerals.)  No wonder I was filled for we are acting out the feast every time we have holy communion. And yes, sometimes when I am part of the communion of us Saints, I experience that fullness again, so that tears still well up in my eyes. I sense the space around us and among us and in us is filled with grace and abundance.

So what is this box?  Sometimes when somebody can’t get to the feast, the feast goes to them.  And believe it or not, in that box is enough for a feast for the bringer and the receiver.

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Real Presence resides in the kind hands, in the home or hospital bedside meeting, and Yes, in the box containing the bread of life and cup of salvation.

Here’s how this sending out of the feast happens.  Right before the closing Eucharistic prayer, the celebrant stands behind the altar and hands a small box to someone. The celebrant  and the congregation say this back and forth:

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The Body of Christ in a little  box carried by the Body of Christ out from the Body of Christ all the way to the Body of Christ.  Get it? 
Wendell Berry says “Friends, every day do something that won’t compute … “  That’s what our Eucharistic Visitors do.  They carry a box to someone who is sick or homebound, and with the box and in their very being,  the “EVs” carry us, the people who gathered for communion that day.   And in the midst of us and the EVs and the receiver and  the little box is the Real Presence of the Living God in Christ Jesus.
Here are a few EV reminiscences:
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Bob Bunker carried a small box, a wise and kind heart, and the Body of Christ to the Hensons for years and years.  Can you sense how holy this is? For everybody?

As Marion and I approach twenty years at All Saints, I have been honored and blessed for most of that period to represent our congregation and church through service as a Eucharistic Visitor (EV) taking Communion to the homebound of our parish.  I usually serve as EV every six weeks or so, visiting someone recommended by the clergy or the next individual “up” on our list of regulars.  Occasionally we are asked to remain as regular EVs for an individual, particularly when that individual is in hospice and/or is easily confused.

I became very close to long term parishioners Bob and Coc Henson in 2007 when Coc’s health was failing, visiting every Wednesday afternoon.  When Coc died in 2010, Bob and I decided to continue the visits and did so until Bob’s death last year at the age of 101.  Coc and Bob were wonderful, Christ-filled people and I frequently and truthfully reassured Bob that I was getting more out ot the relationship than he was.  I also told him that he, having graduated from college the year I was born, kept me feeling young!!  PS – We EVs are Blessed to have Ann Higdon’s gentle and caring hand as our leader.”

Here’s a memory from Mary Jo Bryan, and Ann Higdon is in the middle of it!

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Jim Ayres lived in a nursing facility for a long, long time, but  our EVs plus a fabulous Jewish social worker plus a loving staff made an institution into  a home for Jim.  This is his wake!  You can spot Mary Jo Bryan and Ann Higdon in there.  We told Jim stories.

Mary Jo writes, “I had visited Jim before and was surprised when I arrived at the nursing home to find that he was in hospice care after a sudden change in condition.  He was awake, but not really responsive.  A longtime friend (the Jewish social worker Nancy)  was with him and encouraged me to offer communion.  I used the form for special circumstances, and it was clear that he was aware of my presence and the prayers.  He wasn’t able to receive the host, but received the wine on my fingertip.   His friend, who is Jewish, told me that Amazing Grace was one of Jim’s favorites, so she and I sang it for him. She had learned it through her long friendship with Jim.  Holy, holy, holy time!”

Below, Gretchen Chateau describes an experience that transcended denominations and also gave a way for people to connect deeply just when the threat of loss of connection between the living and the dead was emerging. Here’s Gretchen:

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Is this the best sister pic ever?? Gretchen and Judi

“A few years ago, my sister Judi’s best friend  in the whole world was really close to the finish line in Flowery Branch, Georgia.  Judi had flown from Spokane, Washington for what was to be her last visit with her friend Shawn.  I drove to Flowery Branch to support Judi in that visit.  I had been Eucharistic Visitor the previous week and still had the communion kit in my car.  Here we were, an Episcopal EV, my sister a Roman Catholic and Shawn, a Lutheran plus another Lutheran friend. We were in Shawn’s hospital room, talking and I said, ‘You know, I have a communion kit in my car.  What if we had a shared Eucharist?’

I was a little afraid of violating some rule or regulation.  But, everyone agreed, so I got the kit from the car, we shared an abbreviated Rite II service and reserved communion.  Judi went back to Spokane, I went back to Atlanta, and Shawn died a few days later.  To think, I almost didn’t suggest having communion.  There have been other amazing experiences, but that’s probably #1.”

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Gary Russell reminding us of the source, God’s table. 

Gary Russell and Jim Clay have had such deep and holy experiences as EVs. Here’s Gary:

“In November I had a lovely visit with Liz Jacobs’ parents, Mary and Joseph Gordon, who are somewhat homebound. Mary was an EV in Florida prior to their move to Atlanta and proudly showed me her communion kit. They were both so thankful and grateful for the visit and the communion service. I enjoyed telling people during the Advent season that I had just recently taken communion to Mary and Joseph!”

And Gary’s husband, Jim remembers, “Years ago Gary and I had taken communion to a federal official who had been the victim of a violent home invasion. It was Easter Sunday, so we also came bearing  an Easter lily. They were so moved by the sharing of this Holy Meal that tears flowed from all three of us. To this day, the individual continues to remind us how grateful they were for the EV Ministry in their time of need.”

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Every eucharist is a Feast of the Resurrection.  Every EV knows this.

Ann Higdon  leads the EV flock. Let her or one of the priests know if you  sense a call to join them or if you know of someone who needs -not God in a box- but the Body of Christ to come near and share the feast.

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Ann Higdom and Mary Jo Bryan like the other EVs are the feast and hold the feast.

Ann says, “Being a Eucharistic Visitor over the years has blessed me with opportunity to know many special people. Whether gathering around hospital beds or dining room tables or in living rooms or nursing homes, time spent visiting with people before sharing communion is also exceedingly special. One of my greatest joys is greeting people in church when their health allows them to attend worship services again. It is also a privilege to serve as Eucharistic Minister at the funerals of some of the people I have visited.

 

Forming connections with families of people I visit is also a blessing. I am taking communion monthly to the daughter of a parishioner I often visited with communion many years ago. The daughter  has invited her friends to join us, forming our own “4th Friday Communion” community.”

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This image is from the fifteenth century Ottheimrich Bible. I think Ann Higdon looks like the Jesus.  Come to Maundy Thursday!  There will be a feast like this.

It’s not that the feast always has to be liturgical.  A couple of days ago, I just whispered at the lunch table in the library how much I wished I had cake.  And since Noelle York Simmons often wished the same thing, somebody  called her and said we were thinking about her and cake.

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Noelle, possibly praying for cake. 

And the next day what shows up but A HUGE CARAMEL CAKE FROM NOELLE!!  FEAST, FEAST, FEAST.

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Thank you Noelle.  It was a feast.

We were not created for scarcity. We are created for abundance.  In this time with many loud voices saying there is not enough, remember your faith, your feast, your God of Abundance who invited all to be fed.

Here is Mary Oliver with just about the best communion poem I know.  I offer it in thanksgiving for our EVs and with prayers for those whom they serve.

Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into the many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don’t worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it was all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.     

Mary Oliver

Come risen Lord and deign to be our guest. Nay let us be thy guest; the feast is thine.

Martha +