Years ago, I read The Pillars of the Earth. It is a Ken Follett work of historical fiction about building a cathedral somewhere in Europe in the middle ages. Every time I walk into a cathedral, particularly in Europe, I recall that book and the commitment, sacrifice, and sense of community and achievement that surround the construction of these ancient religious sites. Cathedrals were built for the glory of God. The core idea undergirding this construction was the fact that God exists. There is God and therefore paying attention to God is a logical, eminently reasonable thing to do. Putting a community effort toward this end, then, makes sense. And so communities put their energy and resources toward building a place, a cathedral, at the center of their community as an inspiration to reflect the glory of God.
Circling the cathedral, out at the periphery, like planets to the sun, lived the parish churches. They were the intimate to the cathedral’s awe. They were the quiet prayers to the cathedral’s extravagant “Alleluias.” They were the every day to the cathedral’s seasonal celebrations. A parish church measured the life of neighborhood’s spiritual vitality. And, in the best instances, became, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, little seminaries for the neighborhood.
As you know, as long as I have been at Epiphany, it has been one of the organizing hopes of our parish to be a little seminary for the neighborhood. Having said that, I am afraid I have not always been clear about what that means. So let me try to clarify: Epiphany is a spiritual center of gravity where people come to grow into their most spiritually authentic self. Clear enough? Let me unpack this. 1) All people are spiritual, and all people are on a spiritual journey. If you are alive you are spiritual. And if you are participating in this chronological time continuum created by the spinning of our globe, then you are on a journey. You can own that, or you can ignore that, but nonetheless you are spiritual, and you are on a journey. 2) The neighborhood church was inspired to guide this journey. The protocol for growth toward authenticity is the model and teaching of Jesus. It is called “The Way.” 3) The Way has three core orientations: relationship with God; relationship with neighbor; relationship with self. The seminary organizes to point to, and then magnify, these three relationships. This is done through relationship building (small groups, round tables, foyer dinners, retreats, parties, and pilgrimages, for example). This is done through education. This is done through training in the spiritual exercises. This is done through adoration to God in worship. And this is done through community gathering (St. Francis Day dog washes, Easter Egg hunts, neighborhood Christmas caroling, and the Madrona Mayfair).
The parish church/ little seminary model is built on the principle that you never graduate, rather, that you continue, throughout your life to move incrementally closer and closer to the wholeness and health and holiness you were made for. Being planted in a parish church and being watered by all that it offers is what allows this to happen. And it works. I know this not just because I have seen it, but because of parish churches thriving for over the last two thousand years.
That said, there is a diminishment in the vitality of neighborhood parishes. I think there are two reasons for this. First, the church has forgotten its role as a little seminary for the neighborhood. And second, people have bought into the magical thinking of the achievement lifestyle, rather than the grounded reality of being planted and incrementally growing up in community, over time.
School is a simple example of magical achievement thinking. Many, if not most, schools are built on an achievement model, making the claim that if you work hard, do well, get good grades, and go to the right/ best college, you will graduate and be happy. This is magical thinking because true happiness isn’t the result of achievements and takes an entirely different type of study and focus. A passionate pursuit of an area of academic interest and aptitude is a great thing, and ideally, I pray, the hope of a school for every student. But too often, children spend most of their time on the thing they are the worst at, rather than in passionate pursuit of what they are best at.
The parish seminary is all about being planted, being known, being a lifelong member who is formed and transformed through the seasons, over the years, by worship, learning, and, most of all, being known by one’s neighbor. The parish seminary model is about finding one’s best, most authentic self. The parish is made to encourage and accompany people on their spiritual journey, not toward achievement, but toward authenticity and wholeness, health, and holiness.
And so we have the cathedral that gathers the parishes to acknowledge their broader communal connection and to worship God in the most awesome way. And we have the parishes, as the place planted in neighborhoods to provide a “way” for people to move along on their spiritual journeys and grow up in their souls.
In our elementary Sunday School classes this spring, our 1st-4th graders are learning about Cathedrals. These are some details about this unit, which will run until our final program day on Pentecost, May 20. If you’d like to be involved or have any questions, contact Elizabeth Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you haven’t been around Epiphany very long—or even if you have-you might wonder what happens to the money people put in the little basket on their way to communion every Sunday. Good happens, that’s what. This past year, total Hunger Basket donations of $19,998.65 purchased $16,129.58 worth of fresh produce for the Central Area Food Bank, which is open each Wednesday at the East Cherry Street YWCA. You gave so much that Epiphany could also give $5000 to Backpack Brigade, which provides meals for homeless children on weekends and school holidays. That’s really good!
Epiphany has provided fresh produce to the food bank for almost ten years. Every Wednesday morning a volunteer driver fills his or her car at MacPherson’s Fruit and Produce on Beacon Hill (they give us steep discounts) and delivers the goods to the food bank. On a recent delivery, long-time driver Steve Faust chatted with an elderly woman and her daughter, who were among those waiting for the food bank to open. The women said that the fresh fruits and vegetables they received each week were the difference between getting by and eating well.
Drivers don’t have to lift a thing. Clerks at MacPherson’s load the produce and food bank volunteers unload.
Love Those Volunteer Drivers!
After many years of faithful deliveries, volunteers Karen Kershaw and Bill Wurts are moving on to “emeritus” status. Thank you, Karen and Bill! Margaret King, Erik Christensen, and Frank Lawler have recently joined the Wednesday morning delivery rota. Would you like to give it a try? Depending on where you live, a delivery takes about an hour. Please contact Holly Boone (email@example.com) for more information or to arrange a trial run.
Theology Round Tables On The Christian Sacraments: Reconciliation
April 22 | 10 am | Great Hall
Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
The reconciliation of a penitent is the rite in which those who repent their sins may confess them to God, in the presence of a priest, and receive the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution. That is how the Book of Common Prayer describes this very important sacramental rite. But reconciliation is also an achievement and a process not only for the individual but also for communities, such as families, the environment, and even whole nations. This Sunday in the Everybody Hour forum in the Great Hall, there will be a round table on the Rite of Reconciliation. Please join us for an informative and interactive learning opportunity.
Have you ever wanted someone to talk to about your spiritual life? Wished you were more deeply connected to a small community for support and friendship? Are you wondering if there may be something more to prayer and your relationship with God than what you are experiencing? These are some of the reasons that people join small groups at Epiphany. Next Thursday evening, April 26th, we will host a Small Group Information evening for women. Come hear about the ministry, how groups work, why “storytelling” is so important to the process and how to deepen your listening skills. Join us at 6:30 PM in the Fireside room to learn more about it. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan to attend.
It’s Time to Register for Epiphany Vacation Bible Camp
July 9-13 | 1-4 pm
Vacation Bible Camp (VBC) at Epiphany is a place for all ages to experience God’s love in a safe and welcoming environment.
Bible Storytelling | Crafts | Games | Chapel | Music | Service
Click here to register online.
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Click here to view Prayer List