Stewardship as prayer

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Interim Rector, Stewardship, Voice of the Clergy.

by The Rev. Kathryn Costas

Stewardship as prayer is something I have been thinking about.  As we enter this new church season we are doing something different by having our ingathering of 2019 pledges on the third week of Advent, December 15 & 16.  Much prayer has gone into preparing our pledge forms for this year and they say much about who Grace Church is.  We send them to you so you have the time to pray about how you will fill them out.

Your response is a prayer.  Our Book of Common Prayer defines prayer “as responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” So the whole action of praying about your financial commitment in 2019 to Grace Church, and putting that on the pledge card, is a prayer, a response to God in thought and deed.

Why do we ask people to pledge?  Knowing what our committed financial resources will be for the coming year allows the Finance Committee and the Vestry to prepare a budget.  Like any household, we have our set expenses.  Mortgage, utilities, insurance, general upkeep, not to mention setting aside for major expenses; then we add salaries, office expenses and supplies, IT expenses, program expenses, outreach, and our diocesan assessment.  All of this adds up and as each of us knows, the cost of everything goes up each year.  If we didn’t ask folks to pledge, we would have no set plan for paying our expenses.  Grace Church tries to live as good stewards of what is given, hoping that we are living out our stewardship as God intends.

Sometimes in churches, we realize that there are projects that we want to do to make life easier for folks or that must be done, but for which we have not budgeted.  These are usually large projects such as a new roof, or an elevator, or building expansion.  After much prayer, the Vestry will decide to have a Capital campaign, which does just that, raises monies to use toward major enhancements and repairs.  We are not doing that at this time, yet the time will come when we do.

Some people may ask, how do we pledge?  That answer is varied.  Some people choose to give weekly by writing a check and placing it in the offering plate, others do this monthly or yearly.  May I prepay my pledge this year for next? The answer is yes.  Some people have their banks send out checks weekly, monthly or yearly, others may give the church stock.  Some people have the distribution from their IRA’s sent directly to the church, thus avoiding paying tax on the income.  Others pay via bankcards or thru Paypal on our website. There are many ways to give to the yearly stewardship of Grace church.  Some even choose to put cash in the offering plate!

The how to do it is easy, if you have questions, please speak to me, your rector; our treasurer, Bill Pierce; or bring your questions to the office and we can assist.  More time though, should be allocated to prayer.  Reflecting and listening, then responding to God by thoughts and deeds, with or without words.  If we take these words of the prayer book to heart, our whole life becomes a prayer if we choose to honor it as such.

Blessings,

Kathryn+

Grace hosts Safe Harbor Jan. 5-12; training this Sunday Dec. 2

Posted by & filed under Events, Grace Notes, Jubilee Ministries.

by Donna Olendorf, coordinator for Grace Safe Harbor volunteers

Fifteen years ago, one small church decided that no more homeless people would freeze to death in Traverse City. They opened their doors, nightly, to provide a warm, dry place for the homeless to sleep.

Since then, Grace Church and 22 other churches have joined this mission.  More than 1700 community volunteers have now provided a warm dinner, a light breakfast, and a night’s rest to “those with the least among us.”  

This January, the coldest month of the year, Grace will be hosting Safe Harbor again, and even though the homeless no longer sleep at our church, Grace will provide the staffing and supplies for the week of January 5 – 12.  New this year is the presence of a Goodwill staff person during the whole time that the shelter is open.  While this is tremendously helpful, it doesn’t diminish the need for volunteers. Grace needs to fill approximately 150 shifts for its hosting week.

You can sign up to help right now. Grace coordinator Donna Olendorf will be on site Sunday, Dec. 2, after the 10 am service. Join her to reserve your shift and receive handouts and training on procedures. If you are unable to attend the training, you can still help. There is now a sign-up sheet in the narthex and the online signup is open as well: click here

Grace Church’s Jubilee Ministries – comprised of Jubilee House, the Spedding Food Pantry, and Friday Community Meal – provide critical services year round to Traverse City’s homeless population. Safe Harbor, however,  is the cornerstone for shelter during the winter months. Won’t you please mark your calendar to help during these important dates? And if you are unable to assist in person, monetary donations are also needed. There is a sign-up sheet for snacks that you can provide as well.

302 different people slept in the shelter last winter. The average length of stay was 34 nights. In the first year of central shelter operation, an average of 57 guests nightly were served a total of 14,000 evening meals and we provided nearly 10,000 bed nights. 1300 loads of laundry were washed and 2400 showers were facilitated. Volunteers have now given more than 18,000 hours to this mission.

Lives have been saved and suffering has been alleviated. All of this has been achieved through the love and dedication of people like you.  Can you find it in your heart to help again this year?

Advent begins this weekend

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Interim Rector, Voice of the Clergy.

by The Rev. Kathryn Costas

Advent begins this weekend.  What is Advent?  It is the first season of the Church Year.  A time to begin, to start anew.  A time to reflect on the past year at Grace and to offer gratitude for all that has been and a time to look forward and prepare for this new year. We move from using green as the color for vestments and church hangings to advent blue.

You will see the Advent Wreath up front which we will light at every service, a new candle being lit with each new Sunday.  The center candle, the Christ Candle, is lit on Christmas Eve and burns through the Christmas season.

Advent is a time of preparing ourselves for Christmas.  Not by shopping and decorating and singing Christmas songs, though I admit that has become part of Advent.  I wonder though, if there is a way to focus less on those things that need to be done and a bit more time reflecting on this season of Advent?  It might mean carving out an extra twenty minutes a day to sit in centering prayer, or time to read a short Advent meditation and reflect upon that reading.  Consider attending a Contemplative Eucharist on Wednesday evenings at 6:30pm, or join us for a conversation on spirituality following that service.  The third Wednesday of Advent we will again offer a Service of Shadow and Light, a time set apart to acknowledge that this is not a joyous time for everyone, a time to respect the grieving that many people carry with them during this time of year.  Even if you are not grieving or sad, your presence may be a support for those who are.

Another way to make this Advent a time set apart from usual activities might be to volunteer with our Jubilee Ministries, they would welcome your presence.  Speak to Glenda Andrews about Jubilee House, Nancy Johnson about the Food Pantry, or Kate Wood about Friday Meals, and Erin House, who coordinates a couple of the Sunday lunches, would welcome families helping out.

We  prepare our hearts to receive the Christ Child.  In order to receive, we first have to open ourselves.  What does it mean to open our hearts to God?  How do we live the love that we profess to in our Baptismal Covenant?  How can we share God’s love knowingly and freely?  And how do we build connections here at Grace Church?  All good questions to reflect upon this holy season. Enter this season with expectation and preparation.

Blessings,

Kathryn+

Voice of the Vestry – Moving Deeper

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Voice of the Vestry.

by Elizabeth Blondia

The 144th Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan convened on November 2 and 3, 2018 in Lansing. In attendance from Grace Church were George Prewitt, Tony Nelson, Elizabeth Blondia, and The Reverend Kathryn Costas. We were joined by around 300 clergy and laypeople from all around our diocese who came to Lansing ready to address the business of our diocese but also to worship and pray together in order to “move deeper” into our relationship with each other and with God.

Convention Delegates

Bishop Whayne Hougland and the Keynote Speaker, The Rt. Rev. Robert C. Wright, Bishop of Atlanta, both addressed the Convention theme of Moving Deeper. Bishop Hoagland reminded us that moments of crisis – in our lives, in our church, in our world – are times of decision. A video clip from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry asked us if we want to give in to the chaos or do we want to intentionally and prayerfully create the community/relationships/lives we want? Seeing things how they are instead of how we want them to be is how we move deeper in our relationships with each other and with God. Bishop Wright encouraged us to find the courage to say yes, to move out of our comfort zone, to ask hard questions in order to find deep-down answers, and to “let Jesus write some graffiti on our souls.” When we remain with what feels comfortable, we don’t grow and we don’t get to experience anything fully. When we take risks and trust that God will be with us, we can grow in faith and in relationship with each other.

As usual, there was business to attend to as well. We approved the diocesan budget for 2019, elected laypeople and clergy to the Diocesan Standing Committee, passed five resolutions, and heard reports from various ministries around the diocese. The specifics of each of these can be found on the Diocesan website (edwm.org/diocesan-convention). It was during these business sessions that we as Christians were really able to “walk the walk” instead of just talking the talk. People got angry but still listened to each other with love and patience. People said things they regretted and then asked for forgiveness. People cried out of frustration or sadness and were supported and heard. There was conflict but it was resolved peacefully.

I believe we all left Convention on Saturday afternoon feeling that our individual parishes, our diocese and the greater church are all in good health. As Bishop Hoagland said in his address, “We are well on the way to taking more intentional control of our ministries instead of waiting for things to break. We are now more proactive than reactive, all pointing to greater health within the diocese.” More importantly than that, however, was the reminder that love has the power to change lives and the world. Bishops Curry, Hoagland, and Wright all reminded us that we have the responsibility as Christians to practice the way of love in every aspect of our lives. Bishop Hoagland ended his message by saying “If we don’t make this move, who will?” By moving deeper, we can create real change in our lives, in our church, and in our world.

Voice of the Vestry – Fall Reflection

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes.

by Kathryn Holl

Grief.  It is part of daily life.  Sometimes, like waves on water it ripples through our soul, then subsides, hardly noticeable within our being.  At other times, it is tumultuous, a full on body-slam with intense physical, spiritual and emotion discomfort or pain.   Grief is not linear and there is no time frame. It is constantly moving, ever- changing and truly unpredictable.

Grief arises out of loss.  Loss of a loved one, loss due to illness, a move, loss of job, loss of friends, changes in life situations, pet death and other life altering experiences.  Individuals experience grief on a personal level and on a societal level due to suffering of humanity.

Any transitional experience can be the spark for stress and strain in our normal lives.  We cannot ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist, though our society hardly provides understanding for the grieving process.  We need to tend to our grief, to be gentle with ourselves and each other and to reach out to a community of supportive and understanding family and friends.  We need to find those who “get it”.

It is in acceptance that we begin to find a gentler, kinder experience with grief.  Acceptance is demonstrated in models used in the Grief field today. Alan Wolfelt’s “Companioning” model uses The 6 Tasks of Mourning . You can read more at www.Centerforloss.com.    A second model is found in the book Finding My Way by John M.Schneider, PhD.  There he counsels us to be with our grief through three questions:

  1. What is Lost?
  2. What Remains?
  3. What is possible?

Education is valuable in understanding what is occurring through the grief process. Importantly being educated on the subject connects us with the universality of grief.  It is good to learn that “feeling like you are losing your mind” is a normal reaction to grief as are physical manifestations that beset many.  Individuals learn that feeling joy is part of grief as well as sadness. We learn all reactions to a loss are unique depending on our individual natures and relationships to the loss.

We do not get over grief, we go through it.  It changes us forever. This change can be a time when individuals have the greatest opportunity for transformation.  As mourners we walk through pain, remember our loss, honor our relationships, honestly address the difficulties of grief and find courage to turn our pain into a meaningful life, making it possible for transformation to occur.  I know that resilience comes from the acknowledgement of the loss, from a supportive community, a strong faith and the trust that change can be meaningful. If ever there is the feeling God has abandoned, we will again feel the presence of His peace in a renewed relationship to faith, community and family.

I do marvel at the resilience and determination for those facing a health crisis or experiencing the loss of a spouse, partner, child, friend. We can turn to one another to understand, to listen and to be a community of Grace.  Take time to be gentle with yourself and with others, listening, praying and staying present to the moment.

The Well of Grief      by David Whyte

Those who will not slip beneath

the still surface on the well of grief

turning down through its black water

to a place we cannot breathe,

will never know the source from which we drink,

the secret water cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering,

the small round coins,

thrown by those who wished for something else.

 

Pastoral Letter from The Right Rev. Whayne M. Hougland, Jr., IX Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes.

to be read at all services, Oct. 27 & 28, 2018

 

To the People of the Diocese of Western Michigan,

As we make final preparations for the 144th Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan, I request your fervent prayers for our diocese, for the communities we serve, and for our nation.  We need God’s help – and your support – to expand and energize our work of healing and reconciliation to address the growing divisions in our American life.

A little less than 3 days after the gavel closes on our 144th Diocesan Convention, America’s polls will open for the 2018 midterm election. When the polls finally close, Americans could end up more bitterly divided than we are already. No matter who “wins” all of us might end up losing.

I am concerned about thisgrowing chasm of distrust and fear amongst us and the increasing hostility being expressed towards entire segments of our varied communities.  This distrust and fear is the opposite of the spirit of reconciliation embodied in the work of the Episcopal Church. As Episcopalians, our mission is, “to restore all people to unity with God and each other, as we pray and worship, proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace and love.” (BCP p. 855)

The challenges facing the Jesus Movement in Western Michigan are enormous and among the most urgentis the need for racial reconciliation.

This is also an area where we are well positioned to take important new steps toward effective action.In 2017, our Diocesan Convention passed a resolution calling for the development of a policy and procedure requiring that, “persons running for any elected diocesan position must have completed an approved course of study on racial reconciliation.” Our Diocesan Commission on Dismantling Racism has done great work. Working in conjunction with your bishop, they have developed a policy and procedure that was passed unanimously by your diocesan council at its September 2018 meeting.

Regardless of who you are – your background or your beliefs – we are all shaped by systems, including within the Church, in which attitudes, social practices, and power dynamics intentionally and unintentionally create unfair advantages or disadvantages for groups of people based on race.

Simply put, racism is prejudice coupled with power. Racism in all its varietiesexists to help those holding power and control to maintain power and control.

It is only when we see and recognize the overarching role of racism as a systemthat we can begin to examine its consequences and seek ways to change. Our sincere engagement in dismantling racism is a necessary step toward making visible God’s likeness and goodness in every person.

As your Bishop, I now call upon us to take up our mission – to seek restoration and unity by fully giving ourselves to the work of dismantling racism in our lives.

The new policy and procedure for Dismantling Racism in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan outlines a course of study on racism awareness and reconciliation.

·     Phase One – Understanding the history of racism: US origins of racism, institutional racism, awareness of personal bias.

·     Phase Two – Committing to intentional personal and public change.

·     Phase Three – Creating a parish plan and determining outcomes to be measured and follow-up activities to maintain momentum.

This will not be easy work. It will require humility, vulnerability, honesty and courage. It will take graceful listening with gentle responses. It will require patience and prayer, lots of prayer, as we seek to shift our awareness and our actions, so we might become agents of healing and reconciliation in our communities and in our time.

I look forward to taking up this work with you and moving deeper into our relationship with God as we move deeper intorelationship with one another.

I am honored to be your bishop.

May the blessing of God Almighty be with us now and always,

 

The Rt. Rev. Whayne M. Hougland, Jr.

IX Bishop,

The Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan

Click here to download this letter as a PDF.

Click here to download the new Policy and Proceedure for Dismantling Racism Training.

 

Statement from Grand Traverse Area Clergy on Recent Acts of Violence

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Voice of the Clergy.

October 30, 2018

Contact: Rev. Jody Betten (616) 706-3549

We join together as an interfaith community of leaders to share in the profound grief provoked by the attack on Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that took the lives of eleven Jews gathered for Sabbath worship and wounded several others, including first responders.

Together, we cry out with the voice of the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted, because they were not.” (31:14) And, we take comfort in the prophet’s words of reassurance: “The Lord has appeared to me, far away, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have remained true to you.’” (31:2)

Together, we are also profoundly affected by the recent spate of bomb material sent to leaders across the United States and we mourn the lives of Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones, murdered in Kentucky by a white supremacist.

Together, we grieve all instances of daily violence and discrimination faced by members of the wider American community.

Together, we offer our heartfelt condolences to the families, friends, and wider communities of the departed and offer prayers for quick and complete healing for the wounded.

Together, we exhort ourselves and all who share a vision of a peaceful, diverse, just, and compassionate American society, to redouble our efforts at reconciliation and recommit ourselves to upholding our country’s highest ideals and aspirations.

Signed in love and solidarity (alphabetically) –

Rabbi Chava Bahle

Rev. Jody Betten

Rev. Paul Busekist

Rev. Kathryn Costas

Rev. Phil Garrison

Rev. Patricia Haas

Rev. Chris Lane

Rev. Jane Lippert

Rev. Robin Long Carden

Rev. Jose Lopez

Rev. Melissa Lopez

Rev. William Myers

Rev. Dale Ostema

Rev. MaryBeth Robertson

Rev. Kathy Snedeker

Rev. Eileen Stulak

Rev. Jeremy Wicks

Rev. Jared Yaple

 

Voice of the Vestry: Analog Church

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes, Voice of the Vestry.

Vinyl records are making a comeback. Musicians from all genres are offering them, and fans are buying. Paper notebooks from companies like Moleskine and Detroit-based Shinola have been hot for more than a decade now. In our so-called paperless society, paper is popular again. There has been steady growth in indie bookstores—the brick-and-mortar variety—and recent studies show new stores being opened and entrepreneurship becoming more creative.

So, what are we to make of this renaissance of physical things—analog products and services that were supposed to dissipate into the ether with the advent of digital media? In The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, David Sax argues that there is an important societal counternarrative being written. Our honeymoon with certain digital technologies is ending and we now realize their true value and where they fall short. Sax says: “Surrounded by digital, we now crave experiences that are more tactile and human-centric. We want to interact with goods and services with all our senses, and many of us are willing to pay a premium to do so.”

I find some truth in Sax’s observations. There is something rich and wonderful in the experience of real things. The ochre and chestnut brown leather cover on a handmade journal. The gatefold French flaps and deckled edges of a beautifully bound book. The smell of newly manufactured cardboard and vinyl, and the joy of placing the record on my turntable for its debut spin.

Let me be clear, I am no Luddite (and neither is Sax). I believe in the value of digital advances in our world. But it’s not an either-or solution. We need digital innovations and their productivity, but we also need physical, in-real-life reminders of our flesh-bound experiences. “Reality,” Sax says, “is multicolored, infinitely textured, and emotionally layered. It . . . revels in human imperfection.” We need these real reminders that strike a chord within us as God’s creation.

Today is Social Media Sunday, a reminder to share and engage in conversations of faith via social media. I highly encourage you to find and celebrate community through these avenues. But I also want us to think about our life here at Grace. How do we provide experiences that provide an analog respite for people living in a digital world? Do we have a counternarrative?

The next time you’re in church, pause and look and listen. You will find signs and symbols—analog gifts to us, and to anyone entering this space. Water, flowing down and making all things new. Wine and bread. Anointing oil. Stained glass illuminated by sunlight. Crosses, some held and some made. Kneeling. Gestures of peace and love. Familiar chords and harmonies. Prayers spoken and read. Coffee shared. Conversations affirmed. Food served. And so many more.

Our gracious God has given us these physical manifestations of our life of faith as Grace Church, as Episcopalians, as followers of Jesus, as beloved children of God. Hold on to them and give thanks. Then tell someone else about what you’ve found and experienced. That’s good news.

“Our ears have heard,

    our own eyes have seen,

and our hands touched

    this Word.”  —1 John 1:1a, CEV(Contemporary English Version)

Voice of the Vestry

Posted by & filed under Engaging the Word, Grace Notes, Voice of the Vestry.

by Jeff Wescott

When I lived summers in my parents’ home, I often found myself having to do things that just didn’t make any sense.  I don’t mean things I simply hated, like taking out the trash or mowing the lawn: such tasks had merit and contributed to the family’s health and well-being.  I mean tasks that promised only pain and failure.  Learning to ride a bike, for example, demanded I accept the notion that bleeding and hurtling across hot asphalt would, eventually, transform me into a bird. Or, perhaps the job made sense—like earning my first paycheck picking shade tobacco in Connecticut—but still left me sore and itchy, imagining easier ways to make a buck-thirteen an hour.

To all my protests, my dad would just say, “keep at it, it builds character.”  “Oh. For what?” I’d ask.  “Couldn’t I build character just as well by playing with my friends behind the house? Couldn’t I build a great character by reading great characters?  And when will I be done with my character anyway?” Such well-reasoned, sober questions seemed iron-clad to me, but my dad saw right through them.  The poor man had to be a little ashamed: After all, what kid didn’t want to ride a bike?  What was wrong with picking tobacco?  He did it when he was a kid! But all he’d say to me was, “you keep at hard things because it builds your character.”

This summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about Job, wrestling with questions of human suffering and God’s role, if any, in the meting out of evil and suffering.  I don’t mean to say that Job and I are equals in any way—my character is still under construction, whereas Job’s character was built so well that God bragged about him to Satan.  But I do confess to feeling, as Job did, how nonsensical injustice can be. I hear and understand him when he asks, palms turned to heaven,

 

            “What is my strength, that I should wait?

And what is mine end, that I should be patient?”   Job 6:11

 

To be still and patient, attendant upon God’s wisdom, is perhaps the hardest thing for people to do.  ‘Action!’, we cry. “Let’s fight this thing! There has to be some way we can reverse this situation!  I’m not going to sit by and watch…!”  To move and to know and to fight the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is what I might think is best. Scripture offers a lesson here. God twice asks the question, “Where were you?”—once to Satan, the Accuser, when he returns from “going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” (Job 2:2) Satan is an active spirit, “watching everything,” and gathering evidence to use against people. The second time God asks Job, who remains seated and silent in his boils and ashes, and who becomes humble before God’s power and wisdom.  Job finds humility, quiets himself, and learns to trust God. Therein lies the lesson and the challenge: can I find where my strength is, and for what I should be patient, and to what end are all my actions?

 

Finding treasures in God’s good earth – Vacation Bible School

Posted by & filed under Children & Youth, Events, Grace Notes, Stewardship.

by Elizabeth Blondia

VBS kids and leaders enjoying the farm!

For three mornings this past week, ten adults, seven middle schoolers, and 12 young participants from Grace Church met at Art and Linda Schubert’s beautiful farm in Leelanau County to search for and find Treasures in God’s Good Earth. The weather was beautiful, the flowers were blooming, the garden was flourishing, and God’s love was abounding. On the first day, when the children were asked why they thought God created our world, one of the responses was “I think God made all the wonderful things so we could have a good life.” This belief in God’s goodness was just one example of the many touching and special comments we heard from our young Grace Church members throughout our time together.

Each of the three days began with music and singing, prayer, and storytelling, all focusing on the Creation story from Genesis. Kids, middle school helpers, and adults then split into three groups that continued to embrace the themes of God’s love and creation.

In the garden, activities included eating raspberries, carrots and sugar snap peas, and digging up beets, lettuce and onions. The children harvested and prepared fifteen pounds of onions and 24 bags of lettuce for the Grace Church pantry. They looked at bugs and plants under the microscope, including a soil microbe.  Discovering chrysalises amidst the plants and learning about the beauty and awe of living things was made easier with the aid of 10X magnifying glasses the children could call their own.

Under the arts and crafts tent, kids made sand globes with the words “God gave us the gift of water, dry land, and green growing things” written on them, they created suncatchers made from

on the nature trail

plants, flowers, and other things they had gathered on the nature hike the day before, and they made homemade bird treats. At this station, children were also given the opportunity to ride Tilly, one of the Schubert’s gentle horses. This was a highlight of the three days for many of the children. For those that chose not to ride, they happily fed Tilly and her friend Bandit fresh carrots and other goodies from the garden. On the last day, Art hooked Tilly up to their cart and took everyone on a ride, complete with sleigh bells!

The third station was a nature hike along a trail on the Schubert’s property that used to be an old railroad. Along the trail, kids listened and looked for things that God made and things that God did not make, they did a scavenger hunt looking for plants and animals commonly found in the woods, and they played games related to the Creation story. A favorite on the nature hikes was looking for “clinkers” – remains of burned coal left behind by the trains. I was struck by the level of curiosity our children have about the world around us and how important it is to take the time to ask and to answer those questions.

Each day ended with us gathering together again for music, reflection, and rest. We were reminded of God’s example from the Creation story – work hard, but remember to rest. As we all laid on our backs looking at clouds and listening to the birds sing and the children giggle, we were all reminded how blessed we are to live where we live, where the abundance of God’s creation is evident wherever we look. Our final prayer – “Dear God, thank you for bringing us together. Thank you for creating the world and everything in it. Help us learn to be good caretakers of your creation. Amen” – is a good reminder to us all.