the world is about to turn…

“The World is About to Turn…” I love that hymn. It’s based on the song that Mary sang after being told that she would bear the Christ child. It talks of her hope that God is going to come and rescue all those who are suffering, all those who are oppressed, all those who are heavy-laden and without hope. It speaks to Mary’s hope that when the messiah arrives, all that is wrong with the world would be put right.

We are still waiting, it seems. Yes, the Christ child arrived, and much was revealed. Jesus showed us that the powers of oppression in this world do not have the last word. That coercion and prejudice and greed and tyranny and even death itself are not as powerful as love.

And yet, these evils are still with us. And many are still suffering. And so we light the Advent candles, and we wait for the messiah to come again. We remind ourselves of God’s promises to deliver. And we pray and hope that this time, all truly will be put right.

But in the meantime, we pray. And we work. One way that Jesus comes again is through us—those of us who are his living body on earth. We can’t do it all, but bit by bit, with God’s help, the world is turning.

I know. It’s hard to believe that the world is about to turn. It’s hard to trust that God is going to intervene. It’s almost impossible to hope that things will get better.

But hope is a spiritual discipline. It is what we are invited to do. No matter how hard it might seem, it is a choice. We get to choose between hope and despair. So let us light a candle, and hold it before God as our prayer—that light will indeed prevail, that suffering will one day cease, that life will triumph over death. Because, if we carry hope, then like Mary, we all carry the Christ child. Salvation is coming. The world is about to turn.

Why We Bless Animals

Every year on the Feast Day of St. Francis, we bring our pets to church, and I have the privilege (as pastor) of blessing them in a special ceremony. It’s kind of a party. It’s always a lot of fun. And, it’s sometimes noisy.

That’s not unusual at our church, because people often bring their dogs (and cats!) every Sunday. But on this special day, we celebrate them specifically. St. Francis, after all, was a guy who paid a lot of attention to animals: he preached to birds, he talked a vicious wolf out of attacking a village, and talked the villagers into feeding him! He also saw all of creation as his brothers and sisters—brother sun and sister moon, brother wolf and sister sparrow.

We need reminding that the natural world is not property for us to own and use as we will—because ultimately, nothing actually belongs to us. All is God’s, and we have been given the responsibility to care for creation—for the earth, for the waters, for the creatures. We have not done a very good job.

God’s dream is to heal everything broken, and our relationship with our planet is broken. Our pets represent the wild natural world—just as we care for them, so it is our responsibility to care for the whole of the earth. They remind us that we are not alone, that we are interdependent, that we are responsible to something (and Someone) more than ourselves.

And so, we bless them. We bless them to say we’re sorry. We bless them to promise that we’ll do better. We bless them because we have so often cursed them. We bless them because they are a blessing to us. We bless them because God’s blessing is for the whole of the earth, not for humans alone. We bless them not because they need our blessing, but because we need to give it. In blessing them, we humans are saved—saved from selfishness and anthropocentrism. We are saved FOR them, to be good and faithful stewards of the gifts that God has placed into our keeping.

And our pets are gifts to us indeed. Please join us on Oct 5 at 5pm as we celebrate the gift that they are to us. Come and be blessed as we bless them.

God is Working on You

Want some good news? You don’t have to do any of this “spiritual” stuff alone. In fact, by ourselves, we can’t actually get very far. Under our own steam, we’re actually pretty bad at this religion business. But that’s okay, because the amazing thing is that God is always working on us. God is always loving us, whispering to us, nudging us toward good choices, and toward experiences that will grow us in good ways—even though they sometimes seem hard when we are going through them.

There often don’t seem to be many things we can really count on in this life, but you can count on this: God is never going to stop loving you. God is always with you, supporting you and guiding you toward health and wholeness. God is always at work—within us and outside us—to make us more than we are: better, more loving, healthier people.

We don’t always notice it, but that’s because it’s constant. We don’t notice the rotation of the earth, either, and for the same reason—it’s constant. We don’t often notice the air, because it’s always there. We don’t notice gravity until we take a spill and hit the pavement. God’s work on us is like that—God is always moving, like the earth. The Spirit is always surrounding us, like air. The Holy is always tugging at us, like gravity, toward better things—toward a better us.

Is it good to cooperate with God’s work on us, and in us? Sure. But even if we don’t, God isn’t going to give up on us. Not ever.

Looking for a perfect fit?

If you’re looking for a spiritual community that’s a “perfect fit,” I have bad news for you: You’re going to be looking for a very long time. There’s no such thing as a community where everyone believes the same thing (even if everyone gives assent to the same creed or “statement of faith”).

Also, there’s no such thing as the perfect community. Communities are made up of human beings. And they’re just as messy as human beings. Not just sometimes, either—all the time, and every community.

So if you come to Grace North, you won’t find a perfect fit—everyone around here believes different things. You also won’t find a perfect community. We struggle—with ourselves and each other and with the world. We won’t fit a lot of your preconceptions, and we are guaranteed to let you down now and then. But at least we’re open about it!

There’s good news in all of this, though: you don’t have to be perfect, either. And you don’t have to fit into some pre-determined mold in order to “fit in.” Just come as you are. We will love you.

Come and experience the “good enough” community, where we can all be “good enough” people. No pressure, no shame, and no expectations to be something you’re not. If you find that refreshing, so do we. That’s why we’re here. We hope to see you here sometime, too.

Renewing and Reshaping for greater light and love begins on Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday and Lent are observances of the church which emerged centuries after Jesus. However, as a Jew, Jesus would have known and followed practices of repentance and rededication to God commanded by the Torah. The traditional 40-day period of Lent – which is actually 46 days because Sundays are not counted – is meant to mirror the period which scripture relates that Jesus spent in the wilderness before taking up his ministry.

Grace North will offer our annual service in observance of Ash Wednesday on March 5 at 7pm in the sanctuary. While the service is the traditional Christian observance of the start of Lent (the season of reflection and renewal leading to Easter), persons of all faiths may find resonance with the spirit of this gathering.

On Ash Wednesday we are invited through readings and music to reflect on those ways in which we might develop a nurturing, spiritual focus in the days and weeks to come, and then live prayerfully and humbly into our intentions. If desired, participants may have their intentions held in prayer by all those in attendance.  In this way, our practice is not aligned with the idea of “giving up something for Lent,” which implies sacrifice. Rather, we are encouraged, through honest reflection, to take on a life-giving intention. For some, this will be a walk in wilderness. For all, we hope it is a walk into greater light and love.

Ashes are created from burned palms from last year’s Palm Sunday observance. At the service the mark of ashes may be placed on the foreheads of worshippers signifying repentance of the ways in which we have fallen short of all that God hopes for us. Perhaps more importantly, they are also a reminder of our mortality, and our humble but powerful human potential. Our theme for Lent is a hopeful “Renewing and Reshaping.”  Please join us for Ash Wednesday on March 5 at 7pm, and for worship and Eucharist at 5pm on Sunday evenings.

The Long and Winding Road…

The long and winding road …

Today, as I write, is the anniversary of the Beatles first appearance in the United States.   I am reminded of their wonderful song, “The Long and Winding Road” (Paul McCartney).  Many of you who read this blog may also participate in our monthly labyrinth services here at Grace North.  If you are a new reader, consider this a warm invitation to join in our version of the winding road, our labyrinth walk.  No experience required! – simply an open heart and an hour (or less) of your time.  Your Spirit will be refreshed.  The last walk was particularly moving for me; I always find it to be a powerful metaphor for our spiritual life. 


Grace North Church Labyrinth

As we deliberately walk the labyrinth in our upper hall, bathed in candlelight and the gentle sounds of our musicians’ instruments and voices, we on both a solitary and a communal journey.  One can’t get lost on a labyrinth path; it is not a maze.  How reassuring!  You simply follow where it leads your footsteps, to the center of the pattern, of your being, to God, and then back out.  I find myself alone, yet conscious that there are people on the path in front of me and behind me.  There are friends and strangers.  As the path loops, I pass new people, and some of the same people, again and again.  Sometimes they are moving in the same direction I am, sometimes in the opposite direction, as each of us follows the turns of the path.  It is wonderfully symbolic of “real life.”  Once I have made my way to the center and spent those precious moments in prayer, I wind my way back out and must actually share the path with those moving to the center, occasionally stepping a bit aside to allow them room – just as we must step aside and allow others a bit of room in our daily interactions.

Please join us in the peace of the labyrinth on Friday, February 28, 2014.

A bike path with a different view, same destination


, , , , ,

POSTED BY CAROL BARRIGER, Sabbatical Minister, Grace North Church
I am always fascinated by the way in which communities continually reshape themselves.  While we may be “creatures of habit,” as they say, settling into patterns of relationship, I believe there is something within us which seeks out new connections, and defies expectations.  We are not as fixed as we might imagine.  Those new connections change and shift us.  We are touched by the personalities and quirks of those whom the Spirit has placed in our path.  We are moved, challenged, irritated, and comforted.  But we are not the same.  We do not get to choose all of our new connections in advance.  If we did, we might never choose the challengers or irritants!

However, it’s also true that despite changes there is a remarkable solidity to community.  That is how I experience Grace North.  I am so grateful for the thorough welcome for my sabbatical ministry here.  There is great willingness to step up where there is a need to be filled, and to embrace the experience of different leadership.  Actually, it’s not so different really.  Our openness to all and our Eucharistic liturgy are sturdy anchors.  Yet the flow reminds me of bike paths I have known, paths that run parallel to accustomed roads.  The bike paths offer different terrain, and different views, maybe a bit of meandering, but the direction and destination are the same.

In our case, that direction is the continued opening of our hearts to God and the deepening of our sensitivity to the movement of the Spirit.  This is our Epiphany theme of Discovery and Discernment.  Our worship, with a wonderful camaraderie and music ministry, sustain that.  And yet we have the benefit of hearing the cadence of new voices, and sharing in our ever-changing stream of prayers, joys, concerns, and blessings.

We invite you to be a part of our grounded yet progressively open and flexible community.  Labyrinth Grace North ChurchOur evening Labyrinth service returns on January 31 at 6pm, in the newly refurbished Labyrinth Hall at Grace North Church.  Join in a time of meditation, connection, and reflection with music and candlelight.  At our regular Sunday, 5pm worship on February 2, we observe Candlemass, the blessing of our candles, and the blessing of St. Blaise, physician of souls and bodies.  I hope to see you there.

What God Wants for Christmas

As the holidays approach, the Santa displays start going up at the malls, and soon we’ll be seeing long lines as children wait their turn to sit in the jolly old elf’s generous lap to tell him what they most want for Christmas. In our way, most of us do this, whether we’re clicking Wish List buttons on amazon, or answering our parents or siblings’ inquiries, “So, what do you want for Christmas?” At the same time, we’re wracking our brains to come up with good gifts for the people we love most—and having an especially difficult time with some.

In the midst of all of this—what you might call the annual holiday flurry—I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone ask, “What does God want most?” After all, Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus, specifically about his birth. Why did he come here? People rarely travel for no reason, after all, and if you live elsewhere, a trip to earth isn’t something that you undertake lightly.

The classic (read Calvinist) answer to the question is “Jesus came so that he could die to save sinners,” which makes even me shudder, and I’m a pastor. I don’t think Jesus came intending to die. I think the Francisicans have a much cleaner, less complicated—and therefore, much more likely—notion of why Jesus came: Because God wants, more than anything else, to be close to us.

I think having a God “out there” isn’t actually very satisfying—for human or for God. We need a God who is with us, among us, in the midst of us. And I think that what God most desires, more than anything else, is intimacy. Intimacy with us. Intimacy with you.

You might think that’s scary, but I think it’s loneliness that’s really scary—maybe even for God. So this Christmas season, as you’re wrapping gifts, consider what you might get for God, keeping in mind what God wants most—you. In the words of my favorite Christmas carol,

“What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him, give my heart.”

Merry Christmas everyone. And please come and celebrate with us, if you can!

Our service of Christmas Carols & the Christmas Story is December 18 at 7pm, and our Sunday Christmas celebration is December 29 at 5pm.

—Pastor John Mabry
Thanksgiving Day 2013

What?? A dog-friendly church?

I’ll never forget when I first started attending Grace North Church. Francora, one of our older parishioners, was sitting in the pew, and alongside her was her dog, sitting up straight, and stock-still, watching everything. I thought it was great…if eccentric. Then one Sunday I noticed that another of the parishioners fed the dog half of his communion bread on the way back to his pew.

I didn’t know whether to be outraged or fall over laughing. I chose to laugh, and I haven’t been sorry. Ever since, we have been a church where dogs are not only welcome, but are referred to as “canine parishioners” and afforded pretty much full rights—excepting the right to vote at parish meetings. We have done requiem masses for pets who have passed on, we pray for them in worship, and as pastor I visit them and anoint them when they’re sick, just like any other parishioner.

I no longer think it’s eccentric. It is, in fact, a simple recognition of the fact that our pets are not expendable hangers-on, but beloved members of our families. Further, we recognize that animals matter to God, and are loved by God. Finally, to care for animals in such a way reminds us that we are not the center of the universe, that in fact, we share this world with countless species, all of whom matter, all of whom are worthy of our respect and care.

Dogs are most visible in our community, of course, and you will find them in attendance at almost every service. Cats are theoretically welcome—but they’re rarely as interested in the social aspects of worship as dogs are. But the one day that we pull out all the stops and encourage everyone to bring their non-human family members to church is the Feast of St. Francis.

In the past we’ve had dogs, cats (always in a carrier, please), gerbils, hamsters, parrots, and even a llama! Things rarely get that exotic, however. But regardless of who shows up, we pray for them, bless them, and celebrate the essential place they have in our lives.

Sometimes I think pets love church more than people do. Why not bring your pet and see if he or she agrees? We celebrate the Feast of St. Francis at 5pm on October 6th. Hope to see you there!

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Ever since the very beginning of the Christian faith, there has been a great controversy over who Jesus is. The early Jewish Christians believed him to be a human prophet, the equal of Moses. The early Gnostic Christians believed him to be a spiritual being on a mission of cosmic espionage. The Pauline school decided to split the difference, insisting that he was somehow both fully human and fully divine.

The great creeds may have thought they settled the matter, but there are still lots of people who veer to one side of this continuum to the other. And as far as Grace North Church is concerned, that’s okay.

We don’t have a “definitive” answer for who Jesus is, or what his mission was. In fact, we fully expect that “who Jesus is” will change for each of us as we journey through life. There’s no need to nail it down, because the spiritual life is always evolving.

Some of our folks believe he was a great human teacher. Others in our congregation believe he is totally divine. And the rest of us fall somewhere in between.

Wherever you fall in your opinions, you’ll be welcome here.

To us, you are a Christian if you read Jesus’ teachings and find there meaningful wisdom for your life. As Christians, we seek to follow Jesus—regardless of who you think he is or was.

And what does it mean to follow Jesus? Simply to do what he did: to love our enemies, feed the hungry, befriend the lonely, visit the sick. To follow Jesus is to recognize that everyone has a spiritual birthright—every one of us has a relationship with God, no matter what we’ve done, what social strata we come from, how “pious” we are, who we love, or what we believe or don’t believe.

All are welcome. All are loved. All are invited to join us on this journey. We’ve got a great leader, after all, no matter who you think he is.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.