I am writing after a hiatus of about two years. I want to reflect and look forward – a tad.
Three years ago I underwent my second back surgery. The first was about fifteen years before that. Recovery was long as once I went home I was forced into strengthening and rehabilitation – I spent a year swimming to strengthen my legs and lower back. Then over two years ago I was able to return to Peru. There I was able to train a much younger priest to take over that ministry. Two years ago Covid hit the world and I was somewhat depressed as I had not only stopped visiting Peru, indeed I could not due to the difficulties of the pandemic. Now there seemed nothing to do. Was I on the scrap heap of former ministries?
God stepped in and gave me a project, with a reminder. The project was the saving of an old house that had spent over thirty years in the hands of renters. The reminder was a friend saying to me, “Your boss is a carpenter.” So true, So true! The prayer below was taught to me by my first and greatest US bishop – +Alex Stewart.
O Christ, the Master Carpenter, who at the last through wood and nails purchased our whole salvation; wield well your tools in the workshop of your world, so that we who come rough-hewn to your work bench may be fashioned to a truer beauty by your hand. Amen.
In July of 2020 I received a phone call. A friend of mine had retired and would I serve his parish as an interim for about six months. I agreed, and am still here, probably until the middle of this summer. I have learned a great deal about zoom, about spiritual warfare, about a renewed love of preaching the lectionary. The invitation was to help the parish become mission focused in all that they would be and do.
I am passionate about mission. Back in 1995 I started studying congregational development and how to focus a parish on mission, rather than on institutionalism. Here was an invitation to put this into practice in a world that was brand new, a pandemic riddled world. I started to relearn what was important in parish life. It was to build on tradition and custom; a sense of place and yet a sense of being unsettled as buildings and services were inaccessible except by TV. We all had to adapt and find out what was important. We spent many months using Morning Prayer rather than a service of Holy Communion. With that change came a greater focus on God’s Word Written, week by week by week. I have always loved the lectionary, and now I could again unpack the scriptures in a way that I have not done since I was last a parish priest. We have now returned to eucharistic worship. The search and call process is nearing its conclusion. I have probably less than six months left at this wonderful parish.
I have no idea what God has for me next. The construction phase of our home is nearing completion. Polly, my wife, wants me to have a garage sale and sell most of my tools. I will. When I retired in January 2009 to become a missionary in Peru, I gave away all my books. I figured that I no longer needed them. The same will be true of my tools. They have served me well. I will keep a saw, a drill, a few screwdrivers and hammers. When arriving in Peru I learned a new language and had kept my Bible. I learned to read it in a new language. My preaching became limited by my ability in this new language. Since I became an interim, I have had the joy of preaching in English, expositing the scriptures and seeking to build up and encourage our congregation. I am approaching 78. That means getting closer to fourscore years. Am I old? Yes, but I feel reborn. That has been the gift of God and the gift of this congregation. It is not that I doubt being born again of the Spirit of God. It is that somehow a youthful energy has been rekindled. The time is short there is so much to be done.
So we will keep it simple – bring Jesus to people and people to Jesus. Turn to Jesus, turn to mission and build up God’s Church – the mission society of which we are all a part. God is so good.
When in Peru last November I never dreamed that the world would change so much as it has since Covid 19 impacted us. In November I handed on much of my ministry to Fr. Jeremy Shelton, assistant priest at St. John’s, Johns Island SC. I had become aware of the need to “pass the stole” to a younger person who shared my passion for Peru, its people and in particular the Anglican Church there.
With Covid 19 so much has changed. Relationships are different without the immediate possibility of human contact. We, up here, have all sorts of technology. In Vermont, where we live, we have practiced social distancing for hundreds of years! But what of the people who live in the barrios of Lima and Arequipa? What of the people who live hand to mouth in poverty in tiny homes perched on the hillsides? What of our clergy, school teachers and students, who rely on community, not simply for worship gatherings but who share resources as extended families?
I have no quick answers. I am still involved. I care. I am frustrated by the limitations of a Covid 19 world. I am not sure what a post Covid 19 world will look like; or even if “post Covid 19” is a correct expression as the WHO tell us that we might well be living with this as a part of daily life and life’s daily unpredictability. I do know this – we are mortal. Dust we are and to dust we will return, but at the last day I shall see God. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus – NOTHING. So I echo St. Paul – for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Over a year ago I helped introduce safeguarding to the Anglican Church of Peru. With the leadership of CMS this has been developing and being refined to fit the Peruvian context, which is much more based of personal contact than our northern, Anglo Saxon, culture. There was to have been some formal movement ahead on this at the March 2020 synod in Peru. This has now been postponed, God willing and the Peruvian government permitting, until early September. I shall attend if possible as a Peruvian priest. The synod will be addressing a number of important issues that have to do with this as well as international Anglican relationships. My worry is not that I shall get there, but that after a year of not speaking a word of Spanish I can resume conversation. We shall see what God has planned.
Meanwhile please pray for Peru. There is a plan to emerge from lockdown and resume personal relationships, gatherings and travel. Pray for me too. Ministry continues retired or not. I am rather excited about what it will look like.
When we bid Fellows Nate and Christian goodbye in March we didn’t now how long it would be until we would be together again. 2 weeks? That seemed unlikely. Maybe 4 weeks. Certainly by mid April we could get the band back together and put a bow on our year. And yet, as I type this it seems like there is no knowing when we can regroup.
So we adapt. Like many of you, we are employing technology to fill in for in person gatherings. We are so grateful for the technology that allows us to link Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, and Thailand together. It really is a miracle. And yet, we are left hungry for more. As amazing as it is to see each other and hear each others voice, our screen time is missing something.
We have always seen the true gift of Agape Year to be the gift of community. There is something special about physical presence, touch, smell, and taste. God didn’t tell us about himself and invite us into relationship in two dimensions. Instead he became incarnate and lived a fully human life. Our take on discipleship has always been centered on living an embodied faith in community with fellow sojourners. We ache for the day when we can again gather around our kitchen table, pass the salt and pepper, hold hands for grace, and walk the way of a disciple together.
Pre-Agape Year I worked as a manager for Trader Joe’s. So when the lockdown hit Pennsylvania and grocery store employees became frontline workers I sensed God calling me to step back in. For the past two weeks I’ve been working part-time at my old store, stocking shelves with needed food and sharing encouragement with customers and fellow employees. No one talks about anything other than COVID-19. Anxiety and uncertainty are rampant. People are hungry for a smile, for encouragement, and to know that the world is not without hope.
After my first week my boss told me that my return had been a big moral boost to the crew. The fact that I came in during a time of fear was reassuring. I thank God for this short term opportunity to be salt and light in an unexpected way in these unprecedented times.
for safety as Nate serves short term on the frontlines at Trader Joe’s
for Henry, Annie, George, and Jack as they weather isolation at home with limited field trips!
for patience, trust and peace for Erika as she continues mentoring our Fellows while managing school for Henry
for our Fellows as they navigate the uncertainty of the impact of COVID on their college futures
This week we had to make the hard decision to suspend our year with Fellows Nate and Christian. We had so much left to do, so much more to process, and so much more to say to each other.
Two weeks ago Christian, Nate and I embarked for 10 days on the road. We visited with one of our supporting parishes (Good Samaritan Anglican in Middleburg, FL), were refreshed by a Lenten retreat at Camp Saint Christopher in South Carolina, updated the Anglican Global Mission Parters in Georgia, and finished up at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to share with Nate’s home church.
And that’s when things went sideways. Churches started to cancel services, the organizations we volunteer with in Pittsburgh started shuttering their doors, and we faced the reality that it would be better for our guys to ride things out with their families instead of their host families in Pittsburgh.
We left Nate in North Carolina with his family and drove back to Pittsburgh to get Christian home to El Paso. While we will continue to meet together virtually and are plotting a summer reunion, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were supposed to end our year with the deep, satisfying feeling that we had accomplished our goal. I wanted to feel like we had made an impact.
So God sent me a reminder. Almost two weeks after we shared in Florida, a parishioner commented on a picture we had posted to Facebook. They said, “I was a participant in the service at Good Samaritan on March 8th when the Agape Year guys were our guests. Couldn’t be more impressed with Mr. Nate Twichell and the two young men, Nate and Christian. I told Father Chris afterward that I can count on one hand my favorite services since we have been members and I now count this as one of them, and that the church looks to be in good hands.” Well now.
I always want to do more. I always want more Fellows, more change, more impact. When we decided to cut our year short my first reaction was that we hadn’t done enough. So God reminded me not to worry about our numbers or our impact. He’s got our Fellows and we’re trusting them to Him. In this time of uncertainty:
May the Lord of peace himself give you (and me!) his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16
Happy Advent to you! We’re grateful for this season in the church year of anticipation, hope, and repentance.
One of the recurring themes in our time with the Fellows is that they are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and as citizens they play a critical role in building up that Kingdom so that we can see it on earth as it is in heaven. The idea of citizenship in a heavenly Kingdom is not always an easy thing to grasp for our Fellows or for any Jesus follower.
A few weeks ago we were meditating on the story of the Ascension from the Acts of the Apostles with Nate and Christian. The disciples have listened to Jesus describe what the Kingdom looks like, they’ve seen him bring healing and wholeness to those who were outside and far off, and at the Ascension they still ask Jesus when he will restore the kingdom to Israel. Yes, yes Jesus. Freedom for the captive, clothes for the naked, food for the hungry. Blah, blah, blah. But when will we get our powerful political kingdom back?
One of the guys admitted that at times it is hard for him to grasp what this whole Kingdom to Build Up thing is that we talk about all of the time. And so I reminded him.
Remember that time you were taking the bus home and someone asked you for help? He was visiting the States from Croatia and was struggling to figure out where his hotel was and how to navigate the bus system to get there. You went out of your way to help him. And in doing so the Kingdom came.
Remember when our other Fellow was walking home and stopped to chat with a homeless man asking for money? Remember how your partner took the man to a pizza shop, bought him a pizza, and sat and listened to his story? The Kingdom came that day.
Remember the signs your host family made for you when you first arrived in Pittsburgh? Remember how it has felt to be invited to their family table for meals? In being welcomed into a new family you have experienced the Kingdom come.
Erika and I are so incredibly thankful that we get to give our Fellows these reminders. We are so thankful that we get to walk with them through hard conversations, hard passages of scripture, and hard places in their lives. And we are so thankful that we do not walk there alone. When we teach our Fellows what the Kingdom of God looks like, smells like, tastes like, you are there with us. When we teach English to students from 29 different countries, you are with us. And when we are in Thailand, where it is estimated that 70% of the population is unreached by the Good News of Jesus Christ, you are with us. 2019 has been a year of great challenge for our family. Through it all we have felt your prayers and encouragement. We can’t thank you enough.
May 2020 be a year where you see God’s Kingdom come on your street, in your place of work, at your kitchen table, and in every aspect of your life.