The Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude (tr.) – October 25, 2015
Preacher: Rick Hamlin
Rick Hamlin has been a member of St. Michael’s since 1982. He is married to Carol Wallace and they have two grown sons, William and Timothy. Rick is the executive editor of Guideposts Magazine and has written several books, most recently 10 Prayers You Can’t Live Without.
There’s a lot to cover today, so forgive me if this is a bit disjoint. Months ago, when I volunteered as a layperson to preach some Sunday during stewardship season, I had no idea exactly what life would bring in the ensuing months. But here I am, after a two-week stint in the hospital for a mysterious lung infection, thanks very much to your prayers. And I can’t tell you how glad I am to be here and how humbling. More about that in a minute.
First off. This is St. Jude’s Day when we honor a very important part of St. Michael’s heritage, something that is a source of much pride…and some shame. Back in the first half of the 20th century if you were a person of color, if you were African-American, and you dropped in at St. Michael’s you would have been encouraged to worship not in this hallowed place but at a satellite chapel a couple blocks away, in what is now part of Park West Village, St. Jude’s Chapel. There’s the shame.
But here’s the glory. There under the incredible leadership of the Rev. Floarda Howard, in a building funded by part of the bequest St. Michael’s received from Elizabeth Zimmerman back in 1919 (honored here in the chapel of the Angels), St. Jude’s Chapel was established and flourished until the building was de-sanctified and destroyed in the name of urban redevelopment in 1956. Fortunately, we still have the altar from St. Jude’s here in the back of this church.
What I think is really important to remember, especially in light of today’s gospel message, is that they knew how to do church at St. Jude’s. What a vital, vibrant place. There were basketball teams, social clubs, music clubs, a sewing circle, Sunday school classes, choirs, a nursery, a clinic and at the heart of it, regular worship, rich in liturgy and music. Four services a Sunday with an average attendance of 700 (all this information is thanks to the writing and work of our archivist Jean Trepka). And these weren’t just rush-in, rush-out affairs. You stayed, you prayed, you worshiped from the Prayer Book, you heard the word and you sang from the Anglican hymnal.
When I say “they did church,” I don’t mean it in a nice sociological way. I mean it in the deepest spiritual sense. What is church? What is it that we are raising money for? A building? Salaries? Nice music? Why should we give? I believe that church – with all its failings – is what Jesus asked of us and how we serve him.
Think about it. What did Jesus leave behind? Not a book, not a building, not a written list of commandments and laws, not a code for organization, not a creed that we’re supposed to all repeat. All he did was gather followers around him, men and women – let’s not forget about the women – and talked to them. He showed them how to pray and how to heal and performed miracles in front of them. He endlessly explained to them who he was and whom he served. And to keep all this going? He asked them – this motley crew, this stumbling bunch – to go out and teach and heal and spread the word. “You are to testify” as he says.
So for hundreds of years, his followers – that’s us! – have done the same. We are Jesus’ disciples. We are the halting, stumbling, believing crew and we are here to bring him to 99th and Amsterdam and the Upper West Side. We are here to show the world who he was.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells those followers that the world might hate them. That they might be persecuted. I think of our brothers and sisters at St. Jude’s. They must have known what that was. To be hated by the world. To be shunned, to be relegated to second class, to be held back. Of course I hesitate to say this is true of the church today. Nobody hates us. Not us nice people at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. But think about it. Isn’t church mostly considered quaint? Some nice little rituals we do on Sunday mornings, but nothing that really counts. Haven’t you ever found yourself at a cocktail party, admitting that you go to church and then trying to downplay it, not wishing to offend, you say something like, “I’m not really religious. I’m spiritual.”
I used to say that. I don’t anymore. It would be dishonest. I’m religious. I believe what we do here counts in a big way. They understood that at St. Jude’s and when our two congregations joined as one in the late 50s, I would venture to say that the heritage of St. Jude’s is what kept this place alive.
So God bless St. Jude’s. You are still in our soul. You are in our blood. May we not forget you. I ask God’s forgiveness for the shame that African-Americans were not encouraged to worship at St. Michael’s some 75 years ago. But I give thanks for all that St. Jude’s did then and brought back here.
Finally on a personal note, about how We Do Church. I want to thank all of you for your prayers and your incredible support of our family during the past six weeks. The doctors at Columbia-Presbyterian could never figure out what was wrong with me, but I got well, and I don’t doubt that it is in no small part because of your prayers. And although I’m still underweight, that I’m putting on pounds is thanks to all the meals – several weeks of meals – that came from you.
We are Jesus’s followers on the Upper West Side.