Tag Archives | Fr. Al Johnson

Discernment – Service Times

Dear St. Stephen’s Family and Friends,

Planning processes are interesting.  Often while pursuing one direction another direction presents itself and draws nearly unanimous consent.  As the Planning Team discerned direction for the life of St. Stephen’s and as that vision was presented to the community on September 24, one item percolated to the surface in both cases at times with prompting and at times without.  The one item that kept rising to the surface was moving to one service.  There was sentiment for this idea from different “places” meaning people of all ages.  As the planning process unfolded, people made a point of mentioning how much they would like to draw the entire community together on Sunday mornings with one service.  The Bishop’s Committee talked this over at our last meeting and supported moving forward with the proposal of an experiment of one service at 9 AM beginning December 4, Advent I, and continuing through January 7, Epiphany Sunday.  What we need now is your feedback between today (October 12) and October 24, the date of our next Bishop’s Committee meeting.  You can direct your feedback to me in person or by email (ajohnson@dionwpa.org) or text/call (847-651-1323).  You can direct feedback to our Bishop’s Warden, Cindy Willis also in person, or by email (cindy@georgewillis.com), or also by phone.

After we’ve tried this for several weeks we will review how this arrangement is working and decide about going forward from there.  The decision will be made with community input.

Fall is here!  Enjoy God’s various masterpieces all around us.  See you in Church.

Love and blessings,

Al

Home

Dear St. Stephen’s Family and Friends,

It’s been a summer about home.  Like the work taking place on our community home of St. Stephen’s under the direction of our Property Team, Vickie and I have been about the same business here in Barrington.  This is our first summer at our home in six years.  It’s not that our house was under neglect, but a house is like the self; a house needs tending in order to be lived in and to serve as a home on all levels.  Our friends keep asking us if we’re getting the house ready to sell?  Our answer is:  we are enhancing our home as a place to live for years to come.  I’m not a big project guy by nature, but I did take down our screen porch by myself and was able to avoid catastrophe.  (Check out the picture.)  We will have a new patio installed within the next two weeks to go with a new air conditioner (the old one simply gave up its life) and new paint.  Taking down the screened porch opened up our family room to considerably more light and Vickie and I are adjusting to the beauty of being able to look out and see God’s handiwork.  All this leads me to a spirit of gratitude to God; for time, for love, for a home, for the resources, for family, for life.  While this is taking place our home at St. Stephen’s is being renovated as well.  New lights to see better and enjoy the light.  A new roof to cover all we value.  New ceiling tiles to honor our home.  The investment of parishioners to improve the look outside to go with the improved look inside.  Eventually all the love being given will open hearts and doors to the strangers who hunger for just such a home as St. Stephen’s.  All this leads to a spirit of gratitude to God; for leaders, for staff, for resources, for people, for faith, for love, for Jesus.   We are blessed indeed.

Looking forward to seeing many of you this weekend.  See you in Church.

Love and blessings,

Al+

Sitting Vigil

“When your heart is breaking for someone who is broken, but your words can’t reach them and your love can’t save them, ask the angels to go where you cannot; to whisper into their heart what their ears cannot hear; we love you, we’re here, you’re not alone.”

When Vickie and I returned to Barrington on Wednesday, April 26, we went immediately to be with our friend and their families who were sitting vigil for their husband/father.  They had begun the climb for Machu Picchu in Peru when her husband suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.  After surgery and a time of hopeful recovery in Lima, he eventually was flown back to Rush-Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago where his family was told that he had no chance of recovery.  He was moved to hospice care where he has been slowing dying for over a week as I write this on Wednesday, May 3.  They are dear friends.  We’ve been visiting regularly.

Few experiences in life strip us down to the essentials more than sitting vigil with someone who is dying.  Existence becomes razor focused.  All that seemed to matter a few days ago becomes window dressing on the essentials of human existence:  breath, love, family, friends, time, suffering and more.  Work pressure disappears into the rhythm of keeping watch day and night.  Matters of existential urgency are consumed by the spirit of eternity.   Those in vigil become acutely aware of life, hoping deep in their souls that the loved one will somehow continue indefinitely while facing into the reality of death and the knowledge that they/we can’t have it both ways.

Behavior changes unfold.  Showers aren’t needed everyday.  Clothes become “lived in”. Chairs become beds and two hours of sleep a luxury.  Surrounded by a community of family and friends, food appears randomly and abundantly.  There is a story of one friend who brought six vanilla lattes because she didn’t know what else to do.

No pattern governs life except the reality and comfort of the dying.  We might rarely hold the hand, look a loved one in the face, and sit still when all is well, but in vigil these moments are gifts as the human soul seeks to record all that is unfolding in order to remember forever; seeks to forge a connection that will sustain the surviving loved one, because, as Jesus said before his own death, “where I’m going you cannot come”.  And each moment encapsulates the dilemma between suffering and freedom.  Life has an intrinsic and focused purpose.  Life has meaning.  Life has value.  Everyone counts in a vigil.  Awareness becomes a sensitivity to each, silent nuance of the environment.  Time seems to slow down and so do those of us who surrender to the vigil.  For some, there is prayer of words.  For some, there is prayer of actions.  For some there is no conscious prayer.  For some God is a comfort.  For others God is a question mark.  For some God is irrelevant.  But I wonder:  God is love and where true love is found, there is God.  Hover above a vigil of loved ones where love is present and God is there.  God doesn’t need recognition.  God simply shows up in a myriad of undisclosed ways including a peaceful death.  But then, that’s my belief and comfort.

Fr. Al Johnson
Vicar – St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church

1070 Dutch Road, Fairview, PA 16415 * 814.474.5490