Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, welcome to Annual Meeting Sunday.
2018 was a busy year full of blessings and opportunities. A funeral was held for Marion Elaine Wyatt; Benjamin Everett Hill was baptized; Matthew and Nicole Vaughn were confirmed at the Easter Vigil in Grand Rapids; I buried my father, Kenneth Mackenzie Sutherland in Ontario; two families were adopted at Christmas; Christmas baskets were delivered to our shut-ins; and five hospital visits, 22 home visits, 37 Home Communions and 50 pastoral visits were made in 2017. Home Communion is taken to five people on a regular basis.
Regular Sunday morning worship is provided with additional services available for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Stations of the Cross, Holy Week, St. James’ Day, Backyard Communion, a Home Blessing, Blessing of the Animals and Veterans Sunday. We are active in community events with Shrove Tuesday, public readings of Matthew, our monthly community supper, purse bingo, salad luncheon, Episcopal Youth Camp, Christmas Bazaar and Cookie Walk, cheese balls, attendance at Diocesan Ordinations, Diocesan Convention, and participation in the Festival of the Forks and Albion Aglow Parades. Christian Formation was available for our children and our adults. The adults studied the Gospel of John in the spring, Moses in the fall and attended a worship service at Beth Temple Israel.
We continue to work with AIM, Albion Interfaith Ministries, providing food, hygiene and paper products, emergency financial assistance and the use of our Parish Hall. We worked with AIM, Albion College, St Paul’s Lutheran Church and St. John’s Catholic Church to provide Christmas boxes and gifts for 375 families in Albion. The Albion Lion’s Club and Weight Watchers also use our Parish Hall.
A highlight of the year was a visit from Bishop Whayne Hougland to bless the Albion Community Gardens and our new tractor. The 2017 growing season was very successful with many gardens planted, an orchard planted and storage units, fencing and mulch put in place. It was an opportunity to work with Vision of Life, to develop new friendships, to build community and to grow and share fresh vegetables with our neighbors. We are looking forward to even more families being involved in 2018. I hope that you will be able to plant a garden this summer.
The Albion Reading Camp successfully integrated with the Albion Recreation Departments Peapod program in 2017. We worked with the Albion Recreation Department, Albion Public Library, Marshall’s Franke Center for the Arts, Albion College, Bread of Life Ministries and the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan to provide a literacy program over eight weeks during the summer. Our plan is to coordinate a literacy program again for the 2018 summer. We would love for you to get involved.
Reaching significant milestones is cause for reflection on the past and discernment on what the future may hold. Celebrating my fifth anniversary with St. James’, my fifth anniversary as a priest and reaching my 60th birthday I have spent significant time over the past couple months discerning where God may be calling my ministry to and what this might mean for St. James’. We have gotten to know each, to trust each other and perhaps, may I dare say, love each other. We know what to expect on Sunday morning. We have a format agreed on for bulletin, hymns, and changing church seasons. The Acolytes, Denise, the Altar Guild, the musicians and the Wardens know what to expect and when I forget to review the dimming of the lights for Christmas Eve the Acolytes and Wardens know what needs to be done. I sure have missed Gard over the past few weeks as he cares for his mother.
As we plan for our Annual Meeting, make plans for Christian Formation and plan the 2018 Vestry Retreat what direction are we headed, where are we going? I have spent considerable time in prayerful conversation with this subject in my fall retreat, with my Spiritual Director Sister Nancy, my wardens Jocelyn and Dick and Bishop Whayne Hougland. This is an ongoing process, but I have come to the realization that I want and need to move from thinking to feeling, from my head to my heart and hope you will join me in this journey. I don’t know exactly what this will mean or what will change. There isn’t a documented roadmap for this process for me to follow. It will mean careful listening for God’s direction and some trial and error. The goal is Spiritual Growth, of moving from an intellectual, rational mode of operation to emotional, heart felt, spirit lead worship that impacts our lives every minute of the week. St. James’ is not to be a civic institution or a worship club, but a hospital for sin sick souls, a training ground for Spiritual Growth that we will carry us out into our homes, neighborhoods and schools and places of work.
I don’t really know what this means yet, but I am eager to find out. Bishop Whayne has challenged me to adopt as a Lenten discipline to operate from the perspective of how I feel rather than what I think. This will be a challenge for me. This is not the first time I have been asked to do this. I will need your help. Ask me how I feel about a subject rather than what I think. I hope you will join me in this challenge to work from our hearts rather than our heads. Intelligence is good. Rational thought is important, but so is our emotional intelligence. It is important to also be able to work from our hearts. Some of you may already be good at this, then I ask you to please help me. Remember I worked for over thirty years as a Mathematician, Programmer Analyst and an Information Services Project Manager. I am undoing years of training to be able to move from the rational to the emotional. I feel scared and challenged. I could not look the Bishop in the eye when he asked me how I was feeling, but I am also feeling excited and motivated to find out where this might take me. I invite you to join me in this journey to discover where God might lead us and what this may mean for me and for you in the future.
We are the Episcopal branch of the church in Albion alive in the worship of God through Jesus Christ and active in the community of Albion. May God bless Albion and St. James’ in 2018!
So what does it mean to answer a call to follow Jesus?
Who is baptized? Who was baptized as an infant or a young child? I was baptized when I was 15 days old. I certainly did not choose to be baptized, but I am forever grateful that my parents chose to have me baptized, to be a member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church and of the family of God. My Godmother, Hazel Davey, is still living and is still the organist in my home church; we still share Christmas letters. My Godfather, her husband, died many years ago. She attended my marriage to Jon playing the organ and has followed by career and change in vocation with interest. Many of you will have similar stories from your baptism.
Some of you chose to be baptized as adults. That would be a very different experience. It is something you decided to do. You may even remember the service of baptism and what it felt like and meant to you. My sister Marsha and I were confirmed when we were 12 and 13 with several other young people. I definitely remember the confirmation classes. We read
CS Lewis’ book “Screwtape Letters”. I remember the final test where we had to answer questions about what we had learned and had to write out the Apostles’ Creed. I remember receiving a Bible. I remember Bishop Appleyard coming and laying his hands on our heads; I remember the veil we wore and the white chiffon dress with bell sleeves and a mauve ribbon that I wore. I wore it to my grade eight graduation as well. It was kind of a rite of passage from childhood to our teenage years and high school. Do you remember your confirmation? What details stand out for you?
But a call to discipleship, a call to follow Jesus is more than learning doctrine and being able to recite what you believe. It is a call to action. The disciples actually had to put down their fishing nets and climb out of their fishing boats and literally follow Jesus. For those of us who were baptized and confirmed as children these choices were mostly made by our families. So how do we make mature decisions to follow Jesus, to answer God’s call?
The answer will be different for each of us. First we need to stop and listen to hear the quiet voice of God. For some of us that may mean being knocked off our high horse like Paul and forced to listen.
A couple weeks ago the Adult Formation class watched a video by Rob Bell called “Noise”. We are surrounded by blaring TVs, radios, ringing phones, elevator music, traffic sounds; bombarded with Facebook, texts, emails, twitter, Instagram and the demands of a 21st century life. If we are to listen can we even hear God’s voice above the din and demands of our lives?
We may need to actively seek out the solitude of a walk in Whitehouse Nature Center or a paddle down the Kalamazoo River or a hot, steamy shower. Prayer or conversation with God does not actually need to involve words. It can mean just clearing your desk and your mind of the demands of your day and just being, open to whatever may come. Perhaps you may want to lay out a problem or question that you need help with. “O God, teach me how to be supportive through my son’s teenage years.” This may be something that you begin your time with God with for days or weeks or even years. You may find a spiritual guide or a prayer partner helpful. In last week’s Old Testament reading from First Samuel, Samuel does not yet know God. When God calls to him he believes it is Eli calling. Eventually Eli perceives that God is calling Samuel and Eli tells Samuel what to do. We may be a spiritual guide for our children or a friend.
We may also need to learn to trust God and what God is calling us to. We may need to learn to obey God and act on what God is calling us to. We may be like Jonah who heard God alright but did not want to take God’s message to the people of Nineveh. Jonah ran the opposite direction to what God asked of him. Jonah preferred to risk his life on the open sea and in the belly of a whale than going to Nineveh and warning the people that their city would be destroyed in 40 days. Jonah knew that God was a merciful God and that if the people of Nineveh repented and changed their ways then God would also change his mind and not destroy the city of Nineveh. And Jonah was right. The people did repent and God was merciful and did not destroy their city. Jonah was angry. Jonah could not accept that it was better for the people to be warned and allowed to repent and transform their lives than for the city of Nineveh and all living there to just be destroyed with no warning or opportunity for repentance.
It is hard to trust God to act in our best interests. It is easier to trust in our own strength and street smarts, our 401Ks and investments than to trust in God. It is easier to trust in horses and chariots, the US military and handguns, rifles and assault weapons than to trust in God. They are here and available now. We don’t really know when or how or even if God will respond. I am not saying it is bad to do things for ourselves. My parents taught me to be independent, to find solutions to my problems, to work hard and to save for a rainy day. This is good, but it is also important to learn to trust God and to trust our neighbors, to know who we can count on in a time of need.
In writing to the Corinthians, Paul told them to live as if they were not part of this world. Paul believed that Jesus would return in Paul’s life time. Some two thousand years later we no longer believe in the imminent return of Jesus. We believe Jesus will return, that the Kingdom of Heaven will come, just not today. Yet this passage is still relevant for us in the 21st century. It is important for us not to get caught up in the cares of this world, to not fling ourselves out of windows when the stock market dives, but to live as if we believe that the Kingdom of God is imminent and that we can be instrumental in building the Kingdom now in how we live our lives today.
I implore you to consciously make time in your busy lives to be with God, to listen for his still voice; to learn to trust God and to be obedient to his word, so that when Jesus comes walking by unexpectedly one day and says “Follow me”, you can with Simon and Andrew, James and John, drop what you are working on and follow Jesus. Amen.
Today is the second Sunday in Epiphany snuggly in between Christmas and Easter, the birth of Jesus and the death of Jesus, the Incarnation and the Exaltation, Christology and Discipleship. Christology is the words and titles that we give Jesus to say who he is, to say that he is divine and human, and to describe the role he plays. Discipleship is the conversation between Jesus and the people who are learning how to follow Jesus AND the conversation between Jesus’ followers and the people who they share the Good News with.
This morning’s Gospel reading is from John chapter one and within those few verses we learn that Jesus is the son of Joseph of Nazareth, an ordinary, flesh and blood man; the Son of God and King of Israel; a teacher; the fulfillment of the hope of Israel, of both the Law and the Prophets and by implication of the entire Old Testament; the Son of Man as in Daniel; the intercessor between Heaven and Earth reminiscent of the ladder of Jacob upon which the angels descended and ascended and going beyond today’s text, the Lamb of God; the Word of God through whom all was created.
So what words do we use for Jesus? Who is Jesus? What is his nature? What is his role?
How do we learn about Jesus here in this building?
· Words of our worship
· Our stain glass windows
· The crosses: crucifix, stations of the cross
· Baptismal font
· The altar – all are welcome
· The Elements
How do we share the Good News with others?
· Community suppers
· Albion Community Gardens
· Albion Reading Camp
· AIM, Weight Watchers, Lion’s Club
· Keeping beautiful buildings and grounds to the glory of God and to show hospitality
· Advent & Lenten Lunches
· Fund Raisers
· Christmas Bazaar & Cookie Walk
· Reading of Scripture
· Our presence in the community – parades, GED, CBA…
Mother Darlene Kuhn
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