St. Mark's Stories

Lament - Complaining Faithfully to God

Our 2021 Lenten Series focused on the lament psalms - prayers offered to a faithful and merciful God in the sure hope of response.  These are a few of the participants' personal psalms of lament.

 

 Psalm 2021 – Steve Clark

1 My God, my Lord, have you forsaken us?

          Why does this Pandemic continue to ravage this world?

      

2 O God, I have prayed many times for relief from this scourge.

          Are you not listening to my supplications?

 

3 You are the Creator, God, through you all things were made.

         Both all we see, and all we cannot see.

 

  1. With this virus, you have created something unseen,

          but we clearly see the suffering and death it hath wrought.

 

  1. With your life-giving power, you can choose what to create.

           Why, Lord, have you chosen to create viruses?

          

  1. I am not worthy to question you, Lord.

             Yet, here I am, asking why do you not end our misery?

 

  1. This Pandemic has caused millions of deaths.

              Many more millions have suffered debilitating illnesses.

             

  1. Lord, I am thankful my health has been spared.

              Even so, I remain separated from friends and family members.

 

  1. How I yearn to hug my children and grandchildren!

              How I long to trash the masks I have worn on my face!

 

  1. How I long to sit in a pew at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church!

               How I desire to partake of the bread and the wine!

              

  1. And so I beseech thee once again, O Holy One,

             to rescue your people from this worldwide plague.

 

  1. In my prayers I will continue to praise you, Lord.

             For you are my strength and my salvation.

            

 

 

Psalm of Lament – Sanford Eberly

O God of creation and song,
always am I praising you with my voice.
Please hear the supplications of my heart
and send your Holy Spirit to guide.

For you are a loving God, 
slow to anger;
quick to answer prayers.
You send the sun and the rain;
filling the rivers and streams,
that cleanse and renew the earth.

Why..... is our world filled with anger and hate?
The innocent brought down to death in the market place?
With some leaders blinded by power, costumed in scripted words of concern.
While wagging their tongues with pretty veiled lies, 
that deceive and sway many of your people.
Unbeknownst to them playing upon their fears, ignorance and prejudices.

Please heal all your creation. 
Help us turn away from such wickedness. 
Open our hearts, minds and souls.
Save us, fill us with your grace, truth and love.
Make us your servant hands and feet in this world. 

For you are a loving God. 
Sending Christ into the world showing us the way.  
Forgiving our sins, destroying death, giving life eternal.
That we may delight in your presence.
Know your blessings.
Serve you all our days.

O God of creation and song,
always am I praising you with my voice.
You hear the supplications of my heart.
Assurance, guidance, forgiveness, healing and truth are found with you.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! 

 

 

 

Lament of the Frustrated – Rev. Sarah Ky Price

 

Why have the vipers entered into this pit with me again?  

It seems so often that I pray to you, God.  

I’m doing my best; I even try to pray for them.  

I pray that their fangs do not penetrate beyond the superficial.  

I pray that the blood they seek will not be mine.  

And here they are again, piercing my skin I thought had thickened.

I bleed and I hurt and I shake my fist to you and say, “Why? Why?”

 

You answer me back in the quiet of my dreams 

not so much with the answers I want to hear

but instead with reassurance in the passage of time.  

I realize in my waking that the bites are not actually that deep.

I see that you’ve already bandaged my wounds with the kind words of others 

whom you have blessed me with as companions on this journey.  

 

And so, even here in the pit of my own frustration, I thank you.  

And as I lick my wounds, I am learning.

I’m learning how to pray for the vipers, not just for myself.  

I’m learning they are your creatures, too.

I’m learning how they feel threatened, hated, and hurt.

I’m learning when they lash out it isn’t about me.  

Help me, God, to see them as you see them.  

And give me kinder words next time 

so that all of us may find our wounds being healed.

 

 

 

Gun Violence – A Lament

Dale Smith 

 

Dear God who makes the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk— 

Dear God who changes minds, turns tables, and raises the dead— 

 

Guns are killing the United States. 

Atlanta, Boulder, El Paso. 

Parkland, Charleston, Sandy Hook. 

Our own Virginia Beach, just last week, 

And Virginia Tech too. 

A flash on the news screen, then gone 

Replaced by the latest lone gunman, 

Whose family had no clue. 

Our leaders claim at our funerals 

That death is the cost of freedom. 

Because you do not step in, they think that you agree with them! 

 

Hear our groaning, O Lord, and remember 

You who hardened the heart of Pharaoh 

Can soften the hearts of legislators. 

You who emboldened Moses 

Can embolden your Church to stand up 

To say, “The freedom not to die  

At the grocery store 

Or spa 

Or church 

Or school 

Outweighs the freedom 

To own a weapon of war!” 

Selah. 

 

We will praise you for such transformation. 

We will praise you for lives not destroyed. 

Grateful voices will sing and shout that 

God did not look away 

Did not agree that weapons are worth it 

And lifted this country from its bloody pit: 

Allowing the grandmother to go to church 

The child to school 

The worker to work. 

Praise the Lord! 

 

 Psalm of Lament – Karen Franklin

 

Good God! What must I endure? I’m drowning in a heaviness worse than anything ever experienced before. Pain, disillusionment rain down like hot, sizzling raindrops. I call out to You my God, but I can’t see you through the haze of my fear that you have abandoned me.

Century old cries of my people have wafted up to your ears louder than thunder claps. There in their pain you met them. You were that strong tower that covered then in their distress.

I am my ancestors- I am their tears their pain. Therefore You my God will meet me in my suffering and sorrow.

I raise my eyes through the haze and am blinded by your love and hear your gentle call. You alone know me and I will walk beside you. My heart joins in your song- bowing down to your greatness and faithfulness toward your people.

 

 

 

  

 

         

Posted 3/30/2021

My Journey to St. Mark's

Last October, following the service in which I offered stewardship remarks, I was approached by a parishioner who observed that I had forcefully identified the reasons I remained at St. Mark’s and asked if I would now be willing to share the journey that had brought me to our church. I thought to myself, well, that won’t be happening. But here I sit, speaking to you via Zoom, wearing a white dress shirt–and sweat-pants. I didn’t think that would be happening either. So, with your permission, I’ll honor the parishioner’s request: the road to St. Mark’s. You will want to buckle up.

In 1973 I left graduate school, the dissertation more done with than done, returned to Richmond, took a job teaching in an Episcopal school, and joined an Episcopal church distinguished by its imposing architecture and historical associations. Wanting to get to know some of my fellow communicants, I made a personal commitment to attending coffee hour, every Sunday.

I am not a shy, retiring person, but I am reserved. I found it challenging to step into conversations with parishioners at least a generation older than I, who clearly had known each other many years, in some cases since childhood. So I would stand next to the coffee urn, smile, and try to look available. I was most often approached by parents of my students, hoping for an impromptu parent-teacher conference. The question then arises:  in this overlapping work/worship world, did I feel at risk, vulnerable, being “other”? Not really, let me explain why.

The head of school who hired me left soon after I arrived, which I chose not to see as cause and effect. His successor was one of the most articulate, urbane men I have ever known; he was also perceptive, and kind. At the end of the year, he asked me to stop by his office to read and sign my annual review, which I did, handing it back to him across his desk. He told me I had made a good beginning. He then stood, walked around his desk, turned the other visitor’s chair facing mine, and sat. We were knee to knee, eye to eye. “This is a long-established Episcopal institution,” he observed. “It is a polite work environment. It is highly improbable that anyone here will ask about your private life. I urge you not to volunteer it. Do you understand what I am saying to you, Howard?” “Yes, sir, I do. Thank you.” My thank you was sincere because I understood what he was doing: he was trying to protect me. It was a job I had already grown to love and didn’t want to lose. I would keep the promise I made that day, and that job, for thirty-five years. At church, then, I assumed that what worked for one Episcopal bastion would work for another. I remained cheerful, deferential–and guarded. A decade passed.

One Friday a friend of a friend called and invited me to attend mass with him Sunday evening at the Cathedral. I thanked him, of course, but reminded him that I was an Episcopalian and that the Catholic mass is closed to non-Catholics. He replied impatiently that he knew all that. But this mass was different, he told me: it was for Catholics and Episcopalians. There was a Catholic priest and an Episcopal priest, and the mass was just for us, us guys. I had questions.

“The Episcopal priest, is he affiliated with any of the churches in Richmond?” Colin replied that he didn’t think so. The priest worked with the street people around VCU. “This mass, is it actually in the Cathedral?” I asked. “Not exactly: we are in the educational building next door. We use a classroom as our chapel.” “The Bishop of Richmond, “I inquired, “he’s aware that there is an ecumenical mass being celebrated on Cathedral property for the Boys in the Band?” “Yep. He’s cool with that.” And he was, which may explain why the first act of his successor was to vaporize this particular mass. Colin then added that, after mass, we would all go to an Italian restaurant. I was seduced by curiosity, company, and cuisine.

There were perhaps fifteen of us in the makeshift chapel. I held the prayer book for the kid sitting next to me who was so nervous he was visibly shaking. He had confided that it was the first church service he had ever attended. We progressed through the Liturgy of the Word, coming finally to the Passing of the Peace, which, in morning church, lasted twenty seconds: ten to smile and nod to the right, ten to the left. You can imagine my surprise when the Catholic priest stepped forward and hugged each of us, then the Episcopal priest hugged us, and then all of us were invited to hug each other. It was in the midst of this hug-fest that I experienced a shock of recognition.

When the service ended, the Episcopal priest came straight at me: “As I offered you the cup, I noticed you were crying. Are you all right?” “Yes,” I replied, “I was startled.” “By what? What startled you?” “I had not known what it would feel like to be fully accepted as a part of the body of Christ.” And so I learned to straddle: morning church for noble architecture, sung liturgy, and stimulating sermons; evening church for acceptance, companionship–and joy. Another decade passed.

By now I was living in the Museum District. One crisp, sun-filled March morning I decided to stroll to the church at the end of the street. It was my first visit to St. Mark’s. I remember the sincerity of the welcome; I remember walking to the pew where I still sit, when permitted. I assumed I wouldn’t know anyone. Yet, as I looked forward toward the lectern side, I recognized two profiles: a professor of British Literature at VCU, Lib Reynolds, and beside her the Episcopal priest from Sunday evening church, dissolved years before, Edward Meeks Gregory.

I greeted Pope--as he was universally known--following the service, and he told me he was a long-time member of St. Mark’s; he had even served as curate for almost eleven years. He then began to share with me what he loved about our church, and as he spoke, a sense of thanksgiving welled up inside me. I knew that my journey had come to an end: I was being allowed to come home.

There are excellent reasons why we should renew out pledges to St. Mark’s, even increase them, if personal circumstance allows. Obviously, no collection plates have been passed since last March, and so any increases in pledged income would be MOST welcome. When you are entering your pledge on-card or, preferably, online, I ask you to consider three factors. First, we have four exceptional priests and a committed, highly capable staff. I won’t belabor the obvious. Second, we have a long-range plan, parts of which have had to be deferred–not abandoned. We know who we are, we know where we are going, we know how to get there, and we will. Third, St. Mark’s is a relatively small church, but our compassion and generosity have a meaningful impact on the community we serve: we make a real difference in the lives of many people, for whom St. Mark’s is assuredly not closed.

To these three I will add a fourth: “Love is our tradition,” which was adopted during our 150th anniversary as part of the church’s rebranding process. “Love is our tradition” is a marketing tagline; it also happens to be true. When I joined St. Marks, twenty-seven years ago, love was already our tradition. It still is. In this Spirit-driven, righteous work, St. Mark’s has not followed: we have led.

An acquaintance, a member of one of our larger conservative churches, recently informed me that St. Mark’s is simply too welcoming: we welcome people who have left other Episcopal churches, other denominations, other religions; we even welcome the “unchurched and uncertain.” I have given his criticism of St. Mark’s considerable thought and leave you with the following.

I propose that St. Mark’s change course, that we become more selective, that we only welcome those people–for whom our Lord died. And if they come to us hurt and in pain that we hold them fiercely until they are healed. Then we hold them forever.

Amen.

Howard Pugh, Stewardship Chair, October 11, 2020

by Howard Pugh  | 

Full of the Love St. Mark's Offers

Why St. Mark’s? Why continue to be an active member in Florida?
 
St. Mark’s has been my church family for over 20 years.
From the first time I came to St. Mark’s I felt like I had found my place.
I belonged.
 
St. Mark’s, the building, has been a place of solace for us. St. Mark’s, the leadership, has been beyond supportive of us throughout all of life’s challenges. St. Mark’s, the congregation, has offered us countless opportunities to be part of something bigger than ourselves. 
 
Our departure to Florida, although planned, was expedited due to COVID-19. No chance to say goodbyes. No easing into our transition. This time of COVID brought about changes in how we all gather. And In this change, worshipping via ZOOM became a welcomed, though unintentional consequence, of the times. For us, it is a gift.
 
I draw great comfort from continuing relationships, seeking guidance, worshipping with family, and being able to see the faces of those I have come to love and cherish. St. Mark’s is our church home. It is where we were married. We hope that we will be able to continue this virtual connection for a long time yet to come.
 
Our hearts remain full of the love that St. Mark’s offers.
Becky Lee & Diane Hoover, Venice FL

by Becky Lee  | 

Chaos or Community: Will America be chaos or community?

The final book penned by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is entitled, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?  We find ourselves more than fifty years later grappling with the same issues.  Will America be chaos or community?
 
As I experience the senior years of life, I find myself thankful for the oasis that God has provided.  Every July I would gather with many from all over the country for the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference sponsored by the Children's Defense Fund.  Under the wise leadership of Marian Wright Edelman, one of the matriarchs of the modern Civil Rights Movement, we gather to see children assembled in Freedom School sessions while the adults learn about social activism in practical ways.  One of the most touching memories occurred when our Morning Devotion session concluded with time set aside for us to call and leave messages of support with our senator and congressional representative for child-friendly, community building legislation.
 
As an Episcopal priest I see among many congregants the willingness to address and support racial harmony for the first time in our nation's history.  I must admit that I was much more than bewildered when I sensed God's calling to Richmond.  I was even more stunned when I sensed the same leading to priesthood in the Episcopal Church.
 
Events over the last six years have continued to confirm that I am just where I need to be living and serving.  My work at St. Mark's and St. John's churches has provided opportunities to share about race and steps toward understanding.  The dissonance that is the national opus needs a loving and grace-giving conductor to lead the way.  Those of us who comprise the orchestra need our instruments tuned to the clarion call to respect the dignity of every human being.
 
In keeping with the hopes of assisting in promoting peace, I share the following:

 

Educate
 
Books:  
Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debbie Irving
The Cross And The Lynching Tree, by James Cone
Lynched, by Angela Sims
Song in a Weary Throat: Memoir of An American Pilgrimage, by Pauli Murray
 
Documentaries:  
The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery, produced by Trinity Church, Chicago, sermon by The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III
 
Backs Against the Wall:  The Story of Howard Thurman, produced by Journey Films, may access through PBS
 
King in the Wilderness, HBO Documentary on King's final years, produced by Taylor Branch
 
There are countless additional resources to glean from as we move forward to finally be the America in which the worth of every human being is respected.  Our history has been rooted in the antithesis of the Gospel message of love.  We are the hearts, lives, and voices that can and must change that narrative.
 
Book clubs as well as discussion group moments of dialogue over shared information can begin to change the compass of our lives, individually and collectively.  Even in our time of social distancing we can find ways to reach out, learn, as well as grow together.
 
Do not underestimate the reality that you can make a difference.  MLK wrote, Racism is a doctrine of the congenital inferiority and worthlessness of a people.  The lunacy of racism and its toxic, dream destroying fruit must be uprooted.  Awareness, education, and maintaining the willingness to learn are key.  Let us maintain hope even in the midst of challenge.
 
Dorothy A. White+

 

by Rev. Dorothy White  | 

Growing Things

As the YMCA is still closed for many activities, I walk the Museum District for an hour each afternoon. A few blocks from Tommy and me a millennial has turned his small front yard into a riot of flowers and vegetables. He is out of work, he told me when I stopped to appreciate his garden. He spends the morning online applying for jobs and the afternoon with a trowel in the dirt—which he fears will be his source of food when unemployment benefits run out. I frequently find him at his horticultural tasks; we have come to greet each other warmly, a shared interest and pleasure in growing things.

Several weeks ago, however, as I approached, his smile faded and he stepped back, seemingly offended. I was at a loss to understand his reaction until he stated, with emphasis, “I do not attend church.” I was wearing the St. Mark’s tee shirt. I assured him I do not proselytize and gently asked why his reaction had been so visceral. He explained that his family had belonged to a very conservative church and, as an older teen, he had come to realize the pastor and a number of the lay leaders were judgmental, hypocritical, xenophobic, and generally disparaging of all who did not believe as they did. He had not set foot in a church since he was seventeen. I said I understood, and I do. I asked, nonetheless, if he would acknowledge our acquaintanceship by performing a simple search when he was next at his computer: I invited him to find and read the brief history of St. Mark’s.

As I walk toward his yard last week, he put down his hoe and hailed me. He had toured the St. Mark’s website. He confessed that, when he read about our outreach efforts, he was incredulous: could a relatively small congregation provide that level of support for the homeless, even during a pandemic? He had walked to the church the following Saturday morning to see if we were living out our mission. We were. He thanked me for proving it would be possible for him to return to church; and, as he turned to his herbs, he told me he envied me my relationship with St. Mark’s.

As the YMCA is still closed for many activities, I walk the Museum District for an hour each afternoon. A few blocks from Tommy and me a millennial has turned his small front yard into a riot of flowers and vegetables. He is out of work, he told me when I stopped to appreciate his garden. He spends the morning online applying for jobs and the afternoon with a trowel in the dirt—which he fears will be his source of food when unemployment benefits run out. I frequently find him at his horticultural tasks; we have come to greet each other warmly, a shared interest and pleasure in growing things.

Several weeks ago, however, as I approached, his smile faded and he stepped back, seemingly offended. I was at a loss to understand his reaction until he stated, with emphasis, “I do not attend church.” I was wearing the St. Mark’s tee shirt. I assured him I do not proselytize and gently asked why his reaction had been so visceral. He explained that his family had belonged to a very conservative church and, as an older teen, he had come to realize the pastor and a number of the lay leaders were judgmental, hypocritical, xenophobic, and generally disparaging of all who did not believe as they did. He had not set foot in a church since he was seventeen. I said I understood, and I do. I asked, nonetheless, if he would acknowledge our acquaintanceship by performing a simple search when he was next at his computer: I invited him to find and read the brief history of St. Mark’s.

As I walk toward his yard last week, he put down his hoe and hailed me. He had toured the St. Mark’s website. He confessed that, when he read about our outreach efforts, he was incredulous: could a relatively small congregation provide that level of support for the homeless, even during a pandemic? He had walked to the church the following Saturday morning to see if we were living out our mission. We were. He thanked me for proving it would be possible for him to return to church; and, as he turned to his herbs, he told me he envied me my relationship with St. Mark’s.

by Howard Pugh   |