Thursday, November 30, 2017

Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

This is my sermon from the Feast of Christ the King, November 26 2017 at Church of the Advent, Cincinnati. 

  •   Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, which you may or may not know, as it’s perhaps one of the lesser known feast days of the church year. It’s original name is one of the best & probably most grandiose I’ve ever seen: The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It’s one of the more recently added feasts in terms of the long history of Christianity, being added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church & later adopted by the Episcopal Church & Anglican Communion along with a whole host of other churches & traditions.
  •  Christ the king started out in an era, in 1920’s Europe, just after the world was torn apart violently by conflicts among kings and political leaders in WWI, and amidst the rise of fascism in Italy, and what would later become Nazism in Germany, as a whole host of authoritarian regimes began increasingly cropping up around the world. Pope Pius, at that time, wanted to remind the people that it was Christ, not any dictator or political leader, not any general or military authority, not any powerful businessman or financial interest – but Christ alone, who is truly Lord of all.
  •     We always celebrate Christ the King on the last Sunday before the season of Advent begins, and since Advent is the beginning of the new church year, Christ the King is the last Sunday of the current church year, which is always at the end of November. Although Pope Pius could not have imagined it 92 years ago when the Christ the King celebration began, just so happens that for us here in the modern day USA, that places it squarely after Thanksgiving and significantly right between the feasts which our material culture has chosen to worship – Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
  •      See, I don’t mention that by accident. Even though even the human leaders who planned this feast couldn’t have known it – I really believe God knew what God was doing here. Think about it – While every store, company and corporation are in fever pitch trying to make you buy, buy, buy more and more, never having enough so that you will spend every dime that you have in order to gain some false sense of satisfaction, or worthiness, or power, Christ the King reminds us that none of that matters at all! Christ the King tells us that nothing we can do can buy us the power or glory we crave, because it all belongs to Christ anyway. Christ the King tells us that no matter how much physical wealth or money or political influence the enormous corporations and mega-donors may have, it all really belongs to Christ anyway – and for that matter –Christ alone is the one with all the power!
  •      If you’re like me, the Gospel for today was a very familiar one. The imagery is so complex and beautiful that we could spend the rest of our lives unpacking it, and yet it’s so simple that small children usually understand it better than us adults. I could preach endlessly on this text, and if you stay active in church long enough you will certainly hear lots of sermons on it, but there’s one thing here I want you to notice on this feast of Christ the King.
  •       Our Christ – Our Jesus who is King of Kings and Lord of All, seated on the throne at the Right hand of the Father, doesn’t even play the same game as the earthly kings! Jesus doesn’t sit in some rich palace, or wear a heavy crown of gold and jewels. He doesn’t employ fleets of maids and servers to wait on him hand and foot, or crush the poor with his physical might. Our Christ is the one who IS the poor, who IS the Least of These, who IS the hungry and the imprisoned, and the sick, and the thirsty, and the naked!
  •      Christ the King is not some unreachably holy being up in the stars of heaven, but the hungry and the needy whom we serve each day at Open Door Ministries, or visit in the hospital, or bring coats to as the winter approaches.
  • One of my favorite Advent traditions is to see Handel’s Messiah performed sometime in December almost every year. It’s an absolutely stunning piece of Baroque music written by the great composer Handel in 1741, usually lasting about 2 to 3 hours and if you’ve never heard it performed live, you must. The piece quotes exclusively from Scripture, telling of Christ’s victory over death, his glory and his ultimate power over all creation. Part of what mystifies me every time is the beauty of the kingship language Handel borrows from Scripture in describing our Lord Christ. These are just 2 of the verses that stir my spirit every time I hear them:
  • Psalm 2:1-2 Why do the nations so furiously rage together: why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsels together against the Lord and His anointed.
  • Revelation 19:6, 11:15, 19:16 Hallelujah! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever. King of kings, Lord of lords.
  • These next four weeks, we prepare to encounter the Lord Christ again in some powerful & life-changing ways we don’t always think about. We will meet him in the awe-inspiring and terrifying apocalyptic vision of the end of times projected in Revelation & in Mark’s Gospel. And we will meet Christ in the fiery warnings of John the Baptist, and in the pregnant joyful anxiety of Mary and Joseph. And of course we will again meet again in a manger in Bethlehem not just a beautiful newborn baby, but the King of the Universe, Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • As we embark these coming weeks on that sacred journey, Join me in remembering Christ not only as our brother and friend, redeemer and teacher, but as the King of all Creation. Remember him, not as the ally of the rich or the powerful, but as the poor, the sick and the destitute before your eyes. But above all, remember The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
  • AMEN

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Community's Talents

I preached this sermon on November 19, 2017 at St. Phillips Episcopal Church, Columbus, Ohio. The Rector and Vestry of St. Phillips asked me to speak with them about how to navigate the urban challenges of gentrification, changing neighborhoods, etc. 

Based on Matt. 25:14-30

The Parable of the talents is a very familiar one – perhaps one of the best known or most often repeated parables in scripture. It’s told again in Luke 9, where it’s not just a rich man but a king who entrusts his servants with his wealth to invest according to their judgment. If you’re like me & you grew up in the church or you’ve been going to church a long time, you’ve heard many a sermon on this passage encouraging their congregations to invest their time, talent and treasure wisely in one way or another. You may also have heard this passage in sermons around stewardship season, encouraging you to contribute generously and invest in the stewardship of the church, so that the good works here at St. Phillips and other churches near and far may continue to grow and strengthen for many generations to come. And while Fr. Wilson and I certainly do encourage you to give generously to this wonderful church, and that is indeed part of the lesson that we can draw from this parable, it’s not the whole story.

Now if, perhaps you are new to this parable or new to the church, this is a fascinating story with simple but powerful imagery, if a little bit disturbing in the end.

 Here in Matthew, the placement of this story is significant. It’s preceded as we heard last week by the parable of the ten bridesmaids as we heard last week, which is all about how the well-prepared bridesmaids steward their resources of oil while the ill-prepared bridesmaids are left literally locked out when the bridegroom (Christ himself) arrives. And then the section from Matthew 25 which follows this is even more famous than this one, and it’s of course Jesus’s ubiquitous statement “I was a stranger and you welcomed me… when you did it unto the least of these you did it unto me”.

So here we find that this parable of the talents – this lesson about how we steward and take care of the resources God gives us - is situated among two very important lessons that teach us something about today’s parable too. It’s not just about taking care of material resources, but it’s intimately connected both with being prepared to meet God at the unexpected moments of God’s arrival among us and it’s about taking care of the poorest, neediest, most struggling and the ‘least of these’ in God’s kingdom.

Now, whenever I read this parable, the line that always gets me, that sticks in my craw so to speak, is this line near the end of the reading:
For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

Isn’t that the opposite of what God would want? Isn’t this the same God who pledges to uplift those who have nothing and who abhors greed and hoarding of material possessions? Isn’t this after all the same God who just a few lines later will insist on giving to the least of these? Then how would this God, in what seems to be an act of downright cruelty, take the small pittance from the one who had the least to begin with and give it to the one who had the most already and now has even more? Imagine for a moment, the young teenage mothers from places like Ghana and Guatemala whom I have had the privilege to serve in my ministry, or refugees from Iraq or Afghanistan, some of whom I’ve gotten to know personally who survived some of the worst atrocities humans can levy on one another. Think of the neediest in your own communities the most downtrodden persons you have ever met and think of what it must sound like to hear such a phrase:

For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

How in the world could that be? How could the God we love ever say such a thing?

That was the question I always struggled with, for years and years until I realized that it what we’re talking about here isn’t that God is taking from the poor and giving to the rich, but that this is about what we do with OUR TALENTS – our skills and abilities, our knowledge and capacities with which God has blessed us.

I’m incredibly grateful to the New Living Translation which actually draws this out much better than our own translation here. There it says:
To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.

So it isn’t about the rich vs the poor, the have’s vs the have-not’s, but it’s about that we DO with whatever it is that we have. It’s about whether we will use well the gifts which we have been given and whether we will invest those talents – those skills and abilities and the knowledge we have – into the work of growing the Kingdom of God. And yet when we do not use our talents well, they wither on the vine, and they atrophy and die. Think of those skills which you never practice or those muscles you never engage. Think of those things which perhaps you could do well many years ago but you haven’t tried in a long time. It’s like fruit that goes uneaten and grows mold in a few days. Or as one who’s been to the gym only once in the last few months, it’s like the abs and biceps I used to have but are now long gone!

As was in the introduction, I am proud to serve a church called Church of the Advent in Cincinnati, in a neighborhood called Walnut Hills just a few minutes from the heart of Downtown Cincinnati. Most Sundays we’re home to about 50 hardy and Christ-loving souls, which for me is by far the smallest parish I’ve had the good pleasure to serve. But while Advent may be small, we are small but mighty! While I know lots of other Cincinnati churches of many stripes and types are busy on Sundays but sit empty much of the week, Advent is not one of them! Almost every day of the week, our beloved 1860’s edifice is filled with God’s people, some who have very little money or none at all and some who have much more. We’re among the most racially diverse Episcopal churches in our city, and we have an extraordinarily committed base of active laypeople, a majority of whom live within just a few blocks of our church.

Our beloved parish proudly hosts Open Door Ministries – a program going strong for 40 years which provides a food pantry 5 days a week and hot meals 3 days a week. We host one of the city’s few church-based payee programs, helping those suffering from addictions, disabilities or mental illnesses to ensure that their bills are paid consistently to prevent them from falling into homelessness. We host a monthly clothing drive in conjunction with a local Presbyterian Church and another large food pantry each month together with another area congregation.

Needless to say I am extremely proud of all these ministries inside our building, but I’m at least equally proud of what we do outside of our church in the neighborhood of Walnut Hills. Just in the last few months, Advent has joined with other Episcopal ministries to support local Latino & immigrant ministries, provide hurricane relief in Texas, to protest in favor of the rights of migrants and to meet at our US Senator’s office to advocate for fair housing policy. And Church of the Advent is a founding member of the Walnut Hills Faith Alliance, a quickly growing group of now almost 10 local congregations of all different denominations, working together every single month to put on events and provide for the needs of children and families in our community. From throwing neighborhood parties for children to celebrate Easter, the 4th of July, Halloween and others, to providing backpacks, hygiene products and coats for neighborhood schoolchildren, to planning a summer reading program next year at no cost to neighborhood parents, we are investing deeply in the children and families of our neighborhood!

Just last weekend as we hosted Diocesan convention, and delegates were invited to attend dinner in the neighborhood, visiting local churches and ministries around Cincinnati. We at Advent were extraordinarily privileged to host two of your own from right here at St. Phillips, along with a hefty contingent from Trinity Columbus as well. But we didn’t just have dinner for us delegates, we hosted a community dinner as we do each month, open to the poor and the needy in our neighborhood, as well as several homeless families and children from Interfaith Hospitality Network who were spending that week sleeping over at our church. If you don’t believe me you can ask the delegates from St. Phillips about their experience at Advent, but I can tell you, they got to experience a little bit of the ways we invest every day, using our talents for the people of our community.

I’m not saying all this just to brag about my church, although I am extremely proud of all that we do. I’m saying this to tell you one thing: That you can do the same and even more in the name of Christ. Although this is my first time here, I have heard for years about this wonderful congregation and your important place in the neighborhood of Near East. I have heard about your commitment to urban ministry and to the people of this community. And so I hope you will join with me, dear friends, fellow Episcopalians and most importantly lovers of Christ, in using our talents well.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

90 Years of Glory to God!

It was such an amazing & extraordinary honor to serve as the keynote speaker for the 90th anniversary celebration of St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Gary, Indiana! I was baptized at St. Aug's, most of my relatives have been baptized there, married there, served there and/or were buried there, and my great-grandmother Anna Washington was one of the church's prominent founders in 1927! Thanks be to God for the wonderful continuing legacy of St. Augustine's in Gary - the first and only predominantly black Episcopal church in The Diocese of Northern Indiana and (I'm told) in the entire state of Indiana!

It is such an honor to be here for this incredible event, to celebrate the anniversary of our beloved church, St. Augustine’s. It is so good to see all of you here, to celebrate, to remember, to give thanks and to prepare ourselves for the road ahead as we mark this 90th year of our little church on 19th street that continues to bear witness to Christ in what our Presiding Bishop reminds us is this Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. This week, which happens also to mark the great feasts of All Saints and All Souls, I am especially reminded of that great cloud of witnesses, the myriads and generations of those who came before us, those whom we remember with fondness and those whose names go unrecorded, those whose acts of generosity, of stewardship and of leadership carried on the faith and brought us to where we stand today.

I’ve said often that I’ve been a member of St. Augustine’s even since before I was born! By that I mean that my family has had the enormous honor to be part of this church for now four generations, going all the way back to its founding 90 years ago. My father grew up here, my grandparents were married here, my great-grandmother is memorialized here and I was baptized here. St. Augustine’s is quite literally in my blood! Love of this place, our church, flows through my veins so deeply that now as the first clergyman in our family, I intend to celebrate my first Eucharist as a priest right there at St. Augustine’s! Our church is a special place, a very special place and we must never forget it.

So as I’ve promised Fr. Hyndman, I’m nor going to preach, I didn’t come for that today! I am however, going to speak on a text, and say a few words on a scripture that is near and dear to my heart, that I think sheds some light on where we are and where we ought to go from here. So I want to attract our attention to the 6th chapter of Deuteronomy, going back to the Old Testament, and the end of the great story of the Exodus, the escape of the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt and their wandering through the desert for 40 long years. Now, the people at this point find themselves at the edge of the desert, preparing to cross the river into the Promised Land, and Moses, now aged and long in years stands at the top of the mountain and gives the people a long discourse on what to do and how to conduct themselves after he’s gone, and a new leader comes to carry the people on to their next journeys in the land of Canaan. And this is what Moses says:

Read Deuteronomy 6:10-15a

All of us, the daughters and sons of St. Augustine’s are the inheritors of a great legacy. We, standing 90 years after the founding of our beloved community, have all been blessed to inherit in St. Aug’s houses that we did not build, vineyards we did not plant and cisterns we did not hew. Even the eldest among us here weren’t yet even born or at most were little children in 1927.  It was those who came before us, those who are no longer here who came up to Gary, largely from the cotton fields of the south on which they and their parents had labored in slavery. It was they, who arrived here seeking jobs, a better life, and maybe even an ounce of relief from the brutal racism of the South. They whose faith in God carried them through that great Exodus and once they had arrived in this place, built a temple to God where future generations would worship Him in centuries yet to come!
The author Ann Lamott, is known among many things for saying that when it comes down to it, all prayers come down to three words “wow” “thanks” and “help”. That at the end of the day, our expressions to God are either (1) expressions of pure amazement, wonderment, straight dumbfounded energy at the radiance of God’s work in the world, (2) Gratitude – thanksgiving for those works of God and for God’s love in our lives, and (3) supplication, asking God’s and God’s people to intervene in our lives and in the lives of one another.

So when I think about St. Aug’s and all that we are and all that we have achieved, the first thing I can say is just Wow! Wow that the sons and daughters of slaves and sharecroppers were so filled with the spirit of Christ that they built this first and only black Episcopal church in this diocese and in this state! Wow that its architecture is a recognized historical treasure and a lighthouse for the love of Jesus! Wow that its founders were the first generation of black college graduates at the height of segregation. Wow that those great matriarchs and patriarchs passed down so much of themselves and their histories and their legacies that generations later we can gather to celebrate all that they accomplished. Wow! And so we stand in awe of all God has done and continues to do in the lives of this church an in our world.

And in those 90 years, so many saints of our church, beloved souls have come through this place. They mothered and fathered our beloved congregation, starting ministries and serving the poor, giving rest to the weary and clothing the naked. This place has borne witness and even led in the great histories of the last century and of this century. It was the parents and grandparents of my generation, many of whom are here in this room, who fought for civil rights, were black pioneers in their fields. It was they who raised up and led alongside good clergy to raise up younger generations in the faith – some of whom are in this room and some of whom have gone on to proclaim and serve God in other places.

Many of us who sit here today are the children of those generations – I think of people like my grandmother Jane Graves Hill and my uncle Tid Washington, People like Ms. McCants and those who donated what they had in life an even in death to keep our beloved church strong through the generations. Some of us here were peers of those women and men, people who dug with them the wells from which my generation is now blessed to drink. People who planted the olive trees from which I and my generation now gain shade, from whose fruit we are nourished. They, and many of you here, year after year gave of yourselves day after day, in the heat of the sun and in the freezing Indiana winters, to maintain and improve this place for 90 long years.

And so for this we tell God not only Wow but Thank you! Thank you God that you’ve provided and inspired people through the generations to strengthen this church that we celebrate today. Thank you that the storms of all these decades have not dampened our devotion or wearied our spirit. Thank you that the love of Jesus is as manifest today as it was in 1927 and before. Thank you that when the first black Presiding Bishop was looking for the best congregation to visit in Northern Indiana he looked no further than here to St. Augustine’s in Gary, Indiana! Thank you that there are those of us here who are willing and able to carry this place for decades more into the future! Thank you!

And so, I want to return for a moment to the Deuteronomy text from the 6th chapter and the 20th verse. Moses continues and he addresses what to do with the next generations of the future of the Israelite people saying:

Read Deuteronomy 6:20-24

Teach your children and grandchildren of all that God has done for them through all these many years! Teach them to love and serve God and one another and the legacies of their ancestors. As Moses says elsewhere in Deuteronomy, take God’s word and strap it to your foreheads and tie it to your arms. Wear it around your necks and nail it to your doorposts. Read it as they wake up and as they go to bed. Rear them in the faith as many of us were reared in the faith. When they ask you “what is the meaning of these things” tell them. And do not just stay in our building, no matter how beautiful it may be, but go out into the world, teaching not just your children, but those children in your neighborhoods, communities, schools and programs. Reach out to those around you - get out of your comfort zones and interact with those whom you would not otherwise interact. Build connections to young and old alike, and let nothing – not one thing – stop you from sharing the love of Jesus Christ in this world. Continue to share and give generously, be stewards of this Church as our predecessors were stewards to us.

Above all, be builders of the Church and builders of the Faith! Join me in digging wells from which others will drink, planting trees under which others will receive shade and harvest their fruit, build the City of God in ministries through which others will live and love and raise their families! It is my hope, my conviction that Our church – beloved St. Augustine’s – will last long and strong after every one of us here has left this life for the next. And it will be left to those behind us to carry on that joy, that responsibility and that promise into a future yet unknown.

And so the final prayer I have for you and for God today is simply “help”. Help join with me, with your priest and your bishop, to carry this church into a future we cannot know. Help me in recommitting ourselves and our church to the stewardship not merely of a building or an institution but of the people of Jesus Christ in Gary, Indiana and beyond! And may God help us every moment of every day, every sunrise and every sunset, to carry on that legacy as Moses taught us more than 3,000 years ago, that Jesus taught us 2,000 years ago, and that our ancestors taught us 90 years ago! May God guide us and St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, not only into another 90 years and another century, but into countess generations in the movement of Jesus Christ.


Monday, September 25, 2017

If we are a Christian Nation..." on Immigrants in America

I preached this sermon at St. James Episcopal Church in Cincinnati on February 5th, 2017 immediately following the newly announced immigrant ban announced by the President of the United States. Two weeks after that sermon, I led a discussion forum at St. James on how to best support immigrants and refugees in our local  communities. 

Preaching (on an earlier occasion) at St. James, Cincinnati
It’s been an extraordinary week for those of us in this country and around the world. We have been besieged relentlessly with the news of our new president’s ban on immigration from a number of predominantly Muslim countries, with the prospect of even more countries being added to the list (although thankfully that executive order has been put on hold for now). We have heard daily of the rampant Islamophobia in hate speech and hate action and yes, hateful public policy besetting our nation and so much of our world. We have seen in the faces of our Latin American immigrant brothers and sisters the horrific fear of families being torn apart by detention and deportation, simply because they had the gall to flee a civil war that would have taken their lives within days.

Perhaps worst of all is that so much of the disgusting actions we have seen against our Muslim, our Latnino/a, our immigrant brothers and sisters, against LGBT folks & more have been perpetrated in the name of “religious freedom”. This idea of wanting to bring this country back to its “Judeo-Christian roots” is so toxic and so baseless that we have no choice but to forcefully reject it. Friends, let me be very clear, if this is the sort of “Christianity”, the sort of “Judeo-Christian faith” that our nation is said to have been built on – I want no part of that kind of Christianity. I want no part of a Christianity that slams the door on peace-loving Syrian refugees, leaving them to brutal death at the hands of terrorism, just because of our own baseless fears.

Into this, the words of the Prophet Isaiah today could not be more perfect. Isaiah is talking to his Israelite people, who by the way, are in exile in Babylon, the area that is modern-day Syria & Iraq. Isaiah notices that the people claim to be practicing their religion and following God, but they have actually fallen into a way that is oppressive and ignores the true justice of God’s word.

Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;…
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.

Folks, these words could have been written to America in 2017. This could have been written directly to a nation, or a national political and religious framework that claims to uphold Jesus, who by the way was himself a Child refugee in Egypt fleeing the wrath of Herod with Mary and Joseph, but then delights in slamming the door on Middle-Eastern refugees! It could have been written to a government that claims to give a preferential option to “religious minorities” that is in actuality a cover for discrimination.

Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

This is a sermon that preaches itself. This is the loving, liberating, lifegiving way of Jesus Christ! On Friday, as a sign of solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, I attended Friday Du’ah at the Clifton Mosque, just a few minutes down the road from here. Du’ah is the main prayer service of the week, something akin to Sunday morning in the Christian world. Praying shoulder to shoulder alongside some 300 or 400 of our Muslim neighbors, people of every race and color, immigrants and native-born, led by Imam Ishmail (who happens to be an Irish American white guy), I remembered the one-ness of our sacred faith. I watched as they wash their hand
s before worship, much like in the Jewish tradition and in our own as the priest’s hands are washed before celebrating the Eucharist. I prayed the prayer positions with them – positions much like ours – orans, kneeling, standing reverently with folded hands.
Guest preacher Hassan Shibly, a civil rights lawyer from Florida, said in his sermon to the gathered assembly that in spite of it all, this country, the United States of America remains one of the freest places for Muslims and people of all faiths to practice our religion, of any country in the world. He reminded all of us not to lose heart, not to lose faith, but to lose our religion, but to hold stronger to it. He told all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim, to hold fast to the “deen” - an Arabic word that roughly means our true religion, our true faith, the way of peace and submission to God. That word “Deen” is the same as the Hebrew word meaning judgments and righteousness that we pray often in the Psalms, promising to hold to God’s “righteous judgments”

Guess what, in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to do precisely the same thing! “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. What Good is our religion if it no longer leads us to the way of Justice and peace? What good is our “American Christianity” if it leads us to create injustice rather than breaking it down? You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

This is the time, perhaps now more than ever, to let our light shine. This is the time, Christians, followers and lovers of Jesus, to let our love shine for all to see. We MUST be a lighthouse to the refugee and the immigrant because we too were refugees and immigrants ourselves. We must be the lighthouse because that is what Christ not urges or suggests, but Requires us to do. I hope you will join me after church as we discuss and prepare to fulfill this sacred duty together. 

What was it like? Episcopal Service Corps in Cincinnati

My year as a Brendan’s Crossing fellow was incredibly formational and important for my personal and ministerial formation as a lay and now clergy leader in the church. From September 2016 to June 2017, I had the honor of serving three unique ministries while living as a member of the Brendan’s Crossing community on a non-residential basis.  Primarily I was based at Christ Church Cathedral, serving as host of the Cathedral Café and as a worship leader of the Tuesday Evening Prayer services and dinners. Both of these roles were directed especially toward engaging the local homeless community while being open and available to all. I also served as a tutor for the Ministerio Latino (Latino Ministry) program in Price Hill on the West Side of Cincinnati. In this role I engaged my Spanish proficiency to help teach a range of elementary and middle school subjects to children of primarily undocumented immigrants. In these diverse roles I was undoubtedly able to both experience and grow in my relationship to God and also to help others to experience God’s love by serving those most in need.

At the altar of Christ Church Cathedral
At the Cathedral, my two roles as café host and worship leader were a wonderful match for my growing ministerial skills and as preparation for my vocation in ordained ministry. Far more than merely serving free coffee to those who were unable to pay, my café became a pastoral space for those with few people to listen and pray for them. Twice during my year there, homeless men remarked to me that they had gone into treatment and become sober because of the pastoral conversations we had at the Cathedral Café. Another woman moved beyond serious suicidal intentions to find a stable job and seek mental health treatment following a series of conversations we had at the Café. Many of these same guests would also worship with us regularly on Tuesdays before dinner at the 5,000 Club. There I preached, led worship and held pastoral conversation & prayer with congregants each week, building up a steady core of worshippers and a congregation of about 50 each week. Working with three other liturgical ministers, we were able to build a choir of ten that went from shyness at publicly singing at all to belting the Nunc Dimittis in Latin and joyfully offering solos by the end of the year. I was blessed to preach or lead worship on most weeks, including sometimes offering prayer in Spanish when we had Spanish-speaking guests and making intersession with them through a wide range of extraordinary struggles.

This wonderful ministry at the Cathedral led naturally to my work with the Latino community in Price Hill. More than merely tutoring in various subjects, this work took on new importance, especially after the increased governmental scrutiny of undocumented immigrants beginning in January 2017. Working with this population allowed me to also help teach classes on what to do if parents were detained by authorities, and to assist in getting passports for American-born children of immigrants so that the children could prove their legal status if needed. So significant was this ministry to me that I became a member of the Diocesan Latino Ministry Commission and a member of the Cincinnati Sanctuary Coalition to continue this critical ministry beyond my year in Brendan’s Crossing.
"The House" is this extraordinary home of Brendan's Crossing

All of these remarkable opportunities to serve local disenfranchised communities were highly formative in my Brendan’s Crossing year, but the intensity if that year may have been overwhelming if I did not have the remarkable support system of the Riddle House family. Simply having these four house residents, along with Aaron Wright with whom to share one another’s joys, burdens, stresses, questions, meals, activities and extraordinary hospitality was the keystone of my year in this program. That bond, forged through days, evenings and nights of many kinds of formation, held together not only our community but also our spiritual and mental health during the course of that year. One night in November, our souls were heavy and our spirits were feeling crushed on the brink of despair. Aaron called together an open Safe Space dinner where we could be free and safe to share, sit, laugh, cry, process and support one another anyway we could. That day was the darkest and most vulnerable of that year for me, but that evening gave me exactly the space I needed to begin to move beyond the state of anxiety I was experiencing through those days.

Without question, the greatest day of my year in Brendan’s Crossing was the day of my ordination to the diaconate on June 3rd. The entire Brendan’s Crossing community had been so supportive of me during the course of the year, including agreeing to host my ordination party that Saturday afternoon in the large Riddle House backyard. Being able to share such an incredible life-changing moment with my dear friends, supporters and family was an incomparable emotion-filled experience that I will never forget. Having all of them present with me on that day helped to make it a nearly perfect start to my vocation in ordained ministry.

I am extraordinarily proud to have been part of the Brendan’s Crossing family. The skills I gained in that program continue to benefit me daily in my ministries in this diocese, and it has helped to change lives of people across our region. Brendan’s Crossing is an excellent program, especially for the growth of young clergy and lay leaders in our diocese. I continue to strongly recommend Episcopal Service Corps and particularly Brendan’s Crossing frequently to others, and likewise I hope that the diocese will continue to strengthen and support this program for future years to come.