I’m writing to you from my study where the scent of frankincense still hangs in the air from our virtual Ash Wednesday service. It was wonderful to see “St. John’s in action” as folks lovingly got involved to create a special Lenten experience for us—dark chocolate, incense, ashes and an invitation to discernment:
“To grow close to God this Lent, I give myself permission to _______.”
I’ve seen that same creative energy bubbling up as folks are organizing to continue the church’s commitment to El Porvenir, our longstanding partnership with rural Nicaraguans for a healthy “future” through clean water projects. Nicaragua continues to struggle in the wake of the massive devastation of two deadly hurricanes this past November. Saint John’s has historically given a Lenten offering to support this life-giving work and will be doing so again this year.
I’ve felt that same creative loving energy when I walk down 15th street past the church entrance and see the banner that reads “Create more Love!”—not just a slogan, mind you, but an actual invitation to “tutor kids, feed the hungry, wage peace, reform immigration laws, and seek LGBTQ justice.” And then there’s the hard part—“see inside for details.”
Of course, that invitation is bittersweet. We can’t “see inside” right now. And the sign, badly worn by San Francisco weather, in a negative light can be seen as a sad icon of unusable space.
Which is maddening—so much good was being done here! I have to remind myself that the closure is temporary. We will gather again before too long and the church building will be humming with ministry. (I know that you know this, but I find it helps to remind myself of the things I know but am tempted to forget). Put positively, I think the tattered sign can be viewed as a kind of Velveteen Rabbit, its wear and tear indicating just how much real love has flowed out of this place. As the Skin Horse says to the Rabbit in that famous story, “by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.” Banners are easily replaced. What I see is a congregation that has been made real through years of faithful, loving engagement.
The good news is that God’s love hasn’t gone anywhere, and neither have we. We will find ways to continue to creatively and lovingly connect with one other and serve our neighbors during the remainder of the pandemic, or as we call it around my house, “the damn-demic.”
It was really lovely to spend time in the Saint John’s garden this week and meet some of you as you came by to pick up “ashes to go.” Several expressed deep emotions at being back in a space that they love but hadn’t physically seen for over a year.
One of things I saw was excitement. Things are happening. The garden is BEAUTIFUL. The sidewalks have just been cleaned. And for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure we can easily replace and re-wear out another love banner. We will find creative ways to re-enter our sacred space safely and soon—perhaps for socially distanced times for private prayer in the chapel, or to visit the garden. And we’re working on a plan to host our holy week services from within the building.
If you are reading this and have been feeling disconnected from the church, I hope Lent will be a time where we find a way to help you reconnect. We are working hard to make the Sunday morning worship gatherings hospitable. I invite you to check out the link below for this Sunday if it’s been a while.
“To grow close to God this Lent, I give myself permission to_______.”
Reflect and pray on this.
The Rev. Dr. Scot Sherman