Sunday, October 24, 2010

Stewardship Campaign Ends With a Bang!-

The people of St. Mark's Episcopal Church deserve more than a pat on the back.  After its four week stewardship campaign, the parish celebrating its in-gathering this morning (Sunday) with Eucharist and a tasty festive brunch.  One mark of the generosity of this parish community is its common meals -- always more than enough and always delicious.

Even more importantly, St. Mark's parishioners completed the drive with some great statistics.  As of this morning, pledging units numbered 33 with some pledges still outstanding. The total amount pledged thus far is $55,556 and increase over last year's total pledges of 12.9%!!!  That means that St. Mark's will have increased its pledging base (total last year was 33) as well as the amount promised by those pledging.  In a stagnant economy, this extra outpouring is certainly heartening.  While most families do not have more to draw from, they still give more.  This is a great vote of confidence and an investment in the future ministry of St. Mark's.

As another sign of its vitality, St. Mark's was introduced to Mrs. Loretta Collins.  Loretta will be ordained to the vocational diaconate in the Episcopal Church next Sunday (October 31) at St. Stephen's Cathedral, Harrisburg.  Deacon-elect Collins will serve at St. Mark's beginning on November 7th when the parish will celebrate the great feast of All Saints.  What a great day to highlight not only diversity in ministry, but also the diversity of our parish family as a communion of saints even as we remember those who have passed before.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

All Hallows Even [Hallow-e-en]

A lot has been said about Halloween of late – questioning its purpose or its religious (or anti-religious) perspective. Here is some information about the holiday – how it started and how it transformed into the only holiday that is a bigger retail bonanza than Christmas!

Halloween, celebrated each year on October 31, is a mix of ancient Celtic practices, Catholic and Roman religious rituals and European folk traditions that blended together over time to create the holiday we know today.  Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity and life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition.  It has long been thought of as a day when the separation between the spirit world and the world in which we live thins.  Consequently, it was believed that the dead could return to the earth.  The ancient Celts would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off any of these roaming ghosts.  The Celtic holiday of Samhain, the Catholic Hallowmas period of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day and the Roman festival of Feralia all influenced our modern holiday.  In the 19th century, Halloween began to lose its religious significance and became a more secular community-based children's holiday.  Although the superstitions and beliefs surrounding Halloween may have evolved over the years, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people can still look forward to parades, costumes and sweet treats to usher in the winter season.

Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween.  Children often go in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as candy or sometimes money, with the question, "Trick or treat?"  The word "trick" refers to a (mostly idle) "threat" to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given.  In some parts of Scotland children still go guising. In this custom the child performs some sort of trick, i.e. sings a song or tells a ghost story, to earn their treats.
The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays dates back to the Middle Ages and includes Christmas wassailing.  Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2).  It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy.  Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering or whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas."  The custom of wearing costumes and masks at Halloween goes back to Celtic traditions of attempting to copy the evil spirits or placate them, in Scotland for instance where the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white.

So, as you see, Halloween has religious origins. Like many of our holidays, it pre-dates the Christian experience.  But like others, it was “baptized” and transformed into a religious observance – and, sadly, like the same other holidays, continues to diminish its religious references in favor of commercial and secular understandings.

St. Mark's will participate in the Lewistown community's Halloween Parade on October 27.  Our presence there seeks not so much to make a statement about Halloween (pro or con!) but about our continuing presence in the community and our desire to participate fully in its life.

[Information gleaned from vairous sources including The History Channel]

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Member - Interested OR Know Someone Who Is?

Bishop Baxter's office recently announced that he will make his biennial visitation to St. Mark's Parish on SUNDAY JANUARY 16, 2011.  This is often the time for members who were baptized in another religious tradition to be received into the Episcopal Church by celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation or by a Profession of Faith.  It is also an appropriate time for Episcopalians who have not been confirmed to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation.

If you are someone who has been with St. Mark's and would now like to make your personal commitment to the Episcopal Church and to the parish community in this way, please contact Father Zwifka at or by calling the parish office at 717 248-8327.  In either case, we need to get to the business of preparing individuals for this important event in their Christian journey by forming an Inquirers' Group by early November.

Even if Confirmation of a Profession of Faith is not in your personal horizon, consider joining our class when it is organized to learn more about the Episcopal Church!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Core Values

In a recent issue of The Living Church, David Hyndman wrote that there are four core values for priests: a passion for the Gospel, a heart for the lost, a willingness to do whatever it takes, and a commitment to one another.  I couldn't agree more.  My experience of priestly ministry over the last 30 years moved me away from a more functional notion of the priesthood -- i.e. what I could do for others to one that was essential (the old terminology was "ontological"), namely, what one is for others.

More recently I have been more deeply convinced that these core values should not only characterize the priest in a community but also each and every member of the Faithful.  Close examination of the baptismal covenant used by the Episcopal Church makes this very clear.

Having passion for something is not so much about how one talks about something but how one "walks the talk."  It isn't about acting perfectly but about struggling perfectly - by genuinely struggling with the hard questions and the hard choices that life throws at you and seeking the face of God in it all - even when it is not pretty.

Having a "heart for the lost" presumes that one knows what it's like to be lost, not to know which end is up.  Perhaps the frustration that so many young people have with established religion today is that they really experience being lost. Perhaps we too often give the quick and easy answer when there really is no answer, hoping that the challenge they present will go away and leave us in our comfort zone.  Having a heart for the lost is having the capacity to move beyond our comfort zone and experience the real darkness that is faith by moving forward when we have no answers.

The world around us is horribly complex.  Find our way involves hard work, time to reflect, and development of genuine understanding.  Doing whatever it takes is not the same as "any means to an end." It is about developing a high capacity for empathy and for discernment.  It demands that we sort things out and make decisions.  It demands risk taking.

Perhaps most importantly, the fourth of Hyndman's core values is a commitment to one another.  This is chief among all.  One of the most dramatic moments in John's Gospel is when, after the resurrection, Jesus asks Peter, "Simon Peter, do you love me more than these."
"Of course, Lord, you know that I love you."
"Then feed my sheep."
Jesus makes clear here (as he does in so many places) that love for God without love for others is not possible.  The two are identical.  They may be two faces of the same coin but they are the same coin.  This reminds us of the value and the challenge of the Church: to be a loving community where all who seek God's love are welcome.

If we maintain these core values as a community, we cannot go wrong.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A busy Sunday at St. Mark's

The parish began it's 2011 Stewardship Campaign today.   We spoke about two important concepts: perspective and priorities.  We can have two persepctives about our resources: they're mine and I control them all OR all things come from God and we are stewards of those resources ("All things come from thee, O God; and from thine own have we given thee!").  By making ministry and mission (and the resources needed for them) a top priority, we can find the resources we need to meet all necessary obligations.

At Noon we gathered in the courtyard next to the church to bless our pets!  A beautiful sunny day complemented our reflections on the treasures we have in our innocent and loving companions that show us the unconditional love of God!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Putting First Things First

During the month of October, the parishioners and friends of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church are asked to give greater attention to what is commonly called “Stewardship.”  While considering how to give from the three T’s (time, talent and treasure) wisely and thoughtfully is a year-round activity and an integral part of our life of faith, October is when we as a community will consider this more deeply as a community of faith. On October 24th, all will be invited to respond to the invitation to be a part of our vision of “Putting First Things First” by making a financial commitment to the ministries of St. Mark’s for the coming year.

As I write this, I am particularly mindful of our circumstances. Talk of money is in the air in unprecedented ways, and many of us are doing an extra review of our budgets to make sure that ends meet. While talk of Stewardship may seem insensitive, especially when so many are having a difficult time, please consider these weeks as an invitation to consider how our faith and our resources relate to each other. Committing a portion of our financial resources to the Church is an important way to recognize the connection between what we believe and what we live. If you have been especially hard hit by current financial circumstances, please consider this an invitation to receive the love and concern of our parish and whatever the pastoral support that we, as a family of the heart, can offer you.

Our Stewardship theme—“Putting First Things First,”—sums up a critical aspect of what it means to participate in a community of faith.  Through our learning and response to Scripture, through our sharing the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and through sharing life’s ups and downs, we become able to reach out and offer Christ’s love, the greatest of all gifts, to our community.  While pledging is about giving money, it is also on a deeper level about giving of ourselves. Pledging is also the primary way that we address the very real needs that must be met in order for St. Mark’s to continue its vital ministries.  Every pledge towards this end helps, big or small. In advance, I personal thank you for taking the time to consider how you can make a difference by committing to the continuing ministries of St. Mark’s.