From the Rector

By the Rev. Eric LongEric Long color

As a pilot in the Navy and then for Fed Ex, my father was gone for large portions of my childhood.  This was the price that came with Dad’s service to our country, and then his job.  The longest separation started when I was nine years old.  Dad was assigned to sea duty for two years on an aircraft carrier, and my family decided to remain in Memphis, TN, as that is where Dad’s future employment would be.  Two years is a dreadfully long time for such absolute separation, and it stands out as a particularly sad time in my life.  Yet what floods in right behind those lonely memories are the people of my church, mostly older, who rushed into that void and were there for me and my family in tangible, powerful ways.  Although we had no blood relatives in Memphis, I grew up with countless surrogate aunts and uncles, grandparents, and even father-like figures.  They filled my life through Calvary Church of the Nazarene.  I still remember their names and continue to feel their love.  I wonder at times what I would be without them, what different path my life would have taken without that church.  I’m glad that is a version of myself I will never know.

One fall when my dad was at sea, our church was holding a Father-Son banquet of some sort.  I will never forget the number of men who called me up to ask if I would come with them to that event.  They cared enough about me that they stepped into that empty place and transformed what would otherwise have been a painful memory into one of the most powerful testimonies I have about the goodness of the Church for our lives.

This way of being there for one another is one of the most enduring gifts of life in Christian community. I don’t suppose we notice it so much, except at those times when we need it the most.  Recognizing this has indelibly shaped my ministry.  At St. John’s, this is the chief reason we have tried to introduce chances for our church to be together across generational lines at gatherings such as our Fellowship on the Fourth events.  We have also endeavored to allow for community to be built with people in similar stages of life.  Yet the one group the clergy have longed to see brought into being is one offering friendship and fellowship for parishioners of retirement age.  This eluded us in the first stage of my ministry as we sought to rejuvenate waning children and youth programs, but we always circled back to it as a priority that had not been met.  We worried over this potential hole in our community life through which someone might fall.  Meeting this need has been regarded not only as the right thing to do, but, for me, as a way to give back.

It is, therefore, my great joy to announce that we now have this long-awaited group for our older members.  The Fine Wines is a community of retirement age parishioners who will gather to share life with one another while having fun.  If you have not heard about this group, or could not attend their first event on November 29th, please look at the full schedule of outings and events they have planned for the months ahead provided in this newsletter. What they have put together is fantastic.

Togetherness is the point of it all, and a great point it is.  For what was taught to me as a child forever remains: we really do need each other.  Indeed we do, and this is why God has given us to one another.

With you,

The Reverend Eric Long, Rector

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From the Rector

By the Rev. Eric LongEric Long color

Last night at our vestry meeting, we did all the normal things vestries do: we discussed new and lingering issues with our facilities; reviewed the financial statements for the month, while trying to use your gifts in the most judicious ways possible; discussed strategies to meet the broad needs of our people across all generational lines; and celebrated new endeavors on which God is calling us to embark. Believe it or not, our meetings are always uplifting, mostly because our leaders know that we are not simply having a business meeting, but prayerfully making decisions about how to be the church that Jesus says we are to be.

Last night offered something more. Ann Marie Wood made a report to the vestry about one of our nine Outreach ministries, Temporary Relief for Unexpected Emergencies, or T.R.U.E., as it is generally called. T.R.U.E. helps our neighbors in the Roanoke Valley who find themselves in extreme circumstances pay for housing costs so that their basic need for shelter is preserved. Many of you know all about this work because you have volunteered to help on Tuesday mornings. All of us, however, should be aware of just how significant an impact our parish is making on our community. While other area charitable organizations have reduced the assistance they offer, St. John’s has increased its commitment to provide basic dignity to all people in Jesus’ name. This year, St. John’s will provide almost $62,000 worth of assistance through T.R.U.E. alone. In 2016, we have already helped well over 900 families and individuals, an overwhelming proportion of whom have children in their homes. In doing so, we are literally fighting homelessness before it occurs.

When Ann Marie gave us her report, I welled with pride for our church and you as her people. If you consider that on a good Sunday, 500 people are in attendance in worship at St. John’s, and yet we are annually helping over twice that number of families and individuals keep their houses, who could not rejoice in such faithfulness? What’s more, it is clear to me that behind every decision our vestry makes about budgets and facilities, those people are at the forefront of our leaders’ hearts and minds.

St. John’s is a model of Christian generosity. In absolute sincerity, I know of no other church our size which comes close to doing good at the level this parish does. It is beyond any church I have ever served, or ever been associated with. As I mentioned above, T.R.U.E. is but one of nine Outreach ministries of St. John’s which also include everything from an after school tutoring program (CYP), to assistance to families transitioning out of homelessness (Family Promise), medical missions in Ghana (Kimoyo), blood drives for the Red Cross, once in a lifetime gifts to change the course of a family’s future (Crossroads), and home repairs for needy families in Appalachia (Grace Rebuilding). If you’re counting, my list is not exhaustive because we also partner with area agencies to give hope in Jesus’ name. In fact, I write this article having just walked an extra block to my office because there was nowhere to park at church: St. John’s is hosting the Total Action for Progress (TAP) luncheon today, just another one of our many outreach efforts.

I look forward to many such long walks from my car into this church, not only because I need the exercise, but because the world needs St. John’s to be St. John’s. If you’ve wondered what happens around this place when we aren’t at worship, this is it. If you’ve wondered what our vestries do, it is making sure this continues.

St. John’s, this is who we are and each of us should have a heart that sings with joy, knowing that when Jesus asks us what we have done for those in extreme need, we will join hands and say, “Together, Lord, we did quite a lot.”

St. John’s Gives. Celebrate all the ways.

Blessings,

The Reverend Eric Long, Rector