“Take what we have, and go.” That’s the six-word sermon of the Rev. Jenifer Chatfield, rector of St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church in San Marino. St. Edmund’s is famous for the pastoral support its members offer one another. Under the leadership of Jenifer and a wise, engaged vestry, St. Edmund’s is committed to finding new ways to share its love with the neighborhood.
One example is the Holy Ghost Kitchen. Because of St. Edmund’s’ renowned nursery school, it’s hard to have a food ministry on campus. So folks are preparing meals in the parish kitchen and spiriting them off to Union Station Homeless Services in Pasadena. Intentional curiosity about the lives other neighbors of the parish are leading will naturally engender more mission and ministry.
I was along Sunday to celebrate and preach at 8 a.m. in the old church, when we used the lovely words of Rite I, and at 10 a.m., when eight stepped forward to be confirmed, including Jenifer and Nancy’s daughter, Kaelyn, and Queen, 20, who has waited until her brother, Peter, 16, could be confirmed at her side. Afterward, the siblings took their first communion. Another confirmand, Edward van Luinen, a brilliant organizational consultant, is the spouse of Joshua Wong, who is preparing for ordained leadership.
The Rev. Susanne Wright-Nava, who had counseled the confirmands, assisted. Her and Jenifer’s expertise in youth and young adult ministry are amazing assets for abundant parish future. Angels Mar was back as my devoted volunteer chaplain. I asked verger Tony J. Faught where he’d learned to swing the thurible so expertly. “YouTube,” he said with a smile. Organist and choirmaster Robert Hovencamp and the St. Edmund’s choir were magnificent as always. The lunch afterward was delicious and fellowship-drenched, enabling me to have a good chat with most of the vestry.
The preacher may have let them all down, however. Among the readings was the assurance in Act 2 that in the early Jerusalem church, people were all together in agreement, praising God, performing miracles, owning everything in common, and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. At which point the preacher sometimes asks, “Why can’t we get back to that?”
Except I didn’t, because I’m not sure we ever had that. Twenty or more years before Acts was even written, Paul wrote to churches he’d established that were bickering over theological doctrine and policies for Holy Eucharist, arguing over who was in charge, and not sending enough money for famine relief in Jerusalem.
That sounds exactly like the way we behave. Acts sounds a little like a news release. Yet all these years we’ve been comparing ourselves to an ideal church that never quite existed and making ourselves feel bad because we keep coming up short.
Far better to do the best we can (and most people are doing the best they can most of the time) and then give thanks for the gift of a new day so we can try again, keeping the eyes of our heart fixed on the saving light of the empty tomb and our inner ears tuned to the shepherd’s encouraging, never-failing voice.