Giving Thanks

-Patrick Keyser

As my time with Grace-on-the-Hill comes to an end, I don’t think I quite have the words to capture how I feel. How can I adequately express how I feel at the end of this time that has had such a profound impact on my life? I have grown, failed, and been challenged in ways that I could not have anticipated when I first began this program almost 24 months ago. As my time here comes to a close, the only words I can seem to find to say are “thank you.” There are too many people to thank and too many experiences to name, but I can at least give it a try and trust that what emerges will be a sufficient sign of my gratitude for all that has been in these past two years.

I give thanks for:

  • The opportunity to become part of this beloved St. Andrew’s community, and for the ways that you all have welcomed me into your lives and your own spiritual journeys
  • EfM and all the incredible people I shared my journey with
  • My internship experience at St. Andrew’s- for experience in everything from office administration to pastoral care
  • Space to grow, question, try new things, and fail (and learn that it’s okay!)
  • Loving members of the GOTH community and for the opportunity to share our lives; for meals shared and time spent in prayer; for laughter, tears, and everything in between
  • My mentor Howard and all the wisdom he has shared with me
  • Abbott’s supervision, and for the countless things she has taught me about parish ministry
  • Leading chapel at St. Andrew’s School this year
  • Time for retreat and rest, and for the opportunity to travel twice to SSJE to experience a taste of monastic life
  • The opportunity to lead the Wednesday literacy class using the Bible, and for Kay McCall and her incredible support and wisdom in making this program possible
  • Opportunities to learn how to do liturgy well, and for the opportunity to gain extensive liturgical experience
  • Being a part of the St. Andrew’s softball team

This list feels woefully inadequate, but my hope is that it is but a small sign of the deep gratitude I have for all the experiences and all the amazing people who have made these two years so rich and life-changing. Above all, thanks be to God who led me exactly where I needed to be and gifted me with these two years.

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The Ten Month Journey

-Paige Trivett

Red-painted brick,
beautiful stained glass,
eclectic murals on every corner.
The alphabet on green street signs
the number line too,
to explain the grid of a second haven.
Artistic family creations
and the many rescued chairs
make this home our home.
I see familiarity.

The oven has held it all,
from breads to cakes to garlic-infused sprouts,
each recipe created with passion and care.
The fumes of Banana Boat SPF 30
and well-known salt marsh gasses
become engrained within the work day.
Even the Virginia heat with its signature perfume:
honeysuckle and humidity.
It marks the beginning and the end.
I smell intention.

It starts with dinner.
Curries, galettes, and everything in between,
spreading joy through delicious recipes.
The saltiness of pouring sweat
and afternoon calories
during family picnics to Belle Isle and beyond.
Learning to show support,
just by providing nourishment,
creates circumstances for deeper bonds.
I taste community.

Warm breezes by the luxury pool
and cotton quilts wrapped so tightly around
set the scene for ultimate comfort.
Multiple climates within the walls,
often on the same day;
a daunting yet unifying struggle that inspires resiliency.
The grasping of a small hand
and the quick pulse on a suspended bridge
bring about empathy for the adventurous flock.
I feel belonging.

Laughter, dialogue, music.
The steps of family and friends.
All ring loud on a constant rotation.
Amidst the deafening tragedy and the silent unknown
our circle stands with and within our other circles,
challenged to learn and to give more than ever before.
Dreams and goals, pathways and hurdles,
most shared, each understood.
A devotion to serve always humming.
I hear advocacy.

These are the elements that invoke the senses.
That create the ten month journey.

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Theology of Home

Lissie Baker – Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School

I have a confession to make: I’m a crier. To quote Kristen Bell: “If I’m not between a 3 and a 7 on the emotional scale, I’m crying.” If I’m too happy, I’m going to cry. If I’m too sad, I’m going to cry.

So as you can imagine, these final weeks together at Grace-on-the-Hill have oscillated between both – happy and sad. I’ve gotten an extra year in my hometown to learn about myself, to experience Richmond more deeply, and to give back in meaningful and lasting ways. Now, poised at the edge of my nest, I’m in that awkward emotional limbo: writers affectionately refer to it as nostalgia, and movies display it as ‘bittersweet’ reminiscence, and I experience it as a kind of gut-wrenching and tear-inducing anxiety making me want to run away and hide under a blanket. No one’s under here! No need to deal with these feelings. Let’s pretend like they’re not happening, that’s waaaay easier. Every few days, my feelings start to rear their ugly head, and it’s getting harder and harder to deny them space to come out.

This came to a head when we went to visit the Valentine Museum during our weekly formation time. I was pretty pumped. I don’t think I’ve been but once before that, and being an American history lover, learning more deeply about my hometown was a really enriching experience. We strolled around the sun-lit room gazing at artifacts, pictures and portraits of local leaders, a delightfully antiquated and politically-incorrect statue of an American Indian chief, and countless details of Richmond’s history. On the far right side of the room, I found myself looking at two paintings overlooking the James, specifically of great view near Rocketts Landing. One was contemporary, with skyscrapers and smokestacks jutting over the water, silhouetted by the 95 Bridge. The other was a period piece from what must have been the early nineteenth century: wooden boats lined piers along the banks of the river, small factories and buildings peeked out over trees on the horizon, and a smoky haze fell above the houses in the distance. Next to these paintings were maps – maps of the very real redistribution and concentration of poverty that took place in the 1950’s, and of the intentional dissolution black neighborhoods that occurred in Richmond.   All of a sudden, I felt those feelings starting to well up, prickling behind the corners of my eyes.

I love Virginia. I love the James River, the cool green parks by its banks, the mountains and countryside of the Shenandoah Valley, the back roads of the Northern Neck, and the sunset on my family’s back porch. Yet returning to my hometown has brought clarity and a depth of understanding to my childhood, and of what I want for my future. Richmond is the city that birthed me, that birthed one of the greatest cities in the South and, simultaneously, a history of racial segregation, violence, hurt, and injustice.  It is the city where I grew up, white and middle-class, and returned from college to pop my ‘West-End bubble’ and see at how segregated our city still is. Please don’t misunderstand me – Richmond will always be my home, will always have my heart, and will always house so many safe memories of my childhood. Moreover, this year has been spent in abundant blessings working at Anna Julia Cooper. I’ve been lucky enough to take part in writing Richmond’s history and learning more deeply of the reconciliation that must continue here.   But now, I’m ready to go.

My mom tells my brother and I that we “need to leave in order to earn the right to come back”. I’m ready to leave, but I wouldn’t be so prepared without my year here. Grace-on-the-Hill focuses on what we call ‘theology of place’ – where is God calling us to be, right where we are? – and I wouldn’t have understood what Richmond left within me without returning. As an adolescent and teenager, I sensed the wall between the neighborhoods and people with whom I grew up and the greater reality of Richmond’s poverty. Without coming home, how else could I fully recognize Richmond’s perpetuated segregation and struggles to reconcile its painful past? How else would I have popped that bubble, have looked behind the thin curtain of ignorance that shelters so many of us? And how would I have discovered my passion for helping people – my students, their families, and their community?

Yes, I am ready; but because I came home, I am ever more ready to become the person the God’s blessed me to be. I am ready to take what Richmond gave me into the world, and to continue the works I’ve started here.

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The Pharisee, the Tax Collector, and Yours Truly

-Hannah Roberts

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

-Luke 18:9-14

When I first read this passage from Luke, I was reminded of a quote by Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensker. The prominent Hasidic thinker wrote:

I am sure of my share in the World-to-Come. When I stand to plead before the bar of the Heavenly Tribunal, I will be asked, “Did you learn, as is duty bound?” To this I will answer, “No.” Again, I will be asked, “Did you pray, as is duty bound?” Again, my answer will be, “No.” The third question will be, “Did you do good, as is duty bound?” And for the third time, I will answer, “No.” Then judgment will be awarded in my favor, for I will have spoken the truth.

I have always loved this quote, because I can easily imagine myself defensively answering “No, but…” to each question. “I wasn’t always willing to listen and to learn, but I was already in the right, wasn’t I? “Maybe I didn’t do good all the time, but I was polite! I voted for so-and-so! I even recycled, for crying out loud!”

Similarly, when I feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, often at the most inconvenient moments as She is wont to do, my instinct is to remind Her, like the Pharisee in Jesus’s parable, that I am not a robber, an evildoer, an adulterer, a bigot, an extremist, or a racist. In fact, I smile at cashiers and tell them to have a good day. I’ve never yelled at another person in traffic. When I call my mother, sometimes I don’t even ask her for anything. I read articles (or at least, parts of articles) by people with whom I disagree. When I see something that makes me angry on Facebook, I keep scrolling, usually. I am a good person.

All of that may be true, but I know that it is not the whole story. It is dishonest of me to respond to the Spirit’s nudges with anything other than humble reflection. Deep down I know that I, like the tax collector, must beat my chest and ask God for mercy, for compassion, and for grace. And though this introspection and repentance is difficult and uncomfortable, I am reassured by the promise of grace, which God offers as freely as conviction.

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Sufjan Stevens and “Christian” Music

-David Gorman

As many of you know, our Wednesday afternoons are devoted to a time of spiritual formation. A few weeks ago, Rev. Andrew Reinholz led us in a rich conversation about the intersection of faith and art. Our conversation centered on the album Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens, an eclectic indie folk artist, whose music often includes spiritual themes but is a far cry from contemporary Christian music.

Sufjan is a Christian, but he does not produce Christian music. Same with Bono and U2. The Christian tradition and Sufjan’s personal faith journey are tangible threads that appear in his music, so what makes him different from someone like Chris Tomlin or a band like Casting Crowns? Sufjan’s work has been very successful. Why hasn’t it been featured on Billboard’s Top Christian/Gospel charts? Andrew asked us, What makes music Christian?

I think the answer lies in the intentions of artists. Christian music seems to have explicit goals: preach the gospel, encourage believers, and bring listeners into a worshipful experience with God. I don’t think Sufjan and other artists have such defined goals in mind. Sufjan is just trying to make good music, and since his faith is part of who he is, his faith naturally appears in his art.

Here he is in an interview with The Atlantic:

“Logistically I suppose my process of making art is driven less by abstractions of faith or politics and more by practical theory: composition and balance and color,” said Stevens. “It’s not so much that faith influences us as it lives in us. In every circumstance (giving a speech or tying my shoes), I am living and moving and being. This absolves me from ever making the embarrassing effort to…[impose] religious content on anything I do.”

This conversation on faith and culture taps into a wider one about how we Christians should live out our faith in the public sphere. Should accountants strive to be Christian accountants, or CEOs as Christian CEOs? Or should we allow our Christian character, integrity, and compassion speak for itself?

As an aspiring novelist, I’ve thought about this question. When I read Sufjan’s words, it felt like a perfect articulation of my thoughts. It would benefit us to follow Sufjan’s lead and awaken to the ways the Spirit is present in our lives, in our moving and doing and working.

 

To read The Atlantic article in which Sufjan discusses faith and art, click here.

To listen to Sufjan’s album, Carrie & Lowell, click here.

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All Are Welcome

-Bernadette Aylward

In a previous post I shared how much I love singing in church. It is a wonderful way to pray and certain songs have a way of getting stuck in your head. If you stop by the Goth Manor after church you’ll likely hear somebody whistling or humming the going out hymn. And some songs stay with you long after the last note ends. As I reflect on my year with Goth and the community we’ve created, I’m reminded of a song we sang at almost every school mass at my elementary school, Star of the Sea. It’s called All Are Welcome and can be found in the Gather hymnal, which we practiced taking out and putting away quietly each week. The words capture the ideals of any Christian community, and many of the things we have worked towards in our year together. I thought I’d share it with you today. Verse 1 is as follows:

 

Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,

a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.

Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;

here the love of Christ shall end divisions.

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

 

We arrived here 6 strangers, but have made a home where we love and care for each other in both concrete and abstract ways. Some of these are built into our Rule of life and others have developed organically into habits. And truly, all are welcome here.

I think what I love most about this song is its call to action-we are all called to build a house like this. The house could be a community like ours, a church community, a school, or a family. It is a challenge to be sure, but it is made actively, day by day. Our actions and choices can shape our surroundings for better or for worse. I’ll share the rest of the words to the song below-it is certainly appropriate for children but gives such wonderful touchstones for us all to think about.

If you’re curious, I’d say it’s a tie between All Are Welcome and We Are Called, another Star of the Sea favorite, for what song most accurately captures my faith life. Both run through my head a few times a week at moments of clarity and of confusion. Perhaps you also have a hymn of particular importance, whether for its great beauty, its message, or a particular memory it recalls. You might enjoy reflecting on why it has stuck with you and whether you remember it at particular times.

 

Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true, where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.

Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace; here as one we claim the faith of Jesus. All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine and wheat: a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet.

Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space; as we share in Christ the feast that frees us. All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known. Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face; let us bring an end to fear and danger.

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.

Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace, let this house proclaim from floor to rafter.

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

 

Text: Marty Haugen, b. 1950 Text © 1994 GIA Publications, Inc.

 

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Navigating Change

-Patrick Keyser

In three months I will move to New Haven, CT to start seminary at Yale Divinity School. Even as I type that it doesn’t seem real. It’s one of those things that I know is happening, but the reality of it is only beginning to set in.

The weeks leading up to my seminary decision were dizzying. There were so many things to consider, and visits and tours to make. Then the decision was made and it seemed like everything was done. Now that several weeks have passed, I am realizing, of course, that it is only the beginning. The reality of it all continues to set in little by little each day. This is really happening. My life is about to change in a really significant way. I am leaving Virginia, the place I have lived for nearly my entire life. I was born and raised here, I went to college here, and I’ve lived in Richmond since graduation. Now I’m preparing to move off to an entirely different part of the country. As I close this chapter of my life, many things are ending, and I prepare to leave Richmond and St. Andrew’s and all the many deep connections I have made in this place. To be honest, it’s all pretty scary. Yet it’s also incredibly exciting. I think that’s how it is supposed to be.

I have never been very good at saying goodbyes or closing off chapters of my life. I usually find myself paralyzed by nostalgia. My thought process is something like this: all of the things I have are really good right now, so why would I want them to end? If things change, there is a chance that I will be worse off, so shouldn’t I just keep doing things this way that I know is good? Behind all of these thoughts and emotions is a real fear. I am terrified of losing connections with the people I love. I am frightened by the thought of leaving a comfortable routine that I enjoy and am good at. Above all, like so many people, I am terrified of change. There are so many things that could go wrong, I tell myself. Of course deep down I know that change is a fundamental part of life. I know that even though change involves risk and uncertainty, change also brings new opportunities and new life. Above all, I know that this change is good and right because I know God is calling me to it.

So as I begin to navigate this big change in my life, I am trying to approach it differently. I’m trying not to be suffocated by the fear of change and the fear of losing what I have now. Instead, I’m choosing to be thankful for all of the incredible gifts I have been given and the opportunities I have had here in this place. Instead of mourning the end of my time here, I’m looking for ways in which I can properly mark the end of it and celebrate those good things that have happened. This time, instead of living in fear and sadness I choose to give thanks.

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