Ministry Minute: GEC Website (9/8/13)

Posted by & filed under Ministry of the week.

Our website (http://www.gracetraversecity.org) is an online channel for information about Grace Episcopal Church. We promote discipleship by sharing stories by and about Grace members whose lives reflect their commitment to Jesus Christ. The website features regular updates from key ministries, including the rector, the vestry, the education director, and former Sr. Warden Barb Klugh, whose weekly Engaging the Word blog parses out the lectionary in terms we can all understand.

From August 1, 2013 to September 2, 2013, 496 people made 772 visits to the website. Anyone who has a faith story to share is invited to submit articles to webmaster Donna Olendorf at dolendor@gmail.com.

 

 

At Jubilee House, God’s love flows in all directions

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes.

By Bill Hankins

Bill Hankins, Jubilee House volunteer

Bill Hankins

Sure, I had noticed the modest Victorian style house west of the church, but knew nothing much about what went on there. It was just part of the neighborhood.

I hadn’t seen the line stretching out to the sidewalk on weekday mornings waiting for someone to open the door. I didn’t know that there were washers and dryers waiting in the cement floored basement to be used, that the coffee pots would soon be brewing and the sign-up board would be filled with names of guests needing showers. Like many things that go on at Grace Episcopal Church, it was beyond my radar.

It was a cold December night two-and-a half years ago that I signed up to help at Safe Harbor. I didn’t know much about Safe Harbor, either, except that homeless people could come for a dinner and somehow they would be allowed to spend the night out of the cold. I was a bit uneasy about getting into this, but Ken Andrews seemed to know the ropes and that made me less anxious. Things were well organized and the homeless arrived, knowing what to do and how to behave.

Then, two guys came in supporting a third, who was obviously in pretty bad shape. He slumped into a chair and passed out. Ken, without hesitation took care of this guest with such kindness and grace that I knew I needed to take some lessons. Jubilee House was my opportunity. I decided to help out each week on Monday.

Jubilee House

Jubilee House photo by Don Olendorf

Again, there were concerns about interacting with “street people” from 10 am until 2 pm, but Ken’s wife, Glenda, with her wise, easy manner showed me around and gave me a packet of information to read.   Again everything was so well organized and rules of behavior so clearly stated that it wasn’t much different from any new experience. Slowly, my opinion of the homeless changed and I came to really understand that we are all God’s children.  And that God loves them as much as he loves me.

Encountering the homeless has always presented a moral dilemma for me. What can I do for this person? What can I say that won’t make them embarrassed? If I get involved, how far do I want to go to help out? Volunteering at Jubilee House resolves problem for me.

Through the celebration of Eucharist we are reminded that we are the body of Christ and are sent out in peace as living members to do His work. I have heard this message thousands of times and have accepted it as my core Christian value without fully putting it into practice. My involvement with Jubilee House has given me the sense that I am making some progress in this direction.

If you want to see why I love Grace, just drop by Jubilee House. It is a shining example of what it means to be a Christian. The door is open, Maxie’s soup is in the kitchen, food in the refrigerator, and the house is full of God’s love flowing in all directions.

 

Voice of the Vestry: What matters now?

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

Keep of the Vestry Kerry Nelson

Kerry Nelson

By Kerry Nelson

As part of our monthly Vestry meeting we spend 15-30 minutes on study. This could be reading this week’s scriptures followed by discussion or Daniel reading a passage from the latest book he is studying and asking a pointed question. No matter what the topic, the ensuing conversation is thought provoking and wide-ranged. At our September meeting our study topic was to review the vision and purpose of Grace Episcopal Church. We defined our vision and purpose by asking the following questions:

Why do we exist? To Make Disciples in the Episcopal shape of Jesus’ Way. This led to a discussion of what is the “Episcopal Way”? Our answer was that it’s a practice based faith with a balance between Daily Office and weekly Eucharist and parish based. Parish based means we serve those within our church walls as well as the extended community in which Grace resides.

How do we behave? Ethic of Hospitality, Ethic of Reverence, Ethic of Wonder and Wisdom, Ethic of Presence. Our discussion added one word to this answer – joyful. We felt it should say “Ethic of Joyful Reverence”. We want to show our joyfulness for all that God has given us.

What do we do? As Episcopal Christians we worship at home daily and together weekly; study the scriptures, our tradition, and what it means to be a disciple today; we serve our families, our parish, and our world in the name of Christ. Everything we do is done with an ethic of Welcome because we are only here by Grace. These words are visible everywhere in the written materials of Grace. We feel they represent the essence of what Grace Church is.

How will we succeed? When we make disciples, when our ethics are intuitive, when our love is tangible. We felt this is an ongoing process with successes along the way.

The last question asked was “What is most important right now?” Our responses: To rejoice! Spiritual stability. Stop what we are doing and sit at Jesus’ feet. Unity and common purpose.

The one common theme of our purpose and vision is the word “we”. Grace is a community of people working together for the glory of God. Everyone has a part. What is yours?

Jesus grabbed my heart

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes.

By Connie Meyers

Connie and Denny Meyers

Connie Meyers with her husband Denny.

I am Connie Meyers, a disciple of Christ….well, at least I am trying to be a disciple of Christ! You would think that a person that has been a Christian, an Episcopalian no less, since six weeks of age would have been spiritually formed by now. Several years ago I realized that I had been going nowhere in developing my spirit or a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I was not changing.

Sure, I was the one that was active at church all the way through high school. In college I actually got up Sunday mornings and walked to church. But something was missing in all those years and the years that followed. Who was I serving? What was my focus? I heard all the ‘talk’ but wasn’t “walking the walk.” I listened to sermon after sermon but did not hear. I followed the path, but did nothing but stray off course. I didn’t believe that I had any gifts to offer.

Something did happen, I am not sure exactly when or where it was, but Jesus grabbed my heart and I began to get caught up in His word. I am constantly overwhelmed by His message and daily cleansed by my own tears. It may have been the realization that I am indeed aging or that I was grateful for all that I am, all that I have been blessed with, and all that there is yet to be. Regardless of what it was, it doesn’t matter. I have spent the past few years digging deep into knowing Jesus better.

I have found that when I begin each day in the quiet, devotional reading, and filling my heart with “his story” my soul is more anchored in God and I love better. When I wander away (which can be often) I work hard at quickly come back to a life centered on Christ. I am willing and enthusiastic to commit myself to Jesus, all of God’s children and to further the Kingdom of God here on earth. Daily, I pray that the focus on myself is taken away, that I may love actively and that my words and thoughts be in the name of Jesus.

I see myself as a disciple when I play for a worship service for dementia patients at the Pavilions, when I am working with the children upstairs on Sunday, helping to care for my mentally impaired sister-in-law, or helping to care for my grandchildren. Now that I have begun to grow spiritually I know these things:

  • I can be quiet. It is good to be quiet. Honestly, I don’t even say a word! I can listen better to God’s voice instead of hearing my own!
  • I know that if I do not know the Son, I do not know the Father.
  • I am a happier and more positive person when I focus on Jesus and not myself.Ÿ
  • I am blessed by choosing the “blessed path” (Psalm 1)
  • I am reminded by Dallas Willard, a favorite teacher of mine, That when I think that I have made it; I have not, that I will never get to a place where I can stop seeking. For seeking is a way of life.
  • I seek the kingdom of God everywhere. I try to find him in everything, everywhere I go.

I now know that the door is open for me to enter. Being grateful and thankful for everything draws me closer to God. When I am attentive to God’s presence and recognize God’s generosity to me I want to return the favor by praising, loving and serving God and to help others. I want to get out of the pew and do what Jesus would have me do!

I am working at becoming a disciple of Jesus. In the beginning of his ministry Jesus chose the most unlikely men to follow Him. I share some of the same characteristics that those first disciples had…weakness, betrayal, denial, fear, doubt. I even fall asleep sometimes when I am in prayer or I practice “drowsy discipleship.” Rob Bell, a pastor, once said that “the disciples were not the best of the best. They were like a young ‘B’ team, or the Junior Varsity!” I can be a disciple. I will continue to seek spirituality and a deeper life of prayer. More than ever, as my spirit is molded and formed I find myself in the hands of God. I like being there!

 “It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.” –Pedro Arruyse, Superior General of the Jesuits, 1983

 

God acts when I slow down…

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

By The Very Rev. Daniel Richards
Rector

The Very Rev. Daniel P. Richards

The Very Rev. Daniel P. Richards

Since the Reformation, Christianity has been mired in major debates about faith. That isn’t news; it is history. We often talk about how the Anglican tradition is poised to be revolutionary and, in fact, the Episcopal church has been in the forefront of several controversial issues that are reshaping the church and our nation.

Are we ahead of the cultural milieu or just another product in lace? More importantly, are we doing what God wants us to do?

It helps to understand that we are a unique branch of Christianity. We are pragmatic and flexible. This all stems from a core characteristic of Anglicanism: we are a practice-based faith.

We are not creedal exactly. We are not really hierarchical. We have both creeds and creedal statements. We have a hierarchy. But those things do not fundamentally define our faith.

Burning of Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer, architect of the Protestant Reformation, was burned at the stake because of his beliefs.

We are defined by what we do. Ever since Thomas Cranmer conceived that the center of the Eucharistic act was the receiving of the bread and wine, we have centered our self-understanding in our practices.

In academic circles we call this “orthopraxis” or right practice as opposed to “orthodoxy” right belief. The simpler truth is that we really should be orthodox, but we allow greater range than other traditions, not out of hubris, but rather we are so focused on our actions that we just aren’t concerned enough to fight.

This has been in turns frustrating and liberating as a non-cradle Episcopalian. I grew up a Southern Baptist, focused on theology and in love with the history and beauty of theology. It was the poetry of Bible and theology that drew me back week after week. But, it was the embodied theology of the liturgy that drew me to the Episcopal church.

I learned there that our outreach flowed from the pages of the Gospels. The formation in the daily chapel deepened my experience of the Eucharist where we read the Bible, we recite the creeds, we care for the poor, we take part in the sacred dance, but we rarely talk about predestination versus free will, much less pre-millennial dispensationalism. We are a people of actions.

There is much to be said about this, but it can be put really simply: we “do” our faith. We do the Office Daily, we do Eucharist weekly, we do meals and food for the hungry, we do welcome. But we also need to balance our doing with thinking.

This is about following Jesus. We do what we do because he asked us to. So as we head into the next year, I will be offering a course on a book I had the vestry study five years ago when I came, Becoming a Blessed Church by Graham Standish.

Becoming a Blessed Church by N. Graham Standish

Becoming a Blessed Church by N. Graham Standish

The book is about seeking God’s direction and will for us before we act. It is a simple thing to stop and pray, but a profound thing nonetheless.

If we are going to say that we follow Jesus, obey Jesus, then we have to ask what he wants us to do, where he wants us to go, and how to be along the way. We do that in prayer.

This is where the Holy Spirit enters into our life. Jesus told his disciples that after he had ascended to his Father, he would send the Holy Spirit to teach, instruct, and guide them. If we are to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, then we have to pay attention to the spiritual dimension of life.

We have to slow down and listen to the Spirit speak within us. God in the Spirit will direct us. I have found that to be a subtle but reliable truth. I don’t always listen, but when I do I discover that my actions have consequences that go beyond my intentions and that my words have the potential of speaking the Word into other lives as well as my own. God acts when I slow down; God speaks in my silence.

So we do. As Episcopal Christians we do a lot; let’s make sure that it is what God would want us to do. Stop. Pray. Listen. Act.

 

 

 

The Divine Economy – the more you give, the more you receive

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes.

By Dave Eitland
Stewardship committee

We pray each Sunday, “All things come from you, O Lord. And of your own have we given you. Amen”

As some of you know, Katheryn and I have just moved again. We have a lot of stuff. Not as much as we once had, but as we move it and unpack it again, it is more than I want it to be. Sometimes I wonder if I want to be “blessed” by all of this stuff, but being raised by a generation not so far from the Great Depression and living through the Recession of the past years, I am sometimes hesitant to get rid of my stuff. So I put my stuff into a storage bin that I drive to when I don’t have room for my stuff in the house or garage I now have.

And everyone has stuff. The cable show Storage Wars tells me of a whole industry built around people abandoning or not able to afford their stuff, which gets sold at auction. And I admit it is fascinating to watch the “treasures” people store in their bins and what they are worth. We as a nation have a lot of stuff.

When I pack and unpack I continue to ask “Do I need all of this stuff?”

If all things come from you, O Lord, and you give me many things and stuff, I need to get rid of the stuff before you bury me in your blessings. I can’t believe the amount of stuff I have recycled or given away to Goodwill or the thrift stores.

I believe there is one Divine Economy where part of my ministry as a discipline is to make sure the stuff God gives me gets put to use. I have found more and more that God is so generous He gives me stuff that I can’t use and that I need to pass along into the Divine Economy so that others might use these treasures God once gave me, so that others can have these treasures and experience the abundance of God.

God gives me more than just stuff in God’s Diving Economy. According to Martin Luther writing about the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” says,

“God gives us food and drink, clothing, house and home, a body, helps us manage our household, gives us and still preserves a spouse (partner), children, work, vocation, craft or occupation, faithful neighbors, good friends, good government, protects us from all harm, wisdom, strength, prosperity, and all we need from day to day.”

In the Divine Economy, God gives us all things that makes life good and protects us from the bad.

In thinking about my giving and all that I have been given, I need to constantly remind myself that I return only a small portion of my time, talent, and financial resources in order for God to do God’s good work in this Divine Economy. How much stuff can I give away to be a blessing for others?

Why I Take My Daughter to Church

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes.

By Abbey Nielsen

Getting to church in one piece is difficult some mornings. My daughter typically naps during church time, and as some of you may know, she gets a little tired, noisy and grouchy. But I take my daughter to church so that she can grow up a woman of God.

A mother and her toddler daughter at church together.

Abbey Nielsen and her toddler, Ellery, often “sing” together in the Grace Harmony choir.

I take my daughter to church because that is something we did in my family growing up. Every Sunday we would get up and go to church. Sunday School was a must where we learned about Jesus and His love for others. There were some days that we didn’t want to attend, but we went anyway. I want my daughter to grow up knowing this church is a place to learn about Jesus, even on days she doesn’t feel like being here.

I take my daughter to church because I want her to learn about God’s love. I want her to know how amazing His forgiveness is and, as she grows up, remembering to be mindful of this. My parents taught my sisters and me about forgiveness – we needed a lot of it as there were three of us, and still do – but knowing that Jesus’ love is the ultimate forgiveness makes life ten times better.

I take my daughter to church to see her church family. While growing up we attended St. Paul’s in Elk Rapids. It always felt like “home” on a Sunday morning as we worshiped as a family. I knew I was safe and loved there, just as I do at Grace now, and I hope that my daughter will grow up and feel the same way.

I take my daughter to church because I love to sing with her. Since she was in the womb she has been attending Grace Harmony with me. It has been such a blessing for me to be able to do this with her, but also has been becoming more difficult the more mobile and vocal she has become. Sunday mornings may become a little more “off key”, and if you hear her rendition of “Moon, Moon, Moon” (her favorite tune) as Grace Harmony is singing a different song, please forgive her. She has always had a love of music, and it is continually growing.

You may hear or see my daughter becoming more active as time goes on, but please know that I am trying my best to get her to church – nap or not – so that she can become a Jesus-loving, forgiving singer on Sunday mornings. And if you happen to step on a pretzel stick, veggie straw or crayon that she’s left behind, please smile and be happy that the future of the church is here!

 

 

New Sunday school program starts Sept. 8

Posted by & filed under Grace Notes.

By Catherine Turnbull
Director of Children and Youth Formation

Turnbull_CatherineUnder the aegis of Welcome, Worship, Study, Serve, we’ve been asking ourselves over the years how we can best embody our mission to impart the great stories of the Christian faith and guide children into Episcopal traditions of worship—in a comfortable bracket of time. This year, we’re making a renewed effort to combine elements of story, worship, shared inquiry, and tradition in a multi-age setting.

For our youngest parishioners, we’re calling the new program Grace Upstairs, and it starts with Welcome. At the top of the stairs, a pair of adults will greet each child individually, shake his/her hand, and ask if she/he is ready for worship.

Church school children grouped on the stairs.

The new program Grace Upstairs begins with a Welcome for the children.

We’re moving toward this being the doorway at which children separate from their folks, so that the whole upstairs is the children’s sacred space. From this doorway, children will enter the Toddler Room, the Big Room, or Upper Elementary areas of activity.

Worship and Study will be tailored to the three different areas. The youngest children (~1-3 yrs.) will meet in the room at the end of the hall for music, circle time, and play. In the Big Room, everyone from 3 years to 4th grade will be part of a chapel service that mirrors what the adults are doing downstairs—opening hymn, collect, etc., a Great Story, and prayers (all carefully crafted to be kid-friendly and easy to remember—something like Play & Pray on Adderall). After the worship is complete, children will be able to choose two or three forms of response. Examples of response are: retelling the stories and working with the story materials; some form of art response; and a station whose focus is movement and action.

Everyone will return to the service at the Eucharist.

Service, apart from the children’s participation in Joyful Noise, the healing team, acolyting, etc. will include a regular relationship with organizations like Giving Back to Africa and Aqua Clara, which have direct connections to the Grace community.

Fifth- and sixth-graders (Upper Elementary) will be in a category of their own this year. They will have their own curriculum and their own classroom, perhaps downstairs—almost like a youth group—and they, too, will come back to the Sanctuary at the Eucharist.

For “older” youth, it’s been our tradition to form a group in middle school and keep it together until a pilgrimage trip is accomplished when everyone is in high school. It’s time to change this model and to create two discrete groups where one grade at a time enters and later moves up: seventh- and eighth-graders together in a middle school group, and ninth- through twelfth-graders in a high school group. We are currently choosing new curricula for each group and looking for one that will free us to refocus the trips we take and lessen the burden of fundraising on the kids and their leaders. In addition, we’re developing plans that include family ministry, philanthropy, oral history, retreats, liturgy-creation, and mission. I’m grateful to God that we already have two people committed to being youth group leaders: Amy Richards (middle school), and Renee Wegman (high school). Both Amy and Renee bring positive, compassionate energy to their time with young people. We do hope and expect to have partners for them as the fall begins.

I’m very excited about the direction we’re going and look forward to all of these projects unfolding. Grace Upstairs will begin on Sunday, September 8; it will probably take an additional week or two to organize the youth groups and we will certainly be in touch about that.

All of Grace Church’s programs for its young members are blessed by steady support. Every year, I gleefully rely on close to two dozen imaginative and wise volunteers. For this, and for the support of the congregation, I remain grateful beyond words.

 

 

Voice of the Vestry: Acting on what God tells us to do

Posted by & filed under Voice of the Vestry.

By Greg Hagan
Jr. Warden

Junior Warden Greg Hagan

Greg Hagan is Jr. Warden of the Vestry

Recently the Vestry met at the Centre Pointe Building for a one day midyear retreat. The purpose of the retreat was to reevaluate and rearticulate the goals we set out at our retreat in February. The goals we put together are based around our statement of purpose at Grace Church; Welcome, Worship, Study and Serve. Typical with all our gatherings we start out with a reading from Scripture with thoughtful discussions of how the readings fit (or do not fit) in our lives at that moment. We then follow up with a short session of prayer. This has become an important element of our meeting process. It is a priority to us as a group when we come together because it allows us to listen and explore ideas that are put before us in a way that we hope is honoring to God and to each other as well.

Does this mean that we are acting on what God tells us to do an every occasion? We could only hope that it is the way it always works. However, because we still are given the freedom of choice, we could be acting in our own interest. We therefore are careful and deliberate in decisions that we make, prayerful that it is God that is guiding us in our decisions and not our egos. That is why it is important for us to listen to one another and look for common words or themes during our discussions. It is imperative to listen to each other while discerning a pressing topic.

Before the day of the retreat the Vestry conducted a survey of our ministries. The recognized leaders of each ministry were asked general questions about their work with the ministry and about any goals they would like the ministry to move towards. We then shared this information with each other in an attempt to examine our outreach into the Parish and the greater community. Daniel, who was acting as our spiritual leader, guided us in a discussion of how we as a parish are living and may not be living up to being Disciples of Christ. Under the headings of Welcome, Worship, Study, Serve, and also Witness and Stewardship, we listed our accomplishments and noted any areas that need more support. It truly is amazing to see what we as a Parish accomplish and contribute to the benefit of this community. We finalized the retreat with a list of further accomplishments that we would like to see happen in the very near future. We set realistic goals and a target date for the end of 2013. We intend to either have these goals accomplished, or we will have the process in motion to get it done in a realistic time frame.

We also spent time exploring ideas for long range visioning of what we see the Parish looking like 10-20 years from now.

 

 

 

Follow Jesus and forgive: Daniel’s journey

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

By The Very Rev. Daniel P. Richards
Rector

The Very Rev. Daniel P. Richards

The Very Rev. Daniel P. Richards

It is simple.  Really.  Follow Jesus.  Do what he does.  Pray as he prays.  Say what he says.  Live what he teaches.

It should be easy, but it isn’t.  Everyone falls short.  The grace of God is perfect, and we are so imperfect.  But, the promise is that God will give us the grace and mercy that we extend.

We must forgive others.  It is easy to get stuck on forgiveness.  Everyone has their Adolf  Hitler, someone in their life who is just too evil to let go of; and so we let that slide, and with it, the whole enterprise.

Forgiveness is simple.  It is hard and relentless, but it is the place to begin.  God forgives us as we forgive others.  We forgive sins and debts, the two words used in the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer.  We forgive sins, where others have fallen short, the spiritual aspects of offense, the unseen wounds, secret checklists.  We let them go.  We also forgive debts, the physical, real debts that others have racked up with us.

Forgiveness thus becomes freedom.  Then the fun begins.  We can move and use the power of the Spirit to begin to heal and be healed.  We can restore and make new.  We can be in right relationship.

Here is a great mystery.  We are amazing creatures made in the image of God.  We are creative and passionate and loving.  We can take care of creation, see the whole, and respond in new and wonderful ways.  But we are so bound up in other things, uncreative, false, and hateful.

Have you ever imagined what a life lived in grace could look like?  What good could be done!  But we are slave to sin, as Paul says.  We are tied to our electronic lusts and broken vendettas.  We fritter away our lives pursuing that which does not give life and does not make new.

I am always surprised that I can see the reality of grace, but then fall short.  I need a new self everyday.  I wear out my new self almost immediately.  I need God to dwell within me, with all his creative powers to constantly be recreating me.

Creation is accomplished by his word, so truly we must be poems, songs of God’s making, being always sung new.  When I disconnect from God I get old so fast, but when I stay rooted in his presence and wisdom, I get sung new and green.  I am supple and free and quick and creative with a creativity beyond my dreams.

I can live with grace.  I become a part of the new creation, the Rule of God, where sins are forgiven and God is known face to face, Emmanuel, Jesus, the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor.

It is so simple.  When we begin in God, it is not difficult.  We just do what branches do, like children of God, born again.