Rector's Reflections

A collection of writings published monthly in the Full Circle. Click on one of the links on the right to read a specific entry.

 

September 2015 — Hands to the Harvest

Letter of James, 3:17 -- But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Dear faithful people,

We come now upon that familiar time of harvest: Godly Play recommences, with a flock of new children having joined our parish; this week we celebrate and step forward for new ministries on Rally Sunday. Soon it will be time for our Annual Diocesan Convention (with a Resolution for Mental Health Advocacy born of our work here) and St. Bart’s Stewardship campaign. Although we remained pretty active over the summer, what with 40 children (plus youth leaders) attending Arts at Bart’s Camp, and our production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, still now we welcome even more hands to the harvest.

For this is your harvest, the “good fruits” about which James writes in his letter. The seeds, of course, are God’s: the “implanted Word,” the indwelling Christ that I preached about recently. You have sown them through your love, your integrity, and your peace. And so, my brothers and sisters, I invite you to roll up your sleeves, and enter singing into the fields. All hands are needed! Perhaps you wish to sing in the choir or volunteer as a storyteller or doorkeeper for Godly Play; maybe you’d like to try your hand at writing a grant or serving at the altar. God is calling you to celebrate the good fruits of your Spirit from above!

We hear a lot of “bad news” about the Church and about Christians lately – about our decline in numbers, and about fanatical conservatives bent on denying love to neighbors rather than extending it. This Harvest Season, I’d like us to celebrate – to proclaim – some of the good news here at St. Bartholomew’s. There is much to celebrate: new members, a growing garden, and the circle of our outreach of love and creativity spreading wider and wider into the community.

I’m going to ask you to do two things: first, the next time someone mentions the failing church, or controversy about some issue or other, I’d like you to tell a story about someone (perhaps it’s you!) whose life has been enhanced by God’s work at St. Bart’s. Next, I’d like to ask you to prayerfully consider some new, or increased, ministry this year. Make it a year of righteous harvest, and be one of those laboring joyfully in the fields.

Yours toward Christ’s reign,

Mother Joyce

 

 

July 2015 — Turn! Turn! Turn!

One of the most popular readings chosen for funerals and memorial services is from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. You know the one—turned into a folk song by Pete Seeger and popularized by The Byrds:

  • For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
  • a time to be born, and a time to die;
  • a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
  • a time to kill, and a time to heal;
  • a time to break down, and a time to build up;
  • a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
  • a time to mourn, and a time to dance...

These verses bring comfort to many people at many times: at their hospital bedside, in their loved one’s memorial service, or even perhaps during important decisions. These decisions—or “discernments” as we call them in spiritual terms—essentially boil down to deciphering which time is next. Is it time to plant, or time to harvest? Is it time to build up or time to break down? This process of listening leads us deep into conversation with God, as well as with those whom we love and respect. Telling the time; taking stock. Knowing that things do not happen all at once in our lives, but step by step, turn by turn.

At this time of year—Midsummer—we find ourselves at the halfway point in the calendar. We may be taking family vacations, reading books with lighthearted stories at the beach, and barbequing with friends in the backyard. When do we take time to “tell the time?”

With Ariana away this month in Alaska (taking her turn at the theater where her parents met and where she was born), Patrick and I have made some time to consider where we are at this point in our lives, to make new goals and celebrate past successes. At the Big Heart Garden, Jamil and volunteers have been clearing away weeds and preparing for a big summer harvest. Here at St. Bartholomew’s, your Vestry has looked at our Annual Budget, and will publish a half-year report to the congregation, helping us all to focus on needed steps ahead.

What time will be next in your life? For your family, career, community, and spiritual life? Please feel welcome to come to me for help in discerning your next steps, to pray together and listen for God’s direction in all the Seasons, and especially during this Midsummer.

Yours in every time,

Mother Joyce

 

 

June 2015 — Born This Way

I'm beautiful in my way / 'Cause God makes no mistakes / I'm on the right track, baby / I was born this way. --Lady Gaga

It’s true. I’m an extrovert. Can’t help it. That’s how God made me, and I’m proud of it. I’m a proud, straight, lower-middle class, opera-singing, Welsh-American, extroverted woman.

Still, sometimes I don’t feel all that great about myself. Sometimes I want to be somebody different: maybe an introverted, mid-Western, married man with two kids and a dog (and maybe a trim beard). Maybe that would make things easier for me, since it seems to be what’s held up as “normal” for priests. Yet I love who God made me to be, and I celebrate my passionate, high-heeled, soprano self. And I am lucky: I never, ever have had to feel afraid for openly being who I am.

My grandfather, who was raised in Wales, had to be careful not to get caught speaking his native language during British colonization. My mother and aunt could not aspire toward many of the careers and vocations (including priesthood and the Episcopate) that are available to me today. And many of my friends and family members have been bullied, mocked, and even assaulted for being openly same-gender loving, or being in gender transition. Yet God made each of us—them and me and you—just as we are, and loves us just as we are. How can we not do the same?

In January 2014, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori issued the following statement on LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered) rights: Our advocacy work continues to build support for the full human rights and dignity of all persons, irrespective of gender, race, national origin, creed, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability or inability. To do less is effectively to repudiate our membership in the human community. No one of God’s children is worth less or more than another; none is to be discriminated against because of the way in which she or he has been created.

June is known as “Pride Month,” and we plan to celebrate it at Saint Bart’s this year in an extroverted way. You may see some rainbows, and hear lots of songs about Welcome. Your Vestry and I are also crafting a new Welcome Statement for your consideration, one that will be more openly affirming of those in the LGBTQ community, and allow us to become members of the Episcopal group Integrity.

Don't hide yourself in regret / Just love yourself and you're set / I'm on the right track, baby / I was born this way!

We look forward to your expressions, just as you are. May we all be Proud!

Mother Joyce

 

 

April 2015 — New Wineskins!

Mark 2:21-22...

“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

Welcome to Eastertide, a time for new beginnings, for rejuvenation, for resurrection!

Whenever I need a new idea, a fresh “wineskin” for our ministry, I turn to our youth, with their fresh energy and perspectives. Whether it is dancing the story of creation, or suggesting a new community project (or helping me understand my iPhone!), our youth are the ones who know “where it’s at.” This month our inspiring young people have led us to two new worship experiences.

The first will take place tonight, Wednesday, April 22: Earth Day. We will celebrate and bless our beautiful natural surroundings with a prayer service at 7 pm in our outdoor courtyard. If you’d like to help serve at this beautiful service – reading scripture and poetry, holding water and rosemary for blessings, lighting candles as the darkness falls – please come at 6 pm. We hope to welcome folks from our neighborhood, too. Here at St. Bart’s, everyone is welcome!

Next, inspired by a wonderful evening service some of our youth attended at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal in San Francisco, we will begin offering a casual, creative service on the first Sunday of the month at 5pm. We will begin this service on May 3. Anyone who would like to serve (as reader, acolyte, etc.) is invited to come at 4 pm; the service will begin at 5 pm. It will include paperless, chanted music, as well as simple “enactments” of the Gospel stories, and a “wondering” discussion for the homily. Bring some food to share if you can, and we’ll finish with a potluck following the service, eaten in the lounge and courtyard. We will aim for maximum participation from young and new folks, and of course, maximum fun and creativity.

Thanks be to God, for stretching us and making us new, so that none of His precious wine of creation will ever be lost!

Blessings to each of you, and to those we have yet to meet on our journey.

Mother Joyce

 

 

March 2015 — Chocolate for Lent

Yes, that's right. This year’s Lenten series hasn't been about some dusty old saint, or “unpacking” one scripture or another; it’s not a blueprint asking one to follow a specific program in order to become more holy or righteous. Instead, we have gathered together to eat, pray, and watch a movie! The story of Chocolat has invited us to re-examine our spirituality through an unexpected lens, to take another look at what we have “given up” in our lives, and consider the ways in which we can “welcome in” more people and life-giving experiences.

It should come as no surprise that this has been our most popular series to date! Even hopeful as I am, I've been truly amazed and delighted to witness such a large and diverse gathering every Wednesday night. Our conversations, often in smaller groups, bubble with rich enthusiasm, and a spontaneity that comes from the Holy Spirit. Although I never mind working very hard for you and toward Christ’s reign, I feel blessed to simply relax and watch this unfolding. Through this growing of our faithful community – by individuals, couples, and families – God grows my trust in the work of the Spirit.

If you haven’t been able to join us, you can find the book, Chocolate for Lent by Hilary Brand, online at Amazon. Commit yourself to growth here at St. Bart’s – growth in your faith, growth in our programs, and growth in our pews.

With God’s help, our sanctuary will split at the seams during Holy Week and Eastertide, filled with seeking people, willing to reach out beyond their comfort zones and go where God is leading us. May it be so!

Yours on the journey,

Mother Joyce

 

 

February 2015 — Let Go and Glimpse the Future

This past Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent (and the last Sunday of Epiphany), was Transfiguration Sunday, the day when we contemplate the Gospel story of Jesus’ brilliant transformation on the mountaintop with some disciples. In searching for an image to place in our bulletin, I came across dozens of different portraits: Jesus in the clouds; Jesus surrounded by beams of light; even Jesus being taken up by a space ship! In only one of these images was Jesus a black man.

In that moment in scripture, I believe that the disciples receive a glimpse of the fullness of Jesus’ true identity – and it terrified them! Even today, we sometimes have a hard time letting go of “our” image of Jesus – perhaps the blond haired, blue eyed, muscular one with which we may have grown up – and accepting his transformed outward appearance. Can we welcome a black Jesus; a Jesus who is Asian, Latino? How about a woman? Or someone who is sitting in a wheelchair, or standing in line at the food pantry? By letting go and letting God transform our images, can we better begin to see Jesus in those around us, and thus, to serve Jesus more fully?

As we enter into Lent, a time of traditionally “letting go” of something, I invite us to “let go” of some of our ideas about who Jesus is not, and make room for the boundless possibility of including everyone in the image of Jesus, the risen Christ. And as we do so, we might find that we change the image of our Episcopal Church, from that of the “frozen chosen”, to a limitless, inclusive and diverse body, capable of transforming for the 21st Century.

Yours toward a Lenten journey of Transfiguration,

Mother Joyce

 

 

January 2015 — Happy New Year

Happy New Year? A little early, isn’t it? That depends on whether we observe the Roman calendar, with its year beginning on January 1, or the Church Calendar, which began on December 1. Right now we are still in between, a place of transition, of contemplation, a time to reflect on the year past and to dream toward the coming year.

Here at St. Bart’s we have experienced such a full year in 2014: our garden has flourished thanks to Jamil, our intern; our Wellness Center has offered classes on healthcare and mental illness; our Arts at Bart’s program has brought creativity, education, and connection into our church and local community; we have bid farewell to beloved parishioners and welcomed new members; and we finished the year with our Third Annual Victorian Christmas Faire.

It also seems a time when we feel the need to quantify and qualify these experiences. Many folks have asked me, in regard to our Faire, “How did we do?” and “Was it a success?” There are so many ways to measure “success” in the Church. In fact, the Body of Christ is currently discerning new ways to evaluate church growth. Is it through numbers – money and “rears in pews?” Or are there others measurements for determining how well we are doing God’s work; how do we measure our transformative power?

This year’s Faire made a little more money than last year, and welcomed roughly the same number of people. At the same time, more of the participants were new, from other areas of the community than in our pews alone. And that participation had transforming effects; performers reported finding themselves more apt to talk with newcomers than before A Christmas Carol, and those who struggled with mental health issues are feeling a greater sense of wellbeing from their involvement. Community newcomers of many ages expressed their delight in all that they learned, and with the great people from St. Bart’s who they met. We have also inspired the formation of a new theater company, Encore Players, comprised of more “mature” performers. So…how did we do? Remarkably!

For the markers of our growth – both in numbers and in ministry – develop one story, one transformed life, at a time. Some of this growth cannot be plotted on a chart or plugged into Diocesan reports. This growth asks us to keep awake: to keep paying attention to each person’s life and to where God is calling each of us, and Saint Bartholomew’s as a gathered body. This is part of the work of Advent – to watch, to listen, to pay attention.

And so as we enter this New Year, let us listen to and reflect upon the stories in our midst, and allow the Holy Spirit to inspire us to even greater transformation in the months ahead.

Yours toward Christ’s reign of peace and abundance,

Mother Joyce

 

 

September 2014 — Cycles of Life

What’s the saying? The one constant in life is change? As I walked into my office this morning, change was certainly in the air. Many of our younger parishioners have returned to school; some of them, including Ari, to a new school! The sky was a bit cloudy and cool. Drought or no, ready or not, autumn will make its way here, with its new smells, colors, tastes, and work to be done.

When the children and I worked together this summer during ABC—Arts at Bart’s Camp—we learned Hindu dance movements for a number of words: blessing, healing, and season. We talked about our favorite seasons, and like many of my new, young friends, my favorite season is the fall—so full of possibility, of bounty, of gratitude. As the leaves and the earth change, we become aware of both the fading of summer, and of the fruits it produced. So it was this past month, as we bade farewell to two of our parish loved ones: we remembered their lives, and promised to carry on with vigor and renewed passion.

As change comes into your life this Fall—whether welcome or unbidden, what possibilities would you like to explore? To what will you become newly committed? For what will you be grateful? In this issue of the Full Circle we celebrate our “life cycles,” as we explore the work completed during our Big Heart Garden internship, the upcoming Stewardship Campaign, and this year’s Enrichment offerings for adults, children and youth.

A popular reading at memorial services is Ecclesiastes 3:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…

Please join me in speaking about what things will be born, planted, and built up, as well as what things may be harvested, broken down, and thrown away here at St. Bart’s. Visit our short on-line survey and answer the question, “Who do you say that we are?” Let us embrace the life cycles that we celebrate in the Episcopal tradition and at our St. Bart’s home.

Yours on the journey,

Mother Joyce

 

 

July 2014 — The Fruits of our Labors

It’s the height of summer and once again our Big Heart Garden is weaving its tapestry of harvest – tomatoes are beginning to form, squash blossoms are transforming into zucchini, and all of our fruit trees – pear, apple, and fig – are ripening their first, golden treasures this year. Of course, none of this happened overnight, as it may appear; we’ve been working on this garden for three summers now, since I first began my ministry here with you at St. Bart’s. And God has continued to grow this little part of his kingdom – rather like the sower’s parable we heard on a recent Sunday – and to make connections with our neighbors. One of our great blessings this month is our new gardening intern, Jamil Burns, who comes to us courtesy of the Stop Waste Grant Program through Alameda County. (Read more about him here.)

Our garden also serves as a rich metaphor of growth and healing for our summer arts “campers” and performers in The Secret Garden next month. Just like our young heroine, Mary Lennox, we will take time to connect to the earth, to pay attention to the songs from birds and from faraway lands, and we will each find our own path to greater wellbeing. During this month of sunshine, a time for visiting family and lots of outdoor activities, I pray that you will also take time to remember your spiritual wellness. Soak up God’s rich teachings and let your roots grow deep and strong. Whether you are hiking near Lake Del Valle, or worshiping here on Sunday mornings, may your heart be full to overflowing with gratitude for all of God’s blessings, and may the Holy Spirit move you to share those blessings with others who may be in need of that same healing.

Together, like our garden, we provide the “good soil” for God’s diverse, colorful and nourishing work to flourish. If we labor with faith and Love, there will be enough fruit for everyone!

Yours toward that abundance,

Mother Joyce

 

 

June 2014 — Hearts on Fire!

I suppose summer is a slow time for some congregations, but not for St. Bart’s! From the moment that we welcome the Holy Spirit into our hearts on Pentecost this month, we are up and running, helping our faith come alive. Remember: those first disciples, when they experienced the upheaval of that rush of wind, they were transformed. They got up, got out, and began doing ministry – preaching, teaching, healing, and feeding. In that way, many new members were added to the growing Jesus movement. And so it will be with us: only by going out, speaking the Good News, and caring for our community, will our congregation of believers grow.

We began with a Day of Public Action on June 8, gathering with Genesis, a regional community organization, and individuals from many Bay Area communities to support equal access to rights like transportation and citizenship. On June 20, a group of six St. Bartholomew’s “missioners” will travel to Mexico with other Deanery representatives to build a house with a group called Corazon for a family living in the poorest district of Tijuana. When we return, work will continue for our “Arts at Bart’s” Camp – this summer’s new iteration of Vacation Bible School. A diverse group of children, youth, and adults from all around our neighborhood will gather to connect the story of healing in The Secret Garden to our own spiritual values of welcome, community, and stewardship of the Earth. We will be joined by theater designer and sustainable farmer Kiersten Moore, and plan to hire a gardening intern with funds received from an Alameda County StopWaste grant. Arts at Barts Camp: The Secret Garden will be supported by our second grant from the San Francisco Foundation’s FAITHS program. There is plenty of room in our “Garden” – for volunteers, children, and youth leaders.

Catch the Spirit! Become involved! There are as many different gifts of ministry as there are different hearts to hold them. If you’d like help discerning where the Holy Spirit is leading you on your path, my door is open, Monday through Thursday, for counseling and direction. Summer is a time for our garden – and our Faith – to grow abundantly.

Yours in the power of the Spirit,

Mo Jo

 

 

May 2014 — Time for Blooming

Each Spring I marvel at the abundance of roses exploding in the Livermore sunshine — red, pink, salmon, yellow — bouquets of color everywhere! Meanwhile, in those seven weeks between Easter Sunday and Pentecost, the Church blooms as well. From the miraculous emergence of the risen Christ in the morning garden, to the unfurling of flame on Pentecost, during these weeks we witness the forming of the earliest Church.

I will always remember a young friend once asking me in earnest, "When did Jesus become Christian?" That's a tricky one. Technically, Jesus was never a Christian — he was a Jew. And in some ways, he was always a Christian, being the very first one. When we arrive at Church on Sunday morning, everything is already waiting for us — the flowers, the bulletin, the music, the sermon, the Eucharist. We may not stop to think about how much work went into preparing for the worship service. Similarly, when we think of the "early Church," we may not think about how much (and for how long) the Apostles and the earliest followers of Jesus struggled and worked, tried and failed, and tried again. The first churches began as small groups gathering in homes, and did not blossom into a massive, world-wide movement for several centuries.

As we journey through these weeks of Eastertide, let us be mindful of not only the forming of those first Churches, but of the continuing reforming of our own church. What is needed? The first followers "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." They also gave all they could to care for the needy, and to provide for the future of the church. May the abundance of spring and the renewing joy of Easter inspire us to devote ourselves to the ministries of Saint Bart's in fresh and colorful ways.

Yours on the journey,

Mother Joyce

 

 

April 2014 — You're Invited!

You may have noticed some changes in our Commissions this year. For example, the "commission formerly known as Communications" is now being called Invitation. New vestry member and Junior Warden, Melissa Adkins, is heading up this new Commission, and finding new ways to invite people to visit St. Bart's. We'd also like to invite current members to deepen their walk with Christ by participating in more than the usual Sunday services. Attending an evening small group, a Sunday morning Bible study, or volunteering at the food pantry: all of these are wonderful ways to increase our faith and fellowship.

Holy Week — the week preceding Easter — offers some of the most beautiful and ancient opportunities through which to experience God's loving presence. We invite you, along with your family, friends and neighbors, to join us! By walking together through all of the Holy Week liturgies, from the pageantry of the Palm Sunday procession (this year with the help of a live donkey borrowed from a local ranch!), through the heartbreaking passion of our Lord on Good Friday, to the telling of our sacred stories in the night of Holy Saturday, the joy of Easter morning becomes more profound, and more... joyful!

This year, consider making the commitment to attend all of these Holy Week services. On Maundy Thursday, join us for an "agape meal," and bring some Mediterranean finger foods to share around the table in the sanctuary. We will pray and participate in the story of Jesus' washing the feet of his disciples, then share Eucharist in the context of a meal with friends.

On Good Friday, come at 12 noon or at 6:30 pm to walk through our Stations of the Cross, carved by Don Homan especially for our Sanctuary, and reimagined by our Youth Group in new works of art. At 7 pm, hear the passion story and grieve in the presence of the Cross.

The Easter Vigil, celebrated on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday, is the most ancient of liturgies, handed down from the 2nd century church and containing some of our first examples of liturgical movement and theater. Together, we enact some of our most core stories of faith — the Creation, the Flood, the Red Sea — gathered around candles lit from the paschal flame of Easter. Then we process, chanting a litany of the saints triumphant (including names of those who died in our community this year), over to the Sanctuary, where we knock on the "tomb" door, and are told that Jesus is not dead, but that he has risen! We ring bells and celebrate the first Eucharist of Easter that night. If you've never experienced this most holy of liturgies, please consider joining us this year.

You're invited.

Yours on the journey,

Mother Joyce

 

 

March 2014 — The Power of Small Choices

You've heard it said that "the longest journey begins with a single step". But lately I've been wondering: what about all of the steps after that? In our journeys through life, there are countless beginnings, countless moments when our choices cause a shift in direction, for ourselves and for others. As we enter into this year's journey of Lent, I'd like to invite us to contemplate these small choices, using the curriculum offered in the book by Hilary Brand. During this five week journey, during which we will watch clips from two amazing movies (The Shawshank Redemption and Babette's Feast), we will, in Brand's words ". . . awaken (y)our understanding of how God's world holds endless creative possibilities, how walking in God's way is a unique and purposeful journey for each one of us, and how small choices actually aren't that small at all!".

As someone whose spiritual life has been informed by Buddhist practices, I have enjoyed doing walking meditations. During these walks, one is not trying to problem solve, or focus on any spiritual conundrum. One simply tries to remain mindful of the present moment, noticing each step, being aware of one's foot upon the earth, of one's breath and senses. In strengthening our awareness of the present moment — not allowing our thoughts to spin uncontrollably into the past or future, full of worries and projections — we can begin to cultivate our openness to God's possibilities in those moments.

As someone who is also very driven by vision and mission, this discipline presents a real challenge for me! In our goal-oriented society, I would imagine that it might seem challenging to each of us. In fact, I believe both are needed: an openness to God's vision of abundant peace, as well as a grounded in the present, in which all of God's vast possibilities are, well . . . present! Another "both and"; another "middle way". Perfect!

My invitation to you all is twofold: first, to make the choice to enter this journey with me, with your community of faith, trusting that God is able to do something wonderful if you just give him your time and your heart. Second, I'd like to invite you to consider the small choices you make which make a difference to others: choosing to get up early and help in the food pantry; choosing to give of your resources to support ministries at St. Bart's and elsewhere around the world; choosing to reach out to friends and strangers and telling them the story of your faith. Together, our small choices can add up to making a big difference in the world!

Yours on the journey,

Mother Joyce

 

 

February 2014 — Creating New Habits for the New Year

I'm writing these reflections on an aircraft bound for Seattle, where I will attend an Episcopal Conference on Peace and Justice. Two days ago, my family and I watched President Obama's State of the Union Address; in two days' time, your vestry and I will deliver our "State of the Church" report. Last week, we attended our Deanery-Vestry retreat at the Bishop's Ranch; the week before that, I participated in my first Executive Council (our Diocese's Board of Directors) meeting. In all of these encounters, we considered the challenges ahead, and how to leverage our gifts to meet them. Given this context, my thoughts are now soaring with dreams for our country, our Church, and St. Bartholomew's, my lists bursting with goals for the year, both personally and organizationally.

Last month, I wrote about the journeys we take that lead us home to Christ. Today I'm mindful of how we embark on new paths toward this destination. If we are led by the Light of Christ, what are the new steps we take to get there? What causes us to make the choices of one direction over another, to create a new path in our behavior? The book that I have with me today sheds some light on that question. In The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg suggests that the way we chart the course of our lives and our organizations begins with forming new habits.

I learned about this book from our Bishop, the Right Rev. Marc Andrus, when he met with those of us on the Diocesan Task Force to end gun violence. Bishop Marc suggested — in a manner reminiscent of our Godly Play "wondering" — that we look more deeply into those behaviors that reinforce violence, toward ways to form new habits of peace, and recommended Duhigg's book. I guess I'm a more obedient Episcopalian than I realized, because I bought the book the next day!

Like many of you, I'm determined to form new habits this year: I'd like to run more often and lose weight, so I can keep up with work and family demands and stay healthy. Our family would like to save money and spend more active time together, rather than using media side by side. What habits can we form that will help us to realize the tremendous potential that is St. Bartholomew's, Livermore? How can we choose to come to church every Sunday, instead of going shopping or to a sports event? How can we form the habit of participating in bold visions of abundant ministry, rather than relying on others to do God's work?

One of the chapters most pertinent to faith work explores two movements: the Montgomery bus boycott, and the growth of the Saddleback mega church in Southern California. Duhigg concludes that such hugely successful and transformative movements occur based on three elements: the bonds of friendship, the habits of communities, and leaders encouraging new habits by individuals. The bus boycott that galvanized the civil rights movement began with bonds of friendship with people like Rosa Parks, it grew based upon social habits of the black community, and succeeded when the Rev. Dr. King encouraged a habit of non-violence. At Saddleback church in Southern California, pastor Rick Warren asked members to commit to three new habits to help them "grow in Christ's likeness": to spend time in prayer and meditation daily, to tithe 10% of their income to the church, and to participate in a small group at the church in addition to weekly worship. These habits built the largest church community in the nation, and transformed thousands of individual lives.

As we gather for our Annual Meeting, and consider our course for this year of growth and transformation, I wonder what new habits we can cultivate that will cause us to grow, both as individuals and as a community. Can we build on the strong friendships here, and invite more friends to join us? Can we take a deep look at our social habits and build on them to help us grow? Can we commit to giving more of our time, talent and treasure to support ministries that matter? Entering into February — and anticipating the practice of Lent in March — I encourage us all to renew our belief in equality and justice, and to pray for the discipline to forge new pathways toward peace and abundance.

Yours on the journey,

Mother Joyce

 

 

January 2014 — Coming Home

With the Christmas holidays fading behind us, and the feast of Epiphany on the horizon, I am mindful today of journeys: all the traveling to visit family and friends, the journeys we have achieved in the year now past, and those that beckon us in 2014. As we travel, it helps to have a sense of direction, marked by some steady landmark.

As my family will readily attest, whenever and however I travel, I'm always chatting people up, getting to know their story. On an airplane, I might begin by asking the people squished into the ever-shrinking seats beside me, "are you leaving home or coming home?". "Home" is often the place by which we measure our journeys. Many young people came "home" from college for Christmas; some of us older folks left "home" to visit adult children and grandchildren.

The story of the Nativity, including the visit of the Magii which we celebrate as Epiphany, occurs away from home for nearly all of its characters. Mary and Joseph have traveled away from home for the census; the shepherds have left their flocks and tents to check out the excitement in Bethlehem. And the Magii have traveled very far, from the fringes of the Arab world where they lived in an entirely different culture, in order to experience a radical change.

Where is our home? Is it our house, where we eat dinner and watch cable? Is it our community, our workplace? Is it even the lovely round building that we call our "church". Or is "home" more about the people who make us feel grounded, steady, by whose light we order our lives?

I'd like to suggest that the Nativity, and Epiphany of our Lord, offers us a new home, a new way to plan our journey through life. That the star of Jesus' birth guides not only the shepherds and the wise men, but that it represents God's "way out of no way". That we can still navigate by its light, and find our way to our heavenly home.

This kind of navigation involves risk, and faith. It requires stepping outside of our "comfort zone", getting up off the couch and getting our hands dirty. But it also offers adventure, and discovery; and a home where we are all included, always loved, and always needed.

This year, I invite you to "come home" to Jesus Christ. I welcome you to come as you are - bringing all of your journeys past and journeys yet to come - your whole self — and to participate fully in the adventure that God has in store for you. For it is at the cradle of our incarnate Lord, that we find one another, and ourselves.

May God richly bless you this year, with a journey beyond your wildest imagining.

Yours on the journey,

Mother Joyce