A Note from Fr. Humphrey 

Friday, 3 July 2015


 

Dear People, Neighbors, and Friends of St. John's,                                        


 

The Feast of St. Benedict falls every year on the 11th of July, exactly a week after the 4th of July, our Independence Day. In some ways, one could make the case that these two commemorations stand for opposite values: Independence Day is about shaking off tyrannical authority, for self-determination, for freedom-or, as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." St. Benedict, on the other hand, is the founder of western monasticism; his Rule stresses the absolute authority of an abbot over his monks, the dependence of the monk on his community, and the rootedness to be found in one place until death. In his Rule, we find the three Benedictine vows of obedience, stability, and conversion of life. Jefferson's Declaration of Independence is all about freedom; Benedict's Rule is all about service.

 

But do obedience, stability, and conversion of life necessarily stand in the way of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? What is the relationship between the ideals of freedom and service? In pondering this question, a phrase from Morning Prayer wafted into my mind: "whose service is perfect freedom." I looked it up and found this collect:

 

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us, thy humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

There is a militaristic ring to these words-"assaults," "enemies," "defense," "adversaries," "might." Reading these words, I could imagine Anglican soldiers on both sides of the conflict in the Revolutionary War praying this collect before marching into battle. And yet, this prayer is titled in the Prayer Book "A Collect for Peace." This prayer for peace is addressed to God, the "lover of concord." I was reminded of the fact that the first battles of the War for American Independence were fought at Lexington and, ironically, a town called Concord.

 

I find this collect very challenging because the prayer is so realistic: even when we want peace, we will have enemies. Yet, even when our adversaries have power over us, if we trust in God, we do not have to fear that power. We can choose, instead, to serve God, in "whose service is perfect freedom," and this is true whether we are at peace or at war, whether we are on the "right" side or the "wrong" side, a "winner" or a "loser" in the various battles we wage, or those that are waged against us. We do not need to participate in the violent counter-assaults and power-plays of life, if we find our freedom in serving the God who is the author of peace and lover of concord.

 

Ah, but where does any of this leave us with Independence Day and St. Benedict, with the American values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness versus the monastic values of obedience, stability, and conversion of life? We are left, I think, always in that creative tension between independence and interdependence. Responsible Christian discipleship and healthy Christian community depend upon these two things. The tension between independence and interdependence never fully resolves, but resolution isn't the point. The point is for us to pursue true happiness, which is found in the service of God-and God is best served when we serve others, and allow others to serve us.

 

I had the privilege of living with some Benedictine Monks over a couple of summers in college and seminary. It was at that monastery that I first began to discern the shape of my Christian vocation to priesthood, and I recall those days with gratitude and fondness. I remember celebrating both the 4th of July and the 11th of July with thanksgiving and prayer. The monks who offered me hospitality knew what it meant to take responsibility for their own lives of faith and to rely on each other to sustain a community of faith that was both contemplative and active.

 

As a parish community, St. John's is called, in the midst of and despite the conflicts raging in our wider culture and within the church, to the same stability and continual conversion of life to which Benedict called his monks. We are called, too, to use our independence in serving and building up each other and wider community, as we build relationships of interdependence with our neighbors and friends, both near and far. If we do this, we need "not fear the power of any adversaries," whether ideological or political or relational. God willing, we will even begin to see those who are different from us and who hold different opinions as standing in the same need of God's grace and love as we do; and when we realize this, it will free us to serve each other and to find in that service the perfect freedom of God, which alone brings peace and concord.

 

If the 4th of July is Independence Day, the 11th of July should be called "Interdependence Day," for this is how I have come to think of the feast of St. Benedict. Each of us needs to be both independent and interdependent in order to grow into the full stature of Christ as we serve God and each other, and in that service, to pursue the kind of happiness that leads to perfect freedom.

 

Yours in Christ's service,

N.J.A. Humphrey+

Vicar


Stewardship Update

The results of the 2014 Parochial Report are in, and it's amazing! We ended last year with a $35,000 surplus of income over expenses! That surplus has been used in the first half of 2015 to fund much-needed operations, programs, and capital improvements. We could not have ended the year on such a strong footing without the generosity of our members, friends, and neighbors. Thank you for caring so much about St. John's, and for giving to ensure our ongoing vitality in mission and ministry. 

We still have many funding priorities to attend to in 2015, some of which are unanticipated or unusual and therefore not in the 2015 budget. The largest of these is $40,000 for new fire safety equipment for the church mandated by the fire marshal under the stricter laws passed in response to the Station Night Club disaster. We are looking to identify funding for this project through grants, but we know that it must be completed by December 31st. That gives us just under six months. 

You can help us build up our cash reserves to cover any shortfalls that such one-time or emergency expenses entail by adding an additional amount to your weekly or monthly pledge, increasing your plate giving, or simply sending a one-time donation to the church office. You can earmark it for capital improvements (including fire safety), the choir school, or operational support (which includes staff salaries and benefits). You'd be surprised what giving $5/week on top of your pledge can do!

Thank you for your support of St. John's. Without you, we would not be in the healthy financial position we find ourselves in today. To God be the glory!

 

Announcements

Do you have a freer schedule this summer? Consider joining us for Morning Prayer (8:30) or Evening Prayer (5:30) during the week. These brief services are a wonderful way to start and/or end the day.

Want to get more involved at St. John's? There's plenty to do outside and inside St. John's. If you'd like to become more active than you already are, please reach out to Fr. Humphrey at vicar@saintjohns-newport.org.
Need a visit? Please be in touch with Deacon Close at deacon@saintjohns-newport.org and he or Fr. Humphrey will be in touch.

Music on the Lawn will be returning soon. If you would like to lend a helping hand, be in touch with Scott Nicholson at gramer890@gmail.com. This is a great opportunity for neighbors to get together.

Bach and Friends at Quarter Till returns June 13 through September 6: Saturdays at 11:45 am and 2:45 pm; Sundays at 2:45 pm, 5:45 pm, and 8:45 pm. Fifteen-minute concerts/mini-demonstrations with organ music of J. S. Bach and another composer at each program. Admission 25 cents (put a quarter in the "Quarter Till"), or any amount you wish. With new video technology made possible by a grant received from the New York City American Guild of Organists Centennial Millennium Fund. Last summer, 110 of these mini-concerts raised over $11,000 to begin restoration of our historic 1894 Hook and Hastings instrument.