So Shines a Good Deed!

One of my favorite movies growing up as a child was Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder. In one of the final scenes, Grandpa Joe is arguing with Wonka about why his grandson, Charlie, won’t get the grand prize. Grandpa Joe calls Wonka an inhuman monster and a swindler. They go to leave, but Charlie turns back and places the Everlasting Gobstopper on Wonka’s desk as he unexpectedly returns it. Wonka gently cups the candy in his palm then quietly replies, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” Our own Tom Frey is a living example of this, as are all of the countless volunteers and staff who selflessly work every day together to make our programs and ministry work!
While much of the world has stopped, our mission at Saint Miriam will not be placed on pause. That’s why we have been in 8 newspapers (like the Times Herald) in the last few weeks and last night and this morning we got even more press at Fox 29 News! We were featured on Bill Anderson’s For Goodness’ Sake and not to be out done, we had another featured spot this morning on Good Day Philadelphia where our own Tom Frey was interviewed about the impact we are making with our outreach! Yes! Why? Because every day our parish does real work for real people! I am so proud of what we’ve created!
Now more than ever, we’re so grateful for all the facets of our community that has funded, volunteered, celebrated, and advocated for Saint Miriam through the years, especially during this pandemic. Every single cent given from all of YOU, in all the various ways, from eGiving, to every handwritten check to every online donation, plus all the Mass intentions, and the supplies dropped off, to your generous prayers, too! Because of all of these things – and all your support – we do wonderful work! We learned the power of community and we do these things together, not out of an attitude of self-congratulations, or selfishness, but through great joy that we are part of something better and bigger together: Saint Miriam! At a time when everything feels uncertain, we find comfort and encouragement knowing that you care about our cause, our mission, and our spiritual home.
The passion and care of people like you keep us going, and we hope we make you proud of how we pay these funds forward to benefit not only our parish life but in our outreach, like the Blessing Bag Program, that is so needed, especially during these challenging times.
Please continue to support our good work and here are a few ways you can help us right now from your own homes!
1. Donate Today! Every little bit helps. Your gift will go directly to [helping us stay strong and vibrant for the day when we can return. Thank you for supporting us during this critical time. Donate Today
2. Follow Us on Social Media and through Our Parish App! Keep tabs on all that we’re up to by following us on social media. It’s the easiest way you can see the difference we’re all making together in real-time. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and don’t forget that Saint Miriam App!
3. Fundraise as a Family! Create your own fundraising page to raise money for the Saint Miriam and our Mission. Your kids can help you personalize your fundraiser by posting photos and writing a story about why you’re supporting us. Next, share it with friends and family.
4. Be Sharers of Our Good News! Enjoyed a family Pinterest project? Saw a beautiful story on the news that made you ugly cry? Share your photos, favorite sites, and inspiring stories and quotes on our Facebook page! And, be sure to share our posts on your page and invite your friends to “like us”!
Keep an eye out for updates on the impact of your life with us – together – in the coming weeks, along with other ways to get involved in helping us. Thank you again for your generous support. Our community can do anything because YOU are a part of it!
On behalf of all of us at Saint Miriam, thank you for being a part of our wonderful parish community. We wish you and your family health, safety, and happiness and want you to know that together, we can overcome all things.
In hope to gather together again soon,
Monsignor +Jim

Things Are Different.

Things are different. The campus, once alive with laughter of people coming and going, visitors popping in unannounced or bearing an appointment or holding an agenda, the children filling our halls with both screams of need and joy-filled laughter, the parents saying a quick hello as they dart out to work, the meetings and the telephone calls, the to-do lists that never seem to get done, the sounds of traffic on our Upper Road, and lawn mowers and such, it’s all gone. It’s quiet now. Too quiet.

I sit alone in my office, working and praying and thinking, and there is none of that before sometimes aggravating ‘office noise’ or chit chats happening between staff in the background. Now, I can tell you the regularity of the heat coming on, and the wind outside my windows, and even the beating of my heart. Today I sat at my desk when the intercom suddenly came alive! I leapt from my chair to find a parishioner with a gift for me at the door. She visited at arms-length and turned to leave but telling me – reassuring me – how much Saint Miriam means to her, then she left. She cried as she walked away. I came inside my office and wept. I am lonely. My heart aches. My depression is on the verge of returning. Yes, things are different.

I miss the silence of this church before anyone has arrived on an early Sunday morning.

I miss the sounds of children and their families arriving for school.

I miss the handshakes, the excitement of meeting a newcomer, and the embrace of those who call this place ‘home’ with regularity.

I miss the eyes that seek me at the altar, the prayers of the old, the Rosary beads clicking between fingers, and those questions from our youngest.

I miss the rhythm of this place, the organ as it fills with air, the sound of Charlie’s foot, just as he pushes the pedal of the piano, but right before any sound actually permeates the air.

I miss the ancient liturgy wrapped in ‘new wine skins’ and preaching to an audience (even if they don’t like what I am saying!)

I miss kneeling, then standing, then kneeling again! I miss the moments like last Sunday when we lost our way through the Creed and all those moments our idiosyncrasies dissolve to allow the holy Spirit to mend us; fix us; love us. Despite us, being us.

 I miss the Baptismal Water of the Font; holding the new Christian in my arms, and I miss us, together.

I have come to know that there is always goodness that comes out of our struggles, just as I also know that God is always present; always good, always in love with us, as we are of Him.

I know we will be here again, but I also know that things are different. Too different.

Please don’t give up on us. Don’t forget to struggle with us and share that struggle. Please, don’t forget to give and pray. Please don’t change your giving or we might perish. Don’t you change now, too. We will survive after this time in the tomb. We will ride triumphantly like Our Lord, but first, we need this pause, even if we don’t quite understand it.

You see, things are different, but they aren’t gone. Please help me to make sure they aren’t ever gone. That would be a quiet I couldn’t bear.


That’s the Disease Talking.

It’s too soon; it’s simply too soon. We don’t have enough tests and we really do not even know who should be tested or when. Do we test with possible exposure or only when showing symptoms? What about spouses or family members in the same home or workplace? We really don’t know, and we certainly have no idea who to believe anymore. It’s overloading us with information, misinformation, and straight our lies. And, that, is overwhelming us and the healthcare system. So, It’s too soon; it’s simply too soon.

I have learned by watching the world lately, (With the travel restrictions and social distancing, all of us have more time for that, right?!) that information overload equates to bad choices. I also have learned things that I don’t want to know, things that scare me, but that I – and you, too – NEED to know. These facts include:

  • We have not reached the peak for virus; it remains unknown.
  • Louisiana has highest viral infection growth rate in the world; a tenfold increase in 2 weeks!
  • There have been over 10,000 new cases in last 24 hours in our country.
  • We could be the next epicenter of the pandemic according to CDC.
  • New York’s infection “attack rate” is five times higher than the rest of the US.
  • The Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) has received a formal request from Spain’s Ministry of Defense for international humanitarian assistance, NATO confirmed Monday in a statement, highlighting both medical and personal protective equipment as key areas of demand for Spain’s armed forces, who are supporting the country’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. 
  • There are at least 52,381 cases of the novel coronavirus in the United States, according to CNN Health’s tally of US cases that are detected and tested in the United States through US public health systems. At least 680 people have died.
  • The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo was postponed for about a year.
  • 54% of US population will be ordered to stay at home by midweek.
  • Connecticut has seen a spike of 200 more cases since yesterday.

Yesterday, a recreational ice rink was turned into a makeshift morgue in Spain. Emergency military units are bringing their dead to the Palacio de Hielo, or ‘Ice Palace’, in Madrid’s Hortaleza neighborhood. Yet, just hours later, our President said that his goal is to open up the country “as we near the end of our historic battle with the invisible enemy” packed churches on Easter morning. As a pastor who has made some difficult decisions for our school and parish and outside groups over the last two weeks, I believe that would be reckless. I also do not know if anyone would be ready to come back even IF we got the all clear. In other words, IF the pandemic was lessening, or IF we reached a leveling off of cases, would we even be ready to ‘take a chance’ and come to a packed church full of people, even those we love and worship with every week? I am doubtful; there is fear abounding, and it will take all of some time to find our normal life again. It’s too soon; it’s simply too soon.

As the United States discusses easing restrictions on commerce and government activity amid the spread of coronavirus, a recent spike in cases in Hong Kong shows the challenges of reopening society too soon. In late February, the number of cases in Hong Kong was relatively stable, but then their government began easing restrictions and reopening government institutions. The result? Hong Kong has been addressing a third wave of cases!

This past week, Tony Spell, pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, defied government orders and held services that drew about 1,000 people, in part by busing people in from across five Louisiana parishes. Spell said he’s heard a flood of criticism from fellow Christians urging him to close his doors. Many, Spell said, are citing a bible passage in which the Apostle Paul urges Christians to submit to “governing authorities.” Others ask him to consider the greater good. Spell has told CNN he believes the pandemic is “politically motivated.” I am a strong critic. I believe that he is being reckless. Pure and simple. He is a pastor, not an epidemiologist or health professional. He is playing with people’s lives. There have been a lot of good people, and prayerful Christians, that have lost their lives while praying. This isn’t about faith in God, or the healing powers of the Holy Spirit. This is about being realistic and caring about fellow human beings. He is being selfish.

Then you have Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is of the opinion that old people, (i.e. those most at risk), should volunteer to die to save the economy. (Yes, the economy!) Appearing on Fox News, Patrick told Tucker Carlson, “As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren? …. So, my message is let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country, don’t do that, don’t ruin this great America.” No, Lieutenant Governor, you are callous, politically motivated, and dead wrong, and because of your words, so will others be.

The Governor of New York, Andrew Como, recently had a differing view when he said that life is not disposable. He stated, “My mother is not expendable. Your mother is not expendable. We will not put a dollar figure on human life. We can have a public health strategy that is consistent with an economic one. No one should be talking about social Darwinism for the sake of the stock market.”

So, no, I am sorry, but cramming people into churches will only make the world more uncertain and might even make others severely ill. I cannot – we cannot – have deaths on our hands. We won’t. Not on my watch. [We will be making an announcement on our Easter plans at Saint Miriam by tomorrow.]

Lately, people have been so mean, and so dismissive of the life of others. The ‘me and not you’ has expanded now past just hoarding toilet paper. It is now against human life. ‘That’s just the disease talking’, some people say. God, I hope so; I pray it, otherwise people will die. What will we tell future generations about how we acted and who we killed in the name of an economy?

I promise you this, if we are kind and considerate: We will heal, but we must be one, together.

Let’s all be each other’s responsibility.



Fear Meets Hope; East Meets Hope.

When I was in seminary, I was introduced to the artistry of James He Qi. Dr. Richard Melheim said to think of He Qi’s art as, “Chagall meets Matisse meets Picasso meets the East. Vibrant. Energetic. Breathtaking. Biblical. Humorous. Whole-world art. He hopes to help change the “foreign image” of Christianity in China by using artistic language, and at the same time, to supplement Chinese Art the way Buddhist art did in ancient times. His brilliant, colorful and highly contemporary paintings emerge unmistakably from ongoing Chinese contexts. He Qi blends Chinese folk customs and traditional Chinese painting with the western art of the Middle and Modern Ages, but adds his own spin, techniques and style. I believe He Qi may one day be seen as the Michelangelo of the next 1000 years of Christian art.” I tend to agree!

From that first encounter, now so many years ago, during the time we were looking ahead to Easter, but still in the midst of a deeply penitential Lent, I saw hope. His work was entitled, “He No Here”, and featured the women arriving at the tomb of Jesus after His resurrection, the stone was rolled away and Jesus was gone. The women exclaimed as the men approached in their fear, “He no here!” And so, it was. Jesus was risen.

I have maintained a relationship with the artist ever since that day in seminary so long ago. In my prose, my homilies, and from within my heart. His art has given me inspiration and hope. That is why, in the midst of this pandemic, I turned to James and the beauty of his pieces, as much as I do to scripture and prayer. One of his latest works is today’s featured image for my Blog, and will be featured during the Musical Edition of the Stations of the Cross on April 2nd (whether in person, if permitted and safe, or via livestream, the show will go on!)

This beautiful artwork is entitled, “Carrying-Cross”, (used here with permission of the artist) and will also adorn the walls of my office soon as an artist proof. It serves to remind me that even as Jesus walked the streets toward that hill – bloodied, battered, exhausted, frightened, scorned and rejected – that would surely claim His mortal life, He would soon resurrect and claim us, too, but this time for eternal life.

This image, and the story it tells, reminds me that despite whatever will come our way: pandemic, floods, quakes and more, we will always be safe and find our way, because the One we worship and adore led the way first and killed even death itself.

So, even though I will not see you in person this Sunday, I will see many of your faces attached to the pews, (Please see the post at our Facebook page to send in your photos!) and all of you will be in my heart. I pray I will be, too. Please support the work of Saint Miriam because one day, we will all want to return to a place that gives us such hope and peace, just like the beautifully moving work of James He Qi does for me.

Be safe, be well, be still and know God is here.

You Show Me Your Friends, I’ll Show You Your Future.

People often ask me what the “secret” to my enduring faith is; how do I – year after year – continue to sacrifice to build something few have ever created like saint Miriam? How do I put the church, and our life here as a community, ahead of everything and everyone? (Yes, including my personal life and my wife and family. Just ask Katelyn. Just ask my mom.)  Many folks want to make it all the way with Jesus, but they’re afraid that something might derail them along the way. Sadly, and usually it does, and often it is themselves and their own fear, or their inability to let go of something, or someone, in their way. I have learned that when they ask this, I know they’re expecting some spiritual advice—possibly a theological truth or a key spiritual discipline. As a priest, I’m all for theological truth and spiritual disciplines, but if there is a secret ingredient to enduring faith, it’s this:  Show me your friends, I’ll show you your future. Your friends, and those you commit to, are your future you!

Relationships with others may not be the most important factor in your spiritual life, but it’s certainly one of the most overlooked. That’s why I refer to it as a secret ingredient to enduring faith and one that causes most to lose their way. I often tell people that God will never ask you to give up one covenant for another, but God does demand preferential treatment. After all, God is God. The mistake I often see isn’t that Christians have too many non-Christian friends, but that people who should be in their primary and intimate circles are actually harming their faith walk. This is why all Christians need to read the Bible (even if they don’t want to do it) and why they need to seriously look – objectively – at who is in their life. In doing so, they will take what they think they know about God and make it more real, more practical, more applied in their everyday walk of faith. The sad truth is that most folks somehow forget that they’re social creatures, shaped by the people closest to them. King Solomon put it this way in Proverbs, “The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.” In other words, again, ‘show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.’

This is why the gathering of community will never cease to exist. Oh, sure, we have livestream and digital and reply and movies and podcasts and apps, but we truly need to gather together, week in and week out, to feel the living Presence of God and to enjoy one another as social creatures. God made us need each other and need God. This only happens when we gather and pout God and our faith community first. Then, what we think is happening is a sacrifice, but in reality, it is our lives being reordered for a brighter and happier future. This is why despite our illnesses, and outbreaks like coronavirus, and depression and financial issues, or whatever the case may be, we still must gather and feel and love.

You see, I have learned the simple truth that happiness will never be complete here, in our earthy form, but for the time we have together we need to reorient ourselves for the best shot at a life fulfilled as possible. As J.D. Greer once said, Our future is shaped less by our ambitions of what we’ll do for God, and more by the company we choose to keep in the present.”  That begins with the simple recognition that your friends, and those you commit to, are your future you.



When the Hardwood of a Pew Becomes More Important Than the Hardwood of The Cross.

Ah, I am wondering, did anyone hear about the RETREAT CENTER?

It seems that we had some really big things happening to our parish: new roadways are coming, a possible homeless outreach in Kensington, a the very real possibility of private-public partnership for our undeveloped land, and the gift of a 56+ acre retreat center! However, we seem to be hung up on the wooden pews.

I also hoped that we would all be concerned with the those folks who attend Saint Miriam, but also fail to give a regular financial donation to our work to enable us to reach these, and more goals to come, that God has blessed us with as a community. We have a vibrant parish that is rapidly becoming a family-centered parish with a strong focus – and dedication – to the future: our children. This takes resources and the pressures on your ministry team, and me as your pastor, are immense.

While we are not asking for anyone to take away our lot in life, as it is our calling, we do deserve your support, acknowledgement, and willingness to lift the burden a little. We haver never once asked for equal giving, but we have shown the way to equal sacrifice, even among our clergy. After all, a heavy burden is light when shared.

Despite the obstacles of the last few years, our school and children’s programs are flourishing. Our parish is growing. Our dedication to the dead and their care at our cemetery has never been stronger. Our outreach is extending further into areas that need our prayer and support, but more importantly, our hands, feet, and voices. Unlike so many parishes, we have not allowed ourselves to shrink away from the ills of the world, rather we have doubled-down on our willingness to be with them, side-by-side, as we should, to bring the literal church to where they are. And, when they come to our doors, they are flung wide to all! This is what a parish is supposed to be.

Dr. Seuss once gave us no finer words of inspiration when it comes to being dedicated to those who follow us. He wrote, “I know it may seem small and insignificant, but it’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become. That’s not a seed, any more than you’re just a boy.”  Yes, that is what we do! We know that nothing that we do is insignificant because we focus on what it will one day become. A child, an outreach, and a parish!

From two people in a small rented chapel in a Jewish synagogue in Philadelphia to all that we have now, all because we have never once shrunk away from the mission. And, we know deep down that when the hardwood of a pew becomes more important than the hardwood of The Cross, we will all surely perish.


As The World Needs Us More, We Need Church Less.

As the world becomes more caustic and rejects the most vulnerable among us, we are becoming less churched. That’s right. It’s true. As humans reject the most in need of human beings around us, like the refugee, the immigrant, the asylum-seeker, the bullied, the LGBTQ, and even the ill (Yes, our new immigration reforms reject the ill!), we are attending church less. We seemed to have found a way in life absent God.

People who attend church are attending less often. People who used to attend every week are now attending only 3 times a month. People who were around twice a month, often now show up once a month if we are lucky. And those who used to come once a month are showing up only a mere half a dozen times a year. There are fewer and fewer of us every year who feel guilty when we miss a Sunday or have a natural instinct to head to a gathering of like-minded faithful Christians on the first day of the week or miss church when we can’t get there. It’s not just us, it’s not just our church or our faith; it is, well, just true.

As this major trend is happening to those who once valued their faith, church attendance and religion, the “public charge” rule change took effect last week in our nation and we now – literally – block poor or disabled immigrants from seeking better lives. “This rule enforces longstanding law requiring aliens to be self-sufficient, reaffirming the American ideals of hard work, perseverance and determination,” said Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. What? Can this be true? The ideals this policy enforces are certainly anything but American to me, let alone Christian. So, who will be affected? Well over 382,000 immigrants per year according to DHS, but The New American Economy, a nonprofit immigration research group, estimates a much higher number at somewhere north of 3.9 million persons! And, if you think this hasn’t happened before, I will gently remind you that this very same rule was used to prohibit tens of thousands of German Jews who were trying to flee Nazi oppression. Ya, that’s right, we closed our doors tight with this very same rule to a people who literally were be slaughtered, all in the name of some ‘American ideal’.

Today, as we welcomed in Ash Wednesday, and with it the holy season of Lent, we also opened our Refugee exhibit, Safe Passage, with our Lenten Focus: Through the Eyes of the Refugee. I think we should all begin here. Perhaps, if we do, and allow God to come again, and attend church more and pray harder, and see those who are fighting with less, we mighty discover the truth that the will and the heart – not the cold, hard cash. We are better than that.  Aren’t we?


Lent is a State of Being.

I’ve been getting ready for Lent. In fact, as a pastor, I have been ‘in Lent’ for several weeks already to prepare our parish – and her people – for a journey that is supposed to change us. By the seemingly so far off glorious Easter sunrise by today’s vantage point, we are to end up being different; substantially different. We are to be a new people.

Now, that journey will be easy for some. The some who will choose to neglect to honor the season. Others who will slight it. And still more will treat it no more and no less than the way they treat every Sunday; a place one goes but only when there is nothing better to do in the world. But, to those of us who will sink deeply, reflect, look honestly within ourselves, and who are willing to not only ask God the hard questions, but to allow God to do something wonderful by answering those questions, even if it is painful and requires sacrifice and change, we will all be a different, a better people by Easter day.

This past week, the large box finally arrived by International Post. I gently, and nervously, unpacked the life jackets that came to represent all of those lives who died seeking safety in Lesvos, Greece. As I did so, I began to weep. I wept at the symbolism. I wept at our collective inhumanity. I wept because I knew not their plight, nor cared enough to help. I wept in the power of their imagery; these inanimate objects that once held humanity itself. And, as I gathered with Alan and Sean one evening to fashion them into a cross, I wept with desolate abandon. “It was time”, I thought to myself. “It is time to change the world, or at least for us here at Saint Miriam, because we are better than this; we have to be if we follow the One we say we do.”

In my human and frail hands – the hands of someone who sleeps in a warm bed every night, who is loved by my wife beyond words and faults, and who makes my way in world without much pain considering others who have not these joys, let alone sleeps in a tent within a frightening refugee camps – were actual life jackets that literally stole the lives from the innocent trying to gain nothing more than safety.

Over the past few months, I have worked with such on-the-ground refugee supporting NGO’s as Lighthouse Relief, Project Lifejacket, and Movement On The Ground. These wonderful groups of independent people are responding to a humanitarian crisis affecting literally thousands of innocent men, women, and children forced from their homes by climate change, poverty, and war. A crisis few people care to know about or aid in any way. They are trying to set a new blueprint for humanitarian help worldwide to what has been called ‘the biggest humanitarian horror story of our century’. And, lest we forget, over 60% of these refugees – these who seek the safety of someone’s asylum – are but mere children.

28 September 2019, Greece, Mithymna: Numerous life jackets left behind by migrants and refugees are lying next to some broken boats on a rubbish dump near the town of Mithymna on the island of Lesbos. Five islands in the Eastern Aegean bear the brunt of the refugee deal between the EU and Turkey. (Zu dpa: “Refugee misery on Lesbos: Residents and migrants at the limit”) Photo by: Angelos Tzortzinis/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

And that is why, this Lent, we as a people of God, will look hard and uncomfortably at this humanitarian crisis through a moving display in our own home, and pray for the causes of such atrocities: poverty, alienation, apathy, wrongly applied and inferior and prejudicial immigration policy, and global warming and climate change.

Together, with my liturgy, ministry and music teams, we have set a beautiful journey to come. A moving journey. One that will cause us to weep and mourn, but hopefully one that will also change us; but only if we attend and allow it to become a state of being.

I will end my blog using a section from our adopted Litany to the Guadalupe

From becoming oppressive, deliver us.
From becoming cynical,

From denying options to the poor,
From becoming opportunists,
From, becoming deaf to the voices of the prophets,
From becoming blind to injustice,
From becoming complacent,
From becoming ungrateful servants,
From becoming arrogant,
From becoming elitists,

Model for love and compassion, may we imitate you. I pray – and I trust – that you will join us. I pray and trust that we will never abandon the gospel mission of our parish.


The Optics Are Just Bad.

The deadline for the next edition of Convergent Streams is fast approaching. Convergent Streams is the premier Independent Sacramental Movement magazine and its editor is our own Bishop Gregory! While the magazine is geared toward those who identify as Old Catholic, Independent Catholic, and Continuing Anglican, they accept articles from any denomination with a liturgical style of worship. Last week, I submitted another article for publication that will most likely make more than a few clergy a bit angry, as I address directly a decline in following tradition, minimal educational norms, and overriding formation models in order to make more unfit, unqualified clergy.

I have also noted, through the advent and proliferation of social media platforms, an increased uptick in what I call, ‘church envy’. One clergyperson dislikes or envies another, or one parish dislikes or envies another, or one priest tries to make a ‘band of like-minded brothers’ to topple the others who created, yes you guessed it, their own such band! One priest posts some outrageous statement about buying a hotel and turning it into a refuge for those experiencing homelessness when they are barely a parish at all yet, or some grandiose plans to end hunger. I can tell you, as someone who has been at this for a long time now, and built a rather impressive parish with a strong outreach ministry, it isn’t that easy and takes a lot of funding, a group effort of like-minded folks, time, a lot of sacrifice with many sleepless nights, and whole lot of failures along the way! AND, let me clear and direct here when I tell you that – as large as we are – we still  fall short of our financial needs every single month!

It seems that no one likes to remember how difficult it is to run a parish or church of any size, and many clergy fail to remember to do their own ministry so that combined – working side by side, one church by another, each doing some form of good work – we do much greater things to serve God’s Kingdom as a collective. This isn’t a competition, it’s ministry. Isn’t it grand enough that you even dared to start a church in the first place when most of the world is pursuing secular pursuits? Isn’t that enough until you’re more established and stable to see what God calls you to do next? While there is something to be said for dreams and ambitions, the optics are bad when you make statements that cannot be feasible or close to true or possible.

I remember some 13 years ago, we were barley a few months old, in rented space when a parishioner brought in a large container to collect cans for homeless people. I summarily rejected the idea and they were none too happy with me, to say the least! But, as I explained to them, we were barley a church yet and had enough issues with keeping our lights on, let alone doing outreach we aren’t sure God, or our community, even needed. And, large food banks could buy in excess of 12 pounds of food with a single dollar! How, or why, would we compete with that? Instead of using an outreach as an excuse to clean out our pantry, let us wait until God tells us what He needs! We did, and here we are; doing the work we do with children, welcoming the rejected and the marginalized, and serving those experiencing homelessness. And, soon, yet another adventure later this year that just might help thousands more! Why? Because we stopped envying  and listened to God more.

St. Francis of Assisi gave up a life of wealth to live a life of poverty. He grew up leading a privileged life as the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. About the age of nineteen Francis went to battle against the nearby town of Perugia. Francis was captured and taken prisoner and held in a dungeon for over a year before his father paid the ransom to gain his freedom. Francis began to see visions from God that changed his life. The first vision was when he was very sick with a high fever. At first, Francis thought that God had called him to fight in the Crusades. However, he had another vision that told him to help the sick. Finally, when praying in a church, Francis heard God tell him to “repair my church, which is falling in ruins.” He began to repair a small chapel, and then he realized God meant something much more. He gave all he had to the church, but at first it was just him and some birds and animals and a lot of faith. Francis continued to pray and listen and learn what God wanted from him. Then, came a couple of new followers, Leo and Clare, and soon thousands more. In the end, Francis began alone and listened and believed. He waited and suffered until God was ready. It wasn’t about him anymore. Francis became severally ill and spent the last few years of his life mostly blind. He died in 1226 while singing Psalm 141.

“O LORD, I call to you; come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

I remember when Joel Osteen led his Lakewood Church congregation into the stadium formerly known as the Compaq Center in Houston. After $95 million in renovations and much political wrangling, the church moved into its new 16,000-seat home on July 16, 2005. Many a clergy, including me, were very envious! Then, in 2017, after the Houston flood, Lakewood Church became a public relations nightmare when reports surfaced that they refused to allow people in. Clergy pounced with moral impunity and social media was a buzz! Smaller churches opened their doors with so little resources to help victims, and here was the largest church in the nation slamming their doors tight! It was a lack of compassion and worse, it was inhospitable and the optics were oh so bad!

Osteen later disputed that report, and we may never know the full truth behind that day when those rain-soaked Houstonians came to the doorstep of Lakewood Church, just the type of people that Jesus told his disciples to look out for, and were told to look elsewhere; just like Jesus’ own mom and dad. In hindsight, from various reports out later, it looked as if the Lakewood staff may have been justified in sending people to outside government shelters, but that doesn’t matter anymore. What matters, as is often true, are the optics looking so bad.

So, then, perhaps St. Francis was right. We should all focus on building what God asks us to build and let go of things not of our concern, or out of our reach, and just be grateful for where we are and what God has given us to do. Yes, dream, but dream with prudence and ambition that relies on God. Not everyone will agree to follow you, it’s true, but those that do must have water to drink along the way as the desert sun gets hot! That, my friends, if your job as a pastor! Perhaps this coming Lent we will be ready to finally hear more.

Remember, sin is not only that which we do, it is that which we neglect to do, too. After all, otherwise the optics are bad.