Thoughts & Updates

News, perspectives and updates from Grace Episcopal Church

All Saints' Sunday

All Saints

All Saints

Happy Halloween!  While I imagine most of you know, Halloween is short for All Hallows’ Eve.  All Hallows or All Saints’ Day, which is always on November 1, hence All Hallows’ Eve on October 31, is one of the major holy days in the church’s calendar.   Although All Saints’ falls on Saturday this year, we will observe Sunday November 2.  This is the only saint’s day, except for a church’s patron, that may take precedence over the celebration of Christ’s resurrection that we celebrate every Sunday.

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What Grace Means to Nacy

What Grace Means to Nacy

Those of you who have been in military service or even to summer camp as a child will recognize the bugle.  Its notes are bright and clear and can be heard for miles.  The bugle regulates the day, telling us when it is time to eat, when to sleep, when to wake and when to gather.  For me, Grace has become my bugle, helping regulate my days and my seasons.  It tells me when the stark season of Lent blooms into the joy of our risen Lord.  It tells me when Wednesday noon comes around to quietly reflect on the gospels at Fr John’s Listening to God meditative services.  It tells me when it’s Wednesday night  and time to gather with our grief support group.  It’s bright voice calls me on Sunday morning where I know I’ll be uplifted by my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Next,I brought a compass this morning.  Being an American man, I don’t often ask for directions and when I do, sometimes I don't follow them.   But Grace has become my compass.  It unwaveringly points me in the direction I need to go.  While I do my best to follow, I know I often stray off course.  Nevertheless, Grace is always here to point the way for me to bring me back.  All I have to do is listen.

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Fall Barbecue

Fall Barbecue

A great time and good food mark the fall barbecue fundraiser!  Thanks to all who made it a success!

 

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Prayer

Prayer

What would Jesus teach you?

If you could ask Jesus to teach you one thing, what would it be?  Would it be to turn water into wine?  Would it be to walk on water?  Would it be to heal the sick?  Would it be to raise the dead?  If I had my choice, I would probably ask for something showy, something that would impress others, something along the line of these miracles, but, according to scripture, the only thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray.  The disciples often get the rap of being spiritually slow, to put it charitably, but if we take this as any indication, they were more advanced than they are given credit.

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Transitioning into Fall

Transitioning into Fall

Day at Tucker Lake, Saturday September 6

Milestones are important in life.  This week we will acknowledge several.  The first is our day at Tucker Lake!  I’m excited about this fun time to mark the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year!  I’ve looked longing at the lake for years whenever I drive by on Interstate 40.  Cindy and I have been talking about zip lining, kayaking, paddle boarding and hanging out with our Grace friends.  Invite your friends! 

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Work and Renew

Work and Renew

Labor Day Weekend is here!  Although summer officially end September 21, for all intents and purposes it’s over.  Although no shorter than the others, summer seems to be the most ephemeral almost like the heat waves rising from the pavement on a hot day.  I never hear people say, “I can’t believe winter is over already!”  While almost everyone enjoys the long days, slower pace of life, and time to relax, we act as if work is the most important thing in life.

My mother told me that when I was a small child I asked my grandmother when she was going to retire at the time my grandfather retired from the Prudential.  Before she could reply, I answered my own question, “You can’t retire.  You’re a wife.”  My childish remark aside, women and men today work later and later in life.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this trend dates to the early 1990s, long before the financially induced necessity of the dot-com bubble burst in 2000 or the great recession of 2008.   We Americans work harder than anyone in the industrialized world.  Dean Schabner writes in a May 1 ABC news piece that we “take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later, too.”

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Anna Dittman's Baptism

Anna Dittman

One of the most joyful occasions in the church is a baptism.  We had the privilege to baptize Ana Dittman. 

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God Our Father

God Our Father

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, granddads, and step-dads in the congregation.  Father’s Day is a time to remember our fathers.  It is also a good time to think about what it means to say that God is our Father.  First and most importantly, God is neither male nor female.  The book of Genesis tells us that we are created in the image of God, male and female (1:27).

God Our Mother

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Grace's Garden

Grace

There’s an old saying that to plant a seed is an act of faith and hope.  There is no guarantee that the seed will sprout, and if it does, there is still no guarantee that it will grow, blossom, bloom and bear fruit. The weather, of course, is a major variable but then there are also animals, disease and insects.  It’s a wonder anyone ever plants anything, but they do with faith and hope.

One of the great symbols of our congregation is our garden!  The idea came from the Abundant Life Project, sponsored by Episcopal Relief and Development, the theme of Grace’s 2011 Vacation Bible School.  Originally, I am told, it was a hay bale garden.  Larry Dalton built a raised bed in 2012 that Jack and Pat Bachelor rebuilt this spring.  I think this garden is a great metaphor for our faith.  Out of the inhospitable asphalt sprout lush green vegetables.  In the midst of life’s challenges, our garden reminds us that with God all things are possible.  The tiny sprouts encourage us to have faith and hope.  The rustling leaves of the growing plants whisper the good news of the abundant life in Christ.

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Moms

Moms

Mother’s Day is this Sunday May 11!  Happy Mother’s Day to all moms!  Mother’s Day is an important celebration for all of us because each of us is or has had one.  I am thankful for my mom, an incredibly vivacious woman, who deeply loved my brothers and me.  She was also a devote Episcopalian dedicated to serving others.  My mom was a great example.

The first Christian might have been a mother.  Some say that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the first Christian.   Mary was a devout mother even standing at the foot of the cross while her son suffered and died when almost everyone else had deserted him.  Mary has been called the first Christian though not because of her witness at the cross but because she consented to be the mother of Jesus, indeed, as the tradition says, the mother of God, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

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Serving Those in Need

Serving Those in Need

When Cindy and I were returning from our visit to Iowa, we met some folks on the shuttle from RDU to the Fast Park lot.  After they found out where we had been, we talked about the tornados striking the Midwest.  They told us how Raleigh’s 2011 tornado felled trees that blocked their driveway and smashed their home’s roof.  It destroyed the house across from them.  Without knowing that I was a priest, the blonde daughter turned her head, looked me hard in the eyes, and said, “The church did the most to help us.”

Over 2,000 biblical verses talk about poverty, wealth and social justice.  1 John 3:17-18 says, “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”  Many call this God’s “preferential option for the poor,” because throughout the scriptures God gives preference to the well-being of the poor.  It isn’t that God loves those who are struggling to survive or trying to break the chains of generational poverty more than others, but that it is all too easy to ignore or worse, scorn, those that are not healthy, strong and well-to-do.

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The Resurrection

The Resurrection

Holy Week is the most important time of the Christian year.  Jesus’ death and resurrection are at the heart of our faith.  While only a few doubt that Jesus lived and died on a cross, many doubt that he rose from the dead.

For me, evidence is found in the change that takes in his disciples after the resurrection. Scripture tells us that the disciples were cowering behind locked doors after Jesus’ crucifixion.  “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19).  I would have been hiding, too, if I had been one of his disciples.  After all, Jesus had just been publically humiliated and brutally executed.  The disciples had every reason to fear they were next!

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Easter at Grace

Easter at Grace

Only seven (7), count them, seven (7) shopping days until Easter!  Have you bought your Easter gifts?  Mailed your Easter cards?  Put up your Easter tree?   Planned your Easter party?  What?!  You haven’t done any of these?!  I confess….  Neither have I.

Our society puts so much emphasis upon Christmas that Easter almost seems like an afterthought.  The truth is that Easter is more important.  Don’t get me wrong!  The birth of Christ is an important holy day, but his resurrection confirms the story of his birth, affirms the witness of his ministry, and reveals his power over sin and death.  

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Making Palm Crosses

Making Palm Crosses

One of the traditions at Grace is making palm crosses for Palm Sunday, the day the church remembers Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, before his crucifixion on Good Friday.  The Episcopal Church Women (ECW), young and old, make crosses at their monthly meeting.  Kathryn Adams, standing, teaches the right technique for making the crosses.  ECW meetings are a time to get together and catch up over a potluck dinner, to serve through various projects, and to grow closer to God by prayer and devotions.

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Goals 2014

Goals 2014

On Saturday March 15, your vestry and I met with the Rev. Dr. Trawin Malone, Canon for our diocese’s Northeast Region.  We brought in Dr. Malone because he specializes in congregational development.  We spent the day looking at who we are as a congregation – our strengths, growth areas and Clayton demographics.  At the end of the day, we came up with three goals for the next year: 1) expand outreach, 2) grow the congregation, and 3) strengthen stewardship.

The vision for expanding our outreach includes developing a hands-on after school tutoring program twice a week for elementary school students.  College and high school students would be able to participate with adult supervision.  In addition, we would like to expand our involvement with the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry located in Newton Grove.  Currently, every Lenten season, Grace collects money through the mite boxes, and clothing and other items for this essential ministry.

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Invitation to a Holy Lent

Invitation to a Holy Lent

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most so far at Grace is getting to know some of you - over lunch, coffee, or visits in your homes.   I treasure these times.   In our rush-rush world, making time to get to know someone isn’t always easy.

I think of Lent the same way. It is a time to get to know God.  Of course, God is always present. We can go to church any Sunday and talk to God any time. Nonetheless, in our busy lives, God often becomes a second or third priority. The church long ago recognized a need for a time to refocus our lives on God. The season of Lent was originally a time set aside to prepare those being baptized at Easter or a time of repentance for those who had committed “notorious sins”. It later became a time of renewal for the whole church. This renewal takes two forms – letting go and taking on.

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All Are Welcome!

All Are Welcome!

In recent years, "All Are Welcome" seems to have become the Episcopal slogan.  Although I don"t know the history,  it might  have come from Marty Haugen's 1994 hymn "All Are Welcome in this Place".  Though it is not a new theme for us Episcopalians,  it is at the heart of our faith. Although Queen Elizabeth forged our middle way between Protestantism and Catholicism when the two of them were tearing Europe apart, ultimately,it's rooted not in history but in God' s dream for the world.

God impressively reveals this dream in Acts 2:1-6 when the Holy Spirit descends upon people "out of every nation."  The gift of the Holy Spirit unites the peoples divided and scattered at the tower of Babel.  On the day of Pentecost, we see God's will that the body of Christ is for all persons.

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Relationships

Relationships

The start of a new year is a good time to reflect on what is most important in our lives.  What is most important to you?  I imagine that most of us would list health at or near the top.   We might also say our faith.  And undoubtedly, our familial relationships would be at or near the top.

In reality, all of these are interrelated. Strong relationships with one another and with God mean healthier lives and community. We Christians believe that relationships are the essence of God in the body of Christ and God’s very being.  God is three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit –in one being – God. 

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Introduction

Introduction

I grew up in Christ Episcopal Church, Roanoke, Virginia.  Our family joined St. Andrew’s, Haw River, a mission congregation about the size of Grace, when we moved to North Carolina in 1975.  I discerned a call to the priesthood while serving as a Volunteer-in-Mission in the inner city of Elizabeth, New Jersey, in the mid-80s.     After graduating from seminary, I was called in 1991 as assistant-to-the-rector of St. Paul’s, Cary, where I met my wife, Cindy.  I served as the vicar and then the rector of The Prince of Peace (TPoP), Apex from 1999 to 2005.

The consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003 hit the congregation hard.  Cutbacks forced the downsizing of the staff and I was one of the casualties.  It was a hard time for my family.  I eventually was called to St. Michael’s, where I was responsible for adult education and missions.  Seven and a half years later I was told that the congregation needed to focus on young adults.  Once again, a challenging time!

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