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The Rev. Ledlie I. Laughlin,
rector of St. Columba's Episcopal Church
Ashes to Go
Wed., Feb. 10, 2016
Early this morning, on a chilly street corner, as light dawns and traffic increases, a complete stranger approaches with a look of expectancy. I say, "Let us pray." And the invitation evokes an immediate natural response: the stranger–this one, a man–bows his head, turns his palms upward, and moves closer as I pray: "Almighty and merciful God, you hate nothing you have made, and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts, so that when we turn to you, confess our sins and acknowledge our need, we may receive your full and perfect forgiveness and love, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen." "Please tell me your first name" I ask–and repeat it as I impose ashes on his forehead, saying "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Go in peace." At the touch of my hand upon his forehead, this man's face softens in recognition and gratitude. In that moment, we share something sacred.
"Ashes to Go" said our St. Columba's sandwich boards. For two hours between 7 and 9 am this Ash Wednesday morning, Jason and I, assisted by Helene Saunders and Elizabeth Vaden, prayed with and imposed ashes on a continual stream of commuters at the corner of Wisconsin and Albemarle.
The intimacy of this experience with numerous strangers has moved me, deeply. No more than a minute or two together, yet in that time we shared a sense first of common alienation, then of common hope, and affirmed the presence and grace of a loving God. I was acutely aware of the hunger, the need people have for God, for a tactile experience of God–hands, foreheads, ashes–and for the assurance of God's love and forgiveness. To participate in this is a blessing and a strong reminder of the power of prayer and sacrament.
With the exception of an occasional wedding or funeral, all my sacramental ministry is carried out within the church, with people I know or at least expect to see again. It is a gift to share these moments with people I have no expectation of seeing again: a woman in tears going to visit her dying mother, a father and son on their way to school, a parishioner heading to the airport, a homeless man bundled in even more layers than I, a young woman who offered to buy us a hot cup of coffee or tea.
Ashes to go are offered this evening from 5 to 6:30 pm; Rose and Peter will be joined by our Bishop Mariann and a handful of parishioners. Here at church, a special service with children is at 4:30 pm with principal Ash Wednesday services at noon and 7 pm.
During this season of Lent, remember that you are the embodiment of Christ; your hands are the hands of Christ; your heart is the heart of Christ. We believe that God is present in every aspect and moment of our lives. So each day, find a way to witness to the presence and love of God–with someone you know or even, and perhaps especially, a complete stranger.
Stories of Faith
Thurs., Jan. 28, 2016
"This little light of mine; I'm gonna' let it shine."
It's a simple song, reflecting Jesus' admonition that we not hide our lights under bushels; that we let our lights shine for all to see. Singing this hymn with children in the Great Hall services feels carefree and joyous. For youngsters, it seems easy to speak truth, share love, express the feelings and dreams we have within. Age often edits that freedom. Nonetheless, one of the great gifts we each have to offer one another is the story of our own lives and, more specifically, the stories of how we have experienced the sacred, or come to follow Christ, or sought to live with faith.
When I share with you a portion of my own faith journey, it is as if I were to entrust to you a portion of my heart. I give it and in so doing am saying, in effect, "I trust you to receive this story and honor me with your care."
Many of us shy away from the notion of being evangelists - from the Greek evangelion, a word which literally means "good news." Yet this is our most potent and precious gift to offer: the Good News of God's presence in our lives. With whom do you share this good news? With whom might you do so this week?
Beginning this Sunday, we will initiate "Faith Stories." Approximately once a month, in place of a reading from the Epistle, we will hear a "faith story" from a member of the congregation. Each of us has a unique faith journey. We each struggle with what it means to follow Christ, we each live out our faith in different ways, some very public and some private. Faith Stories is a way to share our journey with others, to hear different faith journeys and to get to know each other better.
"This little light of mine; I'm gonna' let it shine. Let it shine; let it shine; let it shine!"
Nurturing Health in the Body of Christ
Wed., Jan. 13, 2016
"As it is, there are many members, yet one body."
~ I Corinthians 12:20
At times throughout the day, our Great Hall was filled with time of prayer and song, presentation and deliberation, laughter and studied consideration, Bible study, food, conversation, lavish praise and many new ideas freely offered.
"I think everyone felt loved, supported, and energized as they left.
I certainly did."
~ Joe Kolar, vestry member and co-chair of outreach ACTS committee
More than 75 participants from our vestry, staff and the conveners or chairpersons of each ministry, committee and fellowship group gathered this past Saturday for St. Columba's first annual Congregational Leadership Gathering.
"It was encouraging to see the breadth of ministries our members are leading, and totally inspiring to come together with others. This workshop reconnected me to the spirituality of our work and reinvigorated me to continue doing it."
~ Nicole Holstein, co-chair, Environment committee
The goals of the day were several: to create a community of mutual support; to offer a theology of ministry; to say "thank you;" to provide practical tools for effective congregational leadership; to create and begin working in five "ministry teams" --worship, education/formation, hospitality/fellowship/pastoral care, outreach and organizational health; and to provide a starting place for future collaboration and strategic planning.
"The gathering provided time for deep reflection about how we can do the work of Christ in the world."
~ Nan North, convener, Older Adult Ministries
"We saw the need to develop connective tissue between our ministries and to come to a common understanding of what it means to attain organizational health."
~ Jim Barnett, vice chair, St. Columba's Nursery School, board of directors
Set in the context of nurturing health in this congregation, and coming to a deeper awareness of ourselves as the body of Christ with abundant gifts to offer and share, this day was a means, as Jim said above, "to develop connective tissue."
"It gave us all space and time to think about things we have "done" and things we have "left undone."
~ Sally Comiskey, Needlepoint Project
I offer a deep bow of gratitude to all who participated, and I look forward to many more opportunities to gather with one and all as we seek to walk in the way of Christ.
"The beautiful but indefinable sense of community spirit that marked St. Columba's in the past has been rekindled."
~ Noreen O'Meara Shanbacker, co-convener, Honduras Mission group
Seek the Light, Share the Love.
Wed., Jan. 6, 2016
First came the penguins. Then the owls, dolphins and lions. Followed soon after by the elephants, foxes and ducklings. Some skipping, chattering, holding hands. Some absorbed in the reverie of their own imaginations. When each class from the Nursery School was settled cozily on quilts before the altar in the church for "Monday Morning Get Together," we sang songs and said prayers. Being the eve of the Epiphany, our story on this day was of the stars. We looked up, up into the imaginary night sky and wondered what those wise magi of old had seen that prompted them to don a crown, bear a gift and follow a star to seek a newborn Messiah. In our telling of the story, with glittering star held aloft on a pole, we discovered that the star might stop over any household anywhere, even our own. Nourished once again by the Word of scripture, we set forth as had those magi to seek light and share love.
Many of us have put away childish things. Our days as a chattering penguin long past. Our lives, after all, are filled with important things or, at least, busy things. The needs of the world about us are great.
It is not too late. It is never too late to look up into the night sky - even an imaginary night sky right this moment, to be startled anew by our human smallness, to gaze in grateful glory toward the sparkle of the heavens.
Today is the feast of the Epiphany, the beginning of the season of Epiphany. Wherever we are, whoever we are with, let's join our children, join those magi; let's seek light and share love. Seek the light of Christ in an other. Share the love of Christ with an other.
It has been a great joy to share this first Christmas season with you, the good people of St. Columba's. I am grateful for the many, many ways in which you gave of yourselves in celebration ~ lunch with the guests of our Water Ministry, pageants with children, greenery of decoration Sunday, sandwiches made, choirs singing, ushers greeting, wreathes distributed, prayers, smiles and solace offered from heart to heart. We missed those who were traveling, even as we welcomed home those who returned and those who joined our celebration for the first time. 'Twas a joyous Christmas; thank you. Seek the light; share the love.