Annual Reports for 2020

The following Annual Report for 2020 were delivered at the Advocate’s Annual Meeting on Zoom, January 31, 2021

The Vicar’s Annual Report
The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck

What a difference a year makes. How often have the annual reports of the Advocate included this phrase.
What a difference a year makes!
Whether it was the year we were brought into union with the Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina, thereby becoming official,
And also realized we had outgrown our first worship space, the Unity Center of Peace and moved to the Kehillah synagogue (2004).
What a difference a year makes!

Like the year we started renting a real office in downtown Carrboro and actually had a sign out front, (2007)
Or the year we engaged fully with the people of Club Nova,
Providing programs, breaking bread together, forming friendships. (2008)
What a difference a year makes!

Oh, there was the year we signed a contract to buy the land and started dreaming of what might be, (2010)
Or the year we closed on the land, having raised over $1 million to pay for it,
and we put up the swings and started being on location (2012)
Or the year we moved and restored the Chapel (2013),
also known as the year of the mud.

2014 was the year of transplant,
2015 was a year to recover and rest,
And 2016 was the year of renaissance,
2017, was a year of finding our groove,
so that 2018 was the year of flourishing.
2019 was our Sweet sixteen and we welcomed the Pee Wee Homes.
What a difference a year makes!

Then there was 2020.
2020, the year of…. Well, 2020…
Looking at the annual report from a year ago,
Reviewing our liturgies and activities and calendar 
from January and February 2020,
Is like looking into a time capsule.
The assumptions we had that we would just keep going,
That the liturgies and lunches and house dinners and Teachable Moments and kids Christian ed would all keep thrumming along

While we started to grapple with the joyful challenges of growth
and to envision what God might be calling us to develop north of the pond.
In February, we had a presentation about prison ministry and started considering how we might get involved with people in prison again, but in a new way.
We had a presentation about the Poor Peoples Campaign and started preparing to go as a group to the march on Washington in June, maybe sharing bus rentals with our neighbors on Roger Road.
We were in conversations with the organizers of the Rogers Road Community Center about hosting the kids of their summer camp for a fishing day and maybe a campfire and campout, too.

Ash Wednesday, First Sunday in Lent,
I was taking a writing sabbatical for the month of March
And Nathan was in charge here at the Advocate,
When …. Whomp.

Shut down.

Driving home from Connecticut I heard that the ACC men’s basketball tournament had been cancelled because of COVID-19.
That’s when I knew this was serious.

Given the Advocate’s particular emphasis 
on expression and formation of the body in liturgy, 
there was no question which platform we would use for our Sunday worship during the pandemic. 
Zoom allowed us to be live, engaging, and participatory. 
With everyone on Zoom, we could see one another, 
hear one another pray, proclaim, speak, and sing. 
Unable to celebrate the Eucharist online together, 
we followed the liturgy of Morning Prayer, 
then later, the Liturgy of the Word, concluding with the Peace.

It took some weeks to work out the challenges. 
Previously shunned, PowerPoint was suddenly the means we needed. 
Nathan created a slide show that all could read looking at their screens while facing the camera, too.                   

At first, we were painfully aware of what we were missing—
the Eucharist, singing together, and seeing each other in person. 
Over time, though, as we moved from Lent to Holy Week to Eastertide, 
we found that the Prayers of the People were just as meaningful as they had always been, 
whether they offered aloud or in the chat box. 

And we quickly realized what we were gaining. 

Here was a way for us to be together when we weren’t able to leave our homes. And every week, people from The Advocate diaspora— those who had moved to other parts of the country or world— were able to join us. 
It was like a homecoming. 
The previously distinct 9:00 am and 11:00 am congregations worshiped together, connecting anew. 
Such excitement in those minutes before the liturgy started, 
as each new face appeared in the gallery onscreen.
Households with small children or others with physical limitations
could go to church without the stress of having everyone dressed, fed, and into the car. 
Participation remained consistent and strong – with 65-80 screens on the Zoom each week, and more than 100 people worshipping together.
There were no “low Sundays” and no summer travels, taking people away.

It took a while to sort out how we could sing together. 
Everyone singing unmuted wouldn’t work on the Zoom platform. 
And then along came Grace Camblos with skills and willingness and joy to organize and produce videos of virtual choirs to lead us. 
(PowerPoint and choirs, at the Advocate???)

I’ll always remember that first virtual choir song — All Who Hunger Gather Gladly – 
When Covidtime was still new, and we were feeling such loss,
Not to be able to gather together for Maundy Thursday….
Oh, what a gift!

In time, the Pondside Band cheered us.
Others recorded solo singing while playing guitar or piano. 
Cantors sang a cappella.
These diverse offerings engaged more people in our liturgical leadership, 
and helped to keep the liturgy fresh and expressive.
While we could not hear the entire congregation singing together, 
we could see each other singing. 
Robust singing in homes and on screened porches and decks across the region. 

Gradually we realized there was no longer anything “virtual” about our worship. 
It was real.

But there are some who haven’t been on the Zoom. 
Some who are unable or unwilling to worship digitally,
Others are on Zoom so much for work or school,
that when Sunday comes, they just can’t do more of it.
Clergy and lay leadership committed to finding ways to hold us all together, 

Early on, we created “virtual villages” and encouraged folks to meet for “virtual coffee,” a one-to-one online. 
The vestry sent personal postcards out to everyone, 
and there were phone calls and emails and safe distance visits
to check in with folks.

Grace Camblos and I created weekly videos for The Vicarage, Season One, The Women of the Cloud to share the stories usually told at mid-week Eucharists.

A desire for deeper connection led to the creation of “Advo-groups,” 
small groups meeting online or in person for prayer and mutual support and conversation around a shared need or interest: Cooking Together, Anglican Poets of the 17th and 20th Centuries, Connections With Nature, Creating a Regular Home Practice, Engaging in Social Change, Transforming Our Narrative About Race.
What a fabulous array!

The weekly house dinners went online, too,
And become “House Dinner Without the Dinner”
Still with deep fellowship and sharing of life stories.

Elizabeth Brewington kept the kids going on Zoom every Sunday morning, 
Even in the summer.
Who can forget The Prodigal Chicken!

The addition of Compline on Wednesday nights was initially 
simply to provide a way to gather and pray in the middle of the week, 
between the Sundays. 
Very soon it became clear that this online Compline was more than that. 
It provided a welcome, needed way to end the evening in peace 
and in the company of others. 
Within six weeks, Wednesday Compline became nightly Compline,
each night it is led by a different lay person. 
The regulars come from four different counties. 
After several attempts to pray the daily office as people of the Advocate,
Covid and Zoom gave us both the inclination and the means to do it.

The Advocate on Zoom included the emergence of the Screenside Chat.
Similar to the Teachable Moment of in-person Sundays,
The Screenside Chat gave us the opportunity learn and talk about matters at hand,
From hospitality to the homeless to racism in America,
George Floyd’s murder to how it felt to be in Covidtimes.

Antiracism claimed our attention in the summer and fall,
As we read and discussed White Fragility and Caste,
And hosted an evening with the local chapter of the NAACP to talk about race and the elections ahead.
We breathed deep and sang songs of inspiration through the election.
Then turned our hearts to Advent and thirst for things gone by and things to come,
Expressed in our Liturgy of Longing.
As diocesan and government restrictions eased, 
we held small, safe-distanced outdoor Eucharists on Sunday afternoons, 
but remained clear that the Sunday morning “Advocate on Zoom” 
was the primary gathering of the body.

In the thick of all this, Alice Graham Grant came among us as a “parttime lay Curate”.
Preaching, teaching, providing pastoral care,
Connecting us further with the Rogers Road community 
And sharing administrative responsibilities.
Her arrival and presence six months into Covidtime,
Was a gift of the Spirit and of the Bishop, (and of our own budget)
For which I am grateful.

Also in the thick of all this, households that had only just begun to attend the Advocate last winter, stayed on.
And new people came our way, bringing their beauty and life-living with them.
Thank you, Holy Spirit!

As diocesan and government restrictions eased, 
we held small, safe-distanced outdoor Eucharists on Sunday afternoons, 
but remained clear that the Sunday morning “Advocate on Zoom” 
was the primary gathering of the Body.

Christmas became the 4th principal Feast of the Church year celebrated on Zoom – Easter, Pentecost, All Saints and Christmas….
Bittersweet, each and every one,
Missing what we could not have, grateful for what we have….
Like… how about that video Christmas Pageant!!!

—————————-

2020 wound to a close with hope in the air.
What will 2021 be? 
The year of transition.
While vaccinations have started, 
we need to continue to exercise care and prayer for health and wellbeing.

We will likely continue with the Advocate on Zoom through Easter, even Pentecost.
But then we will start to transition from predominantly online worship to, 
we pray, 
predominantly in-person worship.

This will be exciting and challenging.
Will we all want to worship in person?
Or will some still feel safer at home?
What about the people of the Advocate Diaspora,
and others who have joined us one Sunday or another.
Will we develop a hybrid in-person and online liturgy?
What about church meetings and classes and conversations?


With people of the Advocate coming from across six counties,
Meeting online can allow for greater participation during the week.
As we transition back to the campus and Chapel,
The matters of growth and size will return.
Remember that we were filling the chapel for the 11 AM on Sundays before Covid hit.
It can only hold 100 vaccinated people safely.
And we were having parking troubles.
How many Eucharistic liturgies can we have on a Sunday?
What will those liturgies be?
Do we need to begin to plan to build a somewhat larger indoor worship space so more of us can worship together?


And what about our community engagement?
We’ve got the Pee Wee Homes and the Pond.
How will we transition to a more robust sharing of our resources with a wider community in need?
Some Advocates are beginning to explore the possibility of constructing a community woodfired oven for bread and pizza baking.
That could certainly be a draw.
And the Pondside Band is ready to develop a community venue on site.

Racism is a real and raw as ever in our world. 
And within us all.
How will we continue to work against it, unravel it?
In Lent we will integrate land and native people awareness into our liturgy and formation.
And if there is interest, Advo-Groups in Eastertide might carry our anti-racism further.
And maybe this will be the year for us to host the kids from Rogers Road and others for more fishing in our pond.

In 2021 we will also be transitioning to a new Vicar.
I am thankful that the Bishop will be working with us
To provide a process that honors the Advocate,
And is as smooth and life-giving as possible for us.
This process will provide us all with good opportunity to reflect on who we are and who we are called by God to be.
It’ll start with an online survey of the congregation, to be announced shortly.

Please take note, 
and take the time to fill that survey out this week!

————————

One thing we learned in the year of 2020
Is that we can never know what a year will bring
nor what difference it will make in our lives together.
But another thing we learned
is that The Advocate is good and beautiful community,
Even the Body of Christ,
Loving one another,
Given for the world.

So let’s say:
Glory to God
Whose power working in us
Can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
Glory to God, from generation to generation in the church
And in Christ Jesus, forevermore.

The Senior Warden’s Annual Report
Prepared by Sara Paukovich, Senior Warden

One year ago, as a vestry, we were thanking Paul Marvin, our out-going senior warden, and Lacey Hudspeth for their service and welcoming both Donya Rose and Andrew Hammond as our newest members. I stepped up into the role of senior warden, alongside John Gillespie, our junior warden, Erin Dangler, our secretary, and Amanda Godwin. And we, as a church and a society, were in a completely different world than we now find ourselves. 

It wasn’t a perfect world by any means. It was a year we started with major concerns as our Vicar had just announced her cancer diagnosis and we all awaited anxiously to know how she was doing with treatment. At that point, the feeling in the church was this would be the big hurdle we would face as a community in 2020. However, as Lisa finished treatment and appeared to be doing extremely well and excited to go on sabbatical and finish her upcoming book the energy shifted in the church to an air of relief and Nathan Kirkpatrick took the reins for the month Lisa would be gone. 

In early March, Nathan and I sat down to plan out the vestry meeting agenda for that month. It may be hard to believe now, but we were face to face, in-person, maskless, and without fear and completely unaware how drastically the world was about to turn. Our plans at that time for 2020 were to continue with the visioning process that had been started the year before, but to use Nathan’s expertise to help take the process deeper.

Knowing Lisa was planning on retiring from parish ministry sometime in the not too distant (but still yet undefined) future we felt it prudent to get a sense of what the hopes of the congregation were moving forward. 

Nathan and I planned out the vestry meeting and then we happily parted ways with no comprehension of what the next few days would bring. Over those days the world flipped on a dime and we were in lockdown. We quickly realized visioning may be a moot point for the vestry for the foreseeable future. We had no idea what church was going to look like that Sunday, much less 1 month, 6 months or 1 year in the future. We needed to switch gears from the visioning process to maintaining our church community in the time of COVID-19. No small topic. And I say that because it has remained on the vestry agenda in one way or another for every meeting since and I would hazard a guess on Lisa’s daily agenda the entire year.

In that moment, the vestry focused on the immediate safety of the members of our congregation. So we teamed up with members of the AdvoCare team and other church members able to help and started contacting all the households in the congregation. 

We found from our discussions with church members the most imminent need in the short-term was more opportunity for social contact. So the vestry started the work of putting together weekly Virtual Village meetings for anyone interested in these fellowship opportunities.

After Lisa came off of her sabbatical early to start rebuilding the church from the ground up online, the vestry frequently functioned as a sounding board for her as the Zoom liturgy we experience today took shape. In addition, the vestry and its members have engaged in the following business often navigating many unknowns due to the pandemic:

Community Outreach-

  • At the vestry retreat, a robust discussion on dismantling racism was the main focus with ideas generated for our covid era and others put forth for once we are able to be in-person in the future.
  • Since the chapel was empty throughout the pandemic, the vestry agreed to allow it to be used on occasion for an individual to have a safe place to sleep and keep their belongings while waiting for permanent housing through local organizations. 

Position Changes-

  • The vestry bid farewell to Brian McGivern, our treasurer of nearly 3 years. We have much to thank Brian for in the organization of the finances of the church. One outstanding result of Brian’s time as treasurer was allowing the church to save a few thousand dollars a year by doing a self- audit. He put in many countless hours of work to form a structure so future treasurers would  more easily be able to perform the yearly self-audit to the standards of the Diocese and we are so grateful for all of his selfless work. 
  • As Brian stepped down Nancy Usher Williams stepped up into the role of treasurer. Nancy has a lot of experience with filling this position at other churches. Her knowledge of accounting and budgeting is deep and in just the 4 months she has been treasurer I have called on her many times. Since she’s seen so much in this arena before, she knows how to confidently navigate the waters of budgeting when relying on pledges. Her expertise in the role of treasurer is truly hard to overstate and she will be a fantastic anchor for the church during this transitional year ahead

Business-

  • The vestry updated our insurance policy by reviewing and adding a Child/Youth Protection Policy in September, slighting increasing our premium, but putting written standards in place to ensure the ECOTA youth are protected during official church activities.
  • We started transferring vestry documents to Google Docs, so important records can be kept in one place. This will be easier to share and access for vestry members going forward and will allow all important documents to be kept safely for the long term. Google Forms were also used for all surveys of the church this year at the suggestion of Donya Rose and for the pledge drive in place of pledge cards. These changes seemed to streamline the process for all involved.

Fellowship-

  • In addition to the Virtual Villages mentioned above, weekly dinner spear-headed by Debbie Wuliger and nightly Compline, Day Smith Pritchard and vestry member Amanda Godwin lead the way for the development of Advo-Groups. The planning committee also included myself, Donya Rose, Damon Williams and Daniel LaVenture. Although this was not a vestry project, it was “heavy” with vestry members and the progress was discussed at many meetings. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Day and Amanda for taking on the task of getting these groups off the ground and we all look forward its next evolution proposed for Eastertide. 

Financial Matters– Nancy Usher Williams will discuss finances in more detail in a minute

  • Over April & May, we debated the merits of applying for the Payroll Protection Plan Loan offered by the government. We had no idea what the pandemic may bring, so to protect the church financially and with the guidance of Nancy Usher Williams we applied and obtained the loan, so those funds would be there for us in the event of financial need later in the year.
  • During October and November, the vestry headed the pledge campaign. Again the unknowns of the pandemic were present, so we set two goals. The first was to at least achieve last year’s pledges of $215,000 and hold a steady course for the church, but additionally we set an aspirational goal of a 12% increase. Well, the people of the Advocate responded to these goals overwhelmingly. I would like to thank all those who pledged for your generosity in uncertain times and the vestry who explained the need for pledging in testimonials  that were equal parts heart and logic after the liturgy each week, as well as their time spent on e-mail outreach. We actually continued to have pledges coming in long after the pledge drive had officially ended. So by our January meeting a few weeks ago we had increased our pledges over last year by 22% with $261,000 from both members and Friends of the Advocate. This included a total of 90 households pledging, which is an increase of 10 over the previous year. 
  • One of the last acts of the 2020 vestry was to vote to raise Lisa’s salary. This decision was made to bring her on par with the median male senior/solo clergy salary, since Lisa is both a senior clergy and a solo clergy we averaged the salaries between those two categories. And you did hear me correctly, the vestry wanted to put her on par with the median male salary. As per the 2016 Church Compensation Report for the Episcopal parishes female clergy still make significantly less than their male counterparts. And thanks to the generosity the whole congregation showed during the pledge drive, the vestry was able to stand on our church’s principals of gender equality and do our small part here at The Advocate to help bridge that gender gap, as well as, give Lisa the compensation she truly deserves on par with her peers.

As the year progressed, it became increasingly clear to me that maybe we had not had to completely abandon the visioning process after all. Perhaps we were still, unwittingly, taking part in a visioning of sorts brought on by the pandemic. With Lisa leading, and the vestry and parishioners giving input, it was a continual process of deciding what was most important to us in our worship. And we have chosen to design our liturgical experience unlike any other Episcopal church in the area. 

This is not to make a judgement of any church’s choices, as those churches all have their own unique needs, but instead to make the point that how The Advocate has chosen to do church during COVIDtimes is a massive statement of who we are and what is central to our congregation. The fact we remained participatory, face to face (even if at a distance), comfortable in the discomfort of the learning process and with a focus on social justice all fall right in line with our church mission, but I think the pandemic has served to reinforce it. We do not just stick to these principles when everything is easy, but more importantly, we maintained these qualities when everything seemed to be falling apart and our future uncertain. 

This year may not have been the time to answer how we want to use the area North of the pond or any of the other creative ideas visioning may have birthed from the minds of our fellow Advocates, but the appropriate time to answer those questions will come. And if, as a church, through our collective answers to the upcoming survey going out today, we find a new vicar who understands all we have declared ourselves to be throughout this year they will be on board for whatever direction the future visioning process takes us. 

I would like to end by giving thanks to all those I had the privilege of serving on the vestry with over the past 3 years. For me, the time has been a joyful, open and collaborative experience with everyone bringing their own unique gifts to the table. One person who has been a huge part of that joy and collaboration has been Erin Dangler. Due to an unexpected, but exciting new move to Atlanta, she will be rotating off the vestry a year early. And I want to give a huge thank you to Erin for her skills as secretary and all the ways her joyful spirit and  unique talents have positively impacted the group. In her place, the vestry is happy to welcome Nate Bradford who will be taking over for Erin’s final year. 

And lastly, if the proposed timeline holds true, this will be Lisa’s last Annual Meeting, so I would be remiss if I did not say before signing off, it is not often you get to watch a master at work, but after 3 years that is the best way I can describe Lisa’s relationship with her calling to help plant and grow The Advocate. It was an honor to watch her thoughtful contemplation on all church matters down to the smallest detail while still allowing new ideas to flow in from all those present on the vestry and from the wider congregation. Her gift for immediately seeing the talents in others, acknowledging it, and putting it to use in creative ways is a major part of what has built this church. And I have to say when talking to past senior wardens last year, when I was contemplating taking this position, they all individually stated that being able to watch Lisa’s  mind up close, in action, was one of their favorite parts of the job and I would have to whole-heartedly agree. She has helped to set this church up incredibly well over her years of leadership. That fact, combined with the innumerable strengths of the incoming vestry and treasurer, I have complete confidence 2021 will be a year of reimagining what this church may be going forward while still holding on to the heart of who we have always been. And that attentive, caring, loving heart that I believe will always remain, will be a big part of our founding Vicar, Lisa’s, legacy as the Body continues to form around it on into the future.

The Treasurer’s Annual Report
Nancy Usher Williams

Hello, Everyone! I’m Nancy Usher Williams, the new Advocate Treasurer. I took over from Brian McGivern in August, and I really appreciate the help he gave me as I got started. All of you have made me very welcome this year. I love Zoom church if we can’t be together in person. I could talk more about that, but I suppose I should do the Treasurer’s Report.

In 2020 we had Revenues of about $256,000 (108% of Budget) and

                          Expenses of about $224,000 (94% of Budget).

This resulted in a surplus of about   $ 32,000.

We collected only 89% of our pledges, and this is not a surprise given the rapidly changing circumstances of a worldwide pandemic. Let this serve as a reminder that you can change the amount of your pledge upward or downward if your circumstances change during the year. When you know that things will be different, it would be really helpful for you to let me know that. My contact info is on the web page and in the directory, and Lisa and Alice both know where to find me.

The good news is the contributions in the POTA and FOTA accounts were $33,000 each while the budget for both was $15,000 total. We received a $2,500 grant to help with the expenses of having Alice with us for a year plus another $3,500 grant payable over 9 months beginning in October 2020. We got one-third of the $3,500 in 2020 and the remaining two-thirds will come in 2021. 

With the pandemic’s closings came a steep decline in our chapel use income to only $200 for 2020. However, overall 2020 was an amazing year, especially so since we were all dealing with the pandemic. The Vestry is using some of the 2020 surplus to fund some of the extra 2021 expenses that we’ll have because the outgoing and incoming Vicars will have a three-month overlap with us. We will be applying for the forgiveness of the Payroll Protection Plan loan and expect that forgiveness will be forthcoming. I’m waiting to see what legislation will make this process easier.

I’m still working on my review of the 2020 financial statements to eliminate classification errors. Once they have been finalized, they will certainly be available to anyone who’d like to see them.

Our 2021 pledge drive leads me to believe 2021 will be just as awesome as 2020. We had 89 pledges, which is 9 more than in 2020. They total $261,762, an astounding 22% increase from 2020’s total. That’s an almost $50,000 increase! 

The median pledge is $1,440. For those of you who don’t speak Statistics, the median pledge is the one in the middle. In other words, if yours is the median, then half the pledges are lower than yours and half the pledges are higher than yours. 

A note on paying your pledges: As a church we love automatic monthly payments. If you set this up through your bank’s bill pay app there is no cost to The Advocate and probably no cost to you as well. If that’s not an option, you can use our website to set up automatic payments. This does cost the church a small percentage of your donation. If it helps you pay your pledge on time, it’s worth it!

If you took advantage of automatic payments for your 2020 pledge, don’t forget to set them up for 2021. Also check to be sure the ones for 2020 stopped on December 31. I’ve known people who didn’t realize they had to set up again each year, and other people who kept paying the previous year’s pledge along with the current year’s pledge. They were the ones who couldn’t figure out why their bank balance was always so low!

Please let me know if you have questions. I will be glad to answer them.

I’m really excited to be here and to be doing the work of the Treasurer in 2021. More importantly, I’m excited to be doing the work of Being Church with all of you in 2021 and for years to come.

Pentecost 2020 Sermon by the Vicar, Lisa Fischbeck

Here’s the video link. (13 minutes)

Here’s the text.

Pentecost 2020
The Advocate on Zoom
May 31, 2020

In the Name of the creating, restring and transforming God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Fire

It brings comfort to a cold night.
It lends an air of celebration and joy on days of festivity.
It can serve as a conduit for good reading, a nap, a bit of romance perhaps.
Come heavenly comforter,
Spirit of Peace.

But it isn’t wintertime here in North Carolina this Pentecost Sunday.
And the fire of the Spirit is not all sweet comfort.

Instead, we are perched on a Sunday after a week of civil unrest across our nation.
A week in our nation when as much as ever we need a voice 
of compassion, equanimity, calm and strength 
emanating from our nation’s leadership.
And what we are getting instead is …
Well, what we are getting instead is something else.
So we turn to our God.

Fire

It refines and purifies,
It cleanses us of impurity.
And I’m not speaking here of what might be considered physical impurities,
Rather the impurities of mind, heart and soul,
Impurities such as racism,
That get in the way of our knowing and making known
God justice, God’s mercy, God’s Peace and God’s Love.

Fire.

I am grateful to Nancy Trueblood for organizing our poly-lingual reading of the story of Pentecost from the book of Acts.

So that we can experience anew the chaos and the celebration of many languages, many people,

And with the translation before us on the PowerPoint provided by Nathan,

we, too, can understand what is being said in languages that are not our own.

We need to remember that the Christian Pentecost story 

started with the disciples all holed up in fear and uncertainty.

They’d already been through the crucifixion 

and all the fear and uncertainty that had caused.

They’d already been through the experience of resurrection and all the sweet relief and excitement it brought on,

They’d already been with Jesus among them for a season,

Setting their hearts at ease,

Challenging them anew,

Causing them to realize that things were not ever going to be the same.

That there was a “new normal” indeed.

But then Jesus disappeared again.

Ascended.

They saw him go.

Sure, he offered comforting words before he left.

But still,

Here they were again,

Holed up in one place together,

Filled with fear and uncertainty.

Not knowing what the future would bring.

What the nextnew normal would be.
Sound familiar?

When suddenly, 
there was the sound of a rushing and violent wind,

Think hurricane or tornado.

There was the sound of a rushing and violent wind.

And then the appearance of tongues,

“As of fire”, the story goes.

And those tongues as of fire landed on each of them.

None other than the Holy Spirit was filling them, 

and filling the room.

The next thing they knew,

They were able to speak and understand in languages they did not know before.

And they were united,

Not only with each other,

But with all the crowds gathered on the streets outside their window.

Because everyone could understand everyone.

It was as if there were a universal language.

No.

It was that there wasa universal language.

The language of the Holy Spirit.

Fire. 

You may have heard in recent days

A recording of a speech delivered by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1967.

It was a speech he gave against the backdrop of rioting that rocked our cities that summer.

He called it “the other America.”

One America, King said,  
is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. 
This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies; 
and culture and education for their minds; 
and freedom and human dignity for their spirits. 

This sounds like most of the people most of us know, doesn’t it….

But tragically and unfortunately,King went on… 
there is another America. 
This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair. …
In this America people are poor by the millions. …

In the speech, King goes on to underscore his commitment to non-violence.

And he also works to help those who would listen

To understand why the rioting was happening.

A riot is the language of the unheard.He said.
A riot is the language of the unheard.

And what is it that America has failed to hear? Among other things, Kings said:
…it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.

And so, King went on, 

in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots 
are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. 
And as long as America postpones justice, 

we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. 

A riot is the language of the unheard.

A riot is the language of anger, yes,

Anger over constant, persistent unending injustice and oppression.

It is the language of a people who can find no other way to be seen and be heard.
And here on this day of Pentecost, 2020,

We cannot miss the significance of the fire,

As buildings burn, as cars burn, as fires burn in the souls of the downtrodden.

The fire of Pentecost lit on the disciples

And empowered them,

Not only to speak and understand languages they did not previously know,

But also to share the message of God

To all the then known world.

That’s power. 

Changing a group of frightened people,

Uncertain of what the future would bring,

Into go-getters of the highest form.

Fire

It is in the spirit of unity and in celebration of the fire of Pentecost

That you and I are wearing red this morning.

You, and I and Jesus. (point)

By wearing red, 

We are,

At least at some level,

taking the fire of Pentecost ontoourselves and  intoourselves this day.

Like a mantle.

Do you feel it?

What does mean to carry the mantle of Pentecost?

What does it mean really, to wear red on this day?
Certainly it is fun and unifying and joyful,

And that is good.

Certainly it reminds us of the comfort and Peace that the Holy Spirit brings.

That’s good, too.

But we all know that thisPentecost,

This Pentecost 2020

Is a Pentecost amidst a covid crisis that has laid bare the economic disparities of our land.

It is a Pentecost amid another round of riots rising out of the atrocity of our nation’s long history of racism.

Will we let our common language include the language of the unheard?

Will we seize this Pentecost moment in our nation and in our lives?

I know, I know it is hard to know what to do.

What can we do?

Especially in these covid times.

What can we do?

Well, I want to make three suggestions.

Three things we can do, and all they will take

For now

is our time.

No more than 4 hours and 9 minutes of our time.

First, if you haven’t seen it already,

do a search and find a video link to the 9-minute video of the arrest and murder of George Floyd.

Watch it. Watch all 9 minutes of it.

And realize that the abuse of black human beings,

Especially black men, 

That we associate with mid-19thcentury America, 

is still very much a part of our nation’s way.

Second,

Tune into MSNBC tonight at 9 PM

 And watch Poverty and the Pandemic.

A discussion with Joy Reid and William Barber.

Come to understand more fully the language of the unheard.
Black, brown and white.

Third,

Participate in The Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March 

on Saturday, June 20.

It’ll happen at 10 am or 6 PM, or on Saturday, June 20.

Stay tuned in for all, or if need be just some of the two hours.

It may get tedious.

It may feel repetitive.

Stay with it.

However inconvenient it may be to us,

  1. It is asking a whole lot less time that getting on a bus and going to Washington DC for the day, which is what we were planning before covid 19 hit.
  2. Whatever inconvenience it entails is not nearly as inconvenient as the inconvenience experienced by the poor and the oppressed in our society every single day.

On Sunday, June 21, we will talk about it in our screenside chat.

This may not feel like enough, and it isn’t.

But I offer these three things we can do 

Because we can do them,

to share in the language of the unheard.

Maybe we can consider it our Pentecost pledge.

As we prayed earlier in our in this liturgy:
Officiant:     If Christ’s disciples keep silent

All:             These stones would shout aloud.   

We cannot keep silent.

Fire. 

See the fires of this day, 

Feel the burn, (that’s burn, with a u)

Feeling it in our red clothing, in our zoom, in our national news,

See the fire, feel the fire, share the fire.

until allGod’s children can come to know

The language of the unheard 

and they are unheard no more.

Until allGod’s children can come to know

the language of God’s justice, God’s mercy,
God’s Peace and God’s love.                                                                                                         

Amen.

Sermon: March 1, 2020

A sermon preached by Nathan Kirkpatrick, priest associate at the Advocate

If they were taking nominations for an eighth deadly sin, 
To join the ranks of greed, lust, wrath, pride, envy, gluttony, sloth — 
Sandy Deal, my high school English teacher,
would offer lazy writing for consideration. 
Lazy writing, she would say,
robs language of its evocative, provocative, 
persuasive, catalytic power. 
Sloppy sentences, 
passive voice for no good reason,
an over-reliance on cliches — 
all were the bane of her existence.

But her chief annoyance in lazy writing 
was the use of the word very
Ms Deal dared us to expand our vocabularies 
so that we would never think to write that a book was very interesting;
instead, it needed to be compelling, arresting,
intriguing, enthralling even.
We would never imagine writing that a character was very sad; 
instead we would write that they were morose, brooding, melancholy. 
No one was ever very thirsty in Ms Deal’s room, they were parched. 
You get the idea.

As I have read and reread today’s Gospel lesson,
it occurred to me how pleased Ms Deal would be 
with the biblical translators.
Note where we begin. 
Immediately after his baptism, 
St Matthew tells us that the Spirit drives Jesus
out into the wilderness
for forty days of fasting and prayer. 
And at the end of those forty days, 
St Matthew writes that Jesus is famished —
not a little hungry, not very hungry —
but famished,
that word that comes from the Middle English “to starve.”
More than hungry, more than very hungry, 
literally starving. 
Ravenous. Famished. 
Ms. Deal would approve. 
Sure, there are other translations that say
that, after forty days and forty nights,
Jesus was very hungry or even just plain hungry. 
Ms. Deal would not approve
because, of course,
what St Matthew is describing is not just a hunger pang
but a state of being — of being at your limits, beyond your limits, 
worn down, worn out,
nothing left, yearning, searching,
longing for a morsel, a crumb 
something to sustain, something to satisfy. 
Ravenous. Starving. Famished.

And it’s then when Jesus is in that place
that the voices come — 
in what the tradition has called the temptation of Jesus. 
It’s then that the devil appears and offers him three things.

Quick sidebar. 
As you know, as sophisticated hearers of Scripture,
that when we are talking about the devil,
about Satan in Scripture, 
we are not talking about the terrifying figure of medieval paintings 
or the sinner-devouring creation of Dante 
or even the little guy in the red pajamas with a pitchfork.
When Scripture speaks of Satan, of the devil,
it speaks of the angel who went rogue and went wrong,
it speaks of the Adversary, the one who is against us,
the Accuser, the prosecutor who charges and condemns us, 
the metaphorical roaring lion who seeks to destroy us. 
In this instance in particular, Satan is the voice of self-satisfaction,
self-protection, and selfish ambition:
Turn these stones to bread (self-satisfaction),
Throw yourself down (self-protection),
All that you see can be yours (selfish ambition). 
In the reading from Genesis, 
Satan in the form of the serpent
is the voice of amnesia — 
forget who you are,
forget who you were created to be.
“If you eat this, you will be like God,” the snake hisses,
when we are clearly told just verses before that
Adam and Eve were created in the very image of God
and were already like God in every way that mattered.

I digress. 
It’s when Jesus is famished, 
run down, worn out, depleted, 
that the voices come, that temptation comes to him. 
Satisfy your own need. 
Preserve yourself at any cost.
Serve your own ambitions.
And, of course, Jesus foils each temptation, 
with the story concluding that Satan leaves him 
and the angels arrive to care for him. 
In St Luke’s telling of the story,
it ends somewhat more ominously —
with the devil departing from Jesus “until an opportune time.”

I wonder if you know something about
the heart of this story in your own life, 
if you know what it means, what it feels like to be famished in your spirit. 
I wonder if you know something
about being at your limits, beyond your limits, 
worn down, worn out, with nothing left,
yearning, searching, 
longing for something to sustain, something to satisfy. 
If you know something about being ravenous, starving,
about being in that very place — that wilderness place —
maybe where grief weighs on a soul;
where regret takes its toll, 
where choice and possibility paralyze. 
If you know something about
what it means to carry shame with us and within us. 

I wonder if you know something
about the voices that sound so loud
when we’re in that kind of soul space. 
The voices of self-doubt  that taunt 
you are not enough and who do you think you are
The voices of despair that 
tempt us to abandon hope.
The voices of suspicion 
that make us strangers to one another
and, if strangers, then also threats.
The voices of rage that divide and destroy. 
The voices of self-satisfaction that tempt us to get our own first. 
The voices of selfish ambition that call us
not to our better angels 
but to our lowest scheming selves. 
The voices of self-protection 
that whisper to us in this moment to stockpile a lifetime’s worth of Clorox wipes or buy out a nation’s supply of surgical masks.
The voices of fear 
That say that this is 1929 or 1939 all over again. 

If we know something about being soul hungry,
if we know something about standing in the wilderness,
if we know something about the voices that come,
then this Lent
these forty days are an opportunity, a chance really to find our way out. 

In 1760, the Anglican priest John Wesley
wrote this to one of his colleagues 
who was teetering on the edge of burn out: 
“Do not starve yourself any longer 
…Do justice to your own soul;
 give it [the] time and means to grow. 
Fix some part of every day for private exercise … 
Read and pray.
You may acquire the taste which you have not; 
what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant. 
It is for your life; there is no other way;
else you will be … a pretty, superficial preacher.”

That’s the invitation Lent offers to each of us and all of us.
The paradox is that this fast can become our feast.
We don’t have to starve our souls any longer. 
In this season, we can
Feast on the bread of life,
Drink from the cup of salvation.
Fix some part of our every day to read, to pray, to dream, to hope,to work, to remember who and whose we are. 
So that we might hear a different voice. 
A voice that says:”You are my beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.” 
A voice that says: “Be not afraid.” 
A voice that says: “You are not alone.” 
Whether it’s here on Sunday mornings 
or Sunday night’s evening prayer
or Wednesday night’s book study 
or contemplative prayer or the weekly house dinner
or walking the stations of the cross around the pond,
or offering food, money or time,
or working the land or cooking for the men’s shelter —
whatever this Lent will give your soul 
the time and means to grow. 
Figuring that out, committing to it and doing it — 
Well, that seems like a very good idea. 

Oh. Sorry, Ms. Deal.  That seems like a stupendous idea. 

Amen. 

Are You the One Who Is to Come?

A sermon by The Rev. Nathan E. Kirkpatrick. Advent III. December 15, 2019

If you have ever lost faith in something
– in a cause or a candidate,
   in an organization or an institution –
If you have ever given your all
       only to find that your all is not enough,
If you have ever found yourself despairing or disillusioned,
If you have ever found the road steep and the way hard
       And you have wondered if it is worth walking at all,
           Then you have a friend in John the Baptist.

Our morning gospel finds John in prison;
In fact, in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life,
John has been in prison for almost seven chapters.
So long that he has missed
Jesus’ sermon on the mount, the Beatitudes,
   and The Lord’s Prayer.
He has been incarcerated as Jesus has already healed many,
Raised at least one from the dead,
   And stilled a storm at sea.
While Jesus was laying all the foundations of his public ministry,
John was a religious and political prisoner
   Of a narcissistic megalomaniac
       Who resented the fact that John
           tried to hold him accountable for his unethical behavior.
You remember John is in prison
Because he had publicly objected to Herod
Taking his brother’s wife as his own.
As the gospel of Luke tells it:
   “But Herod the tetrarch,
   being rebuked by [John]
   about Herodias, his brother’s wife,
   and about all the [other] evil things Herod had done,
   added this to everything else –
   he locked John up in prison” (Luke 3:19-20<https://biblia.com/bible/nasb95/Luke%203.19-20>).
And in prison, after more than a while in prison,
After missing all the foundations of Jesus’ public ministry,
A no-doubt weary John the Baptist
sends a question to Jesus,
one of the most haunting questions in scripture.
“Are you the one who is to come,
Or should we wait for another?” (Matthew 11.2).

To hear the pathos in the question,
to hear the heartbreak,
to really hear it,
we have to remember that this is John –
John, whose birth had been announced by an angel,
John, who, in utero, had been present
   to hear Mary’s song
       as Jesus’ mother sang it to John’s mother.
This is John whose own sense
of calling and purpose
was to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah –
   The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
   Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight.
   Every valley shall be filled,
   and every mountain and hill made low.
   The crooked straight,
   and the rough places plain,
   and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
This is John who had preached to the masses
about repentance and transformation.
This is John who had said of himself,
   After me comes one who is mightier than I …
   I baptize you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit..
This is John who baptized Jesus,
and at that baptism, watched as the heavens were opened,
watched as the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove,
and who had heard there a voice from heaven thunder –
“You are my Son; with you I am well-pleased.”
This is that John,
who now is asking,
“are you the one who is to come
or should we wait for another?”
As I hear it,
If John is not outright losing faith,
he is certainly losing heart.

Now, to be fair about it,
there are biblical interpreters who say
that this is more of a rhetorical question,
that John sends Jesus the question
on behalf of all the people
who had heard John’s preaching across the years,
who themselves may have begun to wonder,
who themselves may have begun to ask –
“John seemed so certain that this Jesus was the Messiah,
but look what’s happened to John.
Is Jesus really the One? Or was John wrong?”
So, these biblical interpreters suggest that
perhaps John is raising the question
not really for himself
but for all of these others
who might now have a doubt or two,
who might be wondering
if this is the One who has come to set all people free
if He can’t even get John out of Herod’s jail.
Sort of the opposite of
what most of us mean when we say,
“I’m just asking for a friend…”.

You can see, you can hear
what these interpreters are doing, right?
They’re wanting to protect John,
John, the one with the resume I just read to you,
from the possibility of doubt
precisely because of that resume.
They’re wanting to say,
“no, no, nothing to see here,”
because, perhaps
if a person with that resume
has doubts,
what does that mean for the rest of us mere mortals?
If John, after all of that,
could find himself despairing – even for a moment –
what would that mean for all of the rest of us
who have spiritual resumes that pale in comparison?

But, for a moment,
I wonder what would happen
if we don’t try to protect John.
If instead of saying,
“oh, that’s so sweet of him,
he’s faking some doubt
so that the crowd gets to hear Jesus say,
‘yeah, yeah, I’m the one,’
how benevolent of John” –
what if, instead,
what if we say
that maybe, just maybe,
John’s life, John’s circumstances
had made it hard for him
to hold on to belief even for just a moment?
I, for one, think that that
might make him more important for us rather than less.
I, for one, think that that
wouldn’t tarnish his halo or risk his sainthood at all,
but it might actually confirm his humanity and his sainthood.
Rather than the caricatured firebrand preacher,
John might be a bit more accessible to us,
a bit more familiar to us.
It may also help explain why –
as Fleming Rutledge, the preacher and scholar, notes –
John, not Jesus, is the central figure of Advent.
If we don’t try to protect John,
then, for any of us who have ever wondered
if Jesus is the One we have been waiting for,
for any of us whose lives have made it hard to believe,
then, for us, we have a newfound friend in John.

Here’s my hunch –
if I’m wrong, you can tell me at Teachable Moment or lunch.
My hunch is that most of us
at some point or another
have looked out at the world through
all kinds of prison bars -literal, metaphorical –
and have wanted to know
if we have put our faith in the right Messiah,
we have wanted an answer –
“Are you the One? Or shall we wait for another?”
Which is so much deeper,
so much harder,
than losing faith in a cause or a candidate,
in an organization or an institution,
it is so much harder than giving our all and finding it not enough,
so much harder than walking the road and finding it tough-going
because, in each of those moments,
if faith is true, then we have faith to lean on.
But, if faith falters, then, so, too, does the very hope that sustains us.
What if John is asking for himself
and giving us words for our experience, too –
are you the One or do we have to keep waiting?

It’s a perfect third Sunday of Advent kind of question,
when, in a normal year, the walk to Christmas starts to feel long.
When maybe we’re ready to be done with Advent hymns
as beautiful as they are and just sing a Christmas carol or two.
When maybe we’re done with waiting.
Two Sundays ago, I was with
the folks of the Episcopal campus ministry at Duke
for their Sunday evening Eucharist,
and several of the students
were talking before mass
by the advent wreath.
And at the Episcopal Center,
their Advent wreath
has different colored candles –
three purple and one pink –
for the Sundays in Advent.
And the students were discussing why there was a pink candle.
One of them finally said,
“did you ever think that maybe they were just tired of purple?”

Maybe you know something about being tired of purple,
tired of waiting for God; weary of wondering if or when life will change.
Maybe John’s question is yours:
Are you the One or do we have to keep waiting?

In Matthew’s Gospel,
Jesus answers John’s question.
“Go and tell John what you see …
that the blind see, the deaf hear,
the sick are healed, the dead live again,
and the poor have good news preached to them.”
For us, Jesus might answer it this way:
Go and tell what you hear and see –
that the community that gathers in my name
brings food for the hungry,
builds Tiny Homes for the homeless,
welcomes strangers and makes them friends,
cares for those who are hurting and for those who are healing,
marches for justice and prays for peace,
gives time and treasure to change the world.
If you have ever asked, if you have ever wondered,
if John’s question is yours today –
Hold on to what you hear and see,
because our waiting is almost over.
Amen.

The Rev. Nathan E. Kirkpatrick

So Many Things to Celebrate Today: +Sam Rodman’s Sermon for our 15th Anniversary

There are two hymns that have been running through my head as I looked forward to today. “There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place …” and “Every time I feel the spirit …” There is something about today that makes me want to sing and dance, with you.

Now those last two words are the key words, “with you.” Not only am I too self-conscious to sing and dance without you, (remember I am, after all, a native of New England). But more important, the movement of the Holy Spirit is something that, by its very nature, is meant to be shared, to be experienced in community, to be celebrated together. As my seminary Professor Charlie Price used to say participation is a Holy Spirit word, and today is all about participation.

So many things to celebrate today, and such a joy to be with you. 15 years of the Church of the Advocate. 15 years of the gift of the Holy Spirit moving through you, through your community, through your leadership and your witness.

15 years of innovation and initiative grounded in the liturgical richness of our Anglican tradition. Or to borrow from the Orange County slogan – 15 years of living “around the corner AND ahead of the curve…”

Let me suggest a couple of visual images for today. One comes from our Presiding Bishop, who played a key role in your beginnings. Bishop Curry, in one of his first videos after he became Presiding Bishop, spoke about being asked what the Jesus movement looked like. And of course the video was filled on the streets of New York, and Bishop Curry is moving about walking and talking, and is in fact, himself, an embodiment of the Jesus movement. But he is also wise enough to know that we all need to be involved, to participate together. So he shared an image from our liturgy, of the moment, as the gospel is processed, where all the people turn together, to face the gospel. He said, that is an image of the Jesus movement. And you all here, have taken that to a deeper level with the opportunity to reverence, to touch or kiss the gospel as it moves through the community. For me, this captures a moment where the Jesus movement meets the movement of the Holy Spirit, in worship.

And as you well know, the Jesus movement is not just about what takes place inside the church. An equally vital dimension of the Jesus movement is what takes place outside the church. And here, the image that comes to my mind is the journey, literally the movement, of this building, which was St. Philip’s church, in Germantown, NC as it made its way to the Homestead Site here, in December of 2012. They had to remove the roof for the move, but the visual image of this church moving, on a flat bed truck, from that community to this one, is an icon of the church literally moving through the world.

The Holy Sprit is all about repurposing, reimaging, recreating and renewing. And in an age where many churches are struggling under the burden of what has come to be called our edifice complex, you were showing how the building itself can remind the church that we are called to be on the move: in, through, and for, the communities we serve.

And your name, Church of the Advocate, conveys this deep commitment, which is embedded in your missional DNA. You are the embodiment of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and you are all about what it means to be an Advocate – as your T-shirt puts it – “Be the noun, do the verb.”

And here there are numerous examples of the ways you have done just that. Compassion, justice and collaboration have been the values that stand at the center of your advocacy. And today, we celebrate with you two initiatives in particular, which have been at the heart of your connection to the community: the Piedmont Patch Collaborative and the Pee Wee Homes Collaborative.

The first is a model for how we are called to be good neighbors and stewards of the land, and the ways we can learn to “serve rather then harm God’s creation.” The second is an initiative which invites a broad cross-section of the community to collaborate in an innovative approach to affordable housing, partnering with town, county, individuals, organizations, and other non-profits, including Orange County Habitat for Humanity, to create another pathway to homeownership. This is the stuff of the gospel! This is what we are called to do and be!

Not that accomplishing all of this has always been easy. At times it has been discouraging, frustrating and disheartening. And occasionally, truth be told, bureaucratic impulses from within our own church structures have gotten in the way … imagine that. But here is where the Holy Spirit, the power of your commitment, faith in God, trust in Jesus, holding to your guiding values at the center have helped you to persevere and prevail.

Bishop Steven Charleston has written words which remind us that the spirit is at work even when we are facing challenges and resistance:

“Don’t let the dark clouds fool you. They may pretend to own the heavens, to stretch from horizon to horizon, ominous and commanding, a permanent shadow hanging over our lives, but don’t let the clouds fool you … there is world of sunlight behind them. One day, when the wind of change pushes them apart, that light will return to bathe the earth, to restore the vision of every person, to set right what has been broken. Stand firm then in what you know and believe. Look up and do not be afraid, for when you feel the first breeze of hope, you will know the clouds will soon be chased from the sky.”

The wind, the breath, the breeze, these are all signs of the Holy Spirit. And our readings today all celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Isaiah, the Spirit of the Lord is upon the prophet as justice, healing, and Good News are proclaimed. In I Corinthians, it is the variety of gifts that are celebrated, all in the one body. And Luke is a kind of backhanded affirmation if we, who are less than perfect know how to give good gifts, how much more does God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, when we ask.

The Holy Spirit is a relentless advocate for justice, for compassion, and the witness of the Holy Spirit for generations has been that this is work we must do together, in concert, as part of the Body of Christ.

And today, we celebrate this gift and the 15 year journey that has brought you to here. The winds of change are blowing through you in a way that has opened us as a diocese and opened the wider church.

Not coincidently, this week, the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council both voted to recommend that a new church plant, Christ the Beloved Community, in Winston-Salem, be recognized and received into communion with our convention next month. There was great excitement as we talked about this. Christ Beloved Community serves a Latino neighborhood and it has been a partnership with the Lutheran Church from the very beginning.

A couple of people said they couldn’t remember the last time this happened in our diocese. But you can! It was in January of 2004, back when our convention was held in January. You were that mission! And there is a connection between that moment and the one we will celebrate next month.

Justice, compassion and collaboration are part of their values, too. Your journey has inspired theirs. Without your witness and your trailblazing, who knows if this community would ever have been started. Their journey is part of your legacy.

The breeze of the Holy Spirit is stirring among you and within you. And those being confirmed and received today are a testimony to that movement. They are part of it. All seven of them, and Lisa counted them just before the service to make sure they were all here. And we are all part of this movement of the Holy Spirit.

It is a movement that invites and involves all of us. It means to be an Advocate/ to Advocate: be the noun, do the verb. It is the Jesus movement alive and well in this time and in this place.

And today we celebrate loud and long the gifts of the spirit that have made this possible, and the compassion, collaboration and justice that through you, has been born in our community and reborn in our church There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place, and we know that it’s the spirit of the Advocate. AMEN.

“For Tom Fisher, On the Day of his Funeral” The sermon by Sam Laurent

The community gathered in the Advocate Chapel on Sunday, July 15, 2018,for the Burial Office for Tom Fisher.
Sam Laurent offered this sermon for Tom.

It’s there in the pictures. Looking at the photographs he took, the ones he exhibited, the ones he hung on his walls or that others of us have hung on our walls, you can see a bit of how Tom tried to see the world. It was a vision that didn’t come by accident. He cultivated it. Studied it. It ran deep in who he was, why we grieve him, and how we will know his presence again.

Street photography would be the name for the genre, and like many who were inspired by the french photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tom’s most creative work spurned grandeur and poses in favor of finding something beautiful in the mundane. A picture of someone doing their job. A picture of two people meeting on the street. Almost always, there were people.

So I asked him. Why these candid shots of people? In that way we had of giving his sophisticated wisdom a veneer of folksiness, Tom said “well, they’re a hell of a lot more interesting to take pictures of than rocks.”

And then he stared into the middle distance, lined up an imaginary shot in his mind and said “so there are two people coming together on the street. My job is to have my camera set up so that with minimal fussing with it, I can capture that moment. Just the encounter of two people is so fascinating. Maybe they know each other. Maybe they’re strangers. There is so much between them that I don’t know. I just want to capture the moment.”

The art in his images, then, was his reflexive attraction to wonder. Capture the moment, and you can return to it. You can imagine what was going on with the people in the picture and the space between them. But they remain mysteries. The photograph holds you in your unknowing, inviting you into a space of wonder.

And, well, so did Tom. As a financial planner, he made it his business to help people handle the uncertainty of life. His work helped people be able to turn their eyes from the nagging worries of the future and be attentive to the present.

Tom loved books. Specifically, he loved novels with the kind of characters you think about months later, characters that open up a space within you that you hadn’t known about before. Tom’s favorite characters felt compassion in their bones. They spoke to the beautiful experience of the unknowability of human life.

Tom loved live music. He and Candy travelled for concerts. He helped produce God only knows how many shows with the Forty Acres organization he cofounded. Those performances gathered people together to exalt in the creative potential of the moment.

Maybe all of this is why he was so captivated by this building. Probably he took more pictures of it than anything else that’s not a person. This chapel stood somewhere else for 120 years before we moved it here to Chapel Hill. It is a space consecrated over and over again by the gathering of generations of people we can’t know. These walls heard prayers and laments and hymns for decades before ours echoed through. This wood is seasoned like one of Tom’s old guitars, richer and warmer for the history that rippled through it, and drawing us into a present moment where the mystery of the past opens us to the mystery of the present, where our reality meets God’s.

God’s reality. That reality is particularly mysterious—acutely mysterious—to us today, and it was something that fascinated Tom throughout his life. The man who was known for being a terrific listener to his friends and family grounded himself in listening for God’s movement in the world. That mysterious depth that lies behind each person is a reflection of the primal mystery of the divine.

Divine mystery is an antagonist today. We always want to understand God. We want to say that everything that happens, even cancer, somehow has divine purpose behind it. But what we see, what we hear in the readings Tom chose for today, is that God’s power is manifest as love. Nothing, Romans says, including death, can separate us from the love of God.

A God of mystery who is insistently present with us in the form of love. I spent a lot of hours and drank more than a few pints of beer talking about this God with Tom. The conviction that divinity flows through each person and calls us to defend the dignity of each person… the conviction that the divine mystery calls us to listen steadfastly for God in our midst… this is the spirituality of Tom Fisher.

This was no accident. It was no affect that he put on. This was Tom. The man who worked for Civil Rights knew something of the sacred mystery of each person. The father of Morgan and Jess knew something of the beauty of possibility, the unfolding mystery of each child, and the love that allows them to thrive. The man who went to seminary before becoming a financial advisor knew something of the importance of letting each person decide who they are, of being prepared to act. The man who helped lead this church into existence knew something of patient listening and of the transfixing mystery that guides people of God. The photographs reflect the man who took them.

And so we are gutted today, because we have lost Tom. His steadiness, wisdom, and love were never more evident than in the months since his diagnosis, when Tom’s choices were guided by the value of the present, by his ability to find depth and love in a time freighted with the grim prospects of a dire disease.

More than anyone I’ve known, Tom led those he loved through the end of his life. He took care of us. He sat and talked frankly about the end of life. He told me stories of gratitude for time with Morgan and Jess and their families, of his delight in the people his children had become and the people they had married, stories of the magic of his grandchildren, of his sheer awe at the compassionate force of Candy’s love. Life, he knew, had been good.

So this hurts. And it will hurt. It is love’s dark insult to us. To love is to eventually be heartbroken. And Tom knew that love is simply the most important thing. He was right. So this hurts.

But those pictures…

The moments that Tom sought to capture are sacred, but they are not rare. Our days are infused with the potential for something new to happen, something more than we would imagine. This is the movement of the insistently loving God of mystery, the God who now bears Tom in the glory of divine memory and presence, working through the miracle of relationship to ensure that when we notice the depth of mystery in a seemingly ordinary moment, Tom will be with us. And we will feel gratitude, and we will feel pain. At the same time. There is no prescribed ratio of the two.

Those ordinary moments, when refracted through the prism of clear presence to the moment, are the kingdom of God. To be fully present in God’s creation, in this precise moment which is the only moment that is actually happening, is to see that the boundaries between us are not so clear. We will miss Tom, but we will feel Tom’s presence when we allow ourselves to be present, because Tom is, in a very real way, a part of us. All of this.. this life… is space held open by God so that we might intertwine in relationship, so that we might, acting from love, create beauty from the very possibilities that lie before us. I understand this better than I did before because I was given the tremendous gift of being Tom Fisher’s friend.

It is all a wildly improbable miracle, one in which we are now rightly grieving the loss of this man who was woven deeply into so many lives. Even in this painful moment, the beauty and mystery of Tom’s life draws us in like one of his pictures. We want to know more. We want another conversation. Another dinner.

This is the mark of a life well lived. Of a man who was deeply loved and who loved deeply. It is grace that intersected our lives with his, and it is grace that will allow us to know his presence in those future moments when the mysterious unknown of life speaks to us of something more. Something we can’t touch but can marvel at.

There is so much in those pictures. So much behind them. God knows we will miss Tom, and God knows we will feel him with us yet. It’s in the pictures.

AMEN

Who Are You and What is Your Mission? — A Palm Sunday Homily by Lacey Hudspeth

A homily offered by Lacey A. Hudspeth at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018.

I love the story of Alice in Wonderland. The story of a small girl who falls into a hole where she must navigate many odd and even absurd events in order to find her way home.

I love it because in the story there is this constant need in it to press two different questions—questions about Alice’s character
and
questions about Alice’s mission:

This story of Palm Sunday is often one I have a difficult time with, because it involves a
feeling of triumphalism that makes me uncomfortable. Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the
political epicenter of the time, amidst people fawning palm branches before him saying,
“Hosanna!” which translates literally into “God save us”.

As I have thought this week about why this story makes me so uncomfortable, I have come to realize it is because there are other people in our own more recent American story who live into the political triumphalism, who are swayed by a group of people saying something similar to, “save us, we put our hope in you, God has sent you to us.” I have a difficult time with the nature of triumphalism— it comes across as arrogant, rooted in worldly success, and I find it confusing in the face of the Jesus that I have come to know— I think we have to do something similar to the characters in Alice in Wonderland this morning. We have to look inside the gospels and ask of this Jesus riding into Jerusalem

Who are you? and What is the purpose of this?
AND, ask ourselves… What IS IT that we are committing to when we kneel before someone and say, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord ”
We must press Jesus on both who he is as a human and who he is as a God. Let’s look at this man we lay down palm branches for, a man we beg to save us.

Let’s look first at Jesus as a man. What is MOST unusual about Jesus, what sets him apart from other men is threefold:
1. His relationship to God
2. The shape and narrative of his life as teacher and justice seeker
3. His building relationships with outsiders, with the marginalized

As a man, Jesus very clearly sets himself outside of the triumphalist crowd. The palm branches mentioned in the gospel of John are meant to be reminiscent of the processions that greeted the political victories of the Maccabees.
But, Jesus quickly and clearly corrects this vision of himself as their political savior the people expected him to be— a man who rides into the epicenter on a jeweled chariot, a man who celebrates power.

Instead Jesus acts out a prophecy— he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey to show that, like the King promised in Zechariah, he has come to bring peace and salvation, NOT riches and political glory.
Jesus rides in on a donkey to say of his character:
I do not come to set up a hierarchy of power; I come humbly, a child born in a trough, a man riding in on a donkey, I am coming NOT to wield power over you, but rather the exact opposite— I have come to die for you, so that you may live.

Here we see the nature of Jesus as both human and as God.

Jesus, the man and the God, turns this triumphalism on its head. When the crowd tries to triumph the coming of Jesus as political-glory… Jesus instead celebrates what will be— the triumph of gratuitous love, the gift of the

Incarnation sent to gather us all into the mystery of the Trinity.
And when we press him, when we interrogate Scripture to more fully understand who he is as both fully human and fully divine, I think we come to know God as Pseudo Dionysius does— Jesus is the divine goodness who maintains and protects all creation and feasts on them with its good things.

At the core of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, Jesus is one who seeks and finds relationships— indeed, it is precisely through the incarnation— through the living work of Jesus present on earth as both fully human and fully divine—

We dont celebrate power.
We celebrate the mystery of God gathering us into the life of the Trinity.
When we look deeply into the character of the humanity and divinity of this God, we look deeply into the face of gratuitous love— love that is poured over each one of us without any regard for worthiness.

If we are like Alice, working through the absurdities of the world, trying to find our own way home— I think Jesus once more turns the questions around and looks at us and says,
Who are you? What do you believe?
What is your character and what is your mission?
How will you live out the gratuitous love I have shown you?
Will you be set apart by your love and relation to God?
Will you be set apart by your narrative of justice seeker?
and will you be set apart by building relationships with the marginalized?

These are the questions of Palm Sunday.

Amen and Amen.

Owning Up. Lent One Sermon by Nathan Kirkpatrick

OWNING UP
A sermon preached at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate | Lent One 2017

 One of the strangest realities about our life together as church
is the way we come together and say the hardest things to each other.
And then, somehow, when we have, we walk away a bit lighter.

It happened on Wednesday.
At noon and at 7, groups of us gathered in this place.
With ashes on our foreheads,
We looked at each other and said,
“remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Lisa put it as bluntly as possible in her sermon, we. Will. die.
And yet, on Wednesday evening, after the service,
I, for one, walked out into the rain and felt vibrantly alive.

It’s one of the strangest realities about church —
We come together and say the hardest things to each other,
And yet, there is in the saying of it some measure of liberation.

It happens here on Sunday mornings, too.
We gather together.
And we, perfectly lovely, perfectly nice people,
Come together and reveal the reality about our lives.
We come together and we pierce all our illusions and facades that we spend so much of the rest of our time constructing or protecting,
to acknowledge who we have become
and how we are and how we live in the world;
what we really hope for and what we really fear;
and whether it’s a simple or sprawling prayer of confession,
we acknowledge the evil we have done
and the evil done on our behalf.
We gather and sit with sin, our own and our own.
We say the hardest things about how our lives have gone.
And then we hear a word of liberation –
That the Lord has put away our sin,
that our transgressions have been forgiven,
that mercy embraces those who trust in God.
It’s one of the strangest realities of our life together as church –
We come together and say the hardest things to each other,
And find, when we do so, there is some measure of freedom.

This telling the truth is the hardest part of Lent.
As a child, I thought that the hardest part of Lent
was the giving up — the no chocolate, no candy, no cookies,
the no peanuts, pretzels or cracker jacks.
The no television, no video games, the no internet
(not that we had the internet when I was a kid,
Al Gore had not invented it yet; but you get the idea).
I thought the hardest part was the giving up.
But, what I’ve come to realize is
that the hardest part of Lent is
not the giving up but the owning up. 

It’s not that the giving up is easy,
but the owning up is so much harder —
it’s hard to tell the truth about ourselves,
not just because telling the truth, in and of itself, is hard,
but because we confront this tension
between who we were created to be and who we so often are.
We confront the truth that it’s easy to forget who we are created to be.

It’s why we begin our readings this morning in a garden,
Soon after the birth of all things.
You remember that, in the beginning of Genesis,
We hear of a God who creates everything that is
Not because God had to
but because God – in God’s own life –
Was overflowing with love.
And God births the universe out of love,
To share love, for the sake of love.
And the clearest way we know that?
Genesis tells us that we are created in the image of God,
as reflections of God in the world, to love –
To care for one another, to care for creation,
To walk humbly and justly before God.
That’s why we’re here.
It’s why we were made in the beginning.
It’s why creation carries on;
Love is why creation carries on.

But, we are told just a few verses in that this love gets sullied.
We heard the story this morning.
Now, I don’t want us to get hung up on the talking snake;
Whether or not there was a loquacious reptile is beside the point,
the story points to something profoundly true about the spiritual life:
the temptation for Eve and for Adam is to forget who they are.
The serpent – the craftiest of creatures –
whispers in the young woman’s ear –
“God knows that if you eat of this tree
your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.”
The problem with this reasoning is
That just a few short verses earlier
We are told that Eve and Adam
already were like God
In every way that mattered.
They were made from God’s love for God’s love to be love.
Their temptation is to forget.

The temptation is always to forget.
In the Gospel reading, we find Jesus, moments after his baptism,
Perhaps still a little damp from the full immersion in the river,
still reflecting on the dove and the voice from heaven,
Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God.
(My favorite cartoon of this scene shows Jesus strapped into the passenger seat of a Jeep with a ghost-like driver saying to him, “just two more hours.”)
Not what it means driven.
Jesus is moved, propelled into the wilderness by the Spirit of God.
There, after forty days of fasting and prayer,
Jesus meets the tempter,
The nagging voice, the shadow side, the adversary, Satan,
However you want to narrate it.
But there, in the wilderness, as the voice had whispered in the garden,
The tempter whispers to Jesus – “forget, forget, forget.”
The voice that whispers you are not enough and who do you think you are – what Brene Brown calls the twin tapes of shame. Forget. Forget. Forget.
“If you are the Son of God … turn these stones into bread.”
Forget that the Son of God came not to be served but to serve.
“If you are the Son of God … throw yourself down and let angels catch you.”
Forget that the Son of God came not for signs and wonders, for show and splash.
“If you are the Son of God … worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth.”
Forget that the Son of God came to announce a new kingdom that exists by God’s priorities and passions and not to lead the old ones.
Forget, forget, forget…

But we notice here the difference between Adam and Eve and Jesus;
It’s the difference Paul is calling our attention to in Romans –
If the temptation is always to forget; then the grace that is found in Jesus
is that he remembered.
He didn’t forget that love is the way, the calling, the reality of our lives.
And so, when the tempter, the nagging voice, the shadow side, the adversary, Satan – however you narrate it – comes and says “forget,”
Jesus says, “remember.”

And so, the hardest part of Lent is to remember, to own up
To who we are,
to who we are made to be,
and why we are here.
To remember that we are made from love,
for love,
to be God’s love in the world.
The hardest part of Lent is to remember that sin isn’t the truth
of who we are, but is what happens when we forget who we are.

And let’s not overlook the fact that some of us
Grew up in homes and with families that help us forget;
The language was of love but the acts were of harm.
Forget…
Some of us – many of us – still live and move in systems and structures
That enable us and encourage us to forget.
We live in systems and structures that
Reward the degrading of creation instead of the care for it,
And when we do, we pillage and pollute our own homes.
Forget…

We live in systems and structures that tell
persons of color and the poor and the prisoner
that they are less than,
and when we believe it or act from it, we are all diminished.
Forget…

We live in systems and structures that
Encourage us to seek our own welfare before the welfare of the city, the common good,
That make apathy an easier choice than love.
Apathy is the great challenge of our day, not hate.
And when we believe it, we lose.
Forget…

It’s a curious thing about our life together —
How we come together and say the hardest things to each another.
We do it so we don’t forget. It’s so we remember.

Reflections for the First Sunday After the Epiphany, January 8, 2017

Reflections on the First Sunday After the Epiphany
January 8, 2017
The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, Vicar

“Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it, and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you…..” (Isaiah 42)

“I have taken you by the hand and kept you….”

Today marks the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany. Friday evening some gathered in the Chapel to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany itself. And we were reminded of the coming of the wise men, the sages from afar, to the birthplace of Jesus. By that story we are told that Jesus came, not just for a few, but for all. For all of “us” and for all with whom we share this world.

In the words of St. Peter in Acts of the Apostles: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.”

And today, today we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus. (We had a little fast forward of 30 years in 30 hours…) In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is full grown. A man.

Today’s story is not just the story of John the Baptist and the River Jordan and the cleansing ritual and Jesus.

Importantly, the Gospel story we hear today is also a story of the Holy Spirit, descending upon Jesus, in bodily form like a dove. It’s the story of a voice coming from heaven declaring, “You are my Son, the Beloved.”

That dove and voice bit is essential to the story. Because by it we learn, just as the witnesses of old learned, that somehow in this person Jesus God is made (here’s the good Epiphany word) God is made manifest in Jesus the man.

As the old hymn goes: “God in man made manifest”.

In this person Jesus,
God is.

And because God is in this person Jesus, in this human being born like one of us, in this human being dwelling on earth like one of us, because God is in this person Jesus, we understand that God has chosen to engage with us in an incredible, powerful, awesome and efficient way.

So that now we can hear the word of God in the prophet Isaiah and know it true,
“I have taken you by the hand and kept you.”

Throughout the season of Epiphany ahead we will recognize, embrace, celebrate, that God has taken us by the hand and kept us.
We will celebrate that God has been manifest in Jesus, and, as such, has engaged with us, closely.

In the season of Epiphany, we will hear story after story that reveals that manifestation of God in Christ. We will hear stories of Christ’s miracles, of Christ teaching with authority, of Christ shining with a holy glow like none other – in his transfiguration on the mountainside.

This is all very cool. And exciting. Not only because we are talking about God –
“the God who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it, and spirit to those who walk in it”.

But because we are talking about that God engaging with us. we who are frail and floppy, self-centered and arrogant, fearful and flailing.

Epiphany is not a story of God’s “outreach” — of God reaching out to us and giving us what we need. Epiphany is a story of God’s “engagement”. In Christ, God has engaged with us. And, in Christ, God has called us to engage with one another, and with the world in which we live.

It begins today as we hear the story of the Baptism of Jesus. And we consider again our own baptism. The Holy Spirit was present at both.

If we were in worship together this morning, we would renew once more our baptismal covenant, reminding us of what it means that we are baptized and what we are called to be and do because of it.
I’ve pasted that covenant below.

In Christ, God has engaged with humanity.
In our baptism, we have become engaged with Christ.
So it is that God has chosen to take us by the hand
and keep us close.

That is the stuff of the season.

Amen.

The Baptismal Covenant

Celebrant                  Do you believe in God the Father?
People                                    I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant                  Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
People                                    I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant                  Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
People                      I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Celebrant                  Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?

People                      I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant                  Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People                      I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant                  Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?People                       I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant                  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People                       I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant                  Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People                        I will, with God’s help.