The best portion of a good man’s life – his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love. ~William Wordsworth
Yesterday I received the sad news of the sudden death of a colleague – the Rev’d Stephen Demitroff. Stephen died suddenly and without warning. His wife Ruth and his family remain in the prayers of the people of the Diocese of Huron and indeed in the many people who came to know Stephen throughout his twenty-seven years of ordained ministry. I was shocked and very saddened to hear this news.
I met Stephen just over 13 years ago when I moved to the Diocese of Huron from the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador. The move to Essex Deanery was a big one. It was to me, a new community, a new city, a new group of clergy to work with. I was a little apprehensive and nervous. I have no problem admitting that as a young cleric, my first year of ministry was not the highlight of vocational career. As a result, my confidence was not real high. The first meeting of clericus (monthly meeting of the clergy of a the local area) came and I set out for St. Paul’s in Essex. Where is Essex? I found it – eventually! I shall never forget how I felt walking into St. Paul’s that morning. The knot in my stomach felt to me like a hot charcoal swallowed on the drive from Tecumseh. A deep breath, and I opened the door to the church. Inside I found the gentle, warm and genuine smile of Stephen Demitroff. “You must be Kevin – WELCOME to Essex!” In those first months of my time in this deanery, Stephen took many opportunities to ask me how I was doing. It was not uncommon for Stephen to call me out of the blue. “Hey Kev!” Few people call me Kev. Even fewer can get away with it. But from Stephen, I loved to hear it. It was real! I am saddened that I am not sure I ever made Stephen aware of how very much his loving kindness meant to me in my early days of ministry.
Stephen Demitroff and I were not close friends. He was a fellow priest on the journey of faith. He took seriously the call in the priestly ordination covenant: “to undertake to be a faithful pastor to all whom you are called to serve, labouring together with them and with your fellow ministers to build up the family of God.” Stephen Demitroff was so kind and generous with others and he did so without making a lot of noise. He was a faithful pastor to his congregants and to his fellow presbyters. Many of us are guilty of doing things to be noticed by others. Stephen acted faithfully and kindly with love and compassion to others because the love of Christ compelled him to do so. I will always remember that kind smile that welcomed me here. I will always remember the considerate way Stephen approached me, always to hear how I was doing. Ironically, I think Stephen would not have remembered what he did for me in my first days and months in Windsor-Essex. To me, his ‘nameless, unremembered acts of kindness’ are a reflection of the best portion of this man’s life.
Stephen – you well be missed greatly.
“Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
Church at Christmastime is really a great gift. It is a gift to many. This year at St. Mark’s is no exception to that. Christmastime church is a gift to the people who prepare for worship, including the preacher. That preparation included a Parish Secretary who prepared many different versions of church bulletins for many different services. Thank you Robert! That preparation also includes the fantastic choir and the best music minister. Thank you to Andrea Morosin and the St. Mark’s by-the-Lake choir for giving glory to God in such beautiful and meaningful ways. A Special mention must be made here of Bob Cooper and Christian Paulton, who along with Andrea performed a beautiful piece at the later Mass on Christmas eve – Thank you.
Christmastime worship is also a gift to the many who work to make the place so beautiful. St Mark’s looks so wonderful with the poinsettias, the crèche, and the Christmas hangings – all of it done to the glory of God. Thank you to the Chancel Guild – and to artist – Joe Pastovich for the beautiful Nativity hanging.
Christmastime worship is a gift to those who participate in the liturgy, the readers, the Eucharistic ministers, the intercessors, the greeters, the sides-people, and the altar servers. Thank you to all who came and took part in this year’s Christmas celebrations. Each of you took careful time and preparation and did such magnificent jobs.
Christmastime worship is a gift to the children whose wide-eyed sense of wonderment make the celebration all the better. Who will ever forget little Mary leading the children up the center aisle with baby Jesus held high to be placed in the crèche while the congregation sang- “What Child is This?” The Children were prepared for Christmas in Sunday School – thank you to Jane Cornett and the Sunday School team for readying our children for this great time of festival!
Christmastime worship is a gift to those who have been attending weekly for years. The faithful who fill the pews on a regular basis, are gifted once a year with the reminder that God cares so deeply about who we are that God cared enough to come and dwell among us and to be One with us. This is a gift to those whose work is done quietly, week after week, with expectation of nothing more than a deepened relationship with the God for whom we wait! Christmastime is also a gift for those who attend once or twice a year. For many people Christmas brings back memories of a time that instructed who they have become. What a gift to see faces that we do not get to see each week. Some are visitors; some are extended family of the parish, some are neighbours, friends and some are just curious what is happening in that church down the road. But all are children of God – and ALL ARE WELCOME! Thank you to all who attended this year’s Christmas services so far.
This time of year provided such great richness in worship and in our time together at church. It evokes something special in our collective memories. A friend sent me a link today to a great piece of music written and performed by Matt Andersen a folk and blues artist from New Brunswick. Thank you John Simpson for this great link. It fits well with my thoughts of church at Christmastime. Enjoy!
A song will outlive all sermons in the memory. ~Henry Giles
Have you ever dreamed of coming to St. Mark’s by-the-Lake for church and enjoying a liturgy without having to listen to the rector go off at the gums with what he most certainly believes is wisdom? Ever sit at home and ask, “Will there ever be a time when I can go to church and enjoy the readings and the singing and not have to endure one of ‘those’ sermons?”
Good News, breaking now from St. Mark’s by-the-Lake! Tomorrow night there will be a church service with NO preaching from Kevin George. At 7:30 pm St. Mark’s will celebrate am annual service of Lessons and Carols. Each year at this time St. Mark’s has a service where the key focus is on the lessons that tell the story of Christmas and the hymns and carols that sing the same story. The rector is pretty well silent. Well, not completely silent, but he does not preach. This news is welcomed by those who ears are sore from listening to sermons from the 13 year veteran of the pulpit at St. Mark’s.
The choir has prepared great music and the carolling will be delightful. All of this to be followed by a tree lighting and a Christmas sing-along in the hall over Hot chocolate means it all is shaping up to be a great night.
While he could not be reached for comment, sources say the Rev’d Canon Kevin George is pouting about not preaching tomorrow evening. Take advantage of this rare opportunity to come to church and allow the song to outlive even the best of sermons! See you at 7:30 tomorrow evening! — OH and if you are one of those rare birds that wants to hear the rector spew words, parish officials encourage you to come out for Advent 4 at 8 am or 10:30 am. St. Mark’s by-the-Lake says that Mr. George will be available to the media after tomorrow morning’s liturgies where he will comment on these developments.
On Monday evening I was blessed to be present at St. Alban’s in Malden for a service of de-consecration. A beautiful little sanctuary in the midst of Essex County, this church building is no longer able to be maintained and keep going by the Christians who remain there. It was a touching liturgy that marked the importance of the occasion. Together, Anglicans from across our deanery gathered to say farewell to a building that another group of Anglicans welcomed into being over 100 years earlier. Our Bishop, Robert Bennett, proclaimed to the community gathered the importance of knowing that the space that we were secularizing on Monday was NOT the church. The church is no longer able to make good use of the space that it worshipped in. It is time now for those who have been faithful for so long, to lay down the heaviness of having to keep the worship space open and focus on being the church in the world today. Bishop Bennett quoted a well-known song that we used to sing when we were kids at church camps —
“I am the Church, you are the Church, we are the Church together. All who follow Jesus all around the world, yes, we’re the Church together.”
I had not heard this in years. Hearing it again, I was taken by how ‘bang on’ this is. How often we reduce the church to the buildings in which we worship? How many times do we fall into the trap of worshipping the buildings that we gather in rather than worshipping our God, to whose glory that edifice was erected? The church is a community which is best expressed in the simplicity of that children’s song. I am the church. YOU are the church. WE are the church together. ALL WHO FOLLOW JESUS, all around the world – WE are the church together. The church was, is, and always will be, the expression of community. It is the people of God putting aside selfish attitudes to look after the needs of another. The church is at work when the people of God come together, in any place. Matthew 18:20 reads; “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” Isn’t that the message of the Christmas story? In Advent we prepare to re-tell the narrative of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Edward Hayes writes:
“We should tattoo those words (Matthew 18:20) on the back of our hands so that they might be constantly be before us. For taken in their fullness, without the dust of centuries or the cobwebs of spiritual slumber, they contain the most radical of truths. Where two or three are gathered in prayer, in love, in justice, hope, affection, and work, that place can be called Bethlehem. It is a place where once again the Divine Presence becomes a reality, the birth place of Emmanuel, God among-us.” (A Pilgrims’ Almanac)
So if we take seriously the notion that assembled together with other Christians we are birthing the presence of Jesus we must come to realize that the church buildings that we gather in are but one of the places that we call Bethlehem. We are called to be a community which is engaged in the work of sharing the love that the Child of Bethlehem brought into the world.
Acts 2:42-47 paints a picture for us of what ‘the church,’ that I am referring to, looks like:
“The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.”
That expression of church is what I long for. All of our communities need to be challenged to understand that we are on a journey and our journey is not one we take on our own. We walk side by side with others. We are connected. When the people of God who worshipped in Malden came to a place where they have to walk away from their building, we all should celebrate the courage they have shown to do so, and mourn and grieve with them the loss that they feel as they say goodbye to their place of worship. When we do that, we invite God to be with us. I had the sense that as we were together on Monday night, God was with us. We were in Bethlehem. It is time for us as a church, to rise to the challenge of letting go of our old models of being, and grieve that which is no more, and embrace a new and diverse way of being church that is out there for us. That will require us understanding that WE are the church. WE have the responsibility to live out what God has promised to make real in Christmas. I think we have lost sight of that at times. We are often content for others to do things for us. We have even become a people who long for others to assemble together for us. That also spills over into thinking that our religious festivals – like Christmas – need to be observed by others in order to be legitimized. Wal-Mart cannot observe Christmas for us, nor can the secular and government institutions that live around us. People of other religions certainly should not have to observe our festivals for us. WE must be the ones who bring to life the love of the Christ Child in the world in which we live. We are the ones called to come together and bear witness to what God is doing.
I am writing this post at Lads Restaurant in Windsor [Where the breakfast is second to none and the Perogies and Cabbage Rolls are to die for]. The chalkboard at the end of the room bears a great image of the Christ Child in a Manger; my compliments to the artist. Above the crèche are the words – God’s Promise lives! It is a simple message written by a family that has been feeding people for over 50 years in this modest and beautiful place. This family is bearing witness to their faith in a simple and profound way. I am reminded as I sit here that I am with people who believe that God’s Promise lives! It lives every time we take opportunity to gather with others in the name of Jesus for love, for justice, for peace, for hope, for healing, for forgiveness, for sharing and breaking bread. Each time we do this the crèche scene is lived out again.
So, whether in the church sanctuary, the mall, a restaurant, at the dinner table, at work, or wherever else we might be let us remember that the church is brought alive when we come together – God’s Promise lives!
To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God moulds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control. – Henri J. M. Nouwen
I was privileged to be at Brescia University College tonight for an event they called Lessons of Love and Carols of Praise. The motto at Brescia nowadays is Brescia Bold. Tonight we saw some Brescia Bold! The Director of Campus Ministry at Brescia invited me to tonight’s event. She said it would be a good night and that the choir was working hard in preparation. I am pleased to report that their preparation paid off. The Brescia Choir did a splendid job of highlighting the touchstones of the Season of Advent while singing the praise filled songs of Christmas.
Perhaps one most striking moment for me was when the choir sang a Taizé piece entitled ‘Wait for the Lord’ from the cloister outside the chapel. As we sat in the beauty of chapel, surrounded by tasteful decorations befitting the season, the angelic voices of young women began singing softly; ‘Wait for the Lord whose day is near. Wait for the Lord, be strong. Take heart.’ It was deeply moving. The soft and loving sounds of caring Christian voices that were reminding me to ‘wait for Lord,’ was a word from the Creator who needed me to be reminded of the real hope of the Advent message.
The Christian people assume the radical stance that Nouwen wrote about. We assume the stance that God is at work and that despite the brokenness of the moment, there is a great sense that there will be something new. There will be for us and for our world something that is ‘beyond our imagination.’ So whatever darkness we face today, Advent looks that despair square in the eyes and cries “HOPE!” Sometimes that cry of hope is delivered in the splendid voices of an all-women choir in the stillness of a small chapel. “Wait for the Lord, be strong take heart.” Words I needed to hear. It is hard to have patience sometimes. Very hard, when we feel that our current climate is not what it should be. If things seem dark, we want light – NOW! If we are in pain, we want relief – NOW! If we are confused, we want clarity – NOW! If we feel lonely, we want embrace – NOW! If we feel judged, we want vengeance – NOW! If we feel oppressed, we want justice – NOW! You get the picture!
Perhaps we are hardest when it comes to how we judge ourselves. We often come to a place of realizing that we are not doing as much as we feel we should be doing. We often can feel that we are not measuring up to the standard that others have set for us or, for that matter, which we have set for ourselves. This lack of patience with ourselves leads too often to self-destructive behaviour. The harmony of voice tonight singing to me and to the church to ‘be strong and take heart,’ serves as a reminder that each day is a new opportunity to seize strength and to seize the possibilities that lie ahead.
The promise of the prophet Isaih as read at this Liturgy rings true. The time will be when waiting, suffering, and injustice will be no more. We long for and work toward the day when we can say that Lion and Lamb will lie down together.
Common English Bible (CEB)
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down
with the young goat;
the calf and the young lion
will feed together,
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young will lie down together,
and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
8 A nursing child
will play over the snake’s hole;
toddlers will reach
right over the serpent’s den.
9 They won’t harm or destroy
anywhere on my holy mountain.
The earth will surely be filled
with the knowledge of the LORD,
just as the water covers the sea.
While we make ready for that time we have the courage to be patient with ourselves and our inability. We pray for the grace to accept our gifts as well as our limitations. We strive to be a people who can have the persistence to start every day anew.
Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them– every day begin the task anew. – Frances de Sales
“Christmas is forever, not for just one day,
for loving, sharing, giving, are not to put away
like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf.
The good you do for others is good you do yourself…”
~Norman Wesley Brooks, “Let Every Day Be Christmas.
One of the great things about this time of year is walking pace any major retail location and hearing the joyful ringing of the bells from the Salvation Army Kettle. Well actually the ringing is from the dear person tending the kettle! It just reminds us about the spirit of generosity that we are called to have. It reminds us of the call of the Saviour whose birth we celebrate.
What I love about the Salvation Army’s Kettle Campaign is the fact that it supports ministries and programs throughout the year. Every time we see the Salvation Army mobilized to another disaster region, think Kettle. Every time we refer another family to the Salvation Army Mission downtown, think Kettle. Every time we see the Salvation Army Van doling out blankets and hot chocolate on a cold winter night to those on the street, think Kettle. When ever we see another addict rescued by the Harbour Light, think Kettle. When ever we see the single mother assisted with her needs, think Kettle. This list could go on for quite a while. Truth is, that while the Kettle Campaign does help people at Christmas, it does so much more. The Christmas hampers are one small part of a larger reality that works constantly at being the hands and feet of Jesus in this world.
On Thursday December 8, 2012, St. Mark’s by-the-Lake will be tending the Salvation Army Kettle at the Zehr’s on Manning Rd. Plan to come by and see us and more importantly, bring a gift for the kettle, cash or cheque Payable to the Salvation Army will work. Let us fill the kettle tomorrow. Let us display the generosity that has come to define us as a parish community.
Today is the Feast day of The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary for us in the Anglican Church. Let us take such a day to offer our praise a gratitude of the ministry and willingness of Mary to say yes to the leading of God. Let us pray for the courage to say yes to what God is leading us to do. Let us heed the words of the collect which is prayed today:
Almighty and everlasting God, who stooped to raise fallen humanity through the child-bearing of blessed Mary: Grant that we, who have seen your glory revealed in our human nature and your love made perfect in our weakness, may daily be renewed in your image and conformed to the pattern of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Let us take hold of the call to see God’s love made perfect in human weakness. Understanding that in seeing God in weakness we will be fulfilling the call of Jesus to serve him in places of weakness. Our efforts today at the SA Kettle provide one small way to show that we want to be renewed in God’s image and that we want to ‘conform to the pattern’ of Jesus whose human life was delivered in being in weakness and the vulnerability and whose ministry bore witness to serving the weak, the vulnerable, and the forgotten. Come see us tomorrow – help us ring the bells – and help us fill the kettle by bringing by your donation.
Today we mark the Feast of St. Nicholas. This prayer from the 2 Heart Network to Sinterklass, is a reminder of where our traditions come from and call us to be attentive to God and God’s will as we ready ourselves for Christmas.
St. Nicholas, patron of children, may this candy cane, shaped like your Bishop’s staff, be a reminder of Advent joy. Help us prepare for the miracle of the coming of Jesus. Help us not to be blind to the gifts of getting ready. Help us be sincere in the greetings we send and receive, with love and prayer. Kind St. Nicholas, protect us from shoppers’ fatigue, help us to be kind and generous of heart. Wherever candy canes are hung, may they bring the bright blessings of God. Let them be reminders of the joy of sharing and our call to be God’s peaceful children as we wait for Jesus. St. Nicholas, pray for us! AMEN!
“Santa Claus is anyone who loves another and seeks to make them happy; who gives himself by thought or word or deed in every gift that he bestows” ~Edwin Osgood Grover. We need to take time to follow the example of the Saints who went before us. St. Nicholas reminded us that it was about more than gift giving to the people closest to us. In Saint Nicholas we are given an example of how we might find those who are in need and do what we can to be the face of Jesus and bear witness the Light which dispels all darkness. I fear that has been lost over the years as we engage in the gluttonous commercial feast of Christmas. Let us all take time to learn more about Saints like Nicholas whose life bore witness to loving, giving, being present and being a disciple.
You can read more about Nicholas by clicking here.
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Gandhi
I just saw a wonderful example of these words as they can be lived out. I saw them in the life of a tremendous woman.
Being in London for a day where we have NTV News (Newfoundland Television), I had opportunity to see a very inspiring story from ‘home.’ Florence Strang describes herself as “a 44 year old breast cancer warrior, Certified Angel Practitioner, single mother to 3, and Autism Mom.” She has begun a blog called ‘Perks of Cancer.’ Florence tells her readers this about herself: “I am actively battling [cancer], but not yet far enough along to call myself a survivor. While succumbing to another assault on my body by my friend, Chemotherapy, I decided to focus on the GOOD things about having cancer. So I have issued myself a challenge to try to find ONE HUNDRED perks of having cancer. Wish me luck!”
Florence, who lives in a town called Lawn, on the Burin Peninsula in Newfoundland, has taken on the nastiness of dreaded cancer with an unbelievable resolve and with an indomitable will. Her wit, humour and sensitivity are evident in her blog posts. Her faith/spirituality is also very evident. On the last day of November, Florence declared that perk number 34 of having cancer was ‘realizing her own strength.’ She writes;
“Ten years ago, if I could have looked into the future and saw 44 year old Florence: divorced, single parenting three children, dealing with the many challenges of having a child with Autism, and then facing cancer on top of that, well I probably would have said, ‘Hand me a rope, would ya?’ But I would have been underestimating the strength of 44 year old Florence. Not only am I handling this, but I am experiencing some of the happiest and most joyful moments of my life in the process! It is true, God never gives us more than we can handle. But God, if you are listening, I GET IT! I’M STRONG!!! Now go pick on someone your own size.”
How true it is that we often have no idea what we are capable of managing when we have to. We wilt and cower at the thought of suffering, pain, or difficult situations. Sometimes we even avoid suffering. How often have I heard people say they cannot visit a dying friend, a relative in a nursing home or hospital, or a family grieving at the funeral home because it is ‘too hard to see.’ Often expressed as, ‘I wish I could go, but I just find it too hard on me.’ To that I always say – sure must be nice to make a choice. When my hour of suffering comes I hope that I have people choose to come to my side. I pray as well to have the strength to come to the side of another in her hour of suffering. Henri Nouwen wrote,
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
Why must suffering knock on our door for us to realize that we can find strength? Why can we not push to see what we can manage by coming to the aid of another? Why not see how strong that spirit we have is but choosing to enter into another’s suffering rather than running from it? Life can sometimes be so unbelievably cruel and unfair. When it is, people like Florence Strang stand strong and show us that when we don’t get a choice, we have to find a strength to stare suffering straight in the face.
Her resolve and her willingness to reach beyond herself and give strength to others is a real gift. I encourage you to find and follow Florence on her blog at www.perksofcancer.wordpress.com and on Twitter @strangwarrior. She is going to give us 100 perks of having cancer. She is also going to give us 100 reasons to be grateful and to respond in gratitude by looking to come to the side of another. She will help us choose to enter into another’s suffering to be present as with Christ and for Christ.
”Take time to be aware that in the very midst of our busy preparations for the celebration of Christ’s birth in ancient Bethlehem, Christ is reborn in the Bethlehems of our homes and daily lives. Take time, slow down, be still, be awake to the Divine Mystery that looks so common and so ordinary yet is wondrously present.
“An old abbot was fond of saying, ‘The devil is always the most active on the highest feast days.’
“The supreme trick of Old Scratch is to have us so busy decorating, preparing food, practicing music and cleaning in preparation for the feast of Christmas that we actually miss the coming of Christ. Hurt feelings, anger, impatience, injured egos—the list of clouds that busyness creates to blind us to the birth can be long, but it is familiar to us all.”
These are the words of Edward Hays in A Pilgrim’s Almanac. We should take heed. As we all fuss about in the days that lie ahead of us, we must take care and realize that this time of year is often the most stressful for many. The expectations and pressures that are placed on people this time of year are ridiculous. There are extra demands on time, on money, on patience, from work, from friends and from families. There are just more and more expectations.
Let’s not let ‘Old Scratch’ have his way. We are preparing for a feast that brings light to dispel all darkness. We are preparing our hearts and minds to be an image that offers new light and hope to a world that years for something new. We prepare for a time that celebrates the notion that God cared to know so much about who we are, how we feel, and what we are going through, that God became one with us. As we prepare for his coming, let’s not miss it in our busyness.
Put down that which is taking up your time to be still and wait with anxious anticipation the redemptive presence of Light that dispels all darkness.
From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson