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Building and Filling Our Containers
A reflection by The Rev. Doyt Conn
Richard Rohr in his book Falling Upward draws an analogy between our life and a container. He says that the first half of our life is for building the container, and the second half of life is for filling it. Our first half of life concerns, according to Rohr, are around identity, security, and sexuality. If we manage these well, we’ll have built a good, useful container that we spend the second half of our life filling with our soul. Another way to think about this is that in the first half of life, we climb out into the world to state who we are, and in the second half of life, we climb down into our soul to see who we really are. Another way to look at these two halves of life is that in the first half, we learn about the world we have been set in, and in the second half, we unlearn this learning so as to better see God. You get the point. Both halves are important to attend to. If the container is not well built in the first half of life, it cannot hold the soul in the second half of life. The saddest life of all is the second-halfer still trying to build their container free-form. Maybe you know some people like this.
The church is organized to help first-halfers build their container, and second-halfers seek their soul. In fact, the church is uniquely designed to do both these things and do them as a unified event. After all, part of knowing one’s soul comes from helping someone else build their container.
I’d like to reflect on this container analogy by reflecting on Epiphany these past five years and how we are moving from a time of container-building to a time of container-filling.
Over the past five years at Epiphany the focus of our common life has found expression in such phrases as: “Epiphany, an outpost of the Kingdom of God”; “Epiphany, a place and an inspiration”;” Epiphany, where belonging trumps believing”; “Epiphany, a shame-free zone”; and “wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you have a place at Epiphany.” Our focus has been building relationships and ensuring that this church will be around for the next 100 years. It has been a time of container-building, and our container is now sturdy and secure, thanks to you all.
The coming year will be a time for the container-building we have done to find its incarnational expression in the renovation of the campus. The feeling of dislocation that this will engender, I pray, as with all transitions, offers an opportunity for spiritual growth. And so I return to the question: what are we doing to build containers and fill containers? My response falls into three categories: children, newcomers, and small groups.
For children my reflection falls upon the excellent work Elizabeth Walker is doing with our children’s worship and formation. If you haven’t heard her talk on the directional overview for children, it is worth hearing whether you have children or not. Kathea Yarnell, our Associate for Children’s Music, will be bringing more music to more children this year. Christian songs are gifts that, when fused to the hearts of children, resonate through their souls for a lifetime. There may come a day when our children can’t see, hear, speak, or do math, but still those songs will ring within them. The key is planting them when they are young. That is Kathea’s goal. Laura Sargent, our Youth Group Director, is doing interesting things with our teens around building cross-generational relationship. She is also preparing some of them for pilgrimage to the Holy Land. How we help children build their containers is a huge focus at Epiphany.
Another focus is newcomers. I have done a rather poor job these past five years in helping newcomers enter into community and find their spiritual footing at Epiphany. You may have seen my Weekly Word article on the Seattle Freeze. Being a newcomer to Epiphany is always a welcoming experience. Breaking into the community and finding ones footing has proven a trickier task. Toward that end I am having bi-monthly happy hours for newcomers. And yet, I realize that to just have a bi-monthly gathering will do little to help people find a spiritual path at Epiphany, and so I am asking for your help. Along with invitations to newcomers, I am also going to run through the list of active parishioners at Epiphany and invite you to join these gatherings. The hope is that these happy hours will be hang-out times to just relax, meet someone new, and generally catch up. The other newcomer program I will focus on this year is a better incorporation process, which will include more intentional education, better follow up, and small group development.
Which leads me to the third, and probably most important, container-filling process of all: small groups. Small groups are the manner by which we fill our containers with an invigorated way of thinking about faith and creating a sense of communal spiritual journey. I hope all of you will try out a small group. Kate is running this program, and for the most part they are an eight-week commitment. The gatherings are about an hour. Each week someone gives a short background bio, then a short video from the Animate series is watched, and then the group enters into conversation on the topic at hand. Small groups are the time honored way of considering our own container and wondering with others where and how God is working in our life.
Here is one final thought with regards to attending to our own personal spiritual containers. I know you are busy and that the fullness of your life is a blessing to your family and the broader community, but this year I would like you to consider your own spiritual journey, the state of your own soul, and the necessity of attending to it in an intentional way. To care for your soul and to attend to your spirit will broaden the manner by which you bless the world. The church is here to help toward that ends.
Stewardship Witness: Eric Artzt
Greetings Epiphany friends,
Pete Melin asked me to write a reflection about stewardship for the upcoming 2015 Stewardship Drive. In my family, the stewardship drive marks a time when Michelle and I examine our household budget, reflect on our priorities, and decide whether to change those priorities. Money is a key indicator of our priorities because it is quantified and points directly to our time commitment in our work. I look forward to working through this analysis with Michelle for 2015.
In thinking about stewardship it is easy to focus on what is outgoing from my household and incoming to the parish and reflect on matters of responsibility, legacy, and commitment to the church. Those matters are all important, but in this letter I want to focus on the other side of stewardship—the stewardship of our own souls. Our tithes to the church are part of our engagement with Epiphany, a community that nourishes our family in various ways. Doyt has referred to Epiphany as a gym for the soul—a place we go and group of people we meet in order to exercise and strengthen our souls with the goal of a happier, healthier life in the here and now with an eye towards the eternal life in God’s kingdom.
I have been drawn to local churches since the late 1990s. I came to Epiphany when we moved into the neighborhood. This happens to be the closest Episcopal Church to our house, and we had heard good things from our friends Pam and Bob Barnes. I have two young boys who I am trying to raise in the Christian faith, and I have hopes that beyond helping with their spiritual development, the church community will serve as a counterweight to their other social communities.
I appreciate the commitment that Epiphany has shown towards all of our children. I see the results with Eli and Aiden, who enjoy their church experiences and are shown great affection and welcome by the membership. I have attended churches with weak child and youth programs, and I can attest that it is a significant and complex undertaking to pull off a consistently good Sunday school experience. It requires a steady commitment of time, attention, and funding—and grace, as we hear the stomping feet and excited voices of the kids coming up the stairs into the sanctuary.
My own participation in the Epiphany community largely consists of attending services. I have a lot on my plate and am unable to take advantage of many of the adult education and social engagement activities offered. But I do try to attend every Sunday, and I am privileged to be able to participate as a Sunday school teacher and helper in my children’s classes.
Sunday worship provides me an hour to focus my attention on God’s agenda. The liturgy of the word provides the intellectual framework for understanding God’s direction, while the food of the table nourishes the child in me, slipping the Spirit in sideways. In taking communion with my boys, we are children together and equal under the Lord. Judging from the waves of emotion that wash over me at the rail, I know that my soul is hungry for the nourishment. My packed week washes me thin, so I need my time at Epiphany to replenish me.
So that’s the stewardship component from the other side. God bless you all and thanks for everything you do to support Epiphany.
Finding the Fingerprints of God
If you were in church on Sunday, you heard Doyt give his annual stewardship sermon on the theme of thanksgiving. After the trumpet concert and hearing the story of Gideon, he walked us through an exercise in reflecting on the past year and looking for the fingerprints of God. When we see that God has been walking with us through trials and triumphs, we are able to let go of fear and be generous.
Click here to download the reflection exercise in PDF form. You are encouraged to take some time to reflect on these questions in a journal or with your family as you consider your pledge to Epiphany Parish this fall.
This Sunday! Fall Ministry Fair and Forum Presentations
Date: October 19, 2014
Time: 9:15 am and during coffee hour
Location: Great Hall
Are you looking for a place to roll up your sleeves with other members of Epiphany? Are you curious what other ministries are up to other than the ones you’re already involved in? Leaders and members of ministries will be sharing vignettes and images from their service in the past year and invitations, plans, and dreams for the year to come. Some ministries will also have tables set up in during coffee hours to answer questions and welcome your participation. For more information on the Ministry Fair or any of Epiphany’s Ministries, please contact Emily Linderman at email@example.com.
All Threads Together
Children and Youth Formation
Sunday School Teaching
Choristers in Training
Christie House Library
Education for Ministry
Men’s Weekend Retreat
Lay Eucharistic Visitors
Email Prayer List
Service & Outreach
Have a Heart Fundraiser
Magazine & Book Ministry
Wellspring Donation Drives
YWCA Apartment Beautification
YWCA Holiday Drives
YWCA Food Bank
Women of Epiphany
An Update from the Building Team
The Building Team is meeting with the staff to coordinate details for the move out of the Parish Hall before construction begins in January. We are firming up the design for several renovations to the chancel area of the Church and working to develop a site work plan that maximizes both construction efficiency and access to the campus for parishioners.
The Next 100 Years Building Team
Ed Emerson, Laura Blackmore, Bob Barnes, Jim Marlow, Ben Bradstreet
Contact the Building Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parish Prayer List
To download a PDF of this week’s prayer list, click here.
Sunday Lectionary Corner
October 19, 2014
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 96:1–9, (10-13)
1 Thessalonians 1:1–10