From the Rector #18

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 week Steven Patterson retires as Palmer’s Business Administrator after having worked for this congregation in more than one role for almost 16 years. Many of you have interacted with him about calendars and room set ups and, yes, even the temperature inside the church. I will greatly miss his unique sense of humor in the church office! Blessedly, it will continue to be present in the pews on Sundays.

Today we also bid farewell to Yuri McCoy, who has served over the last two years as Palmer’s Associate Organist. That’s been a part-time position. He will soon begin a full-time position just down the street as the organist at South Main Baptist Church. It’s a wonderful opportunity and a natural next professional step for him to take.

Gracious God, we thank you for the work and witness of your servant Steven, who has tended the activities and the buildings on this campus, and your servant Yuri, who has filled this church and adorned our liturgies with beautiful music to glorify your holy Name. They have each strengthened this community of faith and shared their gifts with us. Now bless and preserve them at this time of transition. Day by day, guide them and give them what is needed, friends to cheer their way, and a clear vision of that to which you are now calling them. By your Holy Spirit be present in their pilgrimage, that they may travel with the One who is the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #17

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 we welcome the Rev. Liz Parker as our new Associate Rector! We will pray for her new ministry with us, and I hope that you will greet her warmly when you meet her after worship. Look for her in the church office, beginning September 1.

Today is also Serve Sunday! At the end of our liturgies, we will be sent out as teams to serve the community that surrounds us. There will even be opportunities to serve right here on Palmer’s campus between the 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. services, 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.

Today we also return to our regular Sunday worship schedule with Holy Eucharist at 7:45, 9:00, and 11:00 a.m. in the church and 6:30 p.m. in St. Bede’s Chapel. While that evening service is organized by the Episcopal chaplain for the students and faculty of Rice University, it’s open to all of us and, in fact, recorded in our parish register. If you enjoyed the use of incense in worship over the summer, consider coming to the late morning service, where incense, like our prayers, rise in the liturgy year round. So choose a service to attend that best fits your schedule each week and join us!

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

Palmer’s Refreshed Cross & Palm Logo

Where did Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston get its name? What does that have to do with Palmer’s logo? Does Palmer have a feast day like most other Episcopal Churches? I recently answered those questions here. I also mentioned that there would soon be a refreshed version of the symbol for Palmer. So here it is:

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This next version is the same except with green lettering instead of gold:

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Finally, for most bulletins and stationary, here it is in classic black and white:

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From the Rector #16

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 church, which was originally a chapel for students at Rice University, is named in memory of Edward Albert Palmer. He was only 25 years old when he lost his life while trying to save his sister Daphne from drowning. While he did not survive, she did. Later, as Daphne Palmer Neville, she gave the money for this holy space to be set aside for Christian worship. Their family name — Palmer — has also historically referred to someone who had returned from the Holy Land with a palm frond or leaf as a sign of having undertaken a pilgrimage. It’s a wonderful metaphor for our life.

That’s why the image that represents Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church is a cross with a palm frond. In the coming weeks, you will see a refreshed version of that powerful symbol on our written materials and a new church website that will be unveiled at the end of this month. Where it appears in color, you will also notice a shift from black and red to green and gold, which is, in fact, an earlier color scheme for printed materials about this church. I wish to thank Palmer’s own Ashley Tucker who worked with a friend to make the idea of a refreshed logo into a reality.

There will be many opportunities to reflect on that iconic symbol in the coming year, including a real pilgrimage to the Holy Land this fall with Palmer’s own Stuart Kensinger. More details about that will be forthcoming. But the exciting thing that I wish to share with you now is the fact that Palmer will finally have a proper feast day, a time of worship to celebrate our name and, in an intentional way, to reflect on who we are as the people of God. Our feast day will be Palm Sunday, as we, carrying our palm fronds and singing our hosannas, follow Jesus Christ and proclaim him as King of kings. “Let these branches be for us signs of his victory . . . Amen.”

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #15

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 Palmer last Sunday, there was a beautiful service of Evensong that was offered to glory of God and also in thanksgiving for the ministry and presence of the Rev. Dub Brooks and his wife Suzanne in our midst. Father Brooks will be the celebrant at our liturgies this morning, after which he will retire as our Senior Associate Rector.

Words are not adequate to express the joy and prayerfulness and priestly collegiality that I have experienced in Father Brooks’ presence across the hall from the Rector’s study. More than anyone else, he has oriented me to the life of God’s people here. For that, I’m grateful. He and Suzanne are also the most fun to sit beside at a party!

Today, however, the party is for both of them. It’s a festive reception in the Parish Hall at 11:15 a.m. And we are all invited, so please join us.

Gracious God, we thank you for the work and witness of your servant Dub, who, through serving as a priest and pastor among us, has strengthened this community of faith and shared his gifts with us. Now bless and preserve him at this time of transition. Day by day, guide him and give him what is needed, friends to cheer his way, and a clear vision of that to which you are now calling him in retirement. By your Holy Spirit be present in his pilgrimage, that he may travel with the One who is the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #14

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

I love the phrase “he ran out of prayer” in the following passage, and I’ve known lots of people through the years who’ve experienced that from time to time. Written by Walter Wangerin, Jr., it comes from his book Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace:

On a particular evening the pastor came to visit Miz Lil in her living room. While they sat together, he on the sofa, she in a rocking chair, rocking and rubbing her stomach at once, dark grew darker in the room and the faces of both of them dimmed to the other’s sight.

The pastor prayed a prayer. That is what Miz Lil had said he could do for her. But he ran out of prayer before he ran out of yearning on the little woman’s behalf; so he sat in silence.

Sometimes just being there is enough. Thank you for being present to one another in our community of faith at Palmer. It’s a calling that we all share as Christians.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

The Honorable Tim Kaine

Before moving to Minnesota and then to Texas, my wife and I lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, where I served for over six years as Associate Rector at Bruton Parish Episcopal Church. One of the highlights of those years was Virginia’s 2006 Inaugural Ceremonies. These took place outside the Reconstructed Capitol in Williamsburg because the State Capitol in Richmond was undergoing extensive renovations at the time. I was invited by the Clerk of the House of Delegates to offer a prayer at the beginning of their meeting, which convened shortly before Governor-Elect Tim Kaine was sworn into office, where their colonial predecessors in the House of Burgesses once met. The best part of the day, however, was a prelude to the rites of the Commonwealth and to the parade down Duke of Gloucester Street.

I had been asked by the Rector to organize and preside over an interfaith prayer service at our historic church on the morning of the inauguration. This was very important to the Governor-Elect, a thoughtful Christian and former missionary, who belongs to an African-American, Roman Catholic congregation in Richmond.

Voices of prayer, therefore, on behalf of the citizens of Virginia were raised that day by representatives of the three Abrahamic traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Gospel music, sung by the Governor-Elect’s home church choir, nearly blew the roof off the building. All of it was framed by familiar hymns and at least a few familiar words from the Book of Common Prayer.

What I learned is that it’s actually possible to honor the particular identities of those invited to participate in an event like this from different religious traditions. These representatives brought into that sacred space the depth of their beliefs and, therefore, a richness to their prayers. That is to be preferred, it seems to me, over watering down those particularities and pretending that we’re all temporarily Unitarians. I believe that interfaith conversations — and interfaith prayers — are most fruitful when we bring our particularities to the table and share them as a gift.

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After all was said and done — and prayed, I received a note from the Honorable Tim Kaine, then Governor of Virginia. He commented that the time spent in the church that morning was powerful, and, he wrote,

I will always consider it the highlight of the weekend.

First Moon Landing 47 Years Ago Today

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It was amazing to be at the Johnson Space Center today at 3:18 p.m. (CDT), when the Apollo 11 lunar module landed in the moon’s Sea of Tranquility 47 years ago. This is Mission Operation Control Room 2, and from the little speaker beside the sign for the Public Affairs Officer, people heard Astronaut Neil Armstrong say these words:

Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

And here’s what it looked like inside that room when it happened:

From the Rector #13

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 an incredibly powerful and inspiring documentary film about adolescent recovery in our city that will premiere in Houston on July 27. Archway Academy, which is the largest high school in the United States for teenagers in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse, and Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, which is home for the main campus of Archway, are both featured prominently in it.

Although tickets to that premiere have sold out, you can rest assured that there will be future opportunities to see Generation Found here in Houston. In the meantime, I would encourage you to pray for the work of Archway Academy, bringing life out of death, which I truly believe is the work of the Holy Spirit. You can do that right now:

O blessed Jesus, you ministered to all the people who came to you. Look with compassion on the students of Archway Academy and the adolescents of this city who have lost their health and freedom through addiction. Restore them to the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove the fears that attack them; strengthen those who are engaged in the work of recovery; and to those who care for them, especially their loved ones, their alternative peer groups, and Archway’s faculty and staff, give honesty, understanding, and the same kind of persevering love with which you embrace us; for your mercy’s sake. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #12

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

June 29 was the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, when Christians remember these two greatest leaders of the early church. They didn’t always agree and weren’t always agreeable, a fact that the words of Paul about Peter (Cephas) in Galatians 2:11-14 clearly establish. Yet both men shared a common faith in Jesus Christ, knew his forgiveness deeply, and were faithful witnesses to him at the end of their lives.

That date is also the anniversary of two important occasions in my life. 20 years ago, I was ordained as a deacon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 19 years ago, I was ordained as a priest at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Surfside Beach, South Carolina.

The Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, Jr., was the Bishop of South Carolina who ordained me to the priesthood. He died last month, remarkably, on June 29. He was slow and steady and faithful in the midst of a tumultuous period in the Episcopal Church. “Love Jesus,” he said, is the secret to being a good priest. That, of course, is what it means for anyone to be a Christian.

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector