Remarks of the Rev. Dr. John P. McGinty, Rector to the
2019 Annual Meeting of The Church of Saint Anselm of Canterbury
Shoreham, NY | Diocese of Long Island
January 27, 2019
Well, how are you?
This is the time set aside once each year to make sure we ‘take our temperature’ together.
Are we together?
Are we healthy?
Are we faithful?
Are we realistic?
Are we hopeful?
Are we imaginative?
Are we becoming what God is calling us to be?
Are we alive?
Are we loving?
All these and more add up to a question to which we should never presume an answer. No one should.
The question is:
Are we being the Church?
The question is tricky. It’s like what Saint Augustine said about understanding God way back in the fifth century: ‘as soon as you think you understand God, the one thing you need to realize is that, whatever you have understood, it is not God.’
In this case, it’s like this. As soon as we settle in and say anything like ‘we got this, we’re being the church,’ the one thing we need to realize is that whatever you are at that moment, you’re not Church. It just flew by you, on Holy Spirit wings. It never stops moving.
Becoming Church is directly related to the individual invitation to become a disciple of Jesus. It’s a moving target. There is always something more. It’s never comfortable for long. But it’s worth it. It’s worth more than anything else you could direct your life toward.
So, how are we doing?
And wrapped in that question is the personal one: how are you doing?
I care, with you, about the building, about finance, about all the practicalities. But it’s my first responsibility as your parish priest to care for you as sons and daughters of God, as sisters and brothers of Christ, as Temples (in this time and place) of the Holy Spirit. In other words, as the Church.
So I will continue to work diligently with our church Administrator, Barbara Dougherty, with our Treasurer Laura Spillane, with the dedicated members of our Church Vestry, including those just elected, with our exemplary Wardens, Tom Killeen and Bob Pokorny, to assure that our assets of funds, buildings, and all things are maintained well, repaired as necessary, and replaced when they wear out.
But I will work with them also to assure that our volunteers in ministry - from among your ranks - are appreciated and encouraged and cared for. And I’ll seek to do the same for that list of co-workers I named moments ago.
And underneath all that, prior to all that, more fundamental than all that, I will work to exhaustion to challenge you and me to continue to deepen our shared discipleship, our relationship to God in Jesus, our being as truly as possible the Church, living here and now.
You’ll know it when you see it. In our third year together, you may already know what looks like. When something different is proposed, that maybe you haven’t seen before -
We only have so much time to live into Christ Jesus in this life. And we only have so much time to do this together in this unique moment and this unique place. So we need to deepen our discipleship with openness and with energy.
To make it clear, when my time as your priest is over, my hope is that you will sit back, take a deep breath, look at each other and say, “Well, that was demanding, but wow do I feel good. Way down deep, do I feel good.”
And so, we continue. Thank you!
On Sunday afternoon I was happy to be able to visit a parishioner who had been hospitalized just a few miles from church. At the hospital front desk, three very welcoming folks greeted me. They let me know where to find my friend and parishioner, and I noted in passing that I had managed to get myself lost the last time I tried to get to that particular neighborhood in the hospital. Which was true.
The security man on duty, above and beyond the call thereof, offered to lead me there. He led me much of the way and then kindly pointed forward to the path I should follow. Alas, when I had reached the correct floor in the correct area of the hospital, thanks to his good offices, I was lost again, unable to figure from the signage exactly where the room I needed to find was to be found.
I did see a glass door and a nurse's desk beyond. Pressing forward I walked up to the desk and was greeted by a friendly face. I asked for our parishioner by name and received confirmation of the location of her room. But then the woman at the desk continued, unexpectedly. "It is so good that you are here, and on a Sunday afternoon! I can see in your face the love of people and the glory of God. Thank you for that!"
Now, what do you say after something like that? I thanked her and with wonderment actually found my way to the room, where we had a good visit and a moment of wonderfully genuine prayer together. Then, somehow (!), I found my way back to the lobby and out the door again.
In the middle of that visit to a good person in a moment of life needing encouragement, affirmation and support, God had cleverly embedded a most unexpected moment of encouragement and support into my living. Like a number of us, I presume, I am most often aware of my lacks, my weakness, my missteps, my sinfulness. But through this lady whom I never saw before and may not again, through her gentleness and strength, I was invited to recognize something else in me, and that nothing less than God working through a very poor tool. But working for good effectively nonetheless.
On all counts, it was a blessed summer afternoon,
Dear Saint Anselm’s,
I find myself thinking much these days about the value and worth and wonder of friendship.
Do you have friends whom you have known for years, or decades? Do you have friends you see often, who quite naturally act as a kind of barometer of the wellness of your life, who take the temperature of your joy or sorrow and who know just how to respond? Sometimes that response is just the right word. Sometimes it is just the right silence. Sometimes it is just the right hug.
Do you have friends whom you see only once in a great while now? Men and women who shared daily life with you in another time and place? When you speak with one another, or see one another after a long period of time, does all the time that has elapsed seem to melt away, so that your hearts reveal themselves just as connected as ever?
If any of this is true, then you (and I) are profoundly blessed in these friends. They are truly a gift of God. Perhaps a bit of past wisdom from two very different sources today can help us truly realize the worth of having and of being a friend.
Joan Powers, in Pooh’s Little Instruction Book distilling the wisdom of Winnie the Pooh and friends, shares this: “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.” And the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, known in the Middle Ages of the Christian era as The Philosopher, offered this truth long ago and far away: “What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”
Give your friend a call today. Or drive over to spend a little time together. You’ll both be glad you did.
Yours in Christ,
February 16, 2018
Dear Saint Anselm’s,
The old English word which we hear as ‘lent’ meant springtime. There is hope for the weather (changeable as it is!). And there is hope for us (fickle as we are). The season of Lent has just begun. It's not too late to jump in with both feet, entering it fully. There's plenty of opportunity here in our parish to pray, give, discipline ourselves; to learn, reach out, and love. Lent is a training ground for Christians. I often call it a 40-day retreat. You could also call it boot camp.
In this tough, often tragic old world of humans (consider the reason our flag is again at half mast and no more need be said), we need to be shocked into reconnection with God and with one another. Again and again all our lives converting more deeply into true humans by coming closer to the true God: that's what it's all about.
This first Sunday's Collect expresses our intention today. Pray it often this week:
Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save.
Yours in the hope of springtime,
February 9, 2018
Dear Saint Anselm’s,
This Sunday, the final before Lent begins, is Transfiguration Sunday. Each year on this Sunday we hear a Gospel version of the moment when Jesus went up the mountain with Peter and the brothers James and John and was transfigured in their sight.
‘Transfiguration’ is a word we rarely use outside church or outside this Sunday. This is, as you will hear, a moment of revelation and of transformation. I believe the day poses before us two related questions that we should not be quick to answer with assurance.
The questions are these:
 Do I believe in revelation? That is, do I believe that God has made known to us saving truths that we would not know if God had not spoken? Something is revealed and confirmed about Jesus in the transfiguration Gospel. What is it? And, if I accept the reality of revelation, what is revealed to me today by God that I need to know for my good now and into eternity? Do I believe in revelation? And am I listening for what God is saying?
 What is transfiguration? What was that for Jesus as the Gospel recounts it today and as the Apostles witnessed it? And what is transfiguration for us? A combination of ‘transformation’ and ‘revelation’ may be a good starter to define ‘transfiguration.’ So, what kind of change is God saying needs to happen in me, in my way of life, in who I deeply am?
Those are this Sunday’s questions. Think about them and pray over them. They set us up well for the invitation into Lent beginning this next Wednesday, with its own set of questions, challenges, and opportunities for renewal.
A last word: this stuff is real. And ultimately more important than anything happening in business, politics, government or anywhere else. How’s that for radical? If you don’t believe that, Lent is coming with its power to open our eyes again to the best truths of our lives.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Dear Saint Anselm’s,
This Sunday has been known as Gaudete Sunday in the western Church for a very long time. The origins of the season of Advent are as old as the 5th century. Its name is taken from the introit, the entrance song that was proper to the third Sunday of Advent. Here is that entrance song rendered in our English, based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians in chapter 4 and on Psalm 85:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.
‘Have no anxiety about anything’! Here in 21st century America just to be asked not to be anxious can make us anxious. But do note. We are neither asked nor expected to bring ourselves to that state of inner and outer peace, free of anxiety and immune to deep stress. We are simply asked to live consistently in this way: handing over our sources of anxiety and stress to God in prayer. Simply letting God know what is going on. Handing it over. This is the time-honored path to peace.
And it opens the way to what this Sunday encourages and celebrates: Joy. We are bid to rejoice. In terms of this season, we are bid to rejoice because the Lord Jesus, and the celebration of his birth, is coming ever nearer. But let me ask you: what gives you joy? Keep in mind as you consider this question that ‘joy’ is not the same as ‘happiness.’ Happiness comes and goes like the weather, and is based on all sorts of fleeting things. Joy is based on deeper foundations, deep within, where the human spirit meets the divine. Joy, when we are found by it, endures.
Is this joy yours? Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe it was at one time and living on has seemingly erased it. But if you have ever known it, then you know how real it is. How genuine. How actual. How perfectly matched to human need and desire. And if you have never known it, good news! This is your time.
And best of all. This joy is available. Hand over the sources of anxiety. They may remain in your living, but your relationship to them will shift. You will be free. And then, just open to joy.
I pray joy will be yours this Gaudete Sunday, this Christmas, and always!
Dear Saint Anselm’s,
You know, this is a time of real hope for the Church.
How often do we think about that truth? What usually clouds our vision are concerns about numbers of churchgoers, numbers of dollars, and the like. These concerns are not without merit, for sure.
But behind all that is something more significant and of more lasting value and import: globally, across the Christian communions, young people are finding in the tradition of Christianity resources of unparalled value for living a happy, fulfilled human life. And more: for living a life that can expect and bear with suffering and the reality of death, and still and always rejoice.
These young adults are looking beneath the surface of church life. They are looking deep into a 2000-year old story that embraces proven ways of prayer, of building real community, of facing life’s challenges and changes. And at the beginning of that story, they are coming face to face and heart to heart with a real person, this Jesus of Nazareth whom they - along with those who have professed Christian faith before them - recognize and acclaim as the second Person of the Trinity, as God-with-us, God-made-flesh. And they find him alive, completely and brilliantly alive. In that discovery their own lives are being transformed.
One example I know of personally may help concretize this. I know a young woman, married now and a mother, whom I first met when she was a graduate student at Boston College. She has just published The Examen Journal. This offering to us all brings together two wonderful gifts: that of the Examen of Consciousness and that of journaling. The Examen, popularized by the spiritual genius Ignatius of Loyola almost a half-millennium ago, provides the invitation and the tools to live daily life with consciousness that we do so (always!) in the direct presence of God. Over the centuries, more and more men and women have found in Ignatian spirituality a key to living mindfully, with awareness of God.
My friend Mary, in designing and publishing The Ezamen Journal, has added one apparently simple element to that old tradition. The Journal invites us to write down what we pray in the Examen. That deceptively simple addition transforms what is already a powerful experience of prayer into something even richer.
How does one make a contribution like that to Christian life and Christian lives while caring for little ones and living the rigors of daily life? By living in the tradition, placing its gifts in conversation with 21st century life, and trusting in faith that God is still very much at work, in our individual lives and in the life of our community. Beautiful, and real. And there are many more examples like this.
So I say again, this is a time of real hope for the Church. Real energy. Real possibility. We can share all that right here at Saint Anselm’s, if we choose to do so.
If you would like to learn more about the Ignatian tradition of the Examen, visit this site to start: https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen
To learn more about Mary’s initiative, visit http://www.creatingtolove.com.
Yours in Christ,
Dear Saint Anselm’s,
In these times in which we are living, it is tempting to keep our eyes close to home. It is tempting, and understandable, to focus on the things we seem to be able to control in the midst of what looks like an almost uncontrolled and uncontrollable world. So we might want to concentrate these days on cleaning out this past summer’s growth in the garden and planning for next year. We might put the garage or the basement in good order. We might reline the kitchen shelves or even take on the bedroom closet.
There is nothing wrong, in themselves, with these activities. In fact, they can be quite positive. But we go off the rail if we allow our entire world to be just that garden, that garage, that closet, that car that needs work. We do belong to the whole world, even when it is painful to do so. And when violence, grief, longing for better times strike the world, we are called to be courageous enough to let them hit us as well. Even when it hurts.
Lately we have been pummelled by terrible natural disasters. Multiple hurricanes. Multiple earthquakes. Volcanoes roaring to life. Wildfires on hillsides near and far. These, as we have seen and continue to see, are difficult and painful to deal with. In a sense, when we wreak harm on one another - human on human - it’s almost harder. Harder because we know that, for whatever inscrutable reason, reasoned or entirely crazed, one human being, made in the image and likeness of God, has made the decision to inflict devastating harm on as many other persons as he possibly can. And he has taken the time to plan, and to put resources in play to assemble the deadliest possible set of tools to render that devastation as painful as he can - for those who died on the spot in Las Vegas, for those still moving toward recovery in the hospitals, and for those who are plunged into the abyss of the sudden, unexplained, unnecessary loss of one (or more) whom they love.
There is no simple answer to any of this. It is certainly, I can say, evidence that sin is real and does live in human hearts. It is more than we need to conclude that, since the gates of the Garden of Eden closed behind us, evil has sought to have its sway in the world. And it does, too often. In moments like last Sunday night at Las Vegas. But also in moments when human hearts and minds refuse to open to one another, to seek to understand and to love one another as we all are loved by God.
On the spot last Sunday night, as bullets rained down on what had been a festival, human beings acted unselfishly for one another, seeking to shelter and, if possible, save one another. Stories of amazing self-sacrifice have been shared in the days since. There is evidence in this of God living in human hearts, of human goodness and heroism. That is just as real as the evil, and in the end of even greater consequence.
Sadly we seem often as a society to reach the border of that kind of mutual care almost as soon as the guns are quieted. Almost immediately we begin to hear voices intoning that nothing can be done ultimately about these humanly-instigated disasters. I beg to differ, with all due respect, for several reasons:
That conversation is not optional. It is absolutely vital. That is why, though it’s okay to be working in our garden or closet, or to have our head down under the hood of the car, even there we need to be strong enough to see the faces of the suffering, to hear their cries, and to ask ourselves what kind of response we need to give as individuals and as community.
Yours in Christ,
Dear Saint Anselm’s,
Welcome to the season of autumn! This is often one of the most beautiful of the four seasons in our neck of the Lord’s vineyard. This fall, with all the natural disasters we hear about daily in horrific hurricanes, killer earthquakes and almost unquenchable wildfires, our prayer must be filled both with supplication for those who are suffering and gratitude for our own current experience.
As we enter autumn together, I want to say a further word about the Leadership Commissions, five in number, that we are now establishing. Each commission will take on the task of concentrating attention on one key aspect of our church’s life. The five are Outreach, Worship, Community Life, Formation & Education, and Administration. Each commission will have five members, four elected and one Vestry member. The Commissions will come together once each month on Leadership Night, usually the 3rd Tuesday of each month. Vestry will meet the same evening. Commission members will collaborate at other times as needed to get the job done.
A further word about what each commission is about:
Outreach - this is our mission in the name of Christ into the neighborhood, the area, and the world around us. Its purpose: service in the name of Jesus.
Worship - when it comes to our prayer together, our Eucharists and Morning Prayers, our music - what should these look and feel like? Are we giving true praise to God?
Community Life - what brings us together as a parish? Socially? In terms of fundraising? Why do we come together and how often? What kinds of gatherings can effectively invite others over and build our sense of commuunity?
Formation & Education - from children through adolescents and adults to seniors, at every age of life, how are we doing in sharing what we believe? What more can we do? And how?
Administration - we presently do a lot with almost no staff. How can we work smart? How can we get done all that needs to be done without wearing anyone out and with a smile? This includes our parish office and our buildings and grounds.
Some of you have heard me asking at announcement times on Sundays for nominations for the Leadership Commissions. Our need is for twenty (20) persons to make this work. As I write, we have 8 persons nominated.
And here’s the reason all this is important. As a noted church historian has opined, every time is a time of change, but not all times are times of revolution. Ours is a time of revolution. The society and culture in which we live and worship and serve is not as it was when the mission church of Saint Anselm’s was founded. They are not the same as the year 1982 when we became a parish church. They are not the same as in 1990 or even 2000.
I’ll say it clearly. The local churches that will survive, grow, and prosper are those who embrace the call to reinvent themselves for the needs of this moment and the ever-accelerating future. The others will not survive, nor do will they deserve to do so. Why? Because they will not be carrying forward God’s mission in ways that correspond to the needs and possibilities of this time. And make no mistake: there are both needs and possibilities aplenty.
The Commissions are one tool for we at Saint Anselm’s to broaden and deepen our leadership and the ranks of those active in carrying us forward in God’s loving arms into the future. So, now, you can expect me to be getting in touch with individuals personally to ask you to consider serving on one of the Leadership Commissions. I hope. I pray. I trust that out of faith and love for your church, you will answer me yes.
Yours in Christ,