My name is Anne Sexton and in my former life I was a Catholic.
As an infant I was baptized into the Catholic Church. At the age of five I was enrolled in The “Abbey” a catholic school located on the grounds of a Dominican Monastery. I was taught by sisters of the Dominican Order starting in kindergarten and lasting thru my entire school career. I was enthralled with the “mysteries and secrets of the church”. The Mass was still said in Latin which added to the “mystery” of the church experience. As the incense swirled and the bells were rung for communion the congregation bowed their heads. As a small child I remember peeking thru my fingers to see what miraculous things were happening on the altar. These are memories that I cherish.
My biggest disappointment in the Catholic Church came at a time of personal need. I married and divorced at a very young age. As a divorcee the church no longer allowed me to receive communion. A rejection I found hard to accept.
This rejection by the church made me pay closer attention to their teachings, on birth control, their views on the Gay community, the role of women in the church. It soon became apparent that many teachings in the Catholic Church left me with too many doubts. I felt it was time to find a more tolerant place of worship.
In 1972 I met my current husband Peter, also an ex catholic and together we searched for a new church. It was not an easy transition for either of us. I consider myself a Christian and needed a church to worship that offered me comfort, spirituality and peace of mind. After much soul searching, and sitting thru many tedious sermons, Peter, a Boston native, suggested King’s Chapel, the first Christian Unitarian Church in the United States. Our first visit was an Easter Sunday morning. The music was magnificent. I loved the beautiful architecture of this building and Carl Scovel’s sermon was inspiring leaving me wanting to return. We did return, our daughter Alissa, was baptized by Carl in 1977. Charles Foreman was the assistant minister, Daniel Pinkham was the music director. In December 1992 we became members of King’s Chapel.
There have been many changes since that first Easter Sunday. Despite that I continue to worship here. We have a different music director, Heinrich Christianson, a different senior minister Joy Fallon and a different assistant minister Shawn Fielder, the choir is still breathtaking and the sermons thought provoking.
It is important for me to be part of a church that has a strong identity with it’s European background, that practices religious tolerance, I enjoy being surrounded by likeminded liberal thinkers that have a strong social conscience, where members of the congregation participate in the politics of the church, actively searching for the right ministers to lead this congregation.
Finally I like being part of a Christian community that has continued liturgical worship with the Book of Common Pray since 1686?
These are some of the reasons I continue to worship at King’s Chapel. I consider this my home. This is where my heart is and I will always be truly grateful that I found the King’s Chapel community.
This is something I read at the beginning of each day.
“I do not believe that we are singled out for a pain worse than we are able to endure. I also believe we have the grace to grow as a result of that pain.”
For whatever reason, and I do not know why, just like happiness and laughter - pain and suffering seem to be one of those universal experiences of the “human condition.” There are many tales of suffering in the Bible – Job in particular, and I’m sure everyone out there has been through some sort of suffering. Mental, physical, emotional. The purpose of this epistle is to offer my exploration of that universal feeling of pain and suffering.
This story will begin back in November 2013, with me, healthy, at a King’s Chapel book discussion for Christmas. At the end of the discussion we all wrote down my prayers, and I had written down a “Prayer for Dad.” ‘Please Lord allow my father to get healthier,’ I wrote. He has an autoimmune disease and has been through a lot of pain throughout his life. Throughout my childhood and possibly up until now I didn’t truly understand what constant chronic pain felt like, nor how could I? I as a then healthy individual and through some recent deeper personal growth, finally came to the realization of how tough that must be and wanted to help him on the road to health.
Trained in dentistry, it was an easy choice to want to help in the way I knew best. I went through a 5 month planning process to plan his smile, similar to the way a contractor draws up plans to build a bathroom. We made computer simulations, and after many consultations and talks with my dad and mom to get the shape and color right, we transferred those inputs to a physical wax up to represent what his smile was going to be. I remember praying each night during those times, “Please Lord allow me to bear some of his pain that he may begin to get healthier.” I thought that pain was in the sweat, tears, and some actual blood put into the workup of his case. Because it was hard work to plan this, my “first big case.”
After a few hours in the dental chair, in June 2014 his smile was nearly complete. At that time, he had over the process of planning and working through the process of improving his smile, even after about 10 years of trying, finally lost 70lbs and been eating really healthy. His smile turned out great. And the changes in his lifestyle were evident and remarkable. I have pictures documenting the transformation that I would be happy to share.
But. Just like I had prayed back in November, in April 2014, just one month before the completion of the smile, I apparently was beginning to take on some of his pain. I will echo Mindy Hinkel’s words from last years epistle. Prayer is a powerful thing and sometimes we might not fully realize what we are praying for. When I was delivering those crowns to complete the smile, I remember being in bad back pain (that persists each and every day even today) – hobbling to and fro, asking for help; looking back, just like I had prayed for, that day was seemed like a transfer of my health for possibly some of the pain. There were a few days in April and June that I was unable to walk due to pain. I often relied on friends to bring groceries as I was unable to carry anything for a long time. Quite a drastic change from training for the Boston marathon just two months earlier.
Since that day in June, I was worked up and diagnosed with a rare autoimmune, arthritic disease of my own now. It started in my lower back, but has progressed over the past 10 months to, as hard as it is to understand, involve every joint in my body – including my hands (which makes even simple tasks like cooking tedious), and my ribs which even makes breathing difficult sometimes. Bittersweet is the best way I can describe it. I will be honest, I am sad that I have lost a lot of the things that I used to love to do – play guitar, run, or even walk or open doors for a while.
But the sweet part is why I think God has designed suffering and pain into the human condition. I have been through a tremendously positive spiritual journey over the past 11 months. Dad’s suffering allowed me to work with him to become healthier and develop a closer relationship. Each time we are “tested” with pain or suffering, I truly believe it is an opportunity to look inside, look to the Bible, or an inspirational book or person. Whatever helps you find meaning. But I think ultimately pain and suffering, while it truly is an awful thing, it helps you grow closer to people and closer to Jesus, and closer to God. It’s that concept of Imitatio Dei/ Christi; Just like God suffered when Jesus was on that cross, there was sweet redemption to follow. Just like Job suffered, there ultimately was sweet redemption at the end.
And, I don’t think I’ve fully hit the redemptive part yet as I am still in the process of intense physical pain each and every day, but I hold fast to my faith and faith in the God above and I know it will come one day.
So, again I leave you with the quote I started with, with my addendum.
“I do not believe that we are singled out for a pain worse than we are able to endure. It just wouldn’t make sense. I also believe we have the grace to grow as a result of that pain.”
Seeing as I am part of the “young adult” population at King’s, I thought I would make my Lenten reflection about a “young adult” moment in my spiritual life.
I was raised in a wonderful church in downtown Chicago. It was the perfect balance of Christian tradition, energy for peace and justice, deep and thoughtful ministry, and occupied a true role as a light in the city.
When I left Chicago to go to college in New York, I didn’t yet understand the spiritual journey I was embarking on. The first week I arrived in New York, I went to a nearby church, as I was accustomed to doing on Sunday mornings with my family, but found none of the things that defined a church for me. For the next two years, I went to a different church every Sunday – alone – searching for a match to the spiritual template of my childhood. As this search went on, I decided to major in religion – to learn about all of the world’s forms of worship so that I might synthesize this information and work out the correct way of worship.
This search came along with a price. In doing this, I lost myself spiritually. You see, I was one of those children who spoke every night to God, thanked him for my experiences, told him I loved him. I had a palpable and intimate relationship with God – and finding his presence in my world had always been easy. I felt his presence whenever I looked up at the sky. It was my compass, and His presence was as apparent to me as sunlight or as air.
Somehow, not being able to find the spiritual home of my childhood elsewhere in the world robbed this feeling of its reality. Seeing the myriad forms of worship made my own religion feel arbitrary – How was I ever to worship again with that childlike innocence?
I so craved that raw, palpable connection, I found myself throwing myself into danger -- Seeking remote, raw experiences that felt close to God and his creation. A moment of clarity came to me one year, when I was working on a research project in Northern India, Nepal, and Tibet.
One day on this trip, I found myself deep into the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, alone, and ultimately in quite a bit of danger. I had been arrested for trespassing into a forbidden territory in the Tibetan Plateau, and was facing the possibility of prison. I had walked to the edge of myself. To the edge of His world. Far past the edge of contact with anyone who knew where I was, anyone who could help me. I put myself there, because I wanted attention.
I remember a moment that day, riding in a police car over bumpy roads in the Himalayas. Mountains on all sides, sun-bleached prayer flags flapping in the wind, cool thin air rushing through the car. The air is incredibly thin on the top of the world. The man driving me spoke no English. He looked straight ahead as he raced around mountain bends. I looked up at the sky – the clear blue sky – and looked to God. I opened my heart as wide as it could open and listened for his response.
It never came. But I remember those moments as palpable and real. My call echoed back to me, and somehow in that silence I had an answer -- a different sort of companionship with God.
I do have experiences these days of that simple, almost childlike connection with God. And many moments that are more about His absence. It’s more complicated. But somehow, they belong together. And I am grateful for a congregation in which I can wrestle with this, and rejoice in the many faces of God.
I will end with a quote from the French philosopher, Simone Veil, from her book Grace and Gravity:
“Grace fills empty spaces but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.”
Joy has generously told me that I was the person who first suggested to her that members of KC share aspects of their spiritual lives with each other by speaking at Morning Prayer. The thought was that we come together each Sunday but really don’t know each other in important ways. Now that Joy has asked me to take my turn at speaking, I have come to appreciate more fully why we don’t do this at King’s Chapel.
My first thought was that it would be presumptuous of me to stand before you and describe myself as a spiritual person. My second thought was that the first thought was just an excuse for the fact that I couldn’t think of anything to say.
In the process of fearing this moment I have come to appreciate the fact that there is great comfort in the formal liturgy that we repeat each Sunday. It allows us to express our faith, or our lack of it, using a collective voice when we can’t find, or don’t have a personal voice. It’s the safety of singing in the choir rather than singing a solo.
I was raised in a home with two parents who each, for their own separate and very understandable reasons, had no use for organized religion. I started attending King’s Chapel in 1971, after being married by Carl Scovel. For years I came to church sporadically and mostly for the holiday services, Christmas and Easter. When they were old enough, we brought our kids to King’s Chapel for Sunday School.
Through those many years of reading and listening to the King’s Chapel liturgy, I have to admit that it made little sense to me. This morning I will share a story about one time when, due to personal circumstances, I was able to break through that barrier and gain a personal connection to one part of the formal liturgy. I’d say that at this point I understand about five percent of what we say to each other each Sunday, perhaps ten percent. I’m definitely doing better than the one percenters.
It was Easter, and I was listening to the story of the crucifixion. That year, though, I was facing a loss in my family which was very threatening and which I believed represented the end of my life as I knew it. I was hearing for the millionth time about Jesus facing the loss of his life with the faith that there was something better beyond. I realized that I didn’t have that faith, and that my lack of faith was crippling me. I wanted that faith so I just decided I would have it. The years that followed have justified that leap of faith, and for me, now, the Easter story is a true story, which roughly translated means to me that there is always more than what ever it is that I am able to see.
There is always more.
Good morning. I'm Mary Sears and I am honored to be sharing my Journey to and with King's Chapel. Many of you in the congregation have been on the journey with me at King's Chapel and know me very well. Not as many of you know where I come from, personally and spiritually.
It will come as no surprise that church and music have been constants in my life. I was raised in a large suburban church and was active in the music program there, singing in choirs, playing handbells and then conducting the introits and amens when I was a high school student. The church members encouraged me as a musician and as a conservative Christian. Within the musical groups there was fellowship and friendship, but there was a nervous edge to the theology there. I was not comfortable with the Us vs. Them, Saved vs. Unsaved view. I was very careful always to wear a cross and identify as a Christian to stay on the Saved list. Church was not optional for people in my family, it was mandatory.
When I went away to college and could choose to leave the church, I chose to stay. While I was at Wellesley College I was a chaplaincy intern, and worked with the chaplain on the church music every week, choosing hymns and either providing or recruiting music for our small volunteer services. By the grace of God and with the love of Lutheran and Episcopalian chaplains, I added liturgy and the sung canticles to my repertoire, beyond the simpler music of my upbringing. I was encouraged to embrace a more open Christian theology that did not divide the world into camps. I did recreational singing every week from the Sacred Harp shape-note hymnal, with a group of spiritually-minded singers, a group that produced several Protestant ministers, at least one rabbi and a couple of professional folk singers.
It makes perfect sense, looking back, that one of these Sacred Harp singers was the person who referred me to King's Chapel. She was a seminarian here and a member of the parish, and suggested that I contact the music director, Daniel Pinkham. The rest is history. The inclusive and thoughtful theology and the diverse and challenging music, the bright clear sound of this place, has been home ever since. I am grateful to so many of you. Thank you:
for supporting me as a person of faith and as a musician,
helping me find my direction in graduate school,
introducing me to my husband Bill Sears,
coaching me on running the Hospitality committee as a newlywed,
and supporting me now as a church school mom and chair of the Music committee.
I hope I can lend a hand and an encouraging word to you, and carry forward the support that I have received here. Amen!
The first Easter vigil I attended was early in my experience at King’s Chapel, around 1996. The vigil at that time was held at 10 o’clock at night, later than it is now. As you know, at the vigil King’s Chapel is dark, the atmosphere is sad and brooding. Shadows are all around and the only light is from flickering candles. The form of the service is quite unlike Morning Prayer, with its familiar canticles and prayers, making the church seem an altogether unfamiliar place.
Engrossed in the service, I sat in my darkened pew with my son, who was seven years old, stretched out on the seat beside me and dozing. When an offer was made to us to come forward and renew baptismal vows, I knew I wanted to participate, although I had never heard of such a practice.
What would it mean to renew these vows? Most of us don’t remember our baptisms, having been christened as babies. I had been baptized hastily on a Saturday afternoon by the pastor of my childhood church, who realized a week before my confirmation that my parents hadn’t gotten around to having me baptized as a baby. I don’t recall any vows, and didn’t think much of it. We are usually passively baptized, the decision having been made by loving adults. How wonderful to be offered a chance to actively choose to affirm my baptism!
Deciding to accept the offer, I got up from my box pew but realized that Chris might wake up while I was gone and be afraid, alone in the pew in the darkened church. I roused him into a semi-awake state and led him by the hand to the communion rail, where we knelt alongside a few others.
Charles Forman, our beloved affiliate minister, stopped before me, touched my forehead and murmured some words of prayer and hope, of Jesus and the promise of everlasting life. He then stepped in front of Chris and, wordlessly, placed his hand on Chris’ head and rested it there, a loving act of benediction on a small child, a christening too newly minted to be in need of reaffirmation.
Today as I read the service of Morning Prayer with Joy I experience once again the feeling of being part of a continuum of history, of people worshipping at King’s Chapel far into the past, worshipping right here, right now, and continuing this reassuring practice into the future.
My earliest experience of King’s Chapel services was as they were conducted by Carl Scovel and Charles Forman. Both well loved and learned, they were steeped in the words of our Book of Common Prayer, which seemed to flow from both of them as naturally as a flowing river. To hear those words from them over and over, on many Sundays, was a gift to this new member of the congregation – the words, surely, as they were meant to be read and said.
Charles Forman knelt on the left, and intoned the Collect for Peace, with its beautiful words, “Oh God, who art the author of peace and the lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom…..”
Perfect freedom…….perfect words to help us begin to fathom God – how could these words ever come from anyone else? When we lost Charles Forman too early, I wondered how they could ever seem the same again without him to say them.
And yet, as the next reader knelt on the left, I found the words to be just as moving, just as perfect. Through Sundays of hearing many assistants read the Collect for Peace, and many of my fellow parishioners, I found the same truth in the words as I had when they were intoned so gracefully by Charles. And in each reader, I see the spirit of Charles Forman, blessing their reading of God’s love of peace and concord, of our eternal life, and of service as perfect freedom. And I feel blessed to be able to read the words myself.
As I walked over the hill on my first visit to King’s Chapel I wondered what I would find in the Old Stone Church that looked somewhat austere and forbidding. I passed through those heavy doors for the first time, you know the ones you walked through today; I was greeted by the ushers and guided to a red-cushioned pew, where I readjusted myself and the footstools several times to find the least uncomfortable position to
settle into for the service.
I don’t remember what I was expecting, but I knew what I was seeking. After years of being away from any kind of formal church, and having been through a difficult divorce and career change, I had stepped into a Christian fellowship that gathered in my town. With this small group that read the Bible, prayed and sang songs of praise I had had a profound and undeniable experience of the love of God, of Jesus’ love for me, an awakening in my heart and mind, and my spirit was ignited. I needed to find a place where I could nurture and grow my infant Christian faith. I had a voracious appetite to know more about Jesus and his Jewish roots, to understand the world he lived in and his impact on the world of his time. I wanted to really grasp what he meant in the perplexing parables, to learn about his ministry, and I wanted this relationship to shape me. I was determined to find a place where the spiritual fire I felt would not be extinguished by dogma, empty ritual, literal interpretations of the bible, or too much superficial hoopla.
As I sat in my pew at King’s Chapel that Sunday my senses were alert to everything. Early on I felt a twinge of emotion, and as I listened to the music of the organ and choir, sang each hymn, heard the soulful prayers and read from the prayer book, a faint rumbling in my chest rose into my throat. Tears rolled from my eyes, and I silently wept through most of the service. Such a powerful mix of emotions seemed to wash through me, cleansing, comforting, assuring, and quenching a thirst I didn’t know I had, while at the same time warming my heart.
Carl Scovel preached about Christian Healing that Sunday and invited us to join him for a class he was offering, which I did....and so began my journey with King’s Chapel.
I’m still here...27 Easters later, I found a place that I could call my home church and what followed was my involvement in all sorts of activities - services, committees, classes, retreats, hikes, Habitat for Humanity trips, and so much more.
One particularly meaningful activity for me was a prayer group that was offered as a follow-up to the Spiritual Autobiography course and we met every other week at the Parish House. The format was simple - check in, read the scripture for the day, and lift each other in prayer. We also prayed for those on a list given to us by the minister, usually names of people we didn’t know. Among those was a baby, born three months prematurely, 2 lbs., in intensive care and on critical life support. Zachary was in our prayers for many weeks. One Sunday at the end of the service I reached across the pew to welcome a woman who I had not seen at church before. When I asked Betsy Peterson what brought her to King’s Chapel today, she told me she was here today to thank God that her grandson Zachary was home from the hospital. And....you can imagine my joy – “We’ve been praying for Zachary!” . . . Betsy mentioned the past week that a very hearty Zachary just celebrated his 19th birthday.
Another answer to prayer, happened when my best friend and beloved, Dick Perkins, and I were married during the Sunday Service of Morning Prayer 10 years ago. Although it was quite common for baptisms to take place during the service, we were the first, as far as anyone knows to have a marriage ceremony. We stepped into the chancel, read our vows and were blessed by many of you who were here, along with two hundred or so of our best friends and family who were visiting this historic church for the first time. Since our minister, Earl Holt, had to catch a plane, Dick and I greeted everyone in the vestibule - the congregation, including Joe, who took the T regularly from the shelter where he lived in Braintree; our family and friends; and the many tourists that were visiting Boston on that holiday weekend, especially a couple from Minnesota who were “delighted to attend our wedding.”
So 27 years into my journey with King’s Chapel I have found what I was seeking and so much more... there is always something new that inspires my faith, but most of all I recognize that it is YOU, my church-home family, that inspire me. I recognize that I am a part of this living community of inquirers, believers, doubters, challengers, teachers, care-givers, people of action – today and you inspire my faith in God.
And especially today as we enter into this Holy Week, and as we venture together into the future of God’s unfolding Spirit of love for us, our minister Joy Fallon welcomes us, with open arms – wherever we are on our journey. And I am so grateful that YOU are part of my journey.
Thank you so much.
“April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.”
Heinrich, at the organ, can vouch that, being a member of the tenor section of the choir, I am not exactly prone to moments of silence, much less, reflection.
But I attempt both today. To begin, a memory: it is December 24th 2012. Two hours before the Lessons and Carols service, and I am sitting alone in the choir loft. Like a deep gasp before the big storm, the chapel prepares for the service by purging: one by one, people file out of the building until I am by myself.
It’s an extraordinary experience, the deafening silence of King’s Chapel. Initially, it seems to be buzzing with sound: the hum of lights, the footsteps and alarms outside. But soon all that dissipates, leaving nothing but austere seclusion. Imagine yourself apart, on the eve of Christmas, on the verge of jubilation, swathed in solitude--nothing to listen to but yourself.
Silence is important, it turns out. Every year, I’m interrogated about my Lenten practices. Initially, they were a way to demarcate the season, to remind myself that it is Lent, and I told myself that when I could keep it without the reminders, they would slowly fall away.
But I found that I fell in love with the Lenten table I set at home--to experience the palpable hush that falls over the house on Ash Wednesday and broods until Easter. And perhaps you, too, can find the beauty in it--it is a season of morels and ramps, of planning the garden and watching the crocuses push up through the thawing soil, of germinating seeds and cutting the first and final flush of daffodils for the dinner table. None of this, I know, is profound in itself, but it’s these meager moments--these interstices between everything else--in which I find myself again, or remember to, at least.
Every year, it doesn’t seem to last nearly long enough. Soon, we will all be called again. Soon very deep, very profound things will happen. Nails will be driven in, stones will be turned away--events that will set in motion a deep schism in one of the world’s oldest religions, and will challenge our fundamental notion of what divinity is. But for now, in these dwindling weeks, we are left alone. Alone to reckon with ourselves, alone but for the company of mushrooms, flowers, and silence.
Winter kept us warm, indeed.