Saturday, December 13, 2008

Presiding Bishop's Christmas Message

In her 2008 Christmas message, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori speaks of both the need for light in the world and the need for sharing that light. Her message is provided below.

The world settles into winter, at least in the northern hemisphere, and life to many seems increasingly bleak. Foreclosures, layoffs, government bailouts and financial failures, continuing war on two fronts, terrorist attacks, murders of some identified only by their faith -- this world is in abundant need of light. We know light that is not overcome by darkness, for God has come among us in human flesh. Born in poverty to a homeless couple, to a people long under occupation, Jesus is human and divine evidence that God is with us in the midst of the world's darkness. Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, Divine Counselor is come among us to re-mind, re-member, and re-create. A new mind and heart is birthed in us as we turn to follow Jesus on the way. The body of God's creation is re-membered and put back together in ways intended from the beginning. And a new creation becomes reality through Jesus' healing work. Christians tell the story again each Christmastide, and the telling and remembering invites us once again into being made whole. Our task in every year is to hear the story with new ears, and seeing light in the darkness of this season's woes, then to tell it abroad with gladsome hearts to those who wait in darkness. Where will you share the joyous tale of light in the darkness?

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop
The Episcopal Church

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Portsmouth Arts Guild Holiday Show

The Portsmouth Arts Guild Holiday Under $200 Show & Sale is underway until December 22nd. There are photographs, paintings, jewelry, prints and more available to see and purchase. All Guild commissions on work sold for this show will go to the Eileen Shanley Memorial Scholarship Fund, which awards a scholarship to a Portsmouth youth who is artistically gifted.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Book Discussion

During our adult study time between services each Sunday we are currently reading and discussing the book God Reflected: Metaphors for Life written by Flora Keshigian. The Reverend Flora Keshgegian frequently presides at St. Paul's. Her book Time for Hope: Practices for Living in Today's World was awarded the 2005 Trinity Prize. She has taught at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, and Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Come join us as we explore the thought provoking ideas presented in Flora's inspired writing.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A History of Saint Paul's

The voices raised in worship each Sunday at Saint Paul's in Portsmouth are forever joined by a cloud of witnesses who have also shared in worship within the small white church building with red doors at the corner of East Main Road and Church Lane during the last 175 years. Though the small white church and the Episcopal Church itself have undergone changes during this time, the essential joyful rhythm of the Prayer Book liturgies have been maintained in this sacred space throughout these years. This year, in both their Sunday services and in their daily lives, parishioners at Saint Paul's are celebrating this continuous history and are seeking God's blessing for their future.

Saint Pauls circa 1880

Saint Paul's Church was founded by a small group of Portsmouth residents, with the Rev. John Fenner from Saint Michael's, Bristol, RI, conducting its first Episcopal service on July 7, 1833. At this time he discussed the possibility of starting a parish and then gained approval to do so from the Rhode Island Convocation. Ground was broken in September 1833 and the church building was completed in December that same year. The building was designed and built by architect Russell Warren who also designed the Portsmouth Free Library, the Arcade in Providence, and the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport. On the 25th day of December in 1833 the first service was held in the new Saint Paul's Church. The record of this service is reported in the Episcopal Recorder on January 1, 1834: "On Christmas Day last, S. Paul's Church, Portsmouth, R.I., was opened for the worship of Almighty God."

Though the worship service each Sunday still has many similarities with the first services held here, there have been significant renovations to the church and churchyard. This summer the Parish Hall shingles were cleaned and the trim repainted, and painting of the church building exterior was completed. The Hall was also recently completely refinished inside with help of our partners in the Portsmouth Arts Guild.

But of course there were many more significant changes earlier in St Paul's history. For example - when first built St Paul's had two doors, there was no organ, the pews were enclosed by doors and the first pulpit was donated from Saint Andrew's Church in Providence on April 25, 1859. A coal and wood furnace was installed in 1873. Electricity was installed for lights in 1920 - the church had previously been lit by lamps filled with whale oil. Oil heat was installed in the 1930's - when the price of oil was 19 cents a gallon.

The Rectory was built in the 1839 for the Rev. Robert E. Northrum who, sadly, died the following year. Over the years since the rectory has been used to house the rector, for the Sunday school, and more recently as office space and as a meeting place. The house is currently rented and used by a counseling service.

The Parish Hall was built in 1895. Electric wiring was also installed in the Hall in 1920 and indoor plumbing was added in the Hall in 1928 - indoor plumbing was not provided in the Rectory until 1962.

Saint Pauls with Bell Towere circa 1955
A bell tower was added to the Hall about 1900 to house a bell cast in 1858 that was donated by Emmanuel Church Newport. In the late 1960s after an automobile hit the tower, the vestry removed the bell and the tower top for safety reasons . The bell is still in Portsmouth in the care of a private citizen. The base of the tower currently houses the Parish Hall restrooms.

Some older parishioners can also remember the church interior being completely redone from 1961 through 1966 . During this renovation, described at the time as a "complete refurbishing of the fabric of the building", a new organ console was installed in the choir loft and the altar rails were moved; the pews, the chancel, choir loft and sacristy were remodeled; and, the needlepoint cushions at the altar rail were done by women of the parish under the supervision of Phoebe Garforth. Photographs are available from that time which capture the dramatic transformation.

During this period the Lady Garden, a place of contemplation, was designed and built by Rev. David Jenkins who has returned to preside at St Paul's this summer. The Rev. David Jenkins recalls how he begged used bricks, removed the old rectory outhouse and landscaped the area with many plants donated from his mother's gardens. In later years Peter Harris maintained the garden and the central fish pond was replaced with a weeping elm tree.

In 1982 the Agnes Dei window, which was originally installed when the chancel was added to the original church building in the late 19th century, was restored and blessed. This window can be seen on your left when you first enter the church.

The grounds of Saint Paul's Church have an historical cemetery, well maintained by very dedicated volunteers. A family burial ground was on the property purchased as the site for the Rectory in 1836, with graves predating the American Revolution. The burial ground was expanded over the years into the current peaceful cemetery. In August of 2006 an Urn Garden was dedicated and afterwards the celebrants enjoyed a potluck brunch.

Saint Pauls interior circa 1960
Of course, any potluck occasion at St Paul's means many busy people. Among these many people you will find Shirley Sylvia. Some 50 years ago Shirley came to Saint Paul's at the suggestion of the rector at Saint Luke's Episcopal Church in Fall River. Shirley concisely recalls this as, " Tried it, liked it, and never left". Like many who belong to Saint Paul's, Shirley has been an active member of the parish . She has been in the Altar Guild since 1980 and has been head of the Guild since 1986 following the death of long time Altar Guild Directoress Ruth Barton. Shirley also serves on the vestry where her sense of Saint Paul's history and her insight are a valuable resource - and she can always be counted on for a contribution of excellent food at almost any gathering.

Another very busy person at Saint Paul's is Linda Remington, former Senior Warden and now Junior Warden. Linda recalls, "Stan and Chi Cornwall introduced me to Saint Paul's after their dog Windsor introduced us while I was rollerblading on the bike path. I was recovering from a divorce and found the Wednesday healing service a portal to a spiritual path I'd drifted from in my late teens. It has been a richly rewarding experience serving and growing with the people of this parish . . . and they're fun to be with."

Music has always been a central part of worship at Saint Paul's, whether it be the oldest and most traditional Anglican hymns or contemporary Christian music. We express our love and are loved through our music, we heal and are healed through our music, and we teach and learn through our music.

Many clergy have shared our parish life and have helped form our community. Among those in the recent past who are very much a part of our lives are the Rev. Andy Barasda - with whom we celebrated our 150th anniversary; the Rev. Aaron Usher - who emphasized the healing dimension of our ministry; the Rev. David Jenkins - who is with us this summer; the Rev. Gordon Stenning - who frequently leads our services and with whom we celebrated the 50th anniversaries of his ordination as a Deacon and to the Priesthood; and the Rev. Paul Twelves - who led our services and mentored our Christian Formation as an interim rector and supply priest several times in recent years and who still presides at occasional services. When asked about Saint Paul's, the Rev. Paul Twelves recalls " I think of the first service ... there was no Mount Hope Bridge then. I wonder if the ferry was running on Christmas Day, 1833 or did those stalwart soul's cross the bay in their own boat, pulling with oars all the way. In many ways that image of a few people rowing against wind and current is an apt image for Saint Paul's. Maintaining a church here has required a hopeful spirit, sacrifice, imagination, and resourcefulness. I admire that. "

Agnes Dei window detail

Additional clergy with whom we share a special bond include the Reverends H├ębert Bolles, Daniel Burke, James Bocchino, J. Patrick Maundy, Anne Bolles-Beavan, and Ashley Peckham. The latter three individuals attended Saint Paul's prior to ordination while the Rev. Bocchino trained at Saint Paul's before attending seminary. The Rev. J. Patrick Maundy, recently retired former Coordinator for the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church and Deputy for Anglican Communion Relations, first attended Saint Paul's while at Officers Candidate School in Newport after returning from Vietnam. He recalls being "unchurched" at the time but being "deeply moved" by the worship at Saint Paul's and that the Rev. David Jenkins brought him and his wife into this community where his vocation to priesthood was awakened.

Other clergy from former years fondly remembered for faithful service include the Rev, J. Sturgis Pearce who served for 25 years until 1911 and the Rev. Thomas Walker, a priest from England who served in the early 1950s and visited the family home of every parish member by foot.

The parishioners at Saint Paul's work daily at extending Christian love, grace and mercy among themselves and also into the community beyond as part of their church's mission to follow Jesus' example of loving, healing and teaching. These efforts vary over a broad range of activities which include sharing use of the church facilities with groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Alanon, Overeaters Anonymous, and the Portsmouth Arts Guild. Monetary support is given to local, national and international groups such as the annual CROP Hunger Walk, Episcopal Charities Fund of Rhode Island, Episcopal Relief and Development, Oxfam and other groups as the need arises. This year Saint Paul's is one of eight parishes in the Rhode Island Diocese that reached the Diocesan request for the Episcopal Charities Fund Drive.

Saint Paul's member Bob Gessler recently returned from a Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Tajikistan in Central Asia. The Habitat team of 12 people from across the country primarily helped dig the foundations, mix concrete, pass buckets of concrete, carry rocks and assemble rebar for the concrete foundations. During the two week stay in the country Bob worked on building several houses at two sites. The houses are constructed of mud bricks on concrete foundations with sheet metal roofs attached to timber rafters. When asked about his trip Bob said "The experience was what I had hoped for. I enjoyed most working along side the homeowners".

A 2006 Heifer Campaign conducted in partnership with Saint Mary's Episcopal Church, Portsmouth, was very successful with over $7500 raised to help end world hunger. The joint effort was a key part of the Saint Paul's commitment to helping achieve the Millennium Development Goals outlined by the UN and strongly endorsed by the Episcopal Church of the USA at the 75th General Convention.

These and other ministries which fulfill the Saint Paul's mission are firmly grounded in and strengthened by being a part of worship within the Saint Paul's community. Thinking of that community Linda Remington reflects, " In my view the congregation and clergy who have served Saint Paul's during my tenure have exemplified the Episcopal/Anglican covenant of Unity - this in the face of substantial diversity, adversity and change. It has been taxing and fulfilling, and I am very proud of the people of Saint Paul's parish. "

This history was prepared for our 175th Anniversary Celebration. Many thanks to the many persons who contributed. A version of this history was published in the Sakonnet Times of September 11, 2008.

Monday, September 15, 2008

175th Anniversary Celebration Held

Our celebration of the 175th Anniversary of Saint Paul's was held yesterday on Sunday September 14, 2008. The Right Reverend Geralyn Wolf, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, presided over the service; the Reverend Anne Bolles-Beaven delivered the sermon; and we were joined by a large and joyful crowd of visiting clergy, friends, and neighbors. Many thanks to those who helped make this celebration possible, to those who attended, to those unable to attend who sent us greetings and to that cloud of witnesses from our history that brought us to this day.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Rev. Dr. David Jenkins

Since June 29 and through mid-September, 2008, the Rev. Dr. David Jenkins is the visiting priest at St. Paul's. He will serve at the 8:00 and 10:00 services on Sundays, and has been leading a discussion between the services from 8:45 to 9:45 AM called "Mind and Faith Expansion." The current topic relates to Biblical texts that seem to condone bigotry, anti-Semitism, oppression of women, homophobia, punishment of children and destruction of the earth. The study objectives are to understand the culture and underlying factors present at the time of the writing of these passages, and explore how these writings can be balanced against Jesus' vision and teachings of God as Love, and the Bible as a source of life.

Dr. Jenkins, also an artist, musician, scholar, and seafarer, was rector of St. Paul's from 1962 to 1969. After leaving St. Paul's, Father Dave worked in Student Personnel at the University of Albany, where he completed his Doctorate, and served in several parishes in upstate New York. In 1991 he sailed to the Windward Islands and Trinidad and lived aboard his sailboat, ministering to churches on the islands. He retired to Florida in 2002 and again took up painting. He will serve in Portsmouth until September 14 when the parish celebrates its 175th anniversary.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Painting Projects Completed

Over two years ago we started renewing our parish buildings with the complete remodeling and refurbishment of the parish hall interior. Next the rectory and the front of the church itself were painted. Then an additional sign announcing service times and our 175th anniversary was added to our street-side sign. Finally, as of last week, painting was completed on the remainder of the church exterior, the parish hall trim was painted, and the parish hall siding was power-washed. Alleluia! And thank you, thank you, thank you to all St. Paul's parishioners, to our painting contractors and to our Portsmouth Arts Guild partners for their help and support.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Work Day

On Sunday, June 22, parishioners gathered before and after services to pitch in with gardening, carpentry and painting skills. When "Work Day" adjourned at 1:00 PM, the wheelchair ramp had been reinforced (Jeffrey Reise), the entry to the rectory painted (Linda Byrum), gardens weeded and mulched (Linda Remington and Larry Dean, Gordon and Barbara Stenning, Marilyn Hennessey, Marilyn Hambly and Judy Gessler), the hedges were trimmed (Brad Chase), the shed was repaired and painted (Doug and Linda Byrum, Bob Gessler), and even more. Not only that ... we were all well fed and had fun!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

175th Anniversary Tree Planting

Today just after our 8:00 AM service we planted a small white cedar near the south west corner of the Saint Paul's Cemetery. The tree was a gift from the Portsmouth Tree Commission. During the simple and joyful ceremony there were brief remarks by our Senior Warden Doug Byrum and a blessing from the Reverend Charles Chaplin. In his remarks Doug stated that the tree was being planted both in memory of those who were part of our church's previous 175 years and as a gift from us and the town to our future parishioners. Our Junior Warden Linda Remington closed the ceremony by reciting a portion of a poem by e.e. cummings .

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

- e.e. cummings

Monday, May 5, 2008

Presiding Bishop's Pentecost Letter

This Pentecost, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori writes that the gift of Holy Spirit is a 'breath of ever-new life' as we encounter 'issues of identity, vocation, and mission'. Her letter is provided below.

My brothers and sisters in Christ,

As we come to the end of Eastertide and the feast of Pentecost, we shift to an awareness of God present with us in Holy Spirit. The early church marked that gift as inspiration, fire, and language -- the breath of ever-new life and the burning desire for ongoing relationship with God. That gift of Holy Spirit keeps us lively and moving, bears us into new territory and challenges unsought.

In this as in every age, we face issues of identity, vocation, and mission as members of the Body of Christ. Entering the long season of Pentecost brings our focus to how we, too, will follow Jesus inspired by Holy Spirit. I would like to offer a few reminders about identity, vocation, and mission that I shared recently with the people of the Diocese of San Joaquin:

1) Jesus is Lord. In the same sense that early Christians proclaimed that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord, remember that no one else -- not any hierarch, not any ecclesiastical official, not any one of you -- is Lord. We belong to God, whom we know in Jesus, and there is no other place where we find the ground of our identity.

2) We are all made in the image of God. Even when we can't see that image of God immediately, we are challenged to keep searching for it, especially in those who may call us enemy.

3) In baptism we discover that we are meant to be for others, in the same way that God is for us. This means that God's mission must be the primary focus, not anything that focuses on our own selves to the exclusion of neighbor. For when we miss the neighbor, we miss God.

4) None of us is alone. We cannot engage the fullness of God's mission alone, nor know the fullness of God's reality alone. Together as members of the Body of Christ, we can begin to try. And the Spirit, burning fire, inspiring breath, and speaking in many tongues, is present in that Body, empowering and emboldening and strengthening our work. Thanks be to God who continually makes us new.

Your servant in Christ,

+Katharine Jefferts Schori

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Our Person-to-Person connections ministry is underway. Each person who signed up has the name and phone number of another Person-to-Person participant and a commitment to call them once a week and to pray for them as they indicate based on the call. The eight week commitment to the Person-to-Person ministry will enhance communication by having more people at Saint Paul's talking on a regular basis, will build a bond by sharing something of value, will build fellowship by doing something Christian together, will increase our chances of hearing what God is saying to us by practicing listening, and will respond to the parish strength revealed by our recent survey which was that 92% of us pray regularly outside of church services.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

CROP Walk 2008

Taking advantage of beautiful weather today, Linda Remington and Bob Gessler completed the 10-mile route of the CROP Hunger Walk 2008. The route started at Emmanuel Church in Newport , went up Broadway to St. Peter's, then back to Emmanuel Church for the completion of the four-mile route and start of the six-mile extension around Ocean Drive and back to Emmanuel Church. Of the 80+ walkers only 10 chose the longer route. Linda and Bob were the last two in, tired and sore but happy to have completed the walk. So far over $300 has been pledged for their efforts, but we hope additional pledges will come in.

So why support CROP? Simply, we walk because they walk. They walk for water, food and fuel. They walk to escape violence. Seventy-five percent of the money raised goes to Church World Services projects. These projects include responding to national and international emergencies, assisting refugees, and hunger and development programs. There is much more information on the website at The other 25% stays on the island to help the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and Florence Gray Center programs. As you know, food prices are increasing everywhere but especially hit people with low incomes and in developing countries hardest so any contribution you can make will be much appreciated. Thank You!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Habitat for Humanity Global Village

St. Paul's member Bob Gessler recently returned from a Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Tajikistan in Central Asia .

During the two week stay in the country Bob worked on building several houses at two sites. The houses are constructed of mud bricks on concrete foundations with sheet metal roofs attached to timber rafters. The Habitat team of 12 people from across the country primarily helped dig the foundations, mix concrete, pass buckets of concrete, carry rocks and assemble rebar for the concrete foundations. While there the team enjoyed the hospitality of the people. Some highlights include attending the New Year's celebration on March 21 and being invited into people's homes for meals. Bob will be presenting photos from the trip during a potluck dinner at St. Paul's starting at 7 pm on May 2. Hope you can join us.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Presiding Bishop's Easter Message

In her message this Easter, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori speaks of a need for increased concern for the rest of creation and wishes us "abundant blessings". Her message is provided below.

Your Easter celebration undoubtedly has included lots of physical signs of new life -- eggs, flowers, new green growth. As the Easter season continues, consider how your daily living can be an act of greater life for other creatures. How can you enact the new life we know in Jesus the Christ? In other words, how can you be the sacrament, the outward and visible sign, of the grace that you know in the resurrected Christ? How can your living let others live more abundantly?

The Judaeo-Christian tradition has been famously blamed for much of the current environmental crisis, particularly for our misreading of Genesis 1:28 as a charge to "fill the earth and subdue it." Our forebears were so eager to distinguish their faith from the surrounding Canaanite religion and its concern for fertility that some of them worked overtime to separate us from an awareness of "the hand of God in the world about us," especially in a reverence for creation. How can we love God if we do not love what God has made?

We base much of our approach to loving God and our neighbors in this world on our baptismal covenant. Yet our latest prayer book was written just a bit too early to include caring for creation among those explicit baptismal promises. I would invite you to explore those promises a bit more deeply -- where and how do they imply caring for the rest of creation?

We are beginning to be aware of the ways in which our lack of concern for the rest of creation results in death and destruction for our neighbors. We cannot love our neighbors unless we care for the creation that supports all our earthly lives. We are not respecting the dignity of our fellow creatures if our sewage or garbage fouls their living space. When atmospheric warming, due in part to the methane output of the millions of cows we raise each year to produce hamburger, begins to slowly drown the island homes of our neighbors in the South Pacific, are we truly sharing good news?

The food we eat, the energy we use, the goods and foods we buy, the ways in which we travel, are all opportunities -- choices and decisions -- to be for others, both human and other. Our Christian commitment is for this -- that we might live that more abundant life, and that we might do it in a way that is for the whole world.

Abundant blessings this Easter, and may those blessings abound through the coming days and years.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

M.O. FOOD = L.I.F.E. Food Pantry

Murphy and Others, Living Interdependently for Future Endeavors, Inc. is a non-profit organization in nearby New Bedford, Massachusetts that assists people with disabilities. The food pantry, a collaborative venture with the Hunger Commission of Southeastern Massachusetts which is run by M.O. L.I.F.E staff, the people they support, and volunteer help from elsewhere including Saint Paul's, serves a growing population of hungry people in the greater New Bedford area. Each month over 300 people receive much needed food from the pantry.

Our efforts, which are only a small part of those from the many others who work at the M.O. FOOD = L.I.F.E. Food Pantry as well as similar facilities throughout the southern New England area, do make a real difference ... and your efforts can as well ... please consider contacting and volunteering at a food pantry in your neighborhood today.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bishop's Pastoral Visit

Bishop Wolf came to St. Paul's on Sunday February 3rd to preach at our 10 AM Eucharist and to spend time with parish members before and after the service. Her sermon centered on Matthew 17:1-9, the transfiguration narrative. A key theme of her message was that God bids us to "come as we are" with no preconditions but also that after we come and enter into a relationship we can expect the relationship to bring change. God is a transforming force and we can expect that to be uncomfortable for us at times but lead to our ultimate benefit.

Before and after the service an open discussion was held with the "floor open to any and all questions". A meaningful exchange occurred and we were challenged to participate in the upcoming Convocation dinner and workshop February 29 and March 1st.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Presiding Bishop's Lenten Message

In her message this Lent, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori invites us to make a "squawk list" and to tune our spiritual life. Her message to us is provided below.

Keeping a Holy Lent: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving

The Church gradually took on the discipline of Lent in solidarity with those preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil. That preparation work has traditionally been summarized as prayer and study, fasting, and almsgiving. Today we might remember the origins of Lent, take in our traditional understandings, and use these 40 days plus Sundays to prepare to renew our own baptismal vows. This ancient understanding of prayer, study, fasting, and almsgiving shapes the lives we lead. Each of us is baptized into a life of relationship with God (prayer), relationship with self on behalf of others (fasting), and relationship with all the rest of creation (almsgiving). Lent brings a regular opportunity to tune up our Christian life and relationships.

What happens when you take your car in for a tune-up? Most of us no longer do that work ourselves, because the computers in our vehicles are usually beyond our reach. They are not, however, beyond the ken of those with appropriate skill, training, and tools. The spiritual life of a Christian can also benefit from the assistance of technicians (trained practitioners) -- priests, spiritual directors, confessors, a Cursillo reunion, or 12-step group. The opportunity to review the functioning of spark plugs, change the oil, test the cylinder compression, and rotate, fill, and maybe even replace the tires keeps our cars running.

The same kind of attention to one's spiritual life can yield better gas mileage (focused energy for effective living) and effective transportation (how do I get from where I start to my destination?). Reviewing the rules of the road can make the trip much more pleasant for us and others (the early followers of Jesus actually called their practice "the road" or "the way"). We human vehicles need an effective connection to the source of life, guidance and directions (prayer and study), regular maintenance (fasting), and effective ways to connect with the world (almsgiving).

This Lent could be an opportunity to learn new ways of praying, or what the apostles teach, or what Jesus says about money. It could also be a time to take on a new prayer discipline -- maybe practicing seeing the image of God in every person on the street, or being grateful for the hidden blessings of the parts of creation that challenge us (gray days, viruses, mosquitoes -- I'm still working on mosquitoes!). We might practice compassion for the coworker who drives us crazy (and perhaps seek help in learning more effective ways to relate).

The ancient tradition of fasting is about self-discipline in what we eat and drink, and in today's world it is also about judicious consumption of the world's goods -- not just what we buy at the mall, but how we use water, how we leave the air around us, how we deal with "garbage," and the size of our carbon footprint. It is a recognition that how we use the blessings of creation has a vast relationship to how our neighbors can also enjoy those blessings.

Giving alms means caring for those in need. The word comes from the same root as eleison, as in Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy), and it really means compassion. How do we approach and respond to the people around us and far away who are "crying in the wilderness"? The work of Lent is about cultivating a compassionate heart that will shape all our encounters in the coming year and years. Sunday schools often take on a specific alms aim during Lent, like filling a penny jar for Heifer Project, or serving lunch at a homeless feeding center. Almsgiving has traditionally meant acting compassionately with one's treasure, but it is just as appropriate to think about how we use our time and talent mercifully.

As we approach Lent -- early in February this year -- let me invite you to join in tuning up your spiritual life. Take an hour to make an inventory -- what mechanics know as a squawk list. Which spark isn't as hot as it might be? Which tire is going flat? What kind of oil are you going to add this time? And what are you going to do with the old, dirty stuff? That's what the altar is for, in a spirit of repentance and return, and it's not unlike recycling the old so it can be used for good. A blessed trip this year!