Stewardship Reflection and Community Discussion

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Each Tuesday during Stewardship Season, October 4–November 8, a member of the Stewardship Ministry is posting a brief reflection and invitation to discussion in the Saint Mark's Community Life closed Facebook group. If you do not use Facebook, here is the reflection from October 27, posted by ministry team member Greg Simon, along with highlights of the subsequent discussion. Please add your thoughts in the comments below!

Can Venmo be a sacrament? It has become one for me.

Julie and I fulfill our annual pledge to Saint Mark’s automatically – directly from our bank to the cathedral office every month. But I have still valued the ritual of hearing those offertory sentences and placing cash in our offertory basin every Sunday. Or I did until the pandemic happened. Since March, that sacramental act of giving during our liturgy now happens on Venmo.

I could say that the pandemic has upended many of our sacraments. Or I could say it has expanded them. As life has moved to “the cloud”, Zoom has become a space for sacrament. And Facebook. And Chromecast. Even Xfinity! When that all seems disorienting or even disturbing to me, I remind myself that people said the same thing about the printing press.

I think that our actions with money have always been a sacramental space. Our money decisions are, as the traditional catechism puts it, “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace”. Giving money directly connects our ordinary lives to the extraordinary life of God’s Kingdom. Our gifts to grow the Kingdom are, as the catechism says, “certain means by which we receive that grace”. Even if they happen over Venmo.

How has your sacramental giving changed since March?


I have been giving online for years, even since the option became available, mainly because I stopped carrying my checkbook, and it was a way for me to give "my first fruits" on payday.
Giving during this time of pandemic feels like a powerful connection. I think it always did, but I had so many other ways of connecting and interacting with all of you, that I didn't notice it as much. Now, when I give my gift, I take a little time, picture our church and our wonderful people, and savor the thought that I am continuing to be present with you all, even while apart physically.

—Lynne Markova


I donate using the text message system. Before, I’d send the message just before the offertory anthem at the 9:00 service, then sing that anthem since I’m in the Saint Mark’s Singers. Now, I do it from home at the same point in the online Sunday morning webcast. It is a symbolic way of putting something in the basket.

—Carleton MacDonald

Here is the reflection from October 20, posted by Vestry member and fashion historian Clara Berg, along with highlights of the subsequent discussion. Please add your thoughts in the comments below!

The stewardship collect for this year begins with, “Generous Creator, you knit us together into one common life.” For today’s stewardship reflection I want to muse a little on knitting as a theological metaphor. Knitting is known as a “single element” technique. That means knitting takes one continuous thread and then shapes it into something new. You begin with a ball of yarn and loop it in a specific way to form a hat or scarf or sweater. So being knit together implies that, like a strand of yarn, we are already connected to one another (as members of the human family and children of God). But being knit together means an added closeness and a new shape—which serves a fresh purpose. How have you felt knit into community at Saint Mark's?

"I love the "knit together" anthems - seeing all those faces I miss seeing in person....
It's important to me to walk around the grounds at least a couple of times a week. And sometimes chat with Ray"
—Greg Simon


"There was something comforting about seeing pictures of everyone's Wednesday evening dinners right after the building closed. Knowing that we were still finding a way to eat together but from our own homes was reassuring. It was also fun to discover what a deep bench of good chefs there are at Saint Mark's!"
—The Rev. Cristi Chapman


"Sometimes, especially when we have large meetings or classes, I like to arrive early and spend the first few minutes just scrolling through the gallery of faces, reminding me that we're all part of the same community even if we can't be together in person."
—Lynne Markova


"Clara, I’ll never use the phrase “knit together” in quite the same way ever again! What an beautiful and profound image... and it speaks exactly to what I’ve learned during the building closure: that this wasn’t just a group of people who happened to be in the same place as me on Sunday morning, and that we were actually connected in a deeper way all along."
—Greg Bloch


"It also implies a creation, as in "you knit me together in my mother's womb" from my favorite Psalm 139."
—Lynne Cobb


"I've been able to meet folks that I might not have met otherwise because of having more available on Zoom. I'm eager to see people in real life again and I'm thankful I can participate in some things that I couldn't have before."
—Amanda Osenga


 

Here is the reflection from October 6, posted by ministry co-chair Lynne Markova, along with highlights of the subsequent discussion. Please add your thoughts in the comments below!

Welcome to this week's Stewardship Reflection!

During this pandemic, two unique clouds have helped me to stay connected and avoid isolation. I am grateful for them both.

One is the technical computing cloud, the backbone of servers, other hardware and software that fuels our global network. It enables us to connect quickly, safely and virtually, whether through texting, emailing, attending (yet another) Zoom meeting, or my sharing this reflection. The other is our wonderful “Cloud of Witnesses,” our Saint Mark’s community that has gathered virtually in dozens of new and innovative ways, reminding us that we are not alone. We are still One Body, even during this difficult time, and, one day, we will gather in person again.

For me, making my pledge is one way of giving thanks to God for the gift of our community. It is also a tangible way I can contribute to others staying connected and can help to bring about our longed-for reunion, whenever it arrives.

How has God helped you to stay connected and “knit together” during this pandemic?


Thank you, Lynne! One of the ways I witnessed God working through Saint Mark's this summer was through Tent City 3. The hospitality of the community to care for our new neighbors was remarkable. So was the hospitality of the residents to the wider community. (More on that latter part in Sunday's sermon!) God *is* finding all kinds of ways to bring us together...to knit us more closely to and with each other. What a great joy to witness!
—Cristi Chapman


Being part of the team that helps with the livestream production during the pandemic has been a discomfiting experience; the nave feels unnaturally sterile (no pun intended), and I'm acutely aware of the privilege of having access to the cathedral when so many hundreds of our fellow worshippers can't be there.

But when I read their comments on social media about how they follow along every week, how they stand and sing the hymns as we do every Sunday, it reminds me that we are all so deeply and powerfully connected. We have committed our time, our energy, and our money to this place, and I fully believe that God commits to us that we will never be alone.

Even as COVID-19 has taken away so much from us, God has given us so much; the gift of community, the gift of connection, the gift of love.
—Michael Perera

Lynne Markova replied: "Thank you, Michael ! I was on the Vestry when we voted to purchase the livestream equipment. I remember we were all very excited about the new technology and how it might make people feel more drawn in and included. I'm not sure if anyone envisioned it being the lifeline that it has proven to be. So many thanks to you and the rest of the team who work so hard to make the connection possible."


This summer we brought several Ministry groups together through “Virtual Popcorn HappyHours.” It was great to see familiar smiling faces and to hear voices of people we are in community with but have not seen since closure. It was as if time has not passed. It was a blessing.
Robert Stevens

Lynne Markova replied: "Thank you, Robert! The one I attended was so much fun. One of the things I try to do is arrive early to Zoom meetings, especially the larger ones, so I can scroll through and see everyone's faces.
As one of my friends and I agreed, if we *have* to live through a pandemic, at least we're doing it in a time where we have technology to keep us connected."

Voting, Politics, and the Church: A Message from Dean Thomason

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Thursday, October 15, 2020

Dear friends,

This Friday, October 16th, marks the opening day in this state for early voting in the November 3rd general election. As I consider my own ballot, I find myself prayerfully mindful of the right and privilege I have as a voting citizen in this nation. Not everyone is afforded the right, restrained either by law or by impediments of disenfranchisement or disinterest.

I am especially mindful of our nation in these turbulent days and prayerful for a peaceful election. I bid your prayers, too, that we may be given grace to be guided “by the better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln famously wrote in his first inaugural address, as the vituperations launched toward one another reached a boiling point. “Though passion may have strained, it must not break the bonds of our affection,” he said.

Many have offered spiritual counsel in recent weeks—good counsel—on ways to navigate this difficult stretch of days. I commend them to you here once more—


...to name just a few. The common theme is perspective and grounding. As people of faith, we know such perspective and grounding are forged in the contemplative spirit of prayer and self-reflection, not the acrimonious energy oriented to the other. So I add my voice of entreaty to you: claim your spaces of contemplative quiet with intention in the coming days and weeks; turn off the cacophonous spin which feeds off worst-case hyperbole; turn into those spiritual practices that enable you to plant your whole self squarely with perspective and a firm grounding in the values you hold most dear. These values rise from our identity as God’s beloved.

I often get questions, or challenges really—that the Church and its leaders should refrain from entering the political fracas. I appreciate their sentiment, which I take to mean we should avoid using the pulpit to make decidedly partisan pronouncements. They often cite “separation of church and state” as the prevailing reproach against such activity. A closer read of the founding documents of this nation, however, and additional clarifying statements made by those who wrote them, draws an important distinction between the need for a wall “separating church and state,” and some corollary premise to separate religion from politics. The latter is a fabrication not intended by the founders, and they made that very clear. They saw political and religious expression as inexorably linked and believed one’s values were derived from the intermingling of the two. [note 1]

A person’s religion informs his politics, or it’s not much of a religion. When Americans speak of freedom these days, I think we largely intend a freedom from obligation to anyone else. I am free to do and say whatever I want. Unmoored by a commitment to the common good, our nation teeters perilously close to the precipice of a chasm, lured over the edge by songs of hatred and fear and hubris—a house divided cannot stand.

Our faith-informed notion of freedom comes with an undeniable sense of servanthood. Christian freedom intends the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—virtues that ultimately bear fruit when others experience them as gifts from you.It is dangerous to speak of politics and religion in the same conversation. I know it is. Such talk is fraught with chances to demand that we are right while others are wrong, or even worse, to claim hubristically that God is on our side. But it seems to me that we are living in a time when our religious virtues are desperately needed in the public discourse, and that is what we have to offer—not our claim of moral superiority, but our humble claim to Christ-like virtues offered to all as neighbors.

So vote, dear ones. Bless you in the act of voting. And may you be a blessing to all the families of the earth. I am,

Affectionately,

The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason

Dean and Rector

NOTE
  1. Meacham, Jon. American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. New York: Random House, 2006. We must note the sad deficiencies of the Declaration of Independence and its authors who did not responsibly address the evil of slavery in this nation.

Tent City 3 at Saint Mark’s: A Report from Summer 2020

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Click the image below to see a pdf of this report as it appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of The Rubric. 

The following report was published in the Fall 2020 issue of The Rubric.

Ministry report by The Rev. Canon Cristi Chapman.

Between 2001 and 2013, Tent City 3 (TC3), a movable community of people who have experienced homelessness, took up residence at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle for three months each year. After a hiatus, they returned this summer in the midst of a global pandemic, arriving to set up camp on July 7. Tent cities began in Seattle in 1990, when a group of citizens experiencing homelessness came together to create a self-managing community run according to grassroots democratic principles. Thirty years later, the organization that grew out of this initiative, called SHARE/WHEEL, runs 11 indoor shelters and two tent cities, housing almost 500 individuals. During that time, the crisis of homelessness in the Seattle area has only become more acute. Today, Seattle has the third-largest homeless population in the nation, despite being only the 15th largest city. [citation]

Per an agreement with the City of Seattle, Tent City 3 sets up its facilities on the property of a church or other host and stays for approximately 90 days before moving on. Living in a tent is not the secure, permanent housing that everyone deserves; however, for some of those for whom such housing is inaccessible, a Tent City can be a better situation than more traditional homeless shelters. Unlike many shelters, it allows mixed-gender couples to live together and some animal companions can join them. In addition, the residents are not bound to restrictive curfews, which removes a significant barrier to employment (most residents of Tent City are employed full- or part-time).

TC3 resident Mary moved to the camp in late August after returning from Florida. She says it has been difficult for her to figure out how to finalize her claim for disability after a recent accident. In Florida, she had to meet with people in person to verify her claim, but with covid-19, those offices were closed. She moved back to Washington, in part, because the state offers more pathways for her to receive benefits. Mary was grateful to find a home at TC3 while she sorted out what was next. About TC3 and covid-19, Mary said, “You make the best out of whatever situation you find yourself in.” Mary’s motto was shared by many others who made their homes in tents outside the cathedral building this summer.

TC3 residents were not the only ones who had to adjust to covid-19. So did members from Saint Mark’s. In the past, many different groups at the cathedral would regularly interact with residents from the camp. While this summer’s building closure and physical distancing requirements made that more difficult, it didn’t stop ministry from happening. Instead, new ways developed to connect residents with the community. Members of Saint Brigid’s Banquet provided meals while adhering to the governor’s precautions. The cathedral provided pallets of water. Individuals brought other basic needs like socks, jeans, t-shirts, and can openers.

Parishioner Kathy Albert recently said of the work done by Saint Brigid’s Banquet: “We need to continue doing this kind of work! We could conceivably shut down this ministry out of consideration for our own health needs and those of the people around us. But what about the needs of the most vulnerable among us? Our faith tells us their needs are to be considered first.”

Tent City 3 packed up and moved to their next host on September 15. In this extraordinary and dangerous time, their presence was a gift and a blessing to the cathedral in so many ways. We continue to remember them in prayer, we decry and denounce the dehumanizing and degrading treatment to which those who have lost their home are subjected in this country, and we continue to work for a world in which all can live with safety and dignity.

Sandra Smith: A Reflection on Mask Worry

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Back in March, Sandra Smith submitted the very first reflection posted on the cathedral website on the events that were then rapidly unfolding, from her perspective as an immune-compromised person. Now, three months later, she has submitted the following thoughts about the current situation.


I believe all people in our human community do matter, especially the vulnerable and oppressed. We must keep ourselves safe. For people who don’t chose to mask, I have felt righteous indignation with my inner bully/tyrant rising up with anger because my health is threatened. I don’t want to be a bully nor a tyrant nor do I want to hate others whose values and behaviors are different than my own. I want to disarm myself, and ask God’s grace to diminish threats, save all of us, God’s people, and help me to truly walk in love, literally.

So, I walked for exercise with my neighbor. We were masked and maintained 6 feet social distancing from each other. As the months continued, I noticed people on my walk who didn’t wear their masks and it worried me; I felt threatened by their choice as they approached on the street. It surprised me how much woeful energy I felt as I encountered the unmasked. I wondered, why such a threat?

Having walked along a busy street for my daily walk, I felt a slow crescendo of anxiety, both my own and others’. After stepping aside from my frustration and fear, I took time to reflect and realized that I want others to behave in a way that protects me. After all, I wear a mask to protect them. Didn’t they have the desire to protect others, like me?

Then I looked deeper and realized that I had a part in this. Perhaps my need to control the masking behavior of others only increased my frustration. Stepping back from my worldview of what compassionate life may look like, it had now become time for me to admit again, that I only have power over my own behavior and actions. I began to consider the question a very wise woman said, “what can I do differently?”

So, my walking buddy and I chose after Easter Monday to walk a new less busy route while reflecting on a scripture passage each of us brings to the walk, maintaining our six-foot distance between ourselves and the fewer unmasked anxious others we encountered. I avoided the nearby unmasked contractor who was consistently not adhering to the Governor’s directive for him to be masked. As he continued in his illegal neglect, I calmly and firmly wrote to my condo neighbors that the behavior of this unmasked contractor was unacceptable. I asked what does he not understand and why? He is now abiding and masked. I also acknowledge the passing joggers’ rights as equal to my right to be outside and avoid or face away from them as they pass quickly to protect myself.

I try to let go of what is not mine to do responsibly. I don’t want to act in a tyrannical way to any of my neighbors. I fervently want to express my needs in a firm and loving way. I ask God to help me walk in love which is hard to do. I pray that I can continue to choose to do the best I can. God bless you in your journey with the unmasked. Be Safe. Let us pray for one another. Amen.

Dean Thomason: Racial Violence and God’s Call to a “New Normal”

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Dear friends,

Our hearts singe once more with the excruciating pain of seeing a police officer in Minnesota use an established torture technique to subdue a black man under suspicion of an alleged crime. Other police officers were complicit in their participation. George Floyd died at their hands.

There has been much talk in recent weeks of constitutional rights, but Mr. Floyd was not afforded his in this moment which has catalyzed outrage and terror. Yes, terror, for there are fellow citizens of this nation who must live in fear of such heinous and deadly acts being perpetrated on them, too, and their sons and brothers. They live in terror because this is not an isolated event. This nation’s deep roots of racism have given rise to more than four centuries of such terror. It is no wonder that terror intermingled with grief from a pandemic has stirred the masses into a riotous furor.

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” So said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who used his prophetic voice to call this nation to repent of its sin of racism, in 1968. That quote has become a soundbite in recent days, as it did four years ago in Baltimore, and eight years ago in Ferguson, and… and… and…

But in that same speech Dr. King went on to ask America — which is to say, he went on to ask you and me: “What is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor [sic] has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

The prophet’s voice singes our ears and our hearts a half century later, and his words are sadly as true now as they were then. Dr. King rejected violence as a means for societal change, and yet he understood the violent protests of the oppressed in relation to the violence and terror that racism has inflicted on a people for centuries.

Let’s be honest: we all want justice… for ourselves at least, but maybe not so much when it disturbs the status quo to which we have become accustomed. That is human nature, I suppose, but it comes with a heavy price for some as we organize our common life by a deeper logic that insists on inequity: insider/outsider; rich/poor; powerful/oppressed. Barak Obama reflected this week in the wake of George Floyd’s death that “it's natural to wish for life ‘to just get back to normal’ as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal’ — whether it's while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.”

My friends, God is calling us to create a new normal in which justice will take a shape that extends well beyond a neighborhood in Minneapolis, and well beyond cries for retributive justice to be meted out. Yes, a police officer has been charged with murder; other police officers have been fired. We pray this day for the riots to revert to non-violent protest. And we pray that those voices may be heard, by us, by our leaders, and by all in this nation as we struggle to find a new way, a different way of being part of that “inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

God’s relentless call to us is about working for a new creation in which the even deeper logic is abundant life for all. A “new normal,” if you will. As we renew our Baptismal Covenant tomorrow on the occasion of Pentecost, may we form the words on our lips and on our hearts: “I will, with God’s help.”

Your Brother in Christ,

The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason

Dean and Rector

Kathy Albert: Good Friday and the Truth

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It's Good Friday. Today is the day that Jesus was turned over to The State. The State, that behemoth that has always been, sans compassion, sans conscience, sans consciousness, a veritable greed machine. In the Palestine of Jesus's day, that would have been a Roman Empire. In our time, it's an American one. Neither one of them has had a great track record when it comes to truth.

Today, we can see a powerful Jesus. Though he is given up to the workings of an evil system, he is never conquered by it. He has come to so embody the truth that when he simply presents himself in the garden, false authority falls away. Later, he stands up to Annas' attempts to frame him, while asserting his own authority among the people: "Ask those who heard what I said to them. They know what I said." Even when hit, he has a response that would require his assailant to face truth: "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I've spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" In facing his own Jewish community that has gone far astray, Jesus confronts them with truth.

But in his encounters with the Roman oppressor in the person of Pilate, Jesus points to truth in a different way. Compassionately, he speaks to the Roman procurator words that shed light on a path to truth for him: "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here. . . . You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Then Pilate seeks to learn from Jesus, "What is truth?", and goes out and asserts his detainee's innocence to those who want this captured man dead.

Even throughout the horrific pain and despair of the cross, Jesus remains heart and soul surrendered to the truth of his life. Even in his suffering, he fulfills the duty of an only child to his cherished mother, and releases her into the care of his beloved disciple, John.  He stays vulnerably human right up to his last breath, expressing his thirst and drinking what's offered, sour as it is.  Then  Jesus simply acknowledges when his final moment has come, saying "It is finished.", and dies.

So, that's how truth showed up two thousand years ago in the Roman Empire. How is it showing up in the American Empire today?  My answer—far beneath the surface of things, and with great struggle and indomitable spirit. To find truth in America today requires deep diving, fringe-living, and perseverance like we've never persevered before. I find truth in accepting limitations in my life that were unfathomable before, while indomitably confronting the stubborn myopia of my American people's devotion to a failure-bound  system. I find truth in praying for the devotees, and therein receiving grace to think and act compassionately towards them. And I find truth in acknowledging my own—albeit unwilling—participation in the most destructive and inhumane mode of socio-economic organization that human beings have heretofore come up with,  and doing all that I can to stop participating, one step at a time.  [You know what system I'm referring to. I don't have to say the "C" word.]

When I look at the mangled truth hanging on the cross these days, I see the undocumented, the impoverished, the imprisoned, the homeless, the raped, the murdered, the queer, the elderly, the children, the sick, the abandoned, the molested . . . who in truth does NOT hang on the cross of Jesus today? It is in finding myself there that a portal into resurrection opens. Then I have the strength and Godly power to resist and keep resisting The State, as Jesus did and continues to do, whenever the Church stands up and divests of her own complicit - and almost always unconscious - support of The State.

I suspect America is like Pilate in the 21st century. Our best bet is to ask Jesus, "What is truth?" But unlike the Roman procurator, we can still choose to follow the Christly word whispered in our hearts, and NOT the loud demands of a crazed culture gone mad with greed. We can opt for death—and pass through to vibrant life like we've never known before.

Carrie Kahler: Three Poems

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Parishioner Carrie Kahler taught a class at Saint Mark's a few years ago on ekphrastic poetry, focusing especially on Saint Mark's own collection of icons. Three poems she wrote as a result of that class were subsequently published in the literary journal Image, issue No. 99. (You can view them on Image's website here, here, and here.) She has graciously offered to share them here. 


 

After Rublev’s Trinity

Each face turned toward
a face at table leaving
always a space for

one more. An open
door to run through when someone
can’t quite make it home

on their own. Though the
wings work, humans haven’t got
them, and it’s hard to

converse from heights so,
in one hand a staff to lean
on. The other hand
ever reaches down.

After Prokhorova’s Saint Mark

There is no shadow
of turning here but there are
spaces for the dark.

Neither does the point
vanish—receding toward
a horizon of

agreement pinned to
dancing angels, instead gold
instead several

visions at once see
desk with sharp quills curved to light
like the mind on the
feet that bear good news

After The Anastasis

who’s to say here what
is not when the hand firmly
grips the bird-light wrist

the face facing Eve—
her son’s as much as Mary’s—
furrowed long and lined

on her left Adam’s
cloak billows back in the blast
of blue air He brings

the deep blue behind
Him an almond of truth that
is, heaven that is

how we grasp after
holiness when gold leaf is
too dull we go dark

witnesses crowd each
other’s ears and each gestures
and each gesture sends

your glance heavenward
you stand just beyond the first
parents just this side

of death’s doors waiting
for the pull to light waiting
to leave the late night

Kathy Albert: Prayers for Life

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Parishioner Kathy Albert wrote this reflection on two meaningful prayers. Thank you for sharing, Kathy! 

When life gets rugged, I turn to a wealth of spiritual wisdom that has sustained me over the years. Here's a prayer that I am saying out loud now after meals. It comes from Gates of the House: The New Union Home Prayer Book, published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis:

"Let us praise God.
Praised be the name of God, now and forever!
Blessed is our God, of whose abundance we have eaten.
Blessed is our God, of whose abundance we have eaten, and by whose goodness we live.
Blessed is the One-Who-Is!
Blessed is the [Holy One] our God, [Sovereign] of the universe, whose goodness sustains the world.
The God of grace, love, and compassion is the source of food for all who live—for God's love is everlasting.
Through God's great goodness we do not lack and will not ever lack.
For God is in the goodness that sustains and nourishes all, providing food enough for every living being.
Blessed is the [Holy One], Source of food for all who live."
Thomas Merton prayed a prayer that also finds resonance in my own heart, especially now:
"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."
I am now no more vulnerable to death than I have ever been.  Life is always tenuous!  So I can take this moment to choose life more than ever!  In the face of the deaths, I choose to live!  Life is good!

Dean’s Letter: One Body, Many Parts

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As we approach two weeks since the first public health directives upended our normal routines, with many in the interim faced with job loss, school closures, and the threat of illness coming too close, I am keenly aware that the stress of this disruption and the weight of the burgeoning health care crisis are bearing down on us, collectively and individually. It is difficult in the moment to find an unimpeded path to resolution and a return to normalcy (whatever that may look like). None of us are certain how long this will last, and that naturally enough prompts anxiety. And there is a deep sense of grieving intermingled in it all.

I name all of this, having had personal conversations or email exchanges with literally hundreds of you in recent days—I name all of this as we prepare for a very unusual Holy Week, and I am acutely aware of the fact that we are making our journey to the cross of Good Friday this year like no other year in living memory. But we do so ever-enlightened by the hope of resurrection. We are resurrection people, and we are called to live in a way that does not gloss the harsh realities of life, but rather holds those struggles in the context of resurrected life, trusting that something new is in the works, even if we can’t quite make it out just yet....

Please click here to read the remainder of the Dean's message.

Sonjia Gavin: Blessing and Curse

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Yin and Yang. Sinner and Saint. Blessing and Curse. As they say, there are always to sides to a coin.

In this time of limbo, I find myself thinking about this daily. What is the take-away from all of this? What are we supposed to be learning? How are we going to make it through? Will this ever this end?

All around us, we are experiencing a new normal. Students are not in school, employees are being laid off (including me), some are working from home (husband), stores are closing, and many are in fear of contracting COVID-19. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that this is a disorienting time for all of us.

The first few days of self-quarantine for my family was rough. It was a lot of learning to live together 24/7, adjusting to our new normal, and listening. As we head toward the end of the week, we have found our rhythm. For now. We are “plotting a different course than the one we had planned.”

In his sermon on Sunday, Steve encouraged us to look for outward signs of spiritual grace waiting to surprise us, bless us, and nourish us. Common things made holy for our spiritual benefit.

For everything I see as a loss, there is a blessing on the other side. Reframing my perspective takes some practice. During these difficult times, we must be diligent in looking for outward signs of God’s grace.

Reflecting back on this week I can see God’s grace, the Blessing, all around me. Life has slowed down. WAY down. And this is a beautiful thing.

I’m reconnecting with my family on a whole new level. We spend time together, and actually enjoy it! I am A LOT less stressed out. Without as much to do or worry about, the rhythm of my life has found a new equilibrium. And it makes me wonder how I can refocus my energy when this is all over.

I have been able to enjoy the sunshine and put energy and time (something I would not have had with our normal routine) into working in my yard. It has never looked so good! The bulbs are popping up, the trees are blooming, and the birds fill the air with their songs. Spring has arrived. Common things made holy for our spiritual benefit.

God is here in this time of wilderness. We can cling to his promise in the Sacraments and look for the outwardly visible signs of God’s grace in our everyday lives

Reflections on Signs of Grace…

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After hearing Dean Thomason's sermon on March 15, 2020, parishioners were invited to reflect on where they had been experiencing sacramental grace in their daily lives during this challenging time. 


 

I snapped a photo (attached) on my walk out of PCC this evening after being greeted by a brass band playing music together in the park. All of the musicians were standing at least 6 feet apart (practicing social distancing) while they played joyful music. Lifted my spirits immediately and filled me with gratitude!

—Kari Nasby


 

I am standing with my cup of coffee looking out at our sun-filled back yard and enjoying the life at our bird feeder. Juncos, chickadees, towhees and house finches are our frequent visitors but this afternoon it is mostly chickadees and juncos. For me they are holy little spirits, clothed in feathers, emissaries of God’s love.

—Nancy Valaas


 

As I washed my hands this past week and used sanitizer for what seemed like the hundredth time, practiced social distancing, and did my best not to become hopeless, I’ve had this ongoing internal dialogue about what it means to live a Eucharistic focused life during a pandemic. I can’t stop reflecting on serving at the 11 a.m. Saint Mark’s service last Sunday. The “physical” pews and chairs in the Nave were empty. As one of the handful of ministers who stood on the platform for the Liturgy of the Table, it was clear to me that we were celebrating communion across time, space, and beyond the four walls of the Nave.

While the pews and chairs were empty, the Nave was not! The Cathedral Parish and beyond were clearly present with us. For me, this is a Lukan Road to Emmaus time where Jesus is walking with the two disciples and revealing the truth of Holy Scripture to them so they can hear and soon through the blessing of wine and breaking of bread can see. In today’s context, some of the visible signs of grace are simple as taking extra time to notice water and how I am washing my hands. Water is ritually cleansing and life giving. With the coronavirus, water can limit its spread and thus can be lifesaving.  It is also being mindful of how fearful people are in public and especially in confined spaces like elevators.  When I recognize this fear in others, it is to be gentle and to acknowledge the person with a kind gesture. In my home, we are making it a point to reach out to friends, family, and especially those who live alone and to make sure they are okay.

Living a Eucharistic focused life at its core is being called to community. It is seeing the presence of Jesus in the most common aspects of life.  It is especially true as we navigate not having the ability to be physically present to those we love and to be in our faith community. I know that wherever The Liturgy of the Table is celebrated, it is celebrated for all of us, physically present or not..

—Robert Stevens


 

Amanda: “We’re all in this together”

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For Saint Mark's member Amanda, the experience of social isolation and distance is not a new one. She recently posted this thoughtful reflection on the Saint Mark's Community Closed Facebook Group, and it is being reposted here for the benefit of community members who do not use Facebook. Please leave a comment below if you are so moved. 


Hi church. I’m Amanda, my family started attending St. Mark’s this past summer. I’m stepping out in a moment of vulnerability to share my story a bit.

This social distancing, self-isolation, lots of handwashing, nervous “am I going to get sick” scenario the nation finds itself in is essentially how I lived for almost two years. I was dealing with significant health issues and isolation was my best option to be well.

For about two years I went almost nowhere indoors. I had next to no physical contact with anyone except my immediate family. When I did go somewhere I often ended up sick. I scrupulously washed after any contact with people. My hubby and son (who most of you know as the smiling 9-year-old in a bow tie) had to go through an involved process to clean up whenever they came home from somewhere. It was this past spring, almost a year ago, that my healthcare team decided I could start doing more.

I know how hard this is. I know how scary, frustrating, confusing, and lonely it is. In some ways, I am grateful people are going to *get* it now. A lot of people live like this every day. If you want to talk to someone who gets it, please reach out. If you’re lonely or scared, please reach out. (I’d also like to mention I’ve worked from home for years now and I am a homeschool consultant. I have lots of easy to implement resources and systems for those who are suddenly working from home and/or homeschooling).

Watching the service reminded me this time I’m not alone. That empty sanctuary and the distance between everyone present felt so strange, didn’t it? Yet it reminded me we’re all in this together. And God is in the midst of us giving us comfort. We’re gathering to worship and connecting as we can. It was holy and heartbreaking. Beautiful and sad. Lonely and united.

I encourage you to be incredibly intentional about cultivating community in any way you can. Reach out to multiple people a day. We live in an era where it is easier than ever to communicate. Keep communicating. Especially make sure to reach out to those with chronic illness, the elderly, those who are already feeling the financial pinch, those in your life with depression and anxiety, and those who care for people in these categories. And send real mail. When I was isolated getting mail was a lifeline. The internet is amazing and we should use it to connect. And there’s something about holding a letter in your hand that someone wrote for you that fills the soul in a unique way.

“Your people” need you now more than ever. This is an opportunity to shine God’s light and hope into a scared and hurting world. I hope it’s not an opportunity that is overlooked.

Michael Seewer: “COVID-19 and Me”

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The video that was live-streamed carefully avoided images of the empty pews and chairs, except for a few special moments at the beginning and end—but for those few of us present in the church the emptiness was a constant, unsettling presence. Cathedral Sacristan and Head Verger Michael Seewer posted a personal reflection about his experiences last Sunday on his personal blog. Below is a brief excerpt. Read his full post on his personal blog


As the liturgy was to begin, the Dean shared words of welcome with everyone joining us on the internet. It was weird. And then, the choir rang the bell to signal the start of the service. The crucifer got ready to lead the procession (of three people…our processions are normally 50 or 60 people). And it really hit me.

This is all so weird.

The church was basically empty. At least, all of the seats and pews in the main part where the worshiping congregation sits. We normally have several hundreds of people attending each service. I think it hit me then, just how much things have changed just in the last couple of weeks.

I keep telling myself that I’m not going to let this all overwhelm me. I live in a city over 2,000 miles from my family. And though I have some wonderful friends whom I love and trust, I have occasional feelings of loneliness, missing the lifelong friendships from my hometown.

In the midst of our liturgy this morning, the words of Scripture washed over me. The reading from Exodus and the story of the Israelites in the wilderness. The words of Psalm 95…the antiphon

Harden not your hearts as your forebears did in the wilderness.

over and over and over…reminding me…don’t lose hope in this wilderness.


Read the rest of Michael's reflection here

Members of the cathedral staff completing final preparations for the first-ever livestream-only liturgy. L to R: Cathedral Sacristan Michael Seewer, Associate Organist John Stuntebeck, Dean Steve Thomason, Sound Board Technician Michael Perera, Associate Musician Rebekah Gilmore, Canon Cristi Chapman, Cathedral Videographer Christopher Brown. Photo by Communications Director Gregory Bloch.

Kelly Moody: “Everything Has Changed”

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Associate for Spiritual Formation Kelly Moody recently sent the following letter to the participants in Children and Family Ministries at Saint Mark's. Her reflection is relevant, however, not just to parents of young children, but to all of us, and so we are sharing it here.


“Everything has changed.”

We say that in Godly Play at the beginning of a new liturgical year, and it seems appropriate in the wake of the news all gatherings over 50 people are prohibited, restaurants, gyms, libraries and museums are closing, and public and private schools are cancelled until at least April 25. Everything external about the way we go about our daily lives has changed this week, and it’s making waves. The impact of these changes will vary among us, but the anxiety that comes with disruption and uncertainty will accompany each of us to some degree. That is to be expected, and I pray that we will be divinely gentle with ourselves and one another as we live into a new reality, and seek creative ways to support the emotional, mental, and spiritual health of our children and ourselves.

Though these external changes to our daily lives are temporary, we ourselves will be changed during this season, too.  We will be formed by the cessation of gathering and activity in deep ways. It is always true that we are formed by our attention and action, but perhaps it’s easier to notice in unusual times like these- times of enforced ceasing.

As members of the Church, the Body of Christ, we have a model for living fully in the face of disruption, and seeing and celebrating God's presence in hard places. It is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the Eucharistic shape of our weekly worship. And as it turns out, it is the pattern of our liturgical calendar, too, which conveniently locates us now in the season of Lent, a time to cease. Every year in Lent, we remove certain things from our worship space and simplify our liturgy. We set aside aspects of celebration and feasting and distraction in order to turn our attention to God’s still, small voice. We are doing that in far more drastic ways this year! But we do so with intention each year to follow Jesus’s path of preparation for surrendering his life on the cross, knowing transformation will come through surrender, somehow. And so, we have a unique opportunity this year to practice surrender.

The question is, to what, or to whom will I surrender?  

I am here to say that until this week, I had not yet been very intentional about surrendering to anything more courageous than the entropy of my own overcrowded and busy life this Lenten season. I'd even taken on too many Lenten disciplines! Truth be told, sometimes our churches become markets of frenetic activity, too, just like the rest of the world.

But not this year. This year we are given the gift of a remarkable ceasing. Folded into the worldwide disruption of COVID-19 is an opportunity to make a different Lenten choice; to show up to our own formation differently and listen to the still, small voice of God calling us gently and persistently to be still and know, and to be changed by that knowing.

The path before us is a bit rocky, but it is not uncharted. We are in the company of Christians throughout time who have found their way through disappointments and unexpected challenges by the light of Christ, in the presence of Christ, and with the love Christ. We are in the company of one another, and we will continue to be formed by our faith every time we gather for prayer and worship by livestream, or make contact with one another by phone, or meet together by Zoom in the weeks ahead.

And, we are in the company of Christ, now and forever. That will not change!

Peace to you and your families.

Kelly

Sandra Smith: A Reflection on Social Distancing

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Sandra Smith is a longtime parishioner who was recently named Cathedral Chaplain. Her perspective as an immune-compromised person is uniquely valuable at this time, when we are all forced to consider the effect that our choices and habits could have on others. She submitted the thoughtful reflection below:


Thank you all—the people of our Church and of our State—for participating in social distancing as we all navigate preventing and containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. I am very proud of and grateful to our Church specifically, and our city and state governments, Seattle and Washington, for implementing social distancing as a norm.

As an immune compromised individual (living with cancer at this time of COVID-19), I am very aware of who is coughing nearby, and whether they cover their cough appropriately, and the distance between where they are and where I am. I have to be. I don’t have the robust immunity of someone who is healthy, so I may not have the ability to fight infection, and that can affect my health quite seriously and quickly. I don’t shake hands or hug people today, and don’t attend groups. I wash my hands fully and frequently, before preparing food, before eating, after using the bathroom, and after touching shared common area surfaces.

It may seem like a crazy response to someone who is healthy that I’m washing my hands so much, or distancing myself from those I care about, and constantly discerning all the surfaces I touch with a heighten awareness and vigilance. I want to protect all of you from the spread of this virus as much as I don’t want to catch it myself. I don’t want you to get sick, nor to unknowingly affect others like me whose health isn’t robust either. We are one people interwoven with each other.

So I am continuing to respond to life with an informed cautious response amidst this virus, now in tandem with the advice of my medical care team, the cancer support agencies I rely on, and my Church who have all sided with “an over abundance of caution.” I attended a family memorial exercising social distancing norms which was awkward and difficult to not hug, but the last thing I wanted to do was to transmit anything to my family. So not hugging was my way to love them intensely.

Let’s continue building up our community and family connections in creative ways by phone, web-conferencing, email, sending letters and texts, settling into the still place where I believe God resides, speaking to our hearts. As my mom always said, “This too shall pass.” Be vigilant.

From the Dean: Reframing the Challenge

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The following is an excerpt from the Dean's letter sent out on March 7, 2020. For the full text of the letter, and information about Saint Mark's response to the current viral outbreak, please visit the cathedral's Coronavirus outbreak information page.


Every Lent we retell the account of Jesus’ forty-day retreat in the wilderness as a time of temptation, but also as a time of prayerful discernment, for Jesus and for all who follow him. Jesus began his worldly ministry in earnest only after that time apart. With this in mind, I wonder if we might see this time as not only a challenge but also an opportunity—to see it as being afforded a time in which life is changed, and to ask ourselves, for what purpose?

Or, to extrapolate, what if we were to frame this time in which many of the daily practices in the busy-ness of life are reduced, or withdrawn, for a time—in this way, can we see it as sabbath time? What would you do differently if you saw this as sabbath? More rest, more recreation (re-creation, as God intended), more quality family time, more time to pray, more time to journal, and to do so with intention. What will you do?

With the prospect of fewer meetings, and with this image of sabbath in mind and on my heart, I am engaging my centering prayer practice with more intention, and I am going to re-read two books—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s landmark book The Sabbath, and Walter Brueggemann’s wonderful book Sabbath As Resistance: Saying NO to a Culture of Now. I might encourage you to explore one or both, and perhaps later this month, if the health crisis persists, as I expect it will, we will make plans to host on-line book discussion groups using Brueggemann’s book. (I’d encourage reading this book regardless!). We can and will continue to form community in life-giving ways!

We press on, friends, trusting in the pervasive presence and love of God as the guiding force for us all. I am grateful to be on this journey with you all! I am,

Affectionately,

The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason
Dean and Rector