Sparks provides a place for folks in the St. Paul's community to reflect on things that have sparked insight, faith, and/or changes in their lives.  Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for information about how you can write for sparks.  Let us hear from you!

Money, especially in the context of church, tends to make people uncomfortable. As though by its very holy nature, church should somehow be above it. Lent also tends to make people uncomfortable. It steers us to face the human/godly sacrifice, humiliation, and gory aspects of our faith, not just as reenactment with pretty cups and standing shoulder to shoulder with friends, but head on in a very personal way. How do we manage? How do we make right our loving God and the horror of the Crucifixion? How do we come to terms with money and the fact that we all have less, yet in order to sustain our Mission, the church needs more?


Perhaps there is a small and simple way to do both. 


One common Lenten observance is giving something up, a small forfeit that reminds us of Jesus' sacrifice for us. In my house, it was always beer. And let me tell you, no beer for the Rector, especially during holy week, reminded us ALL of the meaning of Lent.  Catholics traditionally eat no meat on Friday (albeit each Friday, not just during Lent).  Maybe this year we follow that lead and brown bag it on Fridays-Peanut Butter and Jelly for Jesus.

Terry's sermon last Sunday distinguished between reality and fairy tales in terms of the way the gospel message is often realized in our own journeys. A "transfiguring" experience does not always mean a constant upward and blessed trajectory in our lives. The story behind the opening hymn for this Sunday, "Come Thou Font of Every Blessing" (CTF), echoes this very same theme.

I often think of old hymn-writers as penning their odes in ivory towers, perhaps as part of an educated, righteous, and elite class. Yet, we know the writer of "Amazing Grace," John Newton, was actually a slave trader before his transfiguration/conversion. And other biographies suggest that inspired hymns often emerge from less lofty but deeply spiritual circumstances. The 18th-century author of CTF, Robert Robinson, was born into poverty, was sent to barbering school at age fourteen, and there fell in with a "gang of hoodlums and a life of debauchery." As a teenager he attended a Methodist church service intending to heckle the minister and cause general mischief when he was overcome by the minister's sermon and experienced a transfiguration/conversion experience. He went on to become a Baptist preacher and well-known theologian in his day and wrote several hymns, including CTF. Unfortunately in his later years, the words of the third verse, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it," may have been prophetic as his life became characterized by lapses into unrighteous living, instability, and departures from a godly life. At one point, while riding in a carriage with a woman who was humming CTF, she asked him if he knew the tune. Robinson broke down in tears and exclaimed, "Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote those lyrics, and I would give a thousand worlds to enjoy the feelings I had then."

As Terry mentioned last week, the gospel road is not the Disney road; the transfiguration of Christ did not lead to life happily ever after. Our journeys, individual and collective, are conscious choices to follow the path of Christ, even as we struggle and submit to wandering tendencies. The good news is that we can always come back; that we are always welcome. CTF is one of the great hymns of the church, and it is somehow made much greater by knowing a glimpse of Robinson's humanity as we begin our Lenten journey.

(Source: Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories)

"The time has come," the walrus said, "to speak of many things..."

Maybe Lewis Carroll's walrus knew about the ripeness of issues. Ron Heifetz certainly does and writes about them in Leadership without Easy Answers, my bible for interim ministry. "The ripeness of an issue," he says, "is determined primarily by identifying which issues are currently generating a widespread feeling of urgency. ...The central question is: Has the issue fastened in people's minds?" (p. 116)

An issue that has been hanging around St. Paul's for some time seems to have ripened over the last couple of months-it now has a sense of urgency, and it's definitely fastened in people's minds. I probably don't even need to tell you, but the issue is whether we continue the 8, 9, and 11 a.m. worship schedule or move to a different format.

Among the many reasons this question is picking up steam are two primary ones-

  • there are not enough people to sustain both a 9 and 11 a.m. service, in terms of both attendance and the scheduling of liturgical and other participants, and
  • budgetary realities have so challenged the music program that we can have the choir (and section leaders) at only one of the services.

Many individuals and groups at St. Paul's have been talking about this issue and imagining possibilities for change. Church school leaders, for example, have met to discuss how the curriculum and schedule could be adapted to work with a single main service on Sundays. Betsy Munzer wrote about the question in the Calendar a few months ago. Andy and I have spent a good bit of time talking about the issue from a liturgy and music perspective.

Several times over the last months, the Vestry has considered the need for a change but did not discern that it was time to make such a decision. At its February meeting though, cognizant of increasing interest in and mounting reasons for the possibility of moving to a different schedule, the question was revisited. At that meeting the Vestry and I decided together that starting after Easter we will begin an extended experiment with an 8 and 10 a.m. service schedule, with church school at 9. This schedule will go through the spring, and summer will be 8 and 10 as usual (with the last day of church school on June 7 and the picnic June 14 at Larz Anderson Park). The real difference comes in September when worship continues at 8 and 10 and church school resumes at 9. This will be the schedule for the 2009-10 school year.

So now we have a project-fashioning a service that combines the best of both services into one worship experience. Toward that end, we'll have conversations about worship on two Sunday mornings-March 15 at 10 and noon, and March 22 at 10. The format for these will be the same, so you need attend only one unless you want to come to more. We'll spend some time identifying what might concern us about a single main service, what hopes we would have for it, and ideas for making it happen. You'll also learn how similar the two services really are and how combining them won't be all that difficult.

This is a big step for St. Paul's but one whose time has come. Thank you for being part of the conversation and the future of St. Paul's!

Tina DeSelm writes: I received this story via email the other day. I hope you get as much out of it as I did!

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year old grandson. The old man's hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather's shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.

The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. "We must do something about Father," said the son. "I've had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor." So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl. When the family glanced in Grandfather's direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food. The four-year-old watched it all in silence.

One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, "What are you making?" Just as sweetly, the boy responded, "I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up." The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.

The words so struck the parents so that they were speechless. Tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done. That evening the husband took Grandfather's hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

No matter what happens, how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I've learned that you can tell a lot about people by the way they handle four things: a rainy day, the elderly, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

I've learned that, regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life. I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as making a "life."

I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.

I've learned that if you pursue happiness, it will elude you. But, if you focus on your family, your friends, the needs of others, your work and doing the very best you can, happiness will find you.

I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I've learned that, even when I have pains, I don't have to be one.

I've learned that every day, you should reach out and touch someone. People love that human touch-holding hands, a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.

I've learned that I still have a lot to learn.

I started my Couch-to-5k Program today...a bit late on my New Year's Resolution, but better late than never. As I was walking, I passed a woman out with her dog and we exchanged "Good Mornings." After passing her, I began to think about all of the other people that I passed this morning (and many other mornings) without them saying "Good Morning". Then I realized that I didn't say it either and began to ponder the why of it. I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to get the common reply of, "What's so good about it?" However, in considering some possible answers, I came up with this list:

You are breathing.

It's not snowing or raining; in fact, the sun is shining bright.

Your car wasn't towed, or stolen, or crashed into during the night.

Your house didn't burn down.

You have a house.

You had breakfast this morning, or at least the option of having breakfast.

You are not in the hospital.


There are millions of people that cannot say that all of these are true for them. So YES! It is a good morning. In short, count your blessings.

Good things are in store for St. Paul's! That's the logical conclusion we have come to being the chairs of St. Paul's rector search committee. Between Jan. 24 and Feb. 5, the search committee will have met for 14 hours to conduct phone interviews with over a dozen finalists in the rector search (chosen from an original applicant pool of over 40). This conversation stage of the process has been truly exciting.


The pool of finalists we've ended up with is diverse in many ways, which leaves us feeling that the search committee has remained particularly open to connecting with not a particular type of candidate, but the best candidate for St. Paul's. For example, the finalists represent a diversity of age, from people in their 30s to people in their 60s.  Among our candidates are both men and women, married and single, gay and straight. Our applicant pool includes people without children, people with young children, and people with grown children. It includes "cradle Episcopalians" and candidates who started their journey of faith in other Christian denominations; candidates from around the corner and around the world.


There are some things all of the candidates have in common-first and foremost, they are all excited about St. Paul's. They are doing good things in the world and good things in the Episcopal Church. They are accomplished, creative, and thoughtful and have been wonderful to speak with-our committee members may feel exhausted at times, but more than one has said "This is really interesting!" or "I thought this would feel like a burden, but it's actually been fun." There has been something quite wonderful about conversing with all of these good, thoughtful people about things that we believe matter-our faith, our church's role in the community and in the world, and the goal of finding an excellent match between our church and the right candidate to join us on our journey.


The next stage will now be a challenge-discerning which candidates to choose for the next, smaller group of candidates; subsets of the search committee will visit those people and hear them preach in their home churches. Please keep the search committee and the candidates for rector in your prayers as we continue the search process and move closer to the next phase of our life together at St. Paul's.

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