Garden Update

In spite of getting started late (around Memorial Day) and being in the midst of drought, our garden is remarkably productive. As of last week (July 21) we had shared over 200 pounds of produce with the Hispanic Ministry at St. Francis. That’s amazing. So far, the harvest has been squash, beans, peppers, but the tomatoes are beginning to ripen. More than ten people are involved in caring for the garden and harvesting. What a wonderful gift to St. James, and to the community.

I’ll share a couple of photos of the produce

This was taken early in the season

This was taken early in the season

This picture shows last week’s haul

Pray for Rain

Thanks to the vision of Al Hipp and the hard work of a number of parishioners, we now have a parish vegetable garden. Produce from the garden will be distributed through the Hispanic Ministry at St. Francis. Although planting was fairly late for South Carolina, things seem to be thriving and already ten pounds of squash have been harvested. This form of ministry is catching on throughout the country. In addition to providing food for the hungry, gardens are opportunities for fellowship and for meditation.

As I said during the Blessing of the Garden, in Genesis 2, God placed the first man and first woman in a garden to till it, and the vision of a new heaven and a new earth includes a garden in various biblical sources. I’m a gardener myself, although my involvement is chiefly in the heavy lifting and work, the sweat and toil.

We are in the midst of a drought and the ground is completely parched. We’ve received less than an inch of rain in June. Both Corrie and I look at the skies every afternoon in hopes of seeing dark clouds that will bring rain, but so far all we’ve received this week are a few sprinkles. The garden at St. James will thrive only with a lot of water, more than I used when blessing the garden some weeks ago. Here’s a picture of that:

Choral Evensong

On Sunday afternoon, St. James received a wonderful gift–choral Evensong sung by Furman’s Chamber Choir, accompanied by our own Dr. Charles Tompkins. Evensong is one of the greatest contributions of Anglicanism to Christian worship. Its roots lie in the monastic hours of the Middle Ages, but when Thomas Cranmer prepared the first Book of Common Prayer, he sought to make the discipline of daily prayer available for all Christians. So he collapsed the monastic hours into two services of Morning and Evening Prayer and designed them so that all of the Psalter would be read in a month, and most of the Bible in a year.

Evening Prayer, or Evensong, as it came to be called, became one of the most popular services in many Anglican churches. In the cathedrals, where there were choirs and musicians available, Evening Prayer came to be sung, hence the name, Evensong.

Done well, as it was this past Sunday, Evensong is inspiring and spiritually rich, inviting the listener into a conversation with God through music. Many thanks to all who were involved–especially Dr. Karen Eshelman who organized it; the Furman students who sang, and senior Adam Pajan who took a seat at the organ for the postlude, to Dr. Bill Thomas, who directs the choir, and to Dr. Bill Allen, who was cantor.

I would hope that at some point in the future, St. James could put on its own Evensong and perhaps even make it a regular event.

The BBC broadcasts Evensong each week. Recordings are available here.

He stretched out his arms in love on the hard wood of the cross

I taught for a year at the School of Theology of the University of the South (Sewanee). During that time, and for the next year, too, I made a habit of attending Morning Prayer at the seminary. It is one thing to say MP for oneself; it is quite another to do it regularly in community. I quickly came to love one of the collects for mission that includes the phrase “you stretched out your arms on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within your saving embrace.”

At Eucharist last night, I talked about the meaning of the cross. The lessons were 1 Cor. 1 “I preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” and Jn 12: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

It seems to me that so often the cross is a divider, a sign that is meant to create boundaries, to delineate who is in and who is out, but in the collect as well as in John 12:32, the cross is a uniter. I’ll be pondering the meaning of the cross more in the next days, and will probably preach on this in some way on Good Friday.

The Anointing at Bethany

The gospel appointed for Monday in Holy Week is John 12:1-11–the story of the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by Mary. While all four gospels have versions of this story, the four diverge dramatically in details. John sees the significance of the anointing in light of the crucifixion. When challenged by Judas about the expensive perfume used, Jesus replies, “she has anointed me beforehand for my burial.

Monday in Holy Week is also the traditional day in our diocese for the annual reaffirmation of ordination vows and the chrism mass, when the bishop consecrates holy oil and distributes it to clergy for use in the coming year. I’ve never attended this service; it comes on a day when I teach, and besides, my ordination vows are still recent enough that they don’t need to be recharged.

Yesterday, I visited a parishioner who’s been in the hospital for over a month. She is probably in the last stages of her life. While I was there, I anointed her with oil for healing, but as I thought about it, and as I pondered the gospel in preparation for the evening service, I wondered whether I was also anointing her for burial. Perhaps I was doing both. As I put oil on her forehead, I thought of Mary’s anointing of Jesus, and I thought as well of Jesus suffering on the cross. It was one of those moments when the little things we do are powerful reminders of our connection with the stories in the gospel and with the whole church. The anointing at Bethany was also the anointing in Greenville, yesterday.

The Pew Survey of the US Religious Landscape

Amidst all of the other news and noise, you may have heard something about the massive study of religious life in the US undertaken by the Pew Forum. Among the key findings: almost 30% of Americans have left the religion in which they were raised for another one, or for no affiliation. If one includes movement within Protestant denominations, that percentage increases to 44%. Almost 1/4 of young adults (18-29) claim no religious affiliation and although a third of American adults were raised as Catholic, only 1/4 of adult Americans are Catholic. This significant loss in numbers would be even greater if not for immigration. You can read more about the survey here.

Such surveys provide useful information for us as we think about St. James’ ministry in Greenville. While we live in an area that is more Protestant and more Evangelical than the rest of the country, Greenville is changing rapidly. The growing number of religiously unaffiliated people and the frequent movement between denominations and religions pose challenges to the Church. How can we reach out to those who are unaffiliated, especially those who have become disaffected from their religious upbringing? How can we make our worship, parish life, and ministries attractive to newcomers and visitors?

I haven’t read the report closely–my eyes often begin to glaze when dealing with too many statistics–but I am familiar with other surveys that focus on baby-boomers and post baby-boomers. Remarkably, these surveys have shown clearly that when following people over periods of time (longitudinal studies), many people move in and out of involvement in religious communities. We know that young families seek out the church, but these studies have shown that many young families disengage, and people later in life re-engage with the church. That’s partly why the Pew Survey found such a low affiliation among young adults.

We are living in a religious marketplace, and how the church responds to that reality will be key to its survival, both on the local and the global level.

An Exciting and Exhausting weekend

Months ago, when I invited Dr. Shelly Matthews to preach on January 27 I had no idea what else would be going on. Oh, I knew that there were two organ recitals scheduled, but it was only later that we decided to focus on Children’s Church at the 9:00 service. The senior EYC lock-in that was scheduled for the 19th and 20th was postponed until this weekend. I ended up spending about as much time at the church this weekend as I would from Good Friday to Easter.

But it was a wonderful weekend. The recital was beautiful, both times–in fact I heard it in full only on Sunday. I had to slip out early on Friday night to help with final preparations for the reception. I was especially taken with the Bruhns from the first half of the concert, and the Durufle at the end. It was also great to see Hal Gober again, and to meet his wife. Karen and the organ wow’ed all of those in attendance.

At 12:15 AM on Sunday, I celebrated the Eucharist with around 25 of our young people. It was a beautiful night as I drove up the mountain. The moon was shining brightly which gave me an idea for some comments on the gospel I made at the Eucharist. Yesterday’s readings were from Isaiah 9 and Matthew 4, which quotes the Isaiah passage “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

Then at 9:00, we worshiped with Children’s Church and gave our first and second graders prayer books to celebrate their completing the course on the meaning of the Eucharist. It was great fun to watch all of the kids participate in our worship so enthusiastically and I must say that several of them are almost ready to become readers for our regular services. The energy and excitement during the service was wonderful.

I would like to thank everyone who worked so hard to make this weekend the huge success it was. Karen of course; the members of the organ committee–especially Albert Blackwell; Corrie who put on the reception Friday night and Karen Hipp who did so much to help; the women of the ECW who did the reception on Sunday; Laura Lipscomb and Jennifer Jerina, who organize children’s church and organized as well the children’s participation; Shelly Matthews who preached a fine sermon, as always; Katie, who organized and survived the lock-in, and the staff of St. James, who worked so hard behind the scenes to make the weekend a success: Dena, Becky, and Mike. Great job, everyone!