St. Andrew’s, Houston, TX
14 Jan 2011
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
Greetings from around the church.
Our churchwide staff serves all those Episcopalians, and we had our annual staff gathering on Tuesday and Wednesday, with people gathered from all over – one who works from Panama, another from Scotland, and from offices in Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle, Miami, Washington, DC, as well as New York, and individuals who work from North Carolina, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Puerto Rico. It’s the primary time during the year when everyone gathers for learning and team-building. On Tuesday morning we sent everyone out to visit community ministries sponsored by Episcopal churches around the New York metro area – programs that feed and shelter people, chaplaincy in a correctional facility, after-school tutoring, senior lunches – each of them ways of healing the brokenness in the world around us. All are examples of what Isaiah talks about – giving sight to the blind and delivering prisoners, literally and figuratively. These various outposts of care and healing are light to the nations, giving glory to God.
People came back absolutely transformed – several people wanted to get personally involved, give money, volunteer, figure out how to do something similar at the Church Center or in their own offices. We saw what Isaiah and John both speak of – human beings loving one another and giving glory to God. One of the early church theologians, Irenaeus, said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive, and as people returned we saw a room filled with that kind of glory.
These staff members spend their working lives supporting others who do similarly transformative ministry, but not all of them get to see it in the flesh – particularly the people who work in the finance department, or the mail room, or in information systems or building maintenance. Even the mission department staff usually only get to see ministries that have to do with their own particular area. But it takes the whole team to help support the work of sending missionaries, linking new Latino congregations with Christian ed resources in Spanish, resettling refugees, or helping congregations find new clergy. All of us, working together, become the beacon spreading light to those who live in darkness.
St. Andrew’s is the same kind of beacon and light to the nations. What you do here in this place gives glory to God. How many of you have participated in feeding hungry people, or the Seafarers’ Center, or Brigid’s Hope? Light to the nations – all of you!
It’s striking to read the history of this area, and to learn that Oscar Martin Carter envisioned this part of Houston as something like the “city on a hill” that Jesus later talks about: “you are the light of the world; a city built on a hill cannot be hid” (Matt 5:14). The founder of Houston Heights believed that business owners and their employees could live together at peace, in a community that included green space, schools, churches like St. Andrew’s, and civic institutions that bring people together for leisure and community improvement. That’s not so different from other great prophetic images of the city of peace – the banquet on a hill, the lion lying down with the lamb, or a city where children can play in the streets while their elders watch from park benches (Zechariah 8:4-5). The work of the people of St. Andrew’s in the last hundred years has given flesh to those dreams. You have much to celebrate.
Building that city on a hill to be a light to the nations mostly happens by doing what Jesus asks of his friends: “love one other as I have loved you.” This is a week of sobering reminders of the world’s desperate need for that kind of love. The people of southern Sudan are seeking a nation where they no longer struggle with their neighbors over oil and borders, where they can send their children to school and expect them to grow and play and thrive. Thus far, that referendum has been remarkably peaceful, and the religious leaders in southern Sudan, including Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, have helped to keep it so.
The people of Haiti have marked a year since their nation suffered enormous death and devastation in a massive earthquake. They have a long way to go in recovery and rebuilding, but their brothers and sisters around the world stand ready to help. The Episcopal Church has just begun a formal campaign to help rebuild the cathedral center, which included schools for children, a trade school, a music school, as well as Catedral Sainte Trinité, that it, too, may once again be a light of God’s love to the people of that land. The art in that cathedral was revolutionary when it was painted nearly 60 years ago. Most of those murals, which showed the great stories of the Bible in a Haitian context, were destroyed, but the three remaining ones are being removed and restored by the Smithsonian, so that they can be returned when the cathedral is rebuilt. Light to the nation in that context also looks like pride in a nation’s culture, a way to say that God loves us enough to show up right here – and Jesus looks like a Haitian! It is the eternal good news of God-with-us. Each one of us can share in that work of rebuilding the city on a hill, in stone and art and human dignity. Go take a look: www.episcopalchurch.org/haitiappeal Hear the stories, see the murals, and send a contribution.
Love one another as I have loved you. That love is urgently needed in the aftermath of the violence in Arizona, particularly as children, adults, and communities seek some shred of solace and healing. Each and every city and community on this planet is meant to be a source of God’s healing love. There have been abundant signs of loving others as God loves us, even to giving one’s life for another, or going into the valley of the shadow of death for the sake of one in desperate need – the man who sheltered his wife and died in the process; the aide who quenched the bleeding of Congresswoman Gifford, the two who stopped the gunman from further killing. Yet it is the work of rebuilding the city that will require a longer and more intense and sacrificial focus in the days and years to come. How will each one of us love both the wounded and the wounder in Arizona? How will we shine light in the aftermath of war in Sudan, or the poverty and devastation in Haiti? How will we make peace with our neighbors right here?
The city of light to the nations is built day by day, as we love as Jesus loved, answering the hungers and hurts of the world: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, restoring the lost, freeing the prisoners of poverty and mental illness, and loving the unloved – which is what forgiveness is all about. St. Andrew’s will celebrate a second hundred years if you continue to do that kind of holy work. The light to the nations flames forth, one loving act at a time. May you burn brightly on these heights – for years and years and years.
- "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
- "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
- "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
- "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
- "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
- "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
- "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
- "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball