Thursday, November 19, 2009

Taking a bite out of hunger

I'm proud of my church. The people of Christ Episcopal Church know Jesus and make his love known through their service.

Last night, the youth group, together with our young adults group sponsored the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner. The parish hall was packed with people. According to Youth Minister Donya Newport, 120 people were served heaping, steaming plates of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. Yum, it was good.

Of the 120, 80 or more were neighbors from around the church, where poverty is abundant. Our guests are among the 49 million Americans who are hungry today, a statistic reported this week by the New York Times.

In the midst of this Great Recession, the number of hungry Americans, including children, is rising. Hunger in America is at its highest in 14 years.

However, Christ Episcopal Church, along with many other churches in Springfield are heeding Jesus' command: we're feeding the hungry.

Last night's Community Thanksgiving Dinner was one way. At Christ Church, we're also filling grocery sacks each week of food for Crosslines, the Council of Churches' ministry to the hungry.

(Crosslines is mounting a special appeal right now. If you contribute money to the council's ministry, your gift will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $40,000, thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. Please join me in making a Thanksgiving gift to Crosslines this year.)

With the vestry's enthusiastic support--and personal commitment of many vestry members to take part--Christ Church will participate in the Kids Against Hunger ministry, starting in January. Church volunteers will gather at the ministry's warehouse one Saturday a month and fill bags with special protein meals and other items, which will then be distributed to the hungry locally and globally.

Moreover, church members volunteer weekly at the Well of Life Ministry, which serves as an emergency food pantry downtown. Other volunteers fill bags with food and distribute them to the hungry through Crosslines. And the staff regularly gives out sack lunches to the hungry who come to the church seeking food. These lunches are prepared by our Outreach Committee.

I'm proud of the people of Christ church for the many ways they show compassion to the hungry. They're a living example of the life of service that Jesus lived and goes on living through us.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A change of attitude toward change

I walked into Starbucks today at 6.15 am as I do nearly every morning after my workout.

And right away, I noticed: Everything had been changed: there were new tables, including one huge one. Bars had put in with bar stools. New lighting installed. The walls are being repainted.
(Fortunately, my friends who work there were still behind the counter.)

What was going on? I wondered. Whatever it was, I thought, I didn't like it. For an instant, I thought I'd go back to Panera tomorrow morning.

Now, I understand what people in the church, particularly the Episcopal Church, are experiencing. The church is being refurnished and redecorated, theologically and in other ways. The Episcopal Church isn't what it used to be. And we feel unsettled.

We want the church to be that unchanging institution in our lives. We crave the familiar words of that worship we grew up with, be it the 1928 Prayer Book, even the 1979 Prayer Book. We might say we liked it when Episcopal priests were men, not also women.

And female bishops? Well, let's not talk about that or about the gay bishop of New Hampshire or the the blessing of same gender unions. What will be next?

I understand. I really do. We humans want everything to stay the same. It's secure that way and safe. And predictable, like sitting in the same pew at the Sunday Eucharist. We can always count on our place being available.

But it's also unrealistic. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same--in families, at work, in government and politics (We now have an African-American president), in our neighborhoods and cities, in the church.

Darwin found that only a species that adapts and evolves survives; otherwise, it dies.

So it is with institutions, including the church. I remember a debate I had with a retired Member of Parliament when I was in England one summer--this debate occurred in his home, not on the floor of Commons--and I said, "Why not let women be priests, even bishops? Your Prime Minister is a woman, after all?"

"Yes, but that's different," he said, unable to tell me exactly how.

The Episcopal Church is changing, because the world we serve is changing. And we either adapt, seeking to minister to others in Christ's name, or we cling to the past and perish in irrelevance and insignificance.

So, I'll go back to Starbucks tomorrow morning. I'll mutter for awhile about the changes in furnishings and decor. But I'll get used to the changes and, if my experience with change is any measure, I'll even come to like them one day.

And, of course, I won't want anything to change.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Prayer brings healing

God always speaks in Holy Scriptures, and sometimes I listen closely enough to hear what he says.

Today, I sat in my office praying Morning Prayer and reading from Matthew's gospel. God spoke to me clearly.

In Matthew 15.29 and following, Jesus is on a mountain in Galilee. Crowds bring him "the maimed, the lame, the blind, the dumb, and many others." They put them at his feet, and he heals them.

As a priest, I care spiritually for people who are struggling with illness, pain, loss, grief, and more. They seek help from God for themselves or for others.

The Good News is that God hears our pleas for help and comes to our aid in Jesus. In him, God ministers to human beings out of the abundance of his compassion. He does so in Galilee. He does so here and now.

When we pray for God to heal others, we're placing them at God's feet, and God heals them, today, just as he does that day on the mountain side through his son Jesus Christ.

And if there aren't instant results to your prayers for healing, don't despair and give up on God.

Prayer takes effort, just as it takes effort, and a lot of it, for those crowds carrying the ill and broken up the mountain and then laying them at Jesus' feet. So persevere.

God heals everyone we place at his feet.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fort Hood: the continuing tragedy?

We prayed at church yesterday for the victims of the attack at Fort Hood, remembering to God's care those who died there, their grieving families and friends, and the wounded recovering in hospital.

As I reflect on this tragedy, I'm awed by the courage of the police officer who stopped the attacker and by the soldiers who risked their lives shielding victims from bullets, getting people to safety, taking care of the wounded--all the while risking their own lives. We have great people in law enforcement and in our military.

I hope the Fort Hood tragedy is not magnified in the coming days.

The alleged attacker is a Muslim, an Army major, and a psychiatrist who counselled soldiers after their combat service. No one is sure why he went on this rampage, although some in the media, especially radio and TV demagogues, are speculating that this man was motivated by religion, that this attack was his own personal jihad.

Nonsense. The attacker committed these terrible acts because he was mentally ill, not because he was a Muslim.

Americans who are outraged by this attack, instead of clinging to the illusion that it's the result of religion, should realize that it's the result of a society that worships guns, glorfies violence, and makes it easier and easier for everyone, including deranged people, to buy guns. Should gun attacks really surprise us anymore?

Today, I emailed a Muslim colleague who participates in the Springfield Interfaith Alliance, which includes other Muslims, together with Jews and Christians. I told her of my prayers for her faith community here and nationwide. I promised my support, told her that I was uriging my church to remain focused on our work for interfaith understanding and partnership for furthering God's work.

I hope this tragedy will stop in Fort Hood and not radiate into the rest of American, in waves of further prejudice, hatred, and violence against Muslims. That would be a greater tragedy still and one that we could have prevented.