This morning as I was driving to church, I was listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday when I heard the story of the MacArthur Fellow, Vijay Gupta, a violist from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In the interview, Gupta shared his passion for playing music and his passion for sharing the gift of music with those that don’t often have access to good music, the homeless in shelters and on the streets. When responding to the question of why he gives of himself, one of his comments really hit me: “If you want to worship God, you serve people.”
On Saturday, my church, St Michael and All Angels in Cambridge Junction, hosted the new Specialized Safe Church class. Like most of you, I have taken the Safeguarding classes many times before so I’m familiar with some of the content and discussions. However, what is new is the emphasis on the theology behind these classes. It’s not merely that we need to protect ourselves and our churches from liability. Rather, the foundation is our mandate to protect and care for those in our midst. This is a way that we demonstrate truly loving our neighbor, and, if what Gupta said in his interview is true, this is another way we worship God. Providing safe experiences for all to whom we minister is living our Baptismal Covenant as the new model policies affirm:
God expressed the fullness of humanity in Jesus of Nazareth, whom we worship as the word made flesh. To be human is to live with God and the whole of creation in the fullness of freedom and the challenge of responsibility. The pattern of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection resonates unreservedly with God’s call to perfect freedom and responsibility….The obligation to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to respect the dignity of every human being is binding for all the baptized.
While I know that all those in any ministerial role in the church is required to take the specialized Safe Church Training every three years, the Universal Training is designed for everyone. Please look for the sessions that work in your schedule. It will open your eyes to new ways to love all our neighbors. And, even better, you are all invited to attend the Universal Safe Church Training which is being offered at our Diocesan Convention on Friday, October 26 from 11:45 – 1:15. This is a great opportunity – and an important use of your time. Hope you can make it!
Now, back to more on loving our neighbor…
Election Day is coming. Much as I’d love to suggest exactly how you should vote, I won’t do that. I will, however, encourage everyone to get out and let your voice be heard. This is another important opportunity we have to show love for all our neighbors. Maybe, on the surface, exercising our right to vote doesn’t seem connected to our Baptismal Covenant but it surely is. Every candidate’s platform, every referendum directly impacts the lives of others in our communities, our states and our nation. It is important that we educate ourselves on the issues and individuals on the ballots so that we are making informed decisions. The Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) has the Vote Faithfully Toolkit which provides some suggested action steps, ideas for mobilizing, how to communicate, how to join Lawyers and Collars (a nonprofit, multiracial and interfaith voter protection effort) and some fine liturgy resources. They also have information for ordering the #VoteFaithfully sticker to give out and proudly wear. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has said: “Voting and participation in our government is a way of participating in our common life and that is a Christian obligation.”
In this election season, here’s another way to love our neighbors. You may have been following the news and heard the story of voter suppression that is occurring in North Dakota. Apparently, just last week, the Supreme Court upheld a regulation that, previously used in the primaries, will now also be in place for these midterm elections. In an attempt to reduce voter fraud, which many authorities say is non-existent, the state is requiring that voters present ID’s with actual physical addresses – no PO boxes will be allowed. For thousands of the Native Americans in the state, this decision will disenfranchise them since many reservations do not use physical addresses and Native Americans make up a large percentage of the homeless population.
The timing of this decision by the Court has made any intervention extremely difficult. The Rev. John Floberg, the priest at Standing Rock, has said that they are working within the law to get as many eligible voters as possible to the polls. The Native American voting rights group, Four Directions, is working with local leaders to have a tribal government official at each polling place on the reservations who can prepare a tribal voting letter which will include the name, birthdate and physical address. The Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum has affirmed that these letters should be accepted as valid ID’s. In a country that values our freedoms – including the right of every citizen to vote – as much as ours says it does, potential voter suppression is disturbing. While we can’t change the situation in North Dakota for this election, we can speak out in support of their cause. And we can most certainly pray for our brothers and sisters there. They, too, are our neighbors.
I began this blog with the aphorism from Vijay Gupta: “if you want to worship God, you serve people.” That seems to sum it up pretty well. Now, let’s do it.
Let us pray…
Oh Lord, our Father,
In a world turn apart by fear and suspicion,
Teach us your children that Love is the only means to conquer fear:
The Love we encounter as we search you out,
The Love we encounter as we accept your embrace.
Oh Lord, the Son,
In a world full of anger and frustration,
Teach us, your servants, your friends, your sisters and your brothers,
To overturn the tables and tear down the fences
Which turn away the hungry and homeless:
To feed and house the disciple that knocks on our door
In the guise of the stranger,
And to find the Love we seek in loving others.
Oh Lord, the Holy Spirit,
Mother of Wisdom,
Teach us, your children, to be caring of one another,
To protect one another,
As you gather the nations under the feathers of your wings.
Help us to know peace that steals gently in through quiet acts of kindness. Amen.
(The Diocese of St Albans, Church of England)
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council