Feb 252014
 

MV Hub Flyer (4).pub

 

The Link above will take you to a poster that will give you all the information you need to know what the day is about and to register – come join us!

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 Summit for Collaborative Work, March 15, 2014: Presented by the Lower Merrimack Valley Collaborative  Posted by on Tue, 25-Feb-14 News Comments Off on Summit for Collaborative Work, March 15, 2014: Presented by the Lower Merrimack Valley Collaborative
Feb 242014
 


 

“Do not resist an evil doer.” ~ Jesus

Such a short sentence, so full of challenge for us! And then Jesus gives us some examples of evil doers. His list includes:

  • people who want what we have and can use force to exact it from us
  •  people with power over us
  •  Soldiers
  •  Robbers
  • people who hate us
  • people who persecute us
  • our enemies
  • the unrighteous

That’s a pretty good list of people we might consider to be evil doers – some pretty blatant examples.  And Jesus says that as his followers we need to resist our hard wired response to resist and strike back and lash out.  Don’t react with resistance he says, rather go with the energy of the situation – do the opposite of the hard wired response.  OK, but why?  And aren’t we putting ourselves in danger by doing so?  Good questions!

Writer and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says “What we resist we are stuck with, what we accept we can move beyond.”  I’ll say that again because every time I hear it, it gives me that “ah ha!” feeling I get when I hear any great truth so clearly stated – “What we resist we are stuck with, what we accept we can move beyond”.

I do want to be clear that I do not think Jesus is recommending that we lie down and be door mats – that is not what acceptance is about.  Last time I preached on this passage I shared with you Walter Wink’s words about how the examples Jesus gives us in this passage about acceptance rather than resistance are not examples of cowering but rather of courageous self determination. (You can find Wink’s commentary here http://www.cpt.org/files/BN%20-%20Jesus’%20Third%20Way.pdf  )  Turning the other cheek, giving shirt as well as cloak, going the second mile are all examples of courageous self determination without succumbing to domination by the evil doer.  In each of the three instances the person being acted upon does not fight back but rather courageously goes with the energy of the situation – confronting the evil doer with a response that does not escalate the conflict.  By so doing the followers of Jesus assert their personhood in the face of forces that would rob them of personhood, while at the same time not striking out at the personhood of the other.  (In just a few minutes we will make some promises about just this in our baptismal covenant) It is a risky, gutsy move by which we open up the possibility of moving beyond such dehumanizing energy in the situation and in the world.  If we do not resist, but rather remain a person who accepts and goes with the energy of what faces us, something amazing happens.  And here I am quoting Eckhart Tolle again:

“In these moments we accept that our purpose in the situation is peace… and we say the inner yes to what is…You allow the objects here manifested in this moment to be manifested in the way they are… and they may not be what your mind wanted, more often it is something else… Allowing this moment to be what it is allows us to find the space that is beyond the manifested conflict…When we step back space opens up around the turbulence … At this moment there might be a screaming human being in front of you accusing you and the unconscious reaction is to defend and react, but if we step back suddenly there is a space around the turbulence.  At first it is a very subtle thing – the space around the turbulence – but then you realize how deep it is… even in the face of death you can step back into this deeper dimension, and then you are free.”

We are free to move into a different place, to find real peace and to invite the evil doer into that place of deep peace with us.  When we can take this sort of counterintuitive action – this gutsy and risky move – we are given new vision – we become able to see the evil doer as not so different from us.  As we stand in personhood, flowing with the energy of what is, we keep our eyes on the one we have thought of as the evil doer and transformation takes place.  We begin to see them for the complicated combinations of glory and grace that they are. And we begin to perceive that there are ways in which they mirror us – showing us pieces of ourselves we could not see without their help.  And so we become able to have mercy not just on them but for the pieces of our self that they reflect to us. Then we have moved past the turbulence – into a different realm – Jesus called it the realm of God, 12 steppers call it the 4th dimension, Tolle calls it space consciousness.  Whatever we call it, when it touches us we know it because it is like nothing else we have ever experienced.

So this simple but difficult Gospel call to non-resistance rather than being dangerous might just save us because if we dare to embrace it, it brings deep healing by allowing us to experience existence in a much deeper way.

And this can be as true for us in living as it is in dying.  I say that today because we will be baptizing baby David Maslen White who is named for his grandfather who was a long time member of this parish and who died last summer after living with pancreatic cancer.  I put it that way, because that is how I experienced David with his cancer – living with it – not resisting it, not combating it.  He stood up in the face of it, he took treatment to lengthen his days, but as far as I could see, he did not make it his enemy.   I am certain David had his moments of resistance in life – he would not be human if he had not – but his overall embrace of his life with cancer meant that he could move beyond it even while he was in the midst of it.  Even as he was dying his resurrection was underway. Because he turned the other cheek and went the second mile with his cancer he never became stuck with it. He helped us move with him on his journey to glory. In his last days he clearly glimpsed that other realm and was able to attest that it was a very good place he was headed into.

Now we take into our arms David Maslen White to receive the sacrament of baptism, and so the continuous, spiraling thread of life carries on, and we – those here and in that other realm – journey together in Christ’s name.  Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday February 23 2014 – The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany  Posted by on Mon, 24-Feb-14 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday February 23 2014 – The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Feb 182014
 

Grace to you, and peace, from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

At the end of his life, in the wilderness on the threshold of the promised land, Moses said to the assembled people of God,

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.

To his disciples gathered on a mountainside in Galilee, Jesus said

If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.


I wonder about these teachings, don’t you? They certainly make it sound like God’s life-giving promises are up to you and me. “Choose life!”  Moses said. Is life our choice? Jesus said, “cut off part of yourself and throw it away to save your life!” Is it our own choice to either mutilate ourselves to mortify our flesh, or having our whole selves thrown out into the dump where the trash is burned, into hell?

How do these teachings square with what St. Paul said to the people at Corinth? “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who gives the growth.”  He’s saying that it’s not up to you and me at all. He’s saying that God is the lifegiving one, not you and me.

So, which is it? Does God choose us, or is it up to you or me to choose God?

Last Sunday, on my Sunday off, I went to worship at a nearby congregation. The preacher over there spoke about the vastness of God’s promises that appear at the beginning of Ephesians.

[God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.  He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.

By this account, the promises are indeed God’s. “God chose us.” The lifegiving work is God’s: “destined is for adoption.” The freely given gift is God’s “according to the riches of God’s grace.”

These promises are overwhelmingly, awesomely, God’s promises. God chose us in love. Amen. Hallelujah.

That preacher at that church, though, had a curious way of explaining those promises’ significance. He pulled out a pair of big headphones, and put them on over his ears. He plugged them into some kind of music pod and turned the volume up. He said, these promises of God’s are like music listened to with headphones. They’re so loud – so powerful – that they drown out the noise of the world.

I wonder about that. Is that the way the promises of God work?

Last November Olyce, Martha, and I went to the cathedral on Tremont Street. It was on the day the Red Sox were getting their World Series parade. Instead of driving, we took the governor’s advice and avoided the traffic. We took the T. On the way in the morning, we saw lots of people in the position they usually assume on the T these days – earphones in ears – music turned up loud enough to drown out the train noise – heads bowed down, thumbs on gadgets. I don’t know what each person was hearing. I hope some were listening to God’s awesome promises of salvation, but, honestly, it was probably Daft Punk. Whatever those people were playing to drown out the world, each one was hearing it alone.

The ride home was really quite different. People were talking to each other on the T! They were swapping baseball-fan stories — “did you see Big Papi’s home run? How about Victorino’s double off the Green Monster?”  The happy chatter drowned out the screech of the train. I suppose some people prefer the solitude of their headphones, but my heart was lifted by the sense of community after the celebration.

That’s my problem with our neighboring preacher’s headphone. He claimed God’s promises to us are like loud music drowning out the world. It’s true that the world is full of distractions. When Moses exhorted God’s people to choose life instead of death, he warned them that the way of death was the way of distraction by the false gods of the world. It’s true: God’s promises are indeed greater than the idols and ugliness of the world. At the same time, though, the promises of life aren’t just promises to you personally, but promises also to your family, and your descendants, and the whole of creation. These promises work through us all, together, to fill us with the kind of joy that the ugly screech of the world cannot overcome. The kingdom of God comes to be in God’s unconditional promises, not by our choices. But it is made known to us by the joy we see in one another in as we respond to those promises.

The passages we’ve been hearing from the Sermon on the Mount make this clear. In last week’s reading, he said “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus is not talking about personal righteousness. Even if every single person on the T was privately listening to “blessed assurance, Jesus is mine” in their headphones that Saturday morning, it still wouldn’t have been a sign of God’s righteousness. The collective joy on the afternoon train was much more of a sign of that holy righteousness.

In today’s reading Jesus enlarges on his point about righteousness. He repeats three of the Hebrew Bible’s commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t bear false witness. Murdering, cheating on your spouse, and telling lies about your neighbor are not signs of God’s kingdom (obviously). When we do those things, we’re very likely blinded by our own selfish needs. We have a hard time claiming to even be self-righteous. To have our own righteousness even equal the righteousness of the Pharisees, Jesus knew, we need to follow those rules.

Government regulations have the concept of “safe harbor.”  That’s a rule to follow to claim to be in the right. At our Among Friends meals, we do that: we have a sign saying “if you or somebody with you is allergic to some kind of food, tell us.” If we chose not to post that sign and a guest had an allergic reaction to Shirley’s wonderful pecan pie, we’d be held responsible. Posting that sign is a legal defense. “You didn’t say you were allergic to pecans!” It gets us off the hook.

It’s good, and it’s right, and it’s a sign of choosing life over death, and it’s not enough. It is the righteousness of the Pharisees.

The kingdom of God is about more than following rules. When we experience God’s promises to us, we no longer have to struggle to find safe harbor. We don’t have to scramble to be righteous.

When we live as if the kingdom of God were at hand, we live with respect for each other. We live knowing that the joy of God’s kingdom invites us to choose life for each other, not just for ourselves. To insult one another, or to harbor grudges against each other, is to choose death over life for one another. To treat each other as objects of our lust is to refuse to acknowledge God reflected in each other. And, if we live in the kingdom of God’s righteousness, why would we have to swear by God’s name to tell the truth? Isn’t everything that happens in God’s kingdom a reflection of the glory of God’s holy name? God has chosen and called us to live, together and with great joy, in that kingdom.

Now, of course, today’s psalmist knows what we know: we don’t always live up to even the safe-harbor righteousness of the Pharisees, let alone the joy of the kingdom. The noise of the world does sometimes crowd God’s promises out of our hearts. But that doesn’t make those promises less real or less true. The noise of the world, instead, calls us to pray again the last few lines of the psalm.  Let’s pray them together.

I will thank you with an unfeigned heart, when I have learned your righteous judgments.
I will keep your statutes;  do not utterly forsake me.

May the promises of God give us all the courage to venture outside our safe harbors, to take off our headphones, and to rejoice together in God’s kingdom in the midst of this world!

Amen.

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 Sermon for Sunday February 16 2014 – The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany  Posted by on Tue, 18-Feb-14 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday February 16 2014 – The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Feb 102014
 


[/audio

          “You are the salt of the earth”.  That is Jesus greeting to us this morning.  But I am not sure we take that as such a compliment.  Many of us are on low salt diets these days in an effort to keep blood pressure at a healthy level.  And at this time of year we encounter salt which in the form of that pesky white powder that hangs onto the sides of our cars, threatening to eat holes in the paint and getting all over our clothing if we are not careful when getting in or out.  And there are the windy days when a big gust might sweep that dust up and hit you with it so you end up tasting it – yuck!  “You are the salt of the earth”. Well Lord in our day and age we are not really sure that is a compliment.

But people of Jesus day would have taken it as a compliment.  In fact his disciples were probably fairly flattered when he compared them to salt.  In ancient Palestine, salt was fundamental to life.  In that very warm climate, with no refrigeration or access to much ice, salt was necessary to preserve food.  Meats rolled in salt could be kept for long periods of time without spoiling.  Salt was also used in the healing arts to protect against infection.  And as it still is today, it was used to add flavor to food.

Yet salt was not as easily obtained then as it is now.  There were no large salt mines in Palestine.  Most of the salt used was taken out of the salt marshes of the Dead Sea.  The salt water would fill the marshes, then recede, and the water left behind would evaporate, yielding crystalline salt, which was then gathered by hand.  Minus the modern technology we now take for granted, large quantities could not easily be produced.  So, salt was a prized commodity.  In fact, Bible scholars tell us that a bag of salt was thought in those times to be equal in value to a human life and guarded with as much care!

Given its life giving properties, salt became integral in the worship life of Israel.  Passages from the Old Testament speak of salt being strewn on the sacrifices that were offered to God in the Temple and also of salt being added to the sacred incense that was burned there.  Newborn babies were rubbed with salt, which might have been in part to guard against infection, but also had the ritual connotation of blessing.  Salt was so central to life in ancient Palestine that it was seen as a sacred and holy element.

So if we step out of our modern, common table salt, bad for your blood pressure, makes a mess on our cars and clothing in the bleak mid-winter, mindset, and into the mindset of ancient Palestine, we recognize that through his words to his disciple about being salt, Jesus is saying something about their great value and our great value as their descendants.

So this is the point at which the sermon gets participatory.  From now until the end of this sermon, whenever I raise my hands like this, I would like the church to say “We are the salt of the earth!”  And I want to hear it and have the people who might listen to the recording of this sermon to hear it too. So let’s try that … We are the salt of the earth!  Good!

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” Maybe he was meaning that he saw his disciples as the ingredient in the life of the world that would help preserve good, just as salt rubbed on meat helped preserve the goodness of that meet to provide food to nourish the body.

We are the salt of the earth!

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.”  Maybe he meant that he saw his disciples as healing balm in the world.  Like caressing the skin of a new infant born with salt, to protect and bless, Jesus longed for his disciples to have a healing and blessing effect in the world in his name.  Sometimes salt in an open wound might sting, but if the salt hangs in there and is allowed to disinfect, the wound begins to heal.  The same is true for the witness of faith in the wounded places of life in our world.  If we can hang in with love as simple as table salt, it may take time but healing will take hold.

We are the salt of the earth!

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” Jesus knew that like salt, which adds zest to food, his disciples, when well connected to the presence of God and in fellowship with each other, could promote great joy in the world.  And it would not take much.  Jesus knew that salt is effective out of all proportion to its amount: just a pinch will do – just 12 ordinary people started this all off and passed it on to ordinary you and me.  Jesus knew that faith in him would help free his followers from worry and that their resulting joy and serenity would be zestfully contagious!  That is the tradition we are called to live into because,

We are the salt of the earth!

          But when Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth”. Perhaps he also knew that at certain times the salt of his followers would be better shared in less obvious ways.  Like the salt that is needed to make homemade ice cream, but which you can’t taste in the final product.  Like that salt, the disciples of Jesus salt would be better shared in ways that would not be so obvious.  Maybe going about their daily work they shared Christ’s love and joy anonymously, so as not to attract attention to themselves, but to let God take all the glory.  Salt simply and quietly blended into the common things of life – this too is our call because

We are the salt of the earth!

May we all give thanks to our Lord for guiding us as we seek to live as salt in our world, as preservers of good, healers of wounds, and zest of life in his name.  Yet at the same time, may we never take that saltiness for granted because if we do, we risk becoming like the salt owned by a certain middle-eastern merchant. The story goes that this merchant:

“bought quantities of salt from the marshes of Cyprus, and hid them in houses on a remote mountain to avoid payment of taxes. But the floors of the houses were common earth, and soon the salt, by contact, lost its saltiness.  It was then used to make the hard surface of the road.” (The Interpreter’s Bible vol.7, p.289)

As Jesus said, “if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” It seems from the rest of this Gospel passage where Jesus goes on to speak about light and the law that he was trying to give a message to those in his day who had let their passion for the sharing of God’s love and justice be drained away by obsessive concern for laws and observances.  His message to them and to those of us today who can easily fall into that trap, is that to keep our saltiness we must give it away.  We cannot preserve it through ritual observance as edifying as those might be. Ritual without compassion for the needs of the world around us is not pleasing to God – rather it was like salt that had lost its flavor!  Lord save us from complacency and self satisfaction lest they drain your flavor from us – because more than anything we desire to truthfully proclaim , through our words and actions that,

We are the salt of the earth!

In Christ’s name and for his sake.  Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday February 9 The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany  Posted by on Mon, 10-Feb-14 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday February 9 The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Feb 092014
 

 

Smooth Stones ~ 14 Feb 2014 ~ Bothering 3

 

End is up or down

When I need help I look for

That red telephone.

But, someone told me

That God is not Long Distance.

Just a local call.

If I need a short

Prayer ~ how about I just

Say to Him ~ Help, please.

Or, sometimes I am

In a hurry and leave out

The please, so it’s Halp!

That’s all right, so long

As you don’t forget to say

Merci Beaucoup LORD.

Smooth Stones ~ 140214 ~ BOTHERiNG 3~rtg

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 Smooth Stones ~ Bothering 3  Posted by on Sun, 9-Feb-14 News Comments Off on Smooth Stones ~ Bothering 3
Feb 082014
 

Smooth Stones~ 10 Feb 2014 ~ Bothering 2

 Am I bothering

God? I’m not sure about that.

So, what do you think?

Silly question.  God

Can’t be bothered.  That doesn’t

Sound right.  Let me see…

We can’t bother God.

Or, can we?  We don’t mean to

And yet ~ we need help.

God ~ can You help me?

Of course He can ~ you silly…

Please don’t fluster me.

What do you mean by

Fluster?  Well sometimes I get

Upset.  I don’t know …

Smooth Stones ~ 140210 ~ BOTHERiNG 2~rtg

 

 

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 Smooth Stones ~ 10 Feb 2014 ~ BOTHERING 2  Posted by on Sat, 8-Feb-14 News Comments Off on Smooth Stones ~ 10 Feb 2014 ~ BOTHERING 2
Feb 062014
 

This Thought ~ 6 Feb 14

What is bothering
Me about me that I can
Fix somehow today?

What is bothering
Me about you that I can
Discuss with you now?

What is bothering
You about you that you can
Talk to me about?

What is bothering
You about me that we can
Talk about today?

SmoothStones 140206~rtg

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 Smooth Stones BOTHERiNG  Posted by on Thu, 6-Feb-14 News Comments Off on Smooth Stones BOTHERiNG
Feb 032014
 


When I was about 12 years old, one Saturday morning as my mother was driving me to my weekly violin lesson, we saw a hitch hiker on the roadside up ahead.  My mom slowed to a stop just past where the man was standing and I was shocked – I had never known my mother to pick up hitch hikers.  Before I knew it he was opening the back door of the car and I was moving my violin out of the way so he could sit down next to me.  We chatted a bit as we rode along and he asked about my violin and if I liked playing. I don’t remember what I said –  if I told him the truth, that I loved playing but I hated practicing!  But I will never forget the sparkle he had in his eye, and the warmth that seemed to exude from him.  After a few miles he told my mom the place he was going was just up ahead, and he thanked us with a big smile, and as he got out of the car he told me “keep playing!”  As we pulled away I asked my mom why she had stopped to pick him up, given that she had always told me that women shouldn’t pick up male hitch hikers.  She turned an smiled and said to me, “That wasn’t just any hitch hiker – that was Pete Seeger”

And that was Pete Seeger, who died this week at age 94.  Despite being an iconic folk music artist and activist, he could often be seen hitch hiked around the Poughkeepsie area, where he was well known and beloved for his work to clean up the polluted Hudson River through his Clearwater organization. Pete Seeger was a down to earth fellow whose goal was not to become famous but rather to be true to the convictions.  He felt he was given his talent in order to talk, write and sing in ways that would spur the conscience of his generation and our nation to work for the common good.  He did not place himself above anyone else because of his fame.  Through his hitch hiking he put himself in the position to need the community he lived in.

As I read our lesson from the letter to the Hebrews for today, I thought of Pete Seeger.  In that passage the writer says this about Jesus: “He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect… Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

I remember being in my early 20’s and going through a difficult time.  I confided my troubles in the priest of my congregation, who encouraged me to take my tribulations to Jesus, who after all would understand since he had lived a human life.  That was the first time anyone had put it to me that way – that Jesus would understand even my most human struggles. Until that time I had always thought of Jesus as the great high one who might not have time for my minute struggles.  My priest gave me a new vision- of Jesus as my close companion  – one who through his own testing and struggles was prepared to help me in my own struggles to reach for God’s strength and healing power.

Pete Seeger is an example for me of one who shared the struggles of his fellow human beings, and the natural world rather than opting out of those struggles through fame that his talent thrust upon him.  He was tested and did suffer for what he held to be true and right, and he persisted in that for 8 decades.  If we are following Jesus that is what we will do also – we will not seek to opt out of our own sufferings or those of the world around us, feeling somehow safe and secure in our own salvation.  Rather we our sense of salvation will thrust us out into the world confident  that even when we are tested, or suffer God can work through us to serve others.

We may feel small. We may feel insufficient. We may feel not up to the job, or conversely we may feel puffed up with pride and think we are all sufficient, very important and not in need of any help thank you very much! Both perspectives are an illusion.   The truth is that each of us is indispensable to the mystical body of Christ being shown and offered to the world in this place.  We are not perfect- we have repenting to do.  We are not whole- we need God’s healing.  But we are enough, just as we are. God needs our threads for the grand design.  All we have to do is be willing – and Lord knows that is hard enough, because it means putting ourselves into God’s hands time and again.  That means turning our will and our lives over each day to God’s good purposes, even when we cannot discern the pattern God is weaving.

In our annual meeting today we will receive the report of how we have tried to live in this way as a community over the last year.  I encourage each of you, even if you are not able to stay for the meeting to take a copy of the annual report home with you to read.  And ask yourselves – where have we reached the mark – where have we accompanied ourselves, each other and those in the world who struggle in the name of Christ?  When we find that evidence of that in our annual report let’s give God the glory and praise, for working through us!  Then let us ask God to show us where we have fallen short, and if we find those places let us raise those to God in prayer, ask God’s guiding for our community to go deeper as followers of Christ in those places. Then let us expectantly await God’s grace to lead us in the coming year!

In the name of Jesus our Great High and yet humble priest; in honor of Pete Seeger and all valiant seekers after truth and justice; and in confidence that God is seeking to work through us with God’s grace in ways that we cannot even ask or imagine.  Amen+

 

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 Sermon for Sunday February 2, 2014  Posted by on Mon, 3-Feb-14 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday February 2, 2014
Feb 032014
 

On February 2, 2014, the St. Paul’s Church held our annual congregation meeting for business, the Rev. Martha Hubbard presiding.

The annual report is available from the church office, or you can pick one up when you visit.

Martha’s presentation is here: Update on St. Paul’s Strategic Plan.

[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157641023318535″]

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 Annual Meeting Notes  Posted by on Mon, 3-Feb-14 News Comments Off on Annual Meeting Notes