Dearest Beloved of St. Mark’s,

I hope that this week finds you healthy, and I hope that you are feeling connected to the St. Mark’s family that loves you exactly as you are!  

Over the past few days, my thoughts have been centered around an idea from the first letter of John that says that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). For some reason, it seems to be a great reminder for me in the midst of these unusual times. As a dear friend loves to say, “perfect love may cast out all fear, but imperfect love does a pretty good job of casting out some .” It’s helpful for me to be reminded that perfection isn’t the goal for me as a human being; it's being perfected by the One who loves me in spite of my imperfections.

In order to be perfected, we have to be willing to allow God to move us and change us into the people that we are called to be. The better version of ourselves that emerges is still the imperfectly-loving type of creature, but our connection to the Creator allows us to trust that the process of growth casts out all sorts of fear along the way.

In the back porch blessings that I recorded for the facebook page this week, I riffed a little bit on our faithful response to fear. I was reminded by my good friend Hudson, that being afraid is a very normal and very real part of being a human. In the midst of the week, I have been reminded of such gems as “that danger is real, but fear is a choice” and that Jesus himself tells me “not to worry” more than I am really comfortable with. Fear is a choice, and in order to avoid making that choice more often I am able to give space to being perfected by (in?, with?, through?) the Love of God.

For me, the acronym for a faithful response to F.E.A.R orbits around the practices of community. They are: developing deep and meaningful F riendships, practicing E mpathy, Living as A uthentically as possible, and R elaxing by letting go and letting God. One of the things that makes me most proud about St. Mark’s as a community is that we have tried to make these practices values that not only bind us together, but help us to “ be Christ to others as we are led and empowered by Grace .”

We are beginning to have conversations with the staff and vestry about the wonderfully supportive guidelines that Bishop Reed and the diocesan staff have given us for use in these unusual times. We’ve all acknowledged how foreign and unfamiliar all of these ideas are, and we’ve paid attention to our own sense of security or fear as we begin to think about what our next steps might be in keeping the community connected while continuing to place a premium on loving God and loving neighbor as Jesus taught us. Perfect love casts out all fear, and our imperfect attempts will do a pretty good job as well. So we will keep Love at the center of our discussions always.
 
If you are interested, you can read the guidelines (and other great information) on DWTX.org, I have been so grateful for the thoughtful work done by Bishop Reed and the diocesan staff.

As we keep Love at the center, we will also continue to keep people feeling connected and loved in the midst of the uncertainty, If you are looking for ways to reach out, then I would suggest you pick one of the letters of the response to fear acronym and work on that… just for today. Reach out to someone who might need your friendship - your phone call or text may be just the thing to help someone feel better. Practice empathy with someone who might think differently than you do- remember that no matter how differently we think , how we feel is remarkably similar (everyone gets scared sometimes and everyone feels joy sometimes… you get it). Live authentically in the life you have been given- sharing your true self with the world opens doors for empathy and friendship that may have never been opened before and can give you more insight into your authentic self. And finally, relax in the never-ending perfect Love of God that fuels you. 

Fear is cast out all over the place.

I’ve said in my letters before that how we go forward will be different than how we started this journey, but I only mean that in the procedural sense. We will have a great many changes to the way we live together in community. We are already seeing that. However, for us at St. Mark’s, we will always be governed by the practices that got us here in the first place and sustain us no matter where we may be in the world. There is a difference between procedure and process, and I believe that our process will always be guided and shepherded with grace, kindness, and love. Everyone in our St. Mark’s family will be supported and loved through the grace that empowers all of our endeavors.

On Sunday, we will mark an important milestone in the lives of two of our beloved seminarians. Lucy and Bryn have been with us for two years now and I couldn’t have been more grateful for the love and care with which they have gone about learning and leading at St. Mark’s. While it is so weird that we quickly parted proximate company at spring break, it has been wonderful to see these amazing humans prepare their hearts and minds for ordination and service in their respective first cures. 

I will say a word of thanks to both of them on Sunday, and I’ll grieve a little bit that I can’t be there with them for one last time around the altar, but I’ll also rejoice knowing that as ambassadors of God’s Love go, these two are at the top of my list. It has been a privilege to learn with them and from them. I’m grateful they aren’t going too far, and I’ll be able to soon call them both colleagues in the diocese of West Texas. If nothing else this week, please join me in praying for Lucy and Bryn as the graduate, and begin their lives as ordained people. As I have told them both… once a St. Mark’s beloved seminarian, always a St. Mark’s Beloved Seminarian.

Finally, you’ll notice that I still didn’t talk about dates for returning to face to face worship. That remains my intention. The simple answer and the most correct answer remains... I don’t know, and more appropriately, WE don’t know. While people have asked for a timeline... St. Mark’s is not about to rush into anything that might be unsafe or unfaithful to our covenant promise to care for neighbor, church, and ourselves.  We do know that the Bishop has directed us to continue online worship through May 24th.  So for the foreseeable future, keep enjoying church in the sacred space you create, remembering the words of the poet who said “that we are never alone” even when we “go to church in my easy chair.”

One of the biggest positives that I see in all of this is the chance for a congregation like us to continue to build community in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Every week, as we remember those who bless our community like Bryn and Lucy we are really celebrating the friendship, empathy, authenticity, and relaxation that we find in being St. Mark’s. Keep casting out fear dear ones, our life in Christ is all the better for it… keep logging in, and never forget how much you are loved!

Peace,
Ben+

P.S. We’ve got some pretty cool surprises and celebrations coming up in our worship online, so don’t miss out!  
May 24th we celebrate our Graduates and Ms. Bettie- our beloved preschool director who is “graduating” into retirement
May 31st is Pentecost Sunday, and we are going to have an online video dance par-tay !!!!! So get excited! It may be unusual, but hey… aren’t we always!?

Connection and Formation
Our Sunday school session for families will be posted at 10:30 Sunday morning! The session is partly inspired by Father Ben's conversation with Hudson who explained that "Thunder is Real". This is true! Some of the things we are afraid of are not just our imaginations gone wild but are real things. What do we do when we can't stop worrying? Jesus said, "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today." - Matthew 6:34 Some of the things we cover are from one of last week's devotion guides from Faith@Home and centered on this one verse. 

It is easy to worry as we live through the COVID-19 pandemic. Who wouldn't worry right now? Our lives have been upended by staying at home, schools are closed, churches are not meeting for worship, and much-anticipated gatherings and events have been canceled. We read news articles about pain and suffering around the world. We do not know what will happen tomorrow, let alone a month or a year from now. And, as communities start to ease shelter-in-place restrictions, we will see how our world will adapt to a "new normal," but none of us know what that will be.

Today's Scripture verse reminds us that, even in the midst of change and uncertainty, we don't need to worry about what will happen tomorrow, or a month, or a year from now. Jesus reminds us that we need to focus on today, the present. He is with us and will always be, no matter what happens. We need to just "be" in the moment, focus on the now, and take comfort in the presence of Christ. This is hard for all ages to do. - from Faith@Home

Instead of focusing on worries, what helps you feel calm? Come sing along and dig into this conversation in this session! To read Faith@Home's devotion guide that includes a mindfulness video and art ideas on this subject, go to

Sunday's Illustrated Ministry offering focuses on Psalm 61:19 and fits right in with our discussion about worry.
But truly God has listened;
God has given heed to the words of my prayer.

Click here for the children's bulletin, discussion, and coloring page:  https://illustratedmin.s3.amazonaws.com/weekly-resources/Easter-Week6.pdf