Keep at It

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Dear Sisters and Brothers,

As we experience our first week on Lent and live into our engagement with prayer, I offer you a reflection from Fred Buechner, one of my favorites.

We all pray whether we think of it as praying or not. The odd silence we fall into when something very beautiful is happening, or something very good or very bad. The "Ah-h-h-h!" that sometimes floats up out of us as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the skyrocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else's pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else's joy. Whatever words or sounds we use for sighing with over our own lives. These are all prayers in their way. These are all spoken not just to ourselves, but to something even more familiar than ourselves and even more strange than the world.

According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it. The images he uses to explain this are all rather comic, as though he thought it was rather comic to have to explain it at all. He says God is like a friend you go to borrow bread from at midnight. The friend tells you in effect to drop dead, but you go on knocking anyway until finally he gives you what you want so he can go back to bed again (Luke 11:5-8). Or God is like a crooked judge who refuses to hear the case of a certain poor widow, presumably because he knows there's nothing much in it for him. But she keeps on hounding him until finally he hears her case just to get her out of his hair (Luke 18:1-8). Even a stinker, Jesus says, won't give his own child a black eye when the child asks for peanut butter and jelly, so how all the more will God when his children... (Matthew 7:9-11)?

Be importunate, Jesus says not, one assumes, because you have to beat a path to God's door before God will open it, but because until you beat the path maybe there's no way of getting to your door. "Ravish my heart," John Donne wrote. But God will not usually ravish. He will only court.

Whatever else it may or may not be, prayer is at least talking to yourself, and that's in itself not always a bad idea.

Talk to yourself about your own life, about what you've done and what you've failed to do, and about who you are and who you wish you were and who the people you love are and the people you don't love too. Talk to yourself about what matters most to you, because if you don't, you may forget what matters most to you.

Even if you don't believe anybody's listening, at least you'll be listening.

Believe Somebody is listening. Believe in miracles. That's what Jesus told the father who asked him to heal his epileptic son. Jesus said, "All things are possible to him who believes." And the father spoke for all of us when he answered, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:14-29).

What about when the boy is not healed? When, listened to or not listened to, the prayer goes unanswered? Who knows? Just keep praying, Jesus says. Remember the sleepy friend, the crooked judge. Even if the boy dies, keep on beating the path to God's door, because the one thing you can be sure of is that, down the path you beat with even your most half-cocked and halting prayer, the God you call upon will finally come.

— Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

Peace and blessings on the way,

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The Rev. Paul Jeanes III
Rector

A Prayer Book Lent, Pt. 2

When I lived in Durham, my spiritual director was a 70 year old Catholic nun of the old school, who was tough enough to call me on my own foolishness. One of the most memorable incidents came when I complained to her about a feeling of disconnection in my prayer life. The conversation went something like this:

Her: How often do you pray?

Me: (shrug) Um…sometimes? 

Her: Do you have any other relationship in your life that you expect to be healthy if you never speak to the other person? If you never even check in for a few minutes? 

Suffice to say that the point was made. And that point lies behind Trinity’s Lenten programming this year. I encourage you to use this time to develop the discipline of checking in with God — every day — if only for a few minutes.

By now, you may have picked up a copy of the “Prayer Book Lent” booklet that Adam Bond and I have put together for your use this season.

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This week, as Lent gets underway, I would like to offer a few suggestions about how to incorporate the material in the booklet into your spiritual life.  

  1. For beginners, families, or those with limited time: If you’re just starting out, pick one of the daily prayer services — morning, noon, evening, or night — and commit to saying it every day. You can also include one of the daily Scripture readings listed in the back, or if you’re very pressed for time, you can stick with meditating on the “little chapter” in the service itself. If you choose one of the Scripture readings from the lectionary, keep going through either the Old Testament, Epistle, or Gospel. It’s better not to jump around. 

  2. For a more intensive experience: If you’re looking for a longer or more intensive devotional practice, try either saying more than one service every day or reading more than one Scripture lesson. You can even read the Old Testament in the morning and the Gospel in the evening, or other combinations. 

In prayer, the key is to find a practice that works well for you to do consistently. My usual practice is to say Morning Prayer every day, plus Evening Prayer some days with the students at PTS. When I worked for the government, I prayed every weekday at noon in my office. Some commuters find prayer on the train to be a helpful way to spend that time. For families with children, dinner time or bedtime might be appropriate. Different practices work best for different seasons in our lives, but the most important thing is to find a practice that works for you and stick with it — every day. 

Yours faithfully in Christ,

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Kara N. Slade
Associate Rector

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A Prayer Book Lent, Pt. 1

Dear friends,

As I have mentioned in church a few times, prayer is one of the most common things people ask to learn more about in the Christian life. And so, over the course of the upcoming season of Lent, our formation programs on Wednesdays and Sundays will be focused on prayer. In particular, I would like to invite you, the people of Trinity Parish, to delve deeply into the riches of the Book of Common Prayer as a system for discipleship and spiritual growth. As I work with Princeton Seminary students who are new to the Episcopal Church, and who have come into our church because of its liturgical tradition, I realize how often we can take for granted how special our Prayer Book truly is. I will have more details in next week’s ePISTLE, as I introduce the devotional resources that Adam and I have put together for the season. 

In the meantime, as the Prayer Book says, “I invite each of you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” (BCP p. 265). And yet, Lent isn’t a time to be falsely morose, to beat ourselves up in a show of false piety, or to be gloomy for the sake of it.  It is a time to enter in the desert, because in the desert we can hear the voice of God, who in the person of Jesus Christ names each of us as also beloved, and who calls us to be his friends. This voice, in its perfect love, calls us to put aside fear, and to wrestle earnestly with the ways we may not act like who we truly are: God’s beloved ones and friends.  Every last one of us falls short of who we were intended to be, and every last one of us is called to return to the God who loves us so fiercely and so completely.

Yours faithfully in Christ,

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The Rev. Dr. Kara N. Slade
Associate Rector


P.S., For people who struggle with grief, depression, serious illness, or many of life’s other challenges, Lent can be a particularly difficult time. If that applies to you, I especially commend this short piece by my dear friend, Canon Rhonda Lee of North Carolina.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

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Last week, Fr. Paul and I had the opportunity to travel to General Theological Seminary, in New York City, to hear former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams share two lectures about his life as a Christian.  What a powerful witness!  Even as we move forward as Anglican Communion with various disagreements and differences, it was a gift to hear how we are united in our faith in Jesus Christ!  The Archbishop shared about key influences in his life, including Mother Kara’s favorite theologian Karl Barth and one of my own spiritual heroes and former Kentuckian, Thomas Merton.  Surely, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who light our path home to God. The Archbishop also encouraged us to engage with our local congregations as we seek to serve our world.

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Rowan Williams  [Photos: Tommy Dillon]

Rowan Williams [Photos: Tommy Dillon]

In that spirit, Trinity Church continues to forge a partnership with St. Michael’s Church in Trenton.  On President’s Day, I had the opportunity to lead their annual service of Commemoration for General George Washington. In preparation for that service, I did a little research and found out the following about St. Michael’s: 

When George Washington and the Continental army surprised the Hessians on December 26, 1776, some of the fighting of the Battle of Trenton happened in St. Michael’s church yard.   There was hand to hand combat with swords, muskets, and bayonets on church grounds.  Later in the war, the church was used by George Washington’s Continental Army as a hospital…

In 1801, the Fifth General Convention of the Episcopal Church met at St. Michael’s.  One of the most significant actions of this convention was the adoption the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion… Another historical event at St. Michael’s was the Diocesan Convention of August 1815, where The Rev. John Cross was elected the first Episcopal Bishop of New Jersey.

 In 1843, the church added the Warren Street frontage. The Gothic Revival Style of the building façade resembles a castle. The principal sanctuary of St. Michael’s was renovated to resemble Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. St. Michael’s had two turrets and a bell tower. The turrets and towers remain, but the bell tower is no longer standing. Standing across the street on Warren looking up at the front of the church, you will see the likeness of Lambeth Palace. [Source]

Lambeth Palace

Lambeth Palace

St. Michael’s Church, Trenton

St. Michael’s Church, Trenton

Whether it’s their role in the American Revolution, the early foundations of the Episcopal Church and our Diocese, or their place in the greater Anglican Communion, we’re partnering with a congregation that has profound importance in the story of our nation and our church!  I’m so grateful to Fr. Paul and our Vestry for their decision to minister alongside the people of St. Michael’s Church!

In peace,

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Br. Chris McNabb, OSF
Curate

Guest Writer: To Be an Acolyte

Dear friends,

After a wonderful conversation with Amelia Willson, I asked her to write a piece for the ePISTLE about her experience as an acolyte. I have two ulterior motives for this. The first is that I hope others who might be interested in serving as an acolyte might read this and be motivated to take the next step. It truly is a wonderful way to serve Christ and his church. The second is that I hope this article will be the first in an ongoing occasional series in which parishioners talk about their own ministries at Trinity and how their involvement draws them closer to Christ. Because in the end, that’s what we’re about. 

Yours faithfully in Christ,

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The Rev. Dr. Kara N. Slade
Associate Rector

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To Be an Acolyte

Amelia Wilson

I arrive early—a half hour before the service, and in an empty sacristy I choose a cassock and pull it on.  With my back to the pews as I light the tall candles of the high altar, I can hear people making their way to their usual pews.  By the time I’ve finished, the organist has arrived and begun to warm up. Beautiful tones fill the once quiet space.  After lighting the last candles, I head up the aisle, past someone setting the Eucharistic table, a priest or two dashing about, and the ushers pinning flowers to their lapels.  We all greet each other, pleased to see familiar faces and knowing we are all doing our special part in the day’s service.  As acolyte, I am one among them.

I chat with ushers while I wait.  The church fills, and the priests arrive.  The first notes of the opening hymn are struck, and I take up the crucifix, look once to note everyone is ready, and begin my small but sacred part in a beautiful procession for the greatest celebration known to man.  In an instant and for all of us, the mood has gone from happy anticipation to solemn and purposeful. 

An acolyte does many jobs during the service.  I take the plate offerings from the ushers, assist the priest preparing for the Eucharist, and serve as chalice bearer.  All the while I am ever aware that I am surrounded by people I know and love, the priests dedicated to us and their passion to serve Christ, and the sacred mission we share. At the end, I think about all the people I saw that day. I think about the gospel’s message and the homily.  Now the church is empty again.  The energy and enthusiasm are gone with those who came to celebrate Christ, priests and parishioners alike.  It is done and it was all good, and I was a part of it.

Being an acolyte is about being part of the Church’s heartbeat—having a place in the great goings-on.

This is how it feels to be an acolyte.  I am trusted with meaningful tasks, honored to be shoulder to shoulder with priests and all those who work at each service, and thanked for my contributions.  Being an acolyte is about being part of the Church’s heartbeat—having a place in the great goings-on.  It is an honor that I did not earn except to volunteer when I was needed.  But I have my place now, among so many people whom I admire and who serve in big and small ways.  We all pull together and the service becomes a living testament to each other and to God, and the acolyte is there helping to make it happen.  In its own way and for me, it is thrilling.

State of the Union

Dear Friends,

On Tuesday, I, along with millions of others, turned on the television to watch the State of the Union address. I watch every year no matter who’s the President, no matter whether they’re Republican or Democrat. I watch the State of the Union because I’m an American. This is my home. This is where we raise our children. This is most likely where I will grow old and one day die. What happens to our country makes a difference to me, and more importantly to the people I love and those who will come after me.  The state of our Union makes a difference!

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Whether I agree with everything a president or political party says or believes, whether they are “my party” or not, I want the best for our country. I want what’s best for our country, because I believe that a healthy United States is incredibly important to the health of the world.  For good and ill, our actions make a difference and not just within our own borders but around the globe.  

Did I like everything that I heard last night — no. Did I like some of the things that I heard last night — yes. That’s true most every year. And every year half of the gallery stands and applauds while the other half sits on their hands. As a leadership changes, who’s standing and who’s sitting, who’s applauding and who’s not - simply switches sides.

The state of our Union is imperfect. Sometimes we agree with the path we are on as a nation, and sometimes we are vehemently opposed. At times, we take to the streets in celebration while at other times we march with signs of protest. The state of our Union is messy and difficult and complicated. That’s the reality. It always has been — it always will be. 

The key to both realities, on some level, is our willingness to do the hard work needed to maintain the union.

But, so too, is the reality of the Church. The reality of our union as the Body of Christ can be messy and difficult and complicated. As the Body of Christ, it takes work to remain in relationship with one another. It takes prayer and grace and faithfulness for us to remain unified in the proclamation that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. As a nation, it takes all that we have to look beyond our differences and disagreements and to hold to the core value that we are one nation truly indivisible with liberty and justice for all.  

So, what is the state of the Union — imperfect. What is the state of the Church — imperfect.  But, we must continue with faithfulness and perseverance to strive to live more fully into the union and unity that binds us together in one reality as the people of the United States and in our true identity as the people of God’s one holy catholic and apostolic church. 

Peace,

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The Rev. Paul Jeanes III
Rector

Courage to Open Our Hearts

And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.
— Matthew 10:42 (NRSV)

Beloved in Christ,

Recently, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by bad news. The news and the daily stress of living our lives might make us want to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers… or maybe that’s just me?  In these times, it’s easy to shut down the bad news and ignore the struggle of our neighbors — near and far.  I think this is a normal reaction.  The question is can our faith give us the courage to open our hearts to the suffering of humanity?  I think when we root ourselves in private prayer and communal worship, we can do amazing things together, in the name of Jesus Christ!

There is currently a case in Arizona where four church volunteers are facing jail time for leaving water and beans for migrants who might otherwise die from dehydration in the desert.  We can of course disagree on immigration policy — but the decision to jail church volunteers for giving water to thirsty people seems antithetical to the gospel.  It is reminiscent of various cities that have arrested volunteers who give out free food to the homeless.  

When I read stories like this, it’s easy for me to grow discouraged and “hide under the covers”.  However, as an Episcopalian, I am called to a more faithful response. Rather than falling into despair, I can look around and find ways that I can help here in Princeton.  And so, I thought in that spirit, I’d provide a few upcoming opportunities to love our neighbors: 

  • Visits to Immigration Detention Center — Seminarian Intern Micah Cronin and up to 2 volunteers will go with the Reformed Church of Highland Park to visit men detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center. They will leave Trinity at 5pm. Volunteers can expect to be home by 11pm.

  • Serve a meal at Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, Thursday, February 7 — Micah and up to 3 volunteers will leave Trinity at 2:45 to help serve dinner at TASK from 3:15-4:50. They plan to return by 5:30 or 5:45pm.

  • Valentines for Food, Arm in ArmTrinity is collecting nonperishable food items until February 17.

  • Absalom Jones Service of Witness to Black Ministry, February 10, 3pm-5pm —Bishop Stokes has encouraged our attendance at a service honoring the life and work of The Rev. Absalom Jones at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton. 

Together, we can do amazing things for Jesus Christ!  

Peace,

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Br. Chris McNabb, O.S.F.
Curate

American Sarum at Trinity

Trinity Church will be host again this year for the International American Sarum Conference. I want to encourage everyone to attend this Conference — clergy, musicians, acolytes, ushers, choristers, lectors, vestrypersons, Sunday School leaders, and any and all people eager to learn about and understand the roots of our liturgy today in 2019.

Let me be very clear here. This is not a “retro church” organization that promotes “museum church”. Instead, American Sarum seeks to use the traditions and history of Anglican liturgies to help design newer contemporary liturgies in 2019. In other words, it’s about making informed liturgical decisions based on the Anglican liturgical tradition to enhance our liturgies today.

Leaders for this Conference include the recently retired Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral; the former Director of Music at Magdalen College Oxford, and the former Head of the Royal School of Church Music. People from all over the US and the UK will be in attendance. 

Come learn about the tradition we all love and make some new friends in the process.

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AMERICAN SARUM CONFERENCE

Sound, Light, and Movement:
Liturgical Processions & Stational Liturgy

Sunday, February 17, 5pm Evensong

through

Wednesday, February 20, 12pm Lunch

Open to all, clergy, musicians, and lay people
interested in the history and details of liturgy.

 
 

I hope to see you all there!

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Tom Whittemore
Director of Music

P.S., Please register ASAP!