The Rev. Dr. Regina L. Walton began as Pastor and Rector of Grace Church in August, 2014. In addition to her M. Div from Harvard Divinity School, Regina holds a Ph.D. in Religion & Literature from Boston University. The Rector's Corner contains Regina's reflections on our lives within the parish and beyond. Entries are published weekly in Grace Today, the church newsletter.
Glimpses of Grace: words from our Pastor and Rector
March 23 2017
This past Sunday, I went with Margaret Crook, four of our youth, and youth and adults from St. Paul’s Newton Highlands and several other local Episcopal churches to visit the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury. There we had a tour given by the energetic young adult youth minister of the mosque and his friend, who ably answered our many questions, and also had the opportunity to observe the Saturday evening prayer service. We learned a lot about Islam and how it is practiced. We watched the very diverse community of Boston Muslims gather for prayer, first heading into the place provided for ritual washing, then removing shoes, and greeting each other warmly, men and women in separate areas. Muslim prayer involves standing and prostration, and also standing shoulder to shoulder with the worshipper next to you. There is truly a sense of solidarity and movement in this way of praying, with prayers and scriptures chanted rather than read. I hope that our hosts felt our solidarity with them, and our support of their free expression of religion in a time of greatly increasing Islamiphobia and fear of immigrants. In these times it seems important as Christians to reach out to our brothers and sisters in faith with messages of support, and an openness to learn more about their lives and their worship.
This past Sunday also had too many great scripture readings for me to touch on them all in the sermon. But I wanted to mention this verse from Romans 5, which has spoken to me recently: “. . . we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Nowhere does the Bible say that our lives as followers of Christ will be easy. But over and over again, we are promised that God is with us in everything we go through, and that through patience and endurance, we cultivate hope in ourselves through God’s grace. May it be so for all of us this week, wherever we are.
As of yesterday, we’ve entered into the season of Lent. And right on time, our adept Parish Administrator Amelia, who is also quite a serious gardener, noticed some Hellebore flowers springing up under the tree by the driveway that are commonly called Lenten Roses. What is springing up in your mind and heart this Lent?
Every year on Ash Wednesday I stand before you and, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, invite you to the observance of a holy Lent. Those are the exact words, actually. So, consider yourself invited, into this not-quite-winter-not-quite-spring season of the year, where the snow is on its way out but what’s next hasn’t quite arrived. For what arrivals are you waiting, this Lent?
On Ash Wednesday, we remember our mortality in a very poignant way. But we remember it to a purpose: living more fully, more humanely, and in a more godly way, right now. St. Paul says, “Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” Lent reminds us that, no matter where we are on our journey, it’s time to get going. There really is no time like the present—it’s all we have, in fact. The past is gone, and there’s no guarantee as to the future. Now is the acceptable time—now, what?
I’ll let you fill that in for yourself—you and God together, in this season of Lent.
This article from the National Catholic Reporter seems spot on to me in terms of our need to combine action and contemplation as we seek to both work to support our democracy and the civil rights of all, and go deeper spiritually in relationship to God in Christ. I commend it to you.
Speaking of action, even if you’re not a Grace Discussion Group regular, please consider attending this Sunday, when the Rev. Isaac Seelam from Refugee Immigration Ministries along with Rabbi Daniel Berman and David Carlen from Temple Reyim will speak with us about that agency’s work with refugees and the congregations that support them, as Grace prepares to join a “cluster” of Newton congregations in this work.
Speaking of contemplation, the those who have attended the six-week introduction to Centering Prayer have decided that we would like to keep on truckin’ (or sitting, as it happens) through Lent, and to open it up once more to the whole parish. More details to follow!
Speaking of breakfast for dinner, don’t forget to mark your calendars for our Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper on Tuesday, February 28th at 6pm, our Mardi Gras celebration right before we head into Lent. (How is it nearly Ash Wednesday already??)
February 9, 2017
night at Centering Prayer, we were discussing staying centered while
Facing the News, a difficult task these days. Here’s a prayer I
rewrote/adapted from “A Prayer for the Morning,” BCP p. 461. The word
“persisted” has been in this week’s news; I think “persistent” is an apt
adjective to describe God’s grace, that continually seeks us out and
doesn’t quit! Have a blessed snow day, and special blessings on those
who must go in to work to support our common life.
This is another day, O Lord. I don’t know what it will bring forth, but make me ready for whatever it may be. Through your persistent grace, help me to bear Christ’s image within myself; to bear witness to Christ’s love in the world; and to bear the sufferings of others, willingly, bravely, and with compassion. Make these words more than words, and guide me by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Many of us these days are discerning how we can become more engaged citizens, and be more involved in the democratic process, to create a more just and compassionate world and resist the forces of prejudice and greed that threaten to overwhelm our republic. This is as it should be.
But while you are considering your personal or communal activism, don’t forget to re-evaluate where you are spiritually, as well. Contemplation is just as necessary for creating a just world and doing God’s will as action. Without grounding in prayer and meditation, our roots are shallow. Regular time to reflect, to offer up our concerns, or just to be still in the presence of the Holy One is powerfully transformative over time. This was true for Martin Luther King Jr. in his Christian ministry; he was inspired by Gandhi, who was a faithful Hindu, who was in turn inspired by Thoreau’s writings—and remember, Thoreau wrote both Walden and Civil Disobedience! Action and contemplation are interwoven.
Prayer has been a tremendous source of strength in my own life. Though I struggled with putting a regular practice of prayer in place for many years, now I can no longer imagine my life without it. My time of prayer helps me to gain perspective and insight, to receive strength when I don’t feel like I have very much to offer, and to remember that I am loved by God not because of what I do, but simply because of who I am.
Join us this Wednesday, January 18th at 7pm for a workshop on Centering Prayer, and then for five Wednesdays following, where we will practice this form of prayer together and continue to learn and reflect. If you can’t make all six weeks, that’s fine. Our teacher on the 18th, Ethel Fraga, has taught both Centering Prayer and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for many years and will have much to offer us.
“What is the relation of [contemplation] to action? Simply this. He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others.”
as quoted by Richard Rohr in this thought-provoking article.
As followers and imitators of Jesus, we are called to be people of action and compassion, advocates for justice and do-ers of mercy. But we are also called to be people of prayer. There’s really no way around it: if you want to be more like Jesus, you need to learn to pray. Jesus prayed with other Jews in the synagogue, and went up to the Temple to pray. He went off by himself to pray regularly. He taught his disciples to pray. Jesus’ prayer was about relationship with God, and spending regular time in the presence of God. Prayer was incredibly important to Jesus—and so it needs to be important to us, too.
Yet many Episcopalians have great anxiety about prayer, both solitary prayer and prayer with others, outside of our formal prayer during worship. After sojourning long among a number of Episcopal parishes, I believe that this anxiety is caused because, in the Episcopal Church, we often don’t do much direct teaching about prayer. And this is a great shame, because my relationship with God in prayer is one of the greatest sources of solace, reflection, and transformation in my life. It is one of the most tangible sign’s of God’s grace and God’s presence that I have. And if you don’t have it already, I want you to have it, too.
There is no one “right” way to pray. Prayer, like yoga and knitting and running and lots of other things we do, is a practice, and people practice it differently. There are two ways to learn much more about prayer in a short time this winter at Grace. You’ll see below about the Introduction to Centering Prayer workshop we’re offering, beginning Wednesday, 1/18 at 7:00pm. And starting this Sunday, the Church School families, children, youth, and parents together, will be learning about all different kinds of prayer in Formation Station, beginning at 9:45. We’re starting with something called Praying in Color, which is a way to pray for others using markers and papers to focus our minds and hearts, and in the weeks to come we’ll explore all kinds of prayer together.
Why did Jesus spend so much time in prayer, when he could have been doing more good works, healing people, and teaching? Because he knew that prayer changes us and prayer changes the world, and in prayer, we experience the presence of God.
In light of the recent election, I have been pondering the idea of vocation: in
this new political reality, what is my work to do? In what areas of my work do
I need to go deeper now? Are there other things that I previously did not
consider “my” work, that I must reconsider? I am reminded, too, that living out
our vocations, whatever they may be, happens over the long haul, and requires
Last night, some of us met in the Chapel to pray Evening Prayer together, in light of election results that many in our community find very hard to bear. We sang hymns, prayed in the ancient way of the Church, and added our own prayers. This long election season has been exhausting, and has left many of us, especially women, people of color, LGBTQ folk, immigrants, and Muslims (and those of us who may not be in those groups, but care deeply about people who are) feeling threatened, deeply anxious, and attacked. It was good to pray together, to be together, to hear words of Scripture that remind us that times of distressing political and societal change are nothing new, and that God is with us through it all.
Last spring, a bunch of us from Grace marched in the Boston Pride parade, and I carried a sign that said “God Welcomes All.” I had no idea that my sign would be cheered the whole way down the parade route, people waving and pointing to me and giving me the thumbs up, sometimes even leaving the sidelines to come up to tell me in person how much it meant to them that a minister and a church were bringing this message to the LGBTQ community. The Pride Parade reminded me that the Good News is still news. And how much more has this election reminded me—God Welcomes All is a radical statement. Jesus was not ambiguous in his teaching on the dignity and equality of outsiders, on love and respect for all people, or on where the unchecked desire for wealth and power leads.
On Sunday, we will celebrate St. Andrew’s Day, our patronal feast. For many of us, our celebration will be tempered by sadness and deep anxiety about the future of our country. But we can gather to celebrate the values that we share, that our parish has lived out for a long time: the sharing of leadership; the embrace of diversity and difference; concern and care for those who are struggling; the importance of stewarding the world God has given us; the sense of faith as a mystery and a journey rather than a test of who’s in and who’s out. We can celebrate the presence of Christ among us, in the bread and wine, and in our relationships, our service, our learning together.
On Sunday we will also offer our pledge cards to be blessed, as a sign of our commitment to supporting our parish financially. To me, this year my pledge card feels like more than just a sign that I support Grace’s annual budget. It feels like a tangible local investment in the kind of values that I want to encourage across this land: kindness, caring, respect for rich and poor alike, working for racial reconciliation and an end to sexism, welcoming the immigrant and the stranger, and all in Jesus’ name. I hope you will join me on Sunday, in celebrating what we have at Grace, and also in recommitting ourselves to following Jesus in the world. Take good care this week, and don’t forget to lean on the One who will never leave or forsake us.
Prayers for Times of Anxiety
I’m guessing that, like me, you much prefer the drama and nail-biting of an exciting World Series Game 7 than the drama and nail-biting of the last week before a contentious and divisive Presidential Election. (Is “harrowing” the right word? Yes, it is.)
So I urge you to “Eat, Pray, Vote”: see below for details. We will have two brief Compline (Night Prayer) services as part of our Diocesan Prayer Vigil for the Election, but here are two tried-and-true prayers from the Book of Common Prayer that I return to in times of anxiety, that you may wish to use in your personal prayers.
For Quiet Confidence
O God, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP p. 832)
In these days before Election Day, I find myself praying this prayer:
For those who influence public opinion
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP p. 827)
We joke that we are a church that loves to eat, as our many potlucks, receptions and dinners attest. But, apart from the yummy food, we love to eat because meals are about fellowship and time together, conviviality and fun. Jesus was accused by his opponents of loving food, drink, and parties too much—so perhaps we’re in good company!
A great way to get to know each other better while enjoying a delicious meal is to sign up attend one of our Stewardship Dinners at the home of Grace parishioners. Sign up for a date, and you will be assigned to a host. This year, we are also having a Sunday afternoon tea at church as another option. At these dinners (or tea), we take a few moments to reflect on our own stewardship and giving of time, talent, and treasure to our parish. This year’s theme is Sustaining Grace. God’s grace sustains us, and our parish leadership is exploring a number of avenues to make Grace Church more sustainable: in terms of reaching out to adults, children, and youth in invitation; financially; and in terms of our energy use. I hope to see you at one of these events!