The Messenger

March, 2003


Lent, the annual celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ, is an intense period of Christian teaching and training.  In earlier centuries, the season provided the background for the preparation of the catechumen (new converts) for baptism on Easter morning.

 The catechumens were later joined in their studies by professional Christians seeking continued study and spiritual renewal.  By the third century, Lent also was a time when Christians who had lapsed in the faith could prepare for reuniting with the body of Christ on Maundy Thursday (Great Thursday).  Their journey began on Ash Wednesday when ashes gathered from the burnt palms of the previous year's Palm Sunday were placed on the confessor's forehead as a sign of repentance and total dependence on God. Thus, Lent has become a time for all Christians - new converts, committed followers, and renewed believers, to reflect on their baptism in the light of Christ?s baptism and temptation.

 Lent is a time for spiritual preparation; a time for discipline; a time to "repent" or "turn around" as the Greek words "metania" implies.  The spirit of Lent is to take on anew all that it means to belong to Christ.

Lent is a way of growing into Easter.


Keeping Lent at Home

 The following suggestions are meant to jog your own family creativity, for children benefit especially from active participation and tangible expression of what may otherwise become too abstract or boring as a long Lent draws itself out.

 To give an outward sign to our Lenten efforts, we can make and hang something over the hearth or, for that matter, the kitchen sink, which will encourage us and make us mindful of our resolutions.

A banner or poster with that three-fold theme of prayer, fasting, and alms giving is a fine place to begin.  Illustrate their symbols next to them and draw out a discussion at dinner time about how the family might interpret these disciplines during the next six weeks.

 Lent means spring, another theme for this season, can be lettered on a length of shelf paper and illustrated with everyone's signs of springtime. Guests and visitors and the children's friends can be invited to add to the illustrations as they come to visit.

 A mask or a drawing of a face with two halves, one side cheerful and one gloomy, can illustrate Christ's suggestions to us that Lent not be a dismal affair but actually something that contains its own rewards, shining out of a happy face.  ?When you fast, do not look glum as the hypocrites do...When you fast, comb your hair and wash your face.  In that way no one can see that you are fasting but your Father who is hidden; and your Father who seems what is hidden will repay you.?  (Ash Wednesday?s Gospel).

 A simple cross made of two twigs can be planted in a desert pot with cactus. Add the inscription: ?If any man loves me, let him take up his cross and follow me. ?  Or make an arrangement of bark and twigs and dry weeds, and as Lent progresses, make some changes by adding spring greens, pussy willows and new life to the dry collection.

 A flower garden chart is a help for small children.  With each day that passes, or with each good deed or experience, they can add a flower and watch Lent bloom.

An alms box or a tin to collect your money for the poor can be set on the mantel or prepared as a table centerpiece.  Decorate with the inscription: ?The Fasts of the Rich are the Feast of the Poor?.  Omitted desserts, cheaper cuts of meat, meals at home rather than eaten out, movies not seen, miles not driven, unessentials not bought all add pennies to the mite box.




Ash Wednesday Services 

Ash Wednesday is February 23rd with the Imposition of Ashes and Eucharist as follows:

7:00 a.m.       12:00 noon       7:30 p.m.

 Services will be held at various times so that each Christian can observe the beginning of this penitential period which leads us into our celebration on Easter Day.  Barring illness, every Christian certainly will be in church on Ash Wednesday to begin his/her disciplined preparation for a meaningful celebration of Easter.


Lenten Opportunities on Thursday Mornings

   For many, the Season of Lent is a period of healing - -spiritually, emotionally, relationally and physically.  The Sacrament of Healing is offered as a part of the Eucharist at 10:00 .  Persons wishing to receive this Sacrament are invited to stay at the altar rail after receiving the wine.  It involves the Laying on of Hands and Anointing with Holy Oil of Unction.  After the service we will gather in the Office for a Bible Study.



Dear Friends,

The cold winds blow here and there, we have had an unusually difficult  winter this year.  Never the less, Deacon Pat reminds us that beneath all that snow there are crocuses asserting themselves already.  Very soon it will be time to pack up our winter wools and retrieve things bright and cotton and cool to hang defiantly in our closet until the thermometer takes notice and begins to rise with some regularity.

 Winter's harshness has taken its toll within the hearts and spirits of many members at St. Stephen's Church.  Depression became more than a passing mood and deepened into a daily struggle for some to rise in the morning.  For some of our congregation sadness lingered longer than it was warranted.  For some the irritable escalated to irreconcilable anger.  I remember a winter in Chicago when city workers stood on top of their snowplows and went berserk and began crashing into parked cars.  Winter does this to people sometimes.

 I mention this for a couple reasons.  First to assure any of you who have kept to yourself during this winter that you may not be as alone as you assumed.  Second to remind all of us that for some people the only hope they have is the coming of spring daffodils.

 During this month, no matter the weather, we will be reminding each other that, though we are eternally grateful for the coming of springtime, we are saved not from within ourselves or the earth, but we are saved from without - by God who refuses to let anything separate us from the love which is for us forever.  So spend days listening again, in classes, in the liturgy, through music and with this congregation.  Listen again for a hope that does not depend on the weather or on our moods or on anything else less that the dependable, steadfast, unshakable love of God made known to us on the  cross.


Abraham:  some measure of hope in these troubled times

 Through out time, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have turned to Abraham at time of crisis to help understand, explain and soothe their place in the world.  In the aftermath of September 11th, Bruce Feiler, began to hear the questions:  Who are they?  Why do they hate us?  Can the religions get along?  One name echoed behind that conversation:  Abraham.  “He is our shared father,” wrote Feiler, “and today we need Abraham more than ever.”

This year our Lent our soup-supper and study will discuss Feiler’s book, Abraham.  It will take place on Sunday evenings from March 9th to April 6th from 5:00 to 6:45 .  Over forty people have signed up for this exciting event – an inter-faith conversation on the subject of faith and common ground. The general question we will address is can Abraham - the shared father of Jews, Christians, and Muslims - provide some measure of hope in these troubled times?

 They say one should never discuss politics and religion in public or even in the church. At this event, we will do both, understanding the most meaningful conversations are often about the most intimate of topics. And few things are more intimate than our relation to holy texts - and to God.   Here are a few tips that might help our Lenten conversation realize its full potential.  These are also helpful in talking with any diverse group of people.

 . Consider how your personal story shapes your understanding of the Abraham story.

 . Speak in the first person: I not we. This is one way to avoid getting to us versus them.

 . Be prepared to raise as many questions about your own tradition as you do of others.

 . Do not skip over your differences. Explore the ones that bother you, and the ones that delight you.

 . Be prepared to share one surprising insight you have gained from the process.

 The format of the evening will be to gather in a large group for a plenary discussion, then to get our soup and bread and sit at tables of eight for further discussion and finally end in a plenary discussion.  Two kinds of soup will be offered and at least one will be vegetarian for those with dietary restrictions.  Participants are encouraged to bring additional food for themselves if soup and bread are not sufficient. 

 The book we will be using has been called an interesting record of conversations about and meditations on the character of Abraham as he appears in the scriptures and in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  On Sunday evenings in Lent we will continue those conversations and meditations.


Episcopal Relief and Development
A Lenten Sacrifice for Others 

 Lent is a season of sacrifice.  When we give ourselves, we grow closer to God.  Our prayers and gifts are making a difference in our world. Lives are being changed!  During this Lenten season, St. Stephen’s congregation is asked to consider what each family and individual can offer to help suffering people around the world.  On the first Sunday in Lent each family will be given a “hope chest” and a Lenten Calendar for their daily offering to help suffering people around the world.  For the monetary unit, adults could use a dollar and children could use anything from a penny to a quarter.

 By using the Lenten Calendar, families can learn how their donations bring hope to people around the world and here at home. On Easter morning the ushers will collect your “hope chest” or a check for the amount families have collected over Lent.  The total will be sent to Episcopal Relief and Development, a ministry of the whole church for the whole world.  In the May Messenger we will publish the amount collected.

 Our gifts will make a profound impact in the lives of thousands of people.  Lent is a season of sacrifice; what better way than to sacrifice for those in need?


 Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County

On Friday, April 11, at 7:30 PM , Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County will sponsor an evening of music and comedy, staring Nancy Timpanaro, New York City 's legendary, award-winning cabaret artist, the Queen of Mirth & Sheer Madness. Visit her web site for more information: . This event will start at 7PM with a silent auction, at the First Unitarian Society, 1221 Wendell Avenue . For further information, contact Trish Savage, 393-4111,


 Calling All Woodworkers: Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County , Inc. is asking local carpenters, craft workers, scouts, etc. to donate birdhouses for a birdhouse auction on Saturday, August 2, 2003 , at the Mohawk Golf Club in Niskayuna . Local artists will decorate your unfinished birdhouses, which will be auctioned along with any other bird-related donations (carvings, pictures, butterfly houses, etc.). Proceeds from the auction will help fund the remaining two "builds" on Albany Street and the "rehab" in Scotia . To volunteer, please contact Trish Savage, 1090 Avon Road, 12308, 393-4111, .



A Book Review by Cynthia Reedy 

 At the Entrance to the Garen of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land

by Yossi Klein Halevi (2001)

 It's a privilege to meet Yossi Klein Halevi on the printed page:  he's a man of faith, a devout Jew, an open-minded lay-person, and a journalist, living in the most volatile place on earth, beside and among people of very different beliefs.  His goal is to find commonality with the Christians and Muslims also living in the Holy Land , yet his search yields other results:  it exposes the stark differences between the religions, and it inspires the reader with Halevi's own beliefs and practices.

There is no fanaticism among the Muslims that Halevi prays with.  They center their days, their thoughts, and their communities around their religion, interrupting their secular activities five times a day with the urgency of prayer (how different from the secular culture of America !).  Judaism appears quite different:  where Islam insists on the perfection of its spiritual heroes, Judaism stresses their humanity and their struggles.  The Jews view their long national history as one of continuous struggle and strife.  Halevi uses the word "resurrection" in this book to refer to the re-instatement of national strength after a nation's destruction, as often as he uses it to mean the Christian Resurrection.  His personal prayer practice involves the stilling and focusing of his mind to offer the souls who have passed before him an opening to intervene in his life.

 For Halevi, some of those souls had their struggle during the Holocaust.

 The Christians that Halevi meets with (a monastic order of nuns requesting anonymity; half of the sisters live in absolute silence) seem to have an "ultimate" mission of converting Halevi, the Jew, to Christianity.  This goal, unfortunately, gets in the way of true dialogue, or sometimes "short-circuits" it at a crucial time.  Yet, Yossi Halevi credits Christians in general with bravely engaging in interfaith dialogue that has led to profound theological changes since the Holocaust.

 As a person, Yossi Halevi is able to find beauty in divinity, in the smallest of details and the largest of world orders.  He is sensitive to the most intricate and minute details of the faith practices of others, and is able to incorporate them into his own prayer and meditation.  He comes to see all of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians he meets as "fellow spiritual seekers" even as he enters some of the "forbidden" neighborhoods with fear and dread.

 My favorite passage in the book is Halevi's thoughts on the divinities of individuals he meets:

"Each person is unique.  God doesn't repeat himself. We need to see ourselves as souls on the way to perfection.  Life is the process of . . . exposing each person's unique divine quality.  You can't get angry or disappointed at human failures.  To identify a person with his flaws is to arrest a soul at an awkward moment of its evolution.  All life is a prelude."

 What a wonderful view for a person to have; what a wonderful world view as well!

 (This book has been donated to the library at St. Stephen's.)



Subject:   Top 10 Reasons to be an Episcopalian:


     From the comedian Robin Williams, who is an Episcopalian, on a recent      HBO special:

       10.  No snake handling.

         9.  You can believe in dinosaurs.

         8.  Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.

         7.  You don't have to check your brains at the door.

         6.  Pew aerobics.

         5.  Church year is color-coded.

         4.  Free wine on Sunday.

         3.  All of the pageantry -- none of the guilt.

         2.  You don't have to know how to swim to get baptized.

         1.  No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you





Capital District Community Gardens is promoting the use of Schenectady1s six COMMUNITY GARDENS .  Tools, seeds, seedlings, and information on gardening are provided.  Adults are needed to work with novice gardeners or with children.  Youth groups can help in spreading soil, cleaning up the sites, and participating in weekly projects.  Website is ; phone is 274-8685.


ROXBURY FARM, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) organic farm in Kinderhook, will again be distributing produce weekly in Schenectady from mid-June to mid-December.  One share costs about $400.  SICM offers revolving loans, paying the $400 up front for those who cannot afford to pay all at once, allowing them to repay SICM by the month. If interested, contact Marianne Comfort at SICM, 374-2683.

 About 200 people attended the COCOA HOUSE dedication on January 11.  Rachel Graham, director, was recognized for her vision and perseverance in accomplishing this dream of ministering to Schenectady1s youth.

 In 2002 more people were served at the FOOD PANTRY than any other year. The December Post Office drive brought in 20,000 pounds LESS food than last year, and both federal and state assistance have been cut.  Although the United Way is asking local companies to adopt pantries in the city, SICM asks churches to provide more help, in food or money donations.  Foods currently requested are posted on the food basket in the parish hall.

 The 10-year-old SAVE & SHARE PROGRAM ended in February due to decreasing use in past months.  New stores in the area have drawn former participants from the program.

 Monthly dinners hosted by congregations have resumed at the DAMIEN CENTER . Church hosts are needed.

 CROP WALK is Sunday, May 4.  This year 4th-12th graders may participate in a poster/essay activity on hunger, to help promote the walk in congregations, and to display at the walk.

 SICM COMMUNITY VOLUNTEER DAY will be held Saturday, October 4, during which volunteers from member churches will work on 2-3 hour projects at SICM program sites, churches or homes of elderly

 During Lent, churches that are closely located geographically will hold CLUSTER GATHERINGS to talk about SICM, Volunteer Day, and what it means to do ministry.

 The CIVILIAN REVIEW BOARD legislation is signed.  SICM needs a representative on the board:  must be a city resident; meetings are monthly. 



Lenten Opportunities on Thursday Mornings

   For many, the Season of Lent is a period of healing - -spiritually, emotionally, relationally and physically.  The Sacrament of Healing is offered as a part of the Eucharist at 10:00 .  Persons wishing to receive this Sacrament are invited to stay at the altar rail after receiving the wine.  It involves the Laying on of Hands and Anointing with Holy Oil of Unction.  After the service we will gather in the Office for a Bible Study.



Worship Committee

 Ash Wednesday services will be held , as usual, at 7 am , 12 noon and 7:30 pm.  The Imposition of Ashes will be offered at all three services.  During the season of Lent, we will return to using the Prayer Book for worship.  The Rite 1 service will be used.  To reflect the penitential emphasis of this season, we will recite "The Prayer of Manasseh" in place of the Gloria.  This is a beautiful prayer found in the Apocrypha and printed as Canticle 14 in the Prayer Book on p. 90.  Manasseh was the very wickedest king of Israel that ever was, but when he repented and turned to God h he received pardon.  It is well for us to be reminded that, if even King Manasseh can be forgiven, so can anyone else who "truly and earnestly repenteth of his sins, and is in love and charity with his neighbors, etc."  The canticle will be printed on a pew card, with the Ten Commandments on the reverse side, as a convenience in worship.  All worshipers are urged to attend at least one service each week during this solemn season, as preparation for observing a joyous Easter.  

                                        The Worship Committee