Friday, April 12, 2019

Budget Updates from Community Life Council

Dear St Paul’s family,

This letter follows up on the Community Life Council meeting held on April 9. The meeting was very well attended and I am grateful for all those who participated. Of course there are many more cathedral members who couldn’t be there, so, in the interest of transparency, this letter contains the gist of my presentation. I apologize for its length, but there is a lot to share!

Here’s what you will read in this letter:

  • Although we expect to close on the land sale very shortly, our operating expenses will still exceed our income, as has been the case for several years.
  • Chapter is planning for a reduction in our operating expenses of about $150,000 in 2020, in order to create a balanced budget without drawing from reserves. 
  • We are aiming for values of transparency, engagement, sustainability, and transformation as we plan and communicate this adjustment.
  • The adjustments touch most ministry areas, but especially Spanish-language ministry, formation, hospitality, and worship bulletins.
  • We will, with great sadness, lose two part-time staff positions and reduce another, but Chapter has emphasized the priority of people over paper and has chosen an option which minimizes staff impact.
  • Even though this is painful, we see opportunities for positive growth in our community and fellowship.

So, to the details.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Spiritual Direction

Dear St. Paul’s family,

In this holiest of seasons I want to encourage you to spend time in prayer and to consider ways to deepen your connection to God. One way is to adopt a classic form of spiritual discipline.

Are you familiar with the term “spiritual direction”? Maybe you have read Susan Howatch’s novels and have come away with an understanding of a spiritual director as a kind of drill instructor, or maybe you haven’t come across the term, or maybe you think it’s just for clergy. Here’s my personal definition: Spiritual direction is the vocation of walking alongside someone in their journey of faith, offering pointers along the way to closer connection to the sacred. A spiritual director is trained in this art of companionship: it is not a role to be taken on lightly. A spiritual director may be clergy or lay, of any gender identity, and may dwell in any faith tradition.

Everyone can receive spiritual direction. You don’t have to be especially holy, or in the ordination process, or an ordained person. Whoever we are and wherever we find ourselves in the journey of faith, we can benefit from regular conversations with a trustworthy and discreet individual who has a rich prayer life, who is wise in the ways of self-knowledge and self-deception, and who will listen for God’s voice in the life we describe. A spiritual director hears what we say and voices what lies between the lines. She directs our attention to the connections we may have missed, the points of light in a dark time, the surprising activity of the Holy Spirit, the resonances between Scripture and our own experience. She asks, in essence, “Where is God in this?”

My current spiritual director is a Carmelite nun who has been in the monastery since 1948. She has literally led a cloistered life, but she knows a great deal about life in community and about the distractions that draw us away from God. She brings me back, time and again, to the constant presence, often unnoticed, of Jesus in my life. This kind of gentle reminder is just as important to a lawyer, a teacher, or a banker, as it is to a parish priest.

As we walk through the dark days of Holy Week and into the light of Easter, I invite you to consider whether your life might be enriched by the ministry of a spiritual director. You can find more information about this ministry and about some local spiritual directors at SanDiegoSpiritualDirection.org.

Have a blessed Holy Week, and may Easter be a time of joy and new life.

Your sister in Christ,

Penny

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Sunday Sermon: Of Love and Death

A dinner party among beloved friends, drawn closer together by a shared experience of loss and renewal. An unexpected and embarrassing interruption, an over-the-top gift, an acting out of unconditional love, an unwelcome reminder of a long shadow that looms over the gathering.

I wonder if you have ever had something like this experience? Most of us can tell stories of people behaving in eccentric and startling ways at a worship service, from the toddler who shouts Amen into the silence after the Eucharistic Prayer to the intoxicated individual who dances up the aisle and prostrates himself on the chancel steps. We all know how uncomfortable such uninhibited acts make us feel. A sense of restraint, of appropriateness, is woven into our Episcopal DNA. We don’t speak easily of profound concepts like love or death. If I ask you to turn to your neighbor now and shout out, “I love you”, will that make you cringe? Or, even worse, if I ask you to turn to your neighbor and say, “I want you to know I love you because I know you are going to die,” that could be doubly cringeworthy - more love than we can handle, more talk of death than we can accept.

In our Gospel story Mary grasps the opportunity to show her love for Jesus. She knows she might never have another chance. So often we miss the opportunity and then someone is gone forever. So don’t put it off! While I’m not going to torture you by making you say it out loud right now, take a moment to think of someone you should reach out to with love. Make yourself a promise that you will do it today. And, while you’re at it, promise yourself that you will complete one of our funeral planning forms in the near future.

Jesus says of Mary’s gift, “She bought it that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” How often do we talk about our own death? Jesus offers the ultimate in non-anxious communication. We are all going to die, but we think at some level that if we don’t talk about it, it won’t happen. So when the subject threatens to come up we deflect, we turn the conversation to more superficial topics. Today’s Gospel story helps us to prepare for the death and burial of Jesus. It reminds us of the great love that his presence symbolizes. It opens us up to the re-enactment of the Passion that we will embrace starting next Sunday.

Does something about this story sound familiar? There is an exquisite sense of timing, completely unintentional on my part, around the coincidence of this Gospel story with our current congregational conversation about the gift of a new, custom-made Chancel cross. In case you haven’t been following the communications, let me summarize: a longtime parishioner, suffering from a terminal illness with a short trajectory, came to me and offered a parting gift to express love for St Paul’s. The parishioner knew that the cross we have was installed 30 years ago as a compromise, after a custom-designed cross was rejected by the congregation, and also knew that there have been continuous criticisms of this cross as being too small for our space and too hard to see since the organ pipes were installed. So this parishioner offered us the opportunity to acquire a cross that would be unique to St Paul’s and would express the welcoming and healing ethos of this congregation. An image of the risen and joyful Christ that proclaims, “This is the table, not of the church, but of Jesus Christ. It is made ready for those who love him and who want to love him more.”

The parishioner offered a very generous sum to cover the cost and requested that we aim to select a design, with congregational input, by the end of April. The arts committee was given the project and Jen Jow volunteered to manage the process. Because of the short timeline we have had limited success in identifying artists and therefore could provide only a relatively narrow range of choices up to now.

Can you hear the Gospel in this story? A beautiful, generous, sacrificial gift is offered out of love for Jesus. He receives it with grace. Perhaps you can imagine other voices, asking why the money couldn’t be used for outreach or complaining that the gift isn’t needed or isn’t appropriate. When Mary interrupts the dinner party with this extravagant gift of love, prompted by her sense that death is near, the disciples shy away from that grim reality and focus instead on the stuff of the gift. Judas, representing the disciples and perhaps us, tries to steer the conversation to a question of practicalities instead of acknowledging the fear and grief that they are all experiencing. Jesus is going to die when they reach Jerusalem. They all know it but nobody wants to talk about it. The outpouring of love and grief represented by the gift makes them too uncomfortable.

The ironic thing about our own discomfort around these issues is that our Christian faith rests on the reality of a love that exceeds all our understanding and a death that is too horrible to imagine. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we re-enact the story of Jesus’s suffering and we receive his gift of love in the sacrament of Communion. “This is my body”: is there any statement that is more intimate, more redolent of both suffering and love, than these words that accompany our acceptance of a gift we didn’t ask for and don’t deserve? What is the appropriate response to this gift? Surely it is deep, heartfelt gratitude and a renewed intention to share with others the love we have received.

Each of us has our own way of demonstrating love. Mary chose expensive oil. Martha, her sister, chose to give a square meal and a comfortable refuge. My father-in-law used to show his love with produce. When we visited him in England he would welcome us with a meal including every vegetable he could lay his hands on, sometimes 7 or 8. We joked that the more vegetables on the table, the happier he was to see us.

Jesus shows his love for us when he offers his own self to us. It’s a gift with no strings attached, a true gift. It’s more than we deserve, maybe more than we want. But the depth of generosity expressed in this gift is what prompts us in turn to be generous: generous in forgiveness, generous in friendship, generous in serving the poor.

The Gospel writer tells us that the house was filled with the fragrance of Mary’s gift. When love is shared extravagantly, unselfconsciously, it fills a house, or a church, or a community like an exquisite perfume.

Judas is deficient in his ability to smell the fragrance. He is unable to perceive the beauty of Mary’s act. He has shut himself off from love, and John makes sure we know what that means, in his parenthetical reference to the betrayal. Jesus’s teaching puts the gift in perspective. We can help the poor any time. You can make your own contribution to the food bank or the Red Cross. You can take some of the snack bags our youth made recently and put them behind the driver’s seat of your car, and when you are stopped at the traffic light and someone is holding a sign that says “Hungry”, you can seize the moment, grab a bag, and hand it over.

The poor are always with us and we always have opportunities to help. But sometimes we just need to show our love of God, generously, extravagantly, even embarrassingly, because only with such gestures can we even come close to honoring the depth of the divine love that we receive every day of our lives.

The Very Rev Penelope Bridges
April 7, 2019

Thursday, April 4, 2019

About Decision Making

Dear St. Paul’s family,

In any institution decisions have to be made by someone. So, how do we make decisions in a community like St. Paul’s Cathedral? The congregation elects Chapter members to take this responsibility on their behalf. The responsibility includes the creation of a budget and the responsible stewardship of resources. Because we are a large church we also have senior staff who are entrusted with many of the operational and programmatic decisions: this adds a layer to the decision-making process. Chapter and staff work to gather feedback from the congregation before we finalize our decisions.  There are many voices in this large community, and we want to hear them all so that we can make the best decision for everyone.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe the process is to give you an example. In December a parishioner who had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness wanted to make a difference in this community with the time he has left, and generously offered a gift of a chancel cross. They named a generous amount of money for the creation and installation of the cross and asked for a fairly short timeline. This would be a sculpted, probably wooden image of the risen Christ, either with or without a cross behind him. As a number of people have commented over the years that the present cross is too small for the space, we agreed that a larger image, maybe life-size, would be desirable.

My first step after our meeting was to do some research into the origins of the existing cross: who gave it, is that person still with us, how was it chosen? After an enlightening conversation with Dean Emeritus Jim Carroll, I brought the idea to an executive staff meeting and asked for initial thoughts. There was some discussion about the emotional impact of changing the cross leading to consensus, given the history, that it was a change that might be welcomed by the congregation. I then included it in my monthly report to Chapter and received support for the idea. My next step was to appoint a task force, chaired by Jen Jow and including our Arts committee, to research possible designs and local artists. A number of possible design concepts, along with some thoughts on what would best fit our space and our community, were circulated to the committee and executive staff, and we narrowed down the choices.

When Jen reported that a potential artistic team needed funds to create a design and do technical analysis, I went back to the donor and requested an advance donation, which was readily given. The artistic team created scale models of possible designs and also a full-size cardboard cutout for scale comparisons. The scale models were shared with the congregation on Sunday March 31, after one of my letters introduced the project to the congregation, and we invited feedback to aid our discernment. We are also arranging to put the cardboard cutout up for an hour or so, so we can see the scale, take pictures, and adjust the design as necessary. Once we have discerned the best choice of design and Chapter has approved it, I will check in with the donor again (who has been receiving regular progress reports) to arrange for the remaining funds to be transferred, and we will commission the artistic team to create the cross. Upon completion, the image will be introduced to the congregation before being installed and blessed.

While every initiative and proposed change has its own unique progression, I hope this description conveys our emphasis on checks and balances, sensitivity to the desires of the donor, congregational engagement and responsible stewardship of resources.

Your sister in Christ,

Penny
Initial models for the chancel cross

Thursday, March 28, 2019

DHS Security System

Dear St. Paul’s family,

One of the perennial conversations cathedral staff engage in concerns the safety and security of both staff and parishioners during Cathedral events and during the week. We are all too well aware of recent terrorist attacks on houses of worship, not to mention the chronic security challenges posed by mentally unstable neighbors, and we are always on the watch for ways to help us all feel safer when we are at St. Paul’s.

Several (about three) years ago, we learned that the Department of Homeland Security was offering federal grants to faith communities to install security systems. We investigated further and became the first Christian faith community to apply for such a grant.  We were blessedly chosen to be approved for a grant of nearly $74,000 – and then the real work began. As you can imagine, any federal grant comes with a lot of bureaucracy attached, and this DHS grant was no exception. Our wonderful administrator, Kathleen Burgess, has put in untold hours ever since to shepherd this process to fruition.

Now, at last, we are seeing the installation of the equipment. If you’ve noticed some new holes around the campus, that indicates where cabling and other equipment will be mounted. For the past ten days Cathedral staff and volunteers have been enduring some very loud drilling, as the contractor faced the challenges of our unusually thick and strong walls. Once the cables are run, we will see cameras mounted in the back of the cathedral (the narthex), the transept, and at various points of entry to the campus and the buildings. An intercom and keycard security system will also be installed at various key entrances. Installation should be completed by mid-April.

When all is installed, cathedral staff will be able remotely to monitor activities in the nave, the porches, the Queen’s Courtyard, and all entrances to the cathedral. We have built this system around the anticipated configuration of the campus during construction of the Greystar apartment building, so nothing will have to be dismantled once we vacate the offices.

This is a wonderful gift to the Cathedral and should help us all feel more secure. For once I can say without irony, “Your tax dollars at work’! When you see Kathleen, be sure to thank her for staying on this project despite many challenges and seeing it through.

Your sister in Christ,

Penny

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Chancel Cross

Dear St. Paul’s family,

If you are reading this in church, look up and take a good look at the cross hanging in the chancel over the altar. It’s a wood sculpture of a traditional image of the risen Christ, known as the Christus Victor or Christus Rex, with a king’s crown and priestly garments. There’s a story behind how this sculpture came to be at St. Paul’s.

Many years ago, when the Very Rev. James Carroll was the rector of St. Paul’s, a local sculptor made a cross for the chancel of St. Paul’s. It was placed in the chancel for the congregation to review and was not well received. Jim persevered and kept it in place for two years to see if people would get used to it. They did not. He then did an exchange with Episcopal Community Services, who at the time had a downtown chapel. They got the new cross and St. Paul’s got the one we have now. 


Update:  thanks to Paula Peeling for finding a 
photo, c. 1986, of the old cross designed 
by Ralph Carskadden (sp?) design. 
He was former rector of All Souls.

. 
Over the years there has been a persistent complaint that the chancel cross doesn’t “fit” the space. It is too small for the scale of the space, and it doesn’t stand out from the background of the organ enclosure.

Now a generous parishioner has offered to underwrite the cost of a new chancel cross. A group of parishioners has been researching local artists and they have come up with several possible options. The  consensus so far is that we want an image of the risen and living Christ, with a welcoming aspect and timeless garb. We have not yet decided whether the Christ image should be actually on a cross or not. We believe that it should be life-size, about 6 feet tall (including the cross, if any), and that it should be made of natural wood, not painted, but of a shade that makes it stand out from the background.

Starting a week or so from now, you should have an opportunity to view small models (“marquettes”) of several possible designs. I hope you will study them and offer feedback. The details, such as the face and hands, won’t be finished, but you should get a good sense of the overall design. Once we know which one is most favored by the congregation the artist will create a full-size cardboard mockup which we will suspend over the altar.

I am deeply grateful for the generosity of parishioners who make possible such enhancements to our worship space.

Your sister in Christ,


Penny




Thursday, March 14, 2019

Seasons and Colors

Dear St Paul’s family,

On Sunday we held our quarterly newcomers’ brunch and one of our guests mentioned that he had noticed this week that our worship went through some changes. He wondered why. So here’s a primer on the seasons of the church year and how we mark them with color.

The first season is Advent, which means Arrival or Coming. We observe Advent for four weeks leading up to Christmas, and the theme is preparation for the coming of Jesus into the world, both his first coming as a human baby and his second coming which will mean judgment for the world. We mark this season with one of two liturgical colors: purple, signifying both repentance and royalty, or blue, a color traditionally associated with Mary and used in the English tradition at this season of expectation.

Christmas season, celebrating the birth of Jesus, is very short, just 12 days, starting at sunset on December 24 and ending January 5. In this joyful time of celebration and feasting we wear white and gold.

The feast of the Epiphany (remembering the revelation of Jesus to the world represented by the Wise Men) on January 6 introduces a season of “ordinary time”, which lasts until the day before Ash Wednesday. After wearing white on the first Sunday for the Baptism of Jesus, we wear green in ordinary time, symbolizing our spiritual growth through learning about the ministry of Jesus in the world.
Ash Wednesday, which we observed last week, is the first day of Lent (from an old English word meaning springtime). Its date is determined by counting back 40 days plus six Sundays from the variable date of Easter. Lent is a time of repentance, prayer, fasting, and generosity, preparing us for the solemn days of Holy Week when we will remember how Jesus suffered for us. We can wear penitential purple as in Advent, or unbleached linen or sackcloth (a “Lenten array”). You can find various references in Scripture to people wearing sackcloth as a sign of repentance.

Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the last week of Lent, when we dive deeply into the somber story of the betrayal, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus. If we have oxblood colored vestments (a dark red), we wear those, otherwise we wear a bright red. We may switch to white for Maundy Thursday, three days before Easter, when we commemorate the first Eucharist. Some churches have splendid black vestments for Good Friday.

Sunset on Holy Saturday marks the arrival of Easter, and we celebrate our first Easter service at the Great Vigil on Saturday night (some churches celebrate it at dawn on Easter Day). The Easter season lasts for 50 days, and we wear white and gold in this most joyful of seasons.

The day of Pentecost (meaning “feast of 50”) is on the 50th day of the Easter season, and we wear red as we remember the coming of the fiery Holy Spirit on the apostles.

The season after Pentecost, approximately half the year, is Ordinary Time like that after the Epiphany, and we wear green until Advent rolls around again.

Along the way we may wear white to celebrate a saint or for a funeral, or red for ordinations and martyrs.

A blessed Lent to you all.

Your sister in Christ,

Penny

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Social Media Behavior


Dear St. Paul’s family,


We live in a world where we often get news of friends and family through social media such as Twitter and Facebook. We also live in a culture that exerts pressure to share news and information immediately. When something terrible or wonderful happens, it is very tempting to share it right away on our social media pages. Once it is out there, the whole world knows it. When it is our own news, we have every right to share it, but when it is somebody else’s, there’s a need to be more cautious, and as members of a Christian community we are called to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around ourselves.

Recently on Facebook I saw a graphic that suggested an approach to responding to someone’s grief. The essential message was that our responses should always be directed towards the person most affected rather than ourselves. For example, if a friend is diagnosed with a serious illness, it is appropriate to respond by saying “I am so sorry that you are going through this.” It’s not appropriate to continue, “Whenever I hear about this disease I get really scared that I might have it too.” That response puts the focus on your own feelings rather than the feelings of the person most affected, with the result that they might now feel a responsibility to help you feel better, and that would add to the burden they are already carrying.

Another consideration is, whose news is it? Before you post a public announcement of a death or illness, allow the people most affected to share it themselves. They may not be ready for the world to know.
We will endeavor to follow these guidelines when posting news on the Cathedral’s social media accounts. We will check with the family before announcing the death of a parishioner online and we will respect privacy laws concerning health issues. I hope you will follow suit in your personal postings.

Finally, I want to offer a suggestion for how to respond if you are troubled about a decision or direction in the life of the St. Paul’s community. Rather than posting your concern publicly on Facebook, consider taking it up directly with the person responsible, through email, private message, or (best of all) in person. You may find that a face-to-face conversation will resolve your concerns and strengthen your relationship.

I hope these suggestions are helpful to you in your walk as a follower of Jesus and a member of our cathedral family.



Your sister in Christ,


Penny

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Altar Guild Chat

Sunday, March 3rd Altar Guild Chat

I am Kris Hatch, a long time member of St. Paul’s and a Sacristan on Altar Guild.

Mary, Martha and Lazereth of Bethany were siblings. In Luke 10, Mary sat with the followers to listen to Jesus and was known as a disciple. Martha, more concerned with service, was distracted with many tasks and realized that she was missing Jesus’ talk. Calling herself out as a classic codependent/passive aggressive, Martha blamed Mary for leaving all the work to her. Who would ever want to be Martha that day? At times, how many of us slip into her role in our own ministries of service at St. Paul’s?

In the Benedictine rule, we are asked to “Seek God in the most simple and ordinary experiences of daily living.” Our personal, spiritual gifts are given by God and the Holy Spirit. In Sunday School, we sang that we should not “hide our light under a bushel, but let it shine.” We can experience both spiritual and physical gifts without become a “Martha.” That could mean that our tangible skills can be gifts of the Spirit and part of any ministry in this place, for you, Christ’s honored guests.

Over the years, I was approached a number of times to join Altar Guilds, but refused because in my mind, I would never want to become Martha and miss out on the action! However, a number of years later, my dear husband, Wayne was on Chapter and Konnie Dadmun asked if anyone knew of possible candidates for Altar Guild. Wayne mentioned this to me and without thinking, I said I might like to try that. Now, with a number of very talented people who bring their own spiritual gifts, I bring my own gifts as I sew and embroider linens and bake gluten free wafers with for any who enter this holy space. But there is so much more.

The men and women serving as sacristans for St. Paul’s Altar Guild bring their gifts of time and amazing talents. We have members with skills of organization, attention to detail, polishing, candle maintenance, cleaning, and vestment care. We work on monthly teams for one weekend each month and volunteer for special services, weekday noon and Saturday evening Eucharists. We also prepare the space and altar area, then attend services. Noon sacristans also serve the priest. A few times each year, we are all invited to prepare for Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Sacristans prepare for Zydeco, Ash Wednesday services and ‘Ashes to Go” We cut and clean palms, cover every cross in the church for Holy Week with the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and morning. We decorate for Christmas and polish silver and brass at least 3 times a year. We live the liturgical calendar and make it visual for this community

In any ministry, members care for each other as well and the entire community. Altar Guild members stay in touch, share life events and care deeply for each other through encouragement and prayer.

We welcome anyone with hands and hearts seeking community through service in the body of Christ’s church. When you enter this Holy space and look around from the oblation table and baptismal font in the back of the church to the pews, pulpit, Altar rail, Altar, credence table, and candles, know that unlike Martha, we have prepared for you to hear God’s word and share Christ’s banquet. Please know that the table is ready and the gifts of God are here, just for you.





The Sunday Sermon: coming down from the mountain

There once was a man who, when filling out a form for a job, came to a question which said, “What is your church preference?”

The man thought about the question for some time because he really needed the job. He wanted to impress the employer and answered very confidently, “I prefer a red brick church.”

It is so easy to misunderstand what church is all about.

The past few weeks have seen some instances of the institutional church forgetting what we are here for.

Just this past week, hearts were broken as the United Methodist Church decided to re-codify discrimination against God’s LGBTQ children. I know many of us here have watched as friends and family in that tradition have struggled to make sense of how the question of “whom shall we love” could be answered any differently than “everybody” for the Church.

And our own tradition is still struggling. The Lambeth gathering of all the Anglican bishops around the world will happen next year. The week before last, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion announced that same-sex spouses of bishops will not be invited to the Lambeth gathering. Thank God for one of my former bishops Mary Glaspool and her wife, Becky Sander, who have both said they are going to Lambeth anyway, even though Becky may not be allowed to fully participate. Bishop Mary wrote to Archbishop Justin Welby and asked him when the church would accept the gift of LGBTQ people, and value love as its top priority.

The inclusion of LGBTQ people has become a flashpoint, a symbol, of a larger cultural shift in society around us.

But I think for us in the Church we miss the point if we simply make it about who is in and out; about political partisan identity; about culture wars; about conservative or liberal; about whether we prefer red brick churches or gothic cathedrals.

This is about our identity as Christians. This is about who Jesus is, and what it means to follow him. This is about our tribal identity not as Republican or Democrat, but our identity in baptism.

Today is transfiguration Sunday. We have the story today of Jesus on the mountain with three very sleepy disciples. And as they are about to nod off, Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus and start to talk about Jesus’ upcoming departure.

Departure in the Greek is “Exodus.” Moses and Elijah have both already been through their own exodus. They have already departed from one place to go through a wilderness to arrive at a promised land. Now they are here with Jesus to talk about his departure, his exodus.

Peter wakes and misunderstands what is happening. He wants to stay on the mountain with these important people, in dazzling white, to set up a place to stay and revel in it. But a booming voice corrects Peter quickly, and the next thing you know the whole group has descended off the mountaintop down into a scene of sickness, a place where healing is needed, a place where faithlessness abounds in the disciples, a place that seems so distant from the mountaintop. And that is place Jesus goes to rather than hang out on the mountaintop.

The transfiguration is one of the most important events for me in all of the Christian story, because it connects the incarnation with the crucifixion and resurrection. The one who came to be with us, born in a manger, revealed by magi who offered gifts, is now dazzling in glory on this mountain, but doesn’t stay there.

Instead, this messiah chooses to come down off of the mountain where he is immediately confronted with the brokenness of the world, with sickness, and faithlessness, and with brokenness. Rather than being content to be lavished with gifts and dazzling-ness like a king, this messiah descends from the mountaintop even though the brokenness below will eventually cost him his life. The glory of this messiah doesn’t really come from living up above. It comes from descending down below. This messiah came especially to be with the world.

If Jesus was not content to stay on the mountaintop, so then the Church must not be either. How often does the church seek to recreate a lost past, to set shop on the mountaintop, and keep its hands clean? The arguments recently in the Methodist church and about Lambeth are so much about who is allowed to reach the mountaintop, and who is allowed to stay there.

But perhaps that is not the question our head priest asks of his Church.

What if the call of our head priest, the call of our messiah, is to be an Exodus people; To be “let my people go” folks. We need a place to come and recharge, to get comfort and food for the journey. But what if God could care less about who gets to climb to the top of the mountain and is much more concerned about whether or not the Church will descend the mountain to reach out to the hurting?

When the church gets stuck on being gatekeeper for the mountaintop, when it refuses to acknowledge the value of every human being down the mountain like the Lambeth or Methodist decisions, we fail. When we believe the church is here for our own pleasure or protection and not to be the body of Christ in a broken world, we fail.

What might a Church built around coming down off the mountain look like?

Could it look like a showers ministry, where the church is also willing to be transformed as it hears the needs of those in the community around them, resulting in a new community working together to both provide basic needs and friendship for those living outside in our neighborhood?

Could it look like a Refugee ministry, where the church offers assistance to those in a literal exodus, and reflects on the history of other people of God who have been in exile, resulting in a community coming together to keep a family together during unjust deportation proceedings?

Could it look like a pastoral care ministry, where the church meets the sick, bears witness to physical pain, treatments that seem worse than the illnesses they are intended to treat, and prolonged death, while holding close to our own Messiah who came and suffered alongside us and died?

St. Paul’s is involved in all of these things. Living in Exodus, however it looks, is the crux of the Christian life. And it is the crux of the Christian life because it results in transformation, in new life, in liberation. Nobody said that Christianity was a cakewalk. Christianity, coming down off the mountain to live as exodus people, it is hard. But we follow one who shows us a transformed life of liberation.

It is because being an exodus people is so demanding that we need mountaintop experiences, of course. We need to be able to come together and be recharged by beautiful music, and sacraments, and the word broken open— the acts of worship that recharge us, and reconnect us, and help us remember that we, together, are the body of Christ. We are loved. We are loved individually, and corporately. All of us, this who human project. And there is a promised land at the end of this exodus that is bigger than any of us individually, and that none of us can achieve nor reach on our own.

At St. Paul’s we have a pretty well defined rhythm of going to the mountaintop and descending down into Exodus. Our worship gives beautiful mountaintop experiences. LGBTQ inclusion is so settled here even some LGBTQ people are tired of talking about it! We have just adopted a list of peace and justice principles and are working on how to put them into action. How else can we come down off the mountain, even while we make sure to take care of each other coming back week after week to be nourished by our wonderful worship and community. Without that sustenance we will not be able to do it again and again.

Because it is the life of exodus- the “let my people go” life- that leads to liberation. It leads to the promised land, on earth as it is in heaven. The Church’s job is to partner with the life-giving God to be that liberating force in the world. And we do it together, all of us, with God’s help. Thank you for being a part of it!

The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Transfiguration C, March 3, 2019
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
Luke 9:28-43a


Sources Consulted: Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 4. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010. 
http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=5296

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Principles for Social Justice

Dear St. Paul’s family,

At its January meeting, Chapter adopted the following Principles for Social Justice, proposed and crafted by our Peace and Justice Committee. These now form part of a foundation of essential values, along with the Baptismal Covenant, that underly our decision-making as a community. I hope you will adopt them for your personal use too.

As a community of Christian faith, we offer this statement to articulate our position on important issues of social justice. Byinforming others and reminding ourselves what Jesus calls us to do, we hope, with God's help, to better our world. We promise:
  • to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.
  • to strive for justice and peace among all people.
  • to respect the dignity of every human being.

In elaboration of, and toward our fulfillment of, these promises:
  1. We believe that every human being on our planet is our neighbor whom we are called to love.
  2. We believe that every human being is entitled to the basic essentials of food, clothing, shelter, health care, education and equal justice; and we strive to make that a reality in our world.
  3. We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives.
  4. We stand against oppression based on race, color, creed, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, age, or difference.
  5. We call for a moral revival of the deepest spiritual values in the tradition of our society.
  6. We call for our society to step forward in supporting the marginalized and rehabilitating those who have fallen.
  7. We call for the stranger to be treated with welcome while in our land.
  8. We call for a reversal of the forces that are accelerating economic inequality and environmental degradation.
  9. We call for the leaders at all levels of our society to learn once again to work together, particularly toward equal opportunity and equal justice for all.
  10. We call for all people to realize that together we are part of the world-wide community that shares and cares for this planet, our island home. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are the sorrowful; they shall find consolation. Blessed are the gentle; they shall have the earth for their possession. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail; they shall be satisfied. Blessed are those who show mercy; mercy shall be shown to them. Blessed are those whose hearts are pure; they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called God's children. Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of right; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Sources: The Reclaiming Jesus Declarationhttp://reclaimingjesus.org;The Poor People's Campaignhttp://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/fundamental-principles/The Gospel According to Matthew (Revised English Bible);
The Book of Common Prayer, 1979


Your sister in Christ,

Penny

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Sunday Sermon: Wrestling with the Golden Rule

Reading today’s lesson from Genesis is like coming across a long-running soap opera for the first time when the final episode is airing. If you’ve never sat down to read the whole story of Joseph, you have missed out on the oldest novella known to humanity. Starting in chapter 37 of Genesis with the story of the coat of many colors, the passage we heard this morning is the melodramatic denoument when Joseph’s half-brothers, the older 10 sons of Jacob, discover that the Egyptian potentate who has been making them jump through all sorts of hoops is none other than the little brother they once sold into slavery.

It’s remarkable that Joseph is able to reveal himself with no bitterness to the brothers who once wanted to kill him. Joseph sees God’s hand in the whole story, from his arrival and imprisonment in Egypt to his rise to power and consequently his ability to rescue his family from famine and preserve intact God’s promise to their ancestor Abraham.

Joseph returns the hatred of his brothers with generosity. There’s an obvious link to the Gospel, where Jesus says we are to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. And it’s a lesson in how we are to reflect on our own lives. We may not see God’s presence in events while they are happening to us, but only long after, when we can look back and see the subtle arc, the long game of God’s grace working in the world and in our lives.

When my last parish engaged a company to create a photo directory, one of the freebies that we received was a poster-sized picture of someone’s idea of Jesus. If you got up really, really close to the poster, you could see that the picture was created by combining thousands of tiny images of parishioners from the directory. Close up, all you would see were the tiny portraits, but when you stepped back a few feet you could see the whole picture, the whole body of Christ.

In a similar way, if you take any given passage from Scripture you may see one small detail of the history of God and God’s people, but when you step back to look at Scripture as a whole you can discern the overall theme of the God who loves us and remains faithful to us despite our many failures and failings.

I have to confess that Joseph has never been one of my favorite Biblical heroes. His arrogance and superiority as the spoiled son of the favorite wife almost justify the actions of his older brothers. And even here, as we come towards the end of his story, we still see glimpses of that arrogance: while he graciously forgives his brothers, stripping away the trappings of his office to demonstrate his sincerity, he also makes clear how much power he now has over them.

If you read on to the end of the story you will see how he reminds his brothers, tongue in cheek, not to fight amongst themselves in their journey back home to collect their father. Nevertheless, we see genuine love and genuine forgiveness here, and there is no doubt that it is Joseph, as flawed as he is, who makes possible the continuation of God’s ancient promise to Abraham. He saves his people by doing good for those who did evil to him. Somehow Joseph finds the grace to rise above any desire for retribution or revenge, and because of that grace, the great story of salvation can continue.

That story isn’t simple or straightforward. As you read on in Scripture you will come across innumerable episodes of cruelty, abuse, betrayal, and plain bad behavior. Even into the New Testament there are plenty of clues that God’s people keep getting it wrong. Take Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, for example. Have you ever wondered why it was necessary for him to instruct them about what love looked like? Or why, in the passage we just read, he pushed back so strongly on the nature of the resurrected body? If the Corinthian Christians had got all these things right in the first place, there would have been no need for letters.

That first letter to the Corinthians begins with the acknowledgement of how unnatural and illogical God’s love is: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing ... For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1Cor. 1:18, 25).

In the Gospel we heard today, Jesus pushes us to go beyond what seems reasonable or fair. He asks us to love the people who hate us, to repay evil with good, to forgive the unforgiveable. This is hard stuff. If it came naturally, Jesus wouldn’t have to tell us to do it.

Forgiveness is a mysterious and powerful symbol of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. It’s a deeply subversive and defiant act, in a world that operates on a transactional basis where you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, and where you reap what you sow; in a justice system that demands that the transgressor must be not only prevented from reoffending but also hurt and humiliated as their victim was hurt and humiliated. When we sign on as followers of Jesus, we sign on for something that the world doesn’t understand, a different way of life, a Kingdom way.

How did those people in Charleston find the strength to forgive Dylann Roof for shooting their loved ones in church? How did the people of South Africa keep their commitment to truth and reconciliation after the end of apartheid? How did Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams rise above their grief and anger to found the Peace People in Northern Ireland? I can guarantee you that these actions didn’t happen without some agonizing spiritual struggles and sharp criticism from the world. But in the end, these faithful people drew deeply from the bottomless well of the love of God, they took seriously the words of Jesus, they treated others as they hoped others would treat them, not as they themselves had been treated. And by liberating themselves from the shackles of hatred, they made a difference in the world.

Earlier this month, someone vandalized the Pride Plaza in Hillcrest and a week later someone opened fire on a restaurant on University Avenue. We are all outraged and horrified by these acts of hate. At the emergency town hall meeting that St Paul’s hosted on Wednesday, we heard over and over the fear that these acts engendered, and we heard over and over a determination to remain strong as a community, to be united and mutually supportive, to keep moving forward in spite of our fear. And we expressed our gratitude to the law enforcement personnel who hold the perpetrators accountable.

What will be our Christian response to such crimes? Surely it is to be generous, loving, inclusive. To refuse to give in to fear but to keep our doors and hearts open. To continue to celebrate each person’s God-given identity whether it be L,G,B,T,Q, or straight. To reach out to those in need or on the margins. To speak up for justice and peace in our world. To work for effective treatment of mental illness and for common-sense gun laws. And yes, to pray for those who wish us harm. This is prophetic ministry - to live as if the Kingdom is already here, whatever the indications to the contrary.

Jesus gives us a list of straightforward instructions for living as God’s people: love, bless, do good, pray, give, forgive. These are unconditional instructions. They don’t come with asterisks or small print. They don’t come with expectations of being loved, blessed, etc in return. God’s economy isn’t a transactional economy, it’s not based on exchanging one good for another but on a generosity model: give freely of yourself, as God has given freely for you.

Keeping score is exhausting: it drives us into a mode of scarcity and anxiety. Instead, Jesus offers us the freedom of giving without expectations, of blessing those who don’t deserve it, of forgiving those who aren’t sorry. To live like this is to receive the abundance of a love that we have done nothing to deserve, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, overflowing its boundaries into the world. For the measure of love we give will be the measure of love we get back.

Amen.

The Very Rev Penelope Bridges February 24, 2019

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Nextdoor Post

Dear St. Paul’s family,

After the City Council vote on January 28 to approve our construction project, there was a long series of posts on the neighborhood social media site NextDoor. With input from our consultants, I crafted this letter and posted it to correct some of the misperceptions. You might find it useful in case you are questioned about the project.

Hello neighbors, 
I have been following this conversation with interest, as the Dean/senior pastor of St. Paul’s Cathedral. I want to say how grateful the Cathedral family is for the terrific support we have received from many of you throughout the long process of public meetings around the 6th & Olive project. The unanimous support of both the Planning Commission and the City Council tells us that the project is on the right track for San Diego. Recent statements by multiple political leaders in the city and state reinforce the fact that it is exactly what San Diego needs at this time. 
We are looking forward to seeing Greystar break ground and move ahead so that the Cathedral will be able to continue and expand our ministry to the community. And while I hope we will be able to avoid further delays, we are prepared to be patient. We have been here for 150 years and expect to be here for another 150, so we take a long view! 
I want to offer a few key facts about the project and to correct several misunderstandings that seem to have gained traction within this forum:

  1. The building will consist of 204 rental apartments (not luxury condos for purchase), and 18 of the apartments will be designated as affordable for Very Low Income households. The residents of the affordable units will have access to all the same amenities, including parking, as the market-rate tenants.
  2. St. Paul’s will not receive rents from the apartments but will own space on the lowest two floors of the new building. These floors will house our Cathedral offices and new community gathering spaces.
  3. The Park Chateau apartments were not in good shape and would have been slated for demolition and redevelopment with or without the Greystar project. While relatively inexpensive for the neighborhood, the Park Chateau units were neither designated as affordable nor income-restricted. Development of a residential building shorter than the approved 6th & Olive building would mean there would be no affordable units on the site.
  4. The project is consistent with all City land-use regulations, including the Uptown Community Plan. Please follow this link to the City of San Diego Development Services Department Staff Report to the Planning Commissionand this link to the DSD Staff Report to the City Council. These independent reports include detailed analyses of code compliance.
  5. The project’s environmental document complies with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The environmental impacts associated with 6th & Olive are consistent with or less than the impacts analyzed in the certified EIR, and the Greystar modifications will not result in new or more severe significant impacts than those identified in the certified EIR.
Look for activity to start soon on the site. We’ve been making preparations in the three months since the project received unanimous approval from the Planning Commission, and now that the appeal of that approval has been unanimously denied by the City Council, we are ready to move forward. I look forward to many years of service to Bankers Hill and San Diego, equipped and empowered by our new ministry base.




Your sister in Christ,

Penny

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Alter Guild

Dear St. Paul’s family,

From time to time I want to share with you what some of our lay ministers do behind the scenes. As you know, over 300 people donate time and talent to the many ministries of the cathedral. Some ministries are more visible than others, but every ministry is valuable. Here is a short summary of what our amazing Altar Guild, or Sacristans’ Guild, does.

The job of the Altar Guild is to prepare the church, sacristy and chancel for services of Eucharist and Choral Evensong as well as special services such as weddings and funerals. It includes care of vestments, silver, linen, wafers, wine, flowers, and candles.

We have a Eucharist service every day of the week, and on Sundays there are three Eucharist services and Choral Evensong, so that’s ten services every week. On Sundays, the sacristans work in teams. On weekdays, a single sacristan does the work, and ideally each weekday has a dedicated sacristan who becomes familiar with the preferences of the regularly scheduled clergy.

Our sacristans aim to ensure that, when the clergy enter the sacristy to prepare for worship, their vestments are ready and they can concentrate on the part of the service they will be leading.

The weekday chapel  services are set up so that when the priest arrives they can simply vest and then conduct the service. Saturday is a day of preparation for each of the teams that will serve on Sunday. The appropriate vestments, altar linens, and all other necessary items (such as holy water) are placed in the proper place in the sacristy for easy access at 7 AM on Sunday morning.

Twice a year the Altar Guild holds a polishing and cleaning party for our lovely holy items. On the Saturday before Palm Sunday, they prepare the palms from donated palm tree cuttings. A few days before Christmas there’s another major event with decorating the church for the seasonal liturgies. For each of these special events sacristans bring baked goodies to share and make it a festive occasion.

Sacristans receive on-the-job training, and work sheets are available for each service as well as pictures of the setups. We all need reminders!

Canon Konnie Dadmun has served on the Guild for over 20 years and has led the Guild as Canon Sacristan for about 15. She says this about the ministry, which is currently shared by 26 people: “The sacristans have their own small community within the church. Getting to know the wonderful people is a way to feel more at home at St. Paul’s, and it is a true feeling of belonging. We work hard together and laugh and sometimes cry together.”

This is a crucial ministry, and our sacristans are experts. I am grateful for every one of you.

Blessings,
Penny

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Sunday Sermon: Called into the Deep

In the midst of splendid worship Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” Paul writes that he is unfit to be called an apostle. Simon Peter shrinks back from Jesus, stammering about his own sinfulness. Today’s Scripture conspires to convince us that the call to ministry is no respecter of persons.

Hearing that Isaiah reading takes me back to February 2, 1998, the night of my ordination to the priesthood. I have a vivid memory of 30 minutes before the service began, hiding in the one corner of my office that couldn’t be seen from the hallway, overwhelmed by the vows I was about to make, filled with holy terror, convicted of my own unworthiness. And then, in the midst of a splendid service, filled with pomp and circumstance, hearing that passage, “Woe is me,” and being comforted by God’s response to the prophet and the prophet’s acceptance of the call: “Here I am; send me.” Ever since, I have kept my eyes and ears open for the holy terror that appropriately accompanies any experience of the Holy Spirit’s call.

Luke introduces us to the first disciples by taking us to their workplace. Jesus asks for their help, and even though he’s been up all night, Simon Peter is willing to take on this small task. They put out into the shallow water. I’ve waded in the shallow water of Galilee; I remember the tiny fish that swarmed around my legs and nibbled at my toes. Jesus asks for more. Put out into the deep, he says. Let’s go fishing.

Now, our translation says “the deep water”, but I don’t find the word “water” in the text. Put out into the deep. That single word has all kinds of resonance. In the beginning, the Spirit of God moved over the face of the deep. The psalmist groans, “out of the deep have I cried to you, O Lord.” The deep is a scary place. Fishermen fear the deep; most professional fishermen can’t swim; Jesus is asking Simon to go way out of his depth. And Simon is tired. He had a bad night; he’s ready to go home, hug his kids, sleep, and hope for a better catch tonight. But something makes him say yes. Here I am. Something about being with Jesus, whom he first calls Master, makes this extra effort worthwhile.

The result is shocking. Fish, lots of fish, tons of fish. Abundance beyond imagining. Abundance that threatens their equipment - The nets are breaking! - their safety - The boats are sinking! -and their professional competence -where the heck were all these fish hiding last night? Simon, at the end of his tether, overwhelmed by the exhaustion, the emotional whiplash, the danger, falls to his knees and begs Jesus, whom he now calls Lord, to give him a break. He isn’t ready for such abundance, for such risk, for such a stretching of his imagination.

But Jesus doesn’t let up: instead of saying go home and rest, he says, leave your fear behind and follow me, learn how to share this abundance with all people. Simon and the others let go of their fear and their fatigue, they leave behind the very profitable piles of fish, and they throw in their lot with Jesus, ready to embrace a new life, a new kind of abundance, ready to plunge into the deep of God’s world, the deep hunger, the deep loneliness, the deep alienation that desperately needs this good news of life abundant meant for all.

What made them follow him? The promise of abundance. The embrace of a different way of life, unencumbered by anxiety. That sounds pretty attractive, doesn’t it?

The disciples’ values were shaken by this experience. They realized that the economic prize of the fish was nothing compared to the spiritual prize of following Jesus. And so they left everything. They gave up certainty, security, and comfort for the uncertain blessing of an itinerant preaching mission. They broke through the nets of their old lives and launched out into the deep well of God’s love.

In the diocese of San Diego we have a simple mission statement: fearless love. This is what Jesus offered Simon Peter and his friends. The chance to be free of fear, to live fully, to bring others into that deep place of abundance. How are we living out that fearless love? Where is Jesus leading you, me, us, the diocese? As a congregation, we are entering into a time of transition. This summer, God willing, our staff will move into the Great Hall basement, and the northern half of our block will become a construction zone. We will be challenged to ensure that our ministries are sustainable and our community strengthened throughout the years of construction. We will need to remember Jesus telling Simon to put out into the deep, and the abundance that resulted from Simon’s obedience.

As a diocese, we expressed fearless love last Saturday by electing the less traditional candidate. We put aside our fear of a different model of ministry. We dared to put out into the deep and risk the unpredictable abundance of the Holy Spirit. Susan Brown Snook’s election will mean discomfort for some in our diocese. The nets of our community may be strained by our call to leave fear behind. But if we believe that the Holy Spirit directed this process, we can trust that abundance lies ahead.

What if we follow the call and the result is abundance beyond our imaginings? What if we go fishing for people and our nets fill and strain and start to break with the overflowing abundance of needy humanity? What if we take seriously the need to embrace multiculturalism, and the people who come demand change in our culture, our worship, our language? Are we willing to risk the deep, or will we pull back, pay lipservice to the need for change, circle the wagons and stay on the shore, clinging to our security, our comfort, our power ? Our bishop-elect recently wrote about the urgency of our call to go fishing: she said, “We can no longer afford to set a small, beautifully appointed aquarium right next to an ocean full of multitudes of fish, and wait for a few fish to jump in.”(a)

A Facebook page for Episcopalians had a conversation this week about what evangelism is in our tradition. There was a lot of disagreement and a lot of evident discomfort. The word has been co-opted by people with very different theologies than ours. Jesus evangelizes the disciples by offering them a chance to experience the same freedom and abundance that characterizes his life. And they follow him because they see what fearless love has done for him.

Evangelism, as this Gospel illustrates, is offering others the freedom and abundance that characterizes your own life. That’s a definition that I can live with.

If you’re feeling a little challenged by all this talk of the deep, here’s some good news from today’s Gospel: the disciples didn’t have to go looking for Jesus; he came to them. Any one of us may encounter God, because God comes to us. We don’t earn that encounter, we don’t have to be perfect. But we should be ready to recognize God’s presence among us, whether in the midst of magnificent worship like Isaiah, or on the road like the “unfit to be an apostle”, Paul, or in the mess and muddle of our daily lives, like Simon Peter. God will come to us and God will call us to follow. If we respond to the call we may find ourselves way out of our depth, but that is precisely where we will discover life in its abundance. And if we react as Simon did to the presence of Jesus, in fear and trembling, that’s OK.

Jeffery John, dean of St Alban’s Cathedral in England, offers these reassuring words about that: “The strangest thing is that simultaneously the most gut-wrenchingly awful part and the most wonderful part of the experience is realizing that one is loved as one is. Peter’s words, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man’, are the authentic response of someone feeling himself, unbearably, exposed to the glare of this vast, unconditional love. He can’t bear it, he wants to run and hide; yet, having known it, he could never let it go. He will give up everything to follow it.” (b)

Our collect for today is the prayer we need in that moment: “Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your son our Savior Jesus Christ.” Amen.

February 10, 2019
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges

(a) Susan Brown Snook, unpublished essay on how the church must change, 2018
(b) Jeffrey John, The Meaning in the Miracles Eerdmans, 2004