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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

Spring Break

Dear St. Stephen’s Family and Friends,

Ah, Spring Break. Growing up in the City of Chicago, this week was called Spring Clean-Up Week. We literally all worked together to clean up city neighborhoods. Anything was better than being in school. Eventually in Barrington, Illinois, Spring Break took place the last week of March. I remember when I finally realized I could take some time off with my family even in Lent. When Holy Week (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter) fell the same week as Spring Break, there was always wailing and gnashing of teeth because that meant a drop in attendance. Of course it took years for me to realize that just as our members were travelling to see their families, others were travelling our way to visit their families. The Easter congregation was always a beautiful and interesting mosaic, which changed every year with the ebb and flow of parish family life.

Here in Fairview Spring Break falls the week before Easter. Who needs the break more? Teachers? School Administers? Children? Parents? (Probably mixed opinions on that.) Maybe our lives need the break no matter one’s age? I think so. Leave it up to the schools to invite us to take a deep breath, look around, and witness the pouring forth of new life after the throes of winter. It’s a break, a breath, and a pause. We all know that the following Monday life will be back to what life was before the break started but for nine days we are invited to stop, drop, reflect, act, and realign. And it’s no mistake that Spring Break and Easter often flow with or near each other. The Queen of Feasts, as Easter is called in catholic Christian faith, shouts to the world that new life springs forth from winter.

Wherever your break takes you, look up a local church on Easter and if it’s your family tradition, then attend. Visitors are always, always, a blessing. So they will be for us here. So you will be wherever you go. Happy Easter!

Love and blessings,

Alvin+

1070 Dutch Road, Fairview, PA 16415 * 814.474.5490