An update from Second Story

St. Alban’s is a long-time supporter of Second Story, a youth services organization based in Northern Virginia that offers children, youth, and families hope for brighter futures by providing counseling, shelter and neighborhood-based support. Check out some of the work they are doing in the midst of COVID-19 through the eyes of one of their volunteers and donors here:

An update from the Music Search Committee

The music search committee has been meeting online since the stay-at-home order began. Our most recent work has involved the paring down of candidates based on their resumes and, in some cases, based on sample video clips they have submitted. The resumes we received from many of the candidates were very impressive, which made the “paring down” process challenging, but our search committee has reduced the pool to ten candidates. For the search committee, the most important part of our search process will be the in-person audition, where our finalists in the search will demonstrate their qualifications. In addition to keyboard skills, we also plan for each of the finalists to spend time with our choir in a rehearsal session to get a sense of how they work with people.

It was my intent to move forward with hiring our Minister of Music/Organist until the recent release of a report by a joint commission of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). In this report, the commission outlined the heightened risk of the spread of COVID-19 infection by singers. Apparently, singing has become risky business in this environment.

Hopefully you all are aware that for the foreseeable future, sacred music as part of our gathered worship will be dramatically different than what we are accustomed to, and the pandemic will certainly sideline most choral groups for some time. Because we don’t have clarity about when or how choral music can return as part of our worship together, I do not believe we can protect St. Alban’s staff, volunteer singers, and our parish family from COVID-19 infection. Because of the current environment, I have reluctantly decided to suspend our search for a full-time choirmaster/organist.

I am determined to move forward with this process when there is a clear path to doing so safely and long-term. I have reached out to each of the remaining candidates to assure them that my intent is to resume the search process at such time as hiring a full-time musician becomes feasible. Of course, I will keep our parish family up to date on the activities of the music search committee when we are reactivated and are able to continue our work.

St. Alban’s response to the COVID-19 virus pandemic

Dear St. Alban’s Family,

Join us on Sundays at 10am as we livestream Morning Prayer via YouTube. Access the livestream and archived video recordings here.
Weekdays at 8am we offer Morning Prayer via Zoom online conferencing. Click here for access details and link.
Check your email! We are sending regular updates and messages, including scheduled Zoom social events for our church family. If you’re not on our email list, please contact us and request to be added.

I hope you have seen the pastoral letter recently sent out from Bishop Goff in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the letter, Bishop Goff relates that she met online with the clergy of the Diocese of Virginia and, as the Ecclesiastical Authority, directed that there will be no public worship at churches in the Diocese of Virginia through March 25. If you are aware of someone who might not have received her email, please pass it on to them.

Bishop Goff made it very clear that churches are, at the moment, not closing, and staff will be reporting for work. What does that mean for our parish family?

While Bishop Goff mentions “physically gathering for public worship,” I take her directive to mean that, in addition to our Sunday worship, there will be no church sponsored, or church-sanctioned, gatherings. This includes choir rehearsals, Lenten programming, Education for Ministry (EfM) sessions, Tuesday Eucharist and Bible Study, Chatting Fingers, Sunday School, Youth Group gatherings, Vestry and any of the other varied ways we gather.

While the doors will be closed for public gatherings and worship, we plan to continue live-streaming our daily office of Morning Prayer from the downstairs chapel, and are making plans to provide some kind of livestream of worship (either Morning Prayer or Eucharist) on the two Sundays we are apart. We will be reaching out to those we are aware of who live alone, to check in and make sure everyone is OK.

I hope you will take advantage of the technology with which God has enriched our lives to stay connected through our online worship and to stay connected with each other – checking on friends, neighbors, fellow parishioners and the most vulnerable among us.

I am grateful for Bishop Susan and Bishop Jennifer’s leadership in this difficult and challenging time. While we might be inconvenienced in the short term, not gathering in numbers helps to mitigate the spread for the community-at-large. In our conference call it was clear that this was a tough decision for them to make, but it was the right decision to make.

During this two week period, please do not hesitate to reach out to your parish staff and clergy if you are in any need, are feeling anxious, frightened or need someone to talk to. As Bishop Goff said in her pastoral letter, “do not be afraid. God is good.” Hold each other up in prayer. Now, as always, God is with us.

Faithfully,

Fr. Jeff

The 255th Diocesan convention

Today and tomorrow (November 15 & 16) your clergy and three delegates are seated on the convention floor at our annual convention, representing you as our St. Alban’s delegation.  It’s awe-inspiring to think that we are part of a tradition that has continued for over 250 years.

Fr. Paul and Maddy at Convention
Fr. Paul and lay delegate, Maddy, engaged in the business of the Church

Our convention is an annual gathering of clergy and lay representatives from all 180+ parishes in the Diocese of Virginia.  So, what happens at our annual convention? It begins with an inspiring pastoral address by our bishop, this year by our suffragan bishop in the absence of a diocesan bishop.  Typically there are addresses by guest speakers, too.  This year we heard from Mr. Brian Sellers-Petersen, Agrarian Missioner from the Diocese of Olympia in Washington, who spoke about care of creation.

An interesting part of convention is hearing “stories of the diocese,” inspiring stories of how parishes, big and small, are engaging with their community, reaching out, bringing new life to their congregation by carrying out Jesus’ Gospel imperatives to serve others.

At Convention we elect representatives to Standing Committee, a 12-member elected council of advice to the bishop who also can serve as the Ecclesiastical Authority in the absence of the Bishop.  We elect delegates to our triennial national General Convention and hear reports from different diocesan committees and task forces. Essentially , we conduct the business of the church as an assembled council.

For me, the highlight of Convention is the Eucharist – where we all gather in worship, sing the praises of God, and share in the Body and Blood of Christ.

Convention is a great opportunity to see the Church in a new way and in a new light, and it looks very different than Sunday morning at St. Alban’s.  Every March we call for nominations for lay delegate to Convention.  Delegates are elected by the Vestry, and must be pledging members in good standing of our parish.  If you are interested in serving, you don’t need to be nominated by someone else… let your clergy or a member of the Vestry know.

Celebrating the Communion of Saints

One foggy evening, when I was stationed in West Germany, I was driving through a fairly rural part of the countryside, when I noticed a rather eerie glow off to the right side of the road. As I got nearer, I realized that I was approaching a cemetery, and each grave was marked by a burning candle. I had passed that cemetery any number of times, but I had never seen it so beautifully illuminated. I later discovered that a local tradition was to place a lighted candle at the grave of loved ones on November 2nd – The Feast of All Souls’, or as we Episcopalians now call it, “The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.”

Two venerable and beloved Church feast days happen this week – The Feast of All Saints’ and The Feast of All Souls’. All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows’ Day, is one of the principle feasts of the Church Year, and is set aside as the day when the Church remembers the saints of God – known and unknown. It is one of the few Feast Days that, when falling on a day Monday through Saturday, can be moved to Sunday (and, incidentally, it is one of the four Sundays especially appropriate for baptism.)

While the origins of All Saints’ Day aren’t known, its roots probably go back to the 4th Century, when a feast for all the martyrs was observed in May. It wasn’t until around 735 that Pope Gregory III declared a Feast of All Saints on November 1. While the Feast of All Saints’ celebrates the saints of God, known and unknown, who have died, All Souls’ Day celebrates relatives and loved ones (the “rest of us” faithful whose lives do not merit a day on the Church Calendar) who have died. All Saints’ and All Souls’ became inextricably connected – sometimes being called Allhallowtide or Hallowmas season, being observed on November 1 and November 2, respectively.

The Western Church began their observance of All Saints’ with a service of Vespers on the evening before, which would be All Saints’ Eve, or All Hallows’ Eve. It isn’t much of a stretch to see how simple, superstitious and pagan folk might embellish a commemoration of the departed with stories of tormented souls of the dead, demons and other evil spirits – becoming the festive day of Hallowe’en we’ve come to know and love.

The Feast of All Saints’ is especially important in the Episcopal Church. We often speak of “the Communion of Saints,” and All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day remind us of our belief that all Christians that ever lived, are living, and will ever be, are bound together in one Communion – the Body of Christ. All Saints’ and All Souls’ celebrates this bond as we continue the ancient practice of praying for the saints who have gone on before us and acknowledge that those saints in heaven are praying for us.

Please join us for our observance of The Feast of All Saints’ on Sunday morning, November 3rd, at 8:15 and 10:15. We will be observing The Feast of All Souls’ with a solemn Evensong on the evening of November 3rd at 7:00 pm. All are invited to attend this beautiful sung service, and to bring photos of loved ones who have departed this life and light a candle as a silent and visible prayer for them.

Would Jesus give to a panhandler?

A few Sundays ago, a gentleman came into the church seeking a ride and some financial assistance. In this specific case, this gentleman is well-known to your clergy, and has been using the same story for as long as I have been here, and perhaps even longer.  (Without going into details, his story is demonstrably untrue.)  He may have real needs (I truly don’t know), but his method is dishonest. Fortunately, he only got a ride out of our parishioners, and no cash.

What should you do when a panhandler comes to Church?Read More

Why Redo Our Kitchen?

“Your building is either advancing your mission… or a drain on it.”

That’s a quote from one of the architects who produced the design for our new kitchen. That architect very succinctly described our situation. I know that there are some who have concerns about the project – concerns about the cost, concerns about the complexity and there are, perhaps, other unvoiced concerns.

A member of the St. Alban’s Vestry, Jim Kilby, shared some thoughts on the project with me, and I’d like to share them with you. — Fr. Jeff

From Jim Kilby:

Jim KilbyOver the past few weeks, I have heard that some members of our congregation question the high cost and need to undergo the kitchen renovation project. While initially I shared this opinion, I now have a greater understanding of the scope of the project.

Much of this was gained through reading the Case for Support of the Kitchen Project, participation on the Capital Campaign and through talking to some of our primary kitchen users. I am now onboard, completely.

Simply put, our kitchen is not a commercial grade kitchen, but it should be.

If the sole use was supporting coffee hour, I might be swayed against the project. However, our kitchen is not adequate to support our mission of community outreach (Poe Middle School after-hours meals program, Belvedere Elementary weekend food program and Hypothermia Project), nor our larger parish meal requirements.

Furthermore, if we do anything to our kitchen, we need to bring it up to code. This will require significant below-foundation plumbing work as well as other modifications.

I believe the bathroom remodel is a related project which would be prudent to undertake in conjunction with the kitchen. I use the “I’m changing your water pump, so It would be smart to change out your timing belt since you are approaching 90k miles” analogy.

Finally, adding a shower and laundry will be a significant upgrade to help us in executing our Hypothermia Project Mission, as well as helping the Altar Guild with linens and other requirements.

In my life in the Navy I have found it useful to use a command philosophy to center the crew on “the main thing.” I’ve found an open discussion of the difference between “ownership” and “stewardship” is helpful in this regard.

Ownership vs. Stewardship

If I “own” something, I have choice to care for something as I am moved to (example: I don’t have to change the oil in my car, even though I know that I should). If I am a “steward” of something, I no longer have that latitude. I am entrusted with the care of that object. It is a matter of trust and obligation. It is different.

As members of St Alban’s, I believe we are stewards of our property, stewards of our mission that positively impact our community. It is truly a higher calling. I am committed to this project and strongly believe that this is a “must do.” I am optimistic that the feasibility study will determine that we have the congregational resolve and fiscal means to make this investment in our church. Let’s get to it!

Sincerely,

Jim Kilby
Member, St. Alban’s Vestry

Ideas for Lent

With the season of Lent coming upon us soon, I’ve been doing a little reading and research on some Lenten disciplines I might take on. I stumbled across a quote that spoke to me about the nature and need of our Lenten disciplines.

“Lent is a time for discipline, for confession, for honesty,” wrote Rt. Rev. Tom Wright, a New Testament scholar and retired Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, “not because God is mean or fault-finding or finger-pointing, but because he wants us to know the joy of being cleaned out, ready for all the good things he now has in store.”

Our Lenten discipline should challenge us spiritually and, if possible, physically. The spiritual challenge is necessary so that we can strengthen and grow our faith in God, to sustain us in difficult times and help us deal with sometimes-frightening uncertainty of these times.

A physical challenge is less about challenging ourselves, and more about learning to rely on God. When we engage in an act of self-denial (fasting, abstaining from certain food or drink, or even refraining from watching television or using the Internet), we redirect our cravings away from this world and direct that hunger and yearning toward God.

You may be surprised to see the many unexpected ways in which God provides. In an age of instant gratification, fasting gives us a little insight into what it might be like to be truly hungry, and unsure of where your next meal might come from.

If you’re wondering how you might exercise your faith and grow closer to Christ, here are a few ideas for Lenten disciplines:

Daily Prayer

Join St. Alban’s in daily morning prayer at 8:00am, either in our small downstairs chapel or online through our Facebook Live broadcasts.

Food Stamp Challenge

Several years ago we encouraged our families to try a “food stamp challenge” where each family would try to live on a very limited daily budget for food — roughly the equivalent amount a family receives  on government food assistance. Like fasting, this exercise gives you a new perspective on the daily struggles of low-income families.

Study & Reading

Our Library Committee will have selected books available in the narthex. Pick one up and commit to daily reading and study.

Lent Madness

Just for fun, try out Lent Madness — a zany and somewhat bizarre take on March Madness. Instead of hoops and baskets, we have saints and martyrdom! It starts on Ash Wednesday and proceeds daily through Lent, as saints are voted to advance toward the finals and the Golden Halo. It’s a fun way to learn about saints, those Christian faithful who have gone before us.

Finally, make sure to join us for our special Wednesday evening Lenten lecture series. This year, Dr. Hannah Matis of the Virginia Theological Seminary will walk us through several historical highlights related to the founding of the Anglican and Episcopal churches. It’s going to be fascinating and fun; here are the dates and details.

Lent is a time to reflect and remove those things that get in the way of our relationships with God. It’s a time of self-examination and soul-searching, and a time for growth, as we ready ourselves for the Great Feast of Easter.