Words from Cliff and Pastoral Notes

Where Have You Encountered God?

I asked someone last week if they had ever had an experience of God. That is a very unusual question, and when I ask it I assume it will be the first time that it has been posed. Answers usually take the form of feelings – peace, belonging; places – the ocean, a mountain view; people – a beloved family member, sometimes even the loss of a loved one; sometimes a transcendent sense of oneness (Herman Melville called it the “all” feeling). As life happens, if we pay attention, God happens too. Our life is a pilgrim way, a journey, to the heart of faith in the heart of creation. The summer is a wonderful time to make these discoveries.

(Continue Reading…) Such questing souls in the Celtic tradition were often called “peregrini.” The name derives from the Latin peregrines and carries the idea of wandering over a distance. It also gives us the term “pilgrim.” The First Letter of Peter has a wonderful verse, “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul” (1 Ptr. 2: 11 – The Message paraphrase).

Today we follow many others who have answered the question, “Where have I experienced God?” – the ones who have gone looking for God. We walk with them to places where God and the human story meet. The summer, which is a discovery time for all of us, will find a particular focus in our choir’s residency at Saint Paul’s Cathedral London, where Jeremiah Clarke was organist and composed his “Trumpet Voluntary” that accompanies many of our brides down the aisle. Parishioners will join them on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. Young people will travel to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to find the sacred in another culture in our own country! Our journey to London, Canterbury, and Cannon Ball, ND serves the entire parish, as each one of us seeks to encounter God in the journey of our daily lives.

Here is a prayer by Jan Berry –

God of our journeying,
inviting us to travel with you,
forgive us when we cling to outworn security,
afraid to let go of what is safe and familiar.
Give us courage
to take the risk
of answering your call
into joyous adventure.

 

~ Cliff

Red Truck and Red Shopping Bags

There is a parishioner at Saint Paul’s who owns a red pickup truck. He makes his truck available to transport turkeys for the annual Turkey Drive. This past Saturday, he not only made his pick-up truck available, but he stood by the door of Weavers Way to solicit shoppers to support the Deanery Food Drive. He met one of his old neighbors, who I think must have been surprised to see him on Germantown Ave. giving out red shopping bags to shoppers.

We were also joined by a parent and her two children, and one of our confirmation candidates. They were initially shy about giving out bags and explaining why were we giving out the bags. The kids eventually grew into their role and took charge of the whole operation. But there was one incident that shook me to the core.

(Continue Reading…) The youngest of the kids who were with us approached an older man with a bag and politely narrated the talking points. This gentleman responded, “Well, I am not a religious person, and so I will not support a religious activity.” I could not restrain myself when I heard that. I quickly jumped in to assure the gentleman that we were only collecting the food for the hungry and the poor. To that, he responded that he was sorry and walked away.

I have thought about the encounter between this young boy and the older gentleman, and wondered what does buying food for the poor have to do with being religious. Can we consider solutions to social problems only through the eyes of religion? How disaffected can one be about religion that helping feed the hungry can be deemed to be a religious activity?

Just as I came up with so many answers to these questions, I am sure you also can come up with several answers. But in spite of our answers, one important lesson for me was that those who consider themselves religious have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of convincing to do because this man, in a way, epitomizes why our churches are often half full.

By the way, we still have some of the red bags in the narthex. All are invited to pick one up, shop for a hungry neighbor and bring the items to Saint Paul’s for delivery to the Church of the Annunciation. And when someone compliments you on the red bag, tell that person the story about the Jesus movement. – Manny

“Me Too” – a Together Sign

I had the opportunity to visit the Second Grade class at Germantown Academy, the school where I graduated 50 years ago. The students asked about our favorite color, or sport, or kind of pet. When the boys and girls (there were only boys when I attended) felt the same way they made a hand sign with little finger and thumb stuck out and other fingers tucked in. I had never seen that before but it seemed like such a fun way to connect. Some youngsters really got into it shaking their hand sign up and down in eager agreement! “Me too!” “I like the color orange too.” It was a wonderful way to bridge the generations.

Saint Paul said with some regularity “there is no distinction.” Ours is a “me too” faith. “(T)he same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him” (Rom. 10: 12). We are connected; “all… are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3: 28). It is not a matter of which worship service one attends, it is that we all call upon the same Lord. It is not a matter whether we sing or serve, it is all Christ’s mission. It is not a question whether we are in Philadelphia, Montgomery County, or even London, England we are all Saint Paul’s representing the same Lord. So make the “me too” sign. We are all connected. We are all one.

 – Cliff

It Is About You!

Ever wonder why you have a favorite store? Ever wonder why you have a favorite hairdresser or barber? Ever wonder why you gravitate towards one particular place to spend earned money? In most cases, you are deeply aware that whoever is selling to you or rendering a service for you, knows you in person, and can hold a conversation with you about your family, job, sports, and even plans for the summer. It is that kind of situation where you know fully well that it isn’t about the money you are spending, but that it is about the things you care about.

Every year we gather as a parish to take stock of the things we care about — the ministries we care about, the lives we want to touch and change because we care about them, the world we want to see reflecting the image of its Creator because we care about it, and the hope and comfort that we desire for each other and ourselves.

I had an interesting interaction with a little boy a few days ago at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy. Below is the conversation between the little boy and myself.

Boy: You are a priest!

Manny: Yes, I am.

Boy: I know you.

Manny: Where do you know me?

Boy: At Saint Paul’s.

Manny: Really?

Boy: You are Manny.

Manny: That’s great, I am glad you remember my name. And what’s your name?

Boy: My name is Garrett Hughes, a member of the Hughes family.

Interactions like this are what bring great joy and satisfaction to the ministry to which we have all been called. I am keenly aware that just as there are different products and services which attract our attention, so are there different churches which attract our attention. What does and will continue to differentiate Saint Paul’s from others is that we do not lose sight of the fact that our ministry is about Garrett and each and every one of you. And for that, I am grateful.

– Manny

My Mother On Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day offers each one of us an opportunity to offer happy Mother’s Day wishes to our mothers or to any one person who has played the role of a mother in our lives. Growing up in Ghana, I had the privilege of living in my mother’s house until I was about twelve years old, when I moved with my younger brother to live with our dad. My dad passed on a little over two years after our move to live with him. And so, it is fair to say that my formative years were more influenced by my mother than by any one particular person.

She is a feisty woman, a strong and hardworking woman. She had some education, but I am not exactly sure to what level. However, she tends to read a lot. I have always been fascinated by her desire to read. Heaven knows if she really understood all that she read, but she told stories about what she read and often captured our attention with her stories. One such story was about Booker T. Washington. I have no idea where she got the book. But after reading the book, she told stories about Booker T. Washington, and always inspired me and my brother to act and work hard like him.

(Continue Reading…) I am very fond of my mother, and I will do anything to make her happy. I sometimes think she goes a little overboard, but what mother doesn’t? I can fill a book with stories about her tenacity and grit. She didn’t have much, but never seemed to blame anyone for any lack; she simply worked as hard as she could on whatever she was working on until she moved on to something else.

I never heard her tell me or any of my siblings that she loved us. But her love was not lost on any one of us. She prayed a lot too —every morning at 5 a.m. she would wake us up to pray. I had a little sister who lived with her father in a different city. My mum would pour her heart out in prayer for this sister, hoping that she would be reconciled with her someday. This little sister (who is now married and lives in London,) was at another sister’s wedding in Ghana this past March. She took a picture with our mother —it is such a beautiful picture. It brought me to tears to see the two of them together.

My mother’s story is one in which motherhood was expressed in different ways. To those she could feed with food, she did. To those she could only reach out to in prayer, she did. To those for whom she could only set an example, she did. To those she could support, she did. From my point of view, the task of motherhood is all encompassing for her, and for the simple reason that she did the best she could, like any mother. I offer grateful thanks for her and for all mothers. I hope you feel the same way about your mother, and if you do, please bring her car over to Saint Paul’s and have it washed or donate to Saint Paul’s Car Wash to support our Youth Pilgrimage to North Dakota.

–Manny