Announcements, May 28

Sunday, May 31, 9am, Discussing End-Of-Life Choices: The Rev. Pat Size will talk about advance care planning and the importance of conversations about end-of-life care. Pat will also preach this morning. Advance Care Planning is a process of understanding, reflecting on, and discussing future medical decisions regardless of age and current health status. All individuals can express and record their healthcare wishes at any time. Remember, healthcare providers cannot respect your choices if they are not known. Come learn more about the Advance Care Planning process and why it’s important. All are welcome.

Saint Dunstan T-Shirts, $5.00 – BYOS: Bring in a plain T-shirt (at least 60% cotton) that fits you, and the logo “Saint Dunstan: Annoying the Devil since 943” will be applied (in fuzzy blue iron-on vinyl) for $5. Funds raised will go towards purchasing new tubs for our Backpack Snack Pack ministry at Falk Elementary School. Talk to Rev. Miranda with questions. Checks can be placed in the offering plate with “T-shirt” on the memo line.

Opportunities to Serve…

Join our Vacation Bible School Team! This year’s Vacation Bible School will run from Sunday, August 2, through Thursday, August 6, from 5:30 – 7:30pm. Whether you’d like to help with meals, tell a story or act in a drama, plan an art project or lead a game, or just be an extra big person to help manage little people, we need you. Talk with Rev. Miranda to learn more.

Hoops for Housing, Saturday, August 8: St. Dunstan’s is sponsoring a friendly community basketball tournament to raise funds for Briarpatch, which serves homeless youth in the Madison area. All ages and levels of skill are invited to participate. Each team is invited to raise $100 for Briarpatch through donations and pledges. If you’d like to help out with planning, publicity, or on the day itself, talk with Rev. Miranda.

General Convention 2015

General Convention Information Session, Monday, June 1, 6:30pm, St. Dunstan’s: The Milwaukee Deputation to General Convention 78 and Bishop Miller will conduct two information sessions in the Diocese in June to present topics, potential legislation and events scheduled for the convention. Come meet some of the deputies and learn what they and the Bishop will be working on this summer in Salt Lake City.

Episcopal 101: General Convention & Episcopal Church Governance, Sunday, June 7, 9am: This summer our denomination holds its triennial gathering, and Rev. Miranda will attend as a deputy from our diocese. Come for an overview of how Episcopal Church governance works, and an overview of the issues before General Convention this year. For an in-depth look at General Convention 2015, come on Mon., June 1!

Prayers for General Convention: Every three years, the Bishops and elected Deputies – both clergy and laypeople – of the Episcopal Church gather to consider issues and new directions in the life of the church, and through democratic process, to make decisions and set directions and priorities. This year we will also be electing a new Presiding Bishop, who is the public face of our denomination and helps run the national church office. Rev. Miranda is one of the elected clergy deputies from our diocese who will be attending General Convention, which takes place in Salt Lake City from June 23 through July 3. Please pray for the Convention, for all bishops and deputies, for the Presiding Bishop candidates, and for the mission of our church.

The Weeks Ahead…

Racial Disparities in Dane County – Guest Speaker: Principal Grace Okoli, Wednesday, June 3, 7pm: Principal Okoli is the principal of Falk School, the school we serve with our Backpack Snack Pack ministry and one of the highest-poverty schools in Madison. She will share about the challenges and hopes as she sees them, and take our questions. All are welcome.

St. Dunstan’s Middle School Youth and Parent Gathering, Friday, June 5, 6-8pm: This is a fun gathering, to get kids and adults together socially. We’ll meet at Vitense Golfland on Whitney Way just south of the beltline. We’ll start with dinner at their little cafe, talk about plans & hopes a bit over our meals, and then play a round of mini-golf. Younger and older siblings are welcome to come along for the ride. For questions, contact Rev. Miranda at rector@stdunstans.com or 608-238-2781.

Birthdays and Anniversaries will be honored next Sunday, June 7, as is our custom, on the first Sunday of every month. Come forward after the Announcements to receive a blessing and the community’s prayers.

Healing Prayer, Sunday, June 7: Next Sunday, one of our ministers will offer healing prayers for those who wish to receive prayers for themselves or on behalf of others.

MOM Special Offering, Sunday, June 7: Next Sunday, half the cash in our offering plate and any designated checks will be given to Middleton Outreach Minister’s food pantry. Groceries are welcome gifts too. Here are the top 10 needed items: sugar, cooking oil, cereal, meals in a box, jelly, toothpaste, toilet paper, paper towels, diapers (sizes 4, 5 and 6), and laundry detergent. MOM is always in need of quality bedding items such as comforters, sheets, blankets and towels too. Thank you for all your support!

Evening Eucharist, Sunday June 7, 6pm: A simple service before the week begins.

Church, Faith & Life Conversation, Sunday, June 14, 12 – 1pm: When are you most conscious of yourself as a person of faith, in your daily life? Does your faith support you in hard times? Why do you belong to a church – in five words or less? Come share open-hearted conversation about these and similar questions, with Rev. Miranda and others from the St. Dunstan’s community. This is the final opportunity to participate in a focus group (a loosely-structured, informal group interview) as part of Rev. Miranda’s Missional Leadership Cohort inquiry process. Anyone who’d like to take part is welcome.

Between Church, July 2015: Beginning July 5, you’re invited to simple outdoor worship between our two regular services. “Between Church” will meet from 9:15 to 9:45am, every Sunday in July – and maybe August too. We’ll gather at the stone altar to sing, discuss a short piece of Scripture, share blessings and concerns in prayer, and sing some more. Come as an enrichment to regular Sunday worship, or just enjoy this simple service as your summer worship.

Announcements, May 21

Poetry and Spirituality, Sunday, May 24,9am, Chapel Meeting Room: One of our resident poets, Paul Thompson, will lead an exploration of the art of matching meter to song and setting poetry to music.  All are welcome!

 Pentecost Sunday All-Ages Worship, Sunday, May 24, 10am: We will share the story of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, and celebrate the Spirit’s continued action among us. Red is the church’s color for this holy day; consider wearing something red for church!  Our 8am service will follow our seasonal order of worship.

Saint Dunstan T-Shirts, $5.00 – BYOS: Bring in a plain T-shirt (at least 60% cotton) that fits you, and the logo “Saint Dunstan: Annoying the Devil since 943” will be applied (in fuzzy blue iron-on vinyl) for $5. Funds raised will go towards purchasing new tubs for our Backpack Snack Pack ministry at Falk Elementary School. Talk to Rev. Miranda with questions. Checks can be placed in the offering plate with “T-shirt” on the memo line.

Church, Faith, & Life Window Questions: Thanks to all who participated in our online survey! As a next step, some questions are posted on the windows in the Gathering Area. Share your thoughts on a Post-It or by writing directly on the question pages. Everyone is encouraged to respond! Questions will be up through May.

Opportunities to Serve…

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, May 24, 7pm: Every fourth Sunday, a loyal group of St. Dunstan’s folk provides dinner for residents at the Grace Church shelter, and breakfast the next morning. See the signup sheet in the gathering area to help out.

Backpacks for Homeless Youth: If you have items for the backpacks, please bring them to the church as soon as possible. We want to get the backpacks packed and ready to go out to the young people who need them, before the end of the school year. Thanks for your generous support!

 Join our Vacation Bible School Team! This year’s Vacation Bible School will run from Sunday, August 2, through Thursday, August 6, from 5:30 – 7:30pm. Whether you’d like to help with meals, tell a story or act in a drama, plan an art project or lead a game, or just be an extra big person to help manage little people, we need you. Talk with Rev. Miranda to learn more.

 Hoops for Housing Helpers Wanted! Saturday, August 8: St. Dunstan’s is sponsoring a friendly community basketball tournament to raise funds for Briarpatch, which serves homeless youth in the Madison area. All ages and levels of skill are invited to participate. Each team is invited to raise $100 for Briarpatch through donations and pledges. If you’d like to help out with planning, publicity, or on the day itself, talk with Rev. Miranda.

The Weeks Ahead…

Men’s Book Club, Saturday, May 23, 10:00 am, at St Dunstan’s: The book is “A Rule against Murder” by Louise Penny.

 Parish Office Closed, Monday, May 25th for Memorial Day. If you need to reach the office, Pamela will be in the office on Tuesday this week instead of Monday.

 Outreach Committee Meeting, Saturday, May 31, 8-10:30am: All are welcome to join our conversations about how St. Dunstan’s can best serve the world. We begin with an optional potluck breakfast at 8am.

Sunday, May 31, 9am: Discussing End-Of-Life Choices: The Rev. Pat Size will talk about advance care planning and the importance of conversations about end-of-life care. Pat will also preach that morning. Advance Care Planning is a process of understanding, reflecting on, and discussing future medical decisions regardless of age and current health status. Although sometimes connected to those who are chronically or critically ill, all individuals can express and record their healthcare wishes at any time. Remember, healthcare providers cannot respect your choices if they are not known. Come learn more about the Advance Care Planning process and why it’s important. All are welcome.

General Convention Information Session, Monday, June 1, 6:30pm, St. Dunstan’s: Two information sessions will be conducted in the Diocese in June on topics, potential legislation and events for the convention. Come meet some of the deputies (including our own Rev. Miranda) and learn what they and the Bishop will be working on this summer in Salt Lake City.

 Racial Disparities in Dane County – Guest Speaker: Principal Grace Okoli, Wednesday, June 3, 7pm: Principal Okoli is the principal of Falk School, the school we serve with our Backpack Snack Pack ministry and one of the highest-poverty schools in Madison. She will share about the challenges and hopes as she sees them, and take our questions. All are welcome.

 St. Dunstan’s Middle School Youth and Parent Gathering, Friday, June 5, 6-8pm: This is a fun gathering, to get kids and adults together socially; and we hope to squeeze in twenty minutes of serious conversation about ideas, hopes, and especially logistics for a middle school youth group, to begin meeting in the fall. Younger and older siblings are welcome to come along for the ride. More details to come. For questions, contact Rev. Miranda at 608-238-2781.

Episcopal 101: General Convention & Episcopal Church Governance, Sunday, June 7, 9am: This summer our denomination holds its triennial gathering, and Rev. Miranda will attend as a deputy from our diocese. Come for an overview of how Episcopal Church governance works, and a whirlwind tour of the matters before General Convention this year. (For a more thorough look at General Convention 2015, come to the gathering on Monday, June 1!)

Parish Picnic, Sunday, June 7, 11:30am: Celebrate summer with food, fellowship, and fun! We’ll have good food and fun activities for all ages, including our Rogation Procession around the grounds, face painting, a photo booth, and more. Please bring a dish to share. Brats and hot dogs (including vegetarian options) and drinks will be provided. The picnic will happen rain or shine. Friends & guests are welcome. A sign-up sheet for set-up and clean-up helpers will be posted in late May.

 

Sermon, May 10

I know it’s Mothers’ Day, but I have a story for you today about fathers. Two fathers, a couple, who live and attend church in Orlando, Florida. Rich and Eric attend the Cathedral Church there, and when they became parents, they sought to have their baby son, Jack, baptized at their church. The Dean of the Cathedral agreed to the baptism, but he explained that the congregation includes some conservative folks who would have a hard time accepting and celebrating Rich and Eric’s partnership and parenthood. The Dean suggested doing the baptism at a smaller evening service, attended by more “open” folks. Fine. But then, a few days before the baptism, Rich and Eric got a message from the Dean. Some members of the congregation were opposing the baptism, and the Dean explained that it would need to be delayed, in order to resolve those difficulties. Angry and sad, Rich took to the Internet to share the story and ask for prayers. After an outpouring of support for the family and anger at the Cathedral, word is that the Dean and the family are discussing next steps, and that Jack likely will be baptized at the Cathedral soon.

Today’s lesson from the Acts of the Apostles is about baptism – and who’s entitled to it. This is the end of the story of Peter and Cornelius the Centurion. Cornelius was pious and generous man. But he was also a Roman, a member of the occupying army. Not quite an enemy combatant… but in that ballpark. And he was a Gentile, a non-Jew. The apostle Paul was going around saying that Gentiles could become Christians without following Jewish religious practices, including being circumcised. The apostle Peter was not on board with that, seeing it as wishy-washy anything-goes feel-good inclusivity. But then Peter has a holy vision, in which God says to him, “What God has made clean, you must not call unclean.”  And moments later he is called to the home of Cornelius, to teach him about the Christian faith. So Peter preaches the Gospel to Cornelius and his household. And they are so stirred by his words that the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and they praise God with wild abandon. And Peter says, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” It’s a rhetorical question. The only person likely to withhold the water is Peter himself, and his heart has been changed. Cornelius and his family are baptized on the spot.

Peter’s question should remind us of another one, from last week’s Acts lesson, just a couple of chapters earlier. Philip the deacon, walking the wilderness road, meets a court official from Ethiopia. Like Cornelius, he’s a pious man, with a heart open to God. Like Cornelius, he’s a Gentile, an outsider to the covenant. He’s not an enemy combatant -but he’s a black African, and he’s a eunuch;  his body has been mutilated in a way that would have made him ritually impure for a lifetime, within the purity codes of the Jewish religion. But Philip, like Peter, heeds God’s call to welcome this seeker into the body of Christ. After Philip preaches the Gospel to him, the eunuch says, “Look, here is some water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Well… Nothing. The eunuch is baptized, marked as a member of the household of God, clean and pure and whole in God’s eyes, and goes on his way rejoicing.

Can anyone withhold the water? What is to prevent me from being baptized? One of the central themes of the book of the Acts of the Apostles – and, for that matter, of the Gospel of Luke, by the same author – is the early church’s discovery, and rediscovery, again and again, that God’s mission is bigger than their understanding. That where they see barriers, God sees doorways. That where they see dividing lines, God sees connections. That where they see distinctions and differences,  God sees unity and belonging. As Peter says at the moment of his great epiphany,  “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” God has no favorites. All who seek, find. All who enter are welcomed.

Good news. And…  the story of two thousand years of the life of the church is a story of the church’s forgetting this, or failing to realize it fully, again, and again, and again. The 19th-century poet and priest Frederick William Faber put this into words so beautifully in a hymn known to us as “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.” It’s in our hymnal, but some of the best words aren’t included: “For the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind, and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind. But we make God’s love too narrow by false limits of our own; and we magnify its strictness with a zeal God will not own.”

We make God’s love too narrow by false limits of our own. That has been the story of the church, over and over and over again. Rich and Eric and Jack are only the latest to feel the sting of being told that they are only mostly children of God. Most of the comments I’ve seen on their case mirror my own immediate reactions: the Dean had NO RIGHT to create a barrier for this child’s baptism; my church would have agreed to baptize this baby in a heartbeat; et cetera, et cetera. But I’ve also seen a point raised that gives me pause.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer moved the rite of Holy Baptism back into Sunday worship, into the regular liturgical life of the congregation, after centuries of baptism largely being practiced as essentially a private family rite, performed after church or at another time. In our baptismal rite, the congregation stands for the Church Universal, the Church in all times and places, as it welcomes a new believer. And our baptismal rite gives the congregation a voice. At the beginning of the rite, the congregation is asked, Will you do all in your power to support this person in her life in Christ? And you answer – WE WILL. I love that part! And at the end of the rite, the congregation says, “We receive you into the household of God,” and invites the newly-baptized to share the life of faith.

The question raised by this kerfuffle in Florida is, can you – should you – perform a baptism if the congregation gathered is unable, through their convictions, to commit to supporting that child, that family; and to receiving them as fellow members of God’s household? I don’t like saying that the Dean may have a had a point, in asking this family to wait. But the Dean may have had a point. I can’t imagine how awful and awkward and sad it would be to perform a baptism, to name a child, and mark him as Christ’s own forever, and have few or no voices from the congregation speak up to welcome and affirm. Should the Dean have withheld the water? No. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe there’s any justification in our church laws or our sacramental theology for turning away that family. Is it a real issue that the congregation of that Cathedral was not able to assent to Jack’s baptism with boldness and love? Yes. I do believe that. I think the Dean made the wrong call; but it was a tough call. The family was ready; the child was ready; God was ready; but the people weren’t ready. The church wasn’t ready.

Listen, I can’t talk about this situation in Florida from a position of smug inclusivity. I could, and would, baptize a child with two daddies – or two mommies – without a moment’s hesitation. But right now, I can’t tell a gay candidate for ordination that their sexual orientation won’t be an issue in some dioceses of our church. Right now, I can’t say yes to a gay couple who want to celebrate their marriage as a sacrament of the church. I hope those things will change soon. If that is your hope too, keep on praying.

But I don’t believe in preaching sermons that only point a finger elsewhere. I wouldn’t tell you the story of baby Jack and the Dean just to say, Thank God that we are not like them! … I’ve been asking myself, where does our church draw lines, create distinctions, make barriers? Where would today’s curious guest or seeker, today’s Cornelius or court official, find our welcome to be restrained, our hospitality qualified, our inclusiveness conditional?

It’s not an easy question to answer, which makes it all the more important to ask. We think of ourselves as inclusive Christians; it’s a strong value for us, that wide welcome. We Episcopalians often define ourselves against churches that exclude, that limit the access and authority of certain types of people. To paraphrase the immortal words of comedian Tom Lehrer, “Some churches do not love their fellow man, and we HATE churches like that!” We make a point of welcoming everybody. No, really – EVERYBODY. St. Dunstan’s has a welcome statement that we crafted and adopted, several years ago; you can read it on our website. I’m proud of that statement. I think it matters.

But when we adopted that statement, one of our members reminded us, You know you can’t just adopt this and then sit around feeling smug. You still have to actually welcome people. To use the language of the baptismal liturgy, each visitor and newcomer poses a question for the congregation: Will you receive this person as part of this household of God, and do all in your power to support her in her life in Christ? And the people of the congregation have to be able and willing and ready to say a resounding, WE WILL!…

There isn’t a clear-cut place in the life of St. Dunstan’s as a parish where we are drawing lines and placing limits around a category of people for whom Christ died, and we have to quit it. It’s not that straightforward for us. What is to prevent the stranger from being baptized? Who is withholding the water?  Where do we, unintentionally or accidentally-on-purpose, draw lines and build barriers that make it hard to enter, connect, belong?  The questions raised by these lessons from Acts – those questions require deep, reflective, risky engagement. They require the demanding and paradoxical work of looking for who isn’t here. Like those pictures they sold in mall kiosks, twenty years ago,  where you had to stand and stare at them until your eyes crossed, and then you might start to see the outline of … something. It’s kind of like that, figuring out who isn’t here, and then trying to figure out why.

We are a quirky church – St. Dunstan’s in particular and the Episcopal Church in general. And we’ve always kind of assumed that the people who would join our churches would be people basically like us. People who are literary enough to enjoy the high language of our liturgy. Who are musically trained enough to appreciate our classic hymnody. Who inhabit their bodies in such a way that they can sit still for 75 minutes. Who know how to dress and behave with basic middle-class decorum. Who’ll bring the right kinds of food to our potluck suppers. Who’ll somehow magically already know about all our pet projects and ministries and three-letter acronyms, so we don’t have to keep explaining ourselves. So tedious!…  I’d say our tolerances at St. Dunstan’s are pretty good; we’ve got folks who don’t fit that mold, in lots of ways, who are nonetheless beloved members of this fellowship of faith…  But we’re still haunted by that image of the archetypal Episcopalian. We still use “we” to mean “people like us”, without recognizing the lines we’re drawing.

In his book “People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity,” Dwight Zscheile talks about our expectations and how they shape our capacity to welcome the guest and stranger. He tells a story of visiting another Episcopal church with his family – a church that proudly proclaimed “Radical Hospitality” on a banner hung outside. Dwight and his wife are both Episcopal priests; they are white, middle-class, educated; they know how to dress and how to behave in church. Ideal guests, right? However: they had their young son with them. He was the only child in church. And they quickly realized, from the glares around them when their son so much as rustled his drawing paper, that they were expected to have him out of church – in a glassed-in “cry room” or a distant nursery tucked away in the basement.

Zscheile writes, “Radical hospitality is a wonderful idea, and I don’t doubt the sincerity of the leaders who [proclaim] it… Living into the reality is another thing, however…. In practice, the Episcopal Church has been best at including those who share its existing predominant socioeconomic class and culture…. The Episcopal Church has become a boutique, niche church, serving a narrow audience of self-selecting members.” He quotes another Episcopalian who described the Episcopal Church as being like NPR: with an audience that is “small, but discerning.” And in fact, there’s probably a lot of overlap between NPR’s constituency and that of the Episcopal Church – well-educated, affluent, liberal.  But, Dwight says, this rather self-satisfied posture can lead us to “abdicate responsibility for engaging neighbors who differ from us. We assume that those who want to worship how we already worship, [and] who think like we do, will find us, and we can then ‘include’ them.”

Those words convicted me. Because I have told myself pretty much exactly that: We’ve got a good thing going here, we Episcopalians; But we’re such a nuanced, sophisticated kind of Christian that not many people can really appreciate it. We’ll probably always be a small denomination; that’s just the way it is. It’s kind of a hipster thing: artisanal, small-batch church. You’ve probably never heard of it.

Zscheile challenges me to have more faith in the gifts of the Episcopal Way. He himself was raised unchurched, came to the Episcopal Church as a young adult, and fell in love. Listen to what he says about this church of ours, this way of being Christian: “Anglicanism offers a richly textured Christianity with ancient roots, expansive sources, a living commitment to justice and reconciliation, and space for people to explore, question, and grow along the way. It embodies the wisdom of centuries, not just the latest fads. Its historical embrace of…  cultural context … mandates that it speak the language of the people. At the same time, it is inhibited in many places by a traditionalism that obscures the power of its traditions; by elitism that restricts [access to] its treasures; and by a lack of theological and spiritual clarity and urgency that would fuel a renewed sense of purpose. Episcopalians still largely assume that people will find the church, rather than recognizing that [we are pushed] out into the world, on the arms of God, to serve and embrace the stranger.”

THAT’S Peter in Cornelius’s living room,  making the choice to let the baptismal waters flow.  THAT’s Philip standing by some muddy roadside puddle with the Ethiopian court official, acknowledging that Jesus has already chosen this man as his own, and our job is just to assent and receive. THAT’s the hard and hopeful and necessary work for us: of trusting that what blesses us here, could bless others too, and daring to offer, proclaim, invite.  That’s the work that should tug at our imaginations as we begin to envision what this church will look like, could look like, in five years, or ten, or fifty; as we craft a vision, in words and worship, poetry and song, marker and glue and pipe cleaners and Lego, of St. Dunstan’s as the church of our wildest dreams.

Announcements, May 14th

 St. Dunstan’s Day Celebration and Bishop’s Visitation

Today we celebrate the feast day of our patron saint, the tenth-century English bishop and reformer, Dunstan. Our diocesan bishop, Bishop Steven Miller, will lead us in worship on this special day. At the 9am hour between services, there will be time to meet with the Bishop to share any questions, hopes, or concerns about the diocese and larger church.  At the 10am service, we will also celebrate the confirmation of Colin Marquart. Colin and his family, and Colin’s priest Father Scott Seefeldt, are visiting us from our sister parish Trinity Episcopal Church in Baraboo. Colin is an active member at Trinity, where he participates in youth group, the Brotherhood of Saint Andrew, and as a worship assistant. He is an athlete, volunteer, and mentor in his community, with an interest in computers and engineering. Welcome, Colin and family, and thank you for sharing this blessed occasion with us! Loose plate offerings this Sunday will go to Bishop’s Purse, a fund like the Rector’s Discretionary Fund which the Bishop can use to help various causes in the life of the diocese, to assist people to attend conferences and workshops, and to assist our seminarians and people in preparation for ordained ministry.

Sunday School, 10am: Our Sunday school classes will meet this Sunday during the 10am service. Our “Godly Play” class (ages 3 – 6) will learn about the Mystery of Pentecost, while our “Seasons of the Spirit” class (ages 7 – 11) will hear about the calling of Matthias. All welcome!

Saint Dunstan T-Shirts, $5.00 – BYOS: Bring in a plain T-shirt (at least 60% cotton) that fits you, and the logo “Saint Dunstan: Annoying the Devil since 943” will be applied (in fuzzy blue iron-on vinyl) for $5. Funds raised will go towards purchasing new tubs for our Backpack Snack Pack ministry at Falk Elementary School. Talk to Rev. Miranda with questions. Checks can be placed in the offering plate with “T-shirt” on the memo line.

Christian Formation meeting, Sunday, May 17, 11:45am: Our Christian Formation Committee will meet to review and plan programs, with a special focus on Vacation Bible School. All interested folks are welcome to attend and participate.

Church, Faith, & Life Window Questions: Thanks to all who participated in our online survey! As a next step, some questions are posted on the windows in the Gathering Area. Share your thoughts on a Post-It or by writing directly on the question pages. Everyone is encouraged to respond! Questions will be up through the rest of May.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, May 17, 6pm: A simple service before the week begins.

Younger Adults Meet-up at the Vintage, Sunday, May 17, 7pm: The younger adults of St. Dunstan’s are invited to join us for conversation and the beverage of your choice, at the Vintage Brewpub on South Whitney Way. Friends and partners welcome too.

Opportunities to Serve…

Join our Vacation Bible School Team! This year’s Vacation Bible School will run from Sunday, August 2, through Thursday, August 6, from 5:30 – 7:30pm. Whether you’d like to cook, act, read a story, plan a project, lead a game, or just be an extra big person to help manage little people, we need you.  Talk with Rev. Miranda to learn more.

Grace Shelter Dinner, Sunday, May 24, 7pm: Every fourth Sunday, a loyal group of St. Dunstan’s folk provides dinner for residents at the Grace Church shelter, and breakfast the next morning. See the signup sheet in the gathering area to help out.

Hoops for Housing, Saturday, August 8: St. Dunstan’s is sponsoring a friendly community basketball tournament to raise funds for Briarpatch, which serves homeless youth in the Madison area. We’re looking for help with referees, concessions, and more! We’re also asking people to think about forming or joining a team. All ages and levels of skill are invited to participate. Each team is invited to raise $100 for Briarpatch through donations and pledges. If you’d like to help out with planning, publicity, or on the day itself, talk with Rev. Miranda.

Backpacks for Teens Without Families: St. Dunstan’s Outreach Committee invites the people of St. Dunstan’s to fill five backpacks, to be distributed to teens in the Madison school district who are homeless and living on their own, to help them through the summer months. Take a card from the display in the Gathering Area and bring the item(s) back by May 24th. Thanks for your generosity!

The Weeks Ahead…

“Fitting Words and Music: The Craft of Songwriting,” Poetry & Spirituality, Sunday, May 24, 9am, Meeting Room: One of our resident poets, Paul Thompson, will lead an exploration of the art of matching meter to song and setting poetry to music. All are welcome!

Pentecost Sunday All-Ages Worship, Sunday, May 24, 10am: We will share the story of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, and celebrate the Spirit’s continued action among us. Red is the church’s color for this holy day; consider wearing something red for church!

Parish Office Closed, Monday, May 25th for Memorial Day. If you need to reach the office, Pamela will be in the office on Tuesday this week instead of Monday.

Sunday, May 31, 9am: Discussing End-Of-Life Choices The Rev. Pat Size will talk about advance care planning and the importance of conversations about end-of-life care, and introduce Honoring Choices Wisconsin, an initiative to encourage and support advance care planning. Pat will also preach that morning.

Racial Disparities in Dane County – Guest Speaker: Principal Grace Okoli, Wednesday, June 3, 7pm: Principal Okoli is the principal of Falk School, the school we serve with our Backpack Snack Pack ministry and one of the highest-poverty schools in Madison. She will share about the challenges and hopes as she sees them, and take our questions. All are welcome.

Announcements, May 6

THE WEEK AHEAD… Hat and Tie Sunday, May 10: St. Dunstan’s has a long tradition of inviting folks to dress up for Mother’s Day, with a fancy hat and/or tie. If you’d like to participate, you can wear your own or borrow one from the collection at church. It’s our custom to take photos of the whole congregation after the 10am service that Sunday; we hope you’ll stay a few moments to participate. This Sunday we will also take up a special collection for scholarships for the Diocese of Milwaukee’s camp program, Camp Webb. These scholarships help kids from around the diocese to enjoy camp regardless of their financial circumstances. To contribute, write “camp” on the memo line of your check.

United Thank Offering (UTO) Ingathering and Blessing of “Little Blue Boxes,” Sunday, May 10:  If you took home a UTO box and put in some coins in thanksgiving for the blessings in your life, please bring it back on Sunday, May 10, for the boxes to be blessed and sent on their way. You can also make a gift to UTO by placing a check in the offering place with “UTO” on the memo line, as an expression of your gratitude for all God’s gifts and blessings.

Sunday School, May 10, 10am: Our Sunday school classes will meet this Sunday during the 10am service. Our “Godly Play” class (ages 3 – 6) will learn about Saint Julian of Norwich. The older class will explore part of Jesus’ farewell speech in John’s Gospel.

Ascension Eucharist, Thursday, May 14, 5:30pm: Celebrate a festive service on the Feast of the Ascension, with our Thursday evening “Sandbox Worship” community. A simple meal will follow.

Church, Faith & Life Focus Group, Thursday, May 14, 7:00pm: Share your thoughts and experiences about how your faith is (and isn’t) part of your daily life. Any interested folk are welcome to attend.

OPPORTUNITIES TO SERVE… Tools for Tanzania Update: St Dunstan’s has raised $1100 towards this project of getting improved agricultural tools to the Diocese of Newala, our companion diocese in rural southern Tanzania. The Companion Diocese Committee will continue to work on a plan to get the tools and the training to their destination. Thanks for all your gifts to this very successful fundraiser!

Backpacks for Homeless Youth: Summer can be a difficult season for homeless teens who are supported by school staff and resources during the school year. St. Dunstan’s Outreach Committee invites the people of St. Dunstan’s to fill five backpacks for homeless teens, to be distributed through the Transition Education Program, a program of the Madison school district to support homeless kids and youth. Helpful items include light blankets, flashlights, fast food cards, toiletries, and more. Take a card from the display in the Gathering Area and bring the item(s) back by May 24th; you can place them in the donation box in the Gathering Area, or put them directly in the backpacks, which are hanging outside the Rector’s office downstairs.  Thanks!

Coffee Hour hosts needed in May and beyond!  Please consider being a coffee host. Sign-up sheets for upcoming months can be found in the Gathering Space. For more information, contact Janet Bybee at (608) 836-9755. We are especially looking for contributions towards our festive coffee hour with hosting Bishop Miller on May 17. Thanks for lending a hand.

Join our Vacation Bible School Team! This year’s Vacation Bible School will run from Sunday, August 2, through Thursday, August 6, from 5:30 – 7:30pm. Whether you’d like to help with meals, tell a story or act in a drama, plan an art project or lead a game, or just be an extra big person to help manage little people, we need you. Talk with Rev. Miranda, Sharon Henes, or Evy Gildrie-Voyles to learn more.

Hoops for Housing, Saturday, August 8: St. Dunstan’s is sponsoring a friendly community basketball tournament to raise funds for Briarpatch, which serves homeless youth in the Madison area. All ages and levels of skill are invited to participate. Each team is invited to raise $100 for Briarpatch through donations and pledges. If you’d like to help out with planning, publicity, or on the day itself, talk with Rev. Miranda or Evy Gildrie-Voyles.

THE WEEKS AHEAD… Women’s Mini Week 2015 – Early Bird Registration Discount Ends May 15! Mini Week will be August 13 to August 16, at Camp Lakotah in Wautoma, Wisconsin. This year’s theme is “Surprised by Joy!” For registration materials and to answer questions, visit the website: www.womensminiweek.org.

Racial Disparities in Dane County – Knowing, Caring, And Acting: Our conversations about racism continue on Wednesday, May 13, at 7:15pm. All interested participants are welcome. A selection of handouts from our first series of conversations is now available in the Gathering Area.

Community Teach-In: Young, Gifted & Black, Saturday, May 16, 1pm, hosted by St. Dunstan’s: The Young, Gifted & Black (YGB) coalition has gained attention locally over the past year by speaking out strongly on issues of racism and racial disparities, policing and incarceration. Several area churches are hosting “Teach-In” events with YGB, as an opportunity for them to share their perspective and concerns, and for attending church and community members to listen and ask questions.

St. Dunstan’s Day Celebration and Bishop’s Visitation, Sunday, May 17: We will celebrate the feast day of our patron saint, the tenth-century English bishop and reformer, Dunstan. Our diocesan bishop, Bishop Steven Miller, will lead us in worship on this special day. At the 9am hour between services, there will be time to meet with the Bishop to share any questions, hopes, or concerns about the diocese and larger church.

Sunday School, May 17, 10am: Our Sunday school classes will meet next Sunday during the 10am service. Our “Godly Play” class (ages 3 – 6) will learn about the Mystery of Pentecost, while our “Seasons of the Spirit” class (ages 7 – 11) will hear about the calling of Matthias. All children are welcome to participate.

Evening Eucharist, Sunday, May 17, 6pm: Join us for a simple service before the week begins.

Younger Adults Meet-up at the Vintage, Sunday, May 17, 7pm: The younger adults of St. Dunstan’s are invited to join us for conversation and the beverage of your choice, at the Vintage Brewpub on South Whitney Way. Friends and partners welcome too.

Ladies’ Night Out, Friday, May 29, 6pm: Join our monthly get-together as we dine at area restaurants and enjoy good conversation among women of all ages from St. Dunstan’s. This month we will meet at Biaggi’s, 601 Junction Road, Madison. For more information or to arrange a ride, please contact Kathy Whitt at kathwhitt@yahoo.com or call Debra Martinez at (608) 772-6043 by May 25.

General Convention Information Session, Monday, June 1, 6:30pm, St. Dunstan’s: The Milwaukee Deputation to General Convention 78 and Bishop Miller will conduct two information sessions in the Diocese in June to present topics, potential legislation and events scheduled for the convention. Come to meet some of the deputies (including our own Rev. Miranda) and to learn what they and the Bishop will be working on this summer in Salt Lake City.

Parish Picnic, Sunday, June 7, 12:00pm: Come for good food and good conversation at our annual June parish picnic.  We’ll have good food and fun activities for all ages. The picnic will happen rain or shine. Mark your calendar and watch for more details!  

Vacation Bible School, August 2 – 6, 5:30 – 7:30pm (with a 7pm pickup option for younger kids): We had a lot of fun with Vacation Bible School last summer, and plan to do the same this year! Our theme will be “Message Received: Hearing God’s Call.” Using drama, art, and games, we’ll explore the stories of five people called by God, from the Old and New Testaments, and how we hear God’s call today. Dinner is included. Mark your calendar and spread the word – and if you’d like to help out, talk with Rev. Miranda!

Sermon, May 3, 2015

Preached by the Rev. Miranda K. Hassett.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine,  neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

So when I first looked over today’s Scripture lessons, I more or less threw up my hands. There is so much here –  these are all wonderful, rich, important texts. There was no way to cover them all, and I didn’t know where to start, where to focus.

And then I remembered that today is our parish workday, the day every spring when we spend some time together, after church, tending our grounds and the plants and trees that live here, to help them be tidy and pretty and healthy and ready for spring. And I started to think, Maybe I should take a cue from Jesus here. Maybe I should talk about pruning.

So I did a little research. I am not particularly a plant person – I’m learning, as my husband develops our yard at home, and as we develop our property here at St. Dunstan’s. I’m learning. But I didn’t know much about pruning: just that it means cutting off parts of a tree or vine or bush, and that you’re supposed to do it. So I turned to Google and read up a little.

Here’s one of the first things I realized: I have a strong reaction to the idea of being pruned. In this text from the Gospel of John, when Jesus says to his disciples, and to us, that we are branches of his vine and can expect to be pruned to bear more fruit, that makes me cringe. That’s because I’m an animal. If you cut a limb off of an animal, that’s a terrible injury, quite possibly a mortal injury. My natural reaction to a big pair of pruning shears is terror. But plants aren’t like that. They are different. They grow and heal differently. Losing a limb or part of a limb is an injury, sure, and they have to heal; but under normal circumstances it isn’t a dangerous injury by any means, and it can make them healthier and stronger in the long run.

So I have a gut reaction to this image Jesus is using. I don’t want to be pruned. That sounds really bad. Painful and dangerous. Plants probably don’t especially like being pruned either. But I have to try to put myself into the mindset of a plant, for whom having something cut off – wisely and well – is not a mortal injury,  and may well be for my health. One website that I consulted pointed out that people who have a couple of backyard fruit trees – as we do at St. Dunstan’s – are much more likely to under-prune their trees than to over-prune. Of course there’s the “getting around to it” factor, but I think we’re also really worried about doing it wrong and hurting the tree. So I suspect I’m not alone in my resistance to the concept of pruning. I don’t want to hurt the tree! I can barely stand to cut my dog’s toenails, or take a splinter out of my child’s foot! I’m not going to cut off pieces of this poor helpless plant!

But… pruning is important.  If we fail to tend to our trees in that way, they get overgrown, shapeless, less healthy, less fruitful. This would have been commonsense for Jesus’ original audience. The agricultural economy of ancient Israel relied heavily on perennial plants and trees that had to be shaped and tended year by year: olive trees, fig trees, grapevines.  But it’s not commonsense for most of us. So let me share with you a little about the logic and importance of pruning.

First, pruning removes the “3 D’s”: You prune off the stuff that’s dead, diseased, or damaged. A branch that’s died, or become infected by some blight or insect illness, or been damaged by high winds or careless humans. You remove that stuff not just because it’s useless – but because leaving it there may compromise the health of the whole tree. That’s most obvious in the case of disease; you want to try to prevent any disease or rot spreading to the rest of the tree. But dead or damaged wood can also provide an entry point for bugs or infection, through broken or rotted wood. It can be a doorway to systemic illness that may weaken or kill the whole plant. So the Wise One tending the vineyard, the orchard, cuts away what is unhealthy, lest it cause the whole branch or vine to weaken or die.

Second, pruning makes space. Some kinds of trees and vines are prone to growing overly thick. Growing a crowd of branches, tendrils, and leaves. For the plant’s health, and especially for fruit to grow and ripen well, there needs to be room for air to circulate, and for the sun to shine in among the branches, because sun is what ripens the fruit. So you prune to loosen things up a little bit, to make some space within the tree or on the vine for the plant to breathe, because plants do breathe, and for fruit to grow and ripen well. This is one reason you can’t just prune a plant once; you have to pay attention, and tend it year by year.  Keep clearing it out when it becomes overgrown. So the Wise One tending the vineyard, the orchard, prunes to make some room, to create space for the plant to breathe and grow, so that the branches that are left can flourish and get what they need to bear big, healthy, ripe fruit.

Third, pruning is a way to tell the plant how to direct its energy and growth. Here’s an example, not exactly pruning but the same principal: Last year we ordered two dozen young blueberry bushes and planted them along the north side of our property. They came to us with berries already formed – tiny green berries! So exciting, proof that these are fruit bushes that will fruit for us! And the first thing we had to do was pick off all the little green berries. And we’re going to do it again this summer: pick off all the little green berries. Because fruiting takes a lot of the plant’s energy and resources, and we don’t want the plants to put their energy into developing berries yet. The plants are still new and still small, and we want them to focus on developing their root and branch structures. On becoming stronger, hardier, better-rooted plants. It’s not time for them to fruit yet. Maybe next year. But right now, taking off the berries is a way to tell the plant, Don’t do that this year. Just focus on becoming a stronger plant, please.

Much the same applies with trees and vines. Take our little pear tree, out there. See those funny branches reaching straight up? I had to look this up – they’re called watersprouts. Growing those funny, vertical, fast-growing branches is a way that some trees, and especially pear trees, sometimes respond to pruning or to weather stress. Sometime this summer, we need to prune those upright watersprouts. Because the tree is putting resources into growing those guys. And they’re not what we want. They make the tree crowded and tend to shade out the rest of the tree, and any fruit they bear will be too high for us to reach!… So we’ll cut off the watersprouts, to prevent the tree from putting its resources into growing stuff that’s no good to us. So the Wise One tending the vineyard, the orchard, cuts away what is not useful, or not ready, to encourage the plant to put its energy into fruitful growth.

Cutting away what is dead, diseased, or damaged. Making room for air and light. Directing resources towards needed growth. None of this really resolves my fear that being pruned may be… uncomfortable at times. But it does help me see the point.

Jesus is, actually, quite clear that the point is fruitfulness. The phrase “bear fruit” appears six times in these eight verses.  And he sums it up this way: “My Father is glorified by this: that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” Discipleship is an important word and idea in the New Testament. Some churches talk about discipleship a lot, but it’s not a very Episcopalian word. I don’t remember talking about discipleship in Sunday school or confirmation class, and as a priest myself, I haven’t used this word, this idea, a lot. But I may start. Because that word, discipleship – it captures this idea, this thing we are talking about here, about being more than just members of a church, about being followers of Jesus. Being people who, I hope, are members of a church because that community of faith helps us find the path and the strength and the clarity to follow Jesus. To live lives shaped by his Gospel of mercy, generosity, healing, hope, and love.

This Gospel – this parable that Jesus offers today – it’s an image, a metaphor of discipleship. And it’s really very simple, because in this parable, this image, we’re not the one with the pruning shears. Worrying about who else is fruitful, who is growing in the shape God intends for them – that is above our pay grade. Leave it to the Wise One who tends our orchard, our vineyard. We’re just… branches. And all we have to do is abide in the vine. Hold on. Stay connected. And let the vine bear fruit through us. The vine is strong and true, so if the branch is healthy, if air and sun and water and good soil are available, then fruit will happen. It’s not something to force or fret about, for us branches. We just stay connected, and let the life of the vine live in us.

Let me hang one more idea on this overgrown metaphor: The fruit isn’t for the plant. Its usefulness is elsewhere, and beyond. It’s to feed somebody else. Or maybe to be planted elsewhere to start something new growing. The fruit we bear is to feed and nurture others. The Acts of the Apostles gives us one vision of what that can look like – Philip the deacon, being open to the whisper of God: Take that road today. Go talk to that stranger. The first letter of John gives us language for the generosity of fruitfulness: “We love because he first loved us.” The word “love” appears 27 times in these 14 verses. We love because God in Christ loved us. We carry the love we have received out into the world. Bushel baskets of love, borne out from the vineyard, the orchard, to feed and delight those beyond its walls.

Let us pray. May the Wise One tending this vineyard, this orchard, this garden of God, shape us gently and tenderly, clearing away what is unhealthy, creating space for light to shine in, focusing our growth where we have the greatest potential to bear fruit for your Kingdom. Amen.