Dry Desert
He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna... in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 8:3

This week, I want to highlight the letter I wrote for our 2021 Annual Report—my first as your Priest-in-Charge—and presented last week at our Annual Meeting. Click here to download the 2021 Annual Report.


Our patron saint, the apostle Paul, wrote,


“If we see what we hope for, that isn't hope. Who hopes for what they already see?” (Romans 8:24).

Hope, it seems, only counts as hope if it's for something that doesn't quite exist yet.


We've needed a lot of this faith-driven hope in our time together in 2021.


Right now, our community's narrative is being written within the margins prescribed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The instabilities continue to shape our common life; vaccines, testing, and variants are top of mind more often than I would like. And some members have drifted away—become unseen—in the tumult of abnormal worship and intermittent programming. One of my hopes-for-the-unseen is that most of them will return when they have the bandwidth to do so. In addition to changes wrought by the pandemic, we also continued to adapt to ministry with a half-time Priest-in-Charge. Happily, our lay leaders are the heart of our ministry at St. Paul's, and our intrepid Morning Prayer officiants lead worship on the two Sundays per month when I'm not here.


However, even given the rollercoaster of COVID and a changing church, we took tremendous steps this year.


The people of St. Paul's bless and commission Rev. Helena as Priest-in-Charge in September 2021.
The people of St. Paul's bless and commission Rev. Helena as Priest-in-Charge in September 2021.

Over the course of the year, we worshiped: in our parking lot, sitting in lawn chairs; in our cars, drive-in style; on Zoom from our living rooms; and in the pews of our beautiful sanctuary. We were leaders in Southington's first celebration of LGBTQIA+ pride. We witnessed the ordination of a priest (me!) in St. Paul's sanctuary for the first time in memory. We trained up four lay preachers for Morning Prayer Sundays, under the expert guidance of Rev. Salin Low. We welcomed new families into membership at St. Paul's and recruited two of the youngest acolytes we've ever had. We celebrated the first same-sex wedding in St. Paul's history when I married Jen and Katie this November. We watched the children perform a Christmas pageant having done absolutely no rehearsal. We found out what it's like to have a Priest-in-Charge who's also a graduate student.


A couple other highlights and details are worth mentioning for posterity:

  • Monthly drive-in Eucharists from January through Easter, with Zoom Morning Prayer on the other Sundays. Easter through the fall, 8am worship indoors and 10:15am outside in the parking lot. Inside for All Saints Day to end of the year

  • Ash Wednesday on Zoom, with everyone picking up their ashes and imposing them on ourselves

  • We confirmed 11 youth on three different days (5/23, 9/11, 9/18), in three different places (St. Paul’s, Trinity on the Green in New Haven, St. Andrew’s in Rocky Hill), by three different bishops (Laura Ahrens, Jim Curry, Drew Smith)

  • 7 youth and 4 chaperones went on pilgrimage with Wonder Voyage to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming

  • Free Little Pantry installed near our driveway under the leadership of Kate

  • Women’s retreat at Camp Washington in October, led by me and Rev. Mo Lederman

  • Successful and joyous pledge drive, with pledges holding steady from 2020 to 2021

Thank you so much to everyone who made this year possible, especially our employees Jenn, Matthew, and Jamie.


As a community, your flexibility, creativity, and resilience were evident at every turn. Serving as your Priest-in-Charge has, so far, been one of the great blessings of my life. I can't wait to see where the Spirit leads us in 2022.

Do you remember when Regan and Hannah presented this fall about our amazing pilgrimage trip to Wyoming? They told the story of our trip, day by day.


I frequently think about one of the moments Regan described, when we saw a herd of buffalo by the side of the road. On this particular day, we saw a baby buffalo eating a blue surgical mask. There, in the midst of vast plains and enormous mountains, we were confronted with another layer of cost of the pandemic.


Where will the billions of masks we're producing go??


Landfills.


Oceans.


The mouths of baby wild animals.


So, I found a way for us to recycle some of those masks.


If you have used surgical, KN95, N95, or dust masks, bring them to St. Paul's! We're returning to in-person worship on Sunday, February 6th. Starting that day, please bring in your disposable masks and deposit them in this recycling box. It's right by the main door to the sanctuary.


We need to fill up this whole big box, so collect used masks from your family and neighbors, too!


(And please don't put any other PPE in this box; it's disposable masks only.)


We wear our masks because it's our responsibility to care for our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31). But it's also our responsibility to be good stewards of God's creation (Genesis 1:15). This is the best option I've found for doing both in this circumstance.


To read more about how the mask recycling process works, check out Terracycle's Zero Waste Boxes website.


A colorful mural stretched across a large exterior wall, full of pictures of Black children doing activities: reading, soccer, karate, lacrosse
Southington's "MLK39: Racial Equity" Mural

In the church, we love to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a civil rights activist, of course, but he was a minister, too. Active in the movement for civil rights from 1955 until his assassination in 1968, Dr. King is known for many things. Many of us can probably bring one of his famous quotes to mind.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Especially for that last one, I can hear his voice ringing out that refrain: “I have a dream, I have a dream...”


But Dr. King wasn’t just a person who said a lot of beautiful words about unity. He spent his life afflicting the comfortable, demanding justice, and organizing people to take direct action.


In 1963, eight white clergymen in Birmingham, Alabama wrote an open letter called “A Call for Unity.” The signatories included two Episcopal bishops. The men critiqued the civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, urging the people to negotiate and use the courts, not protest.


In response, from his cell in a Birmingham city jail, Dr. King wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (download and read it by clicking here).


It’s a little long, but I encourage you to read the whole thing. Pray with this letter this week. While you do, I encourage you to consider these questions:

  • What parts of the letter make sense to you, and where does it make you feel uncomfortable?

  • How (if at all) are these words applicable to today’s world?

  • Where are you in this letter?

And, for fun, here is a video documenting the process of making our own mural in town that's inspired by Dr. King's legacy: Southington's "MLK39: Racial Equity" mural.