I want to begin by thanking each and every one of you. This has been a challenging year for Saint Dunstan’s. Beloved staff members have departed, some parish members have taken a break from participation, and the path towards calling a new rector has felt long and challenging. All of this may be true, but through all of this change and uncertainty something beautiful and important has remained the same – you, all of you in this room, and others in our community who could not be with us today, have remained committed to the mission and ministries of Saint Dunstan’s Episcopal Church: The Spirit of Saint Dunstan’s is Strong.
When I arrived at Saint Dunstan’s on Monday, June 1st, I arrived bright and early to prepare to officiate at the funeral of founding member, Bill Dolan. Over the previous week, while still technically working full time in Winchester, I had met with Bill’s family and a few members of Saint Dunstan’s who all wanted to make sure I fully understood what an important and lovely man Bill was. I arrived at the church, a bundle of nerves. I entered the nave, where the choir was practicing, and looked around to familiarize myself. I noticed the paschal candle in the front, near the pulpit, and decided – since clearly the new girl on the first day knows best – that the paschal candle should be closer to the center. I went to lift the candle only to discover that a wrought iron candleholder that is as tall as I am is heavy! I didn’t let this deter me; I took a deep breath, bent my knees, and proceed to not only lift the whole thing, but also to spill the reservoir of water in the top all over the floor and myself. (That, my friends, is one way to introduce yourself to the choir!)
I had to laugh at myself as I realized that I had just been baptized into this ministry at Saint Dunstan’s by the paschal candle itself!
The paschal candle, which is the candle lit from the new fire at the Easter Vigil and which represents the light of the Resurrected Christ is used in our liturgy during Eastertide and when we celebrate certain rites in the church, such as Baptism and Burial of the Dead. One of my favorite liturgical elements of the service of Holy Baptism is when we light an individual taper from the paschal candle and give it to the family of the baptizand inviting them to, “Receive the light of Christ…”
There are so many ways that I see the light of Christ shining brightly in this place:
- In the immaculate flower arrangements put together by Dorothy Bartlett, Sue Fitzgerald, and the members of the flower guild.
- In the prayerful conversations between Jim Nail, Marie Nagode, Mike Jones, and Todd Young as they prayerfully and skillfully auditioned and interviewed musicians in an effort to continue, and perhaps even elevate, the tradition of excellent music at Saint Dunstan’s.
- In the loving support Lynn Petrasch, Joanne Crispin, and the pastoral care team faithfully offer to support the sick, homebound, and grieving members of our community.
- In the skillful facilitation of Catherine Belden has facilitated our efforts to provide supplies ensuring equal access for local families to a homemade Thanksgiving feast.
- In the creative and collaborative new outreach effort designed by Kate Haviland and Amelia Slawsby that connected a fun local holiday tradition to those in need.
- In the fantastic celebration at the Giannini home this past fall where friends gathered for food, fellowship, and fun.
- In the driveway-turned-water park where B-SAFE participants squealed and delighted on a carefree Friday in Dover.
- In the weekly dreaming and scheming done by Bill Wickham, Amelia Slawsby, Carol Chirico, Todd Young, Grant Stephen, Catherine Belden, and Joanne Crispin as they have led us in our search for a new rector.
- In a confirmation class prayer activity designed by Fiona Vidal-White that opened teens minds and hearts, in a brand new way, to the wonder of the Triune God.
- In the TIRELESS advocacy of Deb Reinemann and Linda Eason who have been the very definition of faith, hope, and love as they have championed for needs and concerns of every member of this congregation, in big ways and small, on a parish, community, and diocesan level.
You are a tenacious church. You are a church that gets stuff done. You are a church with a heart for mission. You are a church with a longing for God. You are a church standing on the precipice of a crucial time in your history, and together we are going to continue walking forward in the path God has laid before us.
I have spent a lot of time over the last several months preaching about our call to be fed together at the table of the Lord and then to use that food as fuel – sending us out into service to the world. This Lent you will hear a slight alteration to that message – you are a community that needs rest and revival; rest that will enable you to “go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.” You work so tirelessly to care for others, both inside and outside of this community, that it can be difficult to find the strength to accept care for yourselves. I have heard from more of you than I can count that you are tired; that you need a break.
The balance of church is that it is a cooperative structure requiring leadership and organization from within. Church is not a building, a staff, or even programs – church is a community of people coming together to share the Love of God with the world. The balance is in finding ways that participation and leadership can renew our energy rather than depleting it. The irony is, as we hear in the prayer attributed to Saint Francis, that it is “in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we are born to eternal life.” That’s why we see the Paschal candle at both baptisms and funerals.
We learn in our Gospels that Jesus “would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” (Luke 5:16) There is no shame in refueling you soul – God the creator took the seventh day to rest – and commanded us to do the same!
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote: “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” Like the paschal flame we receive at baptism, we must tend the light of Christ that is inside of our hearts in order to allow our colors to shine brightly for all to see. You, the people of God called to be Saint Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, are a kaleidoscope. It is our work together over these next several weeks to see what it is that we need to put down in order to free ourselves to dance into the next era in the life of the church.
- Most of the Rector Search Committee is unable to be with us this morning because they are out visiting candidates to become the next Rector of Saint Dunstan’s.
- The 50th Anniversary of Saint Dunstan’s is right around the corner and the Vestry has voted to appoint Chuck DeBevoise to chair the committee that will design a number of events to help us to celebrate the history and future of this remarkable community.
- And, as our new presiding bishop Michael Curry has told us, we are members of the Jesus Movement. If we are going to go boldly into the world sharing the love of Christ that we know in our lives, we need to make space for the Holy Spirit to buoy our hearts with Her love.
And so, as I have done once before, I am going to give each of you a stone to take home today. These stones are from my favorite place to “be still and know that God is God” – middle beach in Kennebunk, Maine. This stone is to represent the weight that each of us carry. This stone is a physical reminder of the burdens we bear and that God is inviting us to give up to Christ. Over the next few weeks I invite each of you to prayerfully consider what God is inviting you to personally give up: either at church, at home, at work, or anywhere in your life where there is a weight that is inhibiting your ability to dance with the Spirit. Once you’ve identified and feel prepared to truly offer that burden up to God, I hope you will bring your rock back, infused with your prayers, and place it into the bowl that will be in front of the altar throughout the season of Lent. You can bring it back any time that you want, on a Sunday or in the middle of the week. During a service or when the sanctuary is empty. We will commit these stones to the garden during Holy Week as a symbol of our fresh start and new life in Christ.
I joked two weeks ago, after watching the State of the Union address that I wanted to say in my sermon, “The state of Saint Dunstan’s is Strong.” You generously laughed at my lame attempt at political humor, but I hope you realize that the funniest part of every joke is the truth that lies therein. The State of Saint Dunstan’s IS strong: It is strong because, to paraphrase our Epistle lesson from this morning, “faith, hope, and LOVE abide; and the greatest of these is Love.”
I love you, Saint Dunstan’s. I am grateful for your faithfulness. And I cannot adequately express the great hope I perceive for this next period in the life of this small, but mighty church of God.