Holy Week Invitation from Pastor Duncan

Dear St. John’s,

Earlier in the winter I had hoped that this Easter Sunday would be the day when we would gather again to worship in person. I imagined a sanctuary bursting with flowers and resounding with trumpets and Alleluias. I imagined celebrating after the service in the parish hall with coffee and cake, and gazing up at the new, life-size, wooden cross hanging on the wall above us. How wonderful would that be!

Earlier this month it became clear that for Easter this year the pandemic restrictions would still in place for indoor worship. It also became clear that the temperatures would still be too cold, and the yard too snow-covered, for outdoor worship. I was feeling disappointed about the prospect of another Holy Week on Zoom. Sitting in front of a computer screen can’t compare to sitting in front of the altar, and singing alone can’t compare to singing with others.

Yesterday my attitude shifted when a clergy friend asked on the phone, “So many people have spoken about this pandemic as a time of being in the wilderness, and now it’s seemingly close to over. What were the lessons of the wilderness for the Jewish people escaping Egypt? And what are the lessons for us?” We brainstormed some of the lessons for our spiritual ancestors during the Exodus: the temptation to return to safety, even if it’s slavery; and how problems so often follow victories.  And we began to brainstorm some of the things we have learned as church communities during the pandemic: how to connect and collaborate across parishes in the diocese through Zoom; and how to ground ourselves in the rhythm of morning and evening prayer during times of uncertainty. However, my colleague’s question, more than any particular answer we discussed, shifted my attitude from disappointment to curiosity. I found myself less impatient to be out of the wilderness and more intent to make sure that we let God transform us – individually and collectively – while we are still in it. The wilderness is a hard but blessed place to be!

And so I ask the same of you, in case you, too, find yourself disappointed that we won’t’ be celebrating a “normal” Easter. “What are the lessons for us during this remaining time in the wilderness?” And I will add, “How can this Holy Week be a time to learn them?” Some Easter morning we will again hear trumpets and sing Alleluia in unison. In the meantime, I hope that this quieter and socially-distant Holy Week brings new life and new learning that we can carry with us into whatever new beginnings await.

Lenten blessings,

Duncan+

Update on 2020 Stewardship

Many thanks to everyone who has made a pledge in support of St. John’s ministry and mission for 2021. As of November 21, we have received 21 pledge cards for a total of $51,080. Twenty-four percent of pledgers have increased their pledges this year; ten percent of pledgers decreased their pledge this year.  We gained two new pledgers this year, and lost four.  Compared to last year:  In 2020, we received 24 pledge cards for a total of $54,244.

If you have not had a chance to pledge, we encourage you to do so soon.  Pledge cards may be returned in the mail to PO Box 179, Walpole, NH  03608.  If you have not received a pledge card, we can send one to you.  Just contact Patti Sparks at (802) 885-4329.  Many thanks for your amazing generosity and support!

A Letter to St. John’s From Its New Priest

Dear St. John’s, 

It’s been just over a month since I began as your Priest-in-Charge. Thank you for the warm welcome. The local artwork which you gave me has found a home by my kitchen window. The parish has found a home in my heart as you have persevered through technical challenges and cold mornings to come together online and outdoors. There have been many moments of joy in the ministry so far: heartfelt one-to-one conversations, hearing old familiar hymns in person after many months without music, and walking through Walpole with many of you on the CropWalk. The grief and hardship of the pandemic have also been ever present. Our one-to-one connections have happened through masks. We have listened to hymns together but not been able to sing. At every in-person gathering of the church I’m also aware of the absence of those who cannot physically risk attending.  

In the midst of these joys and challenges, a parishioner asked me recently, “So, what does leadership look like for you here?” It’s an excellent question. Knowing that others likely have the same question I wanted to put a few thoughts in writing for the whole parish. A clergy mentor offered me a phrase for thinking about the phases of beginning as a priest in a parish: learn, love, lead. For these first few months I’m focused on learning about this parish – the skills, gifts, and callings of individuals, as well as the history and identity of the parish. Out of these exchange I hope will grow the trust and love necessary for discerning together, “Who are we right now?” “Who is our neighbor now?” and “What difference do we believe God is calling us to make now?” 

“Learn, love, lead” is all-purpose guidance for clergy beginning in a parish, but of course this time is unlike any other time. In light of the pandemic I have been meeting regularly with a worship task force to shift to outdoor worship. Now, as the cold sets in, we are exploring with the vestry and the diocese about worshiping indoors or resuming Zoom worship. Whatever decision is made it will involve input from the parish, consultation with the diocese, and discussion with the vestry. Along with worship, we must also learn to do annual convention, stewardship, the Christmas fair, and other rituals of this season in a new way. 

The upcoming election also colors our start together. We can only guess at the outcome of the election and the fallout, but as Bishop Rob recently said, “It feels like a tinderbox.” The moment raises important questions for us about what faith in Jesus requires as citizens. How do we fulfill our baptismal vows to resist evil and to strive for justice and peace among all people? What does it mean to be political without being partisan? How can we collaborate with other churches in this work? 

A final factor influencing my leadership at St. John’s is my call to be the Priest-in-Charge. A rector serves a parish for an indefinite amount of time. As Priest-in-Charge I have been called to serve the parish for two years. After that, in mutual discernment with the vestry, I could be a candidate for rector. In these two years my job is to help the parish examine its history and spiritual identity, enable new leadership, connect with the diocese, and ready the parish to welcome a rector (whether that’s me or someone else).  

A colleague recommended an article recently entitled, “Transition is the new normal.” That title rings true for me for our beginning together. What will guide us through all the transition in the parish and the nation when even our worship varies with the season? Is it our baptismal vows? A parish mission statement? Prayer? Right now I’m finding comfort in the “cloud of witnesses”- both the local, living saints of this parish and those of our tradition whose lives are commemorated in A Great Cloud of Witnesses. On this day the Episcopal Church commemorates Francis of Assisi. Below is a prayer attributed to him. We can’t know what lies ahead, but may we can remind ourselves that a cloud of witnesses walks with us.  

Yours in Christ, 

C:\Users\Owner\OneDrive\Resumes\signature.png

Duncan+ 

A Prayer of StFrancis 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love 
Where there is injury, pardon 
Where there is doubt, faith 
Where there is despair, hope 
Where there is darkness, light 
And where there is sadness, joy 

O Divine Master, grant that I may 
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console 
To be understood, as to understand 
To be loved, as to love 
For it is in giving that we receive 
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned 
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life 
Amen