News & Notes from the Rector’s Desk – February 2013

NEWS and NOTES from THE RECTOR’S DESK
A supplement to the Parish Calendar
(Rector’s Annual Report preached on The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, 10 February)

Kenneth L. Schmidt
12 February 2013

In Loving Memory of the Very Rev. Judith G. Dunlop, D. D., 1938-2012

I. “A WOMAN IN THE (LORD’S) HOUSE”: When Judith Dunlop came to All Saints’ in the Fall of 1990, she had just begun working as the Dean of the School for Deacons, which at that time met at Christ Church in Castro Valley. She had graduated that spring from CDSP and was hoping to be ordained a deacon in December and a priest the following June. Her coming to All Saints’ was part of a trade: she wanted me to teach the course in Anglican Theology at the school and I needed a volunteer associate to facilitate an HIV+ support group for the many members and friends of the parish who needed professional pastoral care. In a biographical statement she submitted in 2007 to Larry Holben for use in his history of All Saints’, in the section eventually titled “A Woman in the [Lord’s] House,” Judith described her work with the support group this way:

At first, the men alternated between suspiciousness and admiration for my tenacity.
Often delighting in trying to shock me [they] began to make tentative steps towards
trusting me. I made home visits to bring them Holy Communion, met them for coffee,
went with them to doctor’s visits, and received phone calls in the middle of the night
when they were scared or sick. I fell in love with them and we had fun and worked
together on finding God in this plaque. They were my guides and teachers. They taught
me how to be a priest. I can [still] see their faces and where [each one] sat in the
congregation. One at a time, they died. Sometimes I was with them, sometimes just
after or just before. I think of them still.

And she continued to think about them. In the conversations we had during the weekly visits I made to her home in the months before she died in early July last year, we reminisced about them. About those who died. The very few who survived. And those who we didn’t know had died or survived because they had moved to other parts of the country to live with family or friends. On occasion the line would blur for us between those who had died or moved away before Judith came to All Saints’ and those she met after she arrived here. “Were you here when …?” I’d sometimes ask her. I’m not sure…maybe…” she’d reply.

So one day after returning from visiting her I decided to do some research in the parish records and online to put together for her a list of the men in the support group, their dates of membership, death and burial, or when or where they had moved. As I told you in a sermon I preached about this same time last year, I discovered in the archives a letter from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross to Danny Atchley, thanking him for the privilege of interviewing him for a chapter in her book published in 1987, Aids: The Ultimate Challenge. It was clear from the date Danny returned home to Texas, where he died not long after, that Judith had never met him. Still, I thought she would like to see the letter and the book so I brought them with me when I next visited her. Because her vision was severely impaired by then, Judith asked me to read both of them to her, even though the chapter on Danny is twenty-three pages long. So I did. I’ll quote more from the chapter later. For now, I’ll read just a line from the short two paragraph thank you note Kubler-Ross sent Danny:

I continue to work for and with AIDS patients [because] . . . [T]here is always
some … light shining from an unexpected corner and keeps us moving on.”

II. TRANSFIGURATION: Though I’m almost certain Kubler-Ross did not intend this, that line illuminates for me the meaning of Jesus’ transfiguration which we celebrate today on the Last Sunday of Epiphany. So don’t get lost on the details. The meaning of the transfiguration is not found in learning the Who? What? When? Where? and Why? of the account. Those are the questions we Western Christians have gotten stuck on ever since the Enlightenment. No, follow Eastern Orthodox Christians who look on the transfiguration not so much as something that happened at any one particular event in Jesus’ life, but as the inner reality of the whole of his life. Which is what the Apostle Paul proclaims in the excerpt from his letter to the Corinthians read in the Epistle this morning:

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected
in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to
another; for this comes, from the Lord, the Spirit.

To use Kubler-Ross’ statement to Danny, that means Jesus’ transfiguration is about “…some light shining from an unexpected corner…[that] keeps us moving on.” For Jesus. And for us, centuries later. Because of Jesus’ transfiguration we also can find “some…light shining from an unexpected corner…[that] keeps us moving on.”

If that’s the case, how appropriate it is that our Annual Meeting is on the Sunday we celebrate the transfiguration. When transfiguration happens to Jesus and we bask in its light, we are enlightened by the great grace of God to pray and serve as a community of faith.

To help us reflect on what transfiguration means for us today, let’s get some etymological things straight. First of all, we’re not thinking about just looking good, even though that’s part of the story, which tells us that “the appearance of Jesus’ face changed, and his clothes were dazzling white.” For even though looking good is the most literal translation of the Latin transfiguare, the basis of our English word transfiguration, I suggest you leave looking good to your physician, dietician, trainer, cosmetologist, barber, hair stylist, and personal shopper—all of whom will work very hard, at your expense, to help us look as fit as the adult Jesus in many Renaissance paintings.

Secondly, look at the root word of transfiguration in the Greek, which is metamorphosis. Now metamorphosis, like transfiguration, often does include looking good. But, unlike transfiguration, it refers to something more than appearance. More internal. Far more essential. A transformation in character. When metamorphosis strikes, you don’t only look good, you do good. In The Interior Castle, her renowned treatise on the spiritual life, Teresa of Avila, the sixteenth century mystic, applied to her understanding of the transfiguration what she recently learned with great excitement from merchants returning from the Far East with stories about the metamorphosis of silkworms. She exclaims in one place:

And now let us see what becomes of the silkworm . . . When it is in a state of prayer
…it comes out a little white butterfly. Oh, the greatness of God, that a soul should
come out [italics mine] like this after being hidden in the greatness of God and
closely united with him.

III. DOING GOOD: Theresa uses the phrase “coming out” in a more general way than we tend to use it today. Yet, the phrase states well how we are transfigured by “coming out” in all the ways we do good. Here is a far too incomplete survey of the variety of ways we are transfigured by doing good here at All Saints’:

We do good because of the constant, dedicated leadership offered by the vestry, officers, staff, and volunteer clergy of All Saints’.

There’s the many volunteers and donors who support the two principal parish-based ministries we sponsor: the weekly Saturday food program, organized by the Haight Ashbury Community Services Committee, and the Eldercare monthly visits to the Grove Street Extended Care and Living home.

In addition, many of us participate in and contribute to several diocesan, national, ecumenical, and civic organizations: San Francisco Night Ministry, Family Link, School for Deacons, Episcopal Community Services, the Bishop’s Ranch, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, San Francisco Interfaith Council, The Third Order Franciscans, Society of St. Francis, Community of St. Francis, San Francisco SPCA, Friendly Visitors, Episcopal Relief and Development, the Quaker Vigil for Peace, the Society of St. Margaret, the Standing Committee of the diocese, the Commission on Ministry, Sojourn Chaplaincy at San Francisco General Hospital, Golden Gate Senior Communities, and the Deanery of San Francisco.

We maintain a lovely building and garden. For our own use, of course. But many more people use our space than we do: several AA and other 12-step groups, classes for a neighborhood school, Music Together for young children, a woman’s chorus, the School for Deacons and Shotokan Karate; with occasional use by other neighborhood and diocesan groups, all overseen by the Verger, the Junior Warden, the Building and Grounds Committee, and our two gardeners.

You respond generously to our annual Pledge Drive and the year-end Christmas Giving Appeal; as well as to other needs in- and out-side the parish: Nets for Life during Lent as part of our Millennial Development Goal obligation; special campaigns for Episcopal Community Services and San Francisco Night Ministry; emergency assistance for the Church of the Good Shepherd in Berkeley; and regular monthly and seasonal donations made to the Rector’s Discretionary Fund.

And with an eye on who we will be as a parish over the next 5, 10, 20, 50, even 100 years from now, the trustees of the parish Endowment and the members of the Legacy Planning Committee meet regularly to help us create a secure financial foundation for our successors as our predecessors did for us, ever since the founding of All Saints’ 110 years ago this year.

That list probably comes across as exhausting. (How could so few people do so much?) But it’s not exhaustive. And no list could be, at least not here. Even though some people think I know all (and I sometimes think I should), I could not possibly keep up with all you do here and elsewhere as part of your transfiguration in doing good.

IV. BEING GOOD: But just as looking good is not completely what transfiguration is about, so just doing good isn’t either. For transfiguration is principally about the deepest level of goodness. It’s about being good. I say this with some reluctance. Because I don’t really know what being good means. Yet, like you, I know goodness when I see it. I know it comes from God. And I know it only comes from God in prayer.

It’s no mistake that when the Evangelist Luke wrote his account of the transfiguration he felt it necessary to add to the accounts he was acquainted with that Jesus hiked up the mountain in order to pray and that it was while he was praying that he was transfigured. So if it’s transfiguration you’re interested in at All Saints’, look at how we pray:

Give thanks to the volunteer clergy, the Minister of Music, the choir, acolytes, sacristans, lectors, and intercessors who prepare and lead us in prayer at Sunday and weekday Masses.

Also give thanks also for the annual parish retreat and to all the clergy, lay educators, and parish seminarians who lead us in our Wednesday evening Groundwork programs.

And how honored we are to offer pastoral care to our home-bound and hospitalized members, as well as to all patients at the hospitals and care facilities within our parish boundaries who request visits from an Episcopal priest: St. Mary’s, the Davies campus of CPMC, and the UCSF facilities on Parnassus Heights and Mt. Zion Medical Center (more hospitals than any other Episcopal Church in the diocese of California).

If prayer is to transfigure us into being good, then our corporate prayer together needs to be invigorated by personal daily prayer as individuals, couples, family, and friends. That means praying every day, morning and night. Because if the implication of a Classics Peanuts cartoon is correct, it matters greatly how we begin and close our days. Outdoors in the snow, Lucy, while holding a portable radio to her ear, says to Charlie Brown, “Listen . . . Don’t you think some nice music in the morning is a good way to start the day?” To which he responds, “I never worry about how I start the day . . . It’s how it ends up that bothers me!”

If you want “a good way to start the day,” I recommend for a collect from Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer [p.100]:

[Gracious God], in you we live and move and have our meaning: We humbly pray
you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and
occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are
ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And if you don’t want to worry about how the day ends up, I recommend a collect offered in both Evening Prayer and Compline [p. 124]:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give
your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the
weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and
all for your love’s sake. Amen.

V. “THE OBSERVANCE OF A HOLY LENT”: In teaching us to pray we had no better spiritual director than Judith Dunlop. For over twenty years she served here as a volunteer priest, pastor, and educator as much as she could when she held other positions; and always when she was between jobs. Throughout these years she showed us by word and deed how essential prayer is to our transfiguration as a people who want to be good. Listen to what she preached in the conclusion of her sermon at All Saints’ on Palm Sunday, 1 April, of last year:

….Jesus’ suffering transformed so many hearts and minds over the centuries to this
moment in time when the light of Christ’s redeeming love is so desperately needed in
us and throughout the world.

When the Allied forces entered …Ravensbruck concentration camp in 1945 they
found this welcoming prayer…near the front gates. I am grateful to a friend who sent
it to me this past week because it is an amazing tribute to the strength and love that
resides in the human spirit and gives us direction and hope for the future.

O Lord, remember not only the men and women
Of good will, but also those of ill will.
But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us;
Remember the fruits we have borne, thanks to
This suffering—our comradeship,
Our loyalty, our humanity, our courage,
Our generosity, the greatness of heart.
Which has grown out of all this, and when
They come to judgment let all the fruits
Which we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen

With this sense of how prayer transfigures us into being good, it’s little wonder that the section from Kubler-Ross’s interview with Danny that resonated with Judith was what Danny said in response to Kubler-Ross’ question, “Do you pray?” I read his answer to you in full. To honor Judith in celebration of the Transfiguration. And to help us observe a holy Lent, which begins this coming week on Ash Wednesday:

Yes, I do. I have had some spiritual moments and even some religious experiences
which scared me because these moments and experiences were very real and very
frightening. They occurred during lent, and during Lent I was identifying with the
passion of Christ…I don’t want to presume that I was reliving the passion of Christ,
but I certainly was empathizing to an extreme degree with death and suffering, and that
may have contributed to some extent to the depression that I was in. On the other
hand, in a very positive way, I realized I was being shown the way by Jesus.

Religiously and spiritually, I have grown tremendously. Spiritually, particularly. I
believe I have always been a spiritual person in my own way, that is to say I relate
deeply to nature…and have contemplated privately eternity…[And] yet…religiously,
in so far as organized religion is concerned, I have attended church regularly since
my diagnosis and it has been revelatory, as well as revolutionary for me. I understand
so much more than I did and I find a great deal of strength in the psalms and in the story
of Jesus…

…I call upon religion in a different way than I would have months ago, years ago.
Religion actually means something to me now…I go to church regularly where I learn
about things and I can relate to a church calendar. Being a passion of Christ, I identify
with it because I am going through my own passion and so, in effect, I am being shown
the way.

May you and I at All Saints’ be “shown the way” too, confident “there is always some…light shining from some expected corner…[that] keeps us keeping on.” So in celebration of Jesus’ Transfiguration on this day of our Annual Meeting: Look good. Do good. And (most of all) be good.

Amen.

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