Oct 292012

In accordance to requests by our public authorities to keep people safe at home, we are calling off our Among Friends Meal for this evening (Oct. 29).  Our prayers are with our whole community as we brave this storm and with all who will be touched by it.  Stay safe.

 Oct. 29 Evening Among Friends Meal Called Off  Posted by on Mon, 29-Oct-12 News Comments Off on Oct. 29 Evening Among Friends Meal Called Off
Oct 242012

Help Wanted: a volunteer webmaster to help maintain the St. Paul’s Church web site (http://stpauls-nbpt.org/) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/stpauls.nbpt). This is a great opportunity to learn a lot about nurturing an online community, and a chance to serve the parish community and the cause of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

  • Skills you need: computer literacy
  • Skills you don’t need: programming expertise
  • Equipment you  need: a laptop or desktop computer with internet access (any make and model of computer will do)
  • Software you need to install on your computer: none

The St. Paul’s Church web site uses WordPress as a content management system. It’s a very popular system. There’s even a WordPress for Dummies book, with a copy available in the church office.  The present webmaster (Ollie Jones) will show you the ropes and be available for all the help you need.

The main duties of the volunteer webmaster are to keep the web site up to date, and to post news, information, photos, and audio files about the congregation.

The St. Paul’s web site is designed to be a community effort. A volunteer webmaster can recruit all kinds of other folks to contribute their work to the site.

A series of articles on how to contribute are on the web site. You can see them here. http://www.stpauls-nbpt.org/category/contributing

Please consider doing this important work. Speak to me or send me an email message if you’re interested in exploring whether this is for you.\\

The Rev. Ollie Jones  oj@stpauls-nbpt.org

 Volunteer Webmaster Help Wanted: Will Train  Posted by on Wed, 24-Oct-12 Contributing Comments Off on Volunteer Webmaster Help Wanted: Will Train
Oct 212012

At St. Paul’s we use a Zoom H1 digital audio recorder. It’s a little handheld gadget that plugs into the public address system and records services and other events in the sanctuary. (The Zoom H1 retails for about $100 at Best Buy or BH Photo Video.)

It’s easy to take audio from the Zoom H1 and prepare audio files (of sermons, presentations, music, and other things) to post them to the web site.

You need a computer to do this. The computer needs a SD (Secure Digital Media) card slot. You also need a micro-SD to SD card adapter.

Your computer needs to have the free open source software package called Audacity installed on it.

Download and install these two programs in order:

1. Audacity itself: http://audacity.googlecode.com/files/audacity-win-2.0.2.exe

2. An extra package, called LAME, to create the MP3 format files we need for the web site: http://lame1.buanzo.com.ar/ . On that page click on the link labeled “For FFMpeg/LAME on Windows:

Then, watch this video for instructions. http://www.stpauls-nbpt.org/video/make-mp3-file.mp4

Once you’ve uploaded the MP3 file to the web site, here are some notes on putting the audio player into the WordPress post.

Here’s the objective: You’re putting what WordPress calls a “shortcode” into the text of the post (the sermon article). The audio shortcode looks like this.

[audio “http://www.stpauls-nbpt.org/wp-content/uploads/whatever/whatever/whatever.mp3“]

So if you go to the Add Media page,
you should pick Link to:  Media File,
then select and copy the audio file’s URL … http://www.stpauls-nbpt.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/2012-12-2-sermon5.mp3 for example,
then choose Link To: Media File,
then press Insert Into Post,
Once you’re back in the post, you can  make sure you’re on the Visual tab, not the Text tab. Then just make the [audio “whatever“]shortcode look right.

If you’re guessing there might be other shortcodes, for good stuff like [video] and [slideshow], you’re right.  That’s a story for for another day.
 Making audio files for the web site.  Posted by on Sun, 21-Oct-12 Contributing Comments Off on Making audio files for the web site.
Oct 212012

Creator of all, I pray that my words may reflect your glory and that each of us may bear the imprint of your very being. Amen.

Today I hope you’ll join me in meditating about conversations, or lack of them, and how they affect the world we live in.

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to spend some time at the Boyz Club. It’s a new project sponsored by Newburyport Public Schools and the Beacon Coalition to help some local boys who are having a hard time – “at-risk” boys is the current euphemism – grow up to be good men.

For a pop-culture illiterate like me, it’s good to hang around with these little guys: without them I never would have heard of local hero John Cena, the professional wrestling superstar from West Newbury. He’s the good-guy wrestler without tattoos on his face wearing blue jeans and a bandanna. He always beats his opponent in the rematch. At least so the boys tell me. They love him. Is he a better role model than the other guys, CM Punk, Jack Swagger or The Undertaker? Definitely.  (I’m not making these names up.)

Anyway, the boys love watching wrestling. It connects them to a story where their hero can come back from humiliation, smack down the villain, and win. That’s the kind of hope I need sometimes; they need it too. The trouble is, the boys forget it’s a show. They watch it to drown out the trouble and sorrow in their lives. They get so obsessed they get no peace. And they don’t learn to have honest conversations.

Now, this isn’t just about those little guys. Most of us do this kind of thing sometimes; we retreat into some kind of diversion to numb ourselves to trouble in our families or world. Seeing folks smack each other down appeals to us. But it really doesn’t work very well. What’s missing? Honest dialog and conversation.

Earlier this week our peace-deprived boys were fixing pizza. (We hope to expose them to good fresh food.) One of them was slicing up a green pepper, and another one wanted to take a turn. So he grabbed the knife. By the blade. Ouch. Shouting. Bleeding. Blaming. “You cut me!” “You grabbed the knife, it’s your fault!”

Obviously, a simple conversation would have avoided the bloodshed. “excuse me, may I have a turn cutting the veggies?” But it’s more painful to have the conversation sometimes than it is to grab the knife blade.

Do you know the biblical story of Job? Job, of the mythical land of Uz, was a real good guy, even better than John Cena, “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”  He became the subject of a bet between the Lord and the one called ha-satan in Hebrew – literally, The Accuser.  (His translated name makes him sound like a pro wrestling villain, doesn’t it.?) At any rate, The Accuser says to the Lord, basically, “Job only respects you because you’re good to him. If you take away everything he has, he’ll curse you to your face: I’ll prove it to you.” And the Lord says, “Go for it.” So The Accuser smacks Job down by stealing his livestock and killing his family, and gives him a horrible skin disease that makes poison ivy look tame.

The book of Job is conversations. Some of them are conversations with people who tell Job that he must have done something bad to deserve what he got. They chew it over pretty well. But Job is confident of his righteousness; he knows he did nothing to deserve his fate, and he’s right.

The latter part of the book is a conversation between Job and the Lord. Job complains: (30:20-30)

I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me. You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me. …  I am a brother of jackals, and a companion of ostriches. My skin turns black and falls from me, and my bones burn with heat.

Now there’s some world-championship griping! Brother of jackals and companion of ostriches indeed! The Accuser ultimately loses his bet and is forgotten by the end of the book. Job complains but he never curses the Lord. But he does accuse the Lord of not caring about him.  “you merely look at me.” It’s Job’s side of the story.

It’s self-centered, and why not? Job needs to stand up for himself. That little boy knows he has to stand up for himself or he won’t get what he needs, so he grabbed the blade. We all know how hard it is to think beyond our own skin to the needs of another person, let alone the glory of the Lord, especially when our skin hurts and we’re afraid.

But there’s more to it. Today’s first reading is the Lord’s side of the conversation with Job.

Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

the Lord asks.  Were YOU there when I created everything? Do YOU cause the rain to fall or feed the wild animals? The Lord’s words are an indescribably beautiful account of the vast glory of creation. Read them all sometime, if you haven’t done so. (Chapter 38 to the end.)

But like that knife blade the boy grabbed, those sharp words cut. They lay open Job’s heart to the insignificance of the world inside his skin. In the same way, grabbing the knife blade—painful as it was—reminded that boy that he has the strength to hurt himself and other people. It gave him experience of how real people need to talk to each other and care for each other, not smack each other down. He’s OK, and healing up fine. He’s calmed down a bit and learned something too.

Our vestry has been spending time learning about conversations. With the help of the Massachusetts Diocese’s Leadership Development Initiative, we’ve been practicing the art of telling our own faith stories and, most importantly, listening to each other.  We’ve been trying to listen and speak in a way that honors the other person’s heart, our own heart, and the Holy Spirit.  It’s a challenge to honor all three. I know I’ve sometimes grabbed the metaphorical knife blade when doing this.

The disciples had the same challenge. John and James started their conversation by expressing their own desires: “let us sit with you in your glory.” And Jesus engaged in the conversation with them. For us readers of the Gospel of Mark it’s easy to hear Jesus answering them with the same sort of ironic attitude-adjusting tone of voice that the Lord used with Job. Jesus said,

You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?

But that’s mishearing him. He wasn’t telling them off; instead he was using kindness to engage with their hopes (even if they were shallow), and trying to open their hearts to his own hopes, while reminding them that the Spirit is involved and that the stakes were very high.

You and I can have the same kinds of conversations with each other and with strangers. It’s easy to start these conversations. Simply ask somebody for the gift of their time, then ask, “what has happened to you in your life that shapes who you are?”  Then open your heart listen reverently. Listen like you were listening to Jesus.

You’ll probably hear about a challenge, a choice, and an outcome in the person’s life. You’ll very likely hear about how the person’s deepest values have been formed. Hearing someone’s story, or telling your story, may make you feel like you’ve grabbed the knifeblade—true and deep stories can be very sharp. But these stories are worth telling and worth hearing. You’ll get to know the other person, yourself, and the Holy Spirit by telling and hearing these stories.

When you’re done listening or telling, do some followup. Jesus did: he offered to share his baptism and his cup with James and John. You can do something similar. Offer to pray for one another. Offer to get together again to talk. You’ve learned about hard-won values: offer to help one another transform the world, just a little bit, with those values.

I’m serious about this: I hope each of us can find the time to have some conversations like Job’s, James’s and John’s in the weeks to come. The question is “what has happened to you in your life that shapes who you are?”  I pray (with confidence) that you will encounter Christ in one another in these conversations.


 Sharp knives, transformative conversations: Sermon on Job 38 and Mark 10  Posted by on Sun, 21-Oct-12 Sermons Comments Off on Sharp knives, transformative conversations: Sermon on Job 38 and Mark 10
Oct 172012

Here’s an interesting meditation by James Wood of the New Yorker on the early Book of Common Prayer. He explains how its cultural context shaped it and how it has shaped culture and language ever since.

Like many commentators, Wood depicts the famous 95 Theses as the sum total of Martin Luther’s German critique of the centralized church. This ignores many later and more nuanced Reformation work like the Augsburg Confession that influenced the Church in England.  So Woods has not written great work of ecumenical church history.  But that’s not a significant flaw in an Anglican-focused article.

 The Book of Common Prayer at 350  Posted by on Wed, 17-Oct-12 History, News Comments Off on The Book of Common Prayer at 350
Oct 142012

At St. Paul’s Church we celebrated the feast of San Francisco de Asis on October 14, 2012.

The Rev. Martha Hubbard offered a homily, and Nancy Jukins read a letter from Ginny Abby.

Many people brought the animals in their lives; the animals blessed us. Here are some pictures.



 The Feast of St. Francis: Homily, pictures, stewardship message  Posted by on Sun, 14-Oct-12 Sermons Comments Off on The Feast of St. Francis: Homily, pictures, stewardship message
Oct 072012



Today as a parish we kick off our fall stewardship campaign! Over the next 4 weeks we will be asked to review all the blessings of our lives, among them this faith community of St. Paul’s.  Then we will be asked to renew from a grateful heart, our financial support of the parish budget which is the lifeblood of our shared ministry.  Then we will rejoice together in what God can do through the combined pledges of every member.  Review! Renew! Rejoice! Those are the key words in our campaign this year and you will be hearing more about all of them in the coming weeks. 

My job as preacher today is to think with you about our lessons and how they relate to this theme of Stewardship.  Something uplifting from the Gospel would be a help – something along the lines of,  “give, and it will be given to you”, from Luke chapter 6.  But instead we are given Jesus’ difficult words on divorce – not quite what this preacher was hoping for.  Nonetheless, as I lived with these words this week, I began to see that they really are appropriate to our reflections on stewardship.  And I will get to sharing on that connection in just a few minutes.  But first I feel compelled to offer some reflections on the central issue of the Gospel passage – divorce, and what this passage might mean for us today.

          There are some of our brothers and sisters in the faith who read this passage as rejecting divorce outright for Christians.  But there are many others – myself included- who believe the social context of these words yields a different more nuanced interpretation.  Under the Jewish law of Jesus’ day, only men were allowed to initiate divorce, and they could do so for any reason they wanted.  Since men also held legal title to all wealth in that society, if a man divorced his wife he could leave her penniless.  It was in this context that Jesus responds to the Pharisees.  He tells them that the situation reveals hardness of heart that is in direct contradiction to God’s intention for marriage as we find it in our first reading from the Book of Genesis, which Jesus then quotes in this Gospel passage.  He tells them:

“From the beginning of creation ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”

          These words from scripture describe marriage as a coming together of two equals in a relationship which is not fraught with power plays, but rather is a union of body, mind and spirit that brings mutual joy.  This is a description of an ideal human relationship in which two partners, who exist as whole individuals apart from one another, find that in coming together they are more than that.  This image of marriage underlies what we say and pray in the Book of Common Prayer marriage service and in the newer liturgies for the blessings of a lifelong covenant between same-sex couples that were accepted for use in our churches by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church this past summer.   

          But it is the last part of what Jesus says here about divorce that has caused the most controversy in the churches. The words are important here. The closest translation of the Greek is “What God has joined together, let no man  separate.” All through this passage Jesus has been using specific Greek words for men and women and he uses the specific word for man here.  So my reading of this verse is that Jesus is offering a critique of the divorce practices of his day that put all the power to determine the future of the marriage relationship in the hands of the husband – practices that did not honor the equality and unity between marriage partners spoken of in Genesis.

          So where does this leave us, when nearly half of all marriages in our culture end in divorce?  History has shown that the church’s denial of this reality has caused great hurt to many in the past, often driving people out of church at the very moment they needed the compassion and support of their faith community most.  The Episcopal Church has struggled and grown into a place where we proclaim the church as holy ground, where we need not be afraid of the truth of who we are – holy ground where we hold up the ideal of unity and equality between marriage partners but at the same time acknowledge that living into that reality is not easy.  This is holy ground on which we need not be afraid to admit to God in prayer and to each other when we are struggling or having a difficult time in our relationships.  The church can be our place to turn when it seems there is no place to turn. We can prayerfully help each other find resources to support us in our relationships when the going gets tough.

          And here on this holy ground we acknowledge and accept that sometimes our closest human relationships break down and die for very real and complicated reasons.  And then we look to our Lord and recognize One who would not want any of his dear children to remain in such painful and broken places simply to avoid divorce.  Like it says on our sign out front, our savior’s mercy is much wider than that!  May we be his healing hands for any who are going through divorce!

          It occurred to me this week that in a way, we are all divorced persons when it comes to our relationship with God.  The original unity we had with God in the beginning is broken. It is not that God has ever left us, but that the brokenness of the human social fabric we are born into makes us forget or distrust that original unity with God.  Through hardness of heart, passed down to us through the generations, many of us have grown away from feeling our need for God to be the center of our lives.  So we head out on our own and think we can provide all we need for ourselves.  But sooner or later we discover that is not true. We need God and we need the community we find on this holy ground – both in times of sorrow, loss and confusion and in times of joy, good fortune and celebration. 

Each of us has our own story about how and why we ended up here, on this holy ground. And now that we are here, we receive the message that we are, all of us, beloved children of God.  When we grow down – which is, by the way, the opposite of growing up – when we can grow down to this identity as beloved of God, we can regain the open trust of the child with the loving parent we knew when we were a lot shorter.  And from that place we can enter the realm of God and begin to see the world with refreshed eyes.  Gone is the pressing feeling of the lack of what is needed, and in its place is the joy of discovering the many ways God provides for each of us each day, through one another.  It is just like Jesus said in the final words of the Gospel “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

          I must confess that this past week I was very grown-up in my worries about how we as a congregation can reach the financial goals that our proposed budget for 2013 sets out for us – you will see those goals in the stewardship brochure that will arrive in your mail boxes this week.  The more fretful I became the more grown up I felt. So, I had to grow down to get up in this pulpit this morning. I had to grow down to the faith that in all things God provides what we need in ways that never cease to amaze and bless in their unpredictability. 

So, I invite each of you to join me in growing down as we begin our reviewing and renewing as stewards of all God has given us.  And who knows better than children how to rejoice.  As beloved children of the Most High may we come to the end of this stewardship campaign rejoicing in how we are able to do what God is calling us too when we each trust God and each other. In the name of the One who took the beloved children into his arms and blessed them. Amen+

Oct 052012
 The El Salvador mission, July 2012  Posted by on Fri, 5-Oct-12 Ministries, News Comments Off on The El Salvador mission, July 2012
Oct 012012

I offered to do some research to figure out how we might operate such a display.  Here’s the result of my research.

Summary: Rise Vision looks pretty good!  risevision.com

There’s a company in Toronto called Rise Vision.  They offer an open-source electronic sign system at zero cost (they make their money running electronic sign board systems for very large organizations such as major corporations, hotel chains, and state universities).

Rise Vision is integrated with Google Apps, which we already use in the St. Paul’s church office for email and calendars.

It’s possible to build either interactive or non-interactive sign displays using Rise Vision. Most of their displays are non-interactive. That is, people just look at them rather than click on them or touch them.

We would control the signboard system by logging into the Rise Vision web site. We would use the Google Apps logins we already have for that. Control of the signboard system is only available to authorized people.

Their signboards can be set up to take all sorts of live information, including:

  • Events from a Google Calendar
  • Postings from a WordPress web site
  • Collections of images and slides
  • Snippets from various web sites
  • Weather and stock tickers
  • Youtube videos
  • etc. etc. etc.

I set up a couple of sample signboard layouts that take live information from St. Paul’s Google Calendar and website. Here’s an example you can view online to get an idea of the potential content of the signboard.


What kind of equipment is needed for the signs themselves?  A dedicated networked personal computer connected to a display.  When the signboard is running, the personal computer’s mouse and keyboard serve no purpose; they can be disconnected or hidden out of reach of little fingers.

If we were to set up a signboard, it would need an old laptop with wifi, connected by VGA cable to a TV set or computer monitor.  We can add as many signboards as we need. Rise Vision supplies a software download for each signboard’s computer that automatically starts up the display when the computer boots up.

How would we keep the signboards fresh?

  • Keep the Google Calendar up to date.
  • Put announcements in the “events” section of our WordPress web site, and give them expiration dates.

We already do those things, and Rise Vision uses that information directly. Both of those tasks can already be done by any member of the congregation who learns how and gets a login and password.

We can also go into Rise Vision once in a while and change up the display layout to keep things fresh. For example, we could change the color scheme as we change the parament colors for the church year.

I don’t know if we want to actually put up these signboards. But I do know it’s possible to do so. I think it’s worth a try.  Put your thoughts in the comments section or send me a note.

Yours in the cause of the Good News,

 Electronic signboards for St. Paul’s?  Posted by on Mon, 1-Oct-12 Contributing Comments Off on Electronic signboards for St. Paul’s?