Recently, I was on my Facebook page and I stumbled across an option that allows me to view the faces and names of people the Facebook program has determined I might like to be friends with, because we have many friends in common. I was amazed to see names and faces of a dozen people I know nothing about, but with whom I share 15 to 20 friends. That experience got me thinking about how interconnected we all really are. How we are all just a few connections away from lots of people we don’t know yet. Because our larger culture puts an overwhelming focus on individuality at this moment in time, we can easily be blind to this social web that binds us all together.
So much of what we see and hear in the media and in our political life drives against our sense of interconnectedness and glorifies the individual. In our culture individual freedom to do what we like with our resources of time and wealth is so much more highly valued than doing what is for the common good. I wonder how a heightened awareness of our deep interconnections might affect our decisions around our resources – if we knew that we shared 15-20 friends with someone who would blessed or hindered by our decisions, how might our decision making be transformed?
In our lesson from the book of the Acts of the Apostles this morning we heard that our earliest ancestors in faith had a communal focus at their center that infused their life together:
Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
It is hard to imagine living this way when so much around us drives in the other direction. Maybe that is why we are given so many opportunities to practice this sort of counter cultural, communal cooperation and compassion in Christian community.
In this, our 300th year as a parish, our vestry has taken up several “300 challenges” to reach out to those locally and in our global partnership countries of El Salvador and Haiti to give aid that will help repair lives that have been shattered in the wake of economic downturn, grinding poverty and natural disaster. And each week here at our church we give direct aid through our Among Friends meals, our food voucher program, our Rector’s Discretionary Fund, the Pajama Girl Project, our Pettingill food pantry collection to those in our community who also struggle economically. And the call for that sort of aid is still on the rise.
This month we add to those communal works the call to engage in a final 300th anniversary phase of the campaign to restore St. Anna’s Chapel. This is a way we can work to deepen our resources for the worship, spiritual formation, and hospitality to our larger community. St. Anna’s has been an integral part of the worship and educational life of this parish since it was built in 1863. However with the exception of the addition of the furnace and electricity, and some repointing of stonework, it has never been restored. In the last 10 years it became clear that it must be attended to, or it would begin to fall apart.
I will never forget my first Maundy Thursday here when a chunk of granite fell from high up on the north wall of the chapel onto a walk way that I had been on just minutes before – that got my attention I can tell you, and convinced me that this restoration is one of the important tasks our generation of the parish is being called to undertake – both for the survival of the building and for the survival of those who move around it.
Three years ago on the Feast of Pentecost we began a campaign to raise $380,000 to do extensive restoration work to the roof, masonry, stained glass windows, organ and interior of the chapel. Many members of our parish responded generously to the members of the campaign committee who canvassed for pledges and gifts three years ago, and we have received over $207,000 from members. Thanks to the hard work of Bill Hobbie and Bronson de Stadler, co-chairs of the campaign, we have also received over $160,000 in grants, other gifts, and insurance monies in these three years. That leaves us just $10,000 short of our original goal of $380,000. Given that we began this campaign just 4 months before the biggest economic downturn in recent memory, we have done well with this campaign, and a good bit of the restoration work has been accomplished!
However, as is often the case with the restoration of historic buildings, once you begin the work, you find out just how much more work needs to be done. For instance, the water damage to the stone walls was not fully apparent to us until the mason began his work. Then we could see that inside some of the walls there was nothing left but sand where mortar used to be, as the lime had leached away with years of water incursion. And the carpenter restoring the wooden window frames told us he figured the only thing holding the beautiful altar windows in place was grace, because the frames were rotted so badly. The bottom line is that, even with generosity of those who pledged and gave and with the support of our larger community through grants, we are still facing $200,000 worth of work to finish this restoration.
In the next week or so you will be receiving from me in the mail an invitation to come to one of several receptions that will be held in June to hear more specifics about the restoration work that has been done, and how you can help with this final phase. Already in the last month we have received several leadership gifts totaling $20,000, about 10% of the goal of this final phase. I am asking and praying for each household of our parish to contribute to this effort. The size of the gift or pledge you can make to this effort is not what is important – please give what you can. It is an opportunity for us to practice the communal focus that our world so needs to see. It allows us as individuals to engage in sacrificial giving for the sake of the larger good, and to God’s glory.
And I like to think of it in terms of the spiritual connections between past and future. Just think, we are the friends in Christ that link the generations before us with the generations that will come after us – they are connected through us. What we do in this restoration is provide a space for worship, learning and community for generations to come. What will St. Anna’s be used for? The possibilities are endless, and its historic and sacred beauty will bless all of it!
In Christ’s name and for his sake! Amen+