Friday, June 16, 2017

To the People of St. Helena's / Al Pueblo de Santa Elena, Burr Ridge, IL

April 16, 2016

My sisters and brothers,

I am delighted to announce that I have accepted the vestry’s call to become your next rector. Over the past several months, I have enjoyed getting to know you and have developed great respect and affection for the people of this parish. I have learned much from your diverse backgrounds and styles of worship, your sincere faith, and the many ways you make God’s love known in the world. I have been privileged to share some of your deepest moments, including a very moving Holy Week when I saw the parish truly come together as one. You have confided to me your grief and joy, and have invited me to share in your milestones: First Holy Communions and confirmations, a baptism and a funeral. Please know that I honor the trust that you have placed in me, and I will do my best to be worthy of it.

I look forward to spending many years with you as we work to grow Santa Elena/St. Helena’s, both in members and vitality. I look forward, as well, to improving my Spanish and learning to serve you equally in both languages. Your patience and generosity have been greatly appreciated. I thank all of you—both children and adults—for your hard work during a difficult time in the parish’s life. I want to offer my particular gratitude to the vestry and to our wardens, Maria Eugenia Giraldo and Todd Landry, who have shouldered heavy responsibilities in the absence of a rector. I am also thrilled that Daryce Hoff Nolan will be ordained deacon on Saturday and share the duties of ordained ministry with me. I hope all of you will be able to be in church on Sunday for our bilingual liturgy and the picnic afterward, because we have much to celebrate!

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+


el 16 de abril de 2017

Mis hermanas y hermanos,

Estoy encantado de anunciar que he aceptado el llamado de la sacristía para convertirme en su próximo rector. Durante los últimos meses, he disfrutado conocerlos y han desarrollado un gran respeto y afecto por la gente de esta parroquia. He aprendido mucho de sus diversos antecedentes y estilos de culto, su fe sincera, y las muchas maneras en que ustedes hacen conocer el amor de Dios en el mundo. He tenido el privilegio de compartir algunos de sus momentos más profundos, incluyendo una Semana Santa muy emocionante cuando vi que la parroquia verdaderamente se unía como una sola. Me han confiado su dolor y alegría, y me han invitado a compartir sus hitos: Comuniones Solemnes y confirmaciones, un bautismo y un funeral. Por favor, sé que honro la confianza que me han puesto, y haré todo lo posible para ser digno de ella.

Espero poder pasar muchos años con ustedes a medida que trabajamos para crecer Santa Elena / St. Helena, tanto en miembros como en vitalidad. Espero, además, mejorar mi español y aprender a servirles por igual en ambos idiomas. Su paciencia y generosidad han sido muy apreciadas. Agradezco a todos ustedes—tanto a los niños como a los adultos—por su arduo trabajo durante un momento difícil en la vida de la parroquia. Quiero ofrecer mi particular agradecimiento a la sacristía ya nuestros líderes laicos, María Eugenia Giraldo y Todd Landry, que han asumido grandes responsabilidades en ausencia de un rector. También estoy encantado de que Daryce Hoff Nolan sea ordenado diácono el sábado y comparta los deberes del ministerio ordenado conmigo. Espero que todos ustedes puedan estar en la iglesia el domingo para nuestra liturgia bilingüe y el picnic después, porque tenemos mucho que celebrar!

Bendiciones abundantes,
Padre Ethan+

Friday, February 10, 2017

Is There an Ageist Bias in the Church?

Many of you know that I have been seeking a new call since the middle of last year. I have been reviewing parish profiles, crafting cover letters, and interviewing with search committees, trying to convey my vision for a vibrant, life-giving church. The one issue that keeps coming up is the assumption that young families with children are the sure-fire way to promote congregational growth, and that any parish that is not attracting this demographic is in decline. I couldn't disagree more.

Now, I landed in the Episcopal Church in a congregation that was composed mostly of young families with children, and I loved it. There was lots of noise and laughter, making the Eucharist (and the coffee hour that followed) a joyfully chaotic--and yet still reverent--event. Our parishioners were generous with their pledges and their time, but as a mission congregation, we often struggled. In the many years since I left that exuberantly young parish, I have come to understand that it is often elderly and retired people who keep many of our churches chugging along. And I am deeply, deeply grateful to them for their commitment. They are the lifeblood, the ones on whom you can always rely.

And it's not by accident. As I sit in interviews with search committees and vestries, I look around the conference tables and see a preponderance of gray and silver heads, which tells me something important. Elderly and retired folks have the time and energy to volunteer on search committees, vestries, altar guilds, choirs, and outreach committees. They have the freedom to attend meetings during the day when everyone else is at work. Although there are many elderly and retired folks on limited incomes, there are also many who are now enjoying the fruits of a lifetime of hard work and careful planning. They tend to pledge well and participate in planned giving programs. Their kids are grown and out of the house. Some are reaching the end of their professional careers at the height of their earning potential. Others have lost spouses or are geographically separated from their children and grandchildren, and so value the sense of community and belonging the church offers. They always show up for Sunday morning worship. They provide food for potlucks and coffee hour. They iron the altar linens and prepare the sanctuary for worship every week. They coordinate volunteers. The contribute to capital campaigns. They support the priest in a crisis, whether it's a hospitalized parishioner or a broken boiler.

Young families with children, while contributing much to the life of a parish, have a unique set of challenges. Being at an earlier stage in their life cycle, money tends to be tighter. And for low-income and single parents, the obstacles are even greater. In general, young parents earn less at a time when expenses are high. They may be trying to buy a house while they raise their kids, so they likely do not have the resources to be big pledgers. After all, children are EXPENSIVE. Young parents also have very little time, because they are working long hours to squirrel away money for the down payment on the house, the kids' college fund, and fees for their kids' extracurricular activities. Parental commitments like PTA meetings, soccer practice, ballet lessons, and karate classes mean that they feel pulled in many different directions all the time. Evening events, whether they are committee meetings or Lenten Stations of the Cross, often mean that they have to find a babysitter. Sunday mornings are equally tough, because sports teams now schedule mandatory practices and competitions on the Lord's Day, which would have been unthinkable in past generations. Clergy looking to fill the pews and grow their Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) often find that young families are their least regular attendees at Sunday morning worship. Once or twice a month is now becoming a normative standard for many families.

Of course, these observations are not meant as criticisms of young families, but rather as a sympathetic appreciation of the demands on their time and finances. With all of this in mind, congregations should be seeking ways to support parents and help them (and their kids) stay connected to the church and nurture their spiritual lives.

This brings me back to the contributions of seniors to the life of a congregation. Without them, our parishes would be greatly diminished. For example, I recently organized an Inauguration Day collection and distribution of supplies for people experiencing homelessness. Because it was a Friday, almost all of the volunteers were seniors. They made sandwiches, packaged supplies, and went out into the community to distribute the food, clothing, and hygiene kits to our neighbors. It's too bad that Paul didn't include the words, "no longer young or old," to his declaration to the Galatians that "there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." As I watched everyone joyfully bustling in the parish's dining room to get things done, I witnessed the Church at its healthiest and most vibrant. Jesus never said the body of Christ was a youthful one. Perhaps the body is matured and seasoned, experienced and wise.

I raise this issue about ageism in the Church, not because I think it is especially guilty of this bias, but because I think it is an extension of the ageism present in our culture at large. Youth and beauty are privileged and prized. Gone are the days, it would seem, when we showed reverence for our elders and looked upon them as mentors who could help us mature into better adults. Now, granted, age is no guarantee of wisdom or any other virtue, but there is something to be said for respecting the seasoned perspective that experience brings to living, including living as a Christian. There is much that I have learned about being a person of faith and conscience from people that are far older than I. They have taught me how to deepen my prayer life and to practice greater humility, patience, and generosity. They have helped me to take a longer view and put things in proper perspective. They have broadened my appreciation for what is possible. So, I would urge us to be counter-cultural, and to greet our senior parishioners with the same enthusiasm and gratitude as we do our young families with children. A diverse Church is a strong Church. Without our seniors, our congregations, not to mention the Kingdom of God, would be woefully incomplete.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Upon This Rock

Yesterday, I went to see the Martin Scorsese film, Silence. It chronicles the lives of two Jesuit missionaries in Japan and the underground Christian community that sheltered and followed them during a period of intense persecution in the seventeenth century. I will do my best not to spoil the film for those who are planning to see it, but I would like to reference a couple of scenes in light of today's commemoration of the Confession of St. Peter.

With the priests' arrival, the people can once again celebrate the Eucharist and receive absolution for their sins after many years of being on their own. Their yearning for the smallest sign of nourishment for this faith was palpable--the gift of one bead from the priest's rosary was considered an inestimable gift of holiness, a pearl of great price. Their joy over the appearance of the padres was infectious; and at times, I got lost in their emotion, making the sign of the cross or mouthing the responses in the darkened theater, forgetting that I was watching a film, rather than participating in a moment of grace. But then I'd catch myself, and sheepishly return to my limited role as spectator. I was moved by the sincerity and intensity of their piety; it summoned memories of my own swelling emotion and devotion as a new convert not too many years ago. Perhaps that's why I was so easily sucked into the story.

The film also paints the devastating effects of the authorities' coercion of these Christians, driving them to apostasize in order to avoid torture and martyrdom. As the terrified faithful weigh whether to step and spit on an image of Jesus to avoid drowning and burning at the stake, one easily recalls Peter's three-fold denial of Jesus. And of the Church's earliest martyrs. The film's graphic depiction of human suffering inspires profound humility, for how many of us, one wonders, could endure as much? Is there a point beyond which an apostate Christian is beyond God's forgiveness? As priests responsible for the well-being of a vulnerable flock, what is the right thing for Fr. Rodrigues and Fr. Garupe to do: apostasize to save the people from torture and death or continue to profess the faith and watch them suffer and perish?  It is a morally complex and untidy film that deliberately raises questions that foster uneasiness on many levels, both theological and pragmatic. Scenes of crippling guilt and sorrow, followed by confession and absolution punctuate the film. Relationships get repeatedly ruptured and repaired, with little resolution or clarity.

The Denial of St. Peter, G. van Honthorst, c. 1622
Silence engages the politics of imperialism and cultural domination, as well; and I was sympathetic to the Japanese authorities' contention that the missionary work was subversive and disruptive. I was aware of my postmodern discomfort around the missionaries' claims that the Christian faith was the only source of truth or divine revelation, while also holding fast to my conviction that Christianity is a faith with unique and valid truth claims that we are urged to spread. Evangelism is part of our call to follow Jesus. It continues to be a timely dilemma. At what point does evangelism become disrespectful and invasive? How are evangelism and proselytism different and similar? How does one remain respectful of a different cultural and religious tradition while still commending the value of one's own, especially if one is an outsider?

Finally, Silence stirred in me a renewed awareness of the current persecution of sister and brother Christians around the world: in Pakistan, in Nigeria, in China, in Palestine. Scorsese's film reminded me that the plight of St. Peter, the early martyrs, the seventeenth-century martyrs of Japan, and Christians living under persecution now is largely the same. Christians worshiping in secret and hiding any signs of their faith--a crude cross made out of straw, or the image of a saint, or a Bible--is not merely an artifact of our early history, but the daily reality of many Christians around the world, which we often forget about in our own privileged contexts. Freedom of religion or conscience is not a universal benefit enjoyed by everyone.

In fact, the Church was built (and continues to be built) upon the bodies of St. Peter and the martyrs, on those who make sacrifices of many kinds to profess Jesus as the Messiah.  On this day, when we remember Peter, the rock on whom Jesus built his Church--for all of his apostasy--may we pray for all of the martyrs and confessors who suffer for proclaiming Jesus as their Lord and Messiah. May the Angels receive them into Paradise, into the everlasting rest of God.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+