Calvary is a special place with great preaching, wonderful music, an active laity, and a friendly and mission-focused congregation …
“As a place of tolerance and acceptance of others; the friendliness, love and support of our congregation ensures we will continue to remain an open and affirming place for everyone.”Vision 2020 excerpt
I know that I am not alone in my feeling that we are living in exceptionally stressful and worrying times. Endless wars drag on while new ones threaten. Terrorism – the reality and the growing threat – is going from bad to worse the world over. Economic vulnerabilities raise anxieties for the shrinking middle class and pose enormous questions about the plight of the poor. The Ebola virus threatens millions. Political gridlock has produced severely dysfunctional government in our nation. Our public education system is failing in far too many communities. Healthcare costs are overwhelming, and the related debates over medical insurance are bitterly divisive. Ferguson, Mo., has exposed continuing realities of racism, both personal and structural, that are alarming and literally deadly. And each new day seems to bring us “breaking news” that is bad news.
Of course, such global and national issues affect us all personally, albeit in different ways and to different degrees. While some of us try to put as much as possible out of our minds and simply continue on with daily life, others become activists seeking to make a difference, and still others are charged with the responsibility of leading and making the tough decisions. It seems to me that the key is learning how to face the realities before us and then to keep a proper perspective.
I also believe that every one of us has something to contribute in how we as a people together understand issues and solve problems. For you as a Christian, this begins with your faith in the loving presence and redeeming grace of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. The way you actually live that faith is rooted in the life and ministry of the Church. None of this makes us somehow immune to the distress we naturally feel in troubled times, nor are the complexities of the issues at hand sorted out any easier. But it is this personal faith lived communally that strengthens you through it all and allows you to form the kind of perspective on life in this world that will sustain you. The Christian worldview is not naive, but is essentially optimistic because we are a people of profound hope. What that hope looks like in daily life is the conviction that every person can in fact be part of the solution rather than be stuck in the anxiety or problem.
A towering example for us is Thomas Merton (1915-1968), widely recognized as one of the very greatest spiritual figures of the 20th century. He was a Trappist monk and hermit of the Abbey at Gethsemani, Ky., and was a very prolific writer. But he broke the stereotypes of monastic life in many ways. For all of the Trappists’ cloistered and contemplative tradition, Merton was also a very public, vocal and optimistic visionary. During the 1950s and 1960s, he was a civil rights activist and a leading personality in the “Peace Movement” focusing on the threat of nuclear war. The last years of his life were marked by his groundbreaking work developing interfaith ties, especially with Buddhist monasticism. His many books cover the range of his experiences. His best known work is certainly his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, which has been acclaimed as the greatest spiritual testament since the Confessions of St. Augustine (late fourth century). In my view, Merton’s public popularity, both during his life and after, tended to oversimplify him. He was actually a very complex – many say even contradictory – man, but rather than confusing or diluting his witness, these qualities only served to enrich what he could bring to virtually any given topic or situation.
I first encountered Merton when I was in college, and ever since then he has been one of my favorite writers and exemplars in the spiritual life. I revere the simple and yet mighty straightforwardness of Merton’s faith and personal devotion, even through the evident struggles. I can identify with his complexity and contradictions, since I am deeply aware that such are often true in my own heart and mind. I can only pray that this will allow me to bring more to the proverbial table, to hear and understand more clearly the whole breadth of what is being said.
Below is a very illustrative and telling prayer that Merton wrote. It may surprise you, coming from such a spiritual giant and iconic leader, but I find a certain comfort in Merton’s bare honesty and in the fact that both his faith and his questions could be so close to the ground. I offer this in hopes that it will be useful to you when troubles and distress in your experience of life move you to return to the foundations of your relationship with God.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire
in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.
– The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, Bishop of Virginia
[This column originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of The Virginia Episcopalian].
There is great news to report – Calvary’s Mission Committee is declaring its first dividend payment on the donated shares of stock many of you have purchased. We have sent to our Diocese, to forward to the Diocese of Ibba, funds necessary to repair their existing borehole. This will provide safe drinking water for the primary school and nursery in Manikakara. We are doing this in honor of The Rev. Canon Tito Gabriel who recently passed away. He was Debbie’s prayer partner and his wife is Margie Millers’ prayer partner. Yes, this falls short of our goal, but we thought it was important to do what we can now. We have raised $5,530, so we have a ways to go, but with your continued support we will make it.
During the month the Diocesan Director of Mission and Outreach, Buck Blanchard, traveled to Juba (South Sudan Capitol) attending a Peace and Reconciliation Meeting. Several organizations are working on a demonstration plan/project to encourage peace and hopefully a new treaty. Buck traveled on to Ibba over the weekend and met with Bsp. Wilson and Seth Kpaka, Frank’s prayer partner. They are most appreciative of our partnership which has grown very strong. The road between Juba and Ibba (a little over 400 miles) is in very poor condition but is supposed to undergo major permanent improvements this next dry season. This will encourage drilling contractors to travel to Ibba/Manikakara.
On Veterans Day, Frank was involved in a conference call among Diocese Staff and members, American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (AFRECS) and Bsp. Joseph Zorial (Bsp of Diocese of Renk, far northern portion of S. Sudan). Bsp. Joseph was in the D.C. area meeting with Congressional Committees, US AID and others to secure funding and support for the peace and reconciliation projects. In his review of conditions in South Sudan, conflict can break out most any time in the northern portion. From south and west of Juba conditions are basically normal and safe.
For us, it is very encouraging that there are many groups working toward lasting peace in South Sudan. Pray for peace.
- Frank Baxter, Chairperson
Calvary Mission Committee
[This article originally appeared in the December 2014 edition of our parish newsletter, Calvary Life].
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
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Third Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
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Second Sunday in Lent
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
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