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A MEDITATION FOR ASH WEDNESDAY AND LENT

By the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector, March 3, 2017

The musical “Les Miserables” is a work largely about sin and forgiveness.  Early in the piece the main character, Jean Valjean, has just escaped from prison, where he had been sent for stealing a loaf of bread.  He goes to rob the house of the local bishop.  As the old bishop sleeps, Jean Valjean steals most of his silver.  The police catch the escaped criminal.  They drag him before the bishop and say, “This man told us you gave all of this to him.”  Valjean hangs his head in front of the bishops. But the bishop quickly says, “Well, I did.  Only I don’t understand why he didn’t take these beautiful candlesticks, too.  I only want him to be a good man.”  And to Valjean he says, “You must use these to become an honest man.”         I think we find ourselves in essentially in the same position as Jean Valjean at the beginning of this Lent.  We come with our broken lives, and our meager attempts to do better.  Our accusers, and even Satan himself, seek to imprison us, to haul us before God and say, “Look at them, the miserable lot!  Is that the best they can do?”  But God loves us, and has given us His only Son.

Ash Wednesday and Lent are all about the love of God, but also about the holiness of God and our sinfulness.  It is easy to concentrate on the grace we receive from God without counting the cost.  Even in this story from “Les Miserables” the forgiveness did not come without cost to the bishop.  He lost all of his silver.  Forgiveness and reconciliation are not free.  Our forgiveness cost God His only Son; it cost the suffering and dying of our Lord.

Lent is a time to take to heart the sinfulness of our lives, and how our rebellion grieves the heart of God.  In that sense Lent is a great leveler, because we have all sinned in our own unique ways.  As Paul Says in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) Sin is classically defined as anything that separates us from God and other people.  Lent calls us, and offers us time and space, to contemplate all that does separates us from God and other people, and to realize how much we have gained through God’s gracious sacrifice for us.  Hence the age-old tradition of giving something up, meant to remind us of the manifold blessings we receive from God. 

And then there are the ashes of Ash Wednesday.  What a curious tradition.  The ashes represent our mortality, the fact that we will all die, and our sinfulness.  They are meant to be reminder right between our eyes, to get our attention.  They represent our sin and rebellion, both individually and as a people.  You see, within all of us there is a broken mirror.  And try as we might to glue or tape that brokenness we cannot fix it ourselves.  But the great Good News is that God can, and does.

I invite you to seize the great opportunity of this Lent: to look at the nature of sin in your life, whatever it is that separates you from God and your brothers and sisters.  What else would you like to do?  What would you like to change?  On a broader scale, how can you and I, and our parish, contribute towards healing the sin and brokenness of our society and our world?  Maybe we can only work on one or two things, but mostly I invite you to stop, to think, to thank, to pray, in short to live more intentionally.

As we stand before God, as we stammer out our case, as we acknowledge our sins, our only response, our only defense, is that our only mediator and advocate, Jesus, loves us.  And that is enough.  Let us meditate and build on this sure foundation throughout the opportunity this Lent offers us.

See you in Church,

Randy+

 

THANKSGIVING AS A WAY TO AVOID SPIRITUAL TRIP-HAZARDS

By the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector, November 17, 2016

“In gratitude, in deep gratitude for this moment, this meal, these people, we give ourselves to You, O God.  Take us out to live lives as changed people because we have shared the Living Bread and cannot remain the same.  Ask much of us, expect much from us, enable much by us, encourage many through us.”  The Rev. Dr. Mark Anschutz

In this litigious age we hear municipalities and institutions of all sizes and types speak of trip-hazards on their properties.  These hazards might include any offset in a pavement or sidewalk that can lead to someone falling.  Regular inspections take place to locate these hazards so that they may be repaired.  It seems to me this is an approach we might employ to great benefit in our spiritual lives. 

There are many spiritual trip hazards, common to most of us at one time or another.  These can include jealousy, wanting what someone else has, or frustration at our lack of having something.  Anger, that we never seem to get past, trips many people.  Addiction to various substances trips up others.  Guilt for something we did, or didn’t do, can knock us down.  Fear of getting older can make most of us wobble at one point another.  Obsession with gaining power or influence over others can land us on the ground before we know it.  At various times a general sense of loss of control can send us reeling.  I sometimes think of these hazards as a great buffet table, like a salad bar, where we all partake of some of the poisons from time to time.

I began this column with the prayer above from my friend and mentor, Fr. Anschutz, because it stresses so powerfully and so succinctly the importance of a great balm for our souls:  thankfulness.  To be grateful, thankful, if to focus on what we have already received, stressing our blessings and not our shortcomings.  A thankful heart is a lighter heart, a more content heart, and a heart more at peace with itself and the world.

There have been times when I wanted to pray but I was a jumble of emotions.  At those moments I simply couldn’t begin the prayer I so desperately wanted to pray.  So I just started naming blessings for which I was thankful.  They often tumble out in no particular order--things from childhood, relationship, experiences, faith, places where I have served, Immanuel.  In those moments I am taken out of myself, I feel centered, and free.  I encourage you to try this approach in times when you might find it a challenge to pray.

What would it be like to lead with gratitude, with thanksgiving, in our lives?  What would it be like to have a journal or a document on our computers where we simply list blessings?  What would it be like to mention these blessings in conversations, naming God as their source?  I believe we would gradually be changed people.

Our great national holiday of Thanksgiving approaches.  Might this be an opportunity to list some blessings?  Our annual Stewardship campaign at Immanuel continues, after a very encouraging and promising start.  Have you pledged yet?  Have you set aside some time to name some blessings, and some of the ways you plan to give back to God, for God’s great purposes in the world, from those blessings?  Our parish home, Immanuel, needs and deserves our prayers, our time, our talents, our witness, and yes, our financial support.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all,

Randy+

 

WHAT I OVERHEARD AT MCDONALD'S....

By the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector, November 1, 2016 

I decided to go to MacDonald’s for a Breakfast treat, (specifically oatmeal, hash browns, and coffee, if that helps to set the context).  As I was standing in line I heard the man next to me talking to another man about how his children were preparing for Confirmation (yes, my Mother taught me not to eavesdrop, but they were speaking fairly loudly, so there was no way to avoid listening, especially when I heard the topic!). 

The one man seemed very kind, and I could imagine he was a good Dad.  He said that his children were preparing for Confirmation now, but then he said, “It’s a good thing I don’t go to Church.  My poor wife is having to take care of it, and I think they will stop going after it’s done.”  It became pretty clear they were talking specifically about the Roman Catholic Church, as the other guy talked about the struggles of getting an annulment since he had been married before, and the first guy talked about a friend who had recently had a stillborn child, how they wanted the priest to do some sort of blessing of the body, and how the priest didn’t.

I couldn’t decide if I was glad I was in my baseball cap and shorts, rather than a collar, or not.  Should I interrupt?  And what would I say if I did chime in?  Would that be rude beyond belief?  Or would it be caring, even loving?  Could I say something like, “I’m sorry you have had that experience of Church—it’s not all like that—might you give it another try?”  I was a bit angry at this guy, but I was much more angry at the Church, for letting this man and his family down, on some level.  And I felt sad for him, profoundly so. 

I didn’t interrupt.  I decided that might cause further damage.  I decided I could pray for this man, though, this man whose name I didn’t know.  I prayed that, in God’s time and by whatever means, God’s love and pure delight in him might become known to this man.  I prayed for healing in his experience of Church.  I offered a short confession for any ways I may have damaged or impaired the experience of Church, or even of God, for others.  I prayed that, somehow, this man’s relationship with God could be healed and made manifest in his life. 

And I wondered how many there are like him out there. . . hurting, ticked off, distracted, or just plain bored with religion.  And I thought of so many of our people who are so giving and loving, to one another and to strangers, who find hope and meaning and purpose in their relationship with God and in our fellowship.  How do we connect with more of those many people out there like this man?  Might our Anglican branch of the great Christian family speak more to him?  Might we be a home he is looking for? 

I was only left with some haunting questions.  I resolved to trust God’s care, love, and grace for this man, but also to hold this question before us—what more can we be doing to reach out to the many like him, right in our neighborhood?  How do we even cross their radar?  Will you pray about this with me?  And don’t hesitate to interrupt when you hear a conversation like this, if you think it might help.  Otherwise, praying is always a precious resource. 

See you in Church,

Randy+

 

HOMECOMING SUNDAY AT IMMANUEL

By the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector, September 9, 2016

Some people who are now part of Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill grew up in Alexandria, but many grew up elsewhere in the United States, or in another country. Sure, for a few of us, Alexandria has always been home, and they have a lot to teach us about this special place. But, for manyof us, work or family, or some combination of the two, brought us here.

Most of us have lived in several places and we have family and friends scattered in still other places. It is not uncommon to meet new folks at the church door, folks who have just moved to town and report knowing no one here. They come to church seeking a real community; they come seeking a spiritual home. They speak clearly and convincingly of a deep need most of us share.

One of the great blessings of being part of a local church is that deep sense of community that can develop. I believe the Lord can use that longing for community,and the community itself,to draw us closer to Him and to each other. There are many parallels between a church community and a biological family:

--We are not all alike; far from it. Just as we marvel at how different siblings can be, so, too, are brothers and sisters in Christ. Different experiences and perspectives, different passions and hopes, and varying economic, social, politic,and theological outlooks make us quite a varied lot. So what draws ustogether? Our love of Jesus and the desire to worship together in a real community draw us together, and God shows up in surprising ways!

--We will not all like the same things. On any given Sunday you can find several folks relishing every verse of a certain hymn, while others are gritting their teeth until it is over. That is how it should be in real community! Not everything will appeal to everyone; in fact, certain things will repel some of us. We must always remember that our Christian tradition offers us a broad menu when it comes to worship and means of approach to God, and thank God for that!

--Really being part of a family requires that we pitch in, that we invest ourselves, and the church family is no different. A parish I know in California made a list of all of their ministry opportunities, a list of some 1,000 positions. Their list includes service as an usher, a lector, a chalice-bearer, singing in a choir, membership on a committee, service on the Vestry, and the like. If we compiled a list of available ministry positions at Immanuel, we would come up with many, many opportunities to be involved in some aspect of our life and ministry together!

--Being part of a family, or a real community, entails taking a certain amount of pridein that community, a certain esprit de corps. It involves a certain amount of our identity being caught up with the family or the community, with staking our claim, and declaring it publicly.

Finally, just like in a biological family, the amount of blessing and fulfillment we receive is directly proportional to the amount of ourselves that we invest in the family. For the Christian, this is all a part of Stewardship. Hear these words, traditionally heard in the Episcopal Church on Thanksgiving Day, about Home: “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks and water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley...and you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God forthe good land he has given you”(Deuteronomy 8:7-10).

Try substituting the word “community” for the word “land” and see how it might resonate with your experience.

Happy Homecoming!

Randy+

 

ASSOCIATE RECTOR'S CORNER

By the Rev. David M. Crosby, April 21, 2016

THE ASSOCIATE RECTOR’S CORNER:
If you are not already aware, Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill is one of eight Episcopal churches in the City of Alexandria that is recognized by the Diocese of Virginia as Region IV. The other seven churches are:
  • Christ Church, Old Town
  • Emmanuel (on High Street)
  • Grace Church, Russell Road
  • Meade Memorial
  • St. Paul’s, Old Town
  • Church of the Resurrection
  • St. Clement, Quaker Lane
A Region within the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is “a community of congregations formed to collaborate in shared ministry within a geographic area and to enhance communication between the Diocese and a congregation.” There are fifteen regions currently defined with our diocese. Each region has a clerical (ordained) Dean (appointed by the Bishop from rectors among the region’s parishes) and a lay or clerical representative to the diocesan Executive Board. I am presently the Region IV representative to Executive Board, serving my second year of a three-year appointment.
 
Meetings of the Regional Council occur 3-5 times a year. Per the diocesan Canons, “Regional Councils shall be responsible for seeing that the ministrations of The Episcopal Church are made available to every person living within the boundaries of such Region and shall exercise authority for the Region as a whole in safeguarding the interests and extending the ministrations of the Church throughout its borders, so that the Region may function as a unit in matters of common concern and responsibility. A Regional Council may, for these and other purposes, and subject to the approval of the Executive Board, adopt and administer a budget.”
 
Region IV parishes have worked together to give financial support to outreach ministries such as the West End Lazarus Ministry, Hunger Free Alexandria, the Meade Memorial Bag Lunch Program, an annual hypothermia shelter at St. Clement, the Child & Family Network , and VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement); Christian Formation & Discipleship opportunities include the Alexandria churches’ Lenten Series and a well- received Region IV Youth Event hosted by Immanuel in October 2015.
 
If you have questions or are interested in learning more about the work of Region IV, please see me.
Thank you and God Bless!
~ David+
 
 

THE ASSOCIATE RECTOR’S CORNER

by the Rev. David M. Crosby, March 10, 2016
 
One important ministry we all share as the Body of Christ is to pray for one another and others. It is part of our Baptismal Covenant promises. As we commit to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers,” saying, “I will, with God’s help,” we are called to actively and intentionally pray for our own. I hope we each have our own personal prayer list, but we as a parish also have a corporate prayer list. The parish office and clergy learn, either directly or indirectly, through relationships and casual conversations, pastoral calls or visits, or from being alerted by others, of matters
or issues that affect people of our parish in mind, body, or spirit. Here prayers may be in order. On Sundays, as part of the Prayers of the People, we name individuals of the parish by first name from a printed list in the bulletin.
 
In addition to those intercessions, we also collectively lift up friends, acquaintances, and members of our extended families who have any concerns as well that may be troublesome and burdening. You havemprobably heard these words, “... and we pray also for members of our extended parish family.” While the names of ‘extended parish family’ members are printed in the weekly Sunday Parish Notes, we do not speak them aloud.
 
You may notice that the largest group of names we have in our weekly prayers under the Pastoral Care Corner are for the extended parish family. For roughly the last five and half years, the parish office has received prayer requests for individuals who are not members of our parish church and tried to keep track of them. Our collective hope is that prayers would meet the need and eventually rotate off.  However, we have only added to the list with little review or editing. A spreadsheet has tried to keep track of specific requests, when they were received, the reason(s) for prayer, and who made the request. Yet that list has grown long and is somewhat unwieldy now.
 
An effort is underway to reconcile names in the printed prayers against this spreadsheet. Where names are printed but not accounted for in the spreadsheet, those names are being removed. Where names and their related information do not coincide with a printed name in the bulletin, those entries are being stricken. This is an effort to wean down the prayer list and the spreadsheet.
 
We are called to prayer. Please understand this administrative effort is not meant to deter or restrict prayer, but rather is to ensure we understand for whom we pray, how, why, and yes, for how long. Should you realize a name you added is no longer present, it can be re-added. If you see a name that no longer needs collective prayer, please help us in this work. Your attention will help us all in our ministry to pray for one another and others.
Blessings & Peace,
David+
 

PASTORAL CARE MINISTRY NEEDS

by the Rev. David M. Crosby, Associate Rector, February 12, 2016
 
Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill parishioners have always cared for one another, whether offering a ride to a doctor’s appointment or to church, making phone calls or maybe visiting someone who lives alone, writing cards to offer prayers and
encouragement, providing meals for someone recovering from surgery or who has welcomed a new baby, or other forms of short-term or maybe long-term help.
 
For those who need help with transportation to appointments, need assistance with shopping runs, or who want to attend church on Sundays or other parish activities during the week, we’re casting the net again, hopefully farther and deeper, for any ad hoc transportation resources within our parish.
 
From time to time, we hear from people looking for housing, either temporary or long-term. If you know of rental properties needing tenants, or homes yearning for a family, that would be helpful to know.
 
Occasionally, we receive pleas for legal guidance, to mitigate unfortunate circumstances or changing life situations. It would be good to develop an informal catalogue of legal consultants.
 
A food ministry is also something we offer as needed. This involves coordinating meals to be carried in or delivered to assist individuals or families during the recuperative time of healing and rehabilitation.
 
Lastly, the clergy are regularly contacted to assist with financial matters. This area is hard to manage, especially with fleeting discretionary funds. If you are moved to contribute to the discretionary funds of the clergy, checks should be written to Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, and designated to the rector’s or associate’s discretionary fund. Clergy sometimes direct honorariums received for other pastoral ministries to discretionary funds to assist in this ministry.
 
If any of these needy areas might be a ministry which you could support from time to time, please make your availability known to me or Fr. Randy. Thank you.
Blessings & Peace,
David+
 

ASSOCIATE RECTOR'S CORNER

By the Rev. David M. Crosby, January 19, 2016

One of the numerous joys of being your Associate, so close to Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), are the opportunities I have to share in your pastoral ministry as a “teaching church” for those the Church raises up as future leaders. It also affords me many opportunities to ‘give back’ to my seminary.

As I have been a priest now for more than three years, I am stepping in the realm of becoming a VTS Field Education supervisor working with seminarians. Pilar Padrón, a middler from the Diocese of Western New York, will join us January 31st for the next year and a half; I will be her supervisor. [We will share a profile regarding Pilar in an upcoming edition of The Almond Tree.

I had a positive field ed experience in NW Washington D.C. during seminary, and I look forward to enhancing my own leadership skills as part of this new work. Pilar is presently in the Holy Land with a VTS immersion group, but she is already giving thought and prayer to identifying her growing edges and learning goals to develop a Learning Covenant for her time here at Immanuel. I will be asking some of you to prayerfully consider if you might work directly with Pilar, and indirectly with me, on her Seminarian Lay Committee.

A blurb about working with seminarians from our website: “A lay committee is convened for each seminarian completing his/her field education during the academic year at Immanuel. The lay committee is established on an ad hoc basis and consists of five to seven members who are requested to serve by the clergy, as well as a representative from the Vestry. Essentially the purpose of the lay committee is twofold: to assist the seminarian in his or her development as a Christian minister; and to walk with the seminarian as fellow pilgrims and disciples, who share in common the joys and struggles of life and faith, growing and learning together.”

Please continue your thoughts, prayers and encouragement for our senior seminarians, Kyle Martindale and Rachel Shows, as they complete their field education experience with us, and be ready to welcome Pilar as she begins her learning and ministry among us. Pray for me also.

Blessings & Peace,
David+
 
 

ON OUR WAY DISCERNING:  THE EXPERIMENT CONTINUES

by the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector, December 10, 2015

As you know, we as a parish are engaged in a great experiment this year, one very few parishes ever have the challenge, or opportunity, of engaging; the discernment of how to worship in two places, in two homes. Our year-long, lived experiment of worshiping in both Immanuel and Zabriskie Chapels began in September. The first leg of the experiment involved all worship, education, and fellowship taking place on the grounds of the Seminary, with weekday worship and all other activities taking place at Zabriskie Chapel. We will begin the second leg of the experiment in January, with the following schedule:

8 AM--Holy Eucharist at Zabriskie Chapel

9:15-10:15 AM—Church School, in the classrooms, and Forum, in the Parish Hall, at Zabriskie Chapel

10:30 AM—Holy Eucharist at Immanuel Chapel (one large, combined Eucharist),

     with additional coffee and fellowship following, with Godly Play in the Gibbs Room

5PM—Potential Eucharist, beginning in February, jointly-sponsored with the Seminary

The goals of this leg of the experiment are many. First, the vast majority of us will beworshiping together, in a space where we can all fit, and where there is still room to grow. This larger attendance should also help our challenge with acoustics in Immanuel Chapel, which are also being studied and will be worked on for their improvement. Second, and perhaps most important, this experiment will allow a full hour for both Church School and our Forums, both of which have been squeezed regularly by the 9:15 Eucharist running late and taking their time. Third, there should also be more time, amidst a saner Sunday morning schedule, for fellowship and deepening of community. Fourth, we will have a larger, stronger choir, as we combine our 9:15 and 11:15 choirs, while still maintaining their unique identities. How will we do that? Those currently in the 11:15 choir will continue to rehearse on Thursday evenings and sing one of the anthems on Sunday morning. Those currently in the 9:15 choir will continue to rehearse before the Eucharist on Sunday mornings, and then sing another anthem. The whole choir will, of course, sing on the hymns and service music, but each sub-group will sing their own anthem, of different types of music, and rehearse separately.

In short, the goal of this second phase of the experiment is to capitalize on our expanded worship space and opportunities at Immanuel Chapel while also capitalizing and building upon our space for parish life activities (including our recently-renovated parish hall) at Zabriskie Chapel. The overall goal continues to be the same as I outlined in the original letter to the parish over a year ago: “First, I hope there will a deep sense of gratitude and wonder at this awesome and exceedingly rare opportunity our parish now faces. Second, may there be a sustained focus on what is best for the future of the parish and its growth, and how to serve God's plans and dreams for us in this time and place. Third, let us engage a generous and nimble spirit of adventure, of compromise, and of listening. We must rise to the occasion, drawing upon the best of our long and proud history as a parish, a history that pre-dates many of us who are now here.”

A survey will be available shortly, both online and in paper form, seeking to gauge what we have learned in this first leg of the experiment. Another survey will take place in late May, at the end of the second leg.

In all of this, as we try to discern and grasp hold of so many blessings and such potential, may God be praised, and as we all compromise, listen, and reflect, may our community be strengthened.

God bless you all,

Randy+

 

 

THE POWER OF PRAYER

by the Rev. David M. Crosby, Associate Rector, December 10, 2015

Long before I was ordained, I served as a pastoral/Eucharistic visitor and as a Stephen Minister. Being a member of and leader in a congregation meant I was invested in the life and people of that parish, and I wanted to know how everyone was doing. There were times where it was apparent that life was challenging and prayer was called for, so I offered to pray for any whom I knew, by name, intentionally.

Since being ordained and serving here at Immanuel, there have been times where clergy had not been informed of trials and tribulations some were experiencing. It might be afflictions to mind, body, or spirit. It can be most awkward and even embarrassing when someone thinks you know and you don’t. Because if you’re not told directly, how can we know? Bishop Susan Goff recently reminded the clergy at our semi-annual retreat, if something is shared with one bishop, they don‘t always think to inform the other two bishops. The same can be said for parish clergy. We try, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Then there are some who are eager to ensure others are being ministered to in a pastoral way by clergy, but do not or will not ask the same for themselves when and issue or problem should be visited upon them. That puzzles me. Why can we not minister to you in your time of need as you would have us minister to others in theirs? If I push back about the power of prayer for you yourself, I do it in love.

Approaching my anniversary of being ordained priest (Dec. 15, 2012), I review the vows I took in this sacred trust. In the Examination, I committed “… to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor,” and to “persevere in prayer, both in public and in private, asking God’s grace, both for yourself and for others, …”. I do this through personal prayer as well as at corporate Morning Prayer here in Zabriskie Chapel weekdays at 9:30 a.m.; using our weekly prayer list, the birthday list, our parish directory, and those needs of my own concern, please know you are loved and prayed for regularly.

Of later, I have sensed more of a turn to prayer, with more intentional requests for prayers, or being notified of events that might call for a pastoral response directly or indirectly. Some are celebratory, others are challenging. Please know that Fr. Randy and I are both here to be of help and service. Please know also that it is our custom here on the 3rd Sunday of the month, following services, to offer healing prayers for you or for others, with the laying on of hands and anointing with blessed oil.

If we can do nothing more, we can always pray with you and for you.

Blessings & Peace always,

David+

 

 

WHAT ARE YOU HEARING FROM THE PULPIT?

by the Rev. David M. Crosby, Associate Rector, November 19, 2015

Seldom is heard by a preacher at the door following worship, “That was a home run!”

Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology, Emory University in Atlanta, GA, was recently at Virginia Theological Seminary. I had the pleasure of hearing one of the most esteemed homiletics professors of this day lecture on “The Good Funeral and the Good Funeral Sermon” (a.m.) and (p.m.) “Preaching in More Than One Voice: Enchantment, Wisdom, and Disruption.” It was engaging, insightful, and helpful. As most preachers labor more over Sunday sermons rather than the occasional funeral homily, the afternoon lecture carried the day for me.

Dr. Long said a Narrative form of storytelling has been the primary mode for sermons for the last 50 years. Sermons began with a main idea, touch on three point (1, 2, 3) and then pointed to a conclusion. Stories would knit lessons that were read and heard to the presence of God acting in our lives, appealing to the minds and hearts of both the congregation and preacher (Note: If the Word preached doesn’t first speak to the one in the pulpit, it won’t reach anyone else!) Long suggests that there are 2-3 “voices” proclaiming the Good News that are now emerging in the homiletics arena of preaching. Sermons these days speak through Enchantment, Wisdom, and Disruption.

Biblical Wisdom draws primarily from the epistles in the New Testament. They are ‘letters from pastors to fragile communities’ on lessons to be encouraged or amended, if not altogether corrected, guiding people to better knowledge of God and stronger belief in Jesus. Enchantment brings the ‘language of transcendence’ into the process of storytelling--> teaching-->storytelling--> ethics to make relevant the Word of God to and for us in this time and place. And the third voice reminds us just how “disruptive” the Gospel truly is! The Good News of Jesus Christ comes “corrupting the corruption of the culture.” In that, I hear the constant challenge to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Listen, hear and know the ‘edginess‘ of the Gospels can be life-giving!

Tom Long is one of the most popular preachers in our country today. He confessed to having the occasional good or not so good preaching moment, feeling he’s more often ‘middle of the road.’ Hardly. I share this because the Holy Spirit and you continue to mold me as a preacher in our Church and for this parish, Immanuel. May we constantly seek that voice which God intends for each of us as proclaimers as we break scripture open together. May God be proclaimed always, in all ways!

 Let me hear what you hear from the pulpit. I’ll be listening at the door.

~ David+

 

 

STIMULUS OVERLOAD

by the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector, October 22, 2015

I was watching CNN some time ago, finding myself caught up in an interview. I realized I was getting more and more frustrated as I tried to watch the interview. The ticker with headlines was rolling at the bottom of the page. The time was displayed in another box, a shining CNN logo kept appearing, the current report on the market was displayed and then, infuriatingly, the interview I was watching became one of several boxes displayed at the same time. I cannot now remember even the subject of the interview! I sat there, stunned, as the stimuli bombarded me all at once. It seemed impossible to just focus on one story at a time, and it occurred to me that the stimulus overload is symbolic of our post-modern life.

We all are regularly bombarded by more stimuli than that to which we can possibly attend. A motto we have used with our boys is, “Be where you are,” meaning be in the moment, not always wanting to do the next thing. It seems harder and harder to hear the same voices, the centering voices. Where do we go for clarity, for truth? Thank God for the local church, where we hear central messages of truth, such as “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, to the end that those who believe in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Or, also from John, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). Or, “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).

I realize it is not only through the church that people can experience God, or even have a relationship with God, but there is power when we come together in the Name of Jesus. There is power and support when we worship together, when we engage in Christian formation and education together, and when we confront some of the hurts of the world, locally and globally, together.

A priest I very much respect, the Rev. Carol Anderson, often says that the local church is the hope of the world. The church is where we gather with all sorts of people to share our common journey as human beings loved by God. Now, in the time of our Stewardship Campaign, is a fitting time to give thanks for the vision and foresight of our ancestors who worked so hard to provide for our spiritual home, for a place where we can hear the clear, ageold, yet compelling message of the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ.

There is no way to avoid overwhelming stimuli in this life and, indeed, most of us are not called to be solitary contemplatives. But we need a place for quiet, for centering, for being reminded of our true identity and calling, as beloved children of God made for eternity. That happens at Immanuel; let’s each take our part to cultivate a rich community life as together we become better disciples of Jesus.

See you in Church
Randy+

 

IMMANUEL CHAPEL DEDICATORY YEAR

by the Rev. David M. Crosby, Associate Rector, October 22, 2015

Earlier this month, Immanuel Chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) was officially consecrated and dedicated. The VTS community has been using the chapel for their weekday worship life and our parish church of Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill has 'consecrated through use' that special space last Easter and since mid-September. The October 13th Consecration and Evensong was an opportunity to bring the whole Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion around the globe into that special act of setting space aside for the holy work of worship. The Consecration of Immanuel Chapel marks the end of one chapter in the history of VTS and begins another.

Now, to celebrate this wonderful structure and its myriad ways of being used, a Dedicatory Year of events is underway. Individual organ recitals will feature the Taylor and Booty organ; other concerts, community sings and a Messiah Sing-a-Long conducted by Dr. Mark Whitmire (Dec 13, 2015) will make the space ring out with music; and Fridays at the Seminary lecture events and seminars, Biblical Storytelling symposiums, and a special conversation (May 12, 2016) with then-former Presiding Bishops Katharine Jefferts Schori and Frank Griswold, will emphasize the chapel as a teaching laboratory for
seminarians, lay students and the community at large

Robert A. M. Stern, the architect of Immanuel Chapel, said in an address following the Evensong, "As the architect for the Immanuel Chapel, I feel blessed by the opportunity to celebrate and contribute to the physical expression of the mission of this great institution ... The design of a sacred space is one of the great privileges an architect could wish for, perhaps the greatest ... I hope our intent to build for the ages will be rewarded ... Immanuel Chapel reflects new and traditional forms of worship, and new ways of expressing community."

Commemorating this time will be a yearlong series of diverse and exciting opportunities. This Dedicatory Year’s events will include music, lectures, classes, and special services to highlight the year while featuring the building's versatility. You won’t want to miss it! A complete calendar of events culminating with Convocation in October 2016 can be found at http://www.vts.edu/chapel.

I hope to see you there!
David+

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO CONSECRATE?

by the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector, October 8, 2015

We are preparing for a fairly rare occurrence, the consecration of a new church building. A lot of planning, fundraising, building, and praying have gone into the process of building Immanuel Chapel. This week it will be consecrated to God’s glory. But what does that mean?

To consecrate something is to set it apart for a holy purpose, while asking God’s blessing upon it. The liturgy includes thanksgiving for all of those who have labored to get the community to the present moment, and prayers for the building’s future use to God’s glory and for the benefit of God’s people. It is an important moment for any Christian community, as a worship space is hallowed, set apart, and dedicated.

As important as that is, it is not only buildings we speak of as being consecrated. Each of us as believers, as baptized followers of Jesus Christ, is invited to cooperate with God’s grace in living, more and more, a life consecrated and set apart for God’s glory and for service to God’s people. We speak of the consecration of bishops, but really each Christian is called to a kind of consecration. We, most of us, fall off this path, or maybe even run from it, but the vision of the Gospel calls us to return home as God’s beloved children.

So, as we witness and participate in the consecration this week of one of our houses or worship in this parish, why don’t you take a few minutes to consider your own consecration? Who were the “architects” or your faith, those mentors who helped bring you to this point? Are there times when you dedicate an aspect of your work to God’s glory, or for God’s people? How does your call “set you apart” to be present to others? Where is there a healthy dose of thanksgiving for God’s grace and the other people in your life who have brought you thus far?

See you in Church,
Randy+

 

 

WHAT IT IS, WHERE IT IS, AND WHY

by the Rev. David M. Crosby, Associate Rector, October 8, 2015

In Zabriskie Chapel, how many have noticed the little white pedestal with wooden octagonal font holding a glass bowl insert with water in the Narthex? Do you remember seeing it? Have you ever used it? It is a baptismal font, found last year in the church attic over the parish hall and restored to be used.

From John N. Wall’s A Dictionary for Episcopalians: The font is “a large, free standing basin for the water of baptism. In traditionally arranged churches the font is near the west end of the building, near the entrance, to remind us that baptism is the rite of full entry into the church. The term may also be used for a holy water receptacle fixed to the wall at the entrance of
the church.”

In the Episcopal Church, Holy Baptism is a public part of our regular Sunday worship in every season but Lent. There are a number of times when baptism is especially appropriate: the Great Vigil of Easter, Pentecost, The Sunday of All Saints, and the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Earlier this year, we celebrated three baptisms at the Easter Vigil and during Eastertide. Recently, we welcomed Abigail Hsieh DeVight (granddaughter of Gary and Mei-Lung DeVight) into the household of God in a Baptism at our Wednesday night 6:30 p.m. Eucharist.

A taller ceremonial baptismal font with crystal bowl stands up front in Zabriskie Chapel to the right by the organ. And now that we have returned to The Holy Hill at Virginia Theological Seminary, Immanuel Chapel has a prominent wrought-iron stand with broad glass font filled with blessed water in the main processional aisle. Those fonts, used for baptisms (and sometimes at Confirmations), are oriented in relation to the pulpit/ambo (to the left in Zabriskie; to the right in Immanuel), and the Altar which is front and center. The three pieces of furniture represent our liturgical values in the waters of Baptism, The Holy Word of God (which is read and preached), and the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist, when we gather as The Body of Christ to be fed.

We use one font for ritual cleansing and symbolic dying to be raised in a new life with Christ at Baptism. If a second font is available in the narthex containing blessed water, it reminds of us of that cleansing, renewal, and being set apart in this life in Christ. We hope you’ve seen it, understand it, and will use it.

Peace,

David+

 

 

ASSOCIATE'S CORNER

by the Rev. David M. Crosby, Associate Rector, September 24, 2015

It’s an exciting time in the life of this parish church as we return to Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) to worship in the new Immanuel Chapel! We have begun the “all in” phase of Immanuel back at VTS with all Sunday worship, education/formation, and fellowship up on The Holy Hill.

As a VTS alum, it is always special for me to join in worship in and with that community. After the chapel fire in October 2010 which devastated the 1881 Immanuel Chapel, I experienced worship in several different ‘interim’ spaces. We have known and felt “God with us” in a number of settings, even as our ‘tent of meeting’ changed and moved.

As a student sacristan then at VTS, and even more now serving as your associate rector since July 2012, I consider Immanuel Chapel to “be the seminary’s chapel, but it is our church.” As stewards sharing space, you may want to know the
rhythm of worship in the seminary community. The mantra of VTS students, faculty and staff is “chapel, class, lunch”: to worship, learn and fellowship with one another regularly. Part of that community building and formation includes regular weekday (MF) worship which is open to any and all who wish to attend and participate:
· Morning Prayer (8:15-8:45 a.m.) in the largerchapel,
· midday Eucharist (12 Noon-1 p.m.) also inthe larger chapel, and
· Evening Prayer (5:15-5:45 p.m.), in the smallerside chapel, or Oratory/Octagon Room.

There are many other things which happen in Immanuel Chapel as part of the VTS curriculum: music classes, seminary choir rehearsals, arranged tours for friends of VTS, homiletics/preaching plenaries and classes, liturgics practicums for students,
occasional other gatherings, weddings/rehearsals, funerals, etc. While we worship there on Sundays, it is a central place for activity for Immanuel and VTS.

During this experiment, I regularly remind myself and will encourage all of us to have “open minds and gracious hearts.” This space is new to all of us. Your clergy do not have the benefit of knowing all that was
done before in past spaces and former times. We’re all learning together. Thanks be to God for this opportunity!

Peace,

David+

 

HOW DAVID TOOK, HOW JESUS TOOK, AND HOW WE ARE INVITED TO TAKE

by the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector, July 30, 2015

The Sunday readings at the end of July have featured the account of King David’s taking of another man’s wife and our Lord’s taking of a few meager loaves and fishes to feed a massive crowd. Not much, if anything, to connect those two, at least on the surface! But it occurred to me that both involved a kind of taking. David’s taking of Bathsheba is like the king of taking we expect in this world, where the most powerful win and the ends justify the means. His abuse of power, and trust, is not unlike that of any number of infamous characters. It is the kind of taking Saddam Hussein practiced in 1990, when he eyed oil-rich Kuwait and, sadly, it is the way women have been treated for far too much of human history.

This taking contrasts sharply with the way Jesus took those loaves and fishes. The first thing He did after taking them up was to give thanks for them, to bless them. This is a kind of mindful, thankful way of living that our world sorely needs. This is a crucially important way for the Christian to approach our environment, our relationships, our time, and our work. Jesus’ goal was to take what was given, and in receiving it mindfully and thankfully, to make more of it. That is just how He takes us!!

I am struck by the words we hear at the Altar: “Take this in remembrance that Christ died for you. . .”, and I am reminded that Eucharistic “taking” is really about receiving. It is driven home by the way we usually hold our hands when taking Communion, in the shape of a cross.

I wish you many of the blessings of the Summer season. One of those blessings, on occasion, is a bit more time to reflect on how we inhabit this world. How do we “take” our time? As a means to an end, and without much thought, as David did? Or mindfully, thankfully and intentionally, as Jesus did? The words of the hymn “Come, Labor On” come to mind: “Redeem the time, its hours too swiftly fly.”

How do we “take”?

See you in Church,

Randy

 

 

A MATURE CHRISTIAN

by The Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector, May 21, 2015

From time to time I try to browse the websites of other churches, both to see what they are up to and to gain new ideas
and perspectives. Recently I was reading the qualifications a parish expected of its candidates for Vestry. Prominently
on the list was the expectation that a candidate would be a mature Christian. I’ve been thinking about that off and on ever
since.

On the one hand, I was quite impressed by that. Much as I love our Anglican tradition, and I really do, I’m afraid our
tradition does not, in practice, encourage enough the growth into Christian maturity, the kind of which St. Paul was so
clearly speaking (1 Corinthians 13:11). I’m afraid, to put it simply, we have for too long and too often set the bar of
expectation too low. So it was refreshing to see spiritual maturity listed as an expectation and goal, especially for anyone
presuming to engage in lay leadership in the congregation.

And yet, on the other hand, I began wondering how I, or anyone else, would define Christian maturity? Where would I
begin? Where would you begin? Could I ever conceive of including myself in that category? If forced to define maturity
I would list regular attendance at worship and reception of the Sacraments, basic familiarity with the Biblical story
(particularly Christ’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection) and the ability to tell the essentials of the Christian story to
anyone who might ask, an ongoing life of prayer, some engagement with the poor and with outreach, and coming to
view the totality of one’s life in terms of being a child of God on a journey towards reunion with God and with other
people. Central to all of this, in my view, is the regular confessing of where we fall short. Does this cover much of what
that other parish had in mind in their requirements for a mature Christian? I have no idea.

But I am reminded of a very slippery slope here. It is not a great distance from holding up Christian maturity as a virtue
and goal towards which we are all striving to claiming that one is, in fact, mature, and looking down upon those who
have not yet ascended to that pinnacle. There is much room for abuse here, I would fear. I believe this may be why, at
least in our better moments, that our tradition has not stressed this maturity even as much as we should have. We are
historically wary of spiritual arrogance, of any position that says, “I have arrived!”

So we are left with a quandary – how do we hold up spiritual growth and maturity in Christ as an absolute necessity of
the Christian life and of being a disciple of Jesus Christ while not encouraging spiritual arrogance and also leaving plenty
of room for folks at all points on the journey?

Not too long ago I had the privilege of attending the funeral of someone I would consider to have been a mature
Christian. I believe some advice he always offered speaks well to this balancing act. Jim Fuller, whom I first came to
know when I was a Curate, regularly said anyone who had grasped the truth of the Gospel, of God’s unconditional love
and the message of Christ, should be like one beggar who tells another beggar where he has found bread. Amen, Jim,
and thank you. My hope and prayer is that kind of humility is what we are striving for at Immanuel – a humility that
leaves plenty of room for the doubter, and even the skeptic, while holding up growth in holiness, growth into the stature
of Christ, as the goal.

I firmly hope, pray, and believe that Jim is now experiencing a kind of maturity in the nearer presence of God that he
could never have experienced in this world. I thank him for his example and help along the way.

How many people might be grateful to you for your Christian witness and growth, especially if it is witnessed to in a
humble way that simply says, “Come and see!”?

See you in Church.

Randy+

 

 

THE HOLY-DAY IN THE HOLIDAY

by The Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector, December 11, 2014

Dear friends,

There is much that gets appended to Christmas that is not worthy of the name. However, at the core of Christmas there is holiness indeed. There is the ever-fresh reminder that the God of the universe became one of us, took on our flesh, lived our
life, ate, drank, slept, was sick from time to time, skinned his knees, cried, and ultimately died a death like ours. No other religion in the world can claim this. In fact, many hold it in derision. Since that Birth the world has never been the same.
Neither have we who have tried to grab hold of this breathtaking Truth.

The greetings that herald this season are varied: Merry Christmas, Happy Christmas, Season’s Greetings, etc., but more and more we only hear these days, “Happy Holidays.” Perhaps we need to be reminded of the roots of the word ‘holiday.’ The word simply comes from an amalgam of Holy-Day, which became ‘holiday.’ It follows that a holiday traditionally wasn’t simply a grand excuse for a party or giving gifts, but its essence was a Holy Day of observance.

Christmas at Immanuel is a wonderful time. It is a time of little shepherds and angels, of greenery, of glorious music from the choirs, the organ and other instruments, of candlelight, of sharing with those in need, of carols and fellowship, and the Christmas Eucharist, which is, indeed, the Christ-Mass.

There are many trappings of Christmas that can be a whole lot of fun. For them to be kept in proper perspective, though, the core needs to be firm. The core of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps more this year than usual, with fear, conflict, and tension swirling all around us, we as Christians need to be reminded of this central truth of our faith: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son” (John 3:16). Join us as we seek to let that Truth wash over us, and perhaps hear the angels sing.

Merry Christmas and a blessed Holy-Day, 

Randy+

 

 

WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT?

by The Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector, October 24, 2014

I hear this question a lot and I ask it—a lot. I struggle to answer it in prayer, with my family, in Church, and with my friends. It is a pivotal question, one that brings us up short, kind of taking our breath away. It is a question that becomes more obvious around what the ancient Celts called “thin” moments like birth, death, marriage, baptism, and graduation. Yet this question is usually crowded out by far more mundane questions, like what to have for dinner, where the children need to be, paying the credit card bill, pleasing the boss, getting the car inspected, you know, all of the the stuff we have to do.

Church is one of the settings where the question of what is really important gets a bit more traction, more of a hearing, and more of a possibility of real engagement. This engagement need not stop at the Church door, however. We can engage the question even as we go through the mundane tasks associated with living each day.

One of my favorite quotes from Jesus is, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Abundance can be defined in many different ways, but most of us could probably agree that an abundant life is one containing a good measure of peace, of centeredness, of care in one’s treatment of other people and one’s own body. Our culture may have us believe that abundance is defined by possessions, but in our hearts we know that isn’t right. The abundance Jesus offers consists of forgiveness, deliverance from fear, a new relationship with God and a new relationship with our fellow human beings. It begins now, every day, and it transcends even death itself. THAT is what’s important. Jesus boils all of this down in the great Summary of the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 222:37-40).

The clue to what is really important lies in the ways we relate to God and the ways we treat other people. That’s all, and at the same time that’s everything, because so much is involved in both of those aspects of our lives as to be mind-blowing. Such a simple premise! We should be able to grasp it easily and act upon it. Yet we neglect asking what is really important to focus our energy elsewhere, to our great peril, and to our own impoverishment.

Join us at Immanuel in engaging in the abundant life—through our relationship with God and through the ways we are called to treat other people--every day—not just in Church on Sunday.

See you in Church,

Randy+

 

 

THE SEVEN-DAY-A-WEEK CHURCH

By the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector, September 25, 2014

I admire some of the goals and role of a Cathedral in a medieval city. A lot of community life revolved around the space. Even for those who might not have attended Church services, at least not very often, they still came to the Cathedral for community activities and major events. 

You may have noticed that there is more and more activity around Zabriskie Chapel. This is due both to parish events and the events of outside groups that meet in our facilities. This is a little extension of the same medieval principle.

First, our own events are many and varied. In addition to all of our activities on Sunday, each weekday morning we offer Morning Prayer, a quiet, centered way to start the day with prayer and Scripture (see description on page 3). On Wednesday evenings there is a Eucharist at 6:30, followed by Bible Study. We are considering adding another weekday Eucharist soon. In the Spring we had a four-week session of the School for the Spirit, which met on Wednesday evenings for dinner and several different classes. The Early Christians meet (early) on Wednesday mornings, continuing their decades-long tradition of reading and discussing books touching on Theology. The growing Benedictine Group meets monthly. There is choir practice Thursday night, and regular committee meetings almost every week. Of course, the Pumpkin Patch will also be starting up soon, which will run every day for a month. Our dedicated staff arrives every day to orchestrate, plan, and manage the many facets of parish life. The Vestry meets monthly to oversee our finances, property, and general mission and ministry. Volunteers come in to help stuff bulletins and newsletters, and I'm sure I am forgetting much more.

Second, the many groups that meet here keep the place hopping. Our new Valley Drive Cooperative Preschool is here every weekday. The Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra rehearses on Sunday evenings in the Parish Hall. Alcoholics Anonymous meets on Friday evenings. A Muslim community meets for Friday prayers in  the Parish Hall. A Dignity chapter, for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Roman Catholics, meets in the Chapel for Eucharist on Saturday evenings. A fitness group affiliated with the INOVA Health System meets in the Parish Hall. Other groups meet here, as well, including garden clubs, Girl Scouts, and the Seminary Hill Neighborhood Association. There are also occasional Yoga classes, led by our own Denise Freeland, and yet another outside fitness group.

Above it all rises the steeple, topped by the Cross, which is so fitting. Named explicitly or not, everything that we do is aimed towards the glory of God in Christ, and for the healing and up building of God's beloved people. Sometimes a lot goes on right under our noses! Imagine what we can do when the new Chapel is completed. . . .but let us never forget this guiding Scripture: "Unless The Lord builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it" (Psalm 127:1).

See you in Church,

Randy+

 

 

WHAT DO THE GOOD THINGS I AM ALREADY DOING HAVE TO DO WITH MY FAITH?

By the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Rector, April 24, 2014

I am regularly impressed by the wealth of good being accomplished in the world by the people of Immanuel. We have volunteers of many stripes: coaches, folks working in homeless shelters, delivering meals for meals-on-wheels, serving as board members of local charities, working on political advocacy, and the list could go on and on. A lot of people are doing a lot of good in a lot of directions. Yet it is not unusual to hear from people they have never connected in their own minds the good they are doing with their Christian faith. They are doing good just because it is the right thing to do. I wonder if we are missing a real spiritual opportunity here. . . . .

I am convinced that the Christian life to which we are called is far larger than we regularly imagine. It is not limited to what we do within the walls of the church building—far from it. In fact, the life-changing worship in which we engage within the church building, or anywhere else for that matter, is meant to fortify us to live as Christians in the world, in all times and in all places. Theology and spirituality are not separate from most of our lives, but front and center in all that we do—how we treat people, what we value, how we define ourselves, how we disagree, how we shape priorities, how we respond to anyone hurting or in need, how we tend our relationships. In other words, all of life is a laboratory for the Gospel.

It seems intentionality is the key. Invoking God’s presence and naming some good we are doing in the world as an expression of our love for God and God’s people can place even a mundane activity on a much higher plane. St. Paul tells us, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

I recommend a slim volume for your consideration, a classic of Christian devotion: The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, a man who lived in the 17th century. Lawrence served as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris, not having the education required to become a priest. Yet he became known for the profound peace he exuded, and many sought him out for counsel. His goal was to see God in everything that he did, even work in the kitchen or mending the brothers’’ sandals. Lawrence writes, “Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself in the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?”

Lawrence concludes, famously: “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”

I also find this quote from Brother Lawrence deeply moving: “Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . .We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

Spirituality is the lived experience of the presence of God. Isn’t that our calling?

See you in Church,

Randy+

 

 

REST IN RETREAT

By The Rev. David M. Crosby, Assistant Rector, March 26, 2014
 
This past week, I took time away from Immanuel to retreat at Richmond Hill, an ecumenical Christian residential facility, for rest, fellowship, and to dedicate time to a personal project. It has been a special place for me since I entered into this ‘late vocation’ of ordained ministry. The Discernment Retreat I attended to better understand the diocesan process leading up to ordination was held there. My seminary class (VTS’12) made our 1st year retreat to Richmond Hill.

One aspect of Richmond Hill that deeply resonates with me is the resident community which supports the mission and ministry of this historic monastic setting; a VTS classmate is one of their Associate Pastors. Their primary work is “to seek God’s healing of Metropolitan Richmond through prayer, hospitality, racial reconciliation and spiritual development.” Richmond Hill offers a regular cycle ofintercessory prayer (morning, noon, and evening) during the week over the Commonwealth’s capital city. Over the Altar in the chapel, Psalm 127:1 adorns the wall, “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman keeps vigil in vain.”

A retreat is commonly a ‘period of days spent away from ordinary routine, frequently in silence, and occupied in meditation and rest.’ Richmond Hill invites guests to join in their community worship, which could also include talks, reflections, and meetings or working individually with a spiritual director. Retreats are not uncommon to Immanuel. The newly-elected vestry makes retreat the weekend following the Annual Meeting. Some have experienced retreats during Advent and/or Lent at the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, VA. In fact, our annual Shrine Mont gathering of the parish at Shrine Mont is a less-formal, loosely-structured retreat.

I walked the labyrinth called The Jerusalem Mile that looks out over the metropolitan Richmond skyline (I was glad to have that time and space for myself). I listened to music while lying on my bed to relax and read in my room. I climbed to the cupola of the Adams-Taylor House, the highest vantage point, to contemplate the history and serenity of the place. My project work was accomplished between my room and that wonderful
cupola space. I joined those gathered there for prayer in the Chapel before meals in the Refectory. I left Richmond refreshed and renewed.

Consider a personal retreat. Step away from your ordinary work of life into a refreshing time of prayer, rest, and fellowship. Please give a thought to visiting Richmond Hill for yourself.

Peace & Cheers,
David+

 

 

ALL PATHS EQUAL?? THE UNIQUENESS OF JESUS CHRIST

By The Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Rector  March 14, 2014

One of the thorniest questions post-modern believers face is the relationship between Christianity and other world religions. Indeed, some Christians believe all paths are essentially equal, leading to God, while other Christians believe there is nothing worthwhile in any other tradition. People ask this question in many ways, and I have already heard it in various shades at Immanuel. I would like to offer how I approach this question. In fact, our answering of this question puts us in the same shoes of St. Peter, when our Lord asked him, "Who do people say that I am?" (Luke 9:18).

I believe, as a Christian, that Jesus Christ was and is the fullest expression of God that this world has ever received, or ever will receive. That is why I am a Christian; otherwise I might be something else, or nothing. God became one of us, "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). That being said, I also believe there is truth and beauty in other world religions, truth from which we can learn. Even if we believe Christ's coming to be the fullest expression of God among us, there is no place for arrogance or disrespect. Indeed, we are called to greet others humbly, to listen and learn from them as they share their stories, even as we share ours. Instead of reducing our faith and belief to the lowest common denominator, when others share fully of what they believe we can do the same, and greet one another with respect.

The Anglican tradition equips us very well for this sort of posture. We are heirs of the ancient catholic, apostolic, orthodox faith, while also stressing and being open to the ongoing role of the Holy Spirit. We also stress how God speaks to us through our own reason. This continuing revelation occurs even within our fellowship at Immanuel, especially as we share our stories, opinions, and perspectives, and as we are open to God's leading. I look forward to continuing that journey with you.

See you in Church,
Randy

 

 

Being a Christian across the Life Cycle

By The Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Rector  February 21, 2014

New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward
Who would keep abreast of truth.

This phrase from the old hymn “Once to Every Man and Nation” by James Russell Lowell, says it so well--there are different lessons we must learn at different times in our lives, and there are different aspects of the Christian faith that speak uniquely to those different stages and lessons. A great parish church needs to acknowledge and celebrate this reality, and to provide resources and support for the whole journey of life as we "grow into the full stature of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).

Honoring and expanding upon this truth, the Vestry recently did away with the former Growth and Education area of stewardship, substituting three areas in its place. They are: Children, Youth, and Families; Adult Formation and Discipleship; and Senior Ministry. We will be focusing more on several different aspects of the life cycle, not just one.

In the Senior Ministry area we will be looking at ways we can assist any seniors in the parish who might need rides to doctor's appointments or elsewhere, who might need a visit, as well as programming relating to retirement, financial planning, and estate and funeral planning. Opportunities for fellowship will be explored, as well. Martha Manson is the new Vestry steward in this area. Please contact her if you would like to be part of this deepened focus. 

For children and youth we will see increased attention upon Church School teacher training, more activities and formation for youth, more of our children and youth serving in our parish liturgies and, hopefully, a return to mission trips. We are also in the process of defining a job description that will lead to calling a part-time staff person in this area.

Adult Formation and Discipleship will feature forums, retreats, classes and series largely asking how we grow and mature as followers of Jesus Christ in our postmodern society. It is not simply Adult Education, but it is really Formation, as we acknowledge how we are being shaped and formed by our experiences, our reflection, our prayer, even our failures and fresh starts. Our goal is to have offerings that speak to many different kinds of learners, across many different kinds of settings.

The Christian goal, across the life cycle, is the regular asking, in community, of what God would have us do, now. One of the great blessings of a parish church is that we don’t have to ask these questions alone, nor do we have to remain only with those of our own age. In church we are placed squarely in the midst of every age and condition. Let's mine that that richness for all that it's worth!  Let’s learn more about God and ourselves in the process.

See you in Church,
Randy

 

Unplug the Christmas Machine

By the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Rector, December 4, 2013

This is the shocking title of a book by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli. In it the authors fire a broadside attack upon the machine the secular world has made of one of our most sacred Christian holidays.

Christmas is about God loving us so much that He gave His Son to become one of us (see John 3:16) . It is not centrally about trees, or presents, or a snowy evening, or even family. All those things can be nice additions, but we live in a culture that relentlessly worships those additions and ignores the true miracle of Christmas, the Incarnation. What are some concrete things we as Christians, and members of Immanuel, can do?

Spend some time pinching your own skin—just above the elbow should be fine. Now imagine God, the God of the Universe, wearing flesh just like yours, walking about on this planet. Go further: imagine Jesus with acne, or pulling a tooth, or having an upset stomach. Pursue it as far as you are able. That is the miracle of the Incarnation.

Stick with Advent while it is Advent. The Sundays and weekdays of the season of Advent are a real counter-cultural gift from the Church—a time with a 3-fold message of waiting, watching, and remembering: Christ’s first Advent as a Babe in Bethlehem, His second coming at the end of the age, and paying attention to how Christ is coming to each of us now, in our daily lives.

Send Christian Christmas cards whenever possible—cards with a picture of the Holy Family, the Christ Child, or a Scripture quotation. You may notice these cards are getting harder to find.

Practice saying “Merry Christmas,” at least to Christian friends, instead of the banal “Happy Holidays.” I always wonder which holiday someone has in mind, and have even been known to ask.

Take time to breathe. Listen for the angels. Watch a child’s face light up and imagine the collective face of humanity alight and aglow at the gift of the Christ Child, God Incarnate.

As much as possible, resist the tyranny of the “should”—I should match this gift, I should bake this. . .Leave room for what truly matters, and some room for yourself alone.

Just so that I don’t sound too much like Andy Rooney at his curmudgeonly best, let me say that I love Christmas, through and through In fact, I find I love it even more as I remember what, and Whom, the Christ-Mass is really all about. That is my goal this Advent and Christmas at Immanuel, and I get to share it with all of you wonderful folk. 

Here is a question I want to ask this Advent, and I offer it to you: Where is God seeking to do a new thing in your life? In what stable of your life is Jesus seeking to be born? Asking these kinds of questions can help bring us back to that ancient manger in new ways as followers of that most blessed Babe.

See you in Church, and a blessed Advent,
Randy 

 

Be Kind 

By The Rev. David M. Crosby, Assistant Rector,  November 13, 2013

Recently at 1823 (The Café at Virginia Seminary), a group was exploring definitions of Standards of Righteousness when they came to this: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is a law and the prophets” (Matthew 7: 12). This is “The Golden Rule,” the rule of all rules. It is found in most major religions of the world. Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Confucianism all have some form of this saying, but most state it differently: If you know how you don’t want to be treated, then you know how others don’t want to be treated. This is sometimes referred to as “the Silver Rule.” 

The version Jesus offers seems more open-minded and challenging. It speaks from a position of compassion and care extended to one another rather than that which may inevitably require some apology, seeking of forgiveness and ultimately, hopefully, gaining reconciliation. We promote forgiveness and reconciliation, but starting from goodness, from Love, knowing how we hope to be treated, and letting that guide us in our treatment of others seems the better course. But it requires understanding on our part about how we wish to be treated. 

Beginning in 2006, I spent much time in prayer, quiet reflection, and active writing to respond to the question of call for my church. It was lots of time with trusted people, caring others, and some strangers to share who and what I am, and what I offer in continuing service to God. When the Committee on Priesthood recommended me to the Bishop, they wrote the following: “Kindness is one of his essential attributes. He is definitely a pastor – and will always be one.” That, in a word, is basically my answer to this reflection about the Golden Rule. That is how I want to be treated. That is how I hope I treat others. 

Kindness abounds in my life, and I am blessed because of it. Chrissie, the Heart Of My Heart, is one daily personification of Kindness in my life. Much of what any of you may see in me as kind has been cultivated from this wonderful woman who shares her life with me. My families, the immediate one which bore me, the extended one which accepted me, earlier parish families and now here at Immanuel, demonstrate regular instances of kindness to me and for others. These examples of Kindness guide me, helping me to see how I wish to be treated, and informing me about how to treat others. There were many before them, and through God’s Grace, there will surely be more to come after them. 

Kindness. It is a quality of being warmhearted, considerate, humane, and sympathetic. All these things point to kindness as one of the characteristics, or attributes, of God. We were made in the image of God. The great kindness of God is never-ending. Strive always to love like God. 

One of my favorite casual shirts says, “Human kindness. Be both!” 

Blessings & Peace,
David

 

QUESTIONS FROM A SERMON

By the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Rector, November 13, 2013

I received several requests to print the following series of questions that I posed as part of our observance of All Saints’ Day. I was asking the question where we would look if asking whether we were growing in our Christian faith, what some metrics might be. I offer you these few questions which I have put together. I make no claim that they are complete. They are meant to help us all ask some more questions, and I look forward to asking them together.
 
1) Do you attend? Do you gather regularly with God's people in order to worship? Woody Allen said, "99% of life is just showing up." Much of the same could be said about Church. Do you come to be nourished by the Word, by the Sacraments, and by our fellowship together? 

2) Do you try to learn more? Is study of the Bible, Church History, ethics, the role of the Church in the world today, etc. part of your life? This might include keeping up with current events and trying to understand them in light of our faith. 

3) When a skeptic or a genuine seeker asks, can you defend, explain, and commend your faith? What would you say? If you have no idea how you would do this, I would say that is a challenge--not an insurmountable one, but something for you to work on. There is incredible spiritual hunger in our time, and if the people of God remain meek and silent how are the seekers to learn? 

4) Do you give, of all that you are--of your time, talent and money? We are in Stewardship season now, but this is a question well beyond any one season. It is a question of lifestyle. 

5) Do you reject the ways in which the world tries to define you? As you leave these doors, the world will evaluate you by how young or how old you are, how much money you have, your tax bracket, where you live, what degrees you have, what you do, or even how many children you have. The Christian message is radically different. Even though it is often difficult, especially in this culture, the Christian is always encouraged to remember and to proclaim, "I am a child of God." Everything else flows from that. This is our primary identity. 

6) Do you treat people with more patience, love, and genuine understanding, even in the midst of disagreement and disapproval of certain behaviors? The goal seems to be to treat people as ends, not as means to an end. Imagine walking in their shoes for a day, or even an hour, and see how that changes things. Another way to say this is, as our Lord said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." 

7) Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? You might expect this phrase to come from a fundamentalist preacher or a TV evangelist, but I don't think we can let them have a monopoly on it. I am not extolling personal relationship at the expense of community. I am talking about individually appropriating what we do together, such as asking, "How does this story relate to my life? What does God mean to me?" In the midst of that relationship with God we are invited to express joy, awe, reverence, anger, pain, and to intercede for others; in short, we are to pray. 

8) Do you work actively to alleviate the suffering of God's people and to change systems which dehumanize and enslave God's people? Jesus said, "Whatever you have done to the least of these you have done to me." This is Outreach, very much in the DNA of this parish. 

9) Do you pursue personal health and growth--physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, financially, relationally? This may include therapy, spiritual direction, time alone, etc. This is stewardship of what we have been given. It is taking time to notice. John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while you are making plans." Thoreau said, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Taking time out to notice, to appreciate, to give thanks, and to share is a powerful antidote to this desperation.
 
 A summary question might be, "Do you more and more see your whole life as defined by and caught up in God's greater plan?" In other words, is God what makes it all make sense? I realize we are all on a journey, and like  the stock market there are highs and there are lows. But we can plot an average projection. Is that projection headed in the right way, in a God-ward way? 

Two Caveats here: I am not talking about works' righteousness or trying to make God love you or trying to earn your salvation. Those are already in place, through God’s grace. What I am talking about is growing in grace, growing more like Christ, growing more into who and what we can be and are meant to be. 

The question is never, "Am I perfect?", but "Am I growing?" As long as we are alive there is always room to change and room to grow. An amazing aspect of the Christian tradition is the invitation to enter ever deeper into the mystery and love of God, to grow and grow--to seek. To grow not in hopes of any reward, save knowing Christ better, and knowing ourselves better. As the old saying goes, "All this and Heaven too."

 

A Church that Asks Nothing

By the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Rector, October 23, 2013

Dear Friends,

Imagine the following: a Church with no staff, no outreach to those in need, no education or formation for
children, youth, or adults, no pastoral care of its people, and no buildings or property to maintain. Nothing much is
asked of its members, except for showing up occasionally.

If I found myself leading such a Church (and I would be hard-pressed to call it a Church!), I would still have to say
that, as Christians, we would all need to give. We would need to remember that we are surrounded by God’s
incredible and lavish blessings, the gift and mystery of life itself being the supreme example.

Immanuel is not like the fictional Church I mention above—far from it, thank God!! I believe God is, and has long
been, up to something powerful in the amazing group of folk who meet for worship at the corner of Seminary Road
and Quaker Lane. We are a rich tapestry, and the community in which we live needs the strong witness of this
historic and beloved Church. For God’s mission to be advanced further we all must give; prayerfully, deliberately,
and yes, joyfully.

Christian Stewardship begins with the basic recognition of our dependence of God, not with budgets or pledge
campaigns or telemarketing or pressure tactics. It begins in the individual heart of the believer, choosing prayerfully
and deliberately to give, out of thanksgiving for what God has already given us. This giving comes from all that we
have and all that we ever hope to be, and it includes our time, our talents, and our treasure. It is a radically different
posture towards money and material things than our culture teaches us. Sometimes it even seems to go against
human nature!

The second part of giving, of course, is deciding prayerfully and deliberately where the money or the time or the
talents will be directed. Many opportunities present themselves for the Christian. Indeed, there are many charities
that advance God’s aims in the world through their work. However, there is only one institution, the Church,
which has the central mandate of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and working towards the restoration of
relationship of all people with God and with one another. Our Lord said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all
these other things will be added unto you, as well” (Matthew 6:33).

The annual pledge drive is a wonderful opportunity to take inventory of what we have been given, and in what ways
we are called to give back. I have no reservation whatsoever in asking you to give prayerfully, deliberately, and
joyfully towards the health and growth of our parish. A helpful, annual, spiritual exercise is to add up all of one’s
income, then all that one gives away, and then figure the resulting percentage. A further exercise is to find the
percentage of giving to the Church out of the overall giving. If that percentage is not what you think it should be,
or not the amount towards which you think God is calling you, a time-honored approach towards growth in
Stewardship is to raise that percentage each year. 

Commitment Sunday will be November 10th.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

See you in Church,
Randy

 

Lead with Good Will

By the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Rector, October 9, 2013

People tell me regularly of the challenges they face when trying to live, in the real world, the Christian values we talk about so much in Church (although I always contend that Church is part of the real world!).  We all know that there are treacherous people out there, people who will stab us in the back the first chance they get, people who are only concerned about money, or power, or moving up the corporate ladder.  Thus it has always been and, alas, in this fallen world thus it shall always be.  So how do we live as Christ’s people in the world, while still acknowledging this reality? In fact, how do we practice the life to which Christ calls us, even in Parish life?

For some time now the phrase “lead with good will” has come to mind for me.  Let me unpack that a little.  To lead with good will means that, until proven or forced to believe otherwise, we believe the best about someone else and their intentions. It seems to me we are especially called to live this way as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are to assume, even when we disagree about something, that our brother or sister is acting on the best of intentions, doing their best, and desiring the best for the Church.  This kind of assumption of good will seems glaringly absent in our current political life, especially in this current state of government shut-down.  Yet assuming that good will is operative isn’t always true, even in Church life, so there are times when we have to adjust and change our initial assumption.  But can we begin anywhere else as Christians?

I think of these words from St. Paul: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).  Now, I say this not out of any sort of perceived lack of civility and good will at Immanuel.  In fact, thank God, this Parish, on the whole, displays a remarkable amount of good will towards one another.  Yet we are all fallible, and we can so easily bring the defensive way we have to be on occasion out in the world into our Parish life. What I am suggesting is a constant, all-encompassing Christian approach to dealing with others:  leading with good will, until forced to do otherwise.  This approach seems consistent with Jesus’ own advice on how to be in the world:  “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  He did not deny the reality of the fallen human condition, but He also emphasized that His followers were called to more and to better.  Church is a laboratory where we practice this new life.

See you in the Laboratory,

Randy

 

Discipleship 101: Walking the Walk

By the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Rector, September 25, 2013

It’s easy to admire Jesus. He clearly was smart, He could think on His feet, He was not intimidated by
authority figures and He didn’t mind shaking things up. He brought an incisiveness to His ethical teachings that
speaks to people the world over, whether or not they are Christians. He defied social customs in treating women
with respect, in welcoming children as full human beings, and in eating with sinners and tax collectors. He had a
depth of empathy for the poor that is hard to overstate. In short, the more one learns about Jesus, even if one is
not a believer, the more one realizes what a revolutionary He was. His life and teachings have probably affected our
world more than that of any other person who has ever lived.

Yet as Christians we take it a lot further. We don’t just like and respect Jesus, we worship Him as the
definitive intersection of God with humanity, as God taking on human flesh, living our life, even dying our death, at
our hands. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”...”and the Word
became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth” (John 1). The New Testament tells us there will come a
time when all humanity will worship Jesus: “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and
under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”
(Philippians 2:10-11). You may notice that some of us bow our heads slightly in the Liturgy when the name of Jesus
is mentioned. It is a simple way of showing respect. Likewise, one tradition is to bow slightly during the section of
the Nicene Creed that speaks of the Incarnation (“by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the
Virgin Mary, and was made man”). Only Christians claim this, and it is a claim scoffed at by many other world
religions as they reject even the possibility that God could become one of us. We believe God is as close as our
next breath, as the touch of our neighbor, as the consecrated bread and wine of Communion, as the saint dying
while knowing that Jesus has already traveled that road.

Still, we are called to a lot more than liking and even worshiping Jesus. We are called to follow Him, to
pattern our lives after His example. Jesus boils all of this down in the great Summary of the Law: “You shall love
the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first
commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments
hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

It should be quickly obvious that we cannot follow someone unless we know quite a bit about him or her. I
am deeply moved by two of my heroes, Robert E. Lee and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (I know, they are
seemingly contradictory heroes, but not so much when we learn more about their character and example). I have
benefitted and grown from reading about their lives and struggles, their beliefs and practices, and reading some of
their original speeches, sermons and orders. Let’s be clear – I don’t worship them, but I view them as examples,
much like my son William views Derek Jeter. So isn’t it exceedingly more incumbent upon me, and all who call
ourselves Christians, to learn about the life, example and teachings of Jesus? There is no way we can pattern our lives after Jesus unless we know about Him. Admiring, worshiping, following – this is discipleship, and it is a call to spiritual
maturity. This is the goal of Church School, of Confirmation Class, of youth ministry, of sermons, of Bible Study,
and of prayer.

It seems clear to me that Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill has a deep heritage of being clear in its focus on
forming mature disciples of Jesus Christ, believers who live an infectious faith and who serve as role models to others who are newer to the faith. This does not mean perfect followers, Lord knows, but followers who hold the
vision of intentionally following Jesus. Let us look for more opportunities to grow in discipleship this year as we
grow together.

With you in it,
Randy+

 

DON'T GO TO CHURCH...BE THE CHURCH

By the Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Rector, September 11, 2013

 I once read about a Church youth group that had the above slogan emblazoned on t-shirts. It made quite an impact
in their town as these youth made a spot-on, absolutely core Christian point: Church is not a place to which we go,
let alone a building; it is wherever and whenever the people of God gather.

The word “Church” comes from the Greek ecclesia (root of the word ecclesiastical), meaning “called out”, a people
called out from the world, or an assembly. Whenever and wherever Jesus’ followers gather the Church is present.
So what’s the point? Why did those kids make those t-shirts? Well, the point is this: If we view Church as just a
place to go, and then leave, it is a much more passive notion of the whole enterprise. It generally follows from this
model that the laity are the “consumers” who are there to be fed by the Clergy and staff. It is also far too easy to
infer that the life of faith is confined to the walls of the church building, with little relevance to the rest of life, (read
“real” life).

Contrast this to a picture from the early Church (notice the use of capital “C” when talking about the gathered
assembly). From the book of Acts in the New Testament we read: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’
teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many
wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in
common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day,
attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous
hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:41-47a).

We see here a supremely dedicated group who supported one another, shared what they had, and worshipped,
prayed and learned together. Through severe persecution and beyond, that little group changed the world, and they
changed history. I often wonder what they make of some of the ways in which that exciting movement they were
part of has been institutionalized and domesticated. Even more to the point, what does Jesus make of it?

Now, as someone once said, “Don’t hear what I’m not saying.” I’m obviously not saying the Church shouldn’t be
an institution, or organized. Any time you have more than one person worshipping together you have organized
religion. I am also not belittling consecrated, sacred space, hallowed by gatherings of God’s people. What I am
saying, and what those kids were saying, is that we must never lose sight of the vision of the Church as a living,
organic fellowship of all kinds of Jesus’ people, all striving to grow in the faith and to support one another. Our
people were first called “Christians” in Antioch, because of the love others observed they had for one another.
Love for the Lord and for one another, worshipping together, having open and generous hearts, growing in the
faith--these are all ways to be “Church.” May that kind of life be our goal at Immanuel, as I know it has been for so
much of the parish’s history. As we live this way those around us will take notice; a lost, hurting, searching world will take
notice.

See you in Church,
Randy+

 

Letter to the Parish

By The Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Rector, August 14, 2013

Dear Members of Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill,

I am humbled and honored, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart, for the call to serve as your next Rector.  I look forward to learning your story as a community, and your individual stories as children of God. 

I am blessed to be married to the Rev. Patricia Phaneuf Alexander, and I am further blessed, with her, to be the parents of William, Peter, and Andrew. 

I am a native of Virginia, from the small town of Rural Retreat in the southwestern part of the state.  My life and ministry has taken me far from that little town, serving in New York, Baltimore, and London. But so much of who I am comes from the solid foundation in life and the faith that I inherited there.  I have been specially blessed for the past 12 1/2 years to serve as Rector of Christ Church, Pelham, NY, in Westchester County, right outside New York City. 

A favorite image of mine for the ministry we share as Christians comes from a friend and mentor who died recently.  He said regularly that even the most sincere Christian should always be like one beggar who is eager to show other beggars where he or she has found bread.  There is no room for self-satisfaction or a sense of having arrived; rather, we are on a journey of grace.

I hope and pray that is the spirit in which we, together, will seek to follow our Lord Jesus Christ. The saints and martyrs, both named and unnamed, remind us that we are called to this exciting journey, one that always reaches out and points beyond us to God's hurting, yet wonderful, world. 

May we support one another and grow in grace together.  I humbly ask your prayers for me and for our family, and for all of Immanuel Church on the Hill, during our time of transition.


The Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr.

 

"Grace and Gratitude"

By The Rev. David Crosby, Assistant Rector, July 21, 2013

Dear Immanuel Family,

This past year, I learned that Grace & Gratitude is a powerful expression of thanksgiving here at Immanuel Churchon-the-Hill. We regularly give thanks for the many gifts shared through Self, Service, and/or Substance. This is my
open letter of grace and gratitude to you for the many ways you have welcomed me and Chrissie into ICOH, and
have begun to shape and form me in my first year of ordained ministry.

I was blessed to come into this place with Mary Sulerud as my clergy mentor; a friend for over 25 years, we shared
liturgical groundings that helped us ‘dance with one another.’ It proved extremely helpful as my start date bumped
forward two weeks so I could be here with her before Mary took time away. You may recall Chrissie and I moved
into the rectory as I began with you. Definitely a time of ‘out of the pan, into the fire’, but it has been all good and
very exciting!

My first year was about initiation, questions, and experience which started the process of discovery, understanding,
and integration. Some have wondered about my role. During the interim, I functioned as a generalist to observe the
overall rhythm, life and flow of this parish. I was a ‘jack of all trades, master of none.’Even before our vocational
deacon Linda Murphy left, I was cast into pastoral care matters which have always been a passion of my own
ministry. Anticipating Father Randy’s arrival, I pledge him my support to follow his lead, will offer input when
asked or needed, and expect to share some things and ‘divide and conquer’ on others.

How fortunate I was to have five months post-ordination as a deacon to get my bearings as a new kind of liturgical
minister. The last seven+ months as priest have filled me with such delight and great joy! If I ever doubted the
Lord’s wisdom to call me, I have received affirmations, one after another, as I continue to grow into a new
sacramental agent working for the Kingdom of God here on earth. Celebrating the first time as priest in December
was memorable, presenting three young confirmands to the Bishop was exciting, offering a full and different Holy
Week observance was a great honor, and my first baptisms at Easter filled me with such elation!

I am so grateful for the many ministers in our congregation, lay and ordained. I revel in moments where people
recognize us, perhaps not by name, but in ministry as “the pumpkin church.” I am working to enhance and
strengthen our relationship with Virginia Theological Seminary and the City of Alexandria. It will be exciting to
share new ministry with Randy Alexander.

 This past year, Immanuel has exhibited an overwhelming ‘Christ-like’ love through active engagement of one
another as Christian community in action. I am excited to grow more in my ministry to and with you as we work
together in our shared journey of faith. Thank you for a most amazing first year with and among you.

Peace & Cheers,
David

 

"MARK YOUR CALENDARS"

By The Rev. David Crosby, Assistant RectorJuly 17, 2013
 

The Groundbreaking for the new Immanuel Chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary will be on Holy Cross Day; Saturday, September 14, 2013 at 11:00 a.m. Representatives of the parish, including our new rector, The Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr.; a church member and a parish child, representing the continuity and future of our congregation; as well as some of our acolytes, will play a part in this liturgy. It is expected the construction phase for the new chapel will be approximately 18 months and should be completed by summer 2015.

The 1881 Immanuel Chapel ruin will be dedicated as a Memorial Garden able to host outdoor worship services and to receive the burial of ashes; that liturgy will be Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 11:30 a.m. As this will occur during convocation at VTS, it is expected a large contingent of faculty emeriti, former VTS staff and seminary alumni will be present for this occasion. 

Finally, Doug John and I are part of a committee exploring a variety of events to celebrate the new chapel throughout 2015-2016; we have suggested a Messiah Sing-a-Long with choirs from Region IV churches in December 2015, and are invited to work with VTS on a Summer Arts Festival in June 2016.  We welcome and encourage you to participate in these important events in the life of our parish. As more information comes available, we will pass it along.

Thank you.

~ David Crosby

 

"Pilgrimage."

By The Rev. Mary Sulerud, Interim Rector, May 21, 2013

 

Dear Friends,

Almost exactly a week ago Peder and I were standing on the star in the square of the cathedral of Santiago de
Compostela that is the zero kilometer mark for anyone who has walked the Camino pilgrimage. I couldn’t help but
wonder in that moment if my prayer for you had been answered and that in our absence a rector had been called
because I knew without a doubt that our pilgrimage journey together for the last year had come to a close.

Throughout the year I have used many images to describe this time of transition. It took going to any number of
sacred places in Portugal and Spain and finally arriving at Santiago de Compostela to understand that perhaps the
best description of this time, this experience together is that of a pilgrimage. At times it did feel like we were
attempting to walk the truly difficult if not impossible path, like creating an entirely new website, raising a million
dollars for a new chapel and a renewed Zabriskie facility, or giving three worship services another shot, or our own
Shrine Mont Camp Reunion Sunday or the Bishop of Virginia visiting us in the afternoon. At other times it was
almost blissfully easy like the Pumpkin Patch that made money even during Super Storm Sandy, or the Christmas
Pageant that joyfully emerged out of a few rehearsals, or the Holy Week in which we journeyed all week through the
passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, or the stewardship evensong and dinner that marked our return to VTS to
worship, or 300 dozen cookies for a retreat for those in prison, or an outpouring of spontaneous support for
countless people in need.

Through it all I was surrounded by a gloriously gifted staff, adjunct clergy, the best wardens and vestry an interim
rector could ever fantasize about, countless, talented volunteers, and a congregation that just made it all so much
fun and so full of grace. You are easy to love and you are not easy to leave. Leave I must. The biblical injunction by
which interims live is a paraphrase of John the Baptist’s comment about his relationship to Jesus, “I must decrease
that he may increase.” In this case I need to move on to the next call at St. Thomas, Richmond so that you may
focus your attention and expectation on your new rector. In my more playful moments I am packing and humming
my favorite Groucho Marx song from the movie Animal Crackers, “Hello, I must be going.” We have laughed,
cried, worked and played together in the name of Christ and we have made transition a joyful, graceful pilgrimage in
faith to the heart of God.

Thank you for deepening my faith in God and in the church, for generously giving me your time and support so
that I could journey with you, for enlarging my heart to make room for more of God’s love and yours. Your
journey begins anew with a new rector, and I enter into a new time of pilgrimage. God be with you ‘til we meet
again.

God’s peace and keeping,
Mary+

 

"Show the world that we belong to Christ."

By The Rev. Mary Sulerud, Interim Rector, April 24, 2013
 

“I sharpened my two-edged sword
Of justice and truth
And took it to the altar
To be blessed by God.
‘Why thank you Ellen,
Another pruning hook.’
I wept,
Knowing that God was not the blind one,
And realizing once more,
That if God has enough mercy to forgive me,
God has enough mercy to forgive my enemies.”
The Reverend E. Ellen Adams, from Women’s Uncommon Prayers

Dear Friends,

I have only ever had one sabbatical and I spent much of it inScotlandat the height of the IRA bombings inGreat Britain. I never gave much thought to the cause of that rage. I mostly cursed the inconvenience of carrying all that trash around in my pockets and my purse until I could get home and throw it away. There were no trash cans on city streets because they were too easy a container for bombs.

Then late last Monday I turned on the television as an endless tape loop of the explosions at the Boston Marathon played. Dear God, not again came to mind. I panicked about friends and colleagues that I knew were running in the marathon. I whispered a prayer for their safety and that of others. Again I prayed we would not meet rage with rage because we know what a deadly spiral that is. I asked that we would listen to all the pain unleashed by that act of violence not only in the victims, but in the person or persons who felt that such an act was just.

 We have had two joyful seasons of our liturgical year marked by terrible acts of violence in this country. It brought to mind how much of our pastoral lives have been defined by events like the Boston Marathon bombing and the extent to which it shaped the lives of so many people. It challenges the core values of Christian life and of all faith traditions. As one pastor noted in an article called Responding to Terror we all have anger in these times and the key is responding to this anger “in ways that show the world that we belong to Christ.”

We are people who now share with the world the experience of these awful acts of terror. We are armed to the teeth and our domestic security and surveillance system is unprecedented. We can’t prevent all of these events. Here is what we can do as people who follow Christ Jesus. We can pray for the victims and those who mean us harm. We can leave our moral outrage at the foot of the cross and ask to be made instruments of God’s peace. Outrage may help us hate and despise injustice, terror and cruelty. It doesn’t necessarily equip us to be determined and gentle agents of God’s hope and reconciliation. We can continue being the faithful witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus and his hope and love that we were before this happened. We can hear that resurrection means that life conquers death and love conquers all evil, and then we can courageously live that way. Resurrection is not a safety net keeping us from all harm. It is the living proof that God does mean to reconcile all of creation to God’s self. Let’s carry that around not in our pockets, but for all the world to see.

God’s peace,

Mary

 

"The good that we do, does live on after us."

By The Rev. Mary Sulerud, Interim Rector, April 10, 2013
 

Dear Friends,

Occasionally when I am talking to my daughter by phone she will put on her neighbor, an avowed atheist, to talk to me about matters of faith. I enjoy these conversations and sometimes think that the best witness I make to the faith is simply not being afraid of his questions. The one that troubles him the most is one that troubles us, as well as St. Paul and any number of other disciples too, the way we speak, teach and have faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To my daughter’s neighbor it is either just a lot of smoke and mirrors to make us less afraid of death, or a terrible promise we make to people who have nothing in this life. I have responded to the former by asking him how he felt when his son was born, and then going onto say that resurrection for Christians is about finally being born completely into the fullness of our relationship with God and that our moments of extraordinary joy in this life are clues to what this will be like.

I agree with him in part, that it is easy for Christians to promise a “sweet bye and bye” to those who have little or nothing in this life. Of late I have taken to telling him about our outreach efforts at Immanuel and that these programs and ministries come out of a deep faith in the resurrection at work now in this life. After all, the biblical stories of Jesus’ life give us a detailed account of work and ministry that was quite specifically targeted at those who were the least in that society. All of the stories in which we are held accountable for our faith have almost nothing to do with a checklist of beliefs, but rather the extent to which we have been feeding and tending “the sheep”, especially the least among us. Of course he wonders aloud if he couldn’t just do that without all the hassle of church. I encourage him to do just that, and then talk about the power of being in a community that supports me in this work, holds me accountable for it and in whom I can see the resurrected Christ, at which point we part company with both of us laughing about my attempts to convert him.

I am always grateful to be serving at Immanuel when I have these conversations because the energy with which this congregation serves so many locally and globally who are in need makes it easy for me to have examples of the best of resurrected life that Christian believers can offer. We often think that clergy change lives by erudition and persuasion in the pulpit and in classrooms. Actually I think that almost never happens. The truly persuasive and lifechanging acts of Christian faith are what are seen when the people of God, lay and clergy, are in service to the poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless, the hungry, those in prison, the diseased and those broken by life’s circumstances. It is when we step out of faith to show how we love as God loves that is such a remarkable gift and example of God’s grace and transforming love.

Immanuel has become this sort of community not by accident. In the world of transition ministry our shorthand would be that being a mission-focused congregation is part of your DNA. Generations of clergy at Immanuel, notably the late, great Bishop H. Coleman McGehee and others like the late Henry Mitchell, by their advocacy of justice for African-Americans, women, GLBT folks, the poor and the homeless, early and often, made a mark of Christ’s love on this congregation. It couldn’t have happened without a congregation made ready and willing by effective worship, preaching, teaching and personal example, who then braved the critics to be advocates of God’s justice in the world. It is your resurrection story and gift to the world that needs it desperately. The good that we do, does live on through the resurrected love of Christ in action. Alleluia!

God’s peace,

Mary

 

“Consecrate the time”

By The Rev. Mary Sulerud, Interim Rector, March 27, 2013
 

We have been preparing for forty days for our own passage into the new life in Christ. We have been on a journey of recovery and rediscovery of “what we were made through our own baptismal death and resurrection,” as Orthodox Bishop Alexander Schmemann put it. Please join us for the services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday when we first enter the Easter joy of 2013. If you cannot be with us, join us wherever you are in prayer. Consecrate the time in whatever way you can that will give you the space to receive the risen Lord. Night will soon give way to the light of unending day and our ways will be ordered by God’s peace.

In these three Holy Days
May the love of the Lord Jesus draw you to himself,
The power of the Lord Jesus strengthen you in his service,
The joy of the Lord Jesus fill your hearts.

Christ’s joy and blessing,

Mary

 

“My heart is rent and ready for God.”

By The Rev. Mary Sulerud, Interim Rector, March 13, 2013
 
Several years ago during a vestry meeting I led an exercise in which each of us was to create a personal prayer or 
phrase that we could use throughout Lent. I remember that the months preceding Lent had seemed particularly 
bleak in that I had “to die”, to put away some cherished dreams and ambitions. What came to me in that exercise 
was this prayer, “My heart is rent and ready for God.” My heart had been broken and opened to God working in 
and through me in new ways. What a gift of hope it was!
 
We will soon enter the holiest week of the year for Christian people beginning with Palm Sunday and concluding on 
the Day of Resurrection, Easter Day. Holy Week for me is that walk that breaks open my heart and makes it ready 
for God’s new possibilities in Christ. Each day with its own singular liturgy is, in the words of Joan Chittister, “Jesus 
with us, for us, and in us as we strive to make his life our own.” In Holy Week the particular life we make our own 
is in fact Christ’s passion and death so that we might faithfully embrace his resurrection and ours.
 
This year we will keep the week with daily worship. Beginning with Palm Sunday we bless palms and celebrate the 
Holy Eucharist at 8 and 10 a.m. The blessing of the palms and traditional procession with the donkey will begin at 
9:30 a.m. at the site of the old Immanuel Chapel and, guided by an officer from the Alexandria City Police Force,
we will cross Seminary Road and continue in procession singing to Zabriskie Chapel. Three new features of this 
year’s Palm Sunday celebrations will be that before the blessing of the palms we will say good-bye and give thanks 
for the old chapel in prayer. At the 10 a.m.service we will read the St. Luke Passion dramatically. (Readers are still 
needed.) At both services there will be no blessing or dismissal. We will ask all to leave in silence to enter Holy 
Week conscious of the solemnity of this time.
 
The week continues with celebrations of the Holy Eucharist on Monday and Tuesday nights at 6:30 p.m. On 
Wednesday, for the first time at Immanuel, we will be leading the service of Tenebrae at 7:00 p.m. The word 
Tenebrae is Latin for darkness or shadow. The service includes the reading of psalms and hearing from the 
Lamentations of Jeremiah, all the while the sanctuary grows darker and the candles are gradually extinguished on the 
altar. At the end of the service a single candle that is taken from the altar is returned as a sign of the triumph of light 
over darkness. 
 
Maundy Thursday is the day in which we keep the Lord’s command to wash one another’s feet as a sign of the 
service we offer in love to each other, a wounded world and in memory of Christ Jesus. This service is at 7:30 p.m. 
The Holy Eucharist concludes with the stripping of the altar, a powerful sign of how all is stripped away from Jesus 
as he is condemned and executed on the cross. Joan Chittister again says it best, “The first days of Holy Week 
confirm: there are some things worth living for, even if we find ourselves having to die for them as well.”
 
On Good Friday we will have two services, at noon and 7:30 p.m. At noon we will make our way to Golgotha using 
the Stations of the Cross with stations that are offerings by members of Immanuel. This will be followed by the 
liturgy of the day. At 7:30 p.m. we will offer the complete liturgy of the day including the veneration of the cross 
and communion from the reserve sacrament. At the conclusion of communion all vestiges of sacred presence will 
be removed from the chapel as we enter a time of prayer and great emptiness and anticipation of the resurrection.
 
On Holy Saturday at 8:45 a.m. the liturgy for Holy Saturday will be offered. This short liturgy is a burial office in 
which we remember the time in which Jesus was in his tomb. At 6:30 p.m.we will light the first fire and the Paschal 
Candle and, to the most ancient hymn of the church the Exsultet,we will enter the dark sanctuary to hear the story 
of our salvation, celebrate Holy Baptism and, as we light the church, ring bells and shout the alleluias that announce 
the resurrection. Please bring bells to ring as we begin our celebration of Holy Eucharist. This service will be 
followed by a wonderful reception that breaks the Lenten fast.
 
Easter Day is a festive celebration of the resurrection at 7:30, 9:15 and 11:15 a.m. There will also be a baptism at 
9:15. This means that this year’s Easter celebrations will be especially festive. We will be welcoming new members 
as well as new life on this joyous day. It is a day in which strangers, friends and family all join us to be welcomed 
into God’s dream for a reconciled creation.
 
Easter is not just a Sunday; it is fifty days of celebrating the fulfillment of our life in Christ. We will have a special 
opportunity to keep the Easter Spirit alive among us on April 7th when we are invited after each service to join the 
members of Beth-El Synagogue in preparing the gift of life, oral hydration packets for use in emergency situations 
throughout the world. This oral hydration project is literally a life-saver for anyone who receives this gift. I can’t 
think of a better way to extend our Easter joy than to join with our Jewish sisters and brothers and prepare this gift 
of life to be brought to wherever it is needed.
 
Watch with us. Walk with us this Holy Week and Easter. It will open your heart and make it more than ready for 
God in Christ Jesus.
 
God’s peace and keeping,
 
Mary