Welcome to St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Bellingham, Washington!
Hello, I'm Jonathan Weldon, Rector of St. Paul's,
Established in 1884, St. Paul's Episcopal Church is a vibrant, Christian community that looks to the past for wisdom, and to the future for hope.
At St. Paul's we are committed to strengthening our faith and supporting each other on our spiritual journeys. We use our gifts and talents to follow Christ's teachings.
We are a welcoming mix of Christians with diverse accomplishments, backgrounds and opinions. We worship. We celebrate. We question. We listen. We study. We pray. We Serve.
Come to St. Paul's. Add your voice, add your heart to our worship. Sing the hymns with us. Pray the prayers. Everyone is welcome at Jesus’ table. Your voice can rise and join with us as we proclaim the good news of God’s love in Christ. If you are looking for a church home, step into the warm embrace of St. Paul's.
Thank you for sharing your worship with us.
Peace and joy be with you.
The Baptismal Covenant
For us, it's all about this covenant. These solemn words are a clear statement of our vows to follow Jesus. They remind us what the Christian life looks like, and they clearly reiterate what we believe. Every member of the congregation recites these vows several times a year, and promises to live up to them while helping one another live up to them as well:
Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
I will, with God’s help.
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.
(Book of Common Prayer, pp. 304-305)
About the Sacraments
In our Book of Common Prayer we describe sacraments as "outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” In our tradition there are seven sacraments: Baptism, Weddings, Funerals, Communion, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Healing.
Grace is God's favor toward us, unearned and undeserved. In other words, God loves us no matter what we do, and once this dawns on us, we respond and our lives can be utterly transformed. The purpose in all of this is to bring us into the fullness of life as was introduced to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ; a fullness that brings forth the renewal and fulfillment of all Creation.
In our sacraments we recognize signs of God's presence with us and at work among us in physical expressions of spiritual realities that are often beyond our seeing. Through sacraments we are taught and guided to catch glimpses of God’s Mystery all around us; the Mystery that holds Creation and loves us into union with God’s good purposes for Creation.
Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist are the two principle Christian sacraments. In Baptism we are united with Christ in the bonds of love of God and neighbor, and in Eucharist we receive strength for our journey into this world.
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Based on Genesis 3:19)
Ash Wednesday marks the first day, or the start of the season of Lent which begins 40 days prior to Easter (Sundays are not included in the count). Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline.
The priest marks a sign of the cross on your forehead using ashes from the palm fronds that we used on palm Sunday, that have been blessed. It is a reminder of our mortality and a sign that we are entering the period before Easter.
So it's a cold Wednesday in February and you see somebody walking around with a black smudge on their forehead. Now you know: it's a very special smudge, in fact, it's a cross. And they know it's there—and they know why it's there. It's a symbol of an important part of their lives.
Light a Candle
A flame has always been a symbol of God's light in the world.
When we light the candle, we say a prayer and hope that it serves as a reminder to all who look upon it to pray for those that are in need.
We leave the candle behind to light the world—to make everything just a little brighter than it already is.
It is burning as a testament to our prayer for another person whether alive or deceased.
Rite Of Reconciliation
The Rite of Reconciliation is always available from our priests by appointment. This is an opportunity to talk about things that are on your heart in a confidential, sacramental setting and then to receive spiritual counsel and absolution.
Reconciliation will also be offered on a drop-in basis following evening Eucharist (5.30pm) on Wednesdays during Lent.
Having doubts about all this stuff? We know the feeling . . .
On the Sunday after Easter, we always read the same passage of scripture from the twentieth chapter of John. It's the story of Thomas, the only disciple who has not seen Jesus since the horror of the crucifixion.
The other disciples tell him a fantastic story: Jesus has come back from death and appeared to many people. Jesus is alive!
Thomas is skeptical. It's too much to believe. In fact, Thomas has the audacity to ask for proof. He wants to see the risen Jesus with his own eyes. He needs to understand what this means, using his own reason. Then (perhaps...) he'll believe this crazy story.
Now, at this point, in some churches, you might be scolded. You are warned not to be like Thomas. "Don't be a DOUBTING THOMAS. Let the Holy Spirit guide you..."
In other words, "if the bible says something confusing or strange, just relax, we'll tell you what it means". And they're very insistent. And very sure of this. So you swallow hard and you push the questions down.
It's not like that here.
Doubt and mystery are part of the deal. We all struggle with it. All great religious leaders had doubt. All great theology dances with mystery. The Apostles—who were with Jesus every day (!)—had to fight to believe what Jesus said and did. And they usually got it wrong, just like we usually get it wrong. It's part of the deal.
In the Episcopal church, we are not afraid to admit this. In fact, we turn and look doubt right in the eye: during the most sacred part of our service, we say these words:
"We proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again."
Now there's a mystery for you.
We believe that you have to embrace mystery and doubts. That, in fact, you have to seek them out to be a mature Christian. You may eventually come to understand that there are some things that you are not supposed to understand. Maybe absolute clarity and understanding would only diminish this holy mystery; and diminish your faith journey? Maybe we're supposed to wrestle with this stuff.
Granted, this is not the easy path through life. Jesus' message is complex, counter-intuitive stuff and living the Christian life is not for lightweights. As G.K. Chesterton put it:
"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting—it has been found difficult and left untried."
But it's worth it. Don't let your doubts keep you from the joy of Christ's message. Dive in and experience the richness of Christian life.
You will not regret this.
You may decide this spiritual path is not for you . . . but please don't make these classic mistakes:
- Don't stay away because you just can't believe some parts of the Christian message; that it's mumbo-jumbo, or you would feel like a hypocrite because you can't accept it all in one big gulp. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? If you never try, you can be 100% sure to never learn and understand. This stuff takes time. Be brave. Join us on our mutual journeys.
- Don't avoid the church out of spite, false pride, a sense of intellectual superiority, or other facile reasoning. It's much deeper than you think. Most criticism of the church is based on outmoded and simplistic caricatures. Most critics set up a sophomoric straw man version of Christianity and that's what they attack. (And declaring yourself a militant athiest does seem to sell a lot of books, doesn't it?) Don't waste your energy finding fault and taking pride in what you don't believe. Explore how engaging and rewarding it is to believe that you are part of something—something sacred, something awesome.
(And look—not to be snarky—but staying away from the church punishes you, not us. We're doing just fine.)
- Don't try to go it alone. Tragic things will happen. Those you love will suffer. You are going to die someday. The church can help. We've been helping people deal with life and death for thousands of years. We know what we're doing.
- Don't let your life be trivial. Some of life's milestones should be solemn and sacred occasions. Some should be joyous and beautiful—backed up with a thundering pipe organ. We have the rituals, the words, the symbols (and the organ). It is a mistake to let your doubts hold you back from this richness and love. Weave yourself a web of meaning. Create a safety net strong enough to support you when you need it. Give some heft to your life.
- Don't reject or ignore the timeless values and noble truths—we teach concepts that you can steer by, and pass on to your children. It's a fast-changing, frenetic world. We need to anchor ourselves, hear the timeless stories, and to understand the basic symbolism of our Christian culture. Touch the infinite once in a while.
- DO: Add strength to your family by sharing convictions born of a timeless and universal love. Celebrate the holidays by doing something more profound than eating and drinking too much.
- DO: Ask God for what you need! Reach out. Learn to pray. Call on clergy. Have a place of refuge.
- DO: Become part of something worthwhile. Serve with us in causes and communities that are larger than just you. Feel the joy of Christian fellowship. Work hard for high and noble causes. Discover what the word "awesome" actually means.
Scenes from St. Paul's
St. Paul's is a vibrant, growing parish and the second largest parish in the Diocese of Olympia (after St. Mark's Cathedral).
This from the treasurer:
Five Year Attendance at St. Paul's
Our total number pledges increased from 213 to 234 in 2016 with a total increase of $76,871. Our budget only had approved pledges of $555,000. We had an additional $38,000 come in during 2016. I believe these were mostly from new parishioners. I’m not aware of ever seeing this many new pledges coming in after the year already starts, prior to the next stewardship campaign.
I wish I knew our average Sunday attendance year to date. You can see we were up 20% in 2015.
Attendance at Easter Services has increased from 500 to 760 in the last 5 years.
Average Sunday attendance has increased from 273 to 324.
Pledged dollars has increased by 25% in the last five years.
I know we got some numbers back from the Diocese for 2015. The only parish that had higher weekly attendance than St. Paul’s in the entire Diocese was St. Mark’s Cathedral. I think that’s pretty positive!