Renewal of Ministry: Reflections from Glassboro

Together in the rectory

Together in the rectory

Recently Sharon and I were with Josh and Christy and Sarah Hosler for a Celebration of New Ministry with Church of the Good Shepherd in Federal Way, Washington. We witnessed a congregation that has embraced their new rector and the family and looks to be off to a good start together.

This past weekend, Sharon and I have been with Todd, Becky, Aviva, and Eli Foster in Glassboro, New Jersey for the Renewal of Ministry Celebration with Todd as Rector of St. Thomas Church.

The weekend is full of reminders for me of the connections the Spirit makes in us and for us in the Body of Christ. There is now a connection between St. Paul’s in Bellingham and St. Thomas Church in Glassboro. We saw Todd’s call to the priesthood begin with us and come to fruition, and we all had some part in that process.

I spoke of that connection in my sermon for the occasion, bringing greetings on behalf of all of you to the congregation and to Bishop Stokes, who presided over the occasion.

l-r: The Senior Warden, Bishop William Stokes and Todd leading the Renewal of Baptismal Vows

l-r: The Senior Warden, Bishop William Stokes and Todd leading the Renewal of Baptismal Vows

Todd and Becky are nine months into the relationship with St. Thomas, and the people there clearly glad to have the Fosters among them. Bishop Stokes noted that in his remarks. A woman who has been a member of St. Thomas for 45 years greeted us after the morning Eucharist, smiling and crossing herself as she spoke of her affirmation of the call.

St. Thomas has been a congregation since 1791. They worship in a small gem of a 19th Century sandstone building with gothic style window frames with warm stained glass depictions of biblical scenes and saints. Surrounding the building is a cemetery in a grove of trees, and on the property sits a parish hall constructed in the 1950’s by parishioners, and a rectory. A few blocks away is another cemetery with graves going back to the 18th Century, on a plot of land on which once stood the log cabin that first housed the congregation.

And, to my joy, St. Thomas is an integrated congregation of black and white people. Growing up in rural and small-town Oregon, you just don’t see that. In the midst of renewed manifestations of overt racism in this country, and because of the enduring legacy of Jim Crow, and because of the still highly segregated reality of American Christianity, I was deeply moved to experience St. Thomas at worship together. in God’s eyes there is a wonderful diversity of races and cultures and that God’s love intended that. We are all one in humanity, one in Christ.

The final hymn at the morning Eucharist was Lift Every Voice and Sing, written by James Weldon Johnson for the occasion of a visit to the segregated Edwin M. Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida by Booker T. Washington on the occasion of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln in 1900. It always brings tears to my eyes, and it did then.

“Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty…”

The final hymn at the afternoon Eucharist celebrating new ministry was Alleluia, Sing to Jesus. We sang: “…his the scepter, his the throne…his the triumph, his the victory alone….”

While we sang I was reminded of Todd’s sermon in the morning dealing with the words of Jesus in Luke predicting the destruction of the Temple and assuring them that even that catastrophe would be but a prelude to the birth of something new.

Next Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King, and following that we again enter Advent. On Christ the King we affirm that all authority in heaven and earth belongs to a humble son of a Jewish maiden from far-off Galilee. It’s an outrageous and bold prophetic affirmation that puts the human politics of division and conquering in the place it belongs, which is in the rubbish bin of history. It’s an affirmation that no matter what, God still reigns, and because of that, we have hope.

James Weldon Johnson’s hymn, which the NAACP adopted as the “Negro National Anthem”, has these words which express the faith and fortitude of a people who have had to overcome the politics of hate and fear and division in our history:

“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way. Thou who has by thy might led us into the light, Keep us forever in the path we pray.”

As I sang them, I silently prayed that we all might be on the path together as one people. I pray that Advent will be a time for us to increase our longing for the day in which we see fulfilled the longing of one of our Eucharistic prayers:

“Put all things in subjection to your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country, where with all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters; through Jesus Christ our Lord, the firstborn of all creation, the head of the Church, and the author of our salvation.”