Back in the 1960s, a visionary Canadian philosophy professor named Jean Vanier founded a series of ground-breaking communities known as L’Arche. He created a model where the able bodied as well as the differently abled lived together in community. Although he started out himself as wanting to “help” those with intellectual or physical disabilities, the L’Arche model developed to embrace simply “being with” and “being friends with” those whose abilities are “different than.”
As the years passed, Vanier’s model had spread around the world, even here to St. Louis, and attracted all sorts of people to live and work across the usual dividers of ability and disability. The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen spent the last years of his life pastoring a L’Arche community.
As Vanier noted, “There are three activities that are absolutely vital in the creation of community. The first is eating together around a common table. The second is praying together. And the third is celebrating together.”(1) And I was thinking about the fact that we are lucky enough to get to do all three of these things together today. I give thanks to God for this special time to get together, to gather, pray, and celebrate our common life together as the beloved people of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.
If you ask people what their favorite passage from the Apostle Paul is, I would bet that many people would say “The one about love...” or “The one always read at weddings…”, referring to the familiar section from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, the one that begins, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” It then goes on to describe love both positively—what love is—and negatively—what love is not.
It’s a beautiful passage, and images and phrases from it have been used in secular songs by Bob Dylan, Lauryn Hill, the rapper Macklemore, which shocked me, and Joni Mitchell which did NOT shock me. And while most people associate the love spoken of here as romantic love, originally it was about a much less discussed but perhaps more difficult love to practice: the kind, empathetic, self-giving love that binds a community together. It’s perhaps one of the most endangered kinds of love in our divided world today.
In our epistle reading today, we hear the majority of the verses that come before that famous meditation on love. And I think it’s important to remember that the reading we will hear this week help set the stage for Paul’s famous prose poem on love. It did not surprise me when I also learned that this passage from 1 Corinthians is one of the foundational texts in the theology that support the L’Arche movement.
In last week’s epistle, we heard a listing of the spiritual gifts: prophecy, teaching, healing, and so on. This week’s reading from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a builds upon that idea, framing a long meditation on respect for each member of the community for the role they play, whether great or small, in our common life together. Paul reminds us that respect and mutual appreciation is the foundation for all real love in community. And this is an important, precious reminder for us here today. We are here despite all the divisive, cynical, angry forces in the world and sometimes in our own community that have tried to drive us apart. The Church in Corinth at the time of the writing of Paul’s letter suffered from internal divisions, with some people attempting to introduce exclusion into the community, self-segregating themselves based on wealth and class within the church, and the news of this discrimination broke Paul’s heart.
It’s easy for us to focus on what separates us, and sometimes, we let those differences become points of contention, even anger. This certainly happens in churches, as it happened in Corinth. Sometimes people divide themselves based on wealth and class. Sometimes people divide themselves into those who are “holier-than-thou” and those who are obviously looked down on as “sinners.” Sometimes, even in church, folks expect others to behave for their own comfort, regardless of their difficulty in doing that, rather than accept them for who they are. All of that was going on in Corinth—and the poison of gossip, besides.
Paul knew it’s easy to love people who are just like ourselves. The challenge is to love people who are different from us, and to nonetheless love and appreciate them for who they are despite our differences. Sometimes the seemingly smallest contribution can make the most difference—just ask anyone who has forgotten to put in the right amount of yeast while making bread.
At the time Paul wrote these verses, the idea of the community expressed through the metaphor of the body was common-place, particularly in Greek philosophy. However, there the metaphor was used to urge people to, as we now say, “stay in their lane.” It was used to convince those of humble station how lucky and blessed they were to serve the needs of the wealthy and powerful. Paul takes that interpretation and completely subverts it. On the contrary, states Paul, the weakest and humblest and least presentable are the ones that are absolutely indispensable. Everyone wants to think they’re the brain or the heart. But without the foot, that brain would be unable to move. And in our modern scientific mindset, we know that the smallest part of the body can undermine or strengthen the entire system. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone with a malfunctioning pancreas or appendix, or suffering from an infected tooth.
This assurance of our unity, our being for each other that is at the heart of the Christian life of transformation and grace, are important words to remember, as we come together as members of this body, which is part of the greater body of the Church Universal, which is part of the greater body of Christ’s Body in the world.
And so, here in this liturgy of Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving,” in which we remember and re-member Christ’s healing ministry in the world for the sake of the world, I want to have us take stock of just where we have come from for these not-quite six months that we have worked alongside each other with me officially serving as your priest. I hope to draw your attention to the energy and the ministry and witness that radiate from this place out into people’s lives both here within the community of St. Martin’s and more importantly beyond its doors as we live into our calling and proclamation as disciples. And while it may seen like I have been talking forever, I promise that, unlike in our reading from Nehemiah, I am not going to have you stand in the hot sun while the entire Torah and Talmud is read aloud.
Priest’s ReportIt hardly seems possible that I have been with you all now as your priest-in-charge for nearly 6 months. My family, especially my husband Bill and I, remain so deeply grateful for your enthusiastic and gracious welcome, for your myriad kindnesses, and for your eager assistance and partnership as we turn our faces eagerly toward the future.
In the middle of August, we were joined by the Rev. Sally Weaver as priest associate, after Sally retired from St. Francis Church in Eureka. She joined an incredible staff that has been so welcoming and supportive to both me and all the members of St. Martin’s, led by parish administrator Janet Theiss, assistant to the clergy Wendy Sain, Communications guru Jill Gould, and our maintenance maestros of Kirt Beckman, Tom Warrington, and man-on-the-spot Facilities Chair Lincoln Drake. I cannot even begin to express my debt to these fine people and their skills, creativity, and enthusiasm. We’ve had so much positive energy developing in expanding our welcome and programming for families and youth in the community.
- First, thanks to the vision, diligence, and creativity of Sherry Algren, we have a reinvigorated Sunday School program, led by a team of 10 volunteer teachers; highlights this year included the Breakfast with St. Nicholas, the wonderful handmade ornaments for the special Children’s Christmas Tree, children’s games and activities for the Fall Festival, and a fabulous Christmas Pageant. Special thanks to Jr. Warden Kay Fletcher, who has been diligent in her presence in the undercroft during Sunday school and in making sure the vestry is trained in Safeguarding God’s Children.
- Our Everybody’s Story Children’s Library, which is enthusiastically used by children on Sundays and throughout the week, is such a beautiful ministry under the passionate leadership of Mary Edmondson, dedicated to the goal of making sure that everybody’s stories, in all their diversity, are told and celebrated. I would like to see us reorganize and develop a section of our library as an adult equivalent of that, with up-to date, meaningful resources on matters of race, history, and culture from a social justice perspective.
- We welcomed a new Christian in baptism on September 23, and more baptisms are going to be forthcoming in the next few weeks.
- In late September, we restarted the nursery with two professional staff who are trained in Safeguarding God’s Children, the Episcopal Church’s child-abuse prevention program. Along with the soft space for families in our worship space, we provide four options on Sunday morning for families with children, and we are seeing increased interest and attendance from families with children.
- In a very exciting development, in November, we were presented with the opportunity to sponsor Scout Troop and Cub Scout Pack 601 under the leadership of Ralph Trieschmann, and we are thrilled that the older Scouts are now making their home here at St. Martin’s.
Annual Giving Campaign: Courageous Generosity
We have started a new era in stewardship here at St. Martin’s. We had great success in this year’s annual giving campaign. Under the dedicated, determined leadership of Stephen Brunkhorst and the steadfast assistance of his wife Maggi and our 25 trail bosses, as well as assistance by Janet, Wendy, and Jill, we had a very successful campaign. The results thus far tell a tale of faithful reinvigoration here at St. Martin’s. Here are some facts I want to share with you from the accumulating data (***UPDATED AS OF JANUARY 28):
- Our goal was $300,000. We thus far have received pledges in the amount of $319,188. This was 106% of our goal, and is the highest amount pledged since 2016.
- 128 households have pledged thus far, an increase of 22 households from last year.
- 70% of our available pledging units thus far have participated, the highest percentage in at least five years, and a substantial increase over participation levels over the last four years.
- 61% of our pledges thus far committed to an increase in pledge from last year.
- 6% of our pledges were from new members from last year.
Let me be clear: we still have a deficit going forward. This is not a new issue, unfortunately. However, we reduced last year’s deficit by 66%. The end of deficit spending is so close, we can almost taste it. But this was a resounding success on so many levels, and I am so proud of all of you for bravely joining your hearts and your treasures to the support of our holy work in this place.
As we move forward, it is my clear intention to lead us to not only kill that deficit, but to be able to restore funding in the budget for critical parts of our mission, such as outreach, mission, and evangelism, and to grow the music program, as well as set the stage for a capital campaign to maintain and improve our physical plant, among other things. It is my desire to make sure our budget clearly represents our spending and our priorities in a transparent way, and to allow for growth of our witness as disciples of Jesus.
We Lift Our Hearts to the Lord: Liturgy and Worship
Our worship together has been joyful and revelatory, supported by an outstanding choir under the direction of Denise Marsh, my wonderful Sunday sexton Kirt Beckmann, and an incredible altar guild led by Ruth Minster and Diane Metzger. We have a wonderful rotation of readers and eucharistic ministers managed by Gail Schneider. We make sure members and visitors alike are welcomed through the efforts of our ushers, led by Mary Jane Drake, our greeters, and my fantastic assistant Wendy Sain, who helps get our nursery workers organized and also staffs the welcome desk on Sunday mornings in addition to her work during the week. I remain profoundly grateful to my beloved friend the Rev. Emily Hillquist-Davis for her enduring liturgical spirit and legacy in creating the 505.
- Almost every week, with the exception of the interference of Winter Storm Gia and special events like today’s annual meeting and upcoming episcopal visitation, we worship through three very beautiful, contemplative, and expressive celebrations of the Eucharist every week embracing a range of liturgical expression that is outstanding, supported by a devoted, aesthetically gifted altar guild led by Ruth Minster and Diane Metzger.
- We do not let snow stop us, either. On January 13, due to a foot of snow in St. Louis, we held morning prayer online via Facebook Live, reaching over 6,500 people, 3800 views in full or in part, and 361 engagements. We had 50 people praying with us when we were live, and the video was also viewed by dozens of people since then, including visitors. Seven of us shared the video, for which I am very grateful. That’s modern evangelism!
- We are blessed with a fabulous music program offering a variety of musical expressions supporting worship, led by our choir under the outstanding creativity and drive of Denise Marsh, who beautifully incorporates music and hymns from a broad array of sources and genres. A highlight of the music program this year was the addition of new hymnals from the African American and spiritual tradition, Lift Every Voice and Sing II, thanks to the grant-writing skills of Doug Edmondson and the help and support of the Social Justice Committee.
- Our observation of the Feast of St. Francis was joyful and filled with gratitude for our animal companions; we blessed over twenty-five animals, including the memory of several who have passed away, as well as a few animals of the stuffed variety.
- Our Christmas services were filled with joy and expectation, as we had a lively, moving Christmas pageant at 5 pm; a joyful festive Eucharist at 8 pm complete with guest musicians and the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus; and a soothing, contemplative service on Christmas Day.
Gathering and Growing: Programs and Formation
In terms of programming, we have had a very busy autumn and winter.
- We had a wonderful Pumpkin Patch and Fall Festival. Through the efforts of our diligent volunteers including Leader John Alden, scheduler Mary Richardson, Linda Huheey, and so many stalwart volunteers, we not only raised funds for youth group and for a mission parish on the Navajo Nation, as well as helped to ensure employment opportunities for indigenous people. We also engaged in outreach with the people who came to the Pumpkin Patch, including joining with one woman in prayer for her hospitalized grandchild.
- Many of us had a wonderful time at the Garden Committee Trivia Night in October, under the able leadership of John Lange and our MC Mike Kelly. A great time was had by all, and the garden has plans for expansion.
As disciples we have grown deeper in our spirituality, our care of each other, and formation.
- In addition to our revived Sunday School, we have a variety of formation activities for adults, including our steadfast Adult Christian Education leadership of Terri Garbo and Bev Weaver; Bible studies led by John Lange and Mary Richardson; and an Advent book study led by our priest associate the Rev. Sally Weaver-- all signs of a vibrant interest in deepening our faith, our spirituality, and our quest for seeking God’s wisdom.
- In preparation of Bishop Smith’s visit, we have an Inquirer’s class ongoing which will present 12 people to the bishop to be confirmed or received, and we will also celebrate a baptism from a new family.
- St. Martin’s is a praying community, with three different intercessory prayer groups under the leadership of Virginia Noel, Linda Huheey, and Daryl Norman, and healing prayer during communion in the chapel area, led by Bev Weaver and others.
- We also have a faithful, compassionate team of Eucharistic Visitors caring for those who are unable to get to church, ably scheduled by Gail Schneider, as well as the wonderful Take Them a Meal ministry led by Sandy Baranowski and Mary Pomeroy.
Being Church for the Life of the World: Communications, Witness, and Evangelism
As a community, St. Martin’s seeks to bear the light of Christ into the world in a variety of ways.
- We have an active, dedicated communications team, led by Jill Gould and assisted by Wendy Sain, that manages our wonderful website, worship bulletins, newsletters, and social media accounts, all of which are a vital, visible part of proclaiming our witness to the world. This year we revived our twitter presence and inaugurated an Instagram account as part of our evangelism and outreach.
- We witness in our west county community to embodying our gospel values on issues of social justice, with an amazing Social Justice committee, which will continue under the leadership of Mary Drastal and Gail Schneider as we bid farewell to Kurt Greenbaum, working diligently on outreach and education both internally and outside our walls.
- We have a thriving monthly Eucharist with our members and friends at the Fountains, and this community of faith remains dear to our heart. I am also extremely grateful to Mike Kelly for picking up three people who have joined St. Martin’s from Gambrill Gardens but lacked transportation.
- We have an incredibly abundant garden ministry, led by John Lange and others, that produces hundreds of pounds of donated fresh produce over three seasons of growing;
- The garden is one part of the work done by our fantastic outreach committee, led by Dana Griggs, empowering creative expressions of our witness to the wider world even beyond the borders of the US. Through the efforts of this committee, we have raised money for hurricane relief, supported Circle of Concern with food donations, school supplies, and a scholarship program; the Peace Meal led by Larry Cornelius, and the United Thank Offering led by Jeanne King.
- The heart of our physical presence is a welcoming, beautiful physical space that hosts numerous community groups and diocesan leadership teams and events. In September, we provided hospitality for a bereaved family and hosted the funeral of their loved one. Last week, Tom Allen stayed up late on Friday and got up early on Sunday to help welcome over 100 youth and their chaperones from the Diocese of West Tennessee so that they were able to have a wonderful excursion to Hidden Valley.
It’s been an amazing journey, our first six months together. Look at how far we have come! I am so blessed that the Holy Spirit brought us together, aided and abetted by a stellar Vestry, led by Sr. Warden Tom Allen, Jr. Warden Kay Fletcher, Treasurer Bob Ecker, Clerk Michael Kovach, and Susan Carpenter, Elin Cogan- Adewunmi, John Alden, Page Andersen, Ruby Downs, Loretta Go, John Lange, and Reuben Rigel. And I look forward to working with our new vestry members as we continue to look toward the future of St, Martin’s with open hearts and lifting hope.
There is so much energy and spirit here at St. Martin’s. We have some wonderful times ahead of us. I am particularly looking forward to the upcoming Syrian Dinner in March, and the election of the next bishop of Missouri next November at Diocesan Convention. I would like to see many of us attend the leadership conference in March at Grace Kirkwood on inviting, welcoming, and connecting visitors and prospective new members. I would like to see us develop a vibrant acolyte ministry, which we have made a start on. I would like to see us all commit to invite our friends and those we meet to come worship with us, to be very intentional about not just welcoming people but generously opening ourselves in love, so that they can see themselves here as being at home, in being valued and appreciate for who they are, just as Paul was urging the Corinthians as well.
I am profoundly grateful to be here amongst you, as your priest. I am so grateful for the skilled and faithful leadership my dear friend Father Al Jewson embodied and modeled during the interim period among you. And of course, I am so grateful to be walking alongside you, continuing in our shared ministry into the future, as we grow and proclaim our faithful witness as members of the Episcopal branch of the Way of Love.
As Paul’s words today remind us, there is no membership in the body without also, by our very nature, participation in the body. I thank you all for all your participation in the various ministries that are generated from this community, for embodying and bringing to life Christ’s mission as a visible presence in the world that desperately needs it—in welcoming the stranger and feeding the hungry and loving each other, despite our differences, through thick and thin. May we all joyfully continue to live into our mutual witness here at St. Martin’s, and bear the light of Christ into the world from St. Martin’s into our daily lives. The world needs us.
Preached at the 9:00 am single service and annual meeting at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO.
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
(1) Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness, p. 37