Tuesday, January 24, 2006

An Update From Lauren Stanley

Our Rector, Canon Lexa, came across this article about Lauren Stanley. Since she worshiped with us in 2001, we have decided to share her story:

A little change here, a little change there, and pretty soon..
By Lauren R. StanleyKnight Ridder/Tribune News Service
RENK, Sudan - Two thousand years ago, an infant was born in a stable in the town of Bethlehem, in what was then Palestine. That child's birth was not a momentous event for the majority of the world. Oh, it was important to the mother and the father and some of their relatives. Accordingto Luke's Gospel, it was important to some shepherds. According to Matthew's Gospel, there were wise men from theEast who cared as well. But for the most part, no one paid attention or even knew that that child was born. His birth was just a small event in the midst of much larger events that, at least at the time, seemed so much more important. There is a similarity between that quiet moment in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago and what is happening in Sudan today.
When John Garang, the SPLA leader-turned-first vice president of the country, died just three weeks after taking office on July 9, it truly looked like our short-lived peace would be buried with him. But the Sudanese people stayed committed to the vision of peace that John Garang has presented, and today, it seems, peace has a strong foothold in this country. You can't see this new peace in the big picture, for there are still too many problems in the country: lack of food, potable water, education, health care, transportation, infrastructure and jobs. And that's just the beginning of the list. But if you look at the little things, and then look back across the short span of time since the signing of the peace treaty, the changes begin to add up, and together, they look pretty big.
On Jan. 9, the country celebrated the first anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, marking the end of 21-plus years of war. Hundreds of people paraded through the streets of Renk, thousands in the streets of Juba, the southern capital, cheering and waving the flag of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army. One year ago, displaying that flag was a crime; now it waves proudly all over the South. There seem to be fewer police checkpoints as we travel throughout the country. No longer do the police as closely scrutinize my papers. More and more people have mobile phones. Bottled drinking water is available in more places. The major road being built to and into the South - the first in 25 years - is moving along farther and farther (and one day soon,
we pray, will reach Renk). There are more cars on the roads, most of them privately owned. In Khartoum, regular trash pickup is scheduled, andt rash bins appear along the streets. People now are beginning to bag up their trash for collection, instead of tossing it in the street for the goats to eat, or burning it, plastic and all. U.N. peacekeepers are appearing in the Northern Upper Nile region, where we live. And for the first time in 22 years, we celebrated the birth of that child in Bethlehem in peace. For the first time in 22 years, people felt free to travel about the country, to go back to their hometowns and villages, to see family whom they had not seen in decades, to simply celebrate without worrying about war.
Any one event, taken on its own, wouldn't signify much, especially in areas of the world that have not known war in a long time. But when you put these - and some many other little things - together, they add up to a momentous event that, like the birth of Jesus, will have tremendous impact on the lives of millions of people a long time into the future. We are starting small here in Sudan - a change here, a change there - just as God chose to start small with an infant born in a stable in a disputed land. Our prayer is that like the birth of that baby, which changed the world, our lives and the lives of those who follow us will be changed forever as well.
(The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Episcopal priest serving as an appointed missionary in the Episcopal Diocese of Renk, Sudan.)
Let us pray that the peace continues.

Friday, January 13, 2006

You Are Now Entering the Mission Field

Today I was skimming our blog and reading some of the comments to the various postings. On the posting about faith stories, Meta had commented about evangelism and making people feel welcome. It reminded me of a return trip from New England not too long ago.
We approached the New York/New Jersey border area on I-87 and ended up in the wrong lane. As we looked for a place to turn around or stop for directions, the first place we came across was a church parking lot. When we pulled in there was a couple working on the grounds. We stopped and the kindly gave us simple, clear directions to get us back on the road home.
What I remember most, however, was the sign that caught my attention as we pulled out of the parking lot. It read "You are now entering the mission field." I have that message written on a post-it note in my prayer book and try to think of it every Sunday morning. It's not just the worship that we are called to participate in but in sharing His word with the world -- God's mission field.


Sunday, January 08, 2006

Epiphany Celebration

The EpiscoPals, our church Men's Group, held our annual Epiphany Celebration today. I have always loved this celebration and I always look forward to it each year.
It was held in place of the Sermon at our 10:15 am service and involved a large banner with 6 panels that were affixed to the banner on at a time. Each panel is a representation of a part of the Epiphany story.

Here is the text of the presentation:
Mark T: Welcome to the EpiscoPals Epiphany Celebration. This is an annual event in which we continue the celebration of the birth of Christ through the full 12 Days of Christmas.

January 6th is the historic day of the Christian church calendar designated as the Epiphany. Epiphany Sunday is the sixth Sunday of the church year.

It is the Epiphany event that we celebrate today. Many are not clear about the meaning of this feast day. We are told by the historians of our faith that Epiphany commemorates the coming of the Magi to Bethlehem. The Magi, known also as "The Three Kings" or "The Three Wise Men," represents the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. This means that, at last, there was born into the world a king and savior for all people – regardless of race, color or creed. Christ was born to free all from sin. This was the discovery of the Magi. And after seeing the Christ child they departed again for their own country, symbolizing that the truth of Christ was for all countries the world over. To assist us with this symbolism today we have asked the members of the EpiscoPals to participate in retelling the story of the Wise Men as we complete the decoration of our Epiphany Banner.

SYMBOL PLACEMENT: (Affixes symbol to banner in position 1)
#1 Greg C: In the days when Herod was king, in the land of Judea, Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem. Wise Men, who studied the stars, saw something in the skies that caused them to come from the East to Jerusalem. When they arrived they asked, "Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We have seen his star in the east and we have come to worship him."

SYMBOL PLACEMENT: (Affixes symbol to banner in position 2)
#2 Karl B: When King Herod heard about this he was very troubled, and so was everyone in Jerusalem who had heard of the coming of these Wise Men from the East. Herod called together all of his chief priests and teachers of the Law and asked them where the Messiah will be born. "In the town of Bethlehem of Judea," they answered, "It was written thus by the prophet: 'Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, you are no means the least among the rulers of Judea; for from you will come a leader who will guide my people Israel.'" Hearing this, Herod summoned the Wise Men from the East to meet with him secretly. He learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then Herod sent the visitors to Bethlehem with these instructions: "Search carefully for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may come and worship him also.”

SYMBOL PLACEMENT: (Affixes symbol to banner in position 3)
#3 Tom B: After hearing Herod's request, the three Wise Men departed from the King's chambers and continued on their way. Immediately they saw the star, the same one they had seen in the East, and it went before them until it came and stopped over the place where the child lay. How happy they were, what great joy was theirs as they looked up at the star.

SYMBOL PLACEMENT: (Affixes symbol to banner position 4)
#4 Andy W: The three Wise Men, the Magi, went into the stable and saw the child in the arms of his mother, Mary. They knelt down and worshiped him, for he was the holy child of prophecy, now a living soul.

SYMBOL PLACEMENT: (Affixes symbol to banner in position 5)
# 5 Gil P: After worshiping the child, the Wise Men from the East opened their bags and presented him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

SYMBOL PLACEMENT: (Affixes symbol to banner in position 6)
#6 Ken S: When the time came for the Magi to leave, God spoke to them in a dream warning them not to go back to Herod, but to return to their country by another road. This they did bringing the promised light of the Christ Star to all countries.

Closing (Mark T): The Magi brought the promised light of the Christ Star to all countries. To all peoples.

This is the legacy of the Three Kings, a legacy not about the gifts they gave, but of the miracle they witnessed. They paved the way for people beyond Bethlehem and Judea to hear the Good News, the story our Savior. Their story continues today.

Both Canon Shallcross and Sue S. wrote on Maggie’s Cross, our church blog, about the premature end of Christmas, about seeing Christmas trees lying in the trash pile the day after Christmas and unsent Christmas cards. Many people end their celebrations when Christmas day ends. But the Christmas story doesn’t end there. It continues through the 12 days of Christmas, through the Epiphany, and for many of us, throughout the whole year.

I heard a story the other day from Spain. There, Father Christmas is called Papa Noel. But it is not Papa Noel who brings gifts each year. It is Los Reyes Magos, the Magi Kings. Children wait for January 6th and the arrival of the magical Kings who bring gifts for all, just as the original Kings brought gifts for the baby Jesus.
It was a beautiful celebration. Although in the interest of full disclosure, I was a participant, not a spectator. But we did get a great response from the spectators!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Taking out the Trash

There's a nor'easter tonight. Rain. Mixed with snow. I have to take out the trash.
My neighbor already has hers out. A trash can. Recycling. And her bare Christmas tree.
No lights. No ornaments. No angel on the top.
She's not alone.
Earlier today, as I walked the dog, I saw several other households had abandoned trees at the curb.
I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to give up on the Christmas holidays even though it is Jan. 2nd.
I go for the whole twelve days of Christmas. My tree will be up through January 6th.
Some of the big moments have passed.
But I still look forward to a quiet personal devotion.
Before I move the three kings/magi from the far bookcase to the manager on top of the entertainment center, I will read again the three page "Visit to the Christmas Crib" in my copy of St. Augustine's Prayer Book.

Here are some of those prayers updated:

O Divine Redeemer Jesus Christ, here before your cradle, I affirm that you are God even though I see you here as a helpless baby.
Humbly I adore you and thank you that for my salvation you were willing to be born in a stable--
naked, poor, cold and vunerable.

I wish I could show you the tenderness of your blessed Mother Mary.
I wish I could love you as she loved you.
I wish I could praise you with the joy and song of the angels.
I wish I could kneel before you with the faith of Saint Joseph and the simplicity of the shepherds.
Uniting myself with these first worshippers at the manger, I offer you my heart and pray that you will be born in me.
Give me, I pray, the virtues of your blessed Nativity.

Fill me with that same spirit of renunciation, of poverty, and of humility which prompted you to assume the weakness of our nature, and to be born a helpless child dependent on the care of others.
Grant that from this day forward I may in all things seek your greater glory, and enjoy the peace promised to all those of good will.

Sweet Babe of Bethlehem,
I praise you, I bless you, I thank you and
I love you with all my heart.
I desire to worship and serve you.
And to be like you in all your holy and blessed ways.

We pray, O Father, that the holy joy of Christmas may fill our minds with thoughts of peace,
and our hearts with a sense of your great love: hasten the time when war is no more, so that we may live together and love one another as brothers and sisters of your Son, our Savior,
Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Sometimes I linger and read the words of Christmas carols as if they were poems not yet committed to memory.
The last verse of In the bleak mid-winter always catches me:
What can I give him,
poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him--
give my heart.

Ah, a break in the rain. Time to take the trash out.
Anon, Good Friends and