We are stewards of God’s world. All has been given to us – our lives, time, talents, and resources – by the Great Giver. To be the church is to be the people of God, not just comforted by God but called and claimed by God to bring healing to all. Your generosity has built up all the ministries that offer that healing and are so much a part of St. Mark’s. We know that there was a time when financial support for the church was the norm of our society, just like being at church on Sunday. But that is no longer the case. In a way, that change causes us to reflect on why it is important to continue to invest through the financial support of this church.
Research shows that for most adults the action of doing ministry, seeing a community putting the Gospel into action, is the most important criteria for even thinking about stepping into a church. Our financial support of St. Mark’s makes it possible for us to do that work which reflects what our values are and supports them in our ministries. We give financial support to our diocese which in turn supports ministries on a wider scale. In our Feeding Ministry and Food Pantry we offer food and welcome to those who are routinely told to move along. We offer assistance without judgment. We support ministries of justice such as the Virginia Center for Inclusive Community and Equality VA. We give financial support to ACTS and provide hands on ministry to CARITAS. We visit the sick, teach our children, and care for one another. This building provides a place of prayer and spiritual growth through worship and welcome for our members and the visitors among us. To those passing on the Boulevard and those who enter, this building is a sign that the Jesus Movement is alive and well. We want everyone to know that the Lord is among us and to know God’s grace.
It seems that Jesus deems it essential that we who follow him help spread that good news of God’s healing presence by our words and deeds. At St. Mark’s we make every effort to live into the message that God is good and merciful and loving and generous. God does incredible things through hearts and hands that are willing to be generous and trust that God is working through us to be that loving, healing presence to one another and the stranger among us.
Saturday’s VA PrideFest on Brown’s Island was the first for 15-year-old Nic Carwile.
“I came out to my mom last year,” said Carwile, of Chesterfield County, who identifies as transgender. “It’s really nice to see people who are the same as you.”
Carwile and a group of friends stopped at a tent hosted by St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. “It’s just really nice to see that a lot more churches are opening their hearts.”
Festival-goers spent a muggy day enjoying live music, food and beer at the annual LGBTQ celebration, one of numerous held across the state throughout the year. Businesses and corporations continue to increase their support for the festival and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“The Episcopal Church is a very open and inclusive denomination, and St. Mark’s has always been in the forefront of gay and lesbian issues,” said Bill Martin, a church member who was helping staff the tent. “Every PrideFest is helpful. It gives you an opportunity to see that there are other gay people around, and it shows that there is a community of support for you out there as a gay or lesbian person.”
Parker Palmer writing in his recent book, On the Brink of Everything reminds us, “We all live at the intersection of our small worlds and the big one around us. If we want to serve others, we must attend to both.”
Yes, empire looks big and overwhelming – that is what empire does to control and contain. Empire wants acquiescence. But what Parker Palmer tells me is that I am to do what I can do. I am to get out of my bubble, and speak up, stand up like I did in sixth grade – it’s the old phrase, “be the change you want to see.” Yeah, you are rolling your eyes about now.
But you know I think we have in this church the living example of the intersection of our small world and the big empire around us – of being the change we wanted to see. Back in the day we as a church could not stop the Downtown Expressway development from destroying the historically African –American neighborhoods of Richmond, but we could offer one displaced community of black Episcopalians a new church home. We did this – welcoming the members of Osgood Memorial Church to join us when their church was plowed over. In doing this we were the first Episcopal Church in the city to integrate. Was it easy, was it universally popular – no – it was 1967 in the capital of the Old South. There are stories of the rector and curate welcoming people in one door as white members were walking out the other. But we did it, we survived it and more, we thrived. There was a time when the diagnosis of AIDS literally put men on the streets, their families ashamed or afraid to touch them. There was from the empire a chorus of voices giving the pronouncement of a “gay plague,” the punishment for love viewed as wrong, as other. St. Mark’s didn’t accept the verdict of empire. Instead we responded with compassion, with helping hands and healing touch - working with other churches and the then Fan Free Clinic to establish the Richmond AIDS Ministry that for years provided these desperately ill men with a safe and caring place to live, and to die. And according to the Fan Free Clinic, St. Mark’s offered burial and memorial services to more who died from AIDS than any other faith community in the commonwealth. Could we cure HIV-AIDS, no. But we could reach out in love and faith to those many shunned. And when it came to gender and marriage equality St. Mark’s stood for the equitable treatment of all by the church, bearing witness to the belief that all are created in God’s image, all are worthy of love and to love. St. Mark’s was one of the first in our diocese to offer the sacrament of marriage to same gender couples – with and without permission. Could we change the laws of the land to be more equitable and just – well maybe on this one, we did – or at least one of our members did by risking her privacy and that of her family to be the change she and we wanted to see.
These I believe are the intersections of our small and big worlds, the space between individual action and imperial status quo. And we inhabit it. As we have looked to our future through the long-range planning process much of what has come out of the discussions is the desire to be engaged in our community, to be doing the work God calls us to as individuals and as a faith community – to be present and willing to answer when called. This does not surprise me. It may not at first look like the big world changes that are so desperately needed, but all that we do to change the life of even one person is answering the call of God – and that changes the world. Maybe this place is the armor store – where I get fitted for my breastplate of righteousness, my shield of faith, and the shoes that are the gospel of peace. And with these go out to do the work God has given me as one person to do, knowing that I have the courage, strength, and faith of this community with me.
Such a society might be expected to organize is life and its resources around the shared destiny of haves and have nots.For as far back as the tradition of Deuteronomy, the notion of "chosenness" had to do with attentiveness to needy neighbors.If the "year of remission" in Deuteronomy 15: 1-18 is central to who Israel was as a chosen people, then even its own economy was subordinate to its obligations to its neighbors.Likewise today, the church's challenge is to summon civil society to its best self.Walter Brueggemann, Out of Babylon
Enough, we cannot be silent anymore. Their pain has become our pain. Their suffering ours. The mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, friends of those who have died because of gun violence are crying out to us. The children, the holy innocents, are crying out to us.
My father spent WWII in Italy, in a tank. During his first leave, he encountered an enchantress, a figure of surpassing beauty, sophistication, and mystery. My father was beguiled. If you have ever travelled in Italy, perhaps you have met her. The Italians call her La Serenissima, the most serene one—Venice. For a soldier who had spent his childhood on a farm in Appomattox and Sundays in a white clapboard Methodist chapel, Venice was fantastical place. His every letter to his bride from Venice ended with the promise that, someday, he would return with her and lead her through this magical city he had grown to love. But life intervened: first mine, then my sister’s, then his career, which took on a life of its own.