I missed y’all here at St. Michael’s, but it was a good two weeks in our Companion Diocese of Southern Malawi. I met lots of good people who are faithfully doing lots of good things for our Lord Jesus and his coming kingdom with VERY LITTLE resources.
Our second day there we went to St. Andrews where there is a school and feeding program. The feeding program is for the school children, the elderly, and those who are HIV+, irrespective of whether they are Christian, Muslim or animist. (The best estimate is that 15-20% of the population of Malawi is HIV+. It is hard to get good data because of the stigma associated with being such.) The picture here is of lunch at the school. The young children are eating maize (corn) porridge. The elderly and the HIV+ also received a cup of very sweet tea. Maize is the staple of the diet.
On our third day we bounced down a pot-hole filled dirt road for over an hour to visit a church that was way out in the boondocks. The church has 350 worshiping at it on Sundays (St. Michaels has 300), so they are building a new, larger worship space, but construction halted with it 80% completed because of lack of qualified workers. The same with a new house for the priest. It is 80% completed, but work has halted. There is also an 8-bed hospital that is 70% completed but work is halted because the organization funding it ran out of money for the project. The new well the diocese put in brings up water that is too salty to use even to scour pots, let alone drink, so villagers have to walk another mile to a good well. I try to imagine what life would be like if Debbie and I had to carry all the water we use every day in a bucket from a mile away. The women are very skilled at carrying large tubs of water on their heads.
Keep our Malawian brothers and sisters in your prayers. You’ll hear more about this in a sermon soon. It is good to be back with you.
Thoughts from the Associate Rector…
Sometimes I am asked why I knit. One answer is that I was taught to knit when I was about eight years old along with “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” and when you see me knitting you may be thankful that at least I’m staying out of trouble! I also knit because it gives me great pleasure to work on something, watch the work progress, and then finish it. I must of course, like most knitters, confess to quite a few (so far) unfinished projects.
But knitting is more than the satisfaction and beauty of the finished project. The process also soothes my soul and my spirit. It is so when I place a chair before my Jesus icon, light a small candle, read a verse of sacred text, and pick up my knitting as I repeat and reflect on the holy words. As my hands are one with the knitting needles and the yarn flows into stitches, the images of holy words knit themselves into my very being and I know the presence of the Holy One. This is also my way of praying for family, friends, and parishioners – simply saying your name and knowing that as surely as one stitch follows another, so God’s gracious love, mercy, and healing surround you in ways I cannot begin to imagine.
I also knit because it makes me aware that I have a responsibility to do my bit in the economy of God’s creation. I am able to use the cotton and wool, grown and produced by other hands, and work them to provide cover and protection for family and friends. This is also why I bake my weekly loaf of bread. Gathering ingredients made possible by the labor of others and then working them into a fragrant loaf helps me claim my spot in God’s order of things and prods me to give thanks for all the work that goes into the many things I buy, all made by hands of folks I do not know. I am thankful for their work.
Blessing upon you and your work,
May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us;
prosper the work of our hands;
prosper our handiwork.
– Psalm 90:17
The Rev. Paul Johnson as our Preacher
And here is the latest news from the new congregation:
We are pleased to announce the congregational name of the Lake Travis Area Mission. Because at the foot of the cross there is room for everybody; because at the cross we can lay down our burdens and are made free; and because from the cross comes power and strength to stand for God’s purposes, this new gathering of faithful seekers is named Church of the Cross.
Please keep this ministry in your prayers. We are grateful for the privilege of serving with you on the west side of Austin. It is a grace to walk alongside our St. Michael’s friends and witness with you to the restoring, transforming, and healing power of God’s love. Read about the life of Church of the Cross here.
Blessings, and we bid you God’s grace and peace. Faithfully,
Missioner, Church of the Cross
From the Children’s Minister…
Vacation Bible Camp
From what I have been told, vacation bible camp is a memorable childhood experience for many of you. I never had the opportunity to attend as a child but as an adult this one certainly was memorable for me. Being responsible for all the planning and preparation was a challenge but my main trepidation was ‘will the children all come on the first day and if they do, will they come back on the second?’ My fears were unfounded. Everyone came and returned each day singing the catchy worship songs, telling me about their favorite classes (everyone got a mention) and asking if it could go on for another three weeks (volunteers – what do you say?). All in all, a wonderful week and I look forward to the memories of my next one.
– Lesley Margerrison, Children’s Minister
From our Senior Warden…
Update on Discernment of South Altar
Our parish is continuing the discernment process for whether St. Michael’s is called to start a second parish service site in South Austin. Currently, a South Altar Launch Team is seeking to form. This Team would be a fellowship group, would further discern St. Michael’s calling, consider the logistics of a South Altar, and launch such if it comes to be. If you feel you may be called to participate in the Launch Team, please prayerfully consider it. Our timeline for confirming a Launch Team is the end of July. If you would like to join the Team, please contact me as soon as possible to share your interest.
in the South MoPac Area
Following good food and fellowship at a dinner meeting last week, the Olsons, the Pencises, the Vickerys, and Britt Behrens committed to being on the Launch Team for a second altar (location) for St. Michael’s Church. Janne Osborne and Jean Grubb have also committed. This gives us 6 families, but to launch we would really like to have at least 15 such. You do not have to live in the south Austin area.
Is our Lord Jesus calling you into such discipleship?
It would be challenging but also perhaps the most spiritually enriching and transformative thing you’ve ever done. In the words of last Sunday’s Pentecost reading, come and experience “God’s deeds of power.”
If you have questions or would like to sign up, contact the Rev. Janne Osborne.
– The Rev. Robby Vickery
From Alice Hall, your friendly Administrative Assistant …
I’ve always been blessed with good jobs, with very few exceptions, and have worked with some amazing people, including my present “office family.” As much as I love this job and these people, I have made the decision to retire at the end of August. What’s nice about leaving a church job is that I get to still be a part of my church family and still see everyone–including my office family–just not every day! My love and thanks to each of you. See you in church!
A parishioner shared the following experience with Janne and me. She had returned alone to the dark, stripped worship space after the Maundy Thursday service:
Well, it was my first time going through all the Lenten events at church. It’s so hard to put into words what happened when I went back to church to get my phone. I knew the moment I got out of my car that something was way different than I had ever experienced! I touched the holy water to ask the Lord for forgiveness. I realized the holy water was covered with a black veil, and the emotions went through me of the night of Jesus and the last supper events. I felt Peter’s denial. I felt Judas’ betrayal. I felt as if the phone was just like the silver that Judas had received for [betraying] Jesus. After looking back, it is beyond my imagination, all that I was shown. One of the loudest things is not to put anything in front of the Lord and God!!!’ So much of what I know from the program is that I have had a spiritual experience!
I’m grateful that St. Michael’s is where I get fed! It has been one of the greatest gifts from God.
This parishioner had an epiphany, a manifestation, a revelation. When such are specifically about our relationship with God they can be called theophanies. Theophanies can happen to us any time and any place, but they tend to happen more frequently when we prepare and open ourselves to God. Thus, note that the parishioner had gone “through all the Lenten events.”
When the priest at the Ash Wednesday service says:
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
s/he is trying to get us to open ourselves to theophanies. Hey, this stuff has been working for thousands of years.
shall neither slumber nor sleep; (Ps.121:4)
I’m glad that God does not take time off from being God. We need his “keeping watch over [us].” But, we do need times of holy rest (Sabbath). I pray that you slow down your busy life some this summer. Some folks try to slow their lives down in the summer by skipping community worship. This is spiritually self-defeating. Consider taking part in MORE worship this summer. God is found easier when God is intentionally sought, privately and corporately (i.e. in community). As I keep quoting my seminary prof, “If you want to know God, walk with those who walk with God.”
Even if you are out of town on Sundays, God still shows up at faith communities gathered wherever you are. Go! Debbie and I were on vacation with other family on May 18 in Park City, Utah. A web search quickly revealed that St. Luke’s Episcopal Church was about 3 miles from our hotel with a 10:30 service. Yes, they did things a little different than we do them here at St. Michael’s, but the liturgy was still quite familiar and nurturing. Jesus was clearly there in Word and Bread and Wine. I remembered you, the people of St. Michael’s, in my prayers that day, as I hope you remembered me in yours.
After the service at St. Luke’s there was a nice coffee hour with lots of refreshments. Debbie and I got something to drink, shared a wonderful big chocolate chip cookie, and found that the church was “typical” in that no one greeted us, an obviously visiting couple. Debbie struck up a brief conversation with one person, and we retreated to the parking lot, reminded once again of the importance of all congregational members intentionally seeking out brothers and sisters in Christ who seem to be “outside” the community. This is a ministry for all of us, not just the clergy and greeters.
I hope you get some serious Sabbath time this summer.
32. For the Good Use of Leisure
O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP p. 825)
Be still and know that I am God
The use of prayer beads helps bring me into contemplative prayer, thinking about and being mindful of praying, of being in the presence of God by use of mind, body, and spirit. The touching of each successive bead is an aid in keeping my mind from wandering, and the rhythm and repetition of the prayers lead me into stillness and peace.
I pray using what is known as an Anglican Rosary that for me symbolizes the repeating cycles of time … days, weeks, seasons, years. My prayers, which move around the circle of the beads, are grounded in my Christian spiritual pilgrimage through time, following Christ. The Anglican Rosary is made up of beads divided into four groups of seven called weeks. I think of the four groups as representing spring, summer, fall, and winter and of the seven beads as the days of creation, the days of the week, the seasons of the church’s year based on Jesus’ life (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost). Between each week is a single bead called a cruciform bead, reminding me of the central role of the cross in my life and faith. The initial bead, right after the cross, is my invitation to prayer as well as my conclusion.
There are many rosary prayers available – a favorite of mine is Julian of Norwich’s prayer with its assurance that “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”. You can find Celtic prayers, the Jesus Prayer, and many others, all adapted for use with a rosary. I’ve put copies of some of these prayers on the table in the entryway. And here is a link with prayers and other resources. You can, of course, also use your creativity; a friend of mine uses her rosary to count her blessings, naming a blessing for each bead.
Being of an engineering temperament/mind set, the mystic part of me is not primary. However, it is there in all of us, including me, and needs to be nurtured. I was struck by the following when I came across it recently. It is by St. John of the Cross, a famous 16th century Spanish mystic.
If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy, and say,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.”
Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime intimacy, the divine, the Christ taking birth forever, as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.
Yes, there under the dome of your being does Creation come into existence eternally, through your womb, dear pilgrim - the sacred womb in your soul, as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is His beloved servant never far.
If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the street pregnant with Light and sing. . . .
God put big in the whale, busy in the ant and annoying in teenagers.
The only thing interesting in religion is God.
God wants us always expecting something; we’re always in Advent.
Quoting Jimmy Bartz (former Episcopal chaplain at UT): “God is wildly active outside the church.”
Quoting Bp. Tutu of South Africa: “We are missionaries or we are nothing.”
We have two passports: one for this world; one for the next.
Quoting Phyllis Tickle (famous author/lecturer on religious issues): “The church holds a great rummage sale from time to time.”
Our work is to discern, among competing priorities, what is expendable and what is precious.