Wednesday, October 30, 2013

All Saints Preachers' Greatest Hits

This week marks one full year of sermon recordings at All Saints. Turns out this has been a valuable ministry beyond anything we could have guessed. In the last year our posts on Soundcloud have attracted nearly 2,000 listeners. Imagine our church 1/3 even more full on Sundays and you'll get a sense of our weekly reach. In addition to Indiana, we've had listeners from around the US and Canada, the UK, and Australia. And of course many of you have enjoyed the opportunity to listen to your favorites again and again.

In celebration of reaching this milestone, we're posting our three greatest hits over the last year.

#1: It's Not About the Money - August 4, 2013

While observing that most people wish clergy would never talk about money, Mother Suzanne Wille reflects on accomplishment, idolatry, wealth, and the limits of self-reliance.

#2: Be Still and Know that I am God - December 16, 2012

On the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, Father Gordon Chastain declines to find words to describe the grief of the Newtown massacre, seeking instead the gift of silence and stillness.

#3: The Tower of Siloam - March 3, 2013

Father Michael Stichweh, in inimitable style, meditates on building collapses, danger, and disaster; the inevitability of suffering, gratitude, and the love of God..

Sunday, October 27, 2013

In My Power, On My Way

The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

October 27, 2013

Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale
Readings: Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
In the name of the Father and of the Son, of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
On a cold January morning in 2004, I was lying on the grimy concrete floor of the parking garage of the Continental Apartment building at the corner of Vermont and Meridian downtown. I was covered with my leather jacket, and I was trying not to whimper in pain. I heard the clack of high heels approaching.
Photo: Moyan Brenn, distributed under a CC BY 2.0 US
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Moments earlier, I was standing upright, striding in confidence to my car. This despite the thick layer of ice in the alley, the warning on the radio not to go outside unless you absolutely had to. It was just dawning on me that the same inch of ice in the alley was also layered on the windshield of my car when I crumpled to the ground and thought I heard a crack. I sat up, pushed my briefcase aside, and saw my left foot twisted in a way it should not twist. I started yelling for help.
The click of the high heels came closer.
Two men had responded to my yells, and helped me into the garage out of the cold. One called 911 and waited outside for the ambulance.
The high heels paused. Then they started moving away. A moment later I heard voices outside the door. A woman asked, "Do you know anything about the homeless guy sleeping in the garage?"
A few years before this happened I had fallen away from the church. There’s no dramatic story here. It’s just that one Sunday morning, a Sunday I was scheduled for acolyte duty, if I remember correctly, I decided not to get out of bed. Or maybe I didn’t even decide - I just didn’t get out of bed. And then the next Sunday I didn’t. And then the next, and the next, and the next.
The All Saints community did everything right, by the way. For a few weeks people called to see if things were ok. But I never answered. I didn’t know how to explain myself. I was embarrassed for not showing up when I said I would, fearful of being judged if I came back through the doors. I missed church, for a while. But after a while, my membership at All Saints became one of those things I used to do. I never lost my faith, exactly. But it seemed my time as a serious Christian was just another phase, no different from my teenage years as a vegetarian, or my more recent flirtation with CrossFit. My spiritual life atrophied. I didn’t think about God much.
But you know, it was fine. I was a young single man in the city, with a big downtown apartment, a good job, a kayak, and a car. I was going to school at night to get that next promotion. And even if I didn’t go to church I was an upright citizen, dutifully doing things like calling into the public radio pledge drive. I was having trouble quitting smoking, but I’d get around to it. It was in my power. I was on my way.
So now I’m lying on the parking garage floor being mistaken for homeless. The ambulance comes. I spend hours in the ER, at some points moaning in pain between morphine injections. It’s a triple fracture in my ankle. It requires surgery. I’ll be in the hospital for days. It’s my left ankle and I drive a stick shift. I can’t drive to work. I can’t get groceries. I can’t get to school at night. I could really use a cigarette.
And yet.
For a couple nights when I come home from the hospital a friend checks in on me and brings dinner. We watch the Super Bowl together and I see Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction through a painkiller haze. Two coworkers who live not too far away take turns driving me to work and night school. Classmates drive me home every night. My family ships me some fancy frozen dinners. People at the office bring coffee to my desk. Friends bring me groceries. No one brings me cigarettes. I never smoke again.
For that stump of my faith, neglected, dry and buried in the ground, all this is a long awaited rain, the scent of water trickling into dusty soil. I started to perceive God working in my life, calling me back into the relationship I had abandoned, reminding me that I had never been alone. Soon after I was off crutches, I was back in church.
Well, Christ Church Cathedral, anyway. After three years without entering a church, I limped into the back pew at an 8am service during Lent. I didn’t talk to anyone, but it was a step in the door.  It took a while longer to find my way back to All Saints, but that’s another story.
Recently a series of videos launched online called the NALT Christians Project. NALT - N-A-L-T stands for “Not All Like That”. The project is inspired by the “It Gets Better” campaign from a few years ago, and it aims to show that Christians are not universally opposed to LGBT equality, and many are passionately engaged for it. Many of the videos are moving, and I commend them to you.
But while I support the project and its aims, I gotta tell you, I cannot get comfortable with the name. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people,” says the Pharisee in today’s text. Not like the “thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even this tax collector.” The Pharisee, you see, is a good guy. He does what he’s supposed to. “I fast twice a week,” he says. “I give a tenth of all my income.” He’s doing the right thing. It’s in his power. He’s on his way, on the fast track to righteousness.
And yet, Jesus tells us, he’s not. No, it is the tax collector, the one who beats his breast, who dares not look up into heaven, who probably had to work up some nerve to even come into the Temple, who says simply, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” - it is this man who goes home more justified. Jesus tells us that even though the tax collector is in the Temple, he is “standing far off”. That’s not all that unlike my first Sunday sitting in the back pew at the 8am service, barely looking at the altar, talking to no one. I was still a little embarrassed, still a little scared. I imagine the tax collector felt the same.
But let’s be real. Let’s not fall into the trap of romanticizing the tax collector. We’re not talking about an unfairly maligned, but fundamentally ethical IRS employee here. We’re talking a guy whose day job probably involved a little extortion, the kind of guy that elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus has to remind to take only the taxes due, and no more.
Remember, the Pharisee is doing the right thing. He fasts, he prays, he gives a tenth of all his income. The Pharisee’s problem is not that he’s doing the wrong things. It’s that he views his relationship with God as transactional, that by doing enough right things, he will be good enough under his own power.
He’s got the relationship wrong.  He gives thanks to God that he is not like other people. He is confident that he is a good man because his good works make him good. But he is blind to the inevitability that he will eventually stumble, or blind to his current failings - it appears he could be falling a little short in the pride and mercy departments.
Where, in my opinion, the Not All Like That Project goes a little off course is not in the truth of its message, but in failing to recognize that in some measure, in some way, we are all like that, subject to myriad sins, failings, and blind spots. The tax collector recognizes this. He knows who he is in relationship to the perfect, the infinite, the almighty. He knows he falls short. But he trusts enough in God’s love to come into his courts and ask for mercy.
The Pharisee is not good because he does good things. No, the Pharisee is good, the tax collector is good, you are good because God created each of us in God’s own image, and God called us good. The Pharisee is good, the tax collector is good, you are good because God loves us all. We are not good because we do good things. No, we do good things in response to the love we receive from God and from each other.
In his forthcoming book, The Restoration Project, Father Christopher Martin describes the church as a hospital for sinners and a school for saints. All of us are both, always, in some measure, simultaneously healing our wounds and growing in faithfulness to God.
The great thing about the church - the reason I suspect you are here - is that it is so much better than any one of us can be alone. Together you make up for each other’s failings (and for mine). You mourn each other’s sorrows, celebrate each other’s joys, and share your gifts in worship, music, prayer, and service.
You also do one more holy and loving thing. You give money. I don’t know if you feel holy when you write your checks, or do online billpay, or put your credit card number into PayPal, but you are. Your gifts make this place that sets our minds on God and our hearts on love possible. You make sacrifices week in and week out to run this hospital for sinners, this school for saints. Even when it is hard, you give. And for that you and I should be deeply thankful to each other. You do this not because giving makes you good, but because you know whose you are. You know who loves you.
We are, it should be obvious by now, at the point in the year where we are thinking about what we will do in the next. What will we do more of? How will All Saints open its doors even wider? How will we make this the year of more mystery, more gratitude, more light, more art, more blessing? There are plans afoot to build on the momentum of the last year of growth in attendance and involvement, to expand our music programs, to unleash Mother Suzanne to be even more involved in our community, to open our building even more to the arts. As an example, we are exploring what it would take to turn our organist/choirmaster position into a true 20-hour a week job. This would allow us to expand our wonderful music program for more than supporting our worship to being a tool for outreach to people in our community who are not already connected to our church. How big we can go depends on this question: what resources will you provide?
I can’t tell you what your answer should be. Our good friend the Pharisee gives ten percent of all his income. Some members of our parish do give at that level, or have committed to working toward it. If we all aimed that high, Mother Suzanne, the finance committee, and the vestry would have to come up with even bigger dreams for next year than they already have.
But let me suggest this. Expanding our programs requires an increase in pledge income of about ten or fifteen percent. Wherever you are today, try to take a step up. And if you worry the step you can take is so small it won’t make a difference, remember that it is not the size of the step that matters but the direction in which you set your face. This is not about guilt, failure, or shame, or embarrassment. This is a school for saints and we keep trying. What you give or don’t give isn’t what makes you good. You are good because God loves you. We give in gratitude.
Sometimes in the morning when I’m putting my socks on I run my finger up and down the scars in my ankle. Under the skin a pair of metal plates are screwed into my bones. At this point the scars are pretty faded, but I read in them, written on my body, the history of a journey back from wilderness. I see me, foolish in confidence, sprawled on the ice in an alley. I hear the click of the heels of a woman asking about the homeless guy sleeping in the garage. I see friends and strangers who cared for me. I see the hand of God, leading me back here, to this place, to the most important place in my life. I feel the open arms that enfolded me, a sinner returning home, when I came back through our red doors. I see hundreds of communions, hear hundreds of hymns. Maybe I remember a sermon or two. I see our old friends who worship silently with us in the walls. I feel the touch of hands and holy oil as you have prayed for me and I for you.
There’s not much in my power. I am not on my way. But you and I are all here, at home, in this hospital for sinners, this school for saints. And for that I am so very, very grateful.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Getting ready for the Bible Challenge

Monday, February 18, the Bible Challenge for the Diocese of Indianapolis gets under way. The Bible Challenge is a project that will have participants reading the entire Bible in one year. More than 70 people from 10 churches (including 12 from All Saints) attended an all day retreat at our church yesterday, co-hosted by Trinity Indianapolis. In case you weren't able to attend and pick up a copy of the reading plan at the retreat yesterday, here are links:

To support each other as we take on this challenge, All Saints will be forming a group that will meet every other Thursday, starting February 21. Contact Mother Suzanne if you'd like to participate. Trinity will also be maintaining a blog that will be updated by people around the Diocese as they work through the year as a form of online community support 

We get started tomorrow with Genesis, the Gospel of Matthew, and Psalm 1. How will engaging with scripture this way change you? We're about to find out.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Senior Warden's Report

Here is the transcript of (now-retired) Senior Warden Brendan O'Sullivan-Hale's remarks at the 2013 Annual Meeting.

When I was eight years old or thereabouts, my parents took a long weekend away from me and my brother, and deposited us at my Aunt Joan's apartment. During that weekend, I became acquainted with another kid my age who lived in the same complex. Over those few days, he and I played together every chance we could get.

Among the amazing things we did that weekend was run circles around a stretch limousine that appeared in the parking lot. We were astonished that a millionaire lived in the apartment complex, and watched for anyone going in or out of the building who might be him. It wasn't until years later that I realized the resident of the complex was obviously the driver of the limo, not the owner.

Still, the mysterious limo cast a spell over the weekend. It seemed as though my new friend and I might become best friends. But there was a problem. Though my aunt lived barely two miles from my parents' house, she lived in a different school district. Our friendship was doomed, and we knew it.

As the hour approached when my parents would arrive to take my brother and me home, we comforted ourselves with a game. We stood at opposite ends of the limo. I observed that I was touching the back of the car, and he was touching the front, and through the car we were touching each other.

He took a step away, and saw that he was touching the parking lot, which was touching the limo, which was touching me.

And on it went - I'm hanging from a tree branch, which is touching the grass, which is touching the sidewalk, which is touching the parking lot, which is touching him. And so we knew that when I went home I would touch the doorknob, which then touched a great many things across the miles and got back to him.

That's been nearly 30 years ago now. I don't remember my friend's name, but I suppose in a way we're still in touch.

We Christians make the claim that our God entered into history at a particular place and time. Specifically, God showed up in the person of Jesus about 2000 years ago. He recruited disciples, taught crowds, and performed miracles of healing, feeding, exorcism, and keeping the open bar at a wedding from running dry. Then he was arrested and killed. Then he rose from the dead and hung out with his disciples a little while longer before slipping back through the veil, leaving his disciples as alone as they were before.

Or had he? Appearing to Moses in the burning bush, God says, "You cannot see my face, for no one shall see me and live." Can one who has lived with, and eaten with, and served with, and prayed with, and been touched by God living among us, then, go on unchanged?

There is a mildly wonky concept in our church known as the apostolic succession. And really, the only reason it's wonky is because the only time we really talk about it is when we're doing things like negotiating ecumenical relationships with our Lutheran brothers and sisters. See what I mean?

But it's really pretty visceral. After Jesus ascended, the disciples became leaders of the Christian movement. And they, in turn, laid hands on new followers to become leaders of the church, who then laid hands on a next generation of leaders, down through a line of what we know today as bishops.

Bishop Cate, then, was ordained while having hands laid upon her by other bishops, who had hands laid on them by other bishops, going back through time, wars, famines, and plagues, across oceans, plains and mountains, to the person of Jesus himself.

But the continuity of Jesus's physical presence does not stop with Bishop Cate. She in turn laid hands on Cathy Scott when she was ordained a deacon this past year. It was not Bishop Cate but another bishop, also connected back to Jesus, who ordained Mother Suzanne, and Father Tom, and Father Dan, and Father Michael.

And Jesus's touch came through Bishop Cate to me when she laid hands on me when I was confirmed, and the same is true of most of you when she, or another bishop laid hands on you. And if you have not been confirmed, fear not, for holy oil, blessed by a bishop, was rubbed on your forehead at your baptism. And if you were baptized in a tradition that just doesn't do that kind of thing, try this: after communion, go over to the Michael Chapel. Someone will be standing there, with a tiny container of oil, touched by the bishop and through her by Jesus himself, and in the hush of that holy moment will make the sign of the cross on your forehead and say, "I anoint you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit".

The physical presence of Jesus is all around us, imprinted on us through our bishops and other clergy, and through each other. We are all changed by Jesus's touch, despite being separated from his earthly ministry by vast distance in space and time.

While I cannot guarantee that this is the last time you will have to hear me pontificate, this is the last time I will be doing so in my capacity as Senior Warden, or as Helene affectionately calls me, the Vestry King.

Many of you have been complimentary of what I've been up to over the last three years, and for that I am grateful. Many of you have kept your frustrations over the last three years to yourselves, or at least haven't expressed them to me, and for that I am also grateful. And many of you have shared your frustrations with me, but have always done so with the acknowledgment that we're in this together, and for that, yes, I am grateful.

But I have accomplished nothing except through the grace of God and everyone sitting in this room. Look at all the ways All Saints is better off than it was three years ago.

We have a rector! I had nothing to do with that. That was the search committee.

Our financial position is stronger than it's been in many years, and we exit 2012 in surplus and go into 2013 with a balanced budget. Maybe I had a little to do with that, since I'm on the stewardship committee, but ultimately it's all of you, through your generous contributions in pledge and plate, who made that happen.

Everyone who sits within earshot of me at worship knows that I have nothing whatsoever to do with our music program.

When we welcomed our neighbors from Holy Life Missionary Baptist church into our space after their fire, it wasn't me who unlocked the doors.

I may swing the incense every once in a while, but I don't train acolytes.
I don't polish silver, or heaven forfend, the eagle lectern.
I don't prepare the altar.
I don't greet visitors as they come in the door.
I don't prepare amazing flower arrangements.
I don't put on amazing spreads during our parish celebrations.

I don't deliver our food offerings to the Damien Center.
I'm not a lay eucharistic visitor.
I don't organize the yard sale.
I didn't set up the booth at pride.
I don't organize educational programs.
I don't administer grants from our endowment.
I don't count the collection plate.
I don't pay the bills.
I don't tend the garden or mow the grass.
I don't teach Sunday school.
I don't pray with people in the Michael Chapel.
I don't knit snuggle sacks for newborns, or scarves for young adults leaving foster care.

And by the way, our new rector doesn't do those things, either. Ok, she actually does know how to knit.

Over the last three years, we the laypeople took over the Episcopal Church of All Saints. Not because we wanted to, but because we had to. And while those years at times felt like a journey through the wilderness, look who we are today.

Always remember what we have done together. There may be some temptation to think that now that we've got full time clergy, we can let go. But the same Holy Spirit that ordained Mother Suzanne, that ordained Cathy, and that will soon ordain Brantley, also ordained us, through the waters of baptism to a ministry of far more than sitting in the pews. We the laypeople are ministers of this church, called to different duties but equal in every way to Mother Suzanne, to our affiliate clergy, and to Bishop Cate, and let's pile on Rowan Williams and Justin Welby for good measure, through the eternal touch and companionship of Jesus.

And as for me, how lucky am I? Look at this building, this beautiful old cathedral. Look at everything you do for each other, and for the community around us. What millionaire parked this stretch limousine here? 

I'm just glad that you trusted me enough to let me drive for a while.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Report from the Master of Acolytes

Our Annual Meeting is coming up on February 3, and we're publishing reports as we receive them. Here's the report from the Acolyte team, submitted by Mark Gastineau.

The members of the acolyte teams continue to provide reverent service at the altar.  The remarkable loyalty of these persons to this ministry is pleasing to me and, I am sure, to the entire congregation of All Saints.  The four teams of acolytes work as units and rotate responsibilities on Sundays.  When a Principal Feast falls on a weekday, ad hoc teams work together and assist the rector in providing beautiful liturgies for Christmas, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, the Triduum, Ascension Day, All Saints’ Day, and Solemn Evensong, among others.

A highlight of 2012 was the Celebration of New Ministry for Mother Suzanne in November.

I am constantly indebted to the persons who assist at the Wednesday evening Masses.

I hope that other members of the parish will consider joining us.  Everyone's help is vital to the parish.  And serving God at the altar will give you a spiritual satisfaction that is at once beautiful and intense.

Please contact me if you feel the call.

Stewardship Report

Our Annual Meeting is coming up on February 3, and we're posting reports as we receive them. Here's the Stewardship Report, submitted by Brendan O'Sullivan-Hale.

The Stewardship Committee, composed of Amy Bailey, Rose Lane, Brendan O'Sullivan-Hale, and Mother Suzanne, is grateful to all the people who opened their homes for our season of parties. It was a great way for people to get to know each other and our new rector in an intimate setting, and is probably the most fun anyone has ever had on a pledge campaign.

We are stunned by the generous response of the congregation in supporting our church. Your faithful giving will allow All Saints to balance our budget in 2013 while expanding programs.

Junior Warden's Report

Our Annual Meeting is coming up on February 3, and we're publishing reports as we receive them. Here's the report from the Junior Warden, submitted by Jim Tomlinson.

What a great year to have been your Junior warden

Together we worked on the "12-Lenten gifts back to the facility", a project which a number of us participated in and we were thus able to adopt various tasks. 

This project found us not only cleaning up and refurbishing different areas of the church and parish hall, but also working on new tasks such as painting, extra clean-up in the gardens, resurfacing the stair treads, and the addition of new art work by Tim Jensen and various donors. These endeavors have met with great success and a wonderful opportunity for all of us to give back to our parish home and our beloved All Saints.  It is my hope that this concept and in-house ministry will  continue into 2013 and be adapted to the future needs and circumstances of the parish property.

We have revitalized the buildings and grounds committee;  please contact Robb Biddinger if you would like to contribute and/ or participate in this ministry. The committee has been addressing various issues such as our heating and assisting with the repair of the wrought iron fence which surrounds the church property on 16th and Central Ave.  Thank you to Robb Biddinger for his diligent assistance with these property issues.  

We will have a few things on the horizon for 2013 to investigate and research: 

  • The windows in the parish hall on the west side of the building are in questionable condition, and need to be evaluated for repairs. 
  • The signage for the church has had a number of repair band-aids over the years.  It is clearly long past time to think seriously  about a replacement. Signage--its appearance and ability to grab one's attention  with basic information for the public is very significant in terms of evangelism and not just advertising. The condition of exterior signage as well as its design communicates to the public how an organization sees itself.   The time has come for us to think beyond applying the usual 'band-aids.'    Yes indeed, web sites are crucial today but the condition of signage in terms of communicating basic information of worship times, speaks volumes to the public as  to who we are as a church community.  
  • I am very much aware of pews that are loose and kneelers that must be tightened back up.
If you have any thoughts or ideas you would like to share with me please feel free to contact me.  
It has been my privilege to serve the parish community of All Saints as your Junior Warden in 2012.