News & Reflections

Middle School Group reaches out to Saturday kitchen guests

Sock drive photo

During Saturday Kitchen on Jan. 28, Rick Hamlin rang the bell in the reception hall and announced that this was “Sock It To Me Saturday” — with new pairs of socks available for the guests.

In September the Middle Schoolers made a list of world problems, including homelessness. How to serve the needy? “The socks idea was simple — all sizes, for men, women and children,” a Middle Schooler said.

Supply and demand came together when they realized that the Saturday Kitchen guests were potential recipients. Parishioners contributed more than 240 new pairs of socks.

On distribution day, two Middle School Group members joined teachers Kris Ishibashi and Helen Graves in the Pilgrim Resource Center in the Gray Lounge. (Fellow teacher John Avery was serving on the kitchen line.)

“We always talk about reaching out to others,” one of the students said, “and here was our chance to actually do that. The guests were very friendly and they kept saying, ‘Thank you.’”

“It felt good to give out the socks,” the other said. “The day was really cold, and we felt like we made a difference.”

Saturday Meditation: On humility

Potter and clay photo

Saturday in the Third Week of Lent

By Elisabeth Avery

25 March

O God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

PSALM 51:15-20 ▪ HOSEA 6:1-6 ▪ LUKE 18:9-14

Today’s Proper examines self-righteousness, humility and frailty— traits we’ve all experienced.

It’s easy to have moments of vanity or smugness. I won’t say I go as far as the Pharisee in the parable and pat myself on the back every time I go to church but, if it’s really cold outside, I admit to feeling somewhat noble about making my two-block walk to St. Michael’s.

The Collect instructs that although we face many dangers and temptations, we can’t do it alone. Last December I was hospitalized for five weeks for pneumonia. Although I have great faith in antibiotics, I was frightened about the eventual outcome and I called upon God many times.

What I have never understood is humility. Unlike today’s Psalmist, I don’t doubt that God sees the purity of my intentions, nor would it occur to me to wonder whether I’m worthy of receiving the sacrament of communion.

In my family—a string of independent women, starting with my great-grandmother who pioneered Indian Territory, to my lawyer grandmother, to my aeronautical engineer mother—humility just didn’t come up. But it’s a major topic in the Bible, and all the other major religions praise it. So, I looked it up. Here’s what I found about the Judeo-Christian tradition:

In Judaism humility is an appreciation of oneself, one’s talents and virtues. It is not meekness or self-deprecating thought, but the effacing of oneself to something higher. Humility is not to think lowly of oneself, but to appreciate the self one has received.

Similarly, in Christianity humility makes someone a fit recipient of grace. The humble person recognizes his or her gifts and their limitations; sees the virtues and talents of others; and, submits to God. For those who submit to God, it is like submitting to joy.

Elisabeth Avery sings with the choir and has been member of St. Michael’s with her husband John and daughter Cordelia for about 22 years. Elisabeth is currently working on a thriller.

Beth Krause fights for the rights of immigrants

Beth Krause photo

 

Parishioner Beth Krause is on the front line of the tumultuous fight over United States immigration policy.

Since October 2016 Beth has served as the supervising attorney of the Legal Aid Society’s Immigrant Youth Project, which represents children and young people in Family Court, Immigration Court and before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency.

President Trump has signed four executive orders about immigration, including the newly revised “Muslim travel ban.”

“People are scared to go to work and bring their kids to school — things that the rest of us take for granted,” Beth says. “Parents are seeking advanced planning directives in case they are detained by ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and separated from their citizen children. People really need to be prepared for the worst case scenario.”

On Jan. 29, after the 10 a.m. service, Beth facilitated a conversation in the Chapel among fellow parishioners.

“Anyone who is concerned about the current anti-immigrant environment can make it known that you support your neighbors, regardless of their immigration status,” Beth says.

Beth, a native of Lamont, Mich., graduated from Notre Dame and earned her law degree at the University of Maryland. In college, Beth interned at a refugee resettlement agency in South Bend, Ind., and was later an Americorps volunteer there.

“I was inspired by the attorney who led the organization and I decided to pursue law as a career,” Beth says.

Beth and her husband, Serhat Krause, from Istanbul, became St. Michael’s parishioners shortly before the birth of their 2-year-old daughter (who is due to have a sibling in April).

“We were looking for a church home that combined a great community with a social justice outlook,” Beth says. “We found it at St. Michael’s.”

For a summary of the orders in effect, visit www.legal-aid.org, and in the left-hand navigation bar, click on “Executive Action on Immigration.” This article was updated March 9, 2017.

Image: With liberty and justice for all – the three Krauses.

 

Saturday Meditation: Grace and the prodigal son

Rembrandt Prodigal Son photo

Saturday in the Second Week of Lent

By Leigh Mackintosh

18 March

Grant, most merciful Lord, to your faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

PSALM 103:1-4 (5-8) 9-12 ▪ MICAH 7:14-15,18-20 ▪ LUKE 15:11-32

The parable of the prodigal son is a meditation on spiritual grace. Consider the impatient, impulsive younger son who selfishly seeks instant gratification, who seeks reward without effort, who squanders his inheritance choosing a path of cheap grace. Only after losing everything does he discover life’s true value and rewards. Returning home on a path of repentance and humility, the younger son encounters true grace in the reconciling, healing love of his father. How might you encounter God’s grace in desiring nothing and receiving everything?

Consider the elder son: the workaholic who worships work and glorifies obedience as a moral duty. The one who disconnects from the joys of community, family and servanthood to become slave rather than son and heir. His is the path of pride and self-righteousness where grace is always another fatted calf to be won, an inheritance to be hoarded, a future salvation to be gained. Focusing only on his own merits and future’s rewards, he fails to rely on anyone or anything (including God). What is the focus of your life and work? Do you live only for the future and its rewards? How might you be more present to receiving rather than achieving God’s gift of grace?

Consider the third son Jesus, author of the parable and Son of God who shares a mutual loving relationship with the Father. He reveals that grace brings us together to create, incarnate, redeem, and transform the world. Jesus joyfully shares his ministry with us his disciples giving each of us power to become children of God. (John 1:12) Such an inheritance is not meant to be squandered or hoarded away, but extended and made possible for all to share in its rewards. When have you experienced God’s grace? How might you share this grace with others?

The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh is Associate Rector at St. Michael’s and looks forward to another year of growth, challenge, and transformation together on our spiritual journeys. She is married to Stephanie Eads and lives in Inwood, N.Y. 

Singing to Our Father

Praying Hands image

By Carol Wallace Hamlin

There’s a lot of music in a 10 a.m. Sunday service at St. Michael’s. It ranges from ancient to just composed, from lilting to thundering. But one of the most remarkable moments of our worship is always the same: when, as a congregation, we chant the Lord’s Prayer together.

You may even have forgotten that we do this, it’s so simple. The celebrant sings, “And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say”—and off we go. We do not have a conductor. We are not accompanied. Many of us are convinced that we cannot sing — yet we do, week after week. Many of us don’t read music, but we can follow that simple sequence of notes up and down, just by listening to each other. We use a traditional setting adapted from plainsong. Christians have chanted like this, as part of worship, for a thousand years.

The gentle speech-based rhythm allows us to stay together more easily than the individual pace and emphasis of spoken prayer. The limited range of notes means that each congregant can reach them. We sing in unison: joined as one. If the body of Christ on West 99th Street has a voice, it’s sending these words to the rafters: “Our Father who art in Heaven …”

Image: “Praying Hands” by Albrecht Dürer

Saturday Meditation: Questioning religious authority

Questioning man photo

Saturday in the First Week of Lent

By Jane Emery

11 March

O God, by your Word you marvelously carry out the work of reconciliation: Grant that in our Lenten fast we may be devoted to you with all our hearts, and united with one another in prayer and holy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

PSALM 119:1-8 ▪ DEUTERONOMY 26:16-19 ▪ MATTHEW 5:43-48

This year Passover and Easter overlap, which encouraged me to ponder one of the most interesting differences between these two major religions—one’s relationship to God. Jews are encouraged to confront, to question, to challenge and to even argue with God. This practice would seem to create a powerful scholarly discourse. Contrast this with the traditional and historical Christian relationship with God which is to obey and not question God’s commandments or God’s will.

As Christians we are like sheep—following our God—and in turn we will be protected. As a child I was always confused by the notion of being a sheep, which symbolized a blind following of a leader or becoming a coward! The notion that one could argue or question religious authority and church doctrine promotes understanding and encourages diverse and unique perspectives. Note how some churches (until recently Roman Catholicism) forbid members to attend services of other denominations even for weddings or funerals.

Today, there are still conservative Christian leaders who instruct their parishioners not to question religious authority or the church’s doctrines. Religious cults are characterized by their insistence upon isolating their members from others which reinforces obedience to the religious authorities. I would assert that one factor in the declining church membership in the U.S. is this practice of requiring obedience. We have numerous friends who now reject Christianity—remembering the ridicule or punishment they received as children because they argued with or disobeyed religious leaders.

Fortunately, the Episcopal Church increasingly has priests (like ours) who encourage questioning, skepticism, even argumentation. Now, mainstream Protestantism appears similar to Judaism—we can both argue with God. During Holy Week we can reflect upon Jesus arguing with God, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jane Emery and her husband Dick Healy have enjoyed St. Michael’s since 2003 when they moved here from California. They have one daughter in NYC and three daughters in California—where they live in the summer. Jane is an emerita sociology professor at California State University, Northridge.

On Christmas Eve, a healing prayer was heard

St. Michael's Healing Prayer Team photo

You’ve seen our Healing Prayer Team members at the rail in the Chapel or by the St. Jude’s Altar during the communion, receiving supplicants one-by-one, hearing their concerns, praying together and offering the Laying on of Hands.

The prayer team, founded in 2008 by the Rev. Deacon Frank “Pete” Peterson and the Rev. Deacon Lawrence Schacht, now numbers 28 lay ministers under the direction of the Rev. Leigh Mackintosh.

“As Christ’s disciples today we are charged to continue to tell and to do the mighty works God had done in Jesus,” Leigh says. “The blind don’t recover their sight but people feel a deep healing and strength” in moments of prayer.

Testimony to that power came from a supplicant, who reached out to St. Michael’s after a visit to the Christmas Eve service:

“My children and I drove into NYC tonight … and found St. Michael’s.”

“One of my adult daughters has made some difficult, tragic decisions and choices and she has broken our hearts. I made a decision to go into the Chapel during communion and ask for a prayer for her. A dear Sister in Christ held me, prayed and interceded on my behalf. I just wanted to say thank you.”

The “Sister in Christ” prefers to remain anonymous, in keeping with the confidentiality of the healing-prayer exchanges.

Another minister says, “Healing prayer was so helpful to me when my mother died. I’m grateful to be able to help others in the same way.”

“This ministry blesses those who serve and is a blessing to those who come,” Leigh says.

Photo: (front) the Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Kris Ishibashi, Andrea Dedmon; (middle) Anne Stribling, Denisha Williams, Juanita Pratt, Deborah Houston, Marianne Jensen, Michael Taylor; (back) Pauline Brookfield, Rick Hamlin, Nicole Thomas, Arlene Bullard and Linda Van Ness.

Saturday Meditation: Welcoming the outcast

Refugees in the wilderness photo

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

By a St. Michael’s parishioner

4 March

Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth your right hand to help and defend us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

PSALM 86:1-11 ▪ ISAIAH 58:9b-14 ▪ LUKE 5:27-32

Today’s readings point to our imperative to welcome and help the outcast, the detested, the troubled. As Isaiah sang:

‘If you take away from you the midst of the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and the speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.’ (Isaiah 58:9b-10)

Physical attacks against Muslims, Jews, people of color and LGBTQ people are rising. Threats of forced registration of Muslims hover like a miasma. Millions of people may lose their (frayed, ragged) economic safety net.

It’s time to assess: How will I react when I witness affliction? Will I hunker down . . . or will I pour myself out? Will I help the kid being beaten on the subway for wearing a kippah? Will I join an “I Am Spartacus”-like movement and register as a Muslim, should such registration become the law of the land?

That’s a lot. But God expects even more.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus does not despise the evil-doers (tax collectors in his story, bullies in ours). He respects their innate dignity, meets with them, eats with them, and tries to draw them toward repentance.

We are called to follow Jesus’ example: to protect the afflicted— while still loving the afflicters and gently calling them to turn themselves around.

Somehow.

It’s time to ask: Am I ready? Can I do this? How, specifically, will I?

From the Rector: A Lenten Discipline for All the Right Reasons

Kate Flexer headshot

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” So begins our 40 days of Lent, with a smudge of ash on our foreheads, in the same sign of the cross we received at our baptism. We are mortal and yet we are God’s, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. A true reminder of our identity, starting over from the beginning.

How will you keep Lent this year? Traditionally, we talk about the disciplines we follow as almsgiving, prayer and fasting. We might try to give to others in need, to pray more, to fast and abstain from certain foods or activities. As Jesus reminds us, we can do them for all the wrong reasons — usually for self-improvement, in our own eyes and the eyes of others.   

But the point of this season — the point of all religion, all ritual and discipline — is authentic relationship with God. We do these things because we are in relationship with God and because we want to deepen that relationship, because our love of the God who loves us grows as we do these things. 

So may we keep a holy Lent this year, beloved dust that we are.

Note: You can get ideas for observing the season on our Lenten Resources Pinterest Board.