LETTERS FROM THE RECTOR
November 14, 2019
When we are children we tend to think the world is as it has ever been. Our frame of reference is limited, so we imagine that every household is more or less like ours. Soon we become aware of gradual variations. Some people have bigger homes, some people are better at math or languages than we are. Soon we discover that some people are dishonest and others just plain mean. All of these things strike us as initially strange and sometimes disturbing.
Even as we get older we do our best to keep a steady course, but here too we find the one thing that is consistently reliable is change. We can resist it, we can ignore it but pretty soon we are caught up in a world that is beyond our control and beyond our ability to imagine how it got to be this way and wondering what might be coming next.
In our liturgy we are used to hearing things like God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. This seems to represent a hope that we have for stability and continuity. But behind this phrase is the profound teaching that there are, in fact, always two realities co-existing. One transient reality is marked by impermanence. It is world marked by time and metrics. The other world exists in a sense beneath this world, it is what we often refer to as spiritual. In this realm there is timeless presence where the eternal flame of creative energy illuminates and animates all.
The church that we grew up with is changing, our culture is changing, social mores are changing, our very bodies are changing. For those who find themselves as citizens in this transient realm, these changes can feel like their world is being wrenched away from them. I have heard many say things, like, “It’s all going to hell in a hand-basket.” Anxiety, nostalgia and depression seem to rule the day.
But for those who find their center and their core in the eternal presence, that place symbolized by the story of Moses at the burning bush, these changes are expected, examined and received with a gentle curiosity. What surprises does God and or the universe have for me/us now? How can I/we contribute to making this world more compassionate and just?
Our faith is not in the church as it was, but in the spirit that is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. This was the experience of Jesus and is the experience who place themselves in the living, life-giving stream that eternally flows under and through all of creation.
November 7, 2019
Last month The Rev. Dr. Rosalie Richards spent three weeks with us sharing her thesis work on Ubuntu Based Peace Practices. I want to thank her for offering us such a generous pastoral presence, insightful group sessions, with the added benefit of binding us closer together in community. I thought I would use this opportunity to share a follow-up letter from Rose to the congregation:
Hi my friends, thank you for our time together, and especially thank you for the final session. I am presenting it in two classes (no names, but my own learnings are huge—so thank you for helping me pass my courses. 😊)
If you were at the last session you know that we shared blanket negative statements with the goal of taking a moment to find a space within beyond our knee-jerk reaction followed by practicing merely saying, “I am interested in understanding that. Can you tell me more?” The theology behind this is that though it isn’t apparent at the moment, the other person is also God’s child and we are committing ourselves to keeping the conversation going if only because of that.
I asked Steve if I could continue the conversation in one more paragraph. (I see that I meant more than one. Sorry, Steve!) I have two thoughts to share.
Though it still is hard for me to wrap my head around it, Archbishop Demond Tutu said that to deny gender expression is as evil as apartheid was to people of color in South Africa. We did not explore that because we were addressing the way we see and deal with racism. Maybe we do not see suppression of gender identity as evil, I haven’t traditionally viewed denial of equal rights to women in that way either—but I am growing to see that it actually is.
I don’t mean we should respond violently. As Steve’s sermon pointed out, we are that unusual group of people whose call is to respond to evil non-violently. Neither are we called to accept any form of demeaning the image of God in another human.
I put that out for all of us to think about.
We are probably going to experience more of the unthinking limitations of people in the coming two months because Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to bring us into conversations with people who don’t share our viewpoints—the challenges of extended family and acquaintances. I would love to both hear updates on your experiences with “that is interesting and I would like to hear more” and to share mine. Maybe Steve and Heather can figure out a way that can happen.
Thanks again so much! You feel like home (in a good way) and I hope to hear from you, even though my Sundays will be at other churches…the life of a supply priest! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be glad to keep hearing your thoughts.
All Saints Day, 2019
Dear Friends and Parishioners:
This Friday, November 1st is All Saints Day, followed by All Souls Day on Saturday the 2nd. We will transfer our celebration of our Patronal Feast Day to Sunday, November 3rd. All Saints Day is one of the seven principal feasts of the Church. On this day we especially remember the whole mystical body of Christ and the people whom God has loved and who have loved God. On All Souls Day we are called to remember the souls of “All the faithful departed.” According to recent Anglican scholarship, this day should really be understood as a “continuation” of the feast of All Saints Day.
Most of these people, both living and deceased, are people that our recorded history has forgotten, but, who nonetheless, delight in the eternal presence and light of God. Frankly, it is the highest privilege to belong to the category of a common saint. Actually, the only category that really matters is the one that delights in the presence of the divine. Beyond this we concur with St. Paul, who said, “I count everything else as rubbish!” For us, honoring the saints, i.e. the Holy Ones who have gone before, is a way of honoring our own spiritual journeys. We, by our faith, declare that each life is of such eternal worth that no other honor is necessary.
We all tend to miss the spirit of All Saints. We reason, falsely, that our lives don’t really matter. This is the first, primordial lie. From this mistaken premise, all work becomes meaningless, all behavior becomes selfish and all understanding is dulled. The Gospel proclaims that each of us matter absolutely. Your life, your thoughts, your passions, your talents all carry the weight of glory. In God’s Realm, everything we do is done on earth as it is in heaven. This is the lesson of Jesus when he says how much more important we are than the birds of the air or the lilies of the field. This valuing (the real meaning of worship) of God and the honoring of the saints, teaches us the true significance of life.
From the perspective of the Body of Christ, the church, you should know that your presence here matters deeply too. Each week we honor the mystical and the actual union of Christ. Without your committed presence the mission is immeasurably weakened. Your attendance at Church is not just for you, but also witnesses to Christ’s love that is proclaimed for the community.
This All Saints Weekend, I encourage you all to step up to the Gospel! Please consider re-joining your life to the radiant presence of Christ, who understood and proclaimed God’s infinite love for each and every one of us. Each of us is necessary for Christ’s light to shine brightly in this place to which God has called us.
October 25, 2019
On Sunday, November 3rd All Saints Church will celebrate its Patronal Feast, All Saints Day. This service, with roots going back to the ancient church, has the theme of recognizing all the saints, those known and especially, unknown. We like to recognize the unsung holiness of the common woman and common man. Rather than focus on the history of the grand and glorious throughout history, we shine the spotlight of our spiritual gaze upon ordinary people living extraordinary lives of loving self-sacrifice and service.
From the schoolteacher who helps a rejected child adjust to a hostile class, to the nurse who places a cool washcloth on a fevered forehead, or the friend who gives up a night out to listen to someone who just needs to talk; acts of sacred caring are expressions of the divine in this world.
Please join us on November 3rd at 10:00 AM as we honor those lives that are so easily overlooked, but whose acts of human compassion and kindness have brought hope, healing and God’s love to countless people throughout the ages.
October 17, 2019
During his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump regularly played the Rolling Stones song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” To me this displayed a certain irony for a political rallying cry. Nevertheless, it somehow demonstrates that from left and right, people are asking about and speaking about desire.
But what is it that we want? The answer is not always clear to us. We know we need certain things, but at the heart of the human experience there are deep desires that somehow drive us to all sorts of answers and all sorts of behaviors. In each case what we want is something that we sense will satisfy a felt need that comes from a sense of psychic and spiritual incompleteness.
This week’s gospel story speaks about a widow who comes to a judge constantly seeking justice. She had a sense that she had been wronged, her sense of fairness had been offended, she felt she had been given a bad deal by some unnamed opponent. The judge was basically indifferent to her pleas for justice, that is, a re-leveling of the playing field. But because of her persistence, the previously indifferent judge, responded positively to her request.
We start our spiritual journey by asking ourselves, what we are missing. This is a process of deep and honest introspection. We may have trouble articulating just what it is that we are missing. We may imagine we have received the injustice of poor parenting or perhaps family poverty. We might feel it is unjust that my ethnic group or nationality is discriminated against or that the system is stacked against us. Whatever the lack, whatever the injustice, we begin right there and we move ever deeper into seeing our own situation more and more clearly.
Ultimately, we might arrive at the position of Pascal, who said we all have a God-shaped void in hearts that can only be filled by God. Another way of saying this is that we are all meant to experience the completion that only compassionate love can bring through an intimate connection with another.
Some people have given up hope of finding any justice or love in this life. The gospel urges us not to quit looking, we are to keep seeking, keep knocking and keep asking until the desires of hearts are filled to capacity. The answer may not be exactly what we expected when we began our journey, but with persistence a meaningful and loving life is promised to those who persist, and is worth a lifetime of diligent pursuit.
October 10, 2019
All 10 were healed, but only one came back to give thanks.
This is this week’s gospel story from Luke about the healing of the 10 lepers. And of course, the one who did return was the most rejected of the rejected, a foreigner. The others were returning to church, that is, to the priests as Jesus commanded them to do. The miracle of healing is what catches our eyes, but the fact that the most rejected one is honored in what the scripture sees as the highlight of the story.
We keep forgetting that those who follow Jesus live in a different realm and another set of values. We live with the mandate to make sure everyone is invited to the banquet feast. We are the ones who stand with the victims and proclaim their worth.
It is easy for us to go to church. It is normal for us to seek personal salvation. But we are called not to just seek our personal salvation, but to go the next step and see the necessity of seeking out the world’s victims and helping to restore their dignity and health. The danger of merely seeking the comfort of our personal salvation is that we too easily forget about the very people that Jesus cared about most.
Why did Jesus eat with the outcasts? Because, he said, the healthy ones do not need a physician, but the sick ones do. Clearly he was concerned about this world and how we care for each other. He was not worried about being contaminated or made ritually unclean, that fear is a hoax from his point of view. He was most critical of those who used religion to isolate themselves from the world’s problems and difficult people.
Religion can be the most insidious institution. In the name of The Holy One, we tacitly allow and manifestly act to victimize those who don’t fit in. We pray for their salvation while avoiding eye contact. We speak about them as being pagans or non-believers. We somehow manage to devalue them to the point of imagining they are less than human and deserve whatever misery crosses their path. How easy, in the name of righteousness, that we justify all sorts of callous inhumanity.
All 10 were healed, one came back to give thanks. Maybe all of humanity is in the process of being healed. Let’s make sure that, with the outcasts, we make the joy of this grace explicit by giving thanks for the grace of healing and restoration of our sacred image.
September 26, 2019
Hollywood, award shows come and go. Somehow these people on stage seem to be more than human in their refined dresses and tuxedos and confident posture, pace and presence. We call them matinee idols and iconic, we read about them, we talk about them, we emulate them. They are bigger than life. They are almost like gods.
But we also look for their feet of clay, the chinks in their armor, the fly in the ointment. They are like parents that at one point we worship and later we might condemn for their imperfections and ultimately come to appreciate for both their human strengths and weaknesses. Why they have such importance is something of a mystery to me.
Of all the acceptance speeches that I have seen over the years, one stands out to me for its simple honesty and vulnerability. It was Sally Fields who got up, and like a little girl blurted out, “You like me, you really really like me!”
I’m not sure if they really liked her or not, but clearly that was the message she received; she had been completely accepted. That feeling took away all artifice and pretense. It seemed to be the goal for which she strove her entire life. At that moment she was a picture of transformation and apotheosis, one could feel the light emanating from her.
The Gospel can mean many things to many people. It can mean a call to social justice or a guarantee of eternal life. It can be the center of a moral life or an ideal of self-sacrifice. But before one can give up one’s life and before one can feel committed to any religion or creed, one has to truly come to know that they are not only liked, but that they are truly truly loved.
From this core-love, flows all courageous acts, from this foundational-love, comes a thirst for social justice and compassion for the poor and neglected. Many of us pose as if we don't care about this core feeling. Many of us look around and just try to fit in and not incur the negative judgement of others. Many of us live vicariously through the figures and stories we see on the screens, large and small. But in all these ways, we are missing the joy that is intended for us.
The message we would like to get across to people, the message we call good news or gospel, is that we are God’s beloved! We belong in this universe, we are as valuable as any billionaire or movie icon, our common lives carry the incredible weight of glory at all times. It is only through a certain spiritual blindness or amnesia that we lose track of this grand truth. We preachers don’t create that love or sell it or commodify it. We simply try to help people remove the obstacles that keep them from seeing it. We point out the loss that comes from not experiencing it. We point out the consequences of forgetting our true nature as heirs of grace.
Whether it takes place on a stage, at the altar or in the privacy of our bedrooms, we all want to accept the reign of God like a child, where we hear God’s voice saying, “You are my beloved, in you I am well pleased.” And we add our amen and say to our selves, I am loved, I am really really loved! From this we can love our neighbors as we love ourselves. From this, all life flows.
The 15th Sunday after Pentecost…September 19th 2019
Dear Friends and Parishioners:
When we were children we used to argue what was more important, the heart or the brain. Somehow, we were savvy enough to realize there was no absolute or correct answer. Without the heart there would be no brain and, well you get the rest.
Today I was wondering what is more important, an epiphany or the long journey of faith. With an epiphany we stand with the saints, mystics and apostles throughout history. We identify with St. Paul as he was struck blind by the presence of God and transformed forever. We long for that sudden manifestation of the divine, that knits our souls and the universe into one seamless unity. All of a sudden, it all makes sense and we know we are loved and we know our place in the world.
Yet that is akin to saying once we are born we are set for life. This epiphany, that is a manifestation of the eternal divine in our consciousness, is just the beginning of a lifelong journey. In the Hebrew scriptures we read about the prophetic call, when the word of the Lord appears to the prophet. For Abraham it was a call to leave his home and follow where he was led, with no guaranteed destination or promise of success. In following this call into the unknown, Abraham becomes known as the father of faith.
Yes, our heart longs for epiphanies, large and small. We want to see the hand of God at work around us and know our purpose in this world. At the same time we know we are called out of the comfort of the familiar into a world of exploration and service. We don’t know what shape or what direction our journey will take. We don’t know the souls we will encounter and what problems we will be called upon to address.
I suppose our worship is like an oasis or refueling station along the way, for the journey. We are reminded of the epiphanies and journeys of our foremothers and forefathers. We see their courage in the face of adversity and surprising events they encountered. In regular worship we are filled with sacramental grace to keep enduring in our race to attain the crown of the saints in light. It is a long process and the results can feel incremental, but it is the sacramental that reminds and revivifies the believer along the way.
September 12, 2019
With the help of our Wisdom Year Seminarian, Heather Sisk, we are starting to try new things at All Saints. This weekly newsletter is one of them.
Some of this energy also derives from our new mission statement, (that we all worked on) that is helping to provide both focus and motivation to move forward together as a living congregation.
As we begin a new fall season, we plan to keep trying to create opportunities for connection with the community. For instance, we have formed working relationships with two different Buddhist organizations recently located across the street. One has collaborated in helping us this summer with our community meal and the other with bringing events like the “sound bath" to All Saints. We are opening the church for weekday visitors with occasional concerts from our organist Jim Hopkins.
On September 1st, The Rev. Megan Sanders moved into our apartment above the church offices and will be acting as priest associate to our congregation. Her biography can be found on our page "What's New."
At the same time as new things are emerging, our community meal continues another season of feeding the hungry each Saturday afternoon with the dedicated work of parishioners and concerned neighbors volunteering their valuable time each week.
In a few weeks we will once again collaborate with the United Nations to host a charitable music event to raise funds for relief efforts in the Bahamas following The devastation of Hurricane Dorian.
The choir school is starting practices again this week and our dedicated choir returns in a couple weeks.
We have formed good relations with The Rev. Dr. Rose Richards, who has taken services this summer and will be working with our congregation in the weeks ahead as part of her graduate training at General Seminary. We have other classes in spirituality in the works and look forward to more ideas coming to fruition in the days ahead.
I am excited by the sense that God is busy making all things new again here at All Saints.
September 6, 2019
Dear Friends and Parishioners:
After a month of summer Sundays, I am very happy to rejoin All Saints Church as we begin another fall together. I am thrilled with our staff, which now includes our Wisdom Year Seminarian, Heather Sisk. Heather will be with us through the academic year as she completes her seminary training and preparations for ordination. Heather has already helped us organize and execute our summer feeding program and is hard at work helping us plan for a fall that, we trust will be re-vitalizing our church with programs of spiritual direction and other sacred events. Heather will be preaching and leading classes and working with us on social media and other outreach programs. She has also been instrumental in helping us find a new tenant for our apartment upstairs, The Reverend Megan Sanders. Megan is the new Episcopal chaplain to New York City college students from our diocese. Megan will also help us with talks and liturgy from time to time here at All Saints.
It is hard to spend time on personal problems when we see the pictures of massive devastation from the Bahamas. Our lives are always overshadowed by greater events and we are called to meet the needs of others, whether they be physical, spiritual, emotional.
Yet we are not limited to an outward gaze. In fact, it is only by looking within that we are able to find the motivation to help others and that we come to know the biases and prejudices that hinder or keep us from acts of kindness and generosity.
As our parents taught us as children, we are to “LOOK BOTH WAYS!”
The Greeks said, “Know thyself.” Jesus expanded this, saying, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” We are not wasting our time looking within. If our gaze stays only internal, we separate ourselves from the world and became superfluous in which we have been placed. If we gaze only outside, we become overwhelmed and eventually callous to the needs of others. It is only in the constant checking for ‘the still small voice within’ that we find our common humanity and compassion for the world around us.
In worship, we find the divine inner voice is given space to exist, which allows us to find strength, courage and wisdom as we seek to respond (responsibly) to human need around us. This need could be as small as listening to the questions of a small child, to volunteering to rebuild houses in hurricane ravaged islands or protesting against gun violence in our streets.
We are not so much asking for belief in the miracles of the past, so much as we are asking for your participation in the miracle of love towards self and others in the moment at hand.
Please join us as we worship (attribute worth) to the One who calls us to manifest love.
July 9, 2019
Dear Friends and Parishioners:
This summer, which is normally a somewhat sleepy time in the life of the church, your Vestry has been working quietly to put together a new mission statement. As we culled ideas and language from the responses of our parish survey (special thanks for all of you who responded!) we have all come to see the values and goals around which we feel called.
Not only do we feel positive in writing this statement, but we are also using this statement to begin challenging ourselves to put these values into practice. Already we have organized ourselves to open the church during the week, inviting the neighborhood in for prayer and meditation and to hear our organist Jim Hopkins play the organ for part of this time. We intend to keep doing this on Wednesdays at least through July and expect to resume in September. We are also working on improving our parish literature and history to have ready for our visitors.
In addition, we have recently seen the opening of our new webpage. Although not yet perfect, it is a fine work in progress. It really is a big step forward in communicating our message. www.allsaintsnyc.org
In reaching out to the community we have begun lively collaborations with the two Buddhist groups that have recently moved into separate buildings across the street. They have both volunteered to help with our community meal and they look to be wonderful neighbors who desire to share ministry to the community in the days and years ahead.
For the fall we are planning to start courses in spirituality and spiritual direction led by Heather Sisk, our new seminarian from The General Theological Seminary. Heather is beginning what is known as the Wisdom Year, where she will be working with our parish 20 hours a week. She has already proven herself a valued colleague as she has helped finetune the website, participate in Sunday services and help with our community meal! It’s not only a Wisdom year for her but an enriching year for us!
It is our hope that as we reflect on our parish mission statement, we will continue to generate new ideas for ministry, prioritize those ideas and faithfully revitalize our community life here at All Saints Church.
Ordination of Nfikije Mugisha Rwamasirabo
The Reverend Rosalie Richards who preached at ASC last Sunday, her seminary colleague Akash Daniel Mathew and I attended the Ordination of our former seminarian, Nfikije Mugisha Rwamasirabo, (aka Kije) to the Sacred Order of Priesthood at the church of St.George’s-by-the-River in Rumson, New Jersey on July 2, 2019. The Right Reverend William Hallock Stokes, D.D,12th Bishop of New Jersey was the Celebrant at the ordination, accompanied by a large coterie of clergy including Mother Richards, Kije’s uncle, The Very Reverend Canon Petero A.N. Sabune who gave a moving ordination sermon. The service was well attended. Kije expressed warm thanks and gratitude to her family and to all the churches and clergy that in one way or the other supported and helped her in realizing her call (a copy can be found in the back of our church). She expressed thanks and gratitude to All Saints Church and to our Rector The Reverend Steven J. Yagerman. Below are some photos of the successful event. I was proud to represent ASC at the ordination. We wish Kije every success in her Ministry and hope to see her here from time to time!
David S. Bassiouni,
Senior Warden and Chairman of the ASC Music Committee
We welcome those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, straight, [LGBTQIA], well-heeled or
down-at-heel. We especially welcome wailing babies and excited toddlers. We welcome you whether you
can sing like Pavarotti or just growl quietly to yourself. You’re welcome here if you’re just browsing, just woken up or just got out of prison.
We don’t care if you’re more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury or haven’t been to church since Christmas 10 years ago. We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.
We welcome keep-fit moms, football dads, starving artists, tree huggers, latte sippers, vegetarians, junk food eaters. We welcome those in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems, are down
in the dumps or don’t like organized religion. We’re not that keen on it either. We offer welcome to those who think the Earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or are here because Granny is visiting and wanted
to come to church. We welcome those who are inked, pierced, both or neither.
We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throats as kids or got lost and wound up here by mistake. We welcome pilgrims, tourists, seekers, doubters
[a welcome used by Coventry Cathedral]