Mar 062020

Our community is a family

community

It is easy to focus on the negative in life. Everyday the news helps us bury ourselves in negativity by bringing us one bad piece of news after another. And during Lent, we are so focused on our shortcomings and failings that we tend to buy into the negativity. So for just a moment, I want to look at some positive things. And our continuing message of community building is just what we need.

Lent is a great time to resolve to deepen our commitment to the church and to our faith. So many people today refuse to come to church because of past bad experiences in church. Others feel there is no need to go to church because it is just full of hypocrites. In that logic, you would never go out to a restaurant because people get sick eating out and some even die from the food served to them. You would never go to the movies because people have been hurt at movies. I might never sleep again simply because I had a bad dream.

Focusing on the negative and painful parts of our lives leave us stuck in a rut that we find it hard to get out of. It also helps to cut us off from others who have been through those experiences. Those same people can help us navigate our own path thru the pain and hurt.

I am not absolving the church of its responsibility for the pain it causes people. Rather, I am saying that not all churches are created equally. Our church is born out of the pain, abuse and mistreatment many of us suffered at the hands of mainstream churches. We work to be better than those churches by treating everyone as we would want to be treated. Our focus as a parish and as part of a larger national church is to help those who have been abused and to stop the cycle of abuse.

This Saturday evening, our parish will be offering the Stations of the Cross. However, it is not your typical Stations. It is a version of the Stations of the Cross that focuses on the plight of the immigrants and migrants in our communities. It looks that what they experience when they are forced to leave their homes because of war, famine or violence.

We continue to build our Blessing Bags and distribute them to the homeless in our community. The Blessing Bags are made with love and care so that those who need them most not only get the supplies they need, but they also know they are loved by someone.

And we continue to welcome everyone into our parish without reservation. It is our mission to build a safe space for everyone. This is especially true for those who have been mistreated or abused. We welcome, accept and affirm everyone regardless of who you are, what you look like, who you love, what religion you come from, what your nationality is, or what language you speak. It does not matter if you are rich, poor, or something in between.

Here at Saint Francis, everyone is equal and everyone is part of our family and our community. You need only come and experience a radically inclusive and affirming way to be Catholic!

Feb 282020

Finding real grace during Lent

grace

This afternoon I watched an independent film titled Anesthesia. It featured one of my favorite actors, Sam Waterson. If you wish to see it, you can on Hulu right now. The movie has a rather interesting arch and it seems that no two people get the same message out of it. As I watched it, I was struck by one message that rang out loud and clear to me during this start of Lent: we all look for ways to avoid pain and suffering. In other words, we look for cheap grace.

Many of the characters turned to alcohol, sex, self-harm, and drugs to avoid the pain and suffering in their lives. They found themselves self-medicating to avoid facing the reality around them and further to avoid having to change their lives. It is always easier, at least in our minds, to avoid changing than it is to face our past, present or future with the resolve necessary to improve.

Lent calls us to take a hard look at our lives and to fix those things wrong within us. As I say over and over again, it is not just about fish on Friday’s. It is about real soul searching and real change. We are called to set aside our vices and replace them with virtues. It is about helping those around us and helping to change society.

I understand all too well the mess the world is in. I see it everyday in the faces of the sick and dying as well as the students and young people I meet at school. We all fear for the future and at times are paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of the mess before us. Yet, we cannot sit by and do nothing.

The Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship said, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Bonhoeffer wrote this words in 1937 in Germany at the start of the atrocities of World War II.

Far too often we as Christians look for the route of “cheap grace” not just during Lent, but throughout our Christian lives. This Lent I challenge you to avoid “cheap grace” and focus on real change. Real repentance requires not just a hard look in the mirror but also a decision to make a complete turn from our sins and vices.

Join me on this path toward repentance and away from denial of who we are. Come and experience real grace this Lent!

Feb 212020

A different kind of Lent

lent

The season of Lent is about to start. This is a time of year when we should do some serious self-reflection. We should also use this time to focus on positive changes to our lives. Many people think that Lent is only about fasting from meat on Fridays and Stations of the Cross and Adoration. Lent can be so much more than that.

For me, Lent means taking a hard look at my life and finding ways I can be a better Christian. This Lent our parish is offering the devotional booklet by Franciscan Media called Lent with Maximilian Kolbe. It is a daily devotional booklet to help you improve your spiritual life.

We have also scheduled Stations of the Cross and Adoration on March 7 and March 21 at 6:00 PM. I would encourage everyone to take this opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and experience the path he took to liberate us from our sins.

This is also the opportunity to work to combat the hate and bigotry that is growing our world. By looking deep within ourselves and finding those dark parts of us that allow hate to grow, we can work to eliminate them. We can work to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and his command to love all people, even our enemies.

Let’s rid ourselves of our vices and add in some good activities to make us better Christians during this season.

Feb 152020

Lent and community building

lent

We are continuing our focus on building community here at Saint Francis. And as we prepare to enter Lent, now is a good time to look at ways we can strength our community and help others during this time.

Lent is not just about giving up things, but it is also about picking up good habits.

One of those good habits is helping others. Here at Saint Francis we have a Blessing Bag program that gives much needed food and supplies to our homeless friends and families. We can always use help putting together these bags as well as purchasing the supplies to fill them. Then comes the fun part: distributing those bags to those who need them most.

Another good thing you can do is you can participate in our parish life. We all can benefit from your support at Mass. Whether it is being a lector, altar server, gift bearer or just participating at Mass, your help is vital to our parish. On top of that, you can help spread the word about our radically welcoming and inclusive parish. You can share our blogs and postings with your friends and families members.

There is so much we can do to build our community this Lent. But in order to do so, we need you to be a part of our parish family. Join us as we work to build a parish that values each and every member and who is radically inclusive and supportive!

Feb 072020

Will we pass the test?

I have been thinking about tests a lot this week. It may be because I had two major tests in Spanish and Math at college this week. Or it may be the great test our nation is undergoing right now. I believe we are being tested in ways that we do not fully understand or appreciate right now.

The Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a martyr for the faith during the Nazi oppression of Europe, had a quote that sums up how I feel about our nation right now: “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” Given the event of the last few years, I have to question how we as a society will fair in this test.

I sadly suspect we will fail unless more good people are willing to stand up to the darkness that is invading every part of our lives. We are called to love one another even when we disagree. Forgiveness is to flow freely from our hearts. And grace is to be given without condition. This is why we offer an open communion at Saint Francis.

It is also why we believe that our faith is not merely a spectator sport either. Another great quote from Rev. Bonhoeffer is, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” When we refuse to act, we allow the darkness to take over. We allow ourselves to become callous to the change needed in our hearts. And out of that grows a darkness that breeds hatred, bigotry, and violence.

We as a church can no longer remain silent. Being part of a community means speaking up for all our beloved in the community, especially those in most need of our support and care. Community means helping even when it is not convenient. And so we work to make our community a better place.

You can help us too!

Saint Francis can be a home for you too. We are working to build something different, something that is radically inclusive and welcoming. Saint Francis is a place where we work to support one another, without judgment, and to help the community around us. We understand that you may have been hurt by other churches. Most of us have been. And now we work to bind up those wounds and help others do the same.

Won’t you join us this Sunday and discover a different way to be Catholic?

Feb 012020

Helping our community

community

Adjusting to a series of changes in my life this past month has been difficult. However, anything worth doing in life is sometimes difficult. You see, I have not only gone back to college full time, but I am also working as an on-call chaplain at a local hospital. Both experiences are educational and provide help to our local community.

Saint Francis Parish is continuing our commitment to helping our community whenever it is possible. Father Matt works in the medical field at a local hospital as well as heading up our Blessing Bag Ministry. Deacon Dana is also in the medical field at a local hospital and heads up our Hospitality Ministry. Subdeacon Luna is going to college and works with various diversity programs on campus as well as being a representative to our National Church’s Office of Social Justice.

We believe that being the church requires action. Going to church makes it a spectator sport where you come to see and be seen. Being the church requires that you participate at Mass, in the life of the parish and in our larger community as well.

In our Christ’s great commission he calls us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”. (Mark 16:15. NASB) Saint Francis in the Rule of 1221 tells us, “Nevertheless, let all the brothers preach by their works”. It is our duty as Christians to live our lives as examples of the great things that God has done for us and within us. This requires us to get our hands dirty and to work in the communities we live in. Our calling is to help the homeless, the orphan, and the widow specifically. However, that call has a deeper meaning. It means to help all those who need our help.

Here at Saint Francis we are trying to live that call. We are trying to build a place where everyone is welcome and loved. It is our desire to help all those in our community who need it. And in the process, we continue to create a safe place for those who are hurting. Hate has no home at Saint Francis.

We pray that you will come and help us in our mission to live the Gospel.

Jan 182020

Take time to rest

rest

As I sit here to finally write this week’s blog, I recognize my own limitations. This past week has been a blur of school, hospital work, preparing for an Interfaith Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Service and attacks from people who claim to be friends. I need to take time to rest and yesterday evening and this morning I did just that.

Many people in our world today think that resting is being lazy. They want us to work ourselves to the bone day in and day out. They expect us to be present to them even when we have nothing left to give. However, how can give anything to anyone if your cup is empty?

I am personally working to learn this valuable lesson. For far too long I allowed myself to be run until there was nothing left of me. In the last year, I have learned this simple concept of self-care. I feel better, I am healthier and I am even loosing weight. All because I recognize my limitation and have started setting healthy boundaries.

Yes, there will be some people who insist on breaking through those boundaries. They may even become hateful and vitriolic when I enforce my boundaries. However, as a friend reminded me the other day, what they say about me says more about them then it does about me. And I continue to hold on to that truth.

So let me take a moment today to encourage you to take time for self-care. This may be time to read a book, watch a movie or TV show you like, to take a walk through the forest or park, or maybe even to sleep in and relax all day. Whatever you decide to do, just make it time for you to recharge and focus on you.

This is not selfish or lazy. It is healthy and wise! Even Jesus had to pull away from the crowds to recharge:

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

Mark 6:31-32. NIV.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone.

Matthew 14:22-23. NIV.

Take time to follow our Christ’s example and recharge. And when you are done, come visit us at Saint Francis and find a radically welcoming and inclusive parish family!

Jan 082020

The time is now

time

For most of us this past week has been a roller coaster of emotions. The world seemed to drift closer and closer toward war. Policies and politics seemed to work to disenfranchise even more individuals who are in most need of our help and support. It is our duty as churches to raise our voices for those in need, those in harms way, and those disenfranchised individuals among us. Now is the time to live the Gospel.

Yet there are those who demand that the church remain silent. Many call on us to either support the unjust actions of our leaders or keep our mouths shut. As we near the memorial of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he reminds us in the words he wrote from his jail cell in Birmingham Alabama:

I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively.

More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

The time for the church to speak up against the actions of injustice is now. We must stand up for the message of the Gospel which is Good News for ALL people. Furthermore we must live the Gospel by helping those around us who need our support most.

Far too long we have ignored the poor and homeless among us. As churches we sit silently by while our government wages wars in our names. We share pictures of flag draped coffins as if that some how makes the sacrifice worthwhile.

Yet, we do nothing to actually stop the killing of our fellow human beings. I am not just talking about those who die on a far away battlefield. I am talking about those dying in our streets in the United States. Those who are dying everyday because of lack of medicine, lack of food, and because of homelessness. Drugs, guns, and lack of clean water and nutritious food is a rampant killer right here in our own streets.

Far too long the mainline churches have cried out that this is not a problem for the church to solve. They demand that our government take care of those in most need all while voting for politicians who campaign on the platform of taking that support from those very same people. And many of these faith leaders are far more concerned with the fame and glory that comes from supporting those politicians than living the Gospel they claim to preach.

Dr. King spoke of this too as he sat in jail:

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

All these years later, the church still sits in apathy of its calling. Too many people go without food and water. People are gunning down our children in the streets and in their schools. We are ripping families apart at our border. Our government drops bombs on innocent people while our children are sent to fight yet another senseless war. We continue to decide who should live and who should die based on their perceived worth or by their past mistakes or accomplishments.

As the Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers said last year at our Progressive Religious Coalition’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr service: “If not me, who. If not now, when. If not here, where. Dear Lord, grant us the fierce urgency of now.” Now is the time to speak up. This is the time to preach the Gospel of love, acceptance, and peace. It is time to become a mission to help those in need.

And Saint Francis Parish, like all of our fellow parishes and ministries in the Old Catholic Churches International, will remain silent no more. We will speak up and speak out. We will continue to help those most in need spiritually. And we will continue to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and advocate for their well-being at every opportunity. It is our belief that everyone should be treated equally. We don’t just say we believe in the inherent dignity of all people, we live it!

Because we understand Dr. King’s call to the fierce urgency of now.

Join us in our mission to be radically inclusive, welcoming and supportive of all people. Come live your Catholic faith today!

Please join us at the Progressive Religious Coalition of Augusta’s annual Why Dr. King Still Matters service on January 23, 2020 at 7:00 PM. The service will be held at the historic Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church at 605 Reynolds Street in Augusta, GA. Our keynote speaker this year will be the Rev. Dr. William Barber II.

Jan 032020

Hope is not gone

hope

So many things are happening in our world today. It is so easy to loose hope and to despair. Hate, bigotry and division seem to be a common way of life. War, death and despair spread like a plague. However, I have hope. Hope is not gone or dead.

This Sunday we celebrate the wise men that traveled from afar to visit the Christ Child. We know the stories and the misconceptions that surround this event. The reality is that they arrived almost 2 years after the birth in Bethlehem. They came to the young child’s home and brought gives with various symbolic meanings.

The Wise Men left behind their lives and likely their families to travel to an unknown situation because the alignment of the stars told them to. They had hope in something they could not quantify beyond their faith. So they stepped out in faith and traveled to see a King.

That same King is the one I have faith in today. And that King reminds us that despite all the horrible things going on, we can have hope that everything will be as God wants it to be. Ultimately, as people of faith, we have to put everything in God’s hands. Once we are willing to do that, all the fear and uncertainty starts to fade away. We can have hope and trust that God will bring us through.

It is my prayer that Saint Francis Parish will continue to be that beacon of hope to the world around us. We will continue to welcome everyone into our parish family. And we will work to provide them with the hope, light and love that can only come from God.

I pray that this Sunday you will come and visit with us. Now is the time to experience the hope that the Sacraments can bring.

Come experience a radically welcoming and inclusive parish in Augusta, GA!

Bishop Greg

Dec 272019

Friends are family you choose

friends

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. As many of you know, my parents and siblings don’t have much to do with me. For years this distressed me until someone told me that friends are family you choose. Since then, I have found myself more and more appreciative of those who are my new family.

Almost all these new family member are people in our national church. They have been there for me through thick and thin. They have come to my aide when I am sick or depressed. I have received so much love and support from them. And even though we do not always see eye to eye, at the end of the day we are still family.

I am honored to have so many wonderful people in my life. And I am so honored to be the pastor of Saint Francis Parish. We may not be large, but we have a huge heart.

Our parish has committed to being a radically inclusive and welcoming parish. We want to be a family to those who have been cast out by their own families. We believe it is our calling to be family to the poor, the homeless, the orphan, and the widow. It does not matter if you are LGBTQI+, divorced or have a past. You are welcome here and you are family!

We hope that you will come this Sunday and discover an inclusive way to be Catholic! And maybe you will discover what it means to find friends you choose to be family.

Bishop Greg