The Evangelist

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In Life's Deep Waters

I am a rock
I am an island
And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries . . .

Dear Friends –

These lyrics were like an anthem for many in a generation of the 60’s and 70’s; young people searching for meaning and purpose in the midst of an ever changing social fabric. What we are noticing some 40-50 years later is that being an island in the midst of the social steam is a tremendous burden for many. Loneliness and isolation have become an epidemic in some places.

I was recently searching the internet for articles about social isolation and electronic connectedness. There is a strange and paradoxical situation – we are connected in time and space with hundreds and sometimes thousands of other individuals, we still sometimes feel a crushing sense of isolation. It is like being in the midst of a candy store, an all-you-can-eat candy store, and what we are really hankering for is some meatloaf and hamburger steak. All carbs – no protein.

You can feel it on the bus, in school, at the shops: the threat of isolation, hardwired into our lives. {Deborah Orr The Guardian Dec 16, 2017}

We are losing some of the “all in it together-ness” of life; in the world of hyper-individualism, hyper-performance, hyper-self-actualization, where and when is there simply a time to be off grid and a child of God. In England, there was a year-long study on social isolation – Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness – that discovered what most of us already know: the old glue is evaporating.

The Cox report mentions social institutions that are becoming a less and less common aspect of people’s daily lives – church, local pub, workplace, social club. Even schools feel like high-pressure environments rather than places where people are nurtured and coaxed through childhood.

We are substituting electronic and cyber communities for actual people and places, and for many this leads to a sense of not really being connected to anyone. One of the vocational callings of the Church at the moment is to give some a “neighborhood,” a backyard, a coffee pot for folks when there seems to be no other place to go where folks know and care.

I am grateful that our congregation is embracing our ever-growing and deepening Stephen Ministry. Sometimes folks ask me about Stephen Ministry – what is it? Is it therapy? Is it mentoring? Is it a 12-step program? I tell them that it is simply companionship within the Church; it is a fulfilling of the promise that Christ gives us to walk with us through life’s valleys, and it is a fulfillment of our promise to walk with one another through life’s challenges.

Stephen Ministers are folks who have generally, not always, but generally taken a turn swimming in the deep waters of life. They do not have all the answers, but they have answered a particular call to be “present” to others who find themselves in life’s deep water. They are also committed to the holiness and confidentiality of individual experience; our story remains our story.

“Stephen Ministers are laypeople—Christian men and women— trained to provide one-to-one care to people experiencing a difficult time in life, such as grief, divorce, job loss, chronic or terminal illness, relocation, or separation due to military deployment. Stephen Ministers come from all walks of life. Their commonality? A passion for bringing Christ’s love and care to people during a time of need. Since 1975, more than 600,000 people from more than 13,000 congregations and other organizations have been trained as Stephen Ministers.”

In the days ahead please keep the ministry of our St. Mark’s Stephen Ministry Team in mind for friends and family, perhaps yourself, as an available “lifeline” should loneliness and isolation descend in the midst of life’s demands. Although we all have the right to be an island, it is not necessary, nor is it something that Jesus ever recommends to those who follow Him.

Blessings and Godspeed
Alston Johnson, Dean

Posted by Alston Johnson

The Time of Kairos

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.  -G. K. Chesterton

One of the most important spiritual teachers that I met through the years was Mary Hall, a professor of English and Ancient literature at the University of Vermont.  Dr. Hall had the gift of sharing insights into literature and philosophy as though she were sharing travel stories from a distant country or planet that she regularly visited.  She spoke of the work of Plato, the Gospels, Shakespeare, Blake, and countless others as though she were their personal friend and confidant. Her vocation as a teacher and a Christian was inviting her students to share in those discoveries.

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.” {Blake}

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:.”  {Wordsworth}

A lesson that she helped me learn is that chronological time, and the time experienced in the heights and depths of the soul, are sometimes moving at different speeds and with different purpose.  Visiting her office, or visiting in her home, when I would complain of being busy, or show the obvious signs of stress and wear that come with too much study, she would caution me about the fetish of overwork for the sake of pride or proving something.  Dr. Hall would acknowledge the trophies I was gathering in the classroom, but she would always invite me to look higher, see farther, and fall more deeply into a mysterious “knowing” of God over which calendars and clocks and schedules have little sway.

She introduced me to a word in ancient Greek – Kairos – a word for time that communicates the moment an opening appears within events, offering the critical moment of decision and action.  I find that most athletes and musicians and entrepreneurs often have an instinctive sense of the importance of the “moment.” It is the moment of action, the moment of decision, the season for meaningful thought and behavior.  

In the New Testament, Kairos appears in the first few verses of Mark’s Gospel – the time appointed by God for his purposes – The Kingdom of God is at hand.  The hands on the clock of Kairos are not steel fingers plucking off notes by the second, the hour, the day, and the year. The hands of the clock that is Kairos, are the heartbeats of the newborn baby, the last breaths of a dying body, the tears of joy in the heart reborn, the swift quickening of dedicated purpose in the life of pursuing goals and victories.  The hands of the clock that is Kairos are more often felt than seen; time moving across the human heart and soul like a breeze striking the wind chimes in the backyard, or like the lightning bolts of history upon which time and events move as on a hinge. The time of Kairos has the foretaste of something eternal, something that cannot quite fit into this world; it is the music and light of the next world breaking through the curtain of this world.

For me, Kairos is the “something new” breaking through the Chronology of something old, mortal, tried and tired.

The so called “New Year” brings these thoughts to my mind because my new year began on the calendar date December 2, 2018 – The First Sunday of Advent.  Through the words of the poets and the philosophers, I can see that Dr. Hall was teaching me to make a kind of exchange regarding my perceptions of time and the meaning of its passing.  In our worship, in our prayers, in our conversations with God, we are exchanging time as a limited commodity of mortal life, for time that is endlessly full of light and hope and whose chief value is that it is limit-less.  The promise of Christ is that we will live forever, and we will live with Him.

I have a sense that this will be my resolution at the turning of the Gregorian Calendar – make a move into a deeper awareness of how my life is shaped by Kairos; or in the words of Philip Brooks, “The only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it.”

Blessings and Godspeed,

Posted by Alston Johnson

What is a Stephen Minister?

Every act of kindness and compassion done by any person for a fellow Christian is done by Christ working within him or her. – Julian of Norwich

What is a Stephen Minister?

  • A child of God who walks beside someone is hurting.
  • A church member who is carefully selected because of their caregiving gifts.
  • A person with 50 hours of training in providing distinct Christian care.
  • A caring Christian friend who listens, cares, prays, supports, and encourages.
  • A Christian friend who meets faithfully each week with their care receiver for as long as there is a need.

Dear Friends,

On October 15, 2018, our Stephen Ministry will begin training a group of 11 individuals from our congregation. Stephen Ministry training is focused upon caring and listening, a ministry of compassion and companionship. Over the next few months, our Stephen Ministry trainees will receive extensive training in the art of Christian care, practical skills for listening effectively, maintaining confidentiality, and dealing with feelings. The Stephen Ministry training covers many of the varied life crisis and events in most of our lives. Throughout the training, there is an emphasis on caring for the whole person.

Following the training, these men and women will be commissioned as Stephen Ministers to carry out ministries of caring within our congregation and community, with people experiencing such problems as hospitalization, grief, depression, loneliness, and many other life crises. Working under the guidance of the St. Mark’s clergy, the Stephen Ministers will extend the capacity of our congregation to care for one another and others.

Areas of Stephen Ministry Concern:

Loss of loved one, Hospitalization, Divorce or separation, Loneliness, Discouragement, Spiritual Crisis, Unemployment, Chronic illness, Incarceration, Aging, Birth, Adoption, miscarriage, recovery from disaster.

The individuals attending this Stephen Ministry training are also committing to two years of service as congregational and community caregivers:

Janet Barlow
Rebecca Bryant
Nanette Beach
Renee Deupree
Karol Fontaine
Dan Koruna

If you have any questions about Stephen Ministry training and caregiving, please feel free to call me at the Cathedral offices.

Blessings and Godspeed,
Alston Johnson 
Dean – St. Marks

Posted by Alston Johnson