From the Rector #32

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Today is Serve Sunday! At the end of our liturgies this morning, we will be commissioned and sent out into the surrounding community as teams, not only to serve our neighbors but also to listen to them. There will even be opportunities between the 9:00 & 11:00 a.m. Choral Eucharists to serve right here on Palmer’s campus, including kid-friendly ones that families can do together. It’s an invitation to be the church in the world around us. After all, this place is not a destination in a life of faith but a starting point as we are sent out in the name of Christ.

This holy season of Advent during the weeks before Christmas is a time of waiting. But it’s not a passive time, as though we are merely staring at the wall clock in a waiting room before a doctor’s appointment. It’s a time to be alert and to watch with joyful expectation for the coming of the Lord. We can do that in the places where we live and work and go to school, and throughout the surrounding neighborhoods as we reach out to people in need of a helping hand or a human connection.

While Advent becomes brighter with each newly lit candle on the Advent wreath as we draw closer to Christmas Day, remember that Advent begins in the dark. So look for the Lord to appear in the shadows, wherever uncertainty and anxiety and fear reign over the landscape of the human heart.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and dispel our night!

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #31

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

This morning you may have noticed new signage — either permanent or portable, depending on which entrance you used to come into the church or onto our campus. The signage spells out what has been a long-standing policy of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, which prohibits open carry and concealed carry weapons in its churches and schools. While public opinion is deeply divided about the presence of such weapons in the world around us, churches have historically been holy spaces where weapons are put aside in response to the command of Jesus, who told his impetuous disciple Peter to put his sword away in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas has made it very clear that we stand in this tradition.

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Due to changes in the laws that govern open carry and concealed carry weapons in the State of Texas, signage on the scale that you can see today is required in order to enforce the weapons policy of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas in the manner that has been affirmed by the Vestry of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. Some will rightly note that we hire an off-duty police officer, who carries his weapon, to stand in front of the church on Sunday mornings. There is a provision for that in the diocesan weapons policy, noting that off-duty law enforcement professionals have the proper training to respond to threats, including armed intruders, and that legal safeguards apply to them when they are serving or responding in that role.

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #30

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Today’s reading from the Letter to the Colossians refers to Christ as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible . . .” Echoes of that very language are heard in the creed that we say each time that we gather around the Lord’s Table. I love what former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has written about this in his book Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief:

Belief in a Creator of all things visible and invisible is in fact something of deeply practical and personal meaning. It is about the possibility of an integrated life — not a life where some bits of us have to be covered up or swept under the carpet. ‘Visible and invisible’ means something for the life of each one of us, you see. There are the things in my life that I’m aware of, there are things I’m not aware of — and there are things that I try not to be aware of, that I’m ashamed of or frightened by. But all that I am is the working out of what God has made; some of it has worked out well, some not so well; I have learned to make good use of some of what God has given me and I’ve made a mess of some of the rest or just haven’t come to terms with it. Saying that God has made us in our entirety and is concerned about all of us isn’t, incidentally, the same as saying that anything we choose to do is fine — only that every aspect of who we are needs to be brought into the circle of God’s light, because he can deal with all of it.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

On the Road with the Rector #7

Added LaneLiving in the City of Houston provides us with incredible opportunities to participate in cultural and intellectual events. Throughout the year, I’ll invite you and your friends and neighbors to join me in some of these activities that might either strengthen or challenge us as Christians.

The next “On the Road with the Rector” event is a lecture on “Religion, Secularism, and the Politics of the Refugee Crisis” by Erin Wilson, Director of the Centre for Religion, Conflict and the Public Domain at the University of Groningen. This public lecture is sponsored by the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University.

It will take place this week — Friday, November 18 — at 8:00 a.m. in the Humanities Building, Room 117, on the Rice campus, which is located at 6100 Main Street. As always, if possible, please let them know that you will be attending. You can RSVP by sending an email to Hayley Hemstreet, Program Manager for the Religion and Public Life Program, at hayley.j.hemstreet@rice.edu.

Texas Tuesday: Picking Satsumas

Last Friday afternoon, both of my sons were invited by parishioners from Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church to pick a bunch of satsumas from a tree in their back yard. My wife and I were careful to tell our youngest son that he would be picking oranges on this adventure, which is close enough to count in this case, because he had his mind set on oranges. They had lots of fun, and I had fun watching them!

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From the Rector #29

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Generation Found is a documentary film that highlights stories about the impact of Houston’s Archway Academy, which is not only the largest high school for teenagers in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse in the United States but also meets on our campus because our members helped to create it. Here’s a clip that shows the inside of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church at one of Archway’s graduation ceremonies:

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

Post-Election Word from the Rector

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Americans went to the polls this week on Election Day and revealed how divided we remain as a people. On our campus that same day, St. Bede’s Chapel was open not only for prayers for ourselves, our community, our state, and the nation but also for two services of Holy Eucharist. Those who came were grateful for the invitation to remember something that unites the followers of Jesus and to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd in the midst of so much pushing and shoving, metaphorical and otherwise, over the past year. Many who were not able to be there told me that they were grateful, too, knowing our prayers surrounded them with the love of Jesus.

This week I also completed a formal request for Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church to become a member of the Community of the Cross of Nails. As I’ve talked, written, and preached about over many months, this is an international fellowship that seeks reconciliation over revenge and that began at Coventry Cathedral in England. It is a powerful witness to Christian forgiveness that has inspired countless people around the world. We can be a part of that witness as peacemakers in the City of Houston.

That witness to peacemaking begins in our personal relationships, including those that comprise our own household. It will continue within our common life here at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. Our new community norms that were created before Election Day seem even more important to uphold now. The way that we talk to one another, whether in the pews or in the parking lot or in the public square, really does matter if we bear the name of Christ. Those who are baptized do bear it.

The doors of our church are open as wide as the arms of the Crucified One. Those who cross that threshold bring with them a diversity of political, social, and, yes, even theological beliefs. They belong to households of one, two, or many if there are young children or older parents under the same roof. They encounter a community of faith that honors marriage, including marriage for our brothers and sisters in same-gender relationships, who are treated as the children of God that all of us are. They meet Christians here who not only worship together but also serve together, reaching out to people in need in the surrounding neighborhoods while recognizing humbly their own spiritual impoverishment. This includes our commitment to help refugee families begin a new life in this country. Together we journey home to God.

But don’t wait passively for others to come to us to discover all of this. Tell the story of our church, which offers something for which people hunger and yet too often can’t seem to find in the world around us. Rather than turning away from the dark corners of that world, allow the light of Christ to shine through each of our lives and dispel the night. Such an act of love is more powerful than we can possibly imagine, especially in a culture stripped of grace. Invite a friend or a neighbor to join us on Sunday, November 13, at 4:00 p.m. for a special screening of Generation Found. This documentary film highlights the impact of Archway Academy, which is the largest high school for teenagers in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse in the United States and which meets on our campus because our members helped to create it.

If we want to heal our fractured communities, a good place to start is by receiving love in our community of faith and letting it overflow from our hearts into the world around us. We can do that through our prayers, including prayers for those whom we have made our enemies; through our presence in worship, not only to nurture our own spiritual life but also to encourage other Christians in their faith and their struggles; and through our promises in the Baptismal Covenant to love our neighbor and to respect the dignity of every human being as we leave the church, stepping onto Main Street in the fourth largest and most ethnically diverse city in America.

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I look forward to seeing you at the Lord’s Table each Sunday morning, where we are invited to bring to God, week after week, our hopes and our fears, our joys and our sorrows, our laughter and our tears. Together we are strengthened there with God’s grace to continue our mission “to know and share the love of Jesus Christ.” Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #28

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Two days from today there will be elections to public offices from President of the United States to the mayors of local communities large and small throughout the nation. Here in Houston many of us have already cast our ballots during the period for early voting. There has been a record turnout of voters in Texas, with no sign that the surge will stop. People are making choices. But there are other choices too.

Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church will open the doors of St. Bede’s Chapel on that Tuesday, November 8, for prayer and reflection, beginning with Morning Prayer at 7:30 a.m. There will also be a simple service of Holy Eucharist at 8:00 a.m. and also at 12:00 noon. St. Bede’s will remain open, with prayers for the nation available to use, until 5:00 p.m. This is part of a movement called Election Day Communion.

You can read more about Election Day Communion, including some theological food for thought, on the official website of this movement. Four years ago, Michael King, Dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, wrote these now-even-more-relevant words:

When we differ over today’s hot issues we seem ever more inclined not to treat persons who hold different views as fellow pilgrims seeking, with us, to hear God’s voice amid our common finitudes and frailties. We seem ever less inclined to trust that God could be threaded through any view other than our own. Rather, we seem ever more ready to believe that if you hold a view other than mine you are my enemy. . . . But even if we accept such a troubling conclusion, to [act as followers of Jesus] may then be to ask what it means to love the . . . opponents we have made our enemies.

So consider making a final choice on Election Day — a choice to remember that the most important things are found not at the ballot box but here at the Lord’s Table.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #27

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Today is Covenant Sunday, when Palmers are invited not only to worship together but also to bring their completed pledge forms with them — a spiritual practice that indicates their financial commitment to this church for the next calendar year. In the pew racks are giving cards for 2017 that can also be used to make a commitment by those who are not on our mailing list or who might have forgotten to bring their pledge form with them. There will be an opportunity in our combined liturgy this morning at 10:00 a.m. to carry those pledge forms and giving cards to the altar to be blessed as part of our offering to the Lord. Whether your household is comprised of one, two, or many, it is a humbling experience to walk with others while holding in our hands this symbolic-yet-concrete acknowledgement that our life is a divine gift.

Together we worship. Together we learn, grow, pray, eat, share, laugh, cry, play, and love. And . . . yes . . . together we give in thanksgiving for that gift of life, returning to God a generous proportion of our blessings to make a real difference in the lives of people within and beyond these walls.

If you’re a guest with us today, perhaps visiting us for the first time or friends with people in our community of faith or just someone who is curious about Jesus, do not be anxious about watching those around you make this commitment. If you belong to another church, allow yourself to be inspired to make a similar commitment to that community of faith. If you’ve never given back to the Lord out of your blessings, consider what it would be like to participate in something larger than your own needs, something that is rooted in love and that reaches into the world around you.

Lastly, guests, friends, and members of Palmer are all invited to stay after worship for a fun celebration that includes a cookout in the courtyard and live music on the lawn. I promise no pledge form is required to join that fun. Just bring yourself!

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #26

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

At the Rector’s Forum last Sunday, an architect reflected with us on the meaning of a real neighborhood, which is meant to bring together people at different stages of life. He was thinking of a question posed to Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” That image of drawing together a diverse group of individuals also describes the kind of community that Jesus creates in the church, a solidarity not of our own choosing.

An example of that is Palmer’s parish retreat. Today my family and I are away at Camp Allen for this annual event with about 70 other Palmers, who are young and old, gay and straight, married and unmarried — each one of them a child of God.

Next Sunday, October 30, is Covenant Sunday, when Palmers are invited to worship together and to bring their completed pledge forms with them, indicating their financial commitment to the church for the next calendar year. After a combined liturgy at 10:00 a.m. (Choral Eucharist, Rite I, with choir and limited incense), we’ll have a fun celebration with a cookout in the courtyard and live music on the lawn. That will be another experience of true neighborliness in the friendship of God.

St. Bede’s Chapel will be open for prayer and for two services of Holy Eucharist on Election Day, November 8. That day will begin as usual with Morning Prayer in the chapel at 7:30 a.m. After the Tuesday morning Bible studies, there will be a service of Holy Eucharist at 8:10 a.m. There will also be a service of Holy Eucharist at noon. Throughout the morning and the afternoon, the chapel will be open for individual meditation and prayer, with printed prayers for the nation available. When we leave the voting booth, we’ll leave our differences behind, if only for a moment, to gather around the Lord’s Table, the ultimate level place, and to remember what unites us.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector