Thoughts on Stephen Ministry


For the past several years it has been my good fortune to be a Stephen Minister at St. Michael’s.  I have retired from a leadership role, so that there can be new energy and enthusiasm to carry on this special work.  As you will hear on our Stephen Ministry Sunday, the program equips lay people to provide confidential, one-to-one Christian care to anyone experiencing difficulties in their lives.  A Stephen Minister is a child of God who walks beside a hurting person sharing God’s continuing love for them by listening, caring, praying, supporting and encouraging.  It is such a privilege to be able to be a channel or conduit of the love of Christ to another.  We truly understand that it is the work of the Holy Spirit that helps love and care for someone and that we are the messengers.  I want to say thanks to Barbara Rusling who brought this program to St. Michael’s and to the clergy who support us.  I would especially like to thank Robby for his confidence in us over these many years.  The privilege of being part of this program is probably the best job I have ever had and I will always be grateful.  I plan to continue to be a Stephen Minister as long as possible.

– Patricia Newton

Look for Stephen Ministry Training Class coming in January!

Want to receive the care of a Stephen Minister?

Want to become a Stephen Minister?

Contact one of these Stephen Leaders:

Julie De Wette 

Michael Donegan 

Liz Wyckoff 

The Communion of the Saints

Sunday, November 2 is All Saints’ Sunday when we remember all the saints of God.  Saints are not just people who have been officially certified by the Church as “Godly Superstars.”  The biblical understanding of sainthood is that all members of the Church are called to be saints; sainthood comes from God’s grace, not from our good deeds or even faith.

Furthermore, we saints are united in a community that is not separated by death.  This “communion of the saints” is made possible by Jesus’ defeat of death when he was raised from death on Easter morning.  As St. Paul reminds us, faith, hope and love abide eternally, and the greatest of these gifts is love.  I do not stop loving my father, just because he has died, and my father does not stop loving me just because he has died. My love for my father has not died, and the love of my father for me has not died.  

For this reason St. Michaels has developed the tradition on All Saints’Sunday of lifting up in prayer the names of loved ones of people in our congregation. Just write down on the list, found in church entryway, the names you wish to have lifted up in prayer. Or send to Janne. And if you receive a partial list on Nov. 2, just read it aloud when directed to during the Prayers of the People.  

It is also our custom on this day to bring into the worship space the painting of all the names in the burial register of St. Michaels up to the time of the painting (2006).  We also pray aloud the names of those recorded in the register since last All Saints’ Sunday.  The Collect for All Saints’ Sundaybegins, “Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living.”  Pray fervently.  Write down your names this Sunday or next. Join us November 2

– The Rev. Robby Vickery

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Names to be remembered on All Saints’ Sunday

On All Saints Sunday, November 2, we will remember those who have died. 

Please add the names of your loved ones to the list located in the entryways or send to The Rev. Janne Alro Osborne 

The Labyrinth

Thoughts from the Associate Rector …
St. Michael’s has a beautifully simple, painted labyrinth at the center of our courtyard. I often see children playing on its twists and turns; sometimes I see one or more persons, young or old, walking a deliberate journey or pilgrimage. What exactly is a labyrinth walk, and how does one walk one? “The labyrinth represents a journey, a pilgrimage, a conscious taking of time to seek God.” (Labyrinths From The Outside In by Donna Schaper and Carole Ann Camp, Skylight Paths Publishing 2004, p 62)

Some may think it foolish to spend thirty or so minutes walking in circles, back and forth, in a fairly small area. But the journey of the labyrinth is more than taking one step after another: it is a spiritual discipline undertaken to seek the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. And, unlike our busy daily journeys of errands, tasks, and jobs, on the labyrinth you cannot make a mistake as there are no wrong turns. You cannot get lost. By following the path you arrive at the center and by following the same path you arrive                                                   at the exit.

So what do you do while you walk the labyrinth? A very simple practice is to simply stand at the entrance, breathe deeply, and as you take each step, allow the worries and fears and burdens and preoccupations of your life to simply fall off your shoulders. Straighten your back, lower your shoulders, breathe deeply. Arrive at the center and listen for God’s word to you. Stay as long as you wish. Then walk out, deliberately and taking your experience of the Spirit with you into your everyday life.  Walking in prepares you for the center and walking out prepares you for the world. “Walking the labyrinth is not about escaping into the center and leaving the world, it is about experiencing Spirit in the center so that you can live in the world in a more blessed way”. (Ibid. p 63)

– The Rev. Janne Alrø Osborne

Prayer Ministry

One of the most under-utilized ministries at St. Michael’s is our prayer partner ministry. As a congregation we are still too uptight about such prayer.  We need to get better about “letting go and letting God.”  The following sharing is well put by one of our prayer partners:

One of the ministries offered at St. Michael’s is that of healing prayer during communion at the 9 a.m. and 11 Prayer partners are stationed to the left of the altar against the back wall each Sunday and are there to pray with anyone who has a concern.

This ministry is very important to me. Why? One reason is because of this passage in James 5: 14-15: “Is there anyone who is sick? He should send for the church elders, who will pray for him and rub olive oil on him in the name of the Lord. This prayer made in faith will heal the sick person.” (Good News Bible) I believe we are called on to pray for one another.

I have heard people say that such prayer during the service is too public and they are too self-conscious. My answer to that objection is that almost everyone else is concentrating on receiving communion, corralling kids back and forth, or thinking their own thoughts. Prayers are confidential; therefore it is the responsibility of the congregation not to notice who comes for prayers. In James 4:2 we are reminded that, like any good parent, God wants us to ask for what we need: “You have not because you ask not.” You can come to the station and ask!

Personally having others pray for my healing and peace of mind has helped me through many of life’s crises. Please consider taking advantage of this opportunity and let God have another way of working in our lives as a parish community.
–Jackie King

– The Rev. Robby Vickery

Some Thoughts about the Eucharist …

In his daily meditation Richard Rohr wrote Monday:

The “Last Supper” of Jesus was a Passover meal of deep table fellowship–with Jesus and his closest followers–that evolved into the formatted, ritualized meal of bread and wine that many of us enjoy today. The first disciples soon came to understand it as a way of gathering, as the way to define their reality and their relationship to one another and with Jesus. It became, already in the first centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection, a powerful symbol of unity, of giving and sharing, of allowing the breaking of self and giving the self over for the world. It was the secret ritual by which the community defined itself and held itself together in its essential message of solidarity with both suffering and resurrection.

Yes, we are to recognize Jesus himself in the Eucharist, but we are also to recognize the living Body of Christ, too (1Cor. 11:29). There is no true Eucharist without a living assembly… . The Eucharist was meant to be a sacrificial meal in which the Body recognized itself, defined itself, and declared its social identity and its central purpose, which was to continue the life and body of Jesus in space and time, to live in a new world order of true sisterhood and brotherhood (meal), and of redemptive suffering and solidarity (sacrifice). It is not just Jesus’ own sacrifice that we are recalling, but also our agreement to participate in the same! [Bold italics mine] It is not just the human incarnation in Jesus that we are remembering, but that this mystery of incarnation is continued in space, time and the physical universe itself (e.g., ordinary elements of bread and wine).

Sometimes fellow Christians in other denominations have asked me how come the Episcopal Church does not have altar calls. I tell them that we do, every Sunday, in the Eucharist. In the act of partaking of the bread and wine we recommit ourselves, our souls and bodies, to Jesus and to all in whom he dwells, to participate in his mission of bringing God’s kingdom and to participate in the sacrifice (think cross) that requires.                               

– The Rev. Robby Vickery


God is a Parent

I am always struck by the number of people who tell me that I haven’t seen them in church for a long time because they have gone through a really tough time in their life (e.g. death of a loved one, divorce, illness, job loss), but now things are better, and they are back. This seems to be just backwards. It is the really tough times when we most need to be seeking God. I am reminded that I heard a colleague of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa say that the archbishop prays one hour each day, except on the days that he is really busy. On those days he prays two hours.

Remember, one of the primary symbols for God, used by Jesus, is “Abba.” Abba is Aramaic (the everyday language of Jesus and his contemporaries; Hebrew was for formal occasions) not for “father,” but for “daddy” or even “dada,” the name a small child would use for “father.” In other words, Jesus teaches us that God is a parent and wants us to trust in God’s care like a small child trusts in the child’s parent.

As a parent I want my children to share the good times with me, but I particularly want to be there for them in the hard times. Jesus asked (and I’m paraphrasing), “Hey, if you who are quite flawed parents give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Daddy give if you seek him?”

So, seek God, the parent who loves you better than you love yourself. Seek God in your personal prayers and in your personal scripture reading.  But do not neglect to seek God in God’s community, the church. We cannot do it by ourselves.  There are times when we have to receive an epiphany/revelation from God through our interaction with other people of faith. The insight/comfort/challenge might come from a line in a hymn, from the burn of port wine going down one’s throat, from putting sheets on a mattress for the homeless during an Interfaith Hospitality Network week, from putting a hard earned check in the offering plate, from an casual remark at coffee hour, or from inviting someone to join you at church. Our heavenly Parent is just waiting for an opening to break into our lives.

– The Rev. Robby Vickery

Invitation Sunday

Thoughts from our Vestry by Lee Crawford …

One of our most important ministries at St. Michaels is to become a more “inviting church.”The core idea is that we look for opportunities to invite others to share our wonderful St. Michaels family - and then we act on those opportunities when we see them.

In 2013, we participated in “Back to Church Sunday,” when we invited friends and family to come to church with us on a designated Sunday. We will participate again in that program this year, though we are now calling it “Invitation Sunday” throughout the Diocese of Texas. Mark your calendars:  Invitation Sunday isSeptember 21.

Invitation Sunday is an easy and terrific way to do something nice for people you care about. You may have heard Cameron Spoors lovely sermon this past Sunday about the power of invitation to create trust between people, strengthen bonds of friendship, and promote a sense of community. The “Good News”of Camerons message is twofold: (1) that our invitation will be well received whether it is accepted or not; and (2) that we grow spiritually just by reaching out in faith to make the invitation.

Well have more to say about Invitation Sunday in the coming weeks leading up to September 21. For now, please mark the date and think about whom youd like to invite. Special Bonus Offer: If youd like to help out with our special greeter, hospitality, or follow-up ministries on Invitation Sunday, please contact Ann HarwoodKirstie Cowan, or Lee Crawford.

Looking Back at Summer Youth Group

Thoughts from our Youth Minister … Mary Conkling cropped

It had been a long day.  Earlier that morning all the youth on the Houston Mission Trip had gathered early to pack and organize the van, before attending the 11 am service.  We made it to the north side of Houston  just in time for our 5 pm check-in at our housing site. Everyone quickly worked together and before long all the vehicles were unloaded, youth were setting up their bunks and beginning to get ready for the evening. Then there was orientation, dinner, and a guided prayer tour of the city.  It was suddenly after 9 pmand we had not even begun our devotional, let alone done compline. In an attempt to reinvigorate the youth, we planned to do Bible Study in McDonald’s and enjoy ice cream afterward.

Just outside the restaurant we were approached by a father and son looking for assistance, and the youth group bought that pair a meal. Just as our group began debriefing the day and talking about group goals and expectations, another patron at the restaurant approached one of our leaders. He explained that the three of them had seen what we had done for the father and son and would like to buy our food. We thanked them and accepted their generosity, but told them we had to first finish our Bible Study. Their group needed to leave, but on their way out they stopped at our tables and handed Andy Hines some money, a $100 bill.  We spent $12 dollars on ice cream and the youth elected to spend the remaining $88 on toys, games, art supplies, and balls for the day care we would volunteer with each afternoon.

As summer comes to an end and I reflect on all that the youth have done, (Service Camp, two mission trips, several day-long activities), it is easy to focus on the logistics of each event. Were there enough sponsors?  Did I spend my budget wisely?  Did I serve enough youth?  I recently re-read a talk one youth had written about prayer and what it means to him. In talking with him we began discussing what it was like when he stopped searching for what he described as a “big God moment,” but instead realized God had always been there, supporting him all along in every decision he had made. Yes, some may say thatSunday night at McDonald’s was a “lightning bolt” moment, but as I sat with our youth and listened to their reaction and discussion that night about what had just happened, I realized something. While that event might have been the first “God sighting” moment for some of our youth, they were all beginning to understand something we all need to remember– God is always there, supporting us and guiding us down the path that we are called to follow.

– Mary Oleson Conkling 


Some highlights of late …

NAMI Family-to-Family Program begins at St. Michael’s on
September 11
South Altar – beginning to become a reality
Recent Pics – more sightings of Flat Robby and Flat Janne!

Borrowed Thoughts – On Growing …

The following is by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on the insights of Origen (d. 254 A.D.) on prayer:

Growing in prayer is not simply acquiring a set of special spiritual skills that operate in one bit of your life. It is about growing into what St. Paul calls “the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). It is growing into the kind of humanity that Christ shows us. Growing in prayer, in other words, is growing in Christian humanity.

It seems that all Christian reflection, all theology worth the name, began as people realized that because of Jesus Christ they could talk to God in a different way. It was the new experience of Christian prayer that got people thinking, “If Jesus somehow makes it possible for us to talk to God in a new way, then surely there are things we ought to be saying and believing about Jesus.” And so the great exploratory business of theology began to unfold.

That newness of prayer is expressed most vividly by St. Paul in Romans 8 and Galatians 4. “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6). The new way we talk to God is as Father, and that is the work of the Spirit of Jesus. And of course it is the prayer recorded of Jesus himself, the night before his death (Mark14:36). So, for the Christian, to pray-before all else-is to let Jesus’ prayer happen in you. And the prayer that Jesus himself taught his disciples expresses this very clearly: “Our Father.” We begin by expressing the confidence that we stand where Jesus stands and can say what Jesus says.

Some kinds of instruction in prayer used to say at the beginning, “Put yourself in the presence of God.” But I often wonder whether it would be more helpful to say, “Put yourself in the place of Jesus.” It sounds appallingly ambitious, even presumptuous, but that is actually what the New Testament suggests we do. Jesus speaks to God for us, but we speak to God in him. You may say what you want-but he is speaking to the Father, gazing into the depths of the Father’s love. And as you understand Jesus better, as you grow up a little in your faith, then what you want to say gradually shifts a bit more into alignment with what he is always saying to the Father, in his eternal love for the eternal love out of which his own life streams forth.

That, in a nutshell, is prayer-letting Jesus pray in you and beginning that lengthy and often very tough process by which our selfish thoughts and ideals and hopes are gradually aligned with his eternal action, just as, in his own earthly life, his human fears and hopes and desires and emotions are put into the context of his love for the Father, woven into his eternal relation with the Father-even in that moment of supreme pain and mental agony that he endures the night before his death.

– The Rev. Robby Vickery


St. Michael’s Ministry for the “Border Crisis”

Thoughts from the Associate Rector…

The current ‘border crisis’ has touched the hearts and minds of many. No matter what our political beliefs are, as Christians we do not want to see anyone suffer and we want to live into our baptismal covenant promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” (Book of Common Prayer p. 305).

While we must work for both immediate and long-term political solutions, we also know that a cup of cold water is the minimum requirement for biblical hospitality: love of the stranger. Jesus says that whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones [of all ages] will not fail to receive their reward (Matt 10:42). Hospitality is a Christian virtue. “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for some have entertained angels unaware” (Hebrews 13:2).

What are we called to do? What can we do?

  1. Pray without ceasing.
  2. Demand that elected and government officials take action.
  3. Give money and gift cards.  The Rio Grande Valley Food Bank has asked that supplies be halted for the time being but is accepting money and gift cards as resources that can quickly be shifted as needs arise with various local groups. The Diocese of West Texas needs our support as does our own local food banks and other programs.
  4. If you work in the legal, medical, or social services fields, please keep in touch with your local professional chapters to learn how your particular skills are needed.
  5. Keep informed about the rapid developments along the border. Here’s a current New York Times article about some of the challenges and benefits of the new detention centers.

Our September mission trip has been cancelled. The opportunity for service has changed as almost all refugees are being sent to a detention facility in Karnes City TX and as a result Sacred Heart which was assisting about 200 people daily is now seeing less than 20 folks daily. It is not yet clear how we may best respond to the needs in Karnes City and other detention centers.

Let me know if you want to receive Border Ministry e-mails and information as it becomes available.

– The Rev. Janne Alrø Osborne