Grace to you, and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.
My favorite Bible story is from a little-known book in the Old Testament. It’s the story of Esther, a Jewish woman living in the Persian-occupied city of Susa. Before long, Esther finds herself thrust into the royal court – in fact, she is chosen from all the women in Susa to be the king’s bride! And yet to protect herself, she hides her Jewish identity from the king. At the climax of the story Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, hears of an evil plot to execute all the Jews in Susa. Mordecai begs Esther to use her privilege to speak with the king, yet she is afraid: the punishment for addressing the king without being summoned is death. Mordecai pleads with Esther:
“Don’t imagine that because you are part of the king’s household you will be the one Jew who will escape. If you keep quiet at this time, liberation and protection for the Jews will appear from another source… But who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal position for such a time as this!” (Esther 4:14)
As I get older, these words achieve a greater impact in my life. And in reflecting upon 2016, these words come to mind about our life together at St Michael’s. We have been through a lot together in the past year – some wonderful things, some challenging things – and I believe we’ve come through them for such a time as this!
In case you missed any of these wonderful events, here are some highlights:
- On Ash Wednesday we participated in “Ashes To Go,” an ecumenical event bringing the Church out into the world. Four of us stood out on the Warren Street steps and imposed ashes and prayers on those walking down the street.
- We celebrated Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services with St Mark, Hamilton.
- We joined with St Mark, Hamilton, for a bible study on Revelation, and with St Bartholomew, Trenton, for an introduction to Matthew’s gospel.
- In June we hosted a fantastic Celebration of New Ministry, giving thanks to God for our shared ministry together. The Bishop of the Diocese of NJ presided, and the Bishop of the NJ Synod preached.
- Andrew McTigue, an Eagle Scout candidate, did a project to rehabilitate the dying vegetation in our graveyard. Not only did this improve the landscaping on our block, but we built a relationship with the McTigue family. Fred Vereen and I were invited guests at his Eagle Scout Court of Honor in January 2017.
- We hosted ecumenical Advent Vespers with St Mark, Hamilton, and St Bartholomew, Trenton.
- We held two concerts in the month of December. Marco Panuccio, a lyric tenor and dear friend, held his “O Holy Night” concert, and we welcomed Sharim V’Sharot for an interfaith Christmas/Hanukkah concert.
However, we also had a few challenges this year:
- We reached a critical point in regards to maintaining our historic building. After obtaining a few quotes, we contracted an architecture firm to provide a conditions assessment, which will provide a scope of the work required.
- After a particularly violent year, members of St Michael’s came together to begin a series of community conversations around the epidemic of gun violence. We have also begun naming the victims of murder in Trenton each week.
Your vestry and I have worked very hard this year to discern where God is calling us. This is not a one-time decision but an attitude – a way of life. And you, the body of Christ at St Michael’s, are part of that discernment. Where is God leading us? What new thing would God have us do in Trenton? And, perhaps most importantly, what must we let go of in order to do this new thing?
As your vicar, I have some ideas:
- I would like to see our building used more often and more efficiently. Although this might include some expenses, I think it will enable the neighborhood to feel like a part of our community. It will feel risky, and it will be a cultural shift for us, but as I preached recently, I remind you: St Michael’s is not our church; it is Christ’s church!
- I am hoping we can begin a new service project in 2017. This may include partnering with a food pantry or soup kitchen; it could mean starting a clothing closet or an after-school technology center; it might be an ESL co-op where we can help folks learn English as they teach us Spanish! We’ve been given so much – let’s keep giving back.
- I am excited to lead you in building relationships with other ethnic and religious communities, particularly with the local Muslim community. Considering the recent election and the shift in political discourse, minority communities desperately need to know that they are loved and respected.
And as we continue through 2017, I invite your own ideas, questions, and challenges!
I recently had a conversation with a colleague about everything going on at St Michael’s. She replied, “Well, you’re a Revolutionary church – no wonder you’re still being revolutionary!” I was speechless. St Michael’s has been through a lot of wonderful and challenging things in the past 313 years. And yet, who knows? Perhaps St Michael’s has come through it all for such a time as this!
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you always,
the Rev’d Mark David Johnson,