Category Archives: Rector’s Message

Responding to Hurricane Harvey

Dear Friends,

 

Throughout southeast Texas, rainfall of unprecedented proportions has flooded tens of thousands of people out of their homes. Hurricane Harvey is now turning back to Louisiana. Your prayers for the victims and for first responders are needed.

 

In conversation with staff and the Wardens, the St. Mary’s Outreach Committee has allocated/ reserved $5k in emergency funding for natural disasters. It makes sense to send those monies immediately to ERD (Episcopal Relief and Development).

 

Episcopal Relief & Development reminds us not to send food, clothing or other items because affected dioceses have limited or no capacity to receive, store or distribute goods. It is more efficient and better for the local economy to make a donation.

Episcopal Relief & Development already has actions in place for first-line aid.

  • If you too would like to make an individual donation to the ERD Hurricane Harvey Response Fund to support impacted dioceses, check here.

Faithfully,

The Reverend Andrew TP Merrow

 

The Rector’s June Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,

As many of you know if you have been part of St. Mary’s for any length of time, I will often remark that in my capacity as your rector I only say “about 12 things and I repeat them over and over again.” Because I obviously think that repetition is a good thing, and as I continue to reflect and rejoice in this 30th anniversary year, let me underscore several that continue to resonate for me personally and for us as a parish family.

  Persons are ordained to be proclaimers of the Gospel, but very quickly, the Church co-opts them to become keepers of the Institution.

While it is true that we are able to do more out in the world by virtue of giving 25% of our pledge and plate income away, never lose sight of the fact that we benefit at least as much as those we serve because it helps to keep us honest. To be blunt we try to put our money where our mouth is, or as the Letter of James says more felicitously “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22)  The landscape of our world is rapidly changing and not for the better.  The foundations that have secured the Episcopal Church in generations past are not sufficient to meet the challenges of our day.

 The truth that we are all Beloved Children of God must be balanced by the truth that we are all Forgiven Sinners.

Part of the genius of our Anglican approach to living the Christian faith is that we are able to hold more than one truth at a time. The grace of God freely given forever precludes us versus them, saved versus condemned, righteous versus unrighteous. We all fall short of the Glory of God, but because we start from the place of unconditional love we can extend that love to our neighbor and to ourselves. Holier than thou has no place in the life of the Church.

At Saint Mary’s we try to take God seriously, ourselves not so much so.

The mark of a Christian is joy as distinguished from happiness. One of my more stellar preaching experiences in Africa was having my sermon on this topic translated, not knowing that in Swahili they are the same word. Differences between and amongst us always are informed by the reality that, buried with Christ in our baptism, we are a new creation.  It may not always be easy to see either in others or ourselves, but we walk by faith, not by sight. The ancient wisdom of the Church is correct – while both are to be avoided, heresy is always to be preferred to schism. We are the Body of Christ… we are connected one to another in our joys and in our sorrows.

Less than a year after I was called to be your rector persons began to say to me that the honeymoon would soon be over. I’d have to say that I think it has been a pretty good run, and further, the credit belongs to God.

May the Peace of the Lord always be with you.

Faithfully,

Andrew +

The Rector’s May Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,

This month’s letter focuses on a couple of items as we enter that time of the year filled with graduations and thoughts of summer vacation.

Most important is to mark your calendar for Sunday, May 31st to honor Claudia Boswell and her thirty – 30!! – years as head of our church school. In a volunteer capacity she has overseen the development and growth of a remarkable group of teachers, parents, volunteers and students. Starting with just a few students and fewer teachers the church school has become one of the cornerstones of our parish’s health and vitality. Over the years many people have joined this parish after hearing in the larger Arlington community about a church that places such a high value on children and their growth in the Lord. I am grateful that the mantle of Claudia’s leadership is being passed to parishioner Evelyn Hutton who served for some seventeen years on the staff of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Burke.

At the Annual Meeting of the parish held on Sunday, May 3rd, we gave thanks for the ministry of retiring Vestry members, Val Dugie, Holly Scott and Virginia Young. In yet another example of God’s abundant grace, because of a tie vote for the third slot, we elected four new members to the Vestry – Patty Balestrieri, Sarah Gregg, Elizabeth Keith and Jad Roberts – instead of our usual three. The new Vestry re-elected as Senior Warden Peggy Marsh. Dave Fletcher was elected Junior Warden and Patty as Register of the Vestry.

Peggy, in her remarks at the Meeting, underscored both the health of our parish and the opportunities that await us, including the continuing work of envisioning what God would have us do and become in the coming months and years. One troubling piece of information is that while the total dollar amount given in this year’s EMC (Every Member Canvass) went up, the number of pledge units declined. Your Vestry will be following up so that everyone participates as a responsible member of this congregation. Committed giving of your time, your talent, and your money is important not only for the health of this parish, but is a necessary component of following Jesus.   

Finally, I do hope that many of you will join us at Shrine Mont for our Parish Weekend, June 5,6,7. It really is a place set apart for rest and renewal, fellowship and lots of fun. My discretionary fund is available to assist confidentially as need be.

We wish Fr. Tim and parish administrator, Pam Frick, Godspeed as they begin well-earned sabbaticals that will take place for eight weeks this summer at different times. Now is a great time to volunteer helping in the office if you have ever considered that – one time or a few hours a week.  Give the office a ring (703.527.6800) and we will ensure that your gifts for ministry are put to work.

May the Peace of the Lord always be with you.

Faithfully,
Andrew +    

The Rector’s April Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,          Ultimately Easter is an invitation.     Like all invitations this one too can be accepted or ignored, opened or tossed aside, received with great joy or profound apathy. The invitation of Easter is literally an invitation to new life. This new life paradoxically looks and feels a lot like our old life. This new life still insists that we experience death first hand, not vicariously. It not only doesn’t shield us from suffering but opens our eyes to see it everywhere around us. It gives us everything while allowing us to own nothing. It graciously confers total freedom by making us slaves of all.     Without Easter, without the vindication that God has overcome the world, then we are left only with the world. The world has always been riddled with warfare and chaos; our own day tragically is no different. Fueled by fear individuals, tribes, nation states, all of us, try to stake our claim to security and order. In so doing we actually exacerbate the situation making it more unstable and contentious. What Easter does is force us to see Jesus from the other side of Good Friday. Up to the point of embracing death on the Cross, his teaching, miracles, exorcisms and healings rank him right at the top of the list of great men and women who have ever lived. There he would have stayed – top of his class – role model par excellence. Easter changes that perception forever translating it into a new way of being. Now we look at Jesus and see not just what is possible but what actually is. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus means when he says that we, his followers, will do greater things than he has done. God invites us, a lump of clay riddled with contradiction and sin, and forms us into the image of the Living God. The claim is so preposterous is it any wonder that the invitation of Easter is ignored by so many?     Jesus lived and died in the “real” world and so, as his disciples so must we. So what makes us different having accepted the invitation to new life contained in Easter? The simplest answer is the three-letter word JOY. Unlike happiness that ebbs and flows like the tides of the sea, joy is a state of being. It not only doesn’t preclude sadness, it plunges us into our own and the sadness of others but with a conviction that the sadness too is passing away. Joy invites us to enjoy the material things of this world without our clinging to them and thus being controlled by them. By the way, generously giving of our money is, more than any other, the litmus test of whether or not we are only staring at the Easter invitation or have actually opened it. Joy opens our eyes to delights that are all around us but we continually miss—once again the gift that children freely bring to us.     Come and gather during this Easter season with another and celebrate, rejoice, laugh, giggle if need be. You have been invited to the party. You already have the prettiest party dress, the sharpest outfit because “you” have been invited. God wants to revel in you and in each of us, to share the love that is boundless and beautiful and a blessing on all. This is Easter joy.     Incarnate that joy on Friday, April 17th, from 7-9 p.m., when we will gather for a reception and celebration for no good reason other than saying thank you to God and one another for the invitation of Easter that so many of us have said yes to.     May the Peace of the Lord always be with you.     Faithfully,      Andrew+  

The Rector’s March Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,            This month marks my completing thirty years of service as rector of St. Mary’s. I am grateful to God and to all of you for the privilege of being part of this community of faith. I distinctly remember Admiral Bill Kuntz, who had been the Senior Warden during the search process, approvingly nodding his head when I said that I would certainly stay at least five years. Once again God’s sense of time and ours can and usually does differ widely.     I remember after those first five years were completed, knowledgeable persons outside the parish disapprovingly nodding their heads when I shared that we continued to use only Rite I in the form closest to the 1928 Prayer Book. I am grateful that God gave me the pastoral wisdom to be patient and understanding as St. Mary’s slowly embraced the 1979 Prayer Book.     My point in looking back is to make clear that parishes are living communities of faith. We have received from those who have gone before us, and it is our responsibility to hand on “the faith of the saints once delivered.” St. Mary’s had been a large, thriving influential parish in the Diocese of Virginia in the 1940’s and 50’s. We then faithfully carried on through twenty-five years of difficult times. What we are now will not be what we shall become. That reality will be determined by our response to God’s faithfulness. To put it in somewhat more colloquial terms, my Seminary professor, Charlie Price, encouraged all those to be ordained to remember, “The parish was there before you arrived, and God willing, it will still be there when you leave.” All of us one day will leave one way or another.     God’s love is eternal. That eternal love of God has decisively broken into our temporal existence through the law and the prophets, and perfectly in the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth. His death and resurrection confirm everything that we need to know in order not only to make sense of this transitory life but also to fill it with joy. I don’t know whether St. Mary’s is headed for smooth sailing or not, although given the state of the world, I suspect it may be a little choppy. What I do know is that as the Body of Christ, the Church has only one Head, Jesus Christ, not the clergy, not the Vestry and so forth and so on. We, all of us, are followers, disciples who are not perfect, but neither were the first ones named Peter and Paul, Mary and Joseph, Lydia and Chloe; yet the Church continues through good times and bad witnessing to a loving reality beyond our ability to fully understand or fully realize.     I pray that going forward we will continue to take God very, very seriously; ourselves not so much. It has worked well these last thirty years. May God bless us and keep us going forward. We have no reason to doubt God’s faithfulness.     May the Peace of the Lord always be with you.     Faithfully,  Andrew+  

The Rector’s February Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,        I would be very surprised if ever over the past thirty years of writing the front page for the Saint Mary’s Messenger I have failed to address the issue of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. The reason for this is the centrality of Easter. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is what gives meaning to the life of the Christian and, I would argue, the life of the world. If the Resurrection is not true, then as Saint Paul says, “we of all people are most to be pitied.” Because Jesus being raised from the dead is true, it logically follows that a season of preparation culminating with Palm Sunday and Holy Week must precede the most important event in the history of the Cosmos.  After all, even the World Series begins with spring training.          One of the great gifts of Lent is that it highlights the tension between chaos and order, between preparation and being thrown into the thick of it. To begin with the date of Ash Wednesday moves annually based on the lunar calendar. This year Ash Wednesday is the 18th of February whether we are ready or not. Our lives can be in a relatively stable place or we might be experiencing problems right and left. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we find ourselves under the discipline of the Church. If chaos has the seemingly upper hand then the gift of Lenten devotions and practices provides structure in stressful times. If things are relatively “normal” then these forty days provide an opportunity to dive deeper into discipleship, into dying to self so that “we might grow into the full stature of Christ.”          Choosing how best to keep Lent is a personal discernment. The clergy and fellow parishioners would be honored to help you think through how best to keep a Holy Lent. You don’t have to figure it out by yourself.          Three recommendations from me: (1) Make sure that you are in church on Ash Wednesday so that you are reminded that your life is of inestimable worth to God as we are reminded of our mortality. (2) Make Holy Week liturgies a priority now at the beginning of Lent so that by the end of Lent, starting with Palm Sunday, you walk the way of the Cross with Jesus. (3) Consider saying your individual confession, especially if you find yourself burdened with shame, guilt, anger, lust, despair, or any of the myriad things that weigh on our hearts. God wants nothing more than to set you free from those burdens. What’s more is that God has the power do it. God’s ability to forgive is always greater than our ability to sin.          May the Peace of the Lord always be with you.     Faithfully,  Andrew+  

September Letter by the Rev. Anne Turner

Dear Friends in Christ,         A long time ago, I came across this statement: Stewardship is all that I do, with all that I have, after I say I believe.     Most of us equate stewardship with  the annual pledge campaign, when the church asks each member to make a financial promise for the coming year.  Each of us gets a packet with information about the church’s needs—how much it costs to pay the light bill or buy Sunday School materials or order altar candles—and we are asked to respond accordingly.  It’s important, but, honestly, it can be a little hard to distinguish from the appeal of hundreds of other worthy organizations.     And yet, giving to the church is quite different.     If we do indeed understand stewardship to be a fundamental part of our life as disciples—all that we do after we say we believe—then it becomes clear that we don’t make a pledge simply because the church needs our money.  We pledge because we need to give, and because we need to say something about Jesus Christ in the process.  We who are created in the image of God need to learn to be grateful and generous, as God would have us be.     Our faith teaches us that everything we have is a gift from God.  Absolutely everything—our families, our homes, the food on our tables.  The beautiful creation that surrounds us, sunrises and rainstorms .  Our abilities, our desires.  Hope.  Love.  We created none of it, and we have earned none of it.   And yet these blessings keep coming.  If we can open our eyes to see them, the only possible response is, indeed, gratitude and open-handed generosity.     And yet, the truth is, most of us don’t wake up every day filled with gratitude.  Often times, we are so filled with anxiety that we can’t even perceive the goodness around us.  The conundrum seems particularly acute to me here in North Arlington.   We know we are supposed to be well-off.  Our homes might be worth upwards of half a million dollars; we are in one of the most affluent counties in the nation.  But it’s still easy to feel poor.  “Needs” creep up on us, and the normative level of affluence can seem perpetually just beyond reach.  Instead of feeling grateful, it’s easy to feel anxious and, ultimately, ashamed.       Our Stewardship Committee this year is addressing the subject by talking about what really matters here—not the need to keep the lights on, but the need to respond to God with generous and joyful hearts.  They are re-centering our pledge campaign around education and conversation.  To that end, they have planned a series of dinners in late September and early October, and I hope that each member of the congregation will make it a priority to attend one of those dinners.  They are also thinking beyond the pledge campaign.  If stewardship is more than just writing a check, it shouldn’t be confined to a pledge campaign in October.  I look forward to their continued activity year-round.     “All things come of thee, O Lord.  And of thine own have we given thee.”  We say it each time we prepare the table for communion.  I hope we can learn to mean it, and to live it.     Blessings,     Anne+

The Rector’s June 2014 letter

Dear Friends,        If one equates Christian Stewardship with an appeal for money to fund the operations of the congregation, then the month of June seems an odd time to be addressing this subject. After all the EMC (Every Member Canvass), when persons are asked to make a financial commitment so that our Vestry can plan the next year’s budget, doesn’t take place until October. If, however, Christian Stewardship is understood as a way of life, a re-ordering of priorities so that we follow Jesus more closely as Lord and Savior, then any and all times are appropriate to discuss Christian Stewardship.          We live in a culture that is increasingly defined by money or lack thereof. Money is synonymous with power; power is equated with prestige; and prestige is accounted with meaning and success.  To this the Church says “hooey”. You have been sold a bill of goods. When you die you will not take one nickel with you. As the Scriptures state succinctly and decisively, “For the love of money is the root of all evils;” (I Timothy 6:10) Christians are to love God and one another, not money. The reason that the standard of giving in the Episcopal Church is the tithe is to force the issue of placing God first in our lives.           Every time that we part with our hard-earned cash it should be an act of thanksgiving to God the giver of all good gifts. Every charitable donation that we make loosens the allure of the world and draws us closer to God. The tithe is an objective standard by which to measure how we are doing. It reminds us that life has a purpose and a goal worth striving for. The old adage “Give until it hurts” proves only that most of us have a very low threshold of pain. Christian giving makes us feel good, not bad. This week I received a note and a check from a couple in the parish. They are not people of great means, but they wanted to say thank you for an important event in their life. They thought that the Culmore Health Clinic would be a good place to share their joy. In so doing they made my day and the day of the Executive Director!  (Remember that our Vestry designated last year’s Christmas offering to the clinic and our generosity helped to stabilize their financial situation.)          All of this is not to say that the Church doesn’t have to wrestle with how to pay our bills (see page 2). If “Give until it hurts” is not helpful, then the ancient wisdom that “Christians are in the world, but not of the world” is something that we need to hold onto and remember. Making a credible witness for Christ to the world requires many things, one of which is money. If you are new to the parish or have yet to make a pledge for 2014, there are still seven months in our fiscal year. Pledge cards are available and the parish staff will be happy to assist you in making your confidential financial commitment.          Examine your giving on a percentage basis and commit to increasing that percentage every year. Don’t get caught in the weeds. Does all charitable giving count toward the tithe? Does caring for my aging parent count as well? Be honest with yourself and move ahead. You will be glad you did.     May the peace of the Lord always be with you.     Faithfully,     Andrew +

Rector’s May Message

Dear Friends, As some of you are aware my wife Cameron and I were blessed to be on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Palestine for two weeks during this past season of Lent. I am delighted to announce that just before Lent next year we will be able to return with two dozen pilgrims to this life-challenging and life-changing place. Our travel dates are February 6 – 17, 2015.     What I am even more grateful for is that our guides, The Rev. Canon John L. Peterson and Iyad Qumri agreed to lead us on this journey. Both men are uniquely equipped to do this. John recently retired as the Washington National Cathedral’s first Canon for Global Justice and Reconciliation. Prior to serving in Washington, Canon Peterson was the Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council, one of the instruments of unity in the Anglican Communion. Before his appointment as Secretary General, he served as Dean of St. George’s College in Jerusalem for 12 years. By training he is an archaeologist as well.      Iyad is a Palestinian Anglican Christian who was born and raised in Jerusalem. He is a licensed guide who has been leading tours of Israel and Palestine since 1997 and is thoroughly familiar with Biblical pilgrimage sites. Iyad is fluent in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. He and his wife, Simone, librarian at St. George’s College, have a home in Jericho. They have two sons who both attend college in the U.S.     On the Pilgrimage we will explore the Old City of Jerusalem, its markets and shrines, including the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulcher). We will visit towns where Jesus lived or visited: Nazareth, Bethlehem, Capernaum, Jericho, Caesarea Philippi, Mount of the Beatitudes, Nablus and Emmaus. We will feel the life of the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea, and the Jordan River and worship with Christians in ancient and modern churches.     It is a physically, spiritually, intellectually and emotionally inspiring and taxing trip. It is something that will change the way that you read Scripture and understand Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  For more information contact Cameron at cdmerrow@gmail.com or speak with us at church. We are excited and grateful that this opportunity has arisen for our parish.     Cameron and I will offer reflections on our trip when we can find a spot on the parish calendar.     May the peace of the Lord always be with you.     Faithfully,     Andrew+