Grace Notes


The assignment from God to the prophet Jeremiah is a tough one. God asks, no God tells Jeremiah, that he has a prophetic sermon to preach: to "pluck up, tear down, overthrow and destroy in order to build and plant."

Jeremiah is intensely ambivalent about being the mouthpiece for such a harsh message. People didn't want to hear it several thousand years ago, nor do they want to hear it today — but a variation of Jeremiah's dissembling message is just what we have been hearing and seeing for the past several years. Much of the economy was plucked up and torn down four years ago, and while we can now see signs of rebuilding and some new planting, there is a deeper realization that the economic model of continual and consistent growth we have counted on for so long is simply not sustainable. The public education system has become a political football, and various initiatives are being passed around with the intention that we need to overthrow the whole business and build something that works. And it is hard to build and plant in a culture that is wired in 24/7, and which leaves people endlessly distracted and with precious little discretionary time. Add to this the ravages of Hurricane Irene, which swept through the Northeast and damaged 24 of our congregations two to the tune of nearly a quarter million dollars of damage each; and we have a lot of plucking up and tearing down going on.

The dissembling of our economy, and the increasing fragility of our educational, religious and social systems present a perfect storm for some very deep anxiety. The quick and easy answer in all this is to assign blame. Find a scapegoat. Identify a villain. It may reduce the anxiety for a moment or two, but doesn't do much in presenting an alternative vision or engaging in prophecy, which is what Jeremiah had been called to do.

And Jeremiah wants no part of it. And he rattles off a series of excuses: he doesn't know how to speak. He is only a youth.

I know those excuses. We all do. We have all used them. And we have a lot more we can add: I don't have time; someone else will do it; it's not that bad; if we sweep it under the rug it will all go away...

As I ponder these weighty issues, I need to confess a temptation that tugs at me from time to time. It is the temptation to kick the deep challenges of the church down the road. Leave them to my successor. Manage the system, tweak some things, move some things around take some risks, but limit those risks so we can easily predict the outcome.

It is a powerful temptation. And I need to say that I see and hear a version of this temptation in nearly every congregation I visit. And while the people in those congregations are remarkable in the many and life giving ways they hang in with each other and their faith, we have inherited an institutional and spiritual arrogance yes, a spiritual arrogance, which makes the assumption that as the mainline church all we need to do is keep on doing what we're doing and ride out the economic and cultural storm. Just keep the doors open and eventually things will turn around. People will find the Episcopal Church.

That spiritual arrogance won't cut it today. More and more of us know that, but we find it hard emotionally and spiritually, to move away from the old model. My response: get over it.

I am saying that as much to me as to you. Get over it. Get over your/my anxiety and fear. Get over your/my allegiance to old models and dare to take some risks. I have been ordained for almost 33 years. And while I can say that my passion for the Gospel and the faith continues to grow and my relationship with the living Christ continues to transform my life, I have developed some assumptions over that time. Some of them are so deep rooted and long standing that I don't even know what they are. They are not necessarily bad assumptions. But a lot of them aren't very accurate. I remember being on vacation a few years ago; and after going to an 8 am service I did a bunch of errands. And all sorts of people were in the stores and on the roads and at the parks. Who are all these people, I asked myself? Why aren't they in church? That's my Sunday assumption. Why wasn't it theirs? And then I remembered that Sunday is not the Sabbath for everyone; just before I realized that more and more people are claiming Sunday as not much more than a day off from work a non Sabbath sabbath. Some of our assumptions make it hard for us to see what is staring us in the face.

Get over them.

The best way to get over our habits, assumptions, our stuckness and our anxiety is to stop kvetching about what has been plucked up and torn down and look out to the possibility of what can be built and planted. Look beyond what we can immediately see. Jeremiah did that. Jesus did that and 2,000 years later as the living Christ he still does that; by showing up in the Eucharist, in the stories from scripture and in the faces of a glorious humanity. Jesus calling us to look beyond what we see, to use our creativity and imagination.

Living into Christ's mission is the theme of this Convention. It has been taken from our image-filled, metaphor-rich vision statement that we draw on to help us look beyond all the plucking up and tearing down going on and enable us to see what we can build and plant. Beginning today... we are going to live into a mission season; and take a more intentional risk of living into Christ's mission.

Are we willing to take that risk?


From "Risking something big for something good" - Bishop Beckwith's address at the 138th Annual Convention. For the whole address, including video, go to For other Convention news and media, including a number of "Mission Minutes" go to

ADULT FORUM... This Sunday the Rector and delegates to Diocesan Convention will give a report on and try to give a little sense of the flavor of the Convention. Next Sunday the Rector will begin a short series on Themes in the Apocalypse: the Book of Revelation.

REMEMBER FOOD FOR FRIENDS THIS WINTER... With the holidays being over, winter is directly in front of us. No matter what the weather brings, those who are unemployed, underemployed, or members of the working poor have a hard time ahead of them. Many of these persons may be turning to food pantries to make ends meet. Please help St. Paul's, which is serving over 36,000 individuals annually, to help people in serious need. The Food Pantry especially welcomes high protein items, such as beans and canned meats. Otherwise, their wish list asks specifically for tuna, cereal, peanut butter, rice, coffee, and pasta. Alternatively checks may be drawn in favor of St. Paul's Community Development Corporation and marked Food Pantry. Please send checks directly to St. Paul's at 451 Van Houten Street, Paterson, NJ 07501. Thank you.

Ministers of the Assembly

February 5February 12
MP Officiant and LEM (8 am) Charles KeilAndy Smethurst
Lay EucharisticBen MartinTom Bisdale
Ministers (10 am)Debbi GellerJohn Schneider
LectorBill HafemannDebbi Geller
Intercessor (Prayers) Chris ScottAki Okunlola
Chief ServerLeslie BisdaleWarren Hirstius
AcolytesBunmi OkunlolaJustin Hirstius
Debbi GellerJil Bucceroni
ThuriferBen MartinEvans Roache
UshersJim ClokeAki Okunlola
Billie EvansTheresa Okunlola
CountersJim FreemanKate Randall
Jim MillerRandy Scott
Altar GuildLeslie BisdaleTheresa Peter
Daisy ToppinJil Bucceroni
Coffee Hour: Pat LandiMickey Hafemann
Kate LandiBillie Evans