What‘s Happening at St. Paul’s 10-8-2021
Confession: I have fewer doubts about God than I do about religion.
Nearing 80, I have come to see how blessed I’ve been by what I sometimes call “The God of my not Understanding” and other times “Grace.” Too often, however, I find myself struggling to defend religion when one of my atheist friends challenges me about 2000 years of Christianity’s persecution of minorities, women, prophets, scientists, and saints. This last summer, I couldn’t help but notice that in the many cathedrals Mary Lee and I visited along the Rhine in Europe, there seem to be as many statues of warriors as of Jesus. Here at St. Paul’s, there are parts of the Nicene Creed I skip, and Collects I no longer read when Mary Lee and I host Morning Prayer or Compline. Some Sundays, when I hear (or have to read) a particularly bloody or patriarchal passage, I wonder what on earth some young person in the congregation considering Christianity for the first time might be thinking.
And yet. As I’ve done almost every year since Mary Lee and I first started coming to St. Paul’s in 1989, I will increase my pledge in 2022. There are many reasons—the Eucharist, the educational programs, the 12-step programs (one of which I belong to) that meet here, our outreach programs—but what really feed me, where I often glimpse the God of my Not-understanding, are the small groups I think of as being the soul of St. Paul’s. Two are particularly important for me: the weekly Men’s Group and the monthly Spiritual Writing Group.
The St. Paul’s Men’s Group is different from any other men’s group that I know of. To quote our Mission Statement: “the Men’s Group meets weekly to reflect on personal spiritual issues. It does not attempt to resolve private, community or national issues. It is introspective.” Our norms are simple:
allow space to talk without needing to resolve
speak from personal experiences
minimize “topical” back & forth
silence is ok and is encouraged
To eliminate hierarchy, we try to share responsibility for leading prayers and bringing in articles and facilitating sharing. Over the last twenty-five years, the group has created an atmosphere of confidentiality, trust, and honesty. We’re still meeting on Zoom, Wednesday morning, from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. and if you’d like to attend, contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Paul Womer (email@example.com).
The same sense of confidentiality, trust, and honesty pervades the Spiritual Writers’ Group, also on Zoom, the third Thursday of the month, from 4:00- 5:30 p.m. We’re inter-denominational and interfaith; what ties our writing together is that whether we’re writing for ourselves, for our descendants, or for publication, we’re writing to explore how God/Logos/Allah/Brahma/Ch’i/
For me, small groups help St. Paul avoid the rigidity, hypocrisy, and close-mindedness my atheist friends associate with organized religion. These groups help me be more honest, both with myself and with others (not to mention with that God of my not Understanding), be more open to other people’s ideas, and more compassionate towards their feelings.
During these uncertain times, the phrase, “walking each other home” comes to mind. When you think about it, that’s what we do at St. Paul’s, we try to walk each other home. We try to be there for each other during good times and bad. We dig — really dig — into the meanings of the gospels. We pass the peace and mean it. We meet in small groups to discuss deep issues. And, important, ours is not an insular community. Rather, we reach out to those around us who are in need by sharing our time and our treasure. We have heeded the words of poet John Donne: “No man is an island.”
The challenges of the pandemic have made for tough walking for every one of us. But we have done so by keeping our heads high and our mission firm. As noted in the Warden’s letter, “we have proved we are a church community that can pull together and provide for each other even under dire circumstances.”
The Stewardship Committee has established the theme “Regather, Rejoice, Give Thanks.” As we consider the meaning of those words, we can step back and reflect upon what this Church means to us. St. Paul’s is, for so many of us, our true north or, as T. S. Eliot wrote, “a still point in a turning world.”
To meet the challenges that lie before us, we are hopeful that the average annual pledge will increase by 3 to 5 percent for 2022. That is an ambitious goal, but ours is an ambitious parish: our faith inspires our confidence. Whatever you can do will be deeply appreciated as we continue, together, to walk each other home. Safe and secure online Giving is available on the Saint Paul’s website. Click here for the Giving and 2022 Pledge Card link. Click here to download a pdf of the 2022 Stewardship letter.
Yours in love and with appreciation,
Bob Jackson and David Treadwell, Stewardship Committee Co-Chairs