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Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

You'll find here occasional writings, a few rants, and hopefully some insights too, about Christian discipleship, the Episcopal Church, and on faith community's life at the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, Massachusetts. At the Epiphany we understand ourselves to be "a welcoming Episcopal community, united in God, called to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to transform the world with love and generosity."


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  • September 17, 2020 1:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    O sing to God a new song;
    Sing to God all the whole earth.
    Sing and bless God’s holy name;
    Proclaim the good news of salvation from day to day

    Psalm 96:1-2

    This fall as we begin a new program year, these words from Psalm 96 take on new meaning for me. It probably won’t surprise you that when I think of “singing to God,” I think of choirs and congregations joining their voices together as we all “Proclaim the good news of salvation.”

    Over these past few months, I have become keenly aware of the importance of choral and congregational singing. I have been reminded that singing in a group is more than the sum of its parts. There is something magical that happens when we all sing together, one voice blending with another. Think about singing your favorite carol on Christmas Eve with a full choir loft and an overflowing congregation. It really doesn’t matter if your voice cracks, croaks, or soars. When we sing together, one sound feeds off of another, and it creates a mood and feeling like no other. For me, it is truly heavenly.

    I must confess that I have done my share of mourning over the fact that it will still be some time before we can experience this little bit of heaven in person here at Epiphany. But as I thought about a new program year, the words of Psalm 96 kept coming to mind. We are in fact trying to do just what the Psalmist says. We are singing new songs and we are doing that in new ways.

    Here are just a few ways we will be singing new songs this fall. Choir members will be meeting on Zoom each Thursday to practice music for Sunday anthems, an Evensong, and even Lessons and Carols. Sadly, the technology doesn’t allow for us to hear each other all at once during a rehearsal, but it does make it possible for us to learn music with the help of a keyboard playing or a section leader singing. Apps on our phones and ipads make it possible to blend our voices together, and for a few times during the fall, you will be able to see whole virtual choirs made from individual video and sound recordings. Section leaders will be meeting monthly to have recording sessions in the nave of the church where they can spread themselves out over a large distance and record hymns and anthems.

    There is an important role for all of you as well. I hope you will join in, whole-heartedly singing your praises from home. I have no doubt that God can hear each of us singing together from our respective homes just as well as if we were all here together at Epiphany. If singing hymns, Psalms and service music from home doesn’t seem like quite enough, I invite you to join us for a Zoom choir rehearsal. While it may feel a bit different, I can promise a warm community and new ways to “Sing and bless God’s holy name.”

    Faithfully,
    Craig Benner
    Director of Music


  • September 02, 2020 1:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear friends at Epiphany,

    The pandemic has left many of us feeling isolated, both physically and emotionally. And yet, we are now more keenly aware of our connection with our neighbors who are frontline workers, those who risk their health and safety to keep grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, restaurants, and other businesses open; drive buses and trains and cabs; deliver the mail and packages; care for those in hospitals and nursing homes.

    We can offer our gratitude each time we receive their help. And at the end of each day, we can say to God, “Thank you for everyone who helped me today,” and give specific thanks for the cashier who rang up our groceries, the letter carrier who delivered our mail, the attendant who pumped our gas, the customer service representative who took our order over the phone. We needed their help, and they were there for us.

    Perhaps in this way we are living a prayer from the service of Compline in The Book of Common Prayer: “O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord” (p. 134).

    In this time, we know in a different and deeper way how much we depend upon each other. God willing, we will never stop weaving a web of gratitude for the gift of one another’s labor.

    Yours in Christ,
    Sarah


  • August 27, 2020 1:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear friends at Epiphany,

    That title is a bit misleading, because the Psalms are always in season. The Psalms – those hymns of ancient Israel – have been prayed for centuries by Jews and Christians alike. They are treasured for their authentic expression of the range of human emotions; they teach us to bring our whole lives before God: our joy and sorrow, gratitude and lament, faith and fear, anger and tranquility. The Psalter – the collection of all 150 Psalms, found in the Old Testament – is so essential to prayer that it is included in its entirety in our Book of Common Prayer. St. Athanasius wrote of the Psalter, “within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul.”

    Because we are in a season that troubles our souls, the Psalms can be especially helpful to our prayer – and by prayer, I mean the unique way each of us communicates with God.

    When we think of our beloved church and long to gather again within its walls, we can pray, How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord. (Ps. 84.1)

    When we hear the news of Jacob Blake’s shooting in Kenosha, we ask, How long, O Lord? (Ps. 13.1) And we can remember that the Lord will give justice to the orphan and the oppressed, so that mere mortals may strike terror no more (Ps. 10.19). And we can prepare ourselves to act for justice by taking to heart God’s command to all people: turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it (Ps. 34.14).

    When we are moved to work for a more sustainable world, we can recall with wonder that The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein. For it is he who founded it upon the seas, and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep. (Ps. 24.1-2)

    When we seek peace in the midst of turmoil, we can pray, as countless others have before us, The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. (Ps. 23.1-2)

    If your prayer seems dry these days, or if you’re not sure how honest you can be with God, I encourage you to read the Psalms. Start by reading one each day. Let it be your prayer, let it give voice to your longing, your anxiety, your fear, your hope, your joy. In praying them, may you be able to say, with the Psalmist, that God revives my soul (Ps. 23.3).

    Yours in Christ,
    Sarah


  • August 21, 2020 9:03 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    On Wednesday morning of last week, I was waiting in line to enter the Winchester Hospital Family Medical Center in Wilmington, right down the street from where we live. I was there for routine lab work a few days after having my annual physical. It was 7:25 am, and the doors weren’t open yet. There were purple circles outside the building, spaced 6 feet apart, to help keep us from crowding the door, and to help keep us safe. There were about a dozen people in line already when I arrived. Everyone was wearing a mask. It was orderly, organized, and eerily quiet.

    The door opened at 7:30, and there were more purple circles in the ample indoor space. And more waiting. My brain thought a few times, surely some of these circles are closer than 6 feet apart! On closer inspection, I’m sure they were just fine.

    I shared with you all last December that I have trouble waiting, sometimes it makes me uncomfortable and anxious. And at the time, I also shared that my faith tells me God is with us on our journey, we have to notice. I could have used my own advice as I pondered purple circle spacings, experiencing unfocused anxiety in a medical center during the pandemic, wearing a mask, and waiting to have my blood drawn.

    So much has changed in our world since December; it does seem so very long ago. New sources of discomfort and anxiety have surfaced as we move forward together through this pandemic. Are we noticing God through this journey? Psalm 27 tells us: Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Comforting words, indeed.

    In re-reading that article from December this week, I wrote that we were entering the 9th month of preparing for a new rector. Now, in August 2020, we are in our 18th month of preparing for a new rector. Our rector search committee tells us we are entering into our final phase of the search! Our potential rector finalists will be visiting Epiphany over the next few weeks, and we plan to make the call for our next rector in October. Ideally, our next rector will join us at the start of the new year. Talk about noticing God through the journey. Surely our search committee’s work is a blessing and a gift to us all. The Holy Spirit continues to be at work through this discernment process. I am grateful. I am grateful to God for the search committee and for all of you who are waiting alongside me. Our parish is stronger because of our waiting together. And, hallelujah, God already knows the outcome.

    Gracious God, we ask your direction and guidance for those who shall recommend to us our new spiritual leader, that we may receive an upright and faithful rector who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries. May they help us ask anew what it means to be the Church in our time, our place. And may we all welcome according to your Spirit the one you are sending to us to lead us into the new days ahead. Amen.

    Faithfully,
    Dave McSweeney,
    Warden


  • August 14, 2020 7:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “I need Thee every hour” is the title of a beloved 19th century hymn composed by Annie Hawks. These words were never more true than they are today, in this hour. These five simple words get right to the heart of a spiritual matter common to us all: the need to acknowledge our dependence on God.

    Usually, we go from day to day thinking we’re in control of our lives. We make our plans, schedule our time, follow our routines. These are all good and necessary things and we need to keep doing them! And yet, it’s easy to forget God, or push God to the side, and get caught up in our plans, our schedules, our daily lives. It’s not that we intend to forget God or our need of God; it’s more a gradual unmooring into the sea of self-sufficiency.

    And then something like the pandemic happens, which takes away our illusion of control and makes us aware in a deeper way of how much we need God, and how dependent we are upon God. Perhaps we wonder how to reconnect with God; maybe we resolve that from this time forward, we will never again get so caught up in our lives that we forget God.

    But how do we do that? How do we learn to acknowledge our dependence on God in the midst of our daily routines? This is where a spiritual practice (or two) can really help:

    Some people pray the Daily Office at home – those beautiful daily prayer services in The Book of Common Prayer. For the past few months, we’ve had an opportunity to gather online at Epiphany three days a week for one of these offices: Noonday Prayer on Tuesdays, Morning Prayer on Wednesdays, Compline on Thursdays.

    Some people meditate or practice centering prayer each day.

    Others read a daily devotional or have a practice of regular spiritual reading.

    Many people say grace before meals as a way to thank God for our daily bread.

    Some read the Bible and/or take part in our Sunday morning discussion of the day’s lessons.

    And as always, we continue to gather online each Sunday morning for worship and spiritual Communion.

    As Suzanne wrote in her article last week, “What are your practices? Do you need a start or a re-start? Find what works for you; Jesus will love you no matter how you listen to him.” In this uncertain and anxious time, I hope you have found – or renewed – some spiritual practices that work for you, practices that help you remember God through the day. We need God every hour, and God is graciously, lovingly there whenever we turn to God.

    Yours in Christ,
    Sarah


  • August 07, 2020 11:44 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration

    "O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the king in his beauty; who with you O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (BCP, p. 243)

    Today, Thursday, August 6th as I write this pastoral message, is the day that the Episcopal Church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration. We can also commemorate the Transfiguration on the Sunday just before Lent, when Jesus starts to speak to his disciples of his forthcoming death, so that it is a transition between the Epiphany season, in which Christ makes himself known, and the Lenten season, in which he prepares the disciples for what lies ahead. The Transfiguration takes place on Mount Tabor, where Jesus brings Peter, John, and James, The Gospel of Matthew records that "he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. At this moment Moses and Elijah appeared, and they were talking with Jesus. A bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud stated, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."

    The Transfiguration takes place about three years into Jesus’ three-and one-half year ministry. Jesus had just started speaking to his disciples about his impending death, but the disciples did not want to hear about or believe that he would die. So Jesus needed a way to really impress them and I am sure seeing his body enveloped in white and gold did the trick. Not to mention hearing the words from above say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”.

    How do we listen to Jesus? It is not easy, particularly in the disquietude of this world. Disquietude, what an odd word. The first time I had ever seen this word was in the Collect for August 6th (above), so of course I had to look it up. When I used the on-line thesaurus, the thesaurus was not helpful, it could not find any similar words. So then I tried the on-line dictionary which defined “disquietude” as a state of agitation or anxiety. What an appropriate word for this day and these times, particularly after seeing the horrendous images of suffering in Beirut, Lebanon, a place that has experienced more than its fair share of suffering and close to the hearts in this household.

    How do we listen to Jesus in this time of high agitation and anxiety? It really is difficult, but as people of faith we must, and we do find ways to listen to Jesus. I try to hear God’s voice through Jesus Christ in the beautiful bird songs in the early morning, in the beautiful sunsets we have seen the past couple of evenings, taking pleasure in the natural world of God’s creation, conducting Morning Prayer, and attending Compline are some of the ways. I started a prayer practice of reading a little each night from books I have collected from Church Publishing. I am currently reading Crazy Christians, A Call to Follow Jesus a collection of sermons by our Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry. The table of contents alone gives me hope; Following Jesus with Our Feet, Living into God’s Dream, A Mountain Climb that Can Change the World, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Hold On, Hold On, to name a few. These sermons transport me to a better place away from anxiety and into a hopeful place that opens my ears and heart so I am prepared to “listen to Him”. What are your practices, do you need a start or a re-start, again, it is not easy during this time of disquietude, there are many ways to “listen to Him”, find what works for you, Jesus will love you no matter how you listen to him.

    In closing, let us pray for the people of Beirut using this prayer by the Brigidine Sisters; We pray, God of all people, that your Spirit of healing and protection be with the people of Beirut and Lebanon at this time. May the good news of peace and loving care be with all who live in Beirut, especially those suffering as a result of this disaster.

    May the terrifying sounds of explosion, ambulance sirens and the cries of those trapped in buildings give way to sounds of courage and hope.

    May the smell of acrid smoke, burning buildings and remains soon give way to a renewed sense of God’s loving presence and strength.

    May there be real cooperation between rescue workers, government personnel and civilians so that true justice and peace might break through for all and people’s deep suffering alleviated.

    Our Lady of Lebanon, pray for us and for all who suffer in Beirut. Amen.

    Yours in Christ,
    Suzanne Owayda, Warden



  • July 29, 2020 12:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear friends at Epiphany,

    Back in the old days (the middle of March), it seemed we were looking at a two-week closure of our church building – a necessary inconvenience that would soon be behind us. More than four months later, we remain in the midst of a pandemic that has changed our lives, our church, our communities, and our world.

    We do not yet know when we will be able to gather again in person for worship. We miss being with each other in the sanctuary, in Hadley Hall, in the church school classrooms, in the cloister garden! It is hard to live with uncertainty, with not knowing the answers to “When?” and “How long?”

    Our situation brings to mind something St. Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Philippi. Paul had founded the church in Philippi several years before, and wrote a letter of encouragement to the Christians there. Paul composed the letter, by the way, while he was in prison – in the midst of trying and uncertain circumstances. Paul wrote to them, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4.9). He wanted them to persevere in the faith he had taught them, knowing that such persistence was a channel for God’s presence and peace.

    As I reflect on what our life as a parish has been like these past four months, I am filled with gratitude for how we have kept on doing the ministry we have received from Jesus, and for how we have kept the bonds of our common life strong. We have kept on praying and worshipping, teaching and learning, serving and caring, exploring and experimenting, struggling and growing, reading and reflecting, laughing and crying, discussing and discerning, giving and forgiving. And in doing so, God has been right there with us – it is impossible to be physically distant from God!

    We have not stopped, even for a single day, being the church of Jesus Christ. And as the saying goes, we need to “keep on keeping on.” It is by no means easy. This time of being physically apart is spiritually and emotionally challenging, and requires sacrifice from each of us. Yet in the midst of this uncertain time, I’m certain that we will keep on doing our ministry. And I’m grateful for your companionship in these days.

    Yours in Christ,
    Sarah


  • July 23, 2020 1:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    At the beginning of the summer, I asked for people’s favorite hymns so that I could use them throughout the season. I got a wonderful variety of responses from a number of people, and we have been singing at least one every week. This coming Sunday is no exception. But the hymn that I have chosen for this week might seem a little strange for this time of year.

    “I sing a song of the saints of God” is a hymn that we would normally sing on All Saints’ Sunday in November. Lesbia Scott, the wife of an Anglican priest, wrote the text for this hymn in response to one of her children asking, “Mum, what’s a saint?” Scott used specific examples of saints in the first two verses of her hymn. “One was a doctor” refers to St. Luke who wrote two books of the Bible, the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles. “One was a priest” was John Donne who was an Anglican priest and poet. “One was slain by a fierce wild beast” refers to Ignatius of Antioch who was an early follower of Jesus who refused to renounce his faith and was thrown to the lions by the Romans. Scott gives us a great history lesson as we sing, but verse three is the reason that I love this hymn.

    “They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still,
    The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.
    You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea,
    in the church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
    for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”

    In response to the question, “What makes a saint?,” Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor said: “Extravagance. Excessive love, flagrant mercy, radical affection, exorbitant charity, immoderate faith, intemperate hope, inordinate love.” If we are all saints of God that is certainly a lot to live up to, but there is no doubt that this is what our world needs right now.

    Each week I try to choose a closing hymn that sends us forth and inspires to make a difference in the world. I’ve placed this hymn in that place this Sunday. As we sing these words at the end of the service, I hope we will all be thinking of ways to show “exorbitant charity and inordinate love” to the people around us.

    Faithfully,
    Craig Benner

  • July 17, 2020 10:49 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear friends at Epiphany,

    In these days of pandemic, with their anxiety and uncertainty, I’ve gone back to an old prayer. It’s in a small devotional book called In God’s Presence, published in 1929; I bought it many years ago at a book sale, and can’t have paid more than fifty cents for it. Yet the prayer, to me, is priceless. It’s a prayer for the morning, written by Henry van Dyke:

    Lord, the newness of this day
    Calls me to an untried way:
    Let me gladly take the road,
    Give me strength to bear my load,
    Thou my guide and helper be –
    I will travel through with Thee.

    Over the years, in the midst of overwhelming situations, or times of turmoil and uncertainty, I have turned to this prayer, and pray it when I wake up. In three couplets, the prayer acknowledges the gift of a new day, asks God for gladness and strength to meet whatever the day brings, and confirms a desire to move through the day with God. It is a brief prayer, uncomplicated, and for me a source of real strength and encouragement at the start of a day that is waiting to be lived.

    It seems that this is a time to pray old prayers and new prayers. I wonder what prayers you are praying these days – have you found comfort in a prayer you learned when you were a child? Are you finding fresh sources of prayers? Are you discovering hidden treasures in The Book of Common Prayer? Perhaps you are composing prayers out of the raw material of these days.

    I think God helps us find the prayers we need to pray, whether they were written hundreds of years ago or just this morning at breakfast. And I believe that God is weaving us together as a parish through every prayer, strengthening the spiritual bonds among us in this time of being apart from one another. God cherishes each prayer we pray as together we travel this “untried way.”

    Yours in Christ,
    Sarah


  • July 08, 2020 2:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Over the past several weeks, I’ve been participating in our Tuesday noonday prayer service over Zoom. It’s usually a small group of us, with Sarah Conner leading the brief service and reading a reflection from an author from her collection of favorite books. I’m glad to have it as a new practice. Oftentimes I don’t recall the specific author or the book, but the essence of the reflection will stay with me.

    This week the reflection was from a woman who spent some time in an Amish community. She wrote how her time in this community helped her appreciate work being done in the moment, not as an task to be crossed off of a to-do list so that the next item could be taken on, but rather as an opportunity to be more mindful and open to a deeper understanding of God’s presence. There is something quite appealing to me about this concept. On one hand it feels as though life has become so much more complicated for us, as we individually and collectively figure out how to emerge from our extended period of lockdown into something new, albeit not quite normal. On the other hand, perhaps it is an opportunity to stop, reflect, pray and wonder who God is calling us to be – both individually and collectively, as we go from one task to the next.

    During Miriam’s online retirement celebration, I noticed a shift – the Zoom platform enabled us to gather, see, pray, celebrate, laugh, and cry as a church in a way I hadn’t experienced since before the pandemic. Surely God was present in these moments as we thanked our friend and pastor for her years of loving service to us. I believe we were being called collectively in community to that moment – it felt like a holy occasion.

    Our summer Holy Conversations series, focusing on examining systemic racism, is another example of an opportunity to pause and reflect, both as individuals and as a community, in the midst of so much uncertainty. I recognize that while we may be perceived by many as a liberal leaning parish, that does not necessarily reflect our reality. In reality, we represent many different experiences, perspectives, and beliefs – and these are not always in harmony. However, we are all children of God, and that is what unites us as a community of faith. Indeed, throughout our parish history, we have been at the forefront of discussing and discerning the impact of many issues facing our church and society; war, gender, sexual orientation, immigration, and the #metoo movement are some examples. I believe our history of commitment to examining these issues is worthy of celebration. That does not mean that these conversations were any less challenging at the time they were happening. We will have our disagreements and differences (all families and communities do), but our baptismal covenant calls us – individually and collectively, to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves”, and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”. And we will, with God’s Help!

    Faithfully,
    Dave McSweeney, warden

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