Living into our baptismal covenant

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

The Baptismal Covenant, “The Book of Common Prayer,” pp. 304-305

The Baptismal Covenant that we boldly profess at every Holy Baptism, Holy Confirmation, Easter Vigil, Pentecost, All Saints’ Day, and the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord is not for the squeamish!  And the last two points in this covenant seem to be universally problematic for even the most devout among us. This was obvious during the recent Faithful Questions forum facilitated by Rev. Nancy between the 9 and 11:10 services. These two covenant questions drew the most discussion and reflection during the larger group and the small group sessions. They are tough! They are tough because deep down we know that is what Jesus not only asks for us to do, but he showed us how to do it. Yet, we hide from the Lord just like Adam and Eve did in the futile hope that God won’t notice. Good luck with that! 

Who is guilty of this? I am guilty. More than likely, you are guilty too. How does one confront this universal shortcoming?

Opportunity House Volunteers

My approach during my discernment of God’s call for my life and to the universal Church is to face and embrace my discomfort. As I shared with you back in December, I am volunteering at the Opportunity House at 72 Corban Ave. I remember the first time I attempted to initiate contact there. I could not reach anyone on the phone, so I took some time off from my work in Albemarle and drove there one Friday morning. I was frankly afraid of the unknown. Will I find someone to speak to? Will they receive me, or will they look at me thinking “who is this nut?”  Will they have any need for my services? 

Kimani Varner, Exec. Director & The Rev. Jim Long

Opportunity House was very receptive. They indicated that they would welcome a liaison between All Saints’ and Opportunity House. Next, was to actually show up to help. I was so uncomfortable and apprehensive! I felt that way for about 10 minutes. I had found my “reason to be.” I talked with staff, volunteers and, for lack of better term, the guests. At first, the volunteers and staff looked at me with a measure of skepticism, but the people there being served (the guests) started talking with me. I talked with them. They accepted me! Gradually, each time I showed up to assist, I became a “known person.” Think about that. The goal of the Opportunity House is to develop “known persons” – giving visibility to those who society would rather not see. The staff and volunteers at the Opportunity House show and instill respect and dignity for these disadvantaged individuals; they also expect respect from them in return. 

Eventually, I was given the privilege of more and more tasks. I actually was sad each day to have to leave and return to my work in Albemarle. But God took care of this as well. My colleagues are very supportive and are vicariously involved in my discernment, internship, volunteering, and work not only with the disadvantaged but the ministry in which I engaged with Deacon Vern and his nursing home ministry. They talk about this; they ask questions and are truly engaged in my journey.

In the time since my first Weekly Word article about my activity with the Opportunity House, there are a number of success stories:

  • The individual I wrote about who worked three jobs, yet could not afford rent, now has only one job and it is full-time! As luck would have it, I had the unexpected pleasure to give him his mail which had his debit card to his recently opened bank account. The look on his face and his excitement was the same as I have witnessed with my children and grandchildren getting their wished-for Christmas gift! He still cannot afford rent, but he is much closer to this goal.
  • I spoke with a few individuals who had just reentered society after incarceration who truly want to reverse their life trajectory. One found a full-time job nearby in Concord and led another individual who was also a “reentry” to apply and get a job herself.
  • There are professionals available most, if not all, days to facilitate reentry of individuals who were incarcerated.
  • I witnessed a family of four coming for aid and comfort at Opportunity House. Now, Opportunity House explicitly does not service children. But grace triumphed. Breakfast, showers, and other needs were provided to this beautiful family!
  • On February 14, I was asked by The Rev. Jim Hood to join him in praying with an individual who is to undergo open heart surgery in a few days at Atrium Concord. Please keep Tony in prayer.
  • With the assistance of faculty and staff at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, a weekly session of how to prepare, dress, and interview for a job has been established every Tuesday at 12:30 after the noonday meal.
  • And, very importantly, several All Saints’ parishioners have graciously donated clothes, blankets, and shoes for these blessed individuals, and for this I say thank you! 

Finally, I want to express my profound appreciation to the parishioners at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Concord, NC. Just as I mentioned with regard to initiating contact with Opportunity House, I had a reasonably high level of apprehension entering into a parish who, in my mind, may or may not welcome me. That was misplaced anxiety. 

You all have welcomed me beyond what I expected! I felt like I was a part of this congregation by the second Sunday. I must say that I have rarely found a parish in any denomination that has as firm a grasp on the scriptures as you all have here at All Saints’. And, equally refreshing, there is a high level of Episcopal/Anglican IQ among all of you! I am not used to this. That makes Bible study and church history study much easier because you are engaged in not only scripture, but also history. This should not be that surprising because there are cohesive teams of clergy and laity. 

Thank you, Rev. Nancy, Fr. Jim, Mother Mary, Deacon Vern and Deacon Jackie, Brian and Tiffany! This cohesiveness has not occurred by happenstance. Thank you, OWLS! You all are extremely engaged. I only wish that we could have done some Bible study, but then again, you have illustrated very well the Biblical essence in your prayers, sharing, and fellowship. Why tinker with a good thing!? I will truly miss you all immensely. Don’t be surprised if I crash a Zoom meeting a few times down the road. Elizabeth Solomon, thank you for your dedication to the edification of the Divine Liturgy in the coordination of acolytes and servers. May God bless your ministry. To Brian, the choirs, and the entire music ministry: Bravo! You have succeeded in interconnecting the immanence and the transcendence. I know, from my being a very critical musician, that many things continually need to be worked on or “fixed,” but I think your music program is among the best that I have heard. I have often had to shield my tears of appreciation while serving at the altar. Chuck, what can I say? I am in awe of you and your dedication and diligence in confronting racial inequality. If I didn’t have conflicting obligations relating to my discernment process and course work, I would be one of your most dedicated disciples. Continue on with your valuable social ministry! And Tiffany, you are a gift from God! I have rarely seen so many children and young adults as active in the worship life of a parish as I have witnessed at All Saints’! This is the future of the Church. And you are nothing short of a miracle worker! Kudos to Rev. Nancy for encouraging and fostering this culture. Crying babies and inquisitive youth are part of God’s Kingdom.

These are the people and groups that I have had the most exposure with, but everyone at All Saints’ are good and faithful servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. You need to spread this good news! My prayer for you is also my prayer for me. Live into your Baptismal Covenant – all of it. Embrace discomfort, for this is how personal and spiritual formation are realized. Understand that no one can attain perfection, even you. It is not in our genetic makeup, and God knows this. Just continue to strive for perfection in Christ. And finally, almost like the movie “Groundhog Day,” the deacon calls us incessantly to “Let us go forth in the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.” And the people of God answer: “Thanks be to God!”