Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.”

Revelation to John 7:14

As the story is told, a few years ago when the University of the South decided to renovate All Saints’ Chapel, they contracted with a liturgical architect to redesign the baptismal font. Like many Episcopal churches prior to 1979, the previous font was located off to the side in a small chapel, a location that reflected the theology of baptism pre-1979 – a private ritual to mark a life-event only to witnessed by close family and friends. The liturgical architect who was asked to resign the font recommended that the font be placed right in the chapel’s center aisle.

If you have ever been to All Saints’ Chapel in Sewanee, TN, you will know that it is a “chapel” in name only. The rich, neo-gothic architecture is feast for the eyes, with soaring, groin-vaulted ceilings; breathtaking clerestory windows that depict Jewish and Christian themes as well as a bit of world history; and a long aisle that makes it perfect for weddings. In fact, when the decision was made to place the font in the middle aisle, a complaint was levied by a long-time resident of Sewanee about the font’s intrusion into the aisle. “What about the brides? The baptismal font will get in the way,” they said. Without missing a beat, the architect responded, “that is precisely the point.”

The revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer makes clear that the two dominical sacraments of the Church – Baptism and Eucharist – are our main points of connection to God. Baptism is defined as “full initiation by water and the Spirit into Christ’s body, the Church,” whereas Eucharist is celebrated as the “principal act of Christian worship” wherein the Body and Blood of Christ are made present, hear and now, to feed the Body of Christ, you and I, for our journey ahead.

Both sacraments connect each of us in this room to Christians throughout the world and through time and space itself. Baptism calls to our attention the power of water, its ability to destroy and to create, as an agent of God’s grace. In Holy Baptism we become firsthand witnesses to the primordial waters of chaos in Creation, the parting of the Red Sea and the liberation of the Jewish people, and the Baptism of our Lord. Eucharist calls our attention to the presence of Christ in ordinary items, bread and wine. In the prayer for consecration we are brought to that night where he broke bread and poured the cup before he was handed over to suffering and death.

Taken together, these sacraments serve as connecting points to a long-standing tradition of Christian fellowship.

Taken together, Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist, both root us in God’s changelessness and propel us forward into God’s mystery.

Taken together, Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist reveal the abundant grace of God – a God willing to come and find us and to help us rediscover our original goodness; a God who not only sends us out in mission, but who meets us and walks with us every single step of the way.

Baptism and Eucharist have been the normative entry points into the Church since the very beginning. When the Apostles went around spreading the message of the Resurrection, the people who heard the message were often so compelled by what they heard, that they gave up everything to follow Jesus. There are stories of whole families entering into the baptized community of God, relinquishing titles and wealth to follow the Way, and becoming saints in their own right.

Saints are not merely saints because we knew and loved them, nor are they saints because they did great deeds. A dear friend of mine and fellow priest, the Rev. Chris Arnold, says it this way:

What makes somebody a Saint is only this: that God’s work in them is as complete as can be for them, that they have run the race set for them, that they have put on the Lord Jesus Christ, that they are truly able to say, with Paul, that it is no longer they who live, but Christ who lives in them.

It is God’s grace that makes saints, not our will or power alone. It is grace – God’s love for us, unearned and undeserved – that seeps through our fortifications to saturate us with God’s lovingkindness. In the Sacraments, we practice receiving this grace. We practice seeing God’s ability to use the worst of us to display the God’s best of God; God’s power to take our insecurities, our doubts, or skepticism, our laziness, and our fear and to transfigure them into something wonderful, something lovely, something inspiring.

That saints were not always the most diligent in prayer, the most fierce in courage, the most bold in their witness, nor the most compassionate in their giving. They were ordinary and human, just as you and I are. What makes them saints is that, over the course of their lives, they were molded more and more into the image of Christ.

And now that they have gone from this earth, they have achieved the goal many of us still strive for – to perfectly reflect the love of Christ who is himself the very reflection of the Father. They shine brightly, not because they have any light in-and-of themselves, but because they are so filled with the light of Christ. This is the Great Cloud of Witnesses. “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal,” says John the Revelator. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” These are they who are made closer to us, and us them, whenever we rehearse God’s grace in Baptism and Eucharist. These are they who have run the race that is set before us. These are they who lean over the grandstands of Glory to cheer us on as we run. “Walk together children, don’t you get weary; there’s a great camp meeting in the Promised Land.”

I don’t know about you, but I could use all the help I can get. This journey can get a little weary sometimes. There is so much that can weigh us down, so much can discourage us from taking the next step in faith. But we are not on this journey alone. We travel the path pioneered by Christ and walked by countless saints who have come before us and we can trust that they pray for us. In the words of Ray Charles and Gladys Knight (words later taken up by Stevie Wonder):

Now I lay me down before I go to sleep.
In a troubled world, I pray the Lord to keep,
keep hatred from the mighty,
And the mighty, from the small,
Heaven help us all.

That simple prayer makes one thing abundantly clear: we all stand in need of God’s help. In response to our plea, God says: “step through the water and come to the table; for here you will find strength for the journey. Here, you will find the community you need.”

Parish-wide Meeting Sunday 13 October (click to view)

A parish-wide meeting will be held after the liturgy where the Wardens will share information on the process to call a new rector and our status in that process. Most importantly, the Wardens and Vestry want input from parishioners on what attributes and skills we should be seeking in a new rector and what we want prospective rectors to understand about who we are. If you are unable to attend but wish to share your thoughts, please feel free to email Senior Warden Meredith Johnson.


August 29, 2019
Dear Saint Paul’s Parish Family,

We are sorry to share so early in our journey with Father Marcus that he has submitted his resignation and will be leaving us October 6, 2019. He has accepted a position at the Diocese of Connecticut. In his new position, he will be the Dean of Formation and will also be working as a Missional Priest-in-Charge of a faith community. This is a wonderful opportunity for him allowing him to continue to strengthen his gifts. The Diocese of Connecticut will benefit as we have from Father Marcus’s passion. Although it is hard to see him go, we have learned and done wonderful things as a parish with his leadership and guidance over the past 2-1/2 years. It will be exciting to watch his continued growth from afar knowing we were blessed to have been part of his early career. Father Marcus’s letter to the parish is included in this email.

So now we begin to look forward. Beth and I will be in contact with ECMN and Bishop Prior to plan for an interim priest and to look at putting together a search committee. We will gather together and consider what we have learned about ourselves during our time with Father Marcus. This is a chance for us to evaluate where we are and to make plans for moving forward: what we want to be sure to carry forward, what things we might want back that have changed, and yes, what might not have been tackled yet that we want to explore? We ask that each of you give prayerful consideration to these questions. They will be foundational to our Rector search.

We know the amazing strength of this parish and are confident we will become even stronger from the challenge that has been put in front of us. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Blessings,
Meredith Johnson, Senior Warden (meredithvj@gmail.com) Beth Carlson, Junior Warden (pbcarlson@comcast.net)


Dear Saint Paul’s,

It is with a mix of sadness and joy that I inform you that I offered my resignation to the Vestry on Monday, August 19. My last day as your priest will be Sunday, October 6, 2019. I have accepted a call to serve as the Dean of Formation for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, a position that will also include serving as a Missional Priest-in- Charge of a faith community there.

Throughout my time as your Rector, I’ve tried to preach, teach, and exemplify a consistent message: each of us is called to grow in Christian maturity to meet the challenges and opportunities of being the Church in this new missional age. Our patron, Saint Paul the Apostle, calls this the “full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). This means taking seriously our individual and collective calls to be leaders, not only within the walls of our parish but also in the wider community. Leading, especially in times of great change, means taking risks, being open to failure that leads to learning, collaborating with others, and standing firmly in our identity and purpose.

People across Saint Paul’s Church have heard this message, stepped up, and stepped forward. Together, we have faced down a major challenge head-on –tackling our budget deficit– and as a result are experiencing a renewal of energy and spirit. We have new ministries popping up all around, a greater capacity for innovation, and deeper commitment to Christ and the mission of God he invites us into. There are others who are still afraid to step forward or unsure where they fit, and that’s okay. Saint Paul’s moves forward together.

My new role will give me the opportunity to help form other ordained leaders in what we’ve done together: translating an age-old faith to a contemporary context. I am excited and honored to be asked by Bishop Ian Douglas to serve the Church in this role.

None of this takes away the anxiety, sadness, or grief that many will feel at this time. Transitions are always hard, especially when it comes when things are going well. I have not served as your Rector for long, but we’ve done a lot together. I will pray for you as you discern what leadership model God might be inviting you to try and who might best step into that role to walk alongside you as you continue engaging God’s mission. Your wardens are two of the most capable people I’ve ever met and together with your vestry and the entire community, as it has for the last 139 years, your journey continues.

There will be time to say goodbye, and I will continue to serve faithfully until my final day. In the meantime, the mission of God calls us onward. There are individuals and communities in need of the Gospel – and it is our job as followers of Jesus Christ to proclaim it, in word and example.

Faithfully, Marcus+

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