Surely, I Am Coming Soon

A rare view of a furniture-less Cathedral

Probably the most agonizing promise in the whole of Scripture is Jesus’ foretold return, as John the Revelator proclaimed in His voice: “Sure, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20b). It is with this phrase, followed by a final doxology, that John concludes his Revelation, and since the fourth century, the whole narrative of Scripture for the Christian Church. But unlike early Christians, Christians two millennia on know that it will probably be a while yet before the Second Coming actually comes. 

And more to the point: we don’t know when it is coming: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 42:36). 

Jesus left us an important instruction regarding the end times: keep awake. 

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Matthew 24:42-44). 

So we have to act like the end is coming just around the corner, even if we know it may not be for a bit. 

Does that attitude sound familiar? 

Many of us can appreciate the agony of patiently and fervently waiting for something that is still a ways away: the almost mythic-sounding easing of lockdowns, wide-spread vaccinations, and opportunities to interact with others face to face. 

The agony of the past year is akin to the agony Christians have experienced for two millenia. We, like in lockdown, must wait, and more importantly prepare for when this world is over and we face the merciful judgement of God.

Here’s the key to doing well at the last judgement: make sure you have kept awake. We may be waiting for the end times, as may be God, but we aren’t supposed to be sitting at a table with anxiety for thousands of years. The Christian call to wait is also a call to action. 

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20-21). 

God is already at work among us! Like the labourers in the field, there’s plenty for us to do. But Matthew provides us with a final warning-parable we ought to take note of before picking up our shovels. In the parable, Jesus tells the story of a landowner who hires labourers for his field throughout the day, yet pays each the same daily wage. The workers, however, 

“grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:11b-16). 

There’s so much to do that there’s a place for everyone in God’s kingdom. God values all the varying contributions from different folks according to different abilities and varieties of gifts. 

And pray tell: what does that kingdom look like? Right now, even during lockdown, how do we prepare for both the world beyond Covid-19, and more importantly, the world beyond this life? 

I think Mary said it best: 

“His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:50-53) 

Let’s get busy. 

For, “Surely I am coming soon.” 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

Lent During Coronatide?

I was recently invited to blog on the Cathedral website and on the Cathedral’s prayer blog, Prayer for Liverpool (www.prayerforliverpool.org). I thought that I would also share it with the readers of my own blog as well.

If you’re like me, and you have been known to look far too ahead in the calendar every now and again, then perhaps you, also like me, have been somewhat troubled by the fast approaching season of Lent on 17 February. My first reaction when I realized that Lent was so close was, What? Lent is beginning? I thought it never ended!

Lent is a time, according to the Book of Common Prayer 1979 of the Episcopal Church, USA (BCP 1979), for: “self-examination and repentance… prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and… reading and meditating on God’s holy word” (p. 264). By this definition, then, the changes to our world, our communities, and particularly our Churches are not synonymous with an extended Lenten observance—despite what I may have felt.

Lent is an opportunity to observe a discipline (giving up chocolate, making time for prayer, donating to charity, etc.) for its own sake. Lent, rather, is a means to an end. Again, let me quote the BCP 1979: “The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians have to renew their repentance and faith” (pp. 264-265).

So Lent, then, is a time of preparation for the solemn and holy observances of Holy Week and Easter. It is a time of discernment for those wishing to enter the Church. It is a time for profound repentance for wrongs committed to others. And it is time of a reminder of our need as Christians continually to repent, and to hold fast to the faith.

Lent is not, then, an extended period of not being able to meet together due to a highly contagious and deadly virus. Covid-19 is not a punishment for the sins of the world, or for the existence of religions other than Christianity. It is not a personal return from the Almighty for the sins of our own pasts. The austerity and profundity of denial associated with Lent may seem to have been extended beyond last Spring. But Lenten discipline is not suffering for its own sake, or suffering under the situation in which we all find ourselves. Lent is about the heart. About what taking a fearless moral inventory of where we are in relation to God and those around us. And is particularly set aside for correcting what may be in need of correction. Lent is a time for us, pandemic or not, to consider how we might better show the light of Christ in the world, which we have been contemplating in this season of Epiphany. Lent is for glad apologies and purposeful amendments.

Now having said that, that doesn’t mean we haven’t suffered during the pandemic. We have. Some of us who are key workers are exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. Others who are shielding are facing isolation and loneliness for almost a year. And those who are in need in regular times find their need compounded by the inability to cover bills or find help.

Lent’s invitation to us is a time to prepare ourselves to meet our Saviour at the cross. Who better to show us the broken reality of the world than our Lord and Saviour, who in his death on the cross not only gave us hope, but an honest testimony to the severity of the world whose power we are called to resist by keeping that hope alive. Christ gives us hope that the suffering of the present is not going to be the final word on our future.

So. Lent 2021. What’s a Christian to do? We could start by considering ways in which we aren’t doing so well. Even at home, we can worship God, we can support our neighbours, we can contribute to good in the world, we can care for ourselves, and give all of that and more a trial run or rethink if need be. We can face the reality of the crucified and risen Saviour with more depth and seriousness if we have prepared for it deeply and seriously. We can more closely follow the pattern of our Saviour when we try to follow his example of shedding light in the darkness.

So, as the BCP says, “I invite you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent…” (p. 265).

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

Wall Juice

The 28th of December saw my first attempt at making roast beef — and spending the night in the hospital. 

To be concise, I had swallowed a piece of beef that went down my food tube but not below the base of my throat, so I was unable to swallow anything else (including saliva). I was taken to A&E by Canon Neal and his wife Stella (who, honestly, deserve gold medals) after I had been repeatedly unable to dislodge what was in my throat. I wasn’t in pain, per say, just supremely uncomfortable. 

It eventually went down of its own accord, after I was admitted to a ward and caught a few hours sleep, having been administered a muscle relaxant. I therefore avoided having to undergo an endoscopy to remove the offending piece of beef. 

The picture above was taken about 3am Sunday morning on the 29th. The A&E doctor had just recommended the endoscopy and we were getting ready to walk me to a bed. I took this photo of my IV drip, which I was given to counteract the dehydration caused by not being able to swallow. I must have been pretty out of it, as I called it my “wall juice”. 

Later on, I was attended by two very nice ward nurses who kept watch over me in the early hours of that morning before being discharged. They knew that I was a religious worker, and one said to me, “Trust in God, he will take care of you. Don’t worry, you’ll be all right.” I appreciated this gesture and word of encouragement during what was a, shall we say, trying evening. 

But I also remember thinking how presumptive and a bit offensive I found the comment. Of course, I never said any of this out loud, but I remember thinking, You don’t really need to tell me to trust God. I already do. How do you think I have stayed sane throughout this whole fiasco so far? I also asked myself later that night, Wait, where is God in all of this? I know intellectually and even personally of God’s love for me, regardless of my current situation. But what is that love supposed to feel like? Did the nurse think that I wasn’t trusting in God enough that she felt the need to say that? 

And here we have an age-old theological dilemma: trusting in a powerful, loving God even if he is unseen. 

I look back now and think how silly I was for being offended at a well-intentioned and theologically apt word from the nurse, as well as the worry over what I thought I was supposed to feel. I can look back quite easily now and see God’s love at work behind the care of the excellent NHS staff at the Royal that night, as well as God’s call to me to remain calm and connected by reading the Offices of Compline and Morning Prayer to keep some sanity in a trying situation, as well as all others who have helped me out during and since my hospital stay. 

I see God at work throughout the whole business, now, not in a flashy or miraculous sort of way, but in the quiet, ordinary-yet-extraordinary people and events that had me home early afternoon on Sunday: good neighbours, wonderful doctors and nurses, a muscle relaxant, a novel, Daily Offices, a bed, sleep, and tea and toast. An IV drip of “wall juice” for both hydration and humour during a long night. 

I don’t recommend hospital stays for their particular comfort. But I do recommend the calm, ordinary mercies of God that are daily visited on us. 

Trust me, they’re unforgettable. 

But more importantly, trust God. 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

“Unfortunately, It’s a Pleasure.”

Photo caption: Pre-packed food parcels ready to go at St. Vincent’s

As I write, I’m about to enter my third month in my new incarnation as a Tsedaqah Community Member. In my role in the Micah Liverpool food bank charity, I have the pleasure of serving as the contact point between volunteers and charity staff; writing thank you notes on behalf of the charity, as well as answering general inquiries from the public, in addition to serving as supervisor to the Food Bank pantry sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

Integral to the way that Micah operates as a charity is humility. By now, I’ve probably quoted Micah 6:8 to death, but I will again, because it’s really important: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” When we walk with God and try to follow Jesus, what we do in his name has to be informed, among other things, by humility. 

Giving is important. But how and why we give might be even more important. We can give out of our abundance and generosity. But Jesus shows us that it is more blessed to give out of our poverty. What this doesn’t mean is to give, and by giving, develop a habitual feeling or superiority. Jesus doesn’t justify the righteousness of people who praise themselves because of their good works. 

You will often hear the officiant of Morning or Evening Prayer at Liverpool Cathedral to pray about the offering of oneself and all that one does during the day to God. When I’ve prayed this as the officiant, I always add something along the lines of, “Help us to remember that all we do, we do to your glory, and to yours alone.” 

The food that is donated to us isn’t ours. It’s God’s. The work we do isn’t ours, it’s really God’s. God cares for each and every one of us, and intends the flourishing of all humanity. Our Food Bank pantry sessions are not a mark of how wonderful we are, but the work of God putting food in the hands of the hungry, where it should have been in the first place. Feeding the hungry is a matter of God rectifying injustice, rather than us dispensing our own justice. 

And it’s absolutely essential. One of Jesus’s commands that have come down to us in Holy Scripture that means more or less the same thing now as it did 2,000 years ago is to feed the hungry. We feed the hungry–humbly–because doing so is a hallmark of our Christian calling. It is a hallmark of how God works in the world. 

And it brings God’s kingdom closer. 

When I work in the vegetable packing area during Food Bank sessions, I often am overtaken as I perform the repetitive task of placing potatoes, onions, carrots, peppers, and fruit in bags over and over again for individual consumption. I can sometimes feel the sense of daring holiness, a sense that the Kingdom of God has inched closer as each bag is filled and brought out to the tables to be offered. 

While this work is incredibly rewarding, it can be incredibly depressing. After a busy pantry session, the happy exhaustion can also be mixed with sadness. In 2020 in the modern West, we still have a need for Food Banks. There are still poor and hungry people on our streets. Justice is still denied. The work of the foodbank, for me, was best described by a regular donor, who said that: “Unfortunately, it’s a pleasure.”

Jesus, for all he promised, never said that following him would be easy. In fact, he said the opposite. But what’s really important to remember is that we aren’t following Jesus alone. We follow Jesus together. As Liverpool Cathedral, as Liverpool Diocese, as the Church of England, as the Anglican Communion, as the entirety of the Jesus Movement. We work together and rely on each other when the cards are up and down, and especially when they are down. 

Jesus knew what it was to suffer. The community that follows him will know that too and work together beyond it. 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

A Second Year!

A YASCer at the seaside on Crosby Beach

Dear friends and readers of this blog, 

         I am excited to announce that I have been approved to spend another year in mission as a member of the Young Adult Service Corps placed in the Tsedaqah Community in the Diocese of Liverpool. My role will shift on emphasis a bit in the coming year, but retain the core foundations of my work this year. In the coming year, I will:

  • Serve as the Food Support Officer for the Micah Foodbank, Liverpool Cathedral’s hunger ministry, assisting in administrative work as well as coordinating volunteers who help run the two Foodbank sessions each week (that have operated throughout the pandemic!)
  • Publish academic work with the Canon Theologian concerning questionnaire results from a survey conducted last Christmas in the Cathedral
  • Continue to assist in various administrative duties in the Dean’s Office
  • Continue to worship in the Cathedral, where I assist at the altar, as well as participate in and help to lead the Daily Offices.

         It has been a privilege to continue to serve as a missionary throughout the coronavirus pandemic. I am humbled to have been able to play a small part in the mission of the Church in these particularly troubling and challenging times. Thank you all for your continued prayerful and other support throughout this year.

         The Global Mission Office of the Episcopal Church again requires me to fundraise $10,000 towards this year of mission. The pandemic has affected all of us in so many ways, but if you are able, I would invite you to support my second year of mission monetarily. There are two ways to contribute financially. One is by sending a check made out to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and marked “Nelson Pike YASC” in the memo line, which you can mail to:

         St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

         P.O. Box 299

         Rockport, Massachusetts

         01966

         Another way to contribute financially is to use the giving portal on the St. Mary’s website, the link to which is here: http://stmarysrockport.org/. Click on the link at the top of the website that says, “We are now accepting donations using PayPal!”  When prompted to specify the purpose of the donation, please indicate “N. Pike YASC” where you can “Add a Note” to your donation.

         You all remain in my prayers as we all continue to follow Christ through this pandemic and beyond.

With gratitude,

Nelson

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

Holy Interruption

The Nave Altar in the Main Space of Liverpool Cathedral set for the 12.05 weekday Eucharist.

I was recently invited by the Dean of Liverpool to blog on prayerforliverpool.com. I’d like to share this blog with the readers of this blog as well. To see the post on Prayer for Liverpool, Liverpool Cathedral’s prayer blog during lockdown, follow the link above where you’ll find reflections by Cathedral folks three times a week, as well as resources for engagement with the Sunday Lectionary Gospel readings.

One of the duties that the Dean handed to me once the Cathedral emerged from lockdown was to help set up for the 12.05 weekday Eucharist. Since we opened, these take place now in the Main Space at the Nave Altar, mostly because it’s the most accessible in terms of wheelchair accommodation as well as social distancing precautions.

The practice of celebrating the Eucharist in the Main Space has taken on a new meaning. The main Space is arguably the busiest place in the Cathedral any day of the week. So at the service, it’s common to have people sat down within the barriers for the service, as well as roaming around or standing beyond them. Folks are always welcome to join us, and if I’m standing near the entrance of the barriers (which are there to facilitate social distancing as folks move around the Cathedral), I try to gesture to any and all that they are welcome to come and sit down and participate.

Something special occurs when our liturgy, our expression of our faith and the practices that to which our faith beckons us, is flung in front of the public eye like it is now in the Cathedral. Beyond anything else, I think it’s a mark of our hospitality that we worship centrally in our building and try to make other people, regardless of who they are or where they come from, as welcome as possible in our worship.

But I will make a confession: at first, I was suspicious. It almost felt rude to be doing all of this “religiousy” stuff in a space where during the week, secular tourists and casual visitors enjoy the art and architecture guided by our expert staff and volunteers. I felt as if we were interrupting their fun.

I’ve come to realise that sometimes, God is at his most poignant when He interrupts. Abraham, Moses, even St. Paul all attest to a surprising (and even unwelcome) intrusion by God into their lives that brought them to faith and arguably changed the course of their and our lives entirely.

Sometimes, that’s absolutely necessary. If we’re sunk in a life that feels like it has no meaning, or is bereft of love, or absolutely overwhelmed by the reality of the sinister chaos that each daily news briefing always seems to bring—the God in whom we believe has the power to interrupt our fear and both show us his love and call us to action.

I will never forget the time I confessed some trepidation leading the noontime prayers and announcing the service at the lectern one day. I said to Dean Sue, “I feel as if I’m interrupting them.” Her reply was to, “Remember that they might need to be interrupted.”

Liverpool Cathedral is a place of encounter, built by the people, for the people, to the glory of God. We can draw folks in with impressive architecture and scads of history, even a nice cuppa and slice of cake (though not at the moment for the latter unfortunately). But most importantly, we can then show visitors what all the glorious complexity of a Cathedral points to: the reality of God at work in human lives, who has more power than we can comprehend or imagine.

And a God who is never afraid to interrupt us for our own good.

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

Consecration

On Sunday, July 19th, the Cathedral celebrated, as it has every year, the anniversary of its consecration in 1924, and laying of its foundation stone in 1904. Every year, even through the world wars that have occurred since the Consecration, the special responses called the Rejoicings as penned by the first Dean, Frederick Dwelly, have been sung to mark this event liturgically in the life of the Cathedral, the refrain of which is:

Alleluia! The Lord is in his holy temple.

Alleluia! The Lord is here to Bless. Alleluia! Amen. 

This year, Consecration Sunday also marked the first time we could gather for public worship on Sunday morning in the Cathedral since March due to the lockdown. We began the liturgy that morning in the traditional way for Consecration Sunday, the Dean and Bishop of Liverpool walking in together from the Great West doors while the organ sounded a fanfare. 

I still am close to tears when I think back to standing in the congregation as they walked in together — socially distanced — and the Rejoicings were played as they moved through the congregation. Canon Myles and the Choral Scholars recorded these versicles and responses earlier that week (as choral rehearsals are permissible under the present conditions). Each time the refrain was repeated, I felt as if another layer of the tension of the last fourth months ease just a bit. We were finally able to return and worship in the Cathedral after not being able to for so long. 

As I looked through the Order of the Service for the Eucharist that morning, I found the four letters AMDG printed on the final page. I subsequently learned that the builders intentionally built Liverpool Cathedral AMDG, Ad maiorem Dei gloriam, to the greater glory of God, which is why they appeared on the Order of Service. Those initials of that Latin text are also written at the end of every original score J.S. Bach penned. 

When we build to God’s glory, our building takes on special status. As soon as the worship of God begins in a certain place, the normal parameters of time and even space melt away. Worship connects us with the saints of every age back to Christ himself, and the prophets before him. We step into eternity when we worship God. And a dedicated worship-building, like a Cathedral, also can take on this eternity, can take on a life of its own, though made and run by human hands. 

This eternal, awe-inspiring sense of holy in a Cathedral like Liverpool is present, I fully believe, even if no one can enter it. Our labour to catch a glimpse of the eternal through a Cathedral, even if inaccessible, is still visible, through its striking architecture, through its online presence, through its virtual worship. 

This pandemic lockdown has triggered questions of why we employ special sacred places for worship if they are essentially useless during a lockdown. I do believe that God is present, or can be sensed, anywhere. But I also believe that a space set apart for God is crucial for an honest sense of faith: when we go to church, we have given ourselves one task: to sense where God is in our lives and where we are in relation to God as we worship God. Dedicated sacred space also connects us with the ages that have gone before us in the faith and in that space, and reminds us that the Church of which Christ is the head exists not just around the world, but through time. We can also leave behind us a special space for God for the generations that will come after us. 

The purpose of all this eternity in temporality, this holy place, this Cathedral, is God’s: God is here to bless. The reason we bother building and inhabiting a Cathedral is to place ourselves in God’s loving embrace, who knows us, loves us, and re-ligions us back together when we are broken by the broken world. And my Lord, have the last four months shown us that we are a broken world. 

We can take heart. We can take heart that God is present in our lives, in our world, and is accessible to us in times of joy and times of sorrow. This present God is beyond all understanding, yet holds us under the shadow of Her wings and has never stopped caring for us. 

Thank God, then, that: 

Alleluia! The Lord is in his holy temple.

Alleluia! The Lord is here to Bless. Alleluia! Amen. 

AMDG

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

On July Fourth

An American Flag pillow in the Tsedaqah House

I was recently invited by the Dean of Liverpool to blog on prayerforliverpool.com on the theme of American Independence Day. I’d like to share this blog with the readers of this blog as well. To see the post on Prayer for Liverpool, Liverpool Cathedral’s prayer blog during lockdown, look here: https://www.prayerforliverpool.org/blog/on-july-fourth-reflection-by-nelson-of-the-tsedaqah-community

On July 4th, 1776, a group of British subjects got together in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to sign a document they’d spent many hours debating we know as “The Declaration of Independence.” They were doing something quite radical: employing rational thought to justify their taking up arms against the British crown and declaring themselves independent from its rule. The document they signed reads,

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The signers had high hopes for the country they were envisioning:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But perhaps now more than ever, this vision of the United States is aspirational at best. Full equality has yet to be realized, yet to be won in the United States, for all who are created equal. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has brought to public attention the inequalities and abuses afforded Black Americans by white supremacy knit into the fabric of the United States. Americans have been systematically and intentionally denied the rights, endowed by their Creator, that are theirs unalienably.

There were slaveholders among the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson, who drafted much of the Declaration, was a famous slaveholder who fathered many children with female slaves. Even George Washington didn’t release his slaves until the death of his wife. (While Washington wasn’t present at the signing, he was General of the Continental Army that was the fighting force behind the Declaration.)

The signers of a document that professed the equality of all humanity owned other human beings. And as United States, we’re still coming to terms with the fact that we were built largely by slavery. A great place to start learning about the legacy of slavery in the United States is to participate in the Virtual Pilgrimage for Racial Justice that the Church of the Heavenly Rest, an Episcopal Church in the US, led last week. The first video of the pilgrimage is here: https://www.facebook.com/heavenlyrest/videos/564156074490988/?eid=ARAq495gww0mVCSSrdFutXFOHQ7EnaYlNT8S8_205s295WVvPrPoFevvxA1JfMGo1jFB5Pi8TJ4tpGyR. There’s tons of literature concerning the history of racism in the US, but an accessible introduction is Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, by Karen E. and Barbara J. Fields (It may take some hunting to find this book, but a good place to start is here: https://www.versobooks.com/books/1645-racecraft. Or, try Amazon in the UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Racecraft-Soul-Inequality-American-Life-ebook/dp/B00G2DO7OO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr or Amazon in the US: https://www.amazon.com/Racecraft-Soul-Inequality-American-Life/dp/1781683131.

The Diocese of Liverpool has been paving the way in acknowledging the slavery-ridden past of the city and the church. To learn more, visit the Triangle of Hope website: https://thetriangleofhope.com/, the Tsedaqah Community website: https://thetriangleofhope.com/tsedaqah, and order the book, Two Triangles, by Ken Pye and Canon Malcolm Rogers that traces slavery in Liverpool to the present day and begins to look to a future marked by reparation and reconciliation. The link to the book is here: https://www.cathedralshop.com/products/two-triangles-by-ken-pye once the Cathedral shop is open again, or try here: https://www.discover-liverpool.com/publications/books/two-triangles-liverpool-slavery-and-the-church/.

I don’t celebrate July Fourth proud of everything the country of which I am a citizen has done in its past. But I will celebrate the holiday in the hope that we will actually inch closer to the dream of equality in the United States within my lifetime and beyond.

Nelson

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

Forget-Me-Not

I’ve never had to be the gardener before. Sure, I’ve laboured in a garden before, but at other people’s instruction and in their garden. When the lockdown came into effect, I was in a house with some desk work to do and to help pack parcels for MICAH once a week, but not too much else. So I turned to the garden. I hadn’t done much out there at all as general busyness and the autumn and winter weather had me otherwise occupied and not wanting to go outside. Spring was springing, however, and the garden needed to spring with it. 

I’ve recently posted pictures of the backyard we have at the Tsedaqah House. It’s small but lovely, with flowering shrubs and nice furniture helping to make it a great space to soak up some sun, read a book, or enjoy a quiet evening outside. I love spending time in a garden, as the saying says, “One is nearer God’s heart in a garden more than anywhere else on earth.” 

An unexpected project (besides rearranging the outdoor furniture and flower pots which I’ve loved doing since age five as my mother will tell you) became transplanting and caring for a few of the (previously planted?) Forget-Me-Nots beneath one of the shrubs. I really needed to mow the lawn, but these tiny blue flowers had spread into the grass, and I didn’t want to just mow them down, so I decided to transplant them to some window boxes on the patio and hoped for the best. 

It’s no accident that the beginning of the relationship between divinity and humanity took place in a garden, according to our inherited Scriptural narrative. God, the Divine Gardener, has us in his care and gives us what we need to flourish in that care, and we commit to continuing in that life-giving relationship. 

Very important: being a disciple is a process, and it takes time. 

The Forget-Me-Nots have been pretty easy keepers, but I have had to make sure they were in just the right spot on the patio to get just the right amount of sun, and that I watered them when the rain hadn’t taken care of that for me. I needed (and need!) to continuously tend the garden with whose care I have been entrusted. 

Our Divine Gardener takes the same care of us (though certainly knows more about us than I do about plants!). Our responsibility is to soak up the nourishment and produce fruit to God’s glory, and this takes time, too. We glorify God in our big and small growth, patiently working and incrementally growing until we finally meet Christ in eternity. We ought to rejoice in our process-selves here in the earthly garden, enjoying what God has wrought and is working within us. 

I’m naturally someone for whom longer projects are a “growing edge.” I like getting things done quickly and sometimes find activities whose ends I cannot see at their beginnings difficult. During the lockdown, I’m learning to live with the uncertain and the unfinished. I am learning to remember to tend my garden, and more importantly to let God tend God’s. I am learning to pay closer attention to each step in the process. And I am remembering to trust Christ more, who knows all things and has the whole world in His hands. 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

A Tsedaqah House Sunset, St. James’ Mount, Liverpool

Dean Sue has said repeatedly in her posts on prayerforliverpool.org that the current pandemic is a “long Good Friday.” Having recently undergone Good Friday during the pandemic, I can attest to the veracity of Dean Sue’s theological claim.

Good Friday does feel long. The liturgy of this day—when we can observe it—demands long minutes spent in contemplation “of those mighty acts” by listening to the Passion, kneeling before the wood of the cross as the Reproaches echo forward Jesus’ powerful lament, and staring at a barren altar without Sacrament. 

COVID-19 has indeed placed many of us in a long Good Friday. Some of us cannot be present to wait at the bedsides of the dying, and some of us can’t even be near when we bury our dead. As economic uncertainty grows, more of us are going to go without what we need. And we still have to isolate, which will mean many of us will continue to feel utterly alone. 

We have lost people we love because of this virus, in a similar way to losing the One who loves us on Calvary. 

COVID-19 has also placed many of us in a long Holy Saturday. As the rhythm of Holy Week progresses, the long emptiness of Good Friday gives way to a similar emptiness on Holy Saturday—but it’s of a different kind. The altar is still bare, but there’s no liturgy to say that we haven’t already said. I have always felt impatient on Holy Saturday, excited for the pre-eminent Vigil liturgy that evening, but having to wait and watch before night falls and the paschal fire can be kindled once again. 

For those of us stuck in isolation at the moment, the news isn’t helping—it’s slipping us into an anticipatory Holy Saturday mode. We long to be set free to go to work and play again with other households. I’m going bananas not being able to go into the Cathedral, which has come to feel like home.

The stone is still sealed over the entrance to the tomb. 

If I’m honest, the idea that evil, when it happens to us, is inherently deserved or meant to randomly test us has never felt like an adequate explanation as to why we suffer. Evil is far more complicated than that—and like God, why and what it truly is will always just elude our understanding. Evil is not something we can explain or justify or even quantify. It is simply a given in the nature of our existence, and I think we can all agree that it is most certainly a fact of our own lives right now. 

Here’s the Good News, though: Jesus gets it. Jesus knew what it was to suffer. His humanity and divinity were nailed on the tree. He was despised and rejected. He was beaten, flogged, and pierced. He died an agonizing death. And thanks be to God, right? Because the Cross of Christ, his Suffering, is balm for us in the shadow of death. We are not alone and can never be apart from the One who has endured it all before and continues to endure the burden with us.

Beyond death, isolation has been among the worst consequences of COVID-19 for many of us. But Christ, in whom we live and move and have our being, has the innate ability to be with us and know exactly what we are going through. We are known by Christ, and so loved. And while we still wait for the end to this virus, we can have solace in our Christian hope that resurrection will break forth in the end. 

Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light, 

to herald our salvation; 

He stoops to earth–the God of might, 

our hope and expectation. 

He comes in human flesh to dwell, 

our God with us, Immanuel; 

the night of darkness ending, 

our fallen race befriending.

— Johan von Rist

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.