“The young ladies of Grace Chapel, Gainesville, GA, were organized into the Junior Guild. Their subject being to work for the advancement of the church.”
From the notes of the Junior Guild, written in May, 1897.
I spent some time these past few weeks reflecting more on what community means, what community is…what it does, as a group of people who are brought together with purpose and connection.
I thought it would be helpful on this All Saints’ weekend to spend some time with the saints of Grace Church, looking through time into their life together in the 19th century. Grace has been a community of prayer for over 187 years now, and we have an incredible future ahead of us…within God’s dream.
Community is a challenging thing…at least community that truly seeks to cultivate a spirit of formation and compassion, a community that seeks to become more aware of its interconnection and common purpose.
You have taught me this year that a resource-sized parish of almost 900 members can delve into the depths of holy community. Together, we have helped cultivate this sense of purpose, with common prayer, shared joys and grief, times and spaces of worship and music, memories of laughing children and amazing youth leadership.
And, you have taught me these past few weeks that community can be nurtured through—of all things—the stewardship campaign! Rather than approach stewardship through some stock, canned, slogan-dependent framework, your team here stepped into a space of vulnerability, of trust, of honesty, of shared gifts…reminding us all that, Every One Counts. We have shared our hopes and dreams, our desire for more prayer, our call to embody compassion in the community, and our need to effectively manage the financial details of monthly expenses, building repairs, and administration…the practical, embodied details of what it costs to have a parish be a living community.
Every One Counts in the Community of All Saints. Every One Counts because we all have gifts, given us by God with the purpose of sharing them within a community of prayer and worship and compassion….within the Body of Christ.
The Benedictine nun Joan Chittester, whose work we have read together this year—and who we will explore more—reminds us that the heart of Christian community is not some “pious romanticism.” Community has something more, something more profound, than just stirring up emotions with some romantic, “everything is going to be alright because we have Jesus” mentality.
Because, Jesus doesn’t want us to be “happy” (at least not in the way the world understands happiness). And he doesn’t necessarily want us to be “rich” (at least not in the narrow-minded way of the culture). And he doesn’t want us to “feel good.” What Jesus wants of us is to realize what it means to live together as his Body in the world today, as the Body of Christ. He wants us to continue the Incarnation…today…to live a life of Christ, in Christ…
This is why the saints are so important for our lives.
They show us what embodied prayer looks like.
They show us what discipleship costs.
They show us another way, a path different from the pursuits of the world around us….a radical path of holiness.
You see, the saints lives are infused with the Beatitudes…
Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake…
The saints lived “beatitudinally,” and they invite us to do so as well…
No, Christian community is not about some pious romanticism. It is about a radical, trusting embodiment of Christ’s love in the world.
The real St. Francis didn’t just stand around in gardens with birds on his head. Rather, he lived among the poor—as one of the poor, a mendicant—and challenged the self-centeredness of the establishment around him.
The real St. Benedict didn’t have a pleasant time with all his monks there on Monte Cassino. Rather, he had to leave at one point because his monks tried to poison his wine after getting mad at what he asked them to do!
And, just in case you might think that our community is free from any frustration, let me read you this snippet from the minutes of our saints in the Junior Guild…granted, no one tried to poison anyone, but we can see the difficulty of community:
“The Junior Guild met with Miss Lizzie Lumpkin on Thursday, August 11, 1898. Owing to the bad weather, very few were present. A suggestion was made relative to imposing a small fine on those members who should be late, as the attendance is so irregular. But, as so few were present, the motion could not be passed without the consent of those absent.”
Ah, community life! Poor Lizzie Lumpkin herself struggled with the need for quorum… Every One Counts.
While we may use Robert’s Rules of Order within meetings, needing quorum and such, what we’re really talking about…what we’re really seeking….is the fullness of spiritual community. That, more than simply being “our brother’s keeper,” we are our brother’s brother…our brother’s sister…that we are the family of God, the Body of Christ….together…..in prayer and compassion….that we take our place within the Community of All Saints.
I think it’s so fitting to have today our goal for stewardship season “ingathering,” as the day we target for returning our pledge cards. Those cards are not about money in the end, that are about what our money signifies, what it points to. Our money becomes sacramental, because it seeks to embody the grace God has given us, which we return through the community for God’s dream in the world… As Cheryl Kelley mentioned last week from our Eucharistic Rite, we are reminded “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thy own have we given Thee.” So, I have put cards in the pews, so that, if you have not yet, you may choose to fill one out and drop it in the offering place.
Every One Counts…
Each one of us has gifts….more radical than that, each one of us IS A GIFT to the world around us….called to share of ourselves… to live into our Baptismal promises, as we will so gladly celebrate very soon with these four new members of the Community of All Saints. We are called “to grow into the full stature of Christ.” In the old language, we were “christened,” we were “Christed,” grafted onto the True Vine, sharing in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism. ….
Being called to live “beatitudinally” in the world…
Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed is the Community of All Saints…
The Rev. Stuart Craig Higginbotham
The Feast of All Saints’, Year A
November 2, 2014
 Joan Chittester, The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, (New York: Crossroads, 1995), 41. Chittester reflects on the life of St. Benedict, and his call to community, saying that St. Benedict was, by no means, “a pious romantic.” And that he calls the community deeper into what it means to live the life of Christ.