Sermon Annual Meeting

I have received several requests to have my sermon before our Annual Meeting printed in the November Genesis. I hereby gladly honor that request:

Sermon Annual Meeting
October 21, 2018
The Rev. Robert L. Banse, Jr.

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

Again, Good Morning! Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. And welcome to the Annual Meeting of this congregation.

I am not sure how many of you are fully aware of our men’s group that gathers here on the third Saturday of each month. There are usually anywhere between twelve to twenty of us, including friends from the larger community, who come together, not only for a delicious breakfast, but also for lively conversation relating our faith to what is going on in the world around us. Gray Coyner serves as the convener of the group and he always gets things started by sharing with us some reflections and observations. Yesterday, he reported on a recent visit to his ancestral home in Waynesboro, Virginia. He came away with the distinct sense that, as time goes on, members of his extended family are growing less and less interested about the relationships and the stories that make for the foundations of the family’s history. He asked our group a challenging question: How many of you know where your grandparents, and as a bonus, your great-grandparents are actually buried? A number of hands went up around the table. He then asked, how many of you have ever visited their graves? The hands going up were fewer in number.

Gray’s questions raise one of the very important matters we are called to consider on this day of our Annual Meeting. Lest we ever forget, the life and ministry of this congregation is not just about those of us who presently call this our church home. The mission of this congregation is rooted in a history that goes all the way back to the 1840s. Our mission here and now stands on the shoulders of the many saints who have gone before us. I know that we are often referred to as “the Mellon Church” and there is no question that we would not presently be who we are without their incredibly generous vision and support. But this congregation existed well before the Mellons moved into this community. God has been at work in this place for many years and that is something we are called to celebrate today. The mission of this congregation extends back well before the 1950s, 1979, 1991, 2005, 2007, and this present moment. We don’t own this place. We are merely stewards passing on our way to the resurrected life that is to come.

My point is this: Tradition matters. Knowing about whence we came informs and guides us as to where the Holy Spirit is leading us next. We are Episcopalians, not Congregationalists. We have been formed by the worship laid out in our Book of Common Prayer. We ascribe to a belief in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as defined in the Nicene and Apostles Creed. Our faith is not so much dogmatic as it is practical and expressed first and foremost in seeking to love God with all that we are and all that we have and embodying that in the ways we choose to love one another as Jesus loves each of us. The sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, Marriage, Confirmation, Ordination, Reconciliation, and Unction are outward and visible signs of God’s love and presence in our lives. This history and these traditions matter. They remind us from whence we have come and whose we really are.

But, my friends, there is also a danger here. A Christian community that chooses to dwell only in the past is at risk of losing both its present and its future. These congregations turn in on themselves. They end up worshipping really only themselves. They become religious museums, spiritual social clubs where the veneration of their ancestors takes precedence.

And so, even as we celebrate and honor the past life of this congregation this morning, we must always, by the grace of God, be looking forward. We learn from those who have gone before us to prepare for what is ahead, recognizing that the world we are called to serve is radically different than it was the 1840s, 1950s, and even the early 2000s. To dwell in the past in this sense is both detrimental and destructive. We must focus with open hearts and minds on where God is leading us next.

This ministry of discernment is never easy. Please remember that, according to St. Mark’s Gospel account, the disciples of Jesus had a really hard time hearing and understanding his message, his Good News.

Consider this. Five weeks ago, we heard Jesus say to them: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their lives will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

Four weeks ago, when he had discerned that they had been arguing amongst themselves as to who was the greatest, Jesus told those disciples, “Whoever wants to be first amongst you must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

Last week, when it was made clear to the disciples that those possessing great wealth would find it more difficult to enter the kingdom of God than it would be for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, Jesus concludes this divine insight with “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first”. (Mark 10:31)

Obviously, he had not yet broken through. For just moments ago, after hearing the request of James and John to occupy the places of honor when he comes into his kingdom, thereby sharing in his power, Jesus responds, and I am going to guess with some real weariness, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10: 42-45)

Please notice. Jesus in none of these passages disparages the desire for greatness. Indeed, he makes it very clear that greatness is indeed the

chief goal of all who are willing to follow him. It is just that “greatness” in the Kingdom of God is entirely and radically different than what our world calls “greatness”. Greatness, in God’s kingdom, has nothing to do with accumulated wealth, or titles on the door, or places of honor at the boardroom table, that big dinner party, or at the upcoming Gala. In God’s kingdom, greatness is about being servant to all and ultimately about a willingness to lay down our very lives for the sake of the Good News that Jesus came to share with those who are shunned and ignored and left unloved by our world.

And I want to be very clear about this in my final Annual Meeting with you, the people of Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville, Virginia: I believe, as I have always believed, that this congregation is called by God to greatness as understood in God’s kingdom. It always has been. It is now. And it always will be.

When you have had the opportunity to read my contribution to the Annual Report, you will know that, as we look to the upcoming season of transition in the life of this congregation, we concentrate on three priorities first articulated by one of my favorite saints, Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he awaited his trial and ultimate execution by the Nazi government. In the coming months, I would recommend that we focus particularly on these three focal points of Christian life and ministry. They are 1) Prayer, 2) Outreach, and 3) an unwavering hope in God’s love for the whole world made incarnate in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, at risk of sounding bold to the point of arrogance, I truly believe that if we dedicate ourselves to these three spiritual disciplines, the ongoing life of this congregation will be blessed beyond measure.

My friends, it begins and ends in the practice of prayer. Prayer is not about the recitation of words. Prayer is, as Jim Hammond reminded us several weeks ago, about opening ourselves to an ongoing conversation with God. It is about the alteration between the purifying of our hearts, minds, and souls and the illumination of the same. Prayer is to enter into the presence of the living God just as we are. Without prayer, we will not know how to properly build this congregation in the years ahead.

I love the way we pray here at Trinity: our liturgies on Sunday mornings, the opportunities to celebrate baptisms, marriages, and burials. I love our keeping of the Church calendar and our celebrations of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. The Wednesday noontime Eucharist is one of my favorite moments each and every week. Lest we ever forget, our commitment to music worthy of our worship of God is, in fact, prayer. And our intercessors gather here on Monday afternoons and on Sunday mornings to offer prayers of healing and the praise of God. Still, we cannot pray enough. Going forward, I would recommend regular gatherings for prayer in the upcoming time of discernment. I would also strongly suggest making much more use of our trails and our outdoor chapel in encouraging the practice of prayer in the life of our church.

I also love the outreach ministries of our church. I love the fact that we generously support all kinds of ministries in our communities and in our world. I love the hands-on outreach that so many of you are already committed to, whether it be SOME or Seven Loaves, The Food Pantry, the Thrift Shop, Windy Hill, the Upperville Council of Churches, and elsewhere. Outreach is an absolutely necessary and vital expression of our faith. It is the path to truly understanding greatness in the kingdom of God. Again, without it we tend to forget about the world and begin to turn inwards only on ourselves. I would that we are very much at the point we must once again turn our attention to reaching out the children and young people of our communities. We must take to heart, that if we do not provide these sisters and brothers of ours with the opportunities to learn the traditions and great stories of our faith and life here and now, the future of Trinity Church will be very much in doubt. I ask you to continually pray about our outreach here at Trinity as you prepare to welcome my successor.

Finally, we need the enduring HOPE that is our faith in Jesus Christ. God knows our world is in desperate need of hope at this time. What we need to realize and understand is that Jesus has called us to be messengers of that hope. We need to let the world know that, even when our world’s structures are under great duress, the cornerstone that is the Gospel remains. Our hope here at Trinity is in Jesus Christ, our strength and our redeemer. Our hope is not in ourselves. Our own strength and skills are not enough to heal a broken world.

Now, it is certainly true that our work in proclaiming that hope requires the investment of each one of us. It requires our supporting the mission of this congregation in the ways we commit our time, our talent, and our material wealth in carrying this message out into the world. Please know that our faith calls us to this commitment just as much in these seasons of transition, perhaps even more so. I promise you that you will be hearing more about this facet of our baptismal vows in the coming weeks. Hope in the midst of change is one of the greatest messages we are called to witness to in our present age.

You see, even in the midst of all manner of uncertainty present in our world today, our hope is, and will always be, in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He is our rock and he is our salvation. It is this hope that brings us together today. It is this hope that is the foundation of our church and ultimately defines us as the people of God. It is the hope that our predecessors proclaimed in this place. And it is the hope that we are called to proclaim here and now. Let us lift that hope up in the coming year. Let us share that hope with each other and with the world around us. Together, let us celebrate that hope today and everyday of our lives. Amen.

Faithfully in Christ,
The Rev. Robert L. Banse, Jr.

Letter to the Ephesians

My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We have been discussing the Letter to the Ephesians during the Sunday morning Forum Hour these past several weeks. Scholars have, over the course of the centuries, spent much time studying the contents of the letters written by Paul and the other leaders of the earliest Christian communities. By comparing and contrasting the narrative found in each, it becomes apparent that there is more at work here than meets the eye. There is more here than just the written word on the page. There must have been a process, now not entirely clear, that unfolded from the time of Jesus’ earthly life to the written accounts about his ministry that we have in canonical form in the New Testament.

The revelation, for me, in these studies, is the realization that the earliest Christian communities were fluid and in a constant state of evolution and change. They were not the monolithic blocks of static faith that we often associate with the present Church. They were trying to figure out who they were and what they believed, all in the presence of the risen Christ and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They were often attacked for their beliefs and there was real risk when they gathered for worship. This is quite a contrast to what many of us experienced growing up. Indeed, sometimes you and I subconsciously translate the opening lyrics of Martin Luther’s famous hymn from “A mighty fortress is our God” to “A mighty fortress is our Church”. I trust that all of us understand that such a translation is problematic on several different levels.

It seems to me, and I’ve said this before, that we need to acknowledge and embrace the fact that the Church today is much more like those earliest Christian communities than was the Church of sixty years ago. The world is in great flux, the importance of religion is being seriously questioned, and at times even disparaged. Frankly, even if we feel called to join a community of faith, we are just too darn busy to do so.

Sounds unsettling, does it not? Nonetheless, I want you to know that, despite all the variables and unknowns, I believe that this is a very exciting time for the Church. With these variables come new and greater opportunities to be the Body of Christ serving and sharing in the world today. With the unknown comes the awareness that God, and God alone, is our mighty fortress, and that by faith, all obstacles are overcome and all challenges are met by God’s grace and the love of Jesus Christ.

I hope that you are planning to attend the Annual Meeting on October 21st. This is our time to gather as a congregation to discuss these new possibilities and opportunities before us. The coming season in the life of our congregation will be both challenging and exciting. By God’s grace, you have an important part to play both in the present and the future life of this community. Your prayers leading up to that gathering, and your presence at the meeting, are very much requested.

Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Rev. Rob Banse

Retirement

My Dear Friends,  

I am going to assume that most of you have heard that I have decided to retire as Rector of Trinity Church at the end of this year. This decision is the result of a great deal of prayer and reflection over the last six months about the life and direction of our community and my own pilgrimage and vocation. What I have come to hear from the Holy Spirit in the midst of this conversation with God is, quite simply put, that it is time for a change in ordained leadership here at Trinity and a call personally to explore new opportunities for ministry both within and outside of the Church. Please be assured that there are no hidden agendas! It has been a tremendous blessing serving as Rector for the last eleven years. I have thoroughly enjoyed the ministry and love you, the people of this congregation. The author of Ecclesiastes once wrote, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Well, God is calling to a close one season in the life of Trinity. Now, it is time for all of us to prayerfully prepare for the time that lies ahead.  

While I cannot presently report the precise details of the upcoming transition, I can share with you some of the likely phases. In the coming four months, I will work with the Vestry, Staff, and other leaders of the congregation as we carefully review all of our current policies, procedures, and guidelines, as well as making sure that the information in our database about our membership is accurate. At the same time, the Vestry will begin the search for an Interim Rector, a priest who will provide spiritual, liturgical, and administrative leadership between the time of my departure and the arrival of my successor. My hope for you is that person will be in place by the end of January.  

With the Interim in place, the search for the next Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville, Virginia will begin in earnest. The time frame varies from congregation to congregation, but on average this process takes about eighteen months to two years. The Vestry will have oversight but they cannot do all the work themselves. Each of you will need to step up and take an active part in this search. You may be asked to participate in the life and work of a particular committee. You certainly will be asked to share your thoughts and hopes as to the mission and ministry of Trinity and what spiritual gifts, skills, and talents you believe would most benefit the congregation as embodied in the new Rector. Above all, you will be asked to pray daily for one another, for this incredibly important season in our community’s life, and for those who God is calling to consider joining you in ministry. Let me be very clear. We cannot expect the best possible outcome to this search unless we bring the very best of ourselves faithfully to God and to this work that God now calls us.  

There will be much more to discuss in the coming months. Again, I do not like saying goodbye and will not do so until we get into December and the holy season of Advent. In the meantime, please know that Janie and I plan on staying in the community after I step down. While I will not be able to participate in the life and worship of Trinity Church in any fashion after retiring, certainly not during the search process and perhaps beyond, we will look forward to visiting with you as friends and neighbors around the region. You will also be in my thoughts and prayers daily throughout the remainder of my life. May God’s peace be always with you.      

Faithfully yours in Christ,      
The Rev. Rob Banse  

Episcopal General Convention

I want to make you aware of a very important gathering in the life of our Episcopal Church. General Convention meets every three years to consider resolutions and make important decisions on behalf of our denomination. The convention is comprised of two houses. The House of Bishops is, as the name suggests, comprised of all the bishops of our church. The House of Deputies includes four clergy and four laypeople from every diocese of the Episcopal Church.  

This year’s gathering begins July 5th in Austin, Texas. I commend to you a website entitled “Center Aisle”. The Diocese of Virginia created this site several conventions ago. It is an excellent source of information as to what is going on at the meeting. It offers these reports in the spirit of the “Via Media”, that is, “the middle way”, the vantage point from which the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have historically sought to understand both theology and the life/practice of our tradition. Please keep our bishops and delegates in your prayers as they gather for this very important moment of discernment.  

May God watch over all of us during this summer season.    

Faithfully in Christ,
The Rev. Rob Banse

Updates and Summer Reading

Dear Friends,  

I write to you immediately after the conclusion of the highly successful 59th edition of the Hunt Country Stable Tour. I have always thought of this weekend as being about much more than raising funds to assist our outreach ministries. It is also about building our relationships as we exercise the ministry of hospitality. Led by those who so generously open their farms and other venues for us, we welcome people from all over the world to the beauty of God’s creation represented by our region. This year, as I listened to the joy and appreciation shared by our guests, I realized that there was another ministry at work here. It was, and is, the ministry of healing. It may have been the chance to get outdoors after a long, wet spring. It may be the turbulent times in which we are living. Whatever the case, the time spent in the beauty of our community clearly was having a cleansing effect. Many thanks to Kat Gemmer, this year’s Chair, the members of the committee, and to each of you who volunteered to make this a most memorable tour. Now, on to the 60th!  

We will soon enter the season of summer. As always, my prayer for each of you is that you will find real time for rest, recreation, and renewal in the coming months. Hike a high mountain trail. Wiggle your toes in beach sand. Explore unknown destinations. Catch up with family and friends free from the usual schedule constraints. Be still and glory in beauty of God’s creation. One of my chief concerns for our society and for ourselves is that we have lost the absolutely necessary discipline of keeping the Sabbath. There is a reason that God has said to us from the very beginning, “I have given you six days a week to work. On the seventh day, you are to rest in my love, thereby keeping that one day holy and for God alone.” I, for one, think the loss of Sabbath keeping is the greatest cause of the decline of our churches and indeed of our world today. I therefore encourage you try and re-establish that discipline in the course of your vacations. And remember, the idea of a “working vacation” is nothing but an oxymoron.  

One of the things I enjoy doing while on vacation is to catch up on my reading. Here are several books that I would recommend adding to your list:  

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: This memoir is a sobering account of the many and inhumane injustices perpetuated in our criminal justice system today. Stevenson is the founder of the “Equal Justice Initiative” and someone I would love to have come and lead a retreat for us.    

Grant by Ron Chernow: Another excellent offering by one of our greatest living biographers.  

A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carre: I have always been a big fan of his novels.  

Souls in Transition by Christian Smith with Patricia Snell: If you want to understand what is going on in regards to religion amongst those born after 1990, this is the definitive study.  

Wendell Berry and the Given Life by Ragan Sutterfield: A wonderful account about one of our society’s best essayists, philosophers, and conservationists.  

Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor: Another insightful guide for those seeking to truly live a full spiritual life.  

Living the Sabbath by Norman Wirzba: A great resource if you want to discover once again the importance of keeping Sabbath in our daily lives.  

Finally, the summer season calls us to be out of doors here at Trinity, enjoying the greatest cathedral ever known. To that end, please mark your calendars for our cookouts. The first is scheduled for Thursday, June 14th at 6pm. The conversations are always delightful and the food perfection! I will see you out there.   Here’s to a summer of rest, renewal, and healing! As the old saying goes, may this season be a time in which we truly let go and let God.  

Faithfully in Christ,
The Rev. Rob Banse

Pentecost

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound, like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”   Acts 2:1-2  

Dear Friends,

On Sunday, May 20th, we will celebrate the great feast of Pentecost. This holy day is described as “the birthday of the Church”. The celebration often includes baptism, red balloons and sometimes even a cake.

But, of course, the significance of the day is so much more. The theologian Yves Congar describes it eloquently: “All the evangelists stress the existence of a dynamic continuity between Christ and the Church. This continuity is the fulfillment of what God had promised from the beginning in accordance with his plan of grace.” In other words, Jesus does not abandon his disciples upon ascending to his Father. He sends the Holy Spirit to inspire and empower Christians everywhere and throughout time to fulfill the mission he has entrusted to us. We are not just a social service agency that worships, prays, and engages in pastoral care. We are the Body of Christ at work and God’s spirit lives within us. Apart from that Holy Spirit, we can do very little.

A wonderful illustration of this is our annual Hunt Country Stable Tour to be conducted this year over the weekend of May 26th-27th. Yes, this is an extraordinary event that has as its primary goal the raising of funds to support our outreach ministries. But it is so much more than that. It is a weekend that depends entirely upon the Holy Spirit working in each one of us on the church grounds and at each of the farms and other venues.  We will be exercising the ministry of hospitality and we will need the Spirit to inspire us to do so. Furthermore, the entire congregation is called to participate. We cannot make the Stable Tour as spirit-filled as it can be unless we are all present. I do hope and pray that you will sign up and join in the celebration.

Finally, I am thankful to report that Bishop Ted Gulick will be with us on Sunday, June 17th. He will celebrate Confirmation, another moment filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, at the 10:30am service. If you are presently in the 8th grade or above (i.e. adults), and are interested in being confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church, please let me know as soon as possible.

Come, Holy Spirit, our souls inspire. May this month be for us a powerful experience of God at work in our community.  

Faithfully in Christ,
The Rev. Rob Banse

He Is Risen

Dear Friends,

Alleluia! He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, Easter is “an annual Christian festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, held on the first Sunday after the date of the first full moon that occurs on or after March 21.”

The Catechism of our Book of Common Prayer asks the question, “What is the significance of Jesus’ resurrection?” The answer given is “By his resurrection, Jesus overcame death and opened for us the way of eternal life.”

On the day itself, we pray, “O God, who for our redemption gave your only begotten son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our

Lord, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

All of this is well and good, theologically and liturgically correct. But, of course, the above does not come even close to expressing the ineffable joy offered to us by God in this holy season. From the kindling of the paschal fire in the predawn hours to the final shouts of “Alleluia”, we are embraced by the realization given through faith that the stone has been rolled away and the tomb stands empty. No longer is death our final destination. Yes, we are mortal. But by Christ, and in Christ, and through Christ, we too will experience death, not as the end, but as a gate that opens into larger life.

In the meantime, we live as an Easter people. Even in the midst of all that is diminished and corrupted in this present age, we live according to God’s great promise revealed in His Son. Even as the world obsesses over all the bad news, we proclaim the Gospel: In the darkness, there is light. In the despair, there is hope. In the anger, discrimination, and hatred, there is love and that love will never fail or be overcome. Why? Jesus Christ lives. Christ lives here in our world. Christ lives within each one of us. Christ is now the way, the truth, and life. And when the moment is right, Christ will come again.

Eternal life burst out of the tomb in the resurrected life of Jesus Christ on that first Easter day. Every day now holds the Gospel’s promise. That is a promise well worth celebrating, my sisters and brothers. I look forward to celebrating this new reality with you in the weeks ahead. Welcome, Easter!

Faithfully in Christ,
The Rev. Rob Banse

Honest Before God

Dear Friends,

I came across a quote this past week that has stayed with me. I wonder how you feel about it: “There are some things worth living for, even if we find ourselves having to die for them as well.”

Let us be honest before God. Suffering and death are not our favorite topics. We do whatever we can to put as much distance between those two realities and us as we possibly can. While we admire those who make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of a worthy cause, most of us prefer not to emulate them.

That is why Holy Week and Easter are so central to really understanding and accepting the Christian faith and life. The events we remember over the course of those seven days are God’s summary statement about a life truly lived and not wasted. Jesus chooses to ride into Jerusalem knowing full well the risk he is taking. He tries to prepare his disciples for what is to come. He reminds them that, if one really wants to be a leader in this world, then one must be a servant of all. He breaks bread with them one last time and that then becomes a banquet that lasts for all time. Instead of avoiding or resisting arrest, he embraces the injustice of his trial and the horror of his execution. Why? Because he has come to demonstrate in human terms what the love of God really is: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” In other words, it is in the giving of ourselves, even of our very lives, for the sake of God’s goodness and the Gospel of Jesus, that true life is to be found.

But that is not the end of the story. On Easter day, we will gather around an empty tomb. Death cannot hold the Son of God. We are again embraced, this time by a mystery that is both sublime and impenetrable. What is the resurrection? How will we experience it? I don’t really know. But in the celebration of Jesus being raised from the dead, we can know that any and all sacrifices we make during the course of our lives are not in vain. We have followed the lead of the risen one and we can know our actions have contributed to the building of God’s kingdom here on earth. Instead of entombing ourselves in a constant fear of sacrifice and death, we have been set free to live our lives fully, faithfully, and well, as we press on with Christ into the joy of his resurrection.

I believe that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the great saints of the Church. It is said that, as the guards were preparing to lead him to the scaffold and to his death, he turned to his fellow prisoners and said, “This is the end. For me the beginning of life.” For the Christian, no truer words about the meaning of Holy Week and Easter have ever been spoken.

I look forward to remembering the events of Holy Week and then celebrating the joy of Easter with each of you.

Faithfully yours in Christ, 
The Rev. Rob Banse 

Midpoint of Epiphany

My Sisters and Brothers, 

We have reached the midpoint of the Epiphany season. The Gospel passages we have heard thus far this season have focused on the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. They have included the moment of his baptism, the calling of the first disciples, and a record of his first teaching in what we have come to call the Sermon on the Mount. Clearly, there is a progression here, a progression we must “inwardly digest” if we are to take our faith seriously, for it is God’s desire that it will be the progression of our lives as well. 

First, baptism is the moment of initiation. It is not a family tradition to be honored for the sake of our grandparents. It is not spiritual life insurance just in case all this talk about God happens to be true. It is instead the beginning of a whole new way of life, just as it was for Jesus. In baptism, we are set free from sin and death for a real purpose: to live as God calls us to live. 

Secondly, from the very beginning, Christianity is a faith built upon community. Before all the doctrine and dogma and theological debate, there was and is relationship. Read the Gospels. The first thing Jesus does is call those earliest disciples. Were they perfect? No. Are we perfect? No. Has the Church ever been perfect? No. But to take our faith seriously is to realize, accept, and believe that, for better or for worse, in good times and in difficult times, we are all in this together. When Jesus summarized the Law, he said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment”. He then added, “And the second is like unto it: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’” Community and faith go hand in hand. Indeed, if I understand Jesus correctly, there cannot truly be one without the other. 

Finally, there is the ethical, moral, and spiritual teaching of Jesus as represented in his sermon on that mountainside. When we hear these words, we’re not supposed to think to ourselves, “Well, that was lovely”, and then set them aside. Jesus means what he says. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Again, these are not pious sentiments. Nor are they goals that we struggle to achieve. When we make our faith in Christ the foundation of our lives, the beatitudes become our very way of being. They come to us naturally. 

I close with an invitation to you in this Epiphany season to ponder anew the meaning of God’s mercy. As you are well aware, there is a lively debate going on, both within the Church and in the world, about what mercy is and to whom it is that we are to show mercy, or in other words, who are our neighbors. I think Matthew 25:31-46 is a particularly important passage at this point in time. If you would like to discuss, please let me know. 

Faithfully in Christ, 
The Rev. Rob Banse 

Gratitude

Dear Friends,

I want to begin this letter by expressing my gratitude. Christmas is always a glorious celebration here at Trinity. There are many who help to make this so, and you know who you are. From Altar and Flower Guild members to lectors, acolytes, choristers, musicians, chalice bearers ushers, and all in between, your dedication is a blessing to all who gathered here for worship. For each of you, I thank God. I especially want to recognize the hard working and talented members of our staff. Jane, Betsy, Christian, Richard, Tommy, and Angela put in a whole lot of hard work and effort in order to make these seasons of Advent and Christmas as wonderful as they are. On behalf of the congregation, I thank you.

At the same time, please join me in thanking Ellen Hall, Nicky Perry, and the members of their committee for conducting a fantastic Christmas Auction. The last I heard, over $60,000.00 has been raised in support of the mission and ministries of our congregation. Well done!

We will soon enter in to the season of Epiphany. On Saturday, January 6th, which is the Feast of the Epiphany, we will celebrate the arrival of the Magi from the east at the manger side. Like those wandering kings, we will spend the coming weeks contemplating the meaning of the birth of this child in terms of the way we understand the meaning and purpose of our own lives. This begins with the humble acknowledgement that we brought nothing with us when we were born into this world and we will take nothing with us when we depart. Ours is a transitory life, and as a result, our time is not about ownership but rather about stewardship. We are called to spend our days honoring and caring for the world that God has created and all that inhabit the same. The litmus test for every generation is, did we leave the world in better shape for the generations to come or did we plunder it for our own short-term self-interests? Like the Magi, we are called to bring our gifts of time, talent, and material resources and offer our service to God in thanksgiving for this newborn king. That service is stewardship. Epiphany is the season that brings us this realization.

In order to truly understand the spirit of life-long stewardship, I recommend that we adopt resolutions for the New Year that will keep us mindful of all of God’s many blessings, thereby fostering a constant spirit of gratitude in our hearts and minds. For example, consider keeping the Daily Offices of Morning, Noontime, and Evening Prayer as found in our Book of Common Prayer. There are simplified versions intended for individuals and families beginning on page 136. I commend them to you.

Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Rev. Rob Banse

The Third Song of Isaiah

Dear Friends,

One of my favorite canticles found in the office of Morning Prayer is the 11th, entitled “The Third Song of Isaiah” (BCP page 87). The verses of this canticle are taken from the 60th chapter of the prophet Isaiah. These are words worth committing to memory:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. For behold, darkness covers the land; deep gloom enshrouds the peoples. But over you the Lord will rise, and his glory will appear upon you. Nations will stream to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawning.”

Advent and Christmas are about the fulfillment of that prophecy. The world is a confused, angry, and anxious place at the moment. We seem to be looking for answers in all the familiar places but no answers are to be readily found. We’re stuck and we don’t know where our help to get unstuck might come from. Could it be that we are looking for the truth about who we are, and what life is really about, in the wrong places? Perhaps the coming five weeks are not first and foremost about brightly wrapped presents and maxed out credit cards, fragrant evergreens standing prominently in our living rooms, or about tinsel strewn and the popping of champagne corks:

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

Really? In the midst of all the present storms, the calm is to be found in a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger? Is he the savior that we are looking for? According to these heavenly messengers, the answer is an unqualified “YES”! I came across a quote comparing and contrasting the seasons of Advent and Lent: “Lent is a penitential season cast in the key of expectation, while Advent is a season of expectation cast in the key of penitence.” I think that’s right. As you and I prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and as we remember his promise that he will indeed come again to acknowledge the fact that, too often, we are looking in the wrong places with our heads cast downwards. Instead, we need to be looking up and forward as this holy child leads us into the presence of the living God. Forget about the next “rising star” that the world around us is momentarily excited about. Look instead to the star rising over Bethlehem and the one whose arrival its light announces.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come.” I look forward to waiting expectantly with you as we prepare once again for the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Faithfully in Christ,
The Rev. Robert L. Banse, Jr.

 

Looking Forward to November

Dear Friends, 

There is much to look forward to in the month of November according to the church calendar. 

On the first Sunday of the month, November 5th, we will celebrate the feast of All Saints. This is one of the seven principal feasts each year. (The other six are Christmas Day, The Epiphany, Easter Day, Ascension Day, The Day of Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday.) One of my favorite moments in our Eucharistic Prayer is this: “Therefore, we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your name.” This is a powerful declaration of our hope in the resurrection, that even though they have died, through Christ all those saints live and continue to join with us in sacred worship. It is our custom to remember those who have been buried from Trinity by name over the past year and by the lighting of candles. We will also light a candle celebrating the lives of all those whom we have loved in this lifetime who now stand in the presence of the living God. 

Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on November 23rd this year. It is one of those special days each year when we make that great effort to gather with family and friends in order to truly remember the greatest gift that we share with one another, the gift of life. I want to gently remind you that the real import of this holiday is to give thanks to the source and creator of all life, who is, God. In order to do this here in our community, we will gather together with our neighbors at the Upperville Baptist Church on Wednesday evening, November 22nd at 7:30pm. It is always a wonderful occasion and a moment during which we “count our blessings” for God’s love so freely and infinitely shared with all. 

The last Sunday of the month, November 26th, is known as “Christ the King” Sunday. It is the final Sunday of the church year, preceding the first Sunday in Advent. The focus is very much upon Jesus’ promise that we have not seen the last of him, that he has “ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” I take great comfort in knowing that, in this day and age when our mortal leadership seems to be struggling so, God’s kingdom is even now present and God’s Son already reigns. 

There is much to celebrate and I look forward to being with you on these great occasions. God’s peace. I will see you in church. 

Faithfully in Christ, 
The Rev. Robert L. Banse, Jr.

St. Francis in October

Dear Friends, 

We celebrate the life of St. Francis on October 4th. His was a story of “from riches to rags”, not a career path much appreciated in our present day and age. Instead of following his father into the lucrative textile business, Francis’ encounters with the poor and the marginalized of his society led him to embrace “Lady Poverty”. He gave up all personal ambition and instead devoted his life entirely to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He also wanted to rid himself of all distractions when it came to his relationship with God, so he literally gave all his material possessions away. 

One of the aspects of his life that inspires us was his appreciation for the glory of God revealed in creation. Legend has it that he had the ability to speak to animals and was known to apologize to an ant when he realized that he was about to step on it. Many people keep a statue of Francis in their gardens as a reminder of his love of nature and it is for this reason we choose to hold our annual Blessing of the Animals on a Sunday closest to the 4th. 

Many of us also resonate with the prayer attributed to Francis: “Lord, make us instruments of your peace” (Book of Common Prayer, page 833). I think that one of the deepest desires in our lives is for peace. We seek this peace in all manner of ways. Yet, the horror of Monday’s violence aimed at innocent people in Las Vegas, people gathered together seeking peace in their love of music, reminds us how elusive peace can be. That is why the prayer continues. In order to end hatred, that great obstacle to peace, those who long for peace must sow love. Those who understand that conflict destroys peace must proactively work for forgiveness and union. Those living in hopelessness and despair need faith and light in their lives. We must seek to restore these essential elements if a peaceful existence is to be theirs. Finally, and with the greatest humility, we must embrace the fact that, if we are to be instruments of God’s peace, we must honor and cherish others before we honor ourselves, even if we give our lives for the sake of others in the process. 

The Book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts reminds us that, “Of all the saints, Francis is the most popular and admired, but the least imitated.” There is a good reason for that. Bringing peace into the world does require the utmost humility, and again, that kind of humility is not greatly encouraged in our world today. As we here at Trinity continue to pray about how we might best act as “instruments of God’s peace” in our world, we would do well to embrace the example of Francis. The world needs more of his gentle spirit, now more than ever. 

Faithfully in Christ, 
The Rev. Robert L. Banse, Jr. 

Goodbye from Rachel

 

Dear People of Trinity Church, 

It has been such a blessing to be with you for the time that I’ve had here at Trinity. It is always difficult to leave something behind, especially when good relationships have been built. I am grateful for you as a church, for loving, supporting, and encouraging me in the faith. 

Many of you have asked where I will be going. I am going to serve as the assistant rector at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, Virginia. It is a parish that sprung from the seminary, and I served there for two years as a seminarian. If you are ever in the Alexandria area, I would love to see you. 

I will miss Trinity Church immensely, especially the community. I have said before that the church is neither a building nor an individual, but a community of those committed to following Jesus together. The Holy Spirit is certainly at work within this community, and I look forward to hearing of the many ways you all continue to learn and grow together in love of God and of neighbor. God has great things in store. In all things, never lose sight of the hope that is found in Jesus. I ask that you hold me in your prayers during this transition, and I will keep you in mine. 

In Christ, 
Rachel Rickenbaker

Rector's Pen

Dear Friends, 

I received a copy of an email several weeks ago. It was from a member of our congregation expressing her appreciation for the people, buildings, and grounds that comprise Trinity Church. She was particularly glad that her teenage children found peace, strength, love, and comfort in the midst of life’s anxieties whenever they were on the campus. 

I have been thinking a lot about that note as we prepare to enter into another program year here. While I know that the cares of the world are always with us, we are presently living in a moment of great anxiety. It seems to me that this anxiety is rooted in fear of our neighbors both near and far, a fear expressed in suspicion, doubt, anger, hatred, false pride, and poisonous partisanship. 

I therefore have a simple recommendation to make. In the coming year, let’s make Trinity an anxiety-free zone with God’s help. You may remember that in a sermon some months ago I shared that, as disciples of Jesus, we are called always to hope and never to fear. That hope is grounded in God’s perfect love, not just for some of us, but for each and every one of us. Furthermore, that love gives us the courage to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world while we incorporate this Good News in our community. Finally, in allowing Christ’s love to cast out all fear within us, we are set free to really enjoy life as God intends and have fun while we’re at it! 

Yes, I know that we are human. I know that our natural inclination to self-absorption means that you and I will never be able to love perfectly. Nonetheless my friends, that is no excuse not to try to love one another as Christ loves us each and every day, not some of the time, but all of the time. To borrow from the lyrics of Hal David, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” That is no mere sentiment. That is sublime and profound theology. That is the foundation on which our community, buildings, and grounds are built. It is the reason for the incarnation and the resurrection. It is our reason for being as well. 

See you on Sunday. 
The Rev. Robert L. Banse, Jr. 

Assistant Rector's Pen

Dear People of Trinity Church,

The weather is warming up, and the days are getting longer. While things slow down a bit for the summer here at Trinity, the Church is still active!

The Church is made up of people who take upon themselves a life of discipleship, of following Christ. Even amidst vacations and periods of rest (which we all need!), Christians are meant to exemplify their faith with their lives. It is in fact our very identity!

This summer provides some great opportunities for living into our Christian faith. One is that the relaxed pace of the summer provides opportunities to invite a friend or neighbor to church. Plan a Sunday morning around the worship service, followed by coffee hour, a walk around the grounds, and lunch with a friend. If you have not attended the more contemplative Wednesday noontime Eucharist, come check it out, and join the group for lunch afterward.

Another great opportunity is our summer picnics. We had our first one in June, and our second is on July 26. Bring a friend or neighbor to enjoy an evening of great food, wonderful conversation, and a beautiful setting, followed with a brief Evening Prayer service. It is a casual and relaxed event that provides a great opportunity for fellowship. Even if you don’t bring a friend, come and get to know your fellow parishioners!

I extend the challenge from one of my recent sermons to all of you. Make it a goal to say hello to someone you don’t recognize every Sunday. We have so many people who come to the church and slip out unnoticed, and perhaps some people wish to go unnoticed; however, we will never know if there are those who slip by because no one took the time to speak to them. Even if you are travelling this summer, God provides countless opportunities to share His love with those you meet along the way. Live into those opportunities, and if you wish, share them with me. I love to hear about the ways the Church is living into the work of God in the world.

Finally, you will notice in this issue of the Genesis there are brief biographies of those running for Vestry in the fall. Please read and pray over these candidates this summer, as we look towards electing a new Vestry class made up of those passionate about the life and ministry of Trinity Church. Keep your Vestry members in prayer in their envisioning and decision-making, and ALWAYS feel free to talk with them about ideas and passions that are stirred within your hearts and minds. They are your representative body here at Trinity and are eager to hear your thoughts and ideas around the life of this church.

I hope your summer is restful and enjoyable, and remember that even in the summer, we all continue to be the Church!

God’s peace,
The Rev. Rachel Rickenbaker

The Assistant Rector's Pen

Dear People of Trinity Church,

Summer is nearly here! I remember writing my first Genesis newsletter last summer, and I am now coming up on my one-year anniversary at Trinity. How time flies when you’re having fun in the presence of Christian community!

As most of you know, Father Rob will be on Sabbatical this summer, a time for him of both recharging and continued study and learning. This will be an opportunity for me to step into a different leadership role for a time, though certainly not without the help of other clergy (thank you to Jim in advance!), wonderful staff, and all of you. Yes, while this summer may certainly show things slowing down a bit, the Church will be open and active!

In just a few weeks time, Trinity will welcome 30+ kids onto our church campus for a week of fun, upbeat, and creative activities. From June 12th-16th (9am-12pm each day), volunteers of all ages will help put on Vacation Bible School, an opportunity for kids to experience the love of Christ through words and actions, games, interactive Bible storytelling, crafts, snacks, and music! If you have not yet had a chance to volunteer and can make some time that week, please let me know. We can use many hands and hearts on board, and thank you to those who have already volunteered! The volunteers have been planning and working months in advance. That week, you will see the church transformed into the Maker Fun Factory, a creative workshop where God creates each of us for a purpose and inspires us to be creative. If you are free anytime during the week, please stop by and see the incredible work that God is doing at Trinity during VBS.

I am looking forward to these coming months, and I hope you will not hesitate to reach out to me with questions, concerns, and prayers. Please keep Father Rob in prayer during his Sabbatical, and please keep me in prayer, as well. We always benefit from your prayers. (As a side note, my husband James’ rector will also be on Sabbatical this summer, so it will be a busy summer in the Rickenbaker household). I am anticipating the ways that God will work through each of us at Trinity in these next few months and beyond. How might you be open to the possibilities God has in store?

In Christ,
Rev. Rachel Rickenbaker

From the Assistant Rector

Dear People of Trinity Church,

Alleluia! He is Risen! Let us keep spreading the good news during these 50 days and after!

This month, on May 7, we look forward to Bishop Ted’s visit, at both the 8:00 and 10:30 AM services. We will have Confirmations taking place at the 10:30 AM service that morning and ask you to be there to support your fellow members in the Body of Christ, as they make their public affirmations of faith.

For the past three months, Father Banse and I have been rotating teaching our Confirmation class. “What is Confirmation?” some may ask. Confirmation, according to our prayer book, is “the rite in which we express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop” (p. 860). In other words, because we practice infant baptism in the Episcopal Church, it is expected that when one reaches an age of maturity, he or she should make their own public commitment of faith in the presence of the bishop. When the bishop lays hands on the Confirmand, we believe that the Holy Spirit gives guidance and strength to the individual to continue forth as a disciple of Jesus and a minister in the church (indeed as baptized Christians, we are all ministers).

During the preparation and class time these past months, we spent time focusing on our Christian narrative, reflected in both the Old and New Testaments. We explored Jesus’ earthly ministry and Paul’s letters. On a morning-long retreat during Lent, we began exploring discipleship by discussing what it means to follow Jesus, experiencing a sensory Stations of the Cross, watching portions of the movie Jesus of Nazareth, and beginning a conversation on spiritual gifts. The Confirmands each took a spiritual gifts inventory and explored ways they can put their gifts to practice as members of the Body of Christ.

Each experience I have had with a Confirmation class, this one certainly included, has helped me to further understand where we are as a Church and how we teach the faith to our young people. Father Banse and I will pray about ways to continue improving the process of equipping disciples of Jesus through Confirmation preparation, and I hope that is a discussion that we take on as a congregation.

You are never too old to be baptized or confirmed. If you are interested in the process for either Baptism or Confirmation, please talk with either Father Banse or me.

Let us welcome Bishop Ted on May 7, and be present to support our Confirmands. Most importantly, during this Easter season, we are called to worship our Risen Lord, who seeks us constantly and daily. May we choose to seek and grow in relationship with Him, always and everywhere.

In Christ,
Rev. Rachel Rickenbaker

10th Anniversary

Dear Friends,

I am rapidly approaching my tenth anniversary as Rector of Trinity Church. Time does indeed fly when you are having fun! My letter of Agreement with the congregation calls for a three month sabbatical every five years. Thus, this is the summer to exercise that part of our agreement.

While sabbatical time includes opportunity for rest and renewal, it is not an extended vacation. Sabbaticals, as I understand them, are primarily about study, discernment, and developing expertise in areas that will be of benefit to the community once the person returns to the usual full-time role and responsibilities. It is just as much about “sharpening the axe” as it is about “recharging the battery”. That is my plan.

I have shared with you my belief that congregations today need to see themselves as communities rather than institutions. The life of that community is focused on the process of bringing people into closer relationship with Jesus Christ rather than churning out programs intended to satisfy the needs of the communities that that congregation is called to serve. This process will be the focus of my sabbatical.

In the first month, I plan on reading deeply and praying carefully about the true nature and process of discipleship. In particular, I want to re-examine what we in seminary somewhat irreverently referred to as “Hatch, Match, and Dispatch”. How do we go about in the present age of genuinely preparing people for Baptism and Confirmation, Marriage, and the great transition that the Burial Office represents? These moments are not “products” that we come to purchase from the church. They are milestones to be celebrated on our journey toward God. How do we renew that understanding here at Trinity?

“Telling the Story” will be the topic of the second month. We can no longer assume that most people know even the most important stories of the Bible. And yet, these stories comprise the foundation on which the Christian faith and life is built! What can we do to ensure that every member of our congregation, from youngest to most senior, has the opportunity to read, study, discuss, and thus learn from these Holy Scriptures in order to build our lives accordingly?

Finally, in the third month, I want to explore a topic that I believe is of critical importance presently: the stewardship of God’s creation. The planet that God has entrusted to our care is now threatened in any number of ways and the wellbeing of future generations is at great risk. What can do, here at Trinity, to become more faithful caretakers of this world that, for the moment, is our responsibility?

The sabbatical will also include some travel and time with family and friends. Please keep me in your daily prayers and know that I will be praying for each of you while away. In the meantime, Rachel, Jim Hammond, and our excellent staff will take great care of our congregation’s daily life! I rejoice in knowing that you are in great hands.

Faithfully in Christ,
The Rev. Rob Banse

From the Assistant Rector

This Lenten season has provided some great time for prayer and reflection for me, and I hope has been fruitful and refreshing in many ways for you, too.

Priorities. This word has been on my mind recently.

There are certain times of the year when people generally seem busier than others, and I believe Lent, like Advent, is often one of those seasons. Perhaps it is because Spring Break takes place during this season for many , and often that break includes some sort of vacation or travel time. For others, it’s the start of sports and games for the spring season. If we’re not involved in any of those, we manage to get caught up in the nice weather and somehow always find plenty to keep us busy!

As I talked with a good friend on the phone the other day, she said that it seemed like my schedule was busier than normal this Lenten season. I realized that I had listed off all the things on my plate to her, as if none of them were things I had decided to add to the plate. I made it seem like they were things that were happening to me, not things that I had chosen to prioritize.

For us as human beings, we always find plenty of things to do, though we don’t always want to take credit for accumulating our To-Do list. Certainly, there are times when we cannot help certain circumstances in our lives, and we must rely on God and our loved ones to support us and help us through those times. But for other times, when life is going on as usual, we (myself included!) often make excuses for why we don’t have time to do certain things. As Christians, the most important thing on our daily list is to spend time on our relationship with God; yet, how hard it is for us to make the time!

Priorities. Being a Christian is about prioritizing our relationship with God, placing worship of God and living out the Gospel above all else. Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,” telling us to put our relationship with God first and foremost.

When Christians live this way, with God at the front and center of our lives, people will take notice. In our families, kids will observe how faith is being modeled and prayerfully will follow suit. One of the best ways to share the good news of Jesus with others is by modeling, which includes prioritizing. This may mean making small schedule adjustments, and it may mean making life changes (sometimes both!). These are often not comfortable or easy decisions.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ words are clear, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” When we put God first, He will work through and in us in incredible ways we cannot begin to imagine!

As we continue on this Lenten journey, soon entering into Holy Week and into the season of Easter, I ask you to reflect on and pray about your priorities. This season is one of the best to rethink the ways our lives are headed and to redirect our focus and priority on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who did indeed make His way to the cross on our behalf, out of His great love for us all.

In Christ,

Rev Rachel Rickenbaker