A Christmas Message
I heard the news this morning that, contrary to the hopeful predictions of many economic forecasters, the
unemployment rate rose in November. This news has followed closely on the revelation that Congress is not going to
extend long-term unemployment benefits into the new year. None of this speaks of a merry Christmas for millions of
Americans. The desperation many people are experiencing is not really centered around questions of whether or not the
Though we may be able to rationalize for ourselves that some individuals deserve the dire straits they find themselves in at present, it’s tough to extend that kind of retribution on to children who begin each day without food or a roof over their heads simply because an adult may have erred. While I would argue that our eagerness to judge others is not a Christ -like virtue, the comparison of human justice and God’s justice will have to wait for another article. Here, I want to stay with the subjects of need and suffering.
How our country’s economic problems are addressed down the road is going to be a long conversation with a great deal of argument over future national policies. Whether you believe that our country needs to cut spending, raise taxes, or do a little of both, the solutions will probably take a long time to figure out. However, as Christians, we still face very important questions that need some resolution as quickly as possible. One of the biggest questions we may confront is, “Why does God allow such desperation and suffering to be a part of our world?” Another question we may confront is, “What is expected of each of us in such a crisis?”
To answer these questions it is important to remember that God loves us very much. Hard times are not a punishment from God. Struggles and sufferings that now confront us are primarily of our own making and are linked closely to the greed, selfishness and callousness that mark the center of many of the actions that led to the collapse of banks, industries and markets. It was not God’s will that we practice some of our most negative vices. God did not call us as a people to want more than we can afford or to hoard away necessities from those in need. It has never been God’s will for children to go to bed hungry or for people to sleep out in the cold. We have done this and we need to stop blaming God for where we find ourselves.
For many of us the lessons leading to a better life never seem to truly stick. We hear those lessons but we don’t seem to believe them. Lesson number one: The more you love God – God’s creation, God’s still, small voice, God’s presence in every part of everything - the better your life will be. Lesson number two: The more you love everyone – not just family and friends but also the “jerk” who lives next door – the better your life will be. These lessons don’t mean that all your struggles will go away or your suffering will disappear (We are, after all, too easily led – along with all our neighbors – to the consequences of our greed, selfishness and callousness.). But to truly love God and each other does mean that we are better equipped to keep our sufferings in perspective and to find the where-with-all to move forward in our lives when hard times occur. This happens because when we turn to God in faith, we find ourselves in community. Our safety net for the hard times strengthens. Our emotional support that we may rely on in those desperate hours is available and ready. We gain courage through our prayerful conversations with God and in the knowledge that there are others who love us as they love themselves. We then, are no longer alone.
If you are one of the many who currently finds yourself wondering how you will make it through these hard times, please do yourself two favors. First, pray for the strength and abilities necessary to continue in faith. Then regardless of employment or unemployment, you will be receptive to all the ways that God presents love to you. This will strengthen you and help you continue on. Secondly, turn to your faith community. Seek out those whose needs may be even greater than your own. Be honest in your own circumstances, and build community with each other so we may help bind up each other’s wounds and encourage each other in our love.
Christmas is a time of hope and remembrance. It is a time of celebrating the birth of our Savior. That birth
brought God’s love in physical presence into the world. God’s love continues with us today. It is now up to us, in prayerful
faith, to be Christ’s physical presence in the lives of those around us – loving, encouraging, giving. It is up to us to see
Christ in each other and act accordingly. To do these acts take no more energy than the negative actions of greed,
selfishness and callousness, but the consequences of love are life giving and eternal.
Have a Blessed Christmas
If you have a pulse and have been anywhere near the church in the last few weeks, you are aware that we are in the midst of our annual Stewardship campaign. It is true that stewardship, like almost every other principle worth thinking about, has multiple meanings and approaches. Stewardship – as you undoubtedly have been told – is a time for inventorying our talents, time and treasure. It is, truly, an opportunity to commit ourselves to God’s work at hand by using the resources that we have. In small parishes it is a crucial way for us to build community and at the same time fill needed ministries. Community and ministries especially apply to the ideas of talents, time and treasure. So, I urge you to prayerfully think about the capabilities and resources you have and put them to work in our parish family. Your skills and abilities – your sharing of time – impacts faith, not only in your own life, but very directly in the lives of others. When you share of yourself with the people who walk through the doors of our church you help preach the Good News in a world that is desperate to hear some.
As the recent political campaign season reminded us, we humans are used to wading through a tremendous amount of sewage without letting much of it sink into our skins. We tend to plow past the pie-in-the-sky promises, hyperbolic threats and old- fashioned nastiness without allowing too much of it to stick. It doesn’t matter which side of the political isle you supported, or if you were seated in the peanut gallery, there was plenty of waste to go around. The one problem however, with being so impervious to whatever is floating by, is that we may easily lose our sense of building and belonging. There is a tendency to hunker down – to refuse to help ourselves build the kind of world most of us would really like to live in. We can spend an awful lot of energy being dissatisfied with the mess instead of building the kind of community that can work together to clean it up.
There’s always plenty of garbage to go around and we’re not going to be able to turn the world into all goodness and light entirely on our own, but we can make a better start of it than we often allow ourselves to imagine. That better world starts right here – in our parish. Making a monetary commitment to our church family, along with the use of your time and talents, is a way of saying, “I’m in.” As the offering is brought to the altar, the words from Rite I often come to my mind, “All things come from thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” When we pledge to the church – whatever the amount –we express our understanding of these words.
This is a special place filled with good people who are journeying together in Christ. To continue to do so requires that each of us take our commitment to this community seriously. It requires that each of us remember that a place of worship needs lights and water and music and staffing and faithful people in prayer and action for the good of God’s world. Please, if you have not done so already, fill out a pledge trifold. Commit to the stewardship God calls us to in all its forms.
Dear St. Peter’s Family
I look forward to the beginning of the Program Year each fall because it brings a new sense of activity and perspective to parish life. People who have been traveling during the summer come home and families with children settle into the routines of work and school. It also offers a great opportunity to come together as a church family and remember to give thanks for God’s grace to us over the last few months.
In tough economic times, it is sometimes difficult to be motivated toward thankfulness. Often it may seem as if the grace of God has planted itself somewhere else rather than at our own doorstep. But these are exactly the times when God’s grace is most evident and it is important that we be reflective enough to sense that grace at work in our lives.
All of these struggles can darken our vision of God’s love for us unless we give up trying to come through these events alone and realize that we must depend upon the love of God, and the grace and wisdom that comes from trusting in that love. It flows also from the strength of community found in joining with others who are open to celebrating the love of God in the world. Strength and courage are gathered from these true sources. And experiences that could easily lead us to times of despair are transformed into times of opportunity and growth. We have the freedom through God’s love to see the struggles and sufferings of our lives as times to strengthen our own priesthoods and serve as messengers of grace to others. Faith doesn’t make trials and sufferings go away. Faith gives us the grace to do what needs to be done and to deepen our spiritual growth. Jesus spoke of this often throughout his teaching. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Gandolph’s response to Frodo echoes this idea. When Frodo laments, “I wish none of this had happened!”, Gandolph looks at him gently. Then he says softly, ”So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” And so it is with us. With God’s love, and the love we share with each other, we move forward.
Dear Family of St. Peter’s
This time of year offers clergy wonderful opportunities to write about the upcoming programs within the Church. The articles are usually upbeat and filled with encouragement. I know this, because like you, over the years I have read plenty of such articles. I also know this because over the years I’ve written my fair share of them. Now, I certainly do want to encourage you to participate in the ministries, activities and programs in the upcoming year. But I want to plant this encouragement in a little different tone this time by asking that we examine together the opportunities before us and the reasons for taking advantage of them.
At the beginning of spring, I offered St. Peter’s an opportunity to hold Adult Forum at 10:30 AM each week and to move Sunday School for children to 10:30 AM as well. But as we have moved into the year, it has become apparent to me that there is very little interest right now in Adult Forum. I believe I have not done a very good job of promoting the benefits of a forum to you. So, rather than begin something without support for it, I’ll work this year on trying to make a more persuasive argument about the rewards of adult spiritual education. This is not an opportunity missed – only one delayed.
In the meantime, Sunday School for Children, pre- school to 12 years old, will be held each Sunday during the 9:30 worship service. I’m so deeply grateful for the ministry of our Sunday School teachers. They deserve our thanks and our support. The best support that you can give them is to offer assistance when asked. The best support you can offer your children for the coming school year is to insist that they actively participate in Sunday School. Our kids face an uphill battle every day – filled with all kinds of harmful temptations, disillusions and untruths. We can’t be with them during a large portion of their weekdays, but we can work together to make sure that they are given the spiritual strength they need to climb over the barriers that might block their spiritual paths. Combining this with your love and guidance, our kids can grow as Children of God. There really is no greater gift that a parent can give to their child than this.
As for other activities and programs, well, there are a number of things already being planned. I’m excited about the upcoming Christmas Cantata the choir is preparing. I know it will be wonderful. Father Ivan is beginning a Youth Group. If you have teens – send them (and have them invite their friends to something at your teen’s church for a change!). Bible Study on Thursdays will begin again soon and there will also be short, evening Adult discussion groups planned throughout the year. The Men’s Bible Study is forming and the Vestry is planning monthly family activities. Other ministries that function all year long will continue to strengthen our faith by their presence in our worship and in our lives. You’ll be able to tell for yourself as you move into these activities and ministries whether or not each is worthwhile. You’ll know from participation whether each program fed your heart and soul and left you still a little hungry for more. It’s my hope that along the way, you’ll talk to me about the things in the program year that help you on your spiritual journey and that we’ll also be able to converse about how some things help only some members of the community directly while the rest of us grow by knowing we are working in support roles. All these ministries and your participation in them are how we build and strengthen our faith community.
If you have ideas for activities, please share them with the Vestry or clergy. If you begin to hear that still, small voice calling to be a part of a ministry, project or program, don’t lie down until the mood passes. Instead stand up; become involved. If you can list a few hardships and problems that you face in your life right now, then you have just given yourself the reasons why you need to become more deeply connected to this Church community. Let God and those who worship with you, offer you the love and strength you need to move on through the tough stuff. Bring yourself, bring your kids, bring your neighbor’s kids. Come. Come. Come.
Dear Friends in Christ
We are quickly approaching, what many consider to be the end of summer. The weather is still plenty warm – and will be for some time to come, but the back to school ads and clearance sales tell us that in some ways, the season is ending.
It is a time to take stock and figure out what our next steps at St. Peter’s are to be in our church journey. So let’s see where we are. There are four development categories for congregations within the church. These categories are based on specific qualities of growth and potential growth, as well as the congregation’s actual financial support of the parish and its potential support of the parish. While on the surface, these qualities seem like they deal with nothing but numbers, they also tell a great deal about a worship community’s sense of unity, its vision for the future, and the region of the state it serves.
• Parishes are worship communities that do not rely upon the diocese to care for any of their financial needs. They pay their clergy themselves and they pay their assessments to the diocese. They have a committed group of communicants who attend church regularly. They can usually count on 50 or more people in their pews each week.
• Developing Parishes are worship communities that develop a 5 - year plan leading to becoming Parishes. They are paying for most of their expenses, including their diocesan assessment, but still rely on some funding from the diocese to maintain their salaries and programs. Each year they reduce their dependency on the diocese as they move toward becoming a full parish.
• Missions are church communities that rely heavily on the diocese for financial support. Missions usually need the diocese to pay for a priest as well as give extra money through grants in order to help support programs. Mission churches tend to have relatively small congregations – around 30 -50 in attendance. Missions still are required to pay assessments to the diocese, but they receive back more than they give. Missions are established by the Church with the expectation that the faith community will do everything it can to increase attendance and its financial commitment to the diocese as it moves towards more independence.
• Permanent Missions are faith communities where the expectation is that the number of members and the financial support will remain so small that there really is no way for the community to exist without the willingness of the diocese to maintain the community by providing a priest and substantial financial support. This category makes it possible for our Native American worship communities to exist.
St. Peter’s is a Mission Church. The diocese pays the clergy salary and provides grants to assist us with the operations of the church. Each year, we submit a request for money in order to help cover our budget. Without the support of the diocese, we would not be able to continue as a community.
Other differences exist between parishes and developing parishes on the one hand, and missions on the other. Parishes and developing parishes have lead priests called Rectors. Missions have priests called Priests in Charge or Vicars. Rectors are selected through a search process by the parish. Missions do not carry out a search process but may have a Vicar assigned to them if the bishop determines that one should be placed there. Parishes have Vestries while Missions have Bishop’s Committees. As you can see, missions depend upon the generosity of the Bishop and Diocesan budget in order to function.
Obviously, parishes have more voice than missions in determining who their clergy will be, and what activities and programs they will have. We are fortunate to be in a diocese that has determined that small faith communities can serve important purposes through their presence in regions of the state. But this is only possible because the diocese has had the funds to provide such presence. The last few years have seen many small congregations across the country close their doors because of a lack of funding. Like the rest of the country, our diocese has had to tighten its belt considerably in order to maintain the presence of the Church throughout the state.
Each of us needs to determine how we can contribute to the health and growth of our Mission community. Many of you give generously of your time, money and talents. You are the backbone of this faith family. I want to thank you for your follow through. However with two parishes to maintain, I have had very little opportunity to get to know some of you. So it becomes imperative when sharing a priest that each member of the faith community step up and do their part to carry on.
St. Peter’s has the potential to build its membership and its financial independence. It will do this as each person makes a commitment to all the other members of this faith family. It is your love for each other that determines the future steps of St. Peter’s. I’m here to guide and council, but this community belongs to you. What do you want to do with it?
Have a wonderful end of summer. Please continue to keep St. Peter’s in your prayers and in your life.
Dear Friends in Christ
We’re at that time of year again. School is out. Plans for summer vacations are rolling. The short-sleeved shirts come to the front of the closet and the sweaters go to the back. Days grow longer and warmer and the smell of new mown grass stays nearby most of the time.
Summer seems to be an energizing time for so many people. We catch up on chores around the house. We spend more time with immediate and extended family (reunions anyone?), and generally get more sunshine and fresh air. Thank God for summer. No, truly, thank God for summer.
If there is a time of year that fully demonstrates the renewing, abundant love of the Creator, it’s summer. There are all the obvious things that demonstrate this to us. Crops are growing in the fields. The fruit we eat is at its very best. The trees whisper to us in their lush green movements. The streams, no longer frozen, flow past, tempting us to stick in a toe, or a foot, or jump in. Children seem to laugh more and run more. More living seems to be packed into every day. Summer, more than the other seasons, seems to be easier on most people.
In many ways, the season of summer touches the same part of my heart as the Eucharist. In both cases, I get to immerse myself in the plenty of God and give thanks for all the wonderful gifts God gives. After all, the word Eucharist means “The Great Thanksgiving.” One of the wonderful characteristics about the Eucharist is the way it helps bind us together in community. All of us are welcome at the Eucharistic table. All of us are invited to lay aside the worries and struggles, the hurts and pains that may take so much of our energy in other moments of our lives. The Eucharist gives us time to allow the prayers, the blessings, the sanctified Bread and Wine to renew us, strengthen us, and to give us the wisdom to know that the love we feel in our lives and show to others is God working in the world. It is like jumping into the summer stream – refreshing and invigorating.
As you head out on your summer adventures, don’t forget the One who is the founder of your summer feast. Take time in your summer pursuits to thank God for God’s continual love and goodness. Remember too, that Eucharist is celebrated in community. Be present. Be renewed.
Dear Friends -
I have been attending a book study group every other Wednesday for the last several months. The group decided when it was formed, that it didn't want to take on the usual fare of romance or dramatic stories that often become the center of such group discussions. Instead, everyone determined to mentally stretch themselves. After some discussion, the group decided to read Dietrich Bonheoffer's, Ethics. I admitted to the group that I had already read the book a number of years ago, but I'm glad to be reading it again. It is writing definitely worth revisiting.
Bonheoffer was facing a terrifying existence while writing this book. He had opposed the Nazi regime in previous articles, sermons and actions. The cost of his outspoken resistance was his freedom. Placed in a concentration camp from which he would never be released, he began to write on every little scrap of paper he could find. Several of the chapters in his work are incomplete or in need of some editing, but they at least survived whereas the writer did not.
One of Bonheoffer's main arguments in his book is that our ethics cannot be things of convenience – turned off and on as opportunity and situation arise. Bonheoffer reminds us that God is everywhere, in everything, and with everyone. Consider that for a moment. God is not only in the Church but on the freeway; not only in our living room but also in the bathroom; not only in the park on a beautiful sunlit day but also in the bar in the middle of the night. Like it or not – accept it or not – God is everywhere and with everyone. God only creates good, therefore all that is created is good. It’s just that sometimes it gets covered in crap.
Our task as Christians is to wipe off that crap and see the good that God has surrounded us with. We are not to fall victim to the delusion that most things, events and people are evil, or at the very least, not worth our attention. How is our view of the world reformed when we remember that the whole world belongs to God? The biggest lie that evil ever tells us is the lie that we are fighting to make the world a good place. The reality of God is that we are fighting to help everyone come into the truth that God’s world and all that is in it is good.
The Easter season reminds us of the creative and redeeming force of God and the creative and renewing power of God’s love and goodness. Christ’s atonement empowers us to rejoice in the power of that creation and to celebrate the fact that we are a part of it. Bonheoffer knew this. In the midst of darkness, pain and suffering, he turned his heart’s eye toward the love and creative force of God, inspiring generations to view the world again with new eyes. Wouldn't’t it be wonderful for us to inspire others in the same way?
Dear Parish Family
Here we sit in Eastertide. So, what is this Jesus thing all about? Just what are we talking about, singing hymns about, getting dressed up about? Is Easter season really anything more than just the adaptation of an ancient pagan ritual celebrating the rite of spring? Of course, you know, that in my line of work – I have to say yes. But let me assure you, that as a rational, well-read, thinking individual – with or without the collar wrapped around my neck – the answer would still be yes. Easter is more than just a time to shed the chill of winter, and Jesus is more than just a word heard in church or with an exclamation point after it.
It’s easy to understand why we might ask whether Easter or Jesus have any consequential meaning for us. It often seems as if the majority of people in our world have either shrugged off their religious attire, or wear it so tightly wound around them that it has cut off their spiritual circulation, leaving them cold hearted and lacking the necessary oxygen for spiritual thought. L. William Countryman, in his book Living in the Border of the Holy, writes that the world is characterized by “hostility along the dividing lines of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion and class: by complex economic and political justifications for arrogance, selfishness, and greed . . . by new forms of homicidal absolutism in the world religions; by an intense desire to prove ourselves always in the right and our enemies always in the wrong . . . “ If this is so, (and I think it is) then it’s not difficult to understand how easily the message of Easter – that Jesus has cut our bonds of slavery to sin and shown us a living Christ who offers us eternal life – might be a message that doesn't’t get through.
Perhaps it is just too easy not to recognize that Jesus continues to cut these bonds of slavery and offers eternal life every second of every day. Our lives can be full of worries and mishaps – a thousand voices urging us to be angry and defensive – encouraging us to see others as objects to be avoided or exploited rather than as Christ’s people in community with us. It is too easy to find ourselves feeling powerless and alone. But each time we make a decision, determine whether to help or hinder someone else’s progress, speak truth to power, or consent in silence, we determine whether we are seeing Jesus as the risen Christ or not. Faith is a two way street. The love of Christ is offered – but we have to decide to accept it. That means allowing the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the love that Christ gives, to count enough in our own personal court that we permit ourselves to be made new. Our choice determines whether or not we understand how enslaved we are to a thousand things and actions that keep us from the constant companionship of an ever faithful Lord. Christ’s offer of redemption is ongoing. Jesus’ loyalty to us is unfailing – even when we forget to return the favor. Christ says to us, over and over and over again. I am with you always. I forgive you. I love you. Powerful messages intended to empower us every day.
We look out the window and see the rite of spring happening all around us. New growth, new life. God’s creation. Is it really so hard to imagine, that like the earth after a long winter, Christ provides us a way to begin new too. Over and over and over again.
May the Blessings of the Risen Christ Be Yours
My grandmother was a quilter. No matter the time of year, as long as her hands were able and her eyes could see fairly well, she would make quilts. She and her friends would gather in my grandmother's big living room in the winter months, and on the large front porch in the summer. There they would set up their frame, exchange family stories, drink plenty of iced tea, and fawn over the latest pieces of bright materials they had found for their project.
By the time she died, my grandmother had made at least one large quilt for each of her ten children and her more than forty grandchildren. Even quite a few of the great grandchildren had received such a gift. I still have the one she made for me. It's a series of pinwheels. Each stitch placed carefully by hand. Each piece of material comes from a dress or a shirt – or even a pair of shorts I wore at one time or another. That quilt represents my childhood. That quilt represents my grandmother's patience and careful planning. That quilt represents our love for each other, bonded into the stitches of its creation.
This month marks the completion of the beautiful mosaic that has been lovingly created at St. Peter's. Each piece of the mosaic has been carefully placed, embedded in the grout, cleaned and polished. Each stone, bead, marble – each little piece of jewelry or pottery or plate – shows care and patience taken by members of this parish in order to create something beautiful. It is an act of love – evidence of the hearts that dwell here. It will be beautiful hanging in the Narthex.
Like the pieces of that wonderful mosaic, the people of St. Peter's create, together, their own beautiful picture. Each member shines with particular talents, skills, and interests. Some of those abilities have already been demonstrated to me. I can hardly wait to see what shines through from you next. It is a blessing getting to know you.
Dear People of St. Peter's
This new year brings a new priest to St. Peter's. I know that it was a surprise to many of you to learn of Susan's leaving. Her gentleness and humor are to be treasured. She loves the people of St. Peter's and will miss you. Susan's spiritual journey has brought her to a new calling. She will be a wonderful Hospice Chaplain.
It is often difficult having to accept change. We just get comfortable – get into a routine - and then, we have to start all over again. Usually, when a new Rector comes into a parish, there has been an Interim time before. That's a time when the congregation has a priest who temporarily maintains the functions of the parish while a Search Committee puts together a Parish profile and conducts a search for the right person to fit the need.
Because the Diocese pays for a priest to be at St. Peter's, this parish skips the whole Interim and Search process and simply has a new priest delivered to their door. This can be both convenient and worrisome. Convenient because it saves time and money. Worrisome because the parish more or less has to take who is sent. I suppose it's like buying a car without a test drive. You don't even get to kick the tires. (PLEASE don't kick the tires!)
Over the next few months we will get to know each other. But to do that, someone has to make the first introduction. So, let me say just a few things about myself so I won't be a complete stranger to you.
My name is Claudia Seiter. I am currently the Vicar of St. Michael's in Brigham City. This is now your sister parish. St. Mike's and St. Pete's will share priests and some ministries. Over the next few months together, we'll figure out how to do that. I have been the Vicar of St. Michael's for 2 years. Before that, I was the Associate Rector of Good Shepherd in Ogden for 6 years. I currently serve on the Commission on Ministry and have served in a variety of diocesan positions in the past. My husband's name is David. We have 4 grown children and 9 grandchildren with another on the way. I taught high school for 30 years and loved it. So, nothing scares me!
More importantly, I want to fall in love with you. I know, that sounds really corny and insincere. But, I firmly believe that the only way a community of faith can function effectively is if every member tries to fall in love with everyone else who comes through the door. The only way I know to teach that lesson is to do it.
The next few months will be challenging for us. Trying to figure out schedules; helping me and my Assisting Priest, The Rev. Canon Ivan Cendese, PhD., and my deacon, The Rev Deanna Sue Adams, get to know you; learning to trust and rely on each other. All those things take time.
I hope that you will step with me into this next part of the St. Peter's journey. I look forward to meeting you, getting to know you, and learning to love you.
P.S. To help get this going, please circle Sunday, January 31, on your calendar. Following our Annual Meeting, I'm hosting a special brunch for the parish, in the parish hall. It's my way of letting you know how happy I am to be with you.
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