News & Reflections

Juanita Pratt: In Praise of Morning Prayer

Juanita Pratt preparing to lead morning prayer

“What better way to begin the day than in God’s house with God’s people?” Juanita Pratt says of the Morning Prayer service at St. Michael’s, 7:45 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on Saturdays. Juanita conducts the Friday service.

One of eight children, Juanita grew up in South Carolina in a rural community. The church was the heart of that community. Her father was superintendent of the Sunday school, and her mother a teacher of an adult Sunday School class.

Few jobs existed in the area. Juanita’s parents encouraged the children to seek opportunity elsewhere. So Juanita came to New York to live with her Aunt Mary.

Juanita worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 30 years and retired in 1997 to become a full-time caregiver for her husband Harry after an operation left him a paraplegic.

Juanita and Harry were confirmed at St. Ignatius in 1991. A subsequent meeting with Father Miller led them to St. Michael’s. On their first Sunday they were greeted by our parishioner Edgar Dawson.

“I could feel the openness, warmth and welcome as we entered the church,” Juanita recalls.

In addition to her Morning Prayer leadership, Juanita is a member of the Altar Guild, a Healing Prayer Minister, a Lay Eucharistic Visitor, a member of the Prayer Chain and Knitwits groups, and a participant in Education for Ministry.

Juanita values how many different kinds of parishioners attend St. Michael’s. “But I have a different take on diversity,” she says. “My parents taught us to see people as people — and not the color of their skin.”

Forum: Faith at Home

Faith at Home image from Building Faith

In a forum on January 7, members of St. Michael’s shared and discussed helpful faith at home resources for making your household a site of lively, fun, meaningful religious practice and spiritual nurture.

We have added the resources we shared to our already robust collection of Faith at Home resources on Pinterest.

Enjoy, and let us know what we missed!

A new year of faith in action

Healing Prayer Team photo - Community of Hope coming soon

How can we heal others — we who ourselves are in such need of healing?

St. Michael’s is addressing that question in several initiatives shepherded by Mother Leigh.

(1) In October, a Mental Health First Aid Workshop was held at the church on how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse, with training led by the New York City-sponsored program ThriveNYC.

(2) In November, Leigh led a Healing Prayer Workshop for the Healing Prayer team members and newcomers. Nearly 30 lay ministers now share duties at our services.

(3) At the Dec. 10 Intersection, a special Advent Healing Service was held to address the needs of those for whom the Christmas season is tinged with pain, loss and loneliness.

The New Year promises to consolidate and extend our healing ministries. St. Michael’s is launching a 14-week course adapted from the curriculum of the Community of Hope International. The COHI program, developed for St. Luke’s Episcopal and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, is active in more than 125 centers around the world.

“The course is for anybody who wants to deepen his or her faith,” Leigh says. “The sessions help us develop a Christ-centered presence that can apply to Healing Prayer or any other ministry in the church — and beyond, in our life, workplace and community.”

The course combines Benedictine spirituality with the clinical pastoral education model used in divinity schools.

“Faith and action go together in this program,” Leigh says. “What’s exciting is that all of us have the opportunity to put the lessons into practice wherever we are and then report back to the group to strengthen our skills. We can mold a powerful spiritual team.”

The first session is Tuesday, Jan. 30.

Image: Healing Prayer ministers before Intersection on Dec. 10: from left, Deborah Houston, Valerie Takai, Linda Van Ness, Carol Edwards, Juanita Pratt, Sally Hammel, Kris Ishibashi and Deacon Richard Limato.

From the Rector: The Miracle, Reborn

Kate Flexer headshot

Risen with healing in his wings, light and life to all he brings,
hail, the Sun of Righteousness! hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace!

We have come round again to the time of the angels and the good news of God with us. And truly, we do see God with us here.

God present in the breaking of bread, the food multiplied to feed all who come, with more left over: That feeding was a powerful sign in Jesus’ ministry and it happens here at St. Michael’s every week, Saturday in the Parish House and Sunday at the altar.

God present in the healing of hurts, hands laid on heads in whispered prayer, hearts and minds made clear to give and receive God’s love: Jesus healed the sick and calmed the storms and our healing ministries offer that balm and solace here as well.

God present in children gathering close in with wonder and awe, leading the grown-ups closer to see: Jesus called that the kingdom of God. In this season, we live that out here together.

Emmanuel, God with us, is here. May we open our eyes to see it. Merry Christmas!

— Mother Kate

Our Lady of Minsk

Galina photo

Our church is built on a spiritual foundation and bonded by spiritual glue. But oh, what about our old stones, timbers and pipes?

Who holds everything together? Who manages our able maintenance staff to keep it all in working order? Who drives the best deals on the Upper West Side with roofers, menders and plumbers? Who negotiates the leases with our eight long-term and many short-term tenants, monitors our cash flow and pulls pennies from heaven?

Whose office light burns latest in the Parish House? And who graciously answers parishioners’ every temporal question?

Yes, it’s Galina Koubassova, our director of administration and finance. Originally from Minsk, Belarus, Galina came to American with her husband Sergei and son Roman in 1992, just after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

As their visas were set to expire, luck struck. They won the green card lottery and America got to keep some wonderful talent. (Now Roman is a senior engineer at General Dynamics Electric Boat in New London.)

Galina famously has a sharp sense of style — no surprise, given her background as a fashion designer back in Minsk. She had a master’s degree in management and fashion design and added a degree in accounting here is New York.

Galina came to St. Michael’s the old-fashioned way, via a classified ad. Her predecessor Jeff Miller, now the director of finance and human resources at St. Michael’s Cemetery, had the good sense to hire her.

“I was skeptical about working for a church,” Galina says, “but St. Michael’s became my home, my family, my life.”

We are so lucky that she transitioned from something she loved to our labor of love.

— John Avery

Update: Galina lost her mother, Yadviga Kananovich, last Saturday (December 9). We pray for the repose of her soul and for Galina, her sister Nina, and their family.

Youth outreach with homeless and hungry New Yorkers

Youth service project image

On Nov. 12, a dozen middle and high schoolers formed an assembly line after church to make sandwiches and bag crackers and cookies to distribute to needy people in the neighborhood and at Penn Station.

An eighth grader held up a brown lunch bag. “We label all the bags and put a fully balanced meal in them,” he explained. “We got clementines, ham and cheese, cookies — a perfect meal.”

Having completed some 100 bag lunches, the kids set forth with teachers Jennifer Goodnow and Kris Ishibashi, plus Deacon Richard Limato, Andrea Dedmon and Lucia Moses.

A first stop was at Freedom House, a homeless shelter on 95th Street. A man on the corner graciously and gratefully accepted a bag lunch. The kids informed him about the Saturday Kitchen. “I’ll be there,” he said.

At Penn Station a man who accepted a bag lunch identified himself as a Vietnam veteran. “They have to do more for us veterans,” he said. “And subways are crowded and dangerous.”

The outreach effort was part of a youth group service project spearheaded by Jennifer and Kris.

St. Michael’s Legacy Society: Funding the future

Remembering St. Michael’s Church in your will sounds like a good thing to do. It also sounds … difficult. And what if you don’t have a will?

The St. Michael’s Legacy Society provides advice and answers in a new brochure overseen by estate-planning attorney and St. Michael’s parishioner Marianne Jensen. (The brochure is available in the back of the nave, at the front desk, and — sometime soon — on the church website.)

The Legacy Society encourages planned giving. In the brochure, Marianne describes how retirement plans, job-related life insurance policies, and bank and brokerage accounts all offer opportunities for you to designate St. Michael’s as a beneficiary while still providing for family members and other commitments. Wills and trusts can easily be structured to do the same.

A couple of things to remember:

  1. We’re not the only St. Michael’s Church in New York, so including the address — 225 W. 99th St., New York, NY 10025 — on any beneficiary designation is essential; and
  2. If you designate St. Michael’s, let someone at the church know — Mother Kate or other clergy; finance director Galina Koubassova; or stewardship chair Eric Vigen.

Also on the topic of giving: New parishioner Katherine Tucker and Father Kyle Oliver have upgraded the St. Michael’s website to encourage online pledging and donating.

No such discussion is complete without a Biblical passage, in this case from Paul’s first letter to Timothy: “For we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.”

— Justin Fox

From the Rector: Thank God we’re not God

Kate Flexer headshot

A few weeks ago I preached about the mess our world is in, and how eagerly I long for it to be fixed.

We’re approaching the season of Advent when we look to Christ’s second coming. And all around us are catastrophes and tragedies large and small, reasons to wish for God’s intervention.

Maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it.

It’s also the season of Thanksgiving, when we’re encouraged to stop and count our blessings. All around us are joys and miracles large and small, reasons to stop and be grateful for life and this world.

Here at St. Michael’s, we count blessings like our teens’ generosity, the faith of those joining our Legacy Society, our wonderful staff. We have much to be thankful for.

But maybe both are true. Each tragedy is a cry in the darkness. Each blessing is a light shining. We beg for God’s help and we give thanks for God’s gifts.

Above all we give thanks that God is God, that what we see as unsolvable problems aren’t impossible for God.

The light of goodness always outshines the darkness of fear. Remember that in your feasts this year.

— Mother Kate

From the Rector: Celebrating the community

Kate Flexer headshot - celebrating the community

Some of my favorite New York books are the Eloise books, hilarious picture books about the spoiled little girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel.

Eloise is pure id, completely unfettered in doing exactly and only what she wants. From time to time in the book she announces, Here’s what I like: ___. And then, Here’s what I don’t like: ___. I love that clarity.

So here’s what I like: Celebrating the community of St Michael’s. I love every opportunity to tell people’s stories, applaud them, thank them, hold up for all to see what great things are happening in and through this congregation.

Our celebration of elders last month, Youth Sunday every June, commissioning and blessing our ministries, stewardship homilies — all golden opportunities to name the joy here.

Here’s what I don’t like: When we get too busy to reflect on where that joy comes from. Busyness can cloud our mental waters.

We can get so focused on doing many good things that we forget to stop and do the one most important thing — sitting at Jesus’ feet, dwelling in love. All our good gifts come from the good Giver.

May all our celebrations this fall, all our giving, reflect our gratitude, and our love.

— Mother Kate