Baptism is death and birth. In the water and by the Holy Spirit, we die with Jesus to be reborn into eternal life. We’ve all heard the theology. And most of us have been “marked as Christ’s own forever.” But maybe the way that works out in our daily lives is a bit unclear – at least some of the time. How do you live as one who is baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection? What does it mean to say you have died and been born again? Easy and pat answers won’t go very far here. It really just takes our daily experience. It’s not something we can describe so much as it is something we live and pray.
This September we are one of a handful of congregations in the Episcopal Church to receive a special grant from the Lilly Grant folks that will allow us to explore what it really means for us to be Baptized for Life as individuals and as a congregation and as part of Wabingston (the three parishes of Ware, Abingdon, and Kingston). Beginning September 16, we will take part in filling out a questionnaire about our spiritual lives. I ask that each of you take the 20 minutes or so to fill out the online questions. (There will be hard copy and a way to do this online at the parish house for those who don’t usually do computers at home.) It will be important to hear from everyone – our oldest members and our youngest, those who attend three times a year and those who are here like they hold the walls up. If you come to Kingston at all, please fill one out! This is not a questionnaire to see if you like the way we do things. It is a questionnaire that seeks to explore with us what it means to be baptized for life. Needless to say, you need not fear that you are going to write the “wrong” answers because the questions will be too big for there to be wrong answers.
The information we receive from these questionnaires (anonymously, by the way) will be used by us, with the help of folks from Renewal Works at Forward Movement (the people who give us our Forward Day by Day prayer booklets) and a few people at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. With the answers, we will seek to understand who we are as baptized people. What are our strengths in God? What are our weaknesses? What might we be called to do in the years ahead as we live into our baptisms? A wonderful group of folks from the breadth of our congregation has volunteered to help with the work of sharing with us the results of the questionnaire and working with us to make sense of what to do next – more on that in October! Then we will spend about three years, working with Wabingston and on our own, to find ways to live into our baptism with special intention.
This is a huge gift to our congregation and a beautiful opportunity for us to give to God as we seek out a deeper experience of our baptisms using this program. It will also be, especially for us as a part of Wabingston, a gift to the larger church as we show the church ways we (three smaller congregations) work together to build up the Body of Christ.
This will be a special journey deeper into Christ for us as the people of God at Kingston Parish. I feel very blessed to be with you all on this journey. In the days ahead, let’s all take the first step and see where God is leading!
For the next six weeks we will live in the church season of Epiphany, although I think we are always really in the season of Epiphany. An epiphany is an “aha!” – it’s making sense of something, seeing something truthful for the first time. This season after Christmas focuses on the “aha” stories of Jesus being shown to be King of Kings and Messiah in the arrival of Persian stargazers with gifts for a poor Jewish newborn, the Baptism of Jesus when the voice of God echoes: “listen to him!”, the wedding at Cana where Jesus changes water into wine, and others. The season always ends with the epiphany on Mount Tabor when Jesus is transfigured before Peter, John and James and show to be the heir of the Torah (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah).
These are special moments of revelation about who Jesus is. But the truth is the whole season of Epiphany points to a world full of epiphanies that reveal God as God and Jesus as savior of all.
God is always present in all that is. Epiphany reveals that presence in everyday life for us all. In a world where we each and all too often imagine God is absent, how can we bring eyes to see for ourselves and others so that God’s omnipresence is known in our every moment?
In a world where what we see so often is darkness, fear, and hate, we need this season of Thanksgiving. We seem so ready to name what is wrong, to put someone down, to be afraid of the stranger, to demonize the person with whom we disagree; perhaps the tonic for it all is to remember God’s abundant gifts and be grateful. There is so much good in our lives and in God’s world.
We begin November remembering saints – the big saints like Francis and John, Mary and Teresa – and the little saints like Grandma and the person who often sits beside us in church. What a blessing it is to have the saints at the foundations of our faith and our church who show us how to love God and love neighbor in the real world and in times of great challenge and change. What a blessing it is to have the saints of today at our sides showing us often how to love God and neighbor in the simple and everyday. Give thanks for the saints and the gift of God that allows us each and all to be saints too.
Later in November we shall celebrate Thanksgiving which reminds us of the gifts of harvest, the gifts of friends and family around table, the gift of our country, and the gifts of all that is. Again, when we live out of that gratefulness, life gets better. It doesn’t just look better, it gets better.
How are you thankful? How do you show thanks to others? (“Thank you” is great, of course, but how can you go further?) How do you offer thanks even to yourself? (For many of us thinking of and lifting up our own good ways of caring for ourselves is too easily overlooked or deemed selfish, but at its best this is what allows us to function for others.) How do you give thanks to God? (Remember Eucharist, for instance, means thanksgiving!) How can we spread our gratefulness to the world?
Stewardship. It’s a word we toss around often in the Fall and especially in relation to the funding of the ministries of the parish church and our diocese. It gets tangled with the words pledge and tithe rather quickly. And those are important, but stewardship is much bigger than that. Stewardship is how we understand and take care of all that is and especially all that we have been given by God (which, in Christian understanding, is everything we have, of course). Stewardship is involved when we decide to forego that extra cookie to take care of our bodies -- or believe we should enjoy that cookie as care for our spirit. Stewardship is recycling in our parish kitchen in order to honor God’s creation on the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. And stewardship is offering our time and money to those in need after all the hurricanes and earthquakes of late, caring for others and for our relationship with others.
We, the Christian people of Kingston Episcopal Parish are stewards of an Anglican tradition and a Christian faith, and most especially God’s Good News, the Gospel. We are stewards of each other, of Mathews County, and of the Gospel throughout the world. We are stewards not only of the tradition that links us to Bishops and dioceses in Virginia and around the world, we are also stewards of a particular history here in Mathews and at Kingston Parish. We have a special connection, for example with Sally Tomkins and Giles B. Cooke. Their stories are, like all of our stories, shades of grey and glory. While I am conscious they worked in some way to continue the ways of slavery (which is surely against the Gospel of Jesus Christ in who there is neither north nor south, slave or free), yet there is much holy and good in their stories to share and celebrate in our stewardship of their memories here at Kingston. Captain Sally’s smart and faithful use of cleanliness for healing is a powerful witness especially in a time when surgeons regularly used the same dirty knife going from one patient to the next. And Cooke, a secretary to Robert E. Lee, went on to become an Episcopal priest, founder of numerous educational and religious institutions for Black Americans during the Reconstruction in his home of Petersburg before he served as parish priest here in Mathews. In fact, the library where I worked and studied as a seminary student is named for the Bishop Paine Seminary. Bishop Alexander Paine was a Black bishop who Cooke honored when he named a seminary to train Black clergy he helped create. Eventually Cooke’s seminary was united with the Virginia Seminary where I studied for holy orders. The Rev. Cooke and his wife are both remembered in the very walls of Christ Church for their faithfulness and good stewardship of what God had given them.
Being stewards of all that God has given us is a great responsibility and never easy to discern in rigid, easy terms. There is much for us to learn and know about all that God has given us so that we can be good stewards. And just as the cookie can be something to forego as a good steward or something to enjoy as a good steward, so we have always to make careful and faithful decisions about how to honor the Gospel with our actions and stewardship. May we each and all always be good stewards of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be remembered in ages to come, not for ourselves, but for the ways we brought the Kingdom of God faithfully into the world.
Gary was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Attending Roman Catholic, non-denominational, and United Methodist churches through the years, he finally discovered the Episcopal Church in college and knew he had discovered home with the liturgy, mindfulness, and openness. He has attended Occidental College (Los Angeles), Universitaet des Saarlandes (Germany), Tulane University (New Orleans), University of Virginia (go 'Hoos), Virginia Theological Seminary (Alexandria), and The General Seminary (New York City) - so you'd think he knows something about something at least. He has studied German, English and American Literature, vocal music, and the visual arts, in addition to his degree in Divinity, a certificate in Congregational Development, and Interim Ministry. Somewhere in there he also worked as a librarian at Tulane and UVA and got to sing in the Occidental Glee Club (long before Glee was cool), a jazz/Broadway vocal group called "Handful of Singers," and the chorus of the New Orleans opera. He was ordained a deacon in 1990 and a priest in 1991 in the Diocese of Virginia and has served churches in Harrisonburg (where he was also chaplain to students at James Madison University), Standardsville (near Charlottesville), and Smithfield (where your ham comes from). In addition to college ministry, he has focused on the ministry of education, Christian formation, and the spiritual growth in various diocesan and local ministries. In the recent past, he offered regular retreats in the Diocese of Southern Virginia and worked with smaller congregations for development and vision. He is a father to four wonderful sons. In his spare time (ha!), he writes poetry and short stories, gardens, enjoys nature, and paints. He is overjoyed to be serving God with the people of Kingston Parish in Mathews.