REFLECTIONS ON "ASHES ON THE GO"

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"Ashes on the Go" was the most moving thing I have done in my 3+ years at St. Stephen's. For two hours in the afternoon, I watched as 80 people drove, walked, or pushed baby strollers into our parking lot to be blessed by Sarah or Lisa with the words “remember that we come from dust and to dust we will return.” Then I handed each a card with our services listed on it and said, “Just in case you are looking for a place for Easter or Lent.”

It was clear we were onto something special when people showed up early and kept coming. Their stories were different and yet the same. Almost everyone was from outside our current St. Stephen’s community. Each of them said that they had decided to come after seeing our purple "Ashes on the Go" yard signs and were grateful to find a place to receive ashes. They wanted to begin Lent in a way that honored their traditions, but the circumstances of their lives made it difficult – from being too busy or not ready emotionally to step inside a church. They were thankful that our clergy helped them connect to God and the church from the St. Stephen's sidewalk.

I saw:

  • Mothers getting themselves and their kids blessed as they carpooled between neighborhood schools and evening activities

  • Friends bringing friends who they thought needed a blessing

  • Individuals who became emotional at coming onto church grounds, one admitting they hadn’t been in a church in years

  • A neighborhood landscape crew that put down their tools to get blessed 

  • A mother pulling a wagon with her 18-month old son and tiny 2-week old child who stopped to receive a blessing on their afternoon walk 

  • A very ill person in hospital mask driven by her adult daughter

  • A young woman who fought back tears because she’d had a bad day and said that this was just what she needed 

  • People in expensive cars and beat-up clunkers

  • People of every age, race, and gender 

  • A man who told us he attended St. Stephen’s school in 1970 as a kindergartener 

  • Three parishioners who’d attended St Stephen’s decades ago and intimated they might come back. 

In the end we served 30 people in the morning and 80 people in the afternoon – 110 altogether. Each was grateful that we met them where they were with what they needed.

I hope everyone gets a chance to stand on our sidewalk and serve people where they are.

-Karen Soh, Director of Development

Children are a heritage from the Lord…

Throughout the latter half of 2018 and into 2019, formation leaders, staff, and clergy have been in an ongoing conversation about formation at St. Stephen’s with particular attention paid to youth and children’s formation. We are incredibly grateful for the patience and feedback of parents as we’ve taking the time this year to pray about, discuss, and consider formation for youth and children at St. Stephen’s. We are still praying and still discussing long term offerings to children, youth, and their families, but we have a formation plan for Lent and Easter.

During the season of Lent, we will gather for inter-generational formation focusing on Lenten themes and servant learning. Many parents who participated in the formation survey indicated a desire for their children and youth to have more opportunities to serve the Houston community. Our Lenten offerings will culminate in an inter-generational service opportunity both on campus and off campus through the help and leadership of our service committee.

On Easter day we will gather as a parish community to feast and celebrate the Resurrection with good food and, of course, the annual Easter egg hunt. Then, throughout the season of Easter, we will break into smaller groups based on age. Young children and their families will walk the Way of Love for Families, and youth (grade 4-12) will walk the Way of Love for youth. In this way we will share a common theme but each offering will focus on the needs that arise in our lives at different developmental stages. The Way of Love comes out of our national church and will be familiar to some adults in our parish who participate in the Way of Love Advent offering.

We will share plans for formation beyond the Easter season later this spring. For now, we invite you to engage our Lenten offerings and Easter offerings and give us feedback on your experience and that of the children or youth in your life. We also invite parents to pray and consider whether you might be called to step into the role of formation leader for a season or time at St. Stephen’s.

In Peace,
Ryan Hawthorne

Strategic Ministry Plan Update

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At this year’s Annual Parish Meeting I had the privilege of sharing the steps taken thus far to implement St. Stephen’s Strategic Ministry Plan. Since then, we have continued to implement aspects of the plan as well as look to develop other ways to engage the direction and spirit of the Five Strategic Objectives: Organization, Demographic Gaps, Church and School Relations, Growth, and Invite/Welcome/Connect/Reconnect.

At the Vestry meeting in January, the organization team presented a plan to realign support, accountability, and oversight of church volunteer ministry teams from under the clergy and staff to also include the Vestry. The plan called for the creation of portfolios to be selected and assigned to each Vestry member bringing greater definition and responsibility in their role. This change places Vestry members as the point of contact for leaders of ministries which fall within their unique portfolios. Thus, it shares greater responsibility for the leadership of the church among lay leadership. This plan was approved.

The Vestry also conducted their annual retreat in early February, during which this plan was a major focus of work and discussion. Of that work, Sr. Warden Elizabeth McClintock reports, “As a result of a productive retreat, the Vestry has set a goal to become better liaisons with the ministries of St. Stephen's, working with the staff and clergy to offer more support to our ministry leaders. I see this as a step towards understanding how to encourage more involvement from our parishioners with our ministries.” 

We are in the process of working through the implementation of this plan. This means 2019 will be a time of tinkering and adjusting based on the needs of each unique ministry of the church to ensure the Vestry member or members who hold each portfolio are trained and equipped to be the support our lay ministry leaders need. We are also in the process of clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the Vestry, clergy, and staff to ensure that this change is for the benefit of the entire church. Over the next few months, we will be establishing communications between ministry leaders and the Vestry member that they will be working with in order to facilitate and clarify the relationships. We expect this process to take the whole of the year to finalize but believe it will be very worth the effort. Ministry leaders should expect introductions to their Vestry liaison in the coming weeks.

-  Ryan Beaty, Missioner for Congregational Development 

Suffer the Little Children: Making Room for All of Us

In the Gospels we learn of Jesus’ relationships with children. He regularly blessed, healed, encouraged, and worked with them. Whether it was inviting his disciples to see faith from their eyes or joining with them to feed 5000 people, Jesus recognized the gifts of children and their ministry.

Beginning on the first Sunday of Lent, St. Stephen’s will be experimenting with a new space and 8:30 a.m. offering for children in the context of the Eucharist. We will be removing some of the pews in the chapel area of the nave so that we can create a space for children to spread out quietly on a rug and engage with appropriate materials on their level. Adults can get on the floor too, if they choose! Additionally, we will be introducing a children’s sermon at the 8:30 Eucharist using adapted Godly Play materials. Instead of leaving the nave for a separate rite, as happens at 10:30 a.m., families will remain together.

Adults may overhear the children’s lesson and get more out of it than the sermon! This fact reflects the reality that many of us have holes in our biblical literacy and knowledge of our heritage.

These changes will mean that some of us may be moved from our usual spots. This dislocation may feel disruptive. I want to remind you of our common callings: to grow spiritually and numerically, to close demographic gaps, to invite, welcome and connect with others. This pilot is intended to further these goals.

Our hope is that this space will be an outward and visible sign of St. Stephen’s willingness to embrace the presence of children in our midst and to grow into the full stature of Christ together.

-Lisa

A Message from the Rector

Throughout the month of January, St. Stephen’s is offering an opportunity to examine migration through the lens of faith. From Abraham to Miriam, from Joshua to Isaiah, from Jesus to Paul, the faithful in the our tradition have been migrants or received strangers into the community. It is a mark of our faith. Yet, in the time of government shutdowns, this issue has been politicized in a polarized way.

Care for the stranger is not optional for us as Christians. What that care looks like varies in place and time. Many members of our congregation are engaged in this work as educators, lawyers, social workers, and advocates. What can we learn from their experience?

On Sunday mornings this month (except on January 20 when we will include this theme in our dinner church worship at 5 pm), we will meet at 9:30 am in the Havens Center for an inter-generational experience exploring this topic. We will practice listening, play, and respectful dialogue as we learn from one another on this topic which impacts us all.

I invite you to join me there.

Lisa

A Christmas Message

As Episcopalians Christmas is a critical feast for us theologically.More than many streams of Christianity, Anglicans (what we are called worldwide) emphasize the central importance of God coming among us in the person of Jesus.This doctrine is called the Incarnation.We believe that creation is good, so much so that God chose to enter it as a human person to experience life as we do.Fully human and fully divine, Jesus shows us what it is like to be a fully integrated human being in God’s image.

There is no experience of suffering that was foreign to Jesus. This includes political displacement as a refugee. While on Christmas night we rightly celebrate his birth, we note he was relegated to the stable because an Empire demanded a census to determine who was a citizen.Rather than going home to Nazareth, the newborn baby set out, carried by his family, to a foreign country hundreds of miles away to seek shelter.This, to avoid the fearful anxiety of an ruler bent on killing him.

God in Jesus experienced the travail of the dispossessed and dislocated.As we gather to celebrate the holy birth, we also reflect on the ways God continues to come among us in those we don’t expect to be bearers of the Light.The Incarnation demands that we seek God in our flesh too. -The Reverend Lisa Hunt, Rector

Sunday Formation Begins Sept. 16

As Christians, we are always being formed intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually throughout our lives. We are not finished being formed until our death. That is why the parish offers formation in various forms for adults as well as children and youth. 

The fall schedule for Sunday Adult Formation begins this Sunday, September 16. There are two offerings which will start at 9:30 a.m. Faithful Families is for that Faithful Families is for children, youth, and adults who are helping to raise them. This intergenerational offering will be held in the Bentley Room, upstairs from the office wing. 

The other offering will be a series of forums which will culminate in a new class focusing on introductory spiritual disciplines. All begin at 9:30 a.m. and conclude by 10:20. Here is the line up with locations: 

 September 16-23: Make a Joyful Noise: An Experience of Choir; Nave 

This is a two session Open House to experience the ministry of the choir and to consider participation in this group as part of your spiritual practice and as an approach to the Holy   

September 23: St. Stephn’s Vision: Strategic Ministry; Havens Center 

St. Stephen’s spent last year in discernment of our call as a parish. Now the Vestry would like to share the fruit of that effort and the ways this plan will shape our community. 

September 30: Faith in Action; Havens Center 

The Service Ministry Team of the parish will lead us in a process to uncover what is most important to each of us as citizens as we approach the election season and the next session of the legislature. This offering will be informed by our work with The Metropolitan Organization. 

October 7: Animals of Blessing; Pecore Hall 

In observance of St. Francis Day, we will gather with our pets to celebrate all the ways our pets and the animals of creation enhance our knowledge and love of God and each other. Joining with the families from our School we will invite our pets to church as we share stories, activities, and treats. 

October 15-November 25: The Way of Love; Havens Center 

What is a spiritual life and what are practices which create and nourish it? Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has created this introduction to a rule of life inviting us to turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go and rest. The Kadosh team will facilitate this course. You can learn more at https://www.episcopalchurch.org/explore-way-love

Changes in People and Places

There are several changes that have occurred in St. Stephen’s staffing over the summer and in the use of our space. 

The position of parish administrative assistant has been eliminated.  A new joint position with the School, Main Campus Administrator, has been created.  Sylvia Swain has been moved to this new role.  The duties of the Main Campus Administrator will include hospitality to all who enter our campus, maintaining security, controlling the facilities calendar, managing our outside users, and coordinating the work of our volunteer office angels.  The duties of this role will be performed from the front desk so that there is always a person stationed to greet people and to answer the phones.  So if you have questions about booking a room for a class or meeting, calendaring your wedding or funeral, getting certified for Safeguarding God’s Children or People, getting a key or access code, ordering supplies, prices for space rental for meetings of outside groups, contact Sylvia Swain.

A new workroom has been created on the first floor to allow staff and faculty a central location to get their mail, make copies, and execute projects.  The office angels will also use this space.  Office supplies will also be maintained here. 

The Sexton position has also changed.  The Church and School have contracted with Educlean to clean our campus.  This has allowed the sexton position to become focused on maintenance of the campus, in conjunction with our Maintenance Supervisor.  John Veillon will continue to help with the set up of events and on Sunday mornings, but the bulk of his duties will be on maintenance and not cleaning. If you have questions or concerns about items that need to be fixed or cleaned, contact Juan Rodriguez, our Campus Maintenance Supervisor.  He communicates directly with the custodial services company.  John Veillon is the member of our staff who is responsible for weekend set up and take down, making coffee, and ensuring contact with first responders.

Bob Hymson, our former Director of Business and Operations, left in July for a position in Austin.  The School is in the process of searching for a new person.  The Church receives support from this role, but the position is funded by the School.  This person is a resource to the Church’s finance committee and handles issues of human resources, budget, cash flow, and insurance for the Church.

Toni Morales, St. Stephen’s Church and School’s Director of Communications, will be leaving her position next week to move to India.  Toni has done excellent work expanding the reach of St. Stephen’s in both print and online.  We will miss her.  Interviews for a new director are ongoing and an offer will be issued soon.   Contact the Director of Communications when you would like to include an announcement in the bulletin or our online newsletter, have a prayer request, want to post something on our St. Stephen’s Facebook page, or want to share a photograph or story idea.

Ryan Hawthorne, the Youth Missioner and Interim Director of Spiritual Life, will be moving offices to the first floor.  This move will afford her more access to Church youth and students. Contact Ryan when you want to volunteer to work with children or youth, have ideas for Christian Formation for adults, have questions about the format of Safeguarding God’s Children or People, ask her questions about our School, or  offer to share your skills with our afterschool program in our Makerspace.

- The Reverend Lisa Hunt

My Hair is Falling Out and Other Ways of Dealing with Change

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I was recently in an Uber going to the airport and engaged my driver, a tech person who had been laid off recently, in a conversation about his work and plans.  He extolled the wonders of disruption as a value, an unmitigated good.  It was also the case that his personal life had been filled with disruptive change.

Is disruption an unmitigated good?  Is the upset of order usually creative or is it just destructive?  What makes the difference?

My most profound recent experience of change was engaging in the bishop election in Newark. What struck me as I was going through it and in its aftermath was my physical response to the emotional and spiritual change that was in the offing.  My hair started falling out.  Not big clumps, but lots of individual strands over the months.  My hair dresser noticed it and commented; I got tests because I thought my thyroid might be out of whack.  But as time went on, I realized my coming baldness (that’s what I feared), was connected to my anxiety about change…even though elements of the prospect were exciting.

In the Bible, there is an ambivalence about change.  For example, in Exodus we are told that God considered wiping out the children of Israel because of their faithlessness and grumbling, but Moses pleaded with God and the Holy One had a change of mind.  In much of the Bible there is an insistence that God does not change.  Similarly, there is exhortation for human beings to repent, which is to change from evil and to choose good, but there is also commandment to stay steadfast—to not change.

There are many changes in our culture and at St. Stephen’s right now.  We are embarking on the next stage of our capital campaign.  We are saying good bye to staff we have valued and loved:  Bob Hymson our Director of Operations and Finance, has taken a position in Austin; Toni Morales-Awobokun, our Director of Communication and Growth will be moving to India and leaving us in mid-September.  We are rethinking our Christian Formation offerings and space.  We are beginning to implement the Strategic Plan and reorganizing our ministries to support it.  People are leaving St. Stephen’s and new folks are joining.  It is a lot!

While our collective hair may not be falling out, it is true that some or many of will not experience these disruptions good.  Some of them will not be, but we won’t know until we have time to live into the changes and weigh their effects.  Others of us thrive on adventure and experimentation.  The Gospel metric that is most important is do the changes bear fruit? 

So as we head into the fall and a new year of learning, let’s watch for the buds of fruit and for the hair balls.  May we bear with one another in love in the bonds of peace.

- The Reverend Lisa Hunt

General Convention Resolution

Last week during the General Convention, a woman deputy from Colorado was not admitted to the floor of the House of Deputies while nursing her infant. This happened to my sister in 2015 as well. 

Because the entire deputation and several women of other deputations rose resistance, the President of the House of Deputies apologized later that day, and said all women will be permitted to nurse their infants under one year on the floor of the House. Precedent for this existed within the US Senate earlier this year, when Tammy Duckworth brought her baby to the floor of the Senate after a resolution was passed unanimously. 

We women deputies and past deputies were not satisfied by this ruling, because parents sometimes need to be with their infants whether or not it is feeding time, and this should not prevent a parent from serving as a deputy. We also discussed that many parents nurse their babies past one year, and no extended nursing child should be denied this practice because their parent is a deputy. So, we spent all of yesterday and last night crafting a resolution that will ensure infants under one year are permitted on the floor of the House of Deputies. 

On Friday July 6, my sister, Deputy Michael Funston from Kansas, currently a nursing mother, filed a resolution containing these clauses. It has been named D087, and will go through a legislative committee soon, before making it to the floor of the House of Deputies. 

The resolution will read as follows, unless it is amended by the Rules of Order committee: 

Amend House of Deputies Rules of Order II: Parents Nursing or Bottle-Feeding Children

Resolved, That House of Deputies Rules of Order IV(A) is hereby amended as follows:

(A) Floor Privileges. No one will be admitted to the floor except Deputies, officers of the House, and:

(1) the Treasurer of the General Convention;

(2) other persons authorized by the President or Secretary, to assist in the conduct of the business of the House;

(3) other persons invited or authorized by the President;

(4) infants under one year of age with a parent or guardian who is a deputy, with space provided to permit feeding while on the floor and access to voting while feeding; however, a nursing parent will not be asked to wear a cover or move to the designated feeding area;

(5) children over one year old who require nursing or bottle-feeding; provided that children are permitted only while feeding; a nursing parent will not be asked to wear a cover or move to the designated feeding area;

(6) caregivers of children, to bring a child to a feeding parent when the child needs to be fed, escorted in and out as directed by the President.

Explanation

No parent deputy should have to choose between serving the church and being a parent.

The first years of life are vital to the development of children, and the bond that is created through parental feeding is an important component in this development. It is important for the child’s immune system, and in the case of nursing, it’s important for a parent to nurse regularly for their health.

On Monday, July 9, this resolution was passed by the committee on Rules of Order.

The Reverend Sarah Knoll Sweeny
The Reverend Sarah Knoll Sweeny