Gratitude Note: For the baptism of three young people at the 8:00 Holy Eucharist. The service doubled as family and friends came to share in the baptisms. Circumstances are such that I don’t know them well. We met several weeks ago to talk about their baptisms and they were quite clear this was right for them. The setting as well as their ages allowed me to talk with them in the homily about “original blessing” and the affirming nature of baptism for them and their relationship with God. How this would be a benchmark for them in their journey – wherever it leads and whatever they do. They have been and always will be children of God, created in God’s image, and will never be outside of God’s love. The challenge will be learning to be aware, trust and live into this relationship at each stage and turn in their journey. The way of Christ is wonderfully described in the Baptismal Covenant with broad strokes allowing them to add the specifics along the way – best lived with and in Christ and Christ in them. I hope they will spend the rest of their lives exploring and discovering what that means for them. What a joyous morning as baptismal water flowed and hearts were filled. Tonight in reflection, I am so grateful for being allowed to share in this sacramental time. Thanks be to God!
Saturday, August 1, 2015
Gratitude Note: Seven plus 1500 Sacraments. This was a sacramental day in several ways to me. First, this morning four men and a woman were ordained as Deacons in the Episcopal Church at St. Patrick’s, Broken Arrow. Two friends were also ordained as priests in the same celebration. Now Deacon Mike Watkins and Fr. Sean Ekberg are both clergy at St. Luke’s. What a joyous, spirit-filled occasion it was -- full of what one friend calls “Anglican pomp and glory.” Of course with the Sacrament of Ordination we also shared Holy Communion with people gathered from all over the state. Second, I came home to St. Luke’s where another sacrament had been building all day. Volunteers from all over Bartlesville came to St. Luke’s and filled 1500 backpacks with school supplies for children in need. Tomorrow we will fill another 900 for high school students. I believe this too is sacramental – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. God’s love was abundant in the ordinations and equally so in the filling of the backpacks. This love will be experienced again tomorrow as Fr. Sean and Deacon Mike lead us in worship – and then again when the children and their parents come on Monday and Tuesday to pick up their backpacks. What a day today and the days ahead – so sacramental – so life-giving. I am so very grateful. Thanks be to God!
Posted by Lee Stephens at 10:33 PM
Friday, July 31, 2015
Gratitude Note: For ordination anticipation. Tomorrow five new Deacons and two new Priests will be added to the Episcopal Church in Oklahoma – what a day it will be! Two of these belong to St. Luke’s – Mike Watkins as a Deacon and Sean Ekberg as a Priest. I am so happy for them – this is their calling and they have worked hard in preparation – jumped through many hoops – given up much – survived the ups and downs of the process – experienced the support of many people – and been blessed by the grace of God over and over. I cannot describe how happy I am for them – and for the Church. Tonight I find myself reliving my journey and the nights before my ordinations. Yes, I have had two – one in my “previous life” as a Southern Baptist and then as an Episcopalian. The first one involved a “grilling” before the laying on of hands – a whole other story. The night before my ordination as an Episcopal Priest was full of joy and humility – I was in a much different place in my spiritual journey and pastoral experience. I felt so blessed. I was constantly on the edge of tears with amazement and gratitude and at the same time could hardly stop smiling. Strangely, I feel much the same way tonight in anticipation of the ordinations tomorrow. I have been blessed beyond measure over the forty-five years since my first – including now 24 years since my second ordination. Wow! I am so grateful and can hardly wait for tomorrow for Sean and Mike and the others – and for me – the happy old priest that I am.
Posted by Lee Stephens at 10:52 PM
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Gratitude Note: For two kinds of children on two different evenings. Last night we had the closing of St. Luke’s Wonderful Wacky Wednesdays – our version of VBS. What a delightful time! The children acted out two stories from the Book of Daniel – one with puppets and one with costumes. The atmosphere was electric with energy and fun. Performers and audience had a great time. Thank you – Lauri, Dolores and faithful volunteers. Tonight was a whole other story with friends who have become as children again. As with the children there were few inhibitions – free spirits one and all. The occasion was the 74th birthday of a dear friend surrounded by host of friends of similar age. The stories constantly flowed of years and people long gone by. We laughed and laughed. What a delightful time! I was privileged to be with people who had shared much, loved much, enjoyed much for a long, long time – gifts to each other. Two wonderful evenings full of life – and children, young and old, meaningfully and wonderfully at play. And, God blessed us all.
Posted by Lee Stephens at 10:47 PM
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Gratitude Note: For 2400 backpacks stuffed with school supplies. From the beginning of the backpacks with school supplies project in 2003, I have been blown away with the vision, organization and care of this ministry. The founders and leaders, Melinda and Bob Wesneski, are heroes in ministry to me. The stacks and boxes of school supplies are amazing to see. School supplies gathered all through the year are now taking over Rodgers’ Hall and Metcalf Hall at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. They are being readied for volunteers who will gather from all over the community this weekend. People will be swarming in an organized way to stuff backpack after backpack for specific children and their school supply needs. Then comes the greatest moments of all when one by one two thousand four hundred or more backpacks are picked up by the parents and children. Smiles and thanks will be everywhere. This is an amazing annual project that touches the lives of low-income families and makes a difference throughout the school year. If you are interested in helping see the website at www.packthebackpacks.org for specific times to help – or just come by Friday, Saturday or Sunday. This is truly a “loaves and fishes” experience for which I am forever grateful.
Posted by Lee Stephens at 10:32 PM
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Gratitude Note: For three simple words from a childhood friend from his hospital bed. Al and I have been friends from the 1950’s. There were three of us guys that were special friends – Al, Jim and me. We were joined by Gary along the way. Post high school we went our separate ways – different interests, paths, callings and vocations. Al and I have reconnected a few times along the way. I have written about him before and how in recent months we have renewed out friendship – which has actually always been there in the background of our lives. Now in our seventies (sounds strange), we have met in Tulsa at his home a couple of times. What a joy it had been to see him and enjoy memories of years gone by and people we have known. I had planned to see him again today and did, but at St. Francis Hospital. He had been battling cancer and winning. Then had a stent put in an artery to his heart which was followed by gallbladder issues and now colitis. So, today I went and sat by his bed and we talked and talked – remembered and remembered. For that time just being with Al meant everything. But then it came time to leave. We would have hugged each other, but hospital beds make that awkward. So we shook hands and with my left hand I touched his head as if to give a blessing. It was then that he simply said, “I love you.” I responded with the same three words. And, I left Al’s room knowing we had just blessed each other. I am so grateful for my life-long friend, Al, and look forward to our next visit. Thanks be to God!
Posted by Lee Stephens at 10:56 PM
Monday, July 27, 2015
Gratitude Note: For notes of encouragement regarding my letter to the editor in the Examiner-Enterprise. Some people are wondering what this is all about. Here is a link to Dr. Piper’s editorial: http://examiner-enterprise.com/everett-piper/we-shall-see-justice-kennedy-we-shall-see. Here is another perspective on the recent ruling against OKWU. I am grateful for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to support Obamacare’s requirement to make personal health decisions regarding contraception personal decisions and not a corporate or institutional choices. The article in Examiner-Enterprise last week and Dr. Piper’s Wednesday editorial are rather revealing. Providing inclusive health insurance and trusting women to make decisions regarding their health just makes sense to me – which by the way involves men and implications for relationships. Dr. Piper said the court’s decision reflects “an arrogant disregard for women…condescending and anti-choice.” I find that an odd line of reasoning. Indeed, it seems to me that using institutional power, even when based on religious beliefs, to make those decisions for women seems like “an arrogant disregard for women…condescending and anti-choice.” I am grateful the federal appellate court recognized that the government had already provided a special “accommodation” by putting the responsibility on the insurance companies regarding contraceptives and not the institutions – a fact not mentioned in the editorial. Why not trust women with making decisions and let them exercise their religious freedom as they choose? Not everyone will like what I am saying and that is ok. Personally, I think this is a case where “The Religious” can overreach and seek to restrict freedom – especially concerning women and their health. There were religious restrictions and abuses regarding women in Jesus’ day which didn’t sit well with him. He chose the path of grace and not coercion. Health care issues can be messy and challenging, but I am grateful for the court’s perspective and ruling. I really believe God is in the midst of these critical issues and constantly offers grace – especially when we do not agree on the path forward – and for that I am continually and eternally grateful and should be trusted by people of the Christian faith.
Posted by Lee Stephens at 10:37 PM