You are the Light of the World: The State of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Louisville

The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg, Interim Rector

(delivered at the Parish Annual Meeting on February 9, 2014)

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his first disciples, “You are the light of the world!” and says not to hide their light from others (Matthew 5:14-16).  This reminds us of our season of Epiphany, a season of light, amidst all of life’s darkness.  Jesus is, for us, the light of the world.  But as we share ministry with him and with each other, as we become more and more who we are, the Body of Christ, we, too, are called to be a light in the darkness.  We, too, are called to let our little lights shine!  [[Would you do one more thing with me?]]  I have a little musical verse and response about light to share with you.  I took it from our Gospel passage.  It goes like this:  V.  You are the light of the world!  R.  We’ll let our light shine!

Thank you, everyone.  Thank you for your willingness to sing, to be moved and to enlighten us!  I give thanks today to God, for the Wardens and Vestry, the Staff and for all of you, the good people of St. Matthew’s, Louisville, Kentucky.  Nine months ago, you gave me more light.  You helped move me a whole lot closer to my family, which gave my heart more light.  You gave me a chance to practice my skills as a newly-trained interim rector and to share something of my light with you.  And you have shared your light, life and ministry with me.  I will always be grateful.

Through your generosity of a continuing education grant, which St. Matthew’s and other churches tend to give their full-time clergy, I just returned from a working retreat called “A Geography of Grace.”  It’s the latest program from the Center for Courage and Renewal, an NPO (or non-profit organization) inspired by the work of one of my teachers, Parker Palmer.  Through the Center, thousands of teachers, church leaders and other caregivers in the United States, Canada and Australia, have been nurtured and helped, as they put it, to “reconnect who we are with what we do.”

I’ll have more to say about “A Geography of Grace” in the days ahead.  For now, I want to return to some other Parker Palmer wisdom I shared with many of you last Fall in the Sunday Forum.  It comes from his latest book, Healing the Heart of Democracy.   In that book, Parker lays out five “Habits of the Heart,” a phrase  coined by Alexis de Tocqueville when he left home in France to visit these United States nearly 200 years ago.  In Healing the Heart of Democracy Parker offers us five new habits.  Here’s Habit of the Heart #1:  An understanding that “we’re all in this together.

I’m going to ask you now to turn to a neighbor, and I invite y’all to answer this question: Which high school did you attend?  We’ll take two minutes to do this.  Each of you gets a minute.  Go!Recently I had breakfast with one of my sisters.  When we left the restaurant, a homeless man asked us for a few dollars.  “What high school did you go to?”  my sister asked.  “WSHS, class of ’68,” he replied.  It turns out my sister was also WSHS ’68.  We just never know how or when the paths of our jouneys will cross.  We don’t always stop to think how connected our lights really are.  V.  You are the light of the world!  R.  We’ll let our light shine!

Where are we at St. Matthew’s on our journey together?  Where are you?  Sometimes I ask the question this way: What season are you in?  It may be summer outside, but it might feel more like the autumn of your life.  Or the weather inside you may be a whole lot like the weather outside.  Where are you?  What season are we in?  You may be thinking to yourself, Is he kidding?  Has he been out of town?  Is he ‘out of it’ altogether?”  How could anyone in Louisville be anywhere else but in winter?

Whether we measure weather by calendars or by last Sunday’s prognostication from Punxsutawney Phil, we are smack dab in mid-winter.  We are also in the middle of the season of Epiphany.  Next Sunday I celebrate nine months of sharing ministry with you.  Did you know I signed a standard, eighteen-month letter of agreement with St. Matthew’s?  All things being equal, you and I will not share another Christmas together.  Folks, it’s half-time! We’re halfway through these seasons of transition.  Ugh.     

Seasons of transition are times, not just of change, but also of some kind of loss, some grief, some goodbyes, some darkness.  Sometimes all the darkness seems to overpower our light.  Another one of my teachers, Robert Wicks, says, “Given all this darkness in me (and in our world, our country, our community, or our church), what can I learn?” (Riding The Dragon, p. 68).  He reminds us of what another wise one, Albert Camus, once said:  “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer.”  Where in heaven’s name IS that summer, you may be asking.  Or at least, where is the light of spring?  It’s in you!  It’s in me.  But sometimes, we need to call it out of one another.  Sometimes, we need to sing it out.  V.  You are the light of the world!  R.  We’ll let our light shine!

Where else might we look for some light in our life together at St. Matthew’s, in what may be our own “bleak midwinter?”  When I lived in Erie, Pennsylvania, one of the most light-deprived areas of this nation, I learned first-hand about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and about how our mental health is impacted by the lack of light.  Today I want to introduce you to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, this nation’s largest grassroots mental health NPO, with hundreds of state and local organizations.  And I want to introduce Carolyn Holman, a new member of this parish and a trained NAMI facilitator.  NAMI has just begun their first, 12-week “Family to Family” course in Louisville’s East End, on Saturday mornings, here at St. Matthew’s.  By the way, today’s article by Nicholas Kristov in the New York Times “Sunday Review” is called “Inside a Mental Hospital Called Jail.”  He says, “For some, the only place to get help for a mental illness is behind bars.”

In recent years,  in many ways, we have come to understand how we also have a mind-body connection, and I am pleased to tell or to remind you that we have yoga here!  St. Matthew’s own Margaret Bond offers yoga on Monday and Wednesday mornings at 9, Thursday evenings at 6, and seated yoga on Friday mornings at 9:30.  No prior yoga experience is needed.  Are you looking for a way to bring a little more light to your physical health?  See Margaret.

I want to mention one other potential source of light here at St. Matthew’s.  For several years, Nicholas Eastman has had a vision: a parishwide Health Ministry, enlightened by what was originally called the parish nurse movement.  Some clergy say today that, if they were starting a new church, the first person they would hire on their staff would be a parish nurse.  Parish Health ministry is now a focus of major hospitals.

As a nurse, and more recently as a patient recovering from major surgery, Nicholas understands, as so many of you do, that the church can be and is a place of before-the-fact healing, not just a place for after-the fact care.  The light that comes from wholistic health, in mind, body and spirit, often emerges from sources we have not even begun to imagine.  In some ways, NAMI and yoga and anything that helps us in “Going Deeper” with our spiritual lives – they’re cracks through which a bit of light can enter and flow through larger, active congregations like St. Matthew’s.  Nicholas will be going to Parish Nurse training soon.  Please pray for him and look for more information about a Health Ministry survey we hope to launch in the season of Lent.

Yes, there is much light in us and among us here at St. Matthew’s in the midst of a winter no one expected.  But how do we get the word out about our light?  This begs the questions, What IS our light?  Where is our light already being revealed?  There is much light in your process of searching for a new rector.  I believe you’re right on target.  Would you please keep praying for the members of your Search Committee?

While there is light in every area of ministry this congregation shares with the world, I have a few I want to “highlight.”   Undoubtedly, light shines brightly through the liturgical ministries of this church.  For starters, would you please thank Barbara Ellis and all those members of your choir?

I’m announcing today that for the next two Sundays, I want to meet with as many of our lectors and chalice bearers as possible, to talk about getting trained, re-trained and/or licensed.  We’ll have four 30-minute sessions – you’ll choose just one! – at 9 am and 4 pm next Sunday and the Sunday afterward.  Just show up, and let us see your liturgical light shine!

Although we’ve already had a soft opening, today, I am officially, FINALLY, announcing today the open roll-out of our new St. Matthew’s Care Teams!  Care Teams Coordinators Sarah Johansen and Mickey Peck, along with their team leaders – Pat Brown, Sarah Clement, Faith Huff, Susan Judge, Lynn Miller and Lynn Reese – (calling all men to Care Teams!) – and their team members all stand ready to share some caring light with you and those you love, through cards, calls, visits and many other means of grace, love and healing.  I also want to give thanks today, along with you, for all the other long-time, faithful caring ministries of this parish, especially the Homebound Committee, under the leadership of Joe Paul Pruett, and the Eucharistic Visitors under the leadership of Martha Wallingford.  There’ll be much more to say about your new, more collaborative approach to pastoral care here at St. Matthew’s NEXT Sunday in the Adult Forum in Clingman Hall, after the 10 am service.

For now, let me say this about pastoral care at St. Matthew’s.  At the end of John’s gospel, Jesus challenges and supports Peter, his chief disciple and the first bishop of the church, with these words, or some variation of them: Peter, if you truly love me, feed and tend my sheep.  We all know there are as many ways  to love, care for and tend God’s people as there are human beings.  And in a church, when new shepherds and shepherdesses arrive to help care for the sheep, the seasoned veteran shepherdesses and shepherds have to find a way to make room for their new help.  For example, when you began the fabulous St. Matthew’s Dare to Care Food Pantry – stand up and receive our thanks, Brian Good – the other feeding ministries here at St. Matthew’s had to adjust.  So it is, now, also, with your new Care Teams.

There will be other, new ways to care and to account for all the care you light-filled folk already offer.  “Tend My Sheep,” led by the deacons of our diocese (and some of St. Matthew’s shepherdesses – look for m0re information at lunch) is a year-long effort to calculate, as best we can, how many hours of service Episcopal Christians in the Diocese of Kentucky actually offer, when caring for the stranger and the friend. How much caring for and tending of sheep do you and I already, actually do?  Watch for more information in St. Matthew’s Communications media about this diocesan ministry we share with all those deacons, shepherds and shepherdesses!

Speaking of Communications…We are all called to share the Good News of God in Jesus Christ with our 21st century church, in our 21st century world.  By the way, I turned 65 on February 1…and whenever I use that “21st century” phrase these days, I think about how I have one, fifty-one year old foot firmly planted in the 20th century, and the other, fourteen-year-old one still finding its footing in the 21st.  That means anyone over the age of, shall we say 21, is still learning how to live in the 21st century!

We cannot begin to thank God enough for the ministry of Ed Hill, who served faithfully for nearly a decade and a half as St. Matthew’s unpaid communications director, spanning our two centuries.  Since Ed’s resignation nearly three months ago, a new, interim Communications Team has stepped up, and each of these folks have both feet planted in 2014.   Thanks be to God for the new, interim Communications Team!  They are: Bill Bond, Mary Johnson, Jim Moyer, Edie Nixon, Rhody Streeter and Dan Worley.  They have been handling online communications since the season of Advent. They’re the people who get the 10 o’clock service recorded and put on the website as an audio file, along with the sermon, each week.  They are the ones sending out the weekly eSpirit.  By the way, if you want to get this weekly report, please sign up today or go to our website and use the link in the top left-hand corner.

The new, interim communications team (yes, these days, everyone’s an interim) set up the online voting for the Vestry elections we’ve been conducting.  They also update the website, take the photos that appear there, and videorecord Sunday Forum talks, so you can watch them later.  The Communications Team will be expanding soon.  A focus group to get serious about our “brand identity” is going to be set up very shortly, so if you’re interested in how St. Matthew’s looks to the outside community, speak to one of the Team members about being part of the focus group.  Also, we need more people with skills in WordPress blogging and picture taking and making.

Friends, Communications R Us!  Everyone here can have a role in St. Matthew’s communications.  We are taking short surveys in the eSpirit to help the new Communications Team learn what’s working and what isn’t working for you in parish communications.   We really do want to hear from as many of you as possible!  So please, at the very least, sign up to get the weekly eSpirit – and take those surveys!

So…what light remains as bright as ever – as long as we give ourselves over to it?  Worshiping God in this unique circle of love is still and will always be, I pray, central to who you are as St. Matthew’s, as a community of light to Louisville and beyond.  Listening to Jesus, following him in ever-enlightened ways is part of his constant call to ministry.  And don’t forget about receiving the Holy Spirit, who has already given us all the gifts we need to be light in our broken, wounded, dis-eased and violent world.  In the words of Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry, “what we need is here.”

Meanwhile, how can we, as Quakers put it, “hold one another in the light” in this wintry season?  In other words, who in your life and mine needs prayer or care right now?  Let me ask you to offer prayer and care to some beloved people I will now name:

Helen Jones: After thirteen faithful years of service as your assisting priest for pastoral care, Helen will officially retire at the end of this month.  I give thanks to God for you, Helen, and for your patient ways with me as interim rector.  We will celebrate Helen’s life and ministry among us on Sunday, March 2 (two days before Mardi Gras!), in and after the 10 am service.  Look for more information about that great celebration!

Caroline Deutsch: After several years of prayer and conversation, Caroline officially entered the diocesan discernment process this Fall, as she seeks to know how Jesus is calling her to a deeper ministry of service.  I join her discernment community and your Vestry in unanimously approving her to move forward, confirmed in our sense of her call, perhaps, to the diaconate.  Pray for Caroline, a “budding deacon.”

Your new vestry, both the seasoned veterans and those elected and named today at lunch:  Always, always pray for the Vestry.  And since the new Vestry will actually choose and call your new Rector, who will come and help you with, among others things, a deficit budget…always, always, ALWAYS pray for them!  Your “good, old” search committee: Pray for encouragement, so that they can keep doing the wonderful work they’re doing – in the right ways, not necessarily the fastest ways.

St. Matthew’s Staff: Pray for peace, amidst the unknowns of a new “boss” who arrived nine months ago, who will leave sometime this year and then, another new boss coming on board.  That’s a lot of transition for anyone in any workplace.  Having worked in business for thirteen years before seminary, and having made these kinds of transitions in ministry, I will also say, that’s a kind of stressful transition that is unlike any other.  Pray for peace, in and among the staff.  As for the Interim Rector, I need all the above.  Please pray for discernment, encouragement, and peace.

I will be praying for and holding all of you “in the light” around two primary areas of ministry: Stewardship (especially your treasure) and Hospitality (welcoming the stranger).   Charles LaFond, one of the Episcopal Church’s primary stewardship teachers, said at a workshop I attended in Maryland, “It’s not greed holding our churches back.  It’s fear.  Greed is the way our fear screams.”  We live in a culture and climate of greed and fear, of privilege and terror.  Just look at some of the stories that fill our eyes and ears these days, from the Super Bowl to the Olympics.

While budget deficits are not unusual in a church’s interim season, we Episcopalians, consciously and unconsciously, hold back our time, talent and treasure, waiting to see who the new MR (“Messianic Rector”) is.  (Messianic Rectors do not exist, by the way.)  The Vestry has begun to discuss this fact: St. Matthew’s has long-standing stewardship issues.  Only by embracing stewardship as a year-round, standing ministry of this parish, St. Matthew’s more fully receive the Holy Spirit, who has, I remind you, already given you all the gifts you need!

As for hospitality, the bibilical mandate to welcome the stranger as well as the friend, we offered a three-week series during Advent, led by Terry White, our bishop, called, “How Open is Our Table?”  (It’s on the website!)   If your mission is to contnue to be “a caring and inclusive community,” which is what every church says they want to be, how open are you, truly, to people who are so “other” – even some people you may have known here for years – that when you see them, you just go the other way?  How open are we to looking at the ways we’re just not aware of being closed?  “If we can’t deal with our own internal, invisible differences as a congregation,” Parker Palmer says, “why would someone with external, visible differences want to join us?”

My final question: Where, then, is our hope?  Our hope is in God – our one, true home.  “Come Home Often,” is a lesson Robert Wicks offers those looking for “inner strength in challenging times.”  He shares a story from Anne Lamott, who speaks of her pastor and how she, as girl, could always find her way home to her childhood church, from certain places around town.  In the 21st century, we can’t have too many spiritual homes.  St. Matthew’s is now one of my spiritual homes, where I know the porch light will always be on for me.  Someday soon I’ll find another church home.  And yet, this wonderful community of faith will always be one of my homes away from home, sweet home.

You are the light of the world!

R.  We’ll let our light shine!

 

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