An Advent Sabbath

The holy season ahead invites preparation, contemplation, a stilling of the spirit to receive the gift of Christ a new. Everything else around us cries out anxiously, take up the busy and many tasks of the season and the end of the year. I’d like to invite you to find peace on the Sundays of the season by marking them with a greater attention. Run around like your hair is on fire Monday-Saturday this Advent and see if you can make Sunday a day of peace and preparation! It is a start. Here are suggestions for the Sundays ahead:

Sunday, November 28: A Sabbath from Spending.
Wake up this Sunday with an intention not to buy anything for 24 hours. Make sure you tank is full and your pantry stocked, and if they are not, receive the gift of staying home and getting creative with what you have. Not spending money for a day will give you a break from the idol of commerce in our life and turn your attention toward home, God’s creation, and those you love.

Sunday, December 5: A Sabbath from Screens.
Rise this Sunday with an intention to be screen-free for 24 hours. You might need to text a bit, but leave those social media apps closed, the NFL unwatched, the Netflix unflicked. See what the Spirit might show you with the more focused attention you can pay to the world around you and the neighbors God has given you.

Sunday, December 12: A Sabbath for Worship.
Worship with greater intention this Sunday. Look at the lessons appointed on Saturday and make a special study to hear them read and preached on. You can always find them here: Examine your conscience before you come to church and make your confession of sin. What are your things done and left undone? Pray for God to prepare you for Holy Communion, that you be ready to receive the Lord the sacrament of the altar. Come to church twice; there is a special and beautiful service of Lessons and Carols at 6 PM!

Sunday, December 19: A Sabbath for Service.
Make a plan this day to do something for someone who needs your help. Take cookies to someone on your street. Clean up someone’s yard. Ask the church staff how you can help get ready for Christmas! Remember that the Lord was born, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for us all. 

Missionary Update from North Africa

That’s the local greeting that is the equivalent of “Peace be with Y’all”. I’ve been in here for a little over a month now and I'm so grateful for every second of it! 
My day usually starts ~8:30 my time (3:30am EST).  There's an amazing bakery right down the street from my house, so I usually head down there and get two fresh cooked baguettes for the American equivalent of 14 cents. Lately I've been reading a chapter of Job every morning as well.
Some mornings I meet local friends for coffee, 2-3 times a week I meet with Christian mentors of mine, and sometimes I just take the morning off. At 11:45 I make and pack myself a sandwich from one of the baguettes, and head off to the metro station. I have about a fifteen to forty five minute commute to my language school (depending on how late the train is). 
Once I get to “Marhabibik”(my language school) I stay there from 12:30-4:30 learning Arabic. One of my favorite things about the local language/culture so far is how they respond to the simple question of “How are you?”.  Every local consistently replies “Hamduallah” meaning “Praise God”. Regardless of how they feel, they express their praise to God. I love that, and have been trying to let that mentality influence the way I live life!
I am truly grateful to all of you who have supported me, and who continue to support me through prayer! Recently I have been struggling a lot with bad feet problems, and I plan on having surgery done once I get back home. Because of this, I would appreciate prayers for physical healing so that I can better reach out to those in need of God’s Kingdom.
Thanks once again for supporting me!

Your Brother in Christ,
Sam F.

On Changing St. John’s Alcohol Policy

Nicholas Beasley
Sept. 16, 2021

I supported creating a new alcohol policy for St. John’s, one that would allow for the controlled serving of beer and wine on St. John’s property. Two policy alternatives were created by a committee that reported to the Vestry, working from guidelines from the denomination and diocese and other congregations. One policy added new safeguards to serving alcohol off campus. The other policy also allowed for the serving of beer and wine on St. John’s campus. Members of that committee were Jim Barber, Michael Burkett, Mike McCauley, Lee Rambo, Ann Ruderman, and me. Adopting either fuller policy would have offered us a safer environment for serving alcohol. Adopting the policy that permits serving alcohol on campus, as the Vestry did in September 2020, increased our opportunities for on-campus parish life gatherings, better reflects the celebratory practice of most members of the parish, and normalized our rather incongruous policy of serving alcohol at many St. John’s gatherings but never on campus. I hope that the new policy will not be cause for pain or dissension at St. John’s. Some of my thoughts, from summer 2020, on the wisdom of changing our policy are below.

Wine and beer are longstanding parts of the festive life of Christians and were non-controversial, when used in moderation, before the temperance movement of the nineteenth century. The Psalmist invites us to thank God who “cause(s) the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart (Psalm 104:14-15). Those verses are typical of the Bible’s witness on alcoholic beverages, which tends to treat wine as a gift of God, another food item, to be blessed and enjoyed. Wine is even part of the new creation, as Isaiah, saw it: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” Other verses suggest that a lack of wine indicates a failure of God’s favor. Obedience to the covenant would result in fruitful ground for the Israelites (Deuteronomy 28:4, 11), but disobedience would result in vineyards that produce no wine (Deuteronomy 28:39). The Israelites were warned that a foreign nation would come and leave them with no “grain, wine, or oil” (Deuteronomy 28:51). We all remember what the Lord’s first miracle was, at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Parish Ales (especially on Pentecost) were organized throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period in England, fundraisers for the repair of church buildings. At the same time, the Bible speaks clearly of the dangers of drunkenness and offers cautionary stories of overuse.

Some contemporary context is helpful as well. Serving wine and beer a few times a year is typical of Episcopal churches like ours, of similar size, in cities, with demographics such as we have. The churches I have served (two very large ones: Christ Church Greenville, St. George’s Nashville and two smaller ones: Holy Trinity, Decatur (GA), and Resurrection in Greenwood) all allowed wine and beer to be served on campus a few times a year. Admittedly, there are plenty of Episcopal churches that do not serve alcohol at parish events. Not many of them, however, would remind you of St. John’s in their culture, social style, and size. My friends among the clergy are usually surprised to hear of our former policy.

We need more joyful gatherings and often express a desire to know each other better. With an updated alcohol policy, St. John’s can expand its parish life gatherings and bring some existing events back to our campus, making them easier for attendees to access and for parish groups or the congregation to manage. Many have noticed that the gated entry at King’s Grant and other aspects of the clubhouse facility are less than ideal for church events. We might discover new ways to engage with our neighborhood and community through events we host, like a concert on the patio or a Mardi Gras gathering. Serving wine and beer carefully, a few times a year, would enrich the life of the church by removing one factor that hinders our gathering on campus at certain times. Alcohol is served at St. John’s events regularly, but none of these are held on our campus. There is thus a disconnection between the culture of hospitality in our parish, which is rich, and our on-campus policy. This has struck some of us as inconsistent.

Arguments against changing the alcohol policy at St. John’s can be grouped together under a few headings: respect for parish tradition, concerns around overuse, concerns about alcoholism, and liability. All are important and should be considered and respected.  

Parish tradition seems to be the liveliest, most pressing, of these concerns. We are hesitant to change this policy because we are hesitant generally to change as a church community. St. John’s worships in traditional ways, is largely composed of members in traditional families, and our theological orientation is more traditional as well. Wisely, we have recognized that every chance to change is not an opportunity we are called to embrace. Yet we can also sense the potential downside to this reluctance to change. God’s mission must be carried out in an ever-changing world. There will be times when we have to embrace a change in means or media to serve a timeless message and mission. Failing to do so can impair our ministry and limit the good work that God means to do through us. We have to change and grow while we live. Our average Sunday attendance shrunk by about 40% between 2008 and 2018. We won’t use alcohol to grow our parish, but we need to make changes and take risks in our ministry. This may be one of them, as well as a chance to clarify our values, decision-making, and leadership habits.

Some admirable element of respect for our elders is present in this debate. The Revs. Ken Morris and John Barr are remembered as faithful rectors of St. John’s who established and maintained this policy. Church members who shared times in ministry with them may well feel the importance of honoring them by maintaining certain aspects of the status quo. It seems telling that early in the Rev. Alan Avery’s time at St. John’s the Vestry adopted the no-alcohol policy by resolution, making Mr. Barr’s pastoral policy a church policy, one established by the Vestry. A change in the policy would requires attention to these previous generations of clergy leadership and those who love them. Yet, recognizing the necessity of change and growth, on many fronts, might require it. St. John’s is too large of a parish to focus on its clergy as bearers of identity, as smaller congregations might. We need to be guided by the convictions of the wider current leadership of the church. Rodger Stroup, our clerk and archivist, has pointed out the frequency with which this issue has been raised over several decades; it might be time to put it to rest.  

Overuse is a concern for any individual or institution that serves alcohol. Churches that serve alcohol must develop and follow policies that minimize the possibility of overuse of alcohol. One of the dangers of our present situation is that we have alcohol at quasi-church events like the Men’s Oyster Roast and their Steak Dinner and various guild gatherings, in brown bag or BYOB fashion, in which there is no control of who is served and how much anyone is served. Alternative beverages are provided but perhaps not with the care that they might be under an alcohol policy (there are usually “equally attractive and accessible” requirements). Accompanying food of sufficient variety and interest is not always present for social times before meals. Though I have not observed it, our current events with alcohol are more likely to result in overuse than events with designated bartenders and controlled serving of beer and wine, guided by a parish policy. I defer comment on related liability concerns to the lawyers but imagine we would be better off with a policy and appropriate insurance coverage than we are now.

Alcohol addiction is a devastating condition that destroys lives and relationships. It should be admitted that some churches or church groups have developed cocktail-party cultures that normalize regular, excessive use of alcohol. Care must be taken to avoid such developments. St. John’s isn’t doing much now to promote recovery options and considered consumption of alcohol. The new alcohol policy would require us to be more intentional about facing the problem of addiction and providing resources to face it. Some would argue that church events should be a place apart from alcohol for those in recovery. There is great Christian charity in that argument. We do also have to recognize, however, that those in recovery must maintain their sobriety in a variety of settings in which alcohol is served and that they are already either doing so at St. John’s events that serve alcohol off campus or are avoiding those events. Again, the new policy does not initiate serving alcohol at St. John’s events; it allows those events to be on the church campus, with new levels of care and control by the church.

I want the life of St. John’s to be joyful, connected to our real lives, connected to our neighborhood and community. Wine and beer have historically been seen by Christians as a certain kind of food, part of the generous provision of God, to be enjoyed in moderation. Like all gifts, they need to be used carefully but as part of the goodness in his creation that God has blessed. I hope that our new policy creates a safer, healthier environment for our parish family on the few occasions when we do include beer and wine in our hospitality, such as the Oyster Roast, Steak Dinner, and a few possible new events, such as a stewardship kick-off dinner or a Mardi Gras fundraiser. We will take great care with those events and others and will not allow alcohol to become a persistent presence at our more regular parish gatherings.

St. John’s Endowment Fund Created

I’m pleased to share great news from the August meeting of the Vestry. A committee had been at work for some months to craft a proposal for a new St. John’s endowment fund. Energetically led by parish Treasurer Russ McCoy, the committee included Jim Barber, Carole Moser, Bryant Blakeslee, and Biff Blocker. They used model policies from the Episcopal Church Foundation in New York and selected investment strategies and a money manager. They Vestry approved these careful plans and created the St. John’s endowment out of various parish reserve funds in August. An endowment governing committee was also selected by the Vestry, to include Allison Gallagher, David Williams, Carole Moser, Bryant Blakeslee, and Rich Linden.

Much of the endowment will support repairs, maintenance, and improvements to our campus, including the Living Stones fund (1 Peter 2:5: You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.) That fund has largely supported the improvement to the church entrances now underway. Other funds will foster new ministries, like the Bishop Charles Duvall Fund. A portion of the Jack Fleischer Memorial Fund is also in the endowment, as a perpetual support to the retreat and formation ministries Jack loved.

The total value of the endowment fund is $1,150,000. Something like 4% ($46,000) of the fund will be made available each year for the purposes named above. Endowment income won’t pay salaries or plug holes in the annual budget. Your generous giving is still key to our ministry.

You can make a gift to the St. John’s endowment at any time and may want to include a gift in your estate plans. Church endowments are often built by bequests, which will grow our fund and allow us to maintain our beautiful campus and build new ministries. Remember your church as you make plans for the future; I’ll revise my will soon to include a gift to St. John’s. I hope you will say a word of thanks to Russ and others who have shared in this work. I am convinced they will have a positive impact on our ministry for generations. Nicholas+


Comings and Goings at St. John’s

We had a fine farewell for Fr. Scott and Victoria last Sunday, and I am deeply thankful for the energy and generosity St. John’s showed over the last few weeks of Scott’s ministry. The depth and quality of our relationships is revealed at times like this and is a measure of the church’s spiritual wellness. After a couple of days of respite in Charleston, the Fleischers are moving along in the moving process. Keep them in your prayers.

I’m your remaining full-time priest for now but am so glad that the Rev. Deedie Phillips Marshall has been back at St. John’s as Priest Associate for a couple of years. Deedie will serve on Sunday during our interim period and assist in our pastoral care ministries. She will be in the office for the equivalent of one day a week, in addition to her Sunday ministry. You can find her in Fr. Scott’s old office on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Please welcome Deedie into this bigger role while we search for our next Associate Rector.

How goes that search? We have several applications and are getting ready to schedule a first set of interviews, as the application deadline nears. We hope to call a new priest before the end of the year, but it is entirely possible that it will take much of the next school year to get someone moved and underway in ministry. I’m determined to call someone who is the very best fit for our ministry, even if it takes a little longer. I am organizing an interview committee that will help me with this search.

Our new Parish Administrator starts on Tuesday! You may have met Rebekah O’Donnell at St. John’s. She and her family arrived here from Southern Pines/Ft. Bragg, NC about a year ago. Her husband Mike is a battalion commander at Ft. Jackson. Rebekah and Mike have three children, William, Louise, and Thompson; she is working during school hours on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, coordinated with our Administrative Assistant Megan Griffin. We will keep Rebekah as long as the Army keeps Mike in Columbia and are fortunate to have her in an intense hiring environment. Let me also mention a new addition to our custodial staff. Gertrude Wallace is working at St. John’s on Monday and Thursday mornings in a housekeeping role.

Please see other announcements for some revisions to our fall plans required by our continuing COVID problems. There are signs that this recent rise in cases is peaking and that an improved situation might not be far away. While we wait and hope for that, we’ll make some minor adjustments. I’ll be thankful for your patience as we navigate the continued problems of the pandemic and some transitions on the staff. I’ll be praying for your safety and continued spiritual growth amidst the challenges of life. Nicholas †

Some COVID and Worship Updates at St. John’s from Fr. Beasley

Thanks be to God for much good news regarding our experience with COVID-19! Infection rates and mortality are falling. Many of us are enjoying renewed our lives in community, post-vaccination. The clergy and all members of our music and program staff are vaccinated. More and more of our church members are as well. We see painful scenes in India and are aware of states like Michigan in which the news is not as good; we grieve with those who grieve around God’s world. Yet we have reason to hope that more normal times are here, if we will get vaccinated and be prudent until we are. I do encourage you to do both.

We would all like to be rid of masks and other restrictions as soon as possible. The City of Columbia’s mask mandate extends until at least the middle of May, and our bishop will likely prefer we wear them longer. An important consideration right now is the fact that none of our children are eligible for vaccination. Though serious illness for children from COVID is extremely rate, continuing to wear masks is care for the youngest among us until our situation becomes clearer. In the meantime, I can share some incremental improvements:

  • We will begin singing a limited number of verses of hymns while masked, in our indoor services this Sunday.
  • During the outdoor service, feel free to remove your mask while seated, replacing it for singing and moving around.
  • The clergy will generally preach without masks, now that we are vaccinated and unlikely to spread the virus. This makes sermon communication much easier for all of us. We will be well-amplified to minimize the need for vocal projection and close the pews immediately in front of the pulpit.
  • Take note of ForMAYtion, a first step in renewing an indoor ministry with children and the return of Gravatt Day, our first major parish life event in many months.

We are planning to offer our 9:30 outdoor service throughout May and June, likely ending it after that if our indoor seating capacity has been increased, temperatures rise, and as our confidence in widespread vaccination and its effect grows. I am aware how many of us have come to love that service. I think we like the time, the fresh air, light, trees, and birds, and other refreshing aspects of worshiping outdoors. Your staff has been considering how elements of the outdoor service experience can come indoors with us.

I’ll always remember St. John’s flexible and loving spirit during this pandemic and the hard work so many of us have done to keep the church lively during this time. I’ve thanked God to serve with you during this time. I hope we are in the first chapters of a season of renewal and growth in our ministry. If you have thoughts about any of the above, I’d be glad to hear from you.

- Nicholas

Lent and Beyond at St. John's

Ash Wednesday has brought us into forty days of Scripture reading, fasting, and giving, a time to renew our faith in Jesus Christ as we temper our appetite for the things of this world. Our Lent will also coincide, we pray, with increasing vaccination and further renewal of our lives together in the church and in the world. If new variants of the virus do not set us back, we are a little closer to normal with every passing day. This week's long-awaited resumption of four days of in-person instruction for Richland One elementary students was a signal moment in reclaiming life together for many of us. My ten year-old's joy at that return was thrilling to me; many moments like that are ahead. Perhaps by Easter, our Resurrection joy will be joined to celebration of further positive developments. Where might we be by the feast of Pentecost on May 23?  

Your parish staff have spent a couple of weeks in reflection on those hoped-for improvements in our situation and will be working with the Vestry on a thoughtful consideration of St. John's ministries, programs, and events. We want to come back together with elements of renewal in our common life, refreshing and renovating our ministries when that is needed. We are asking questions about the relative flourishing and viability of some ministries, looking for opportunities to strengthen our strengths, raise up leaders, create new ministries, and perhaps bring some things to a necessary end.

To that end, we would love to hear from you. Maggie Mallette will be polling parents about resuming nursery and Sunday School, significant priorities that we will need a lot of help to accomplish. Fr. Scott and I will offer similar opportunities to gather your thoughts about worship, adult formation, and parish events. But don't wait to be asked; your thoughts on any of our ministries are welcome right now, by email, phone call, or a visit.

Lent is a season of prayerful reflection and preparation, in which we acknowledge our sin, so that we might be empty enough to be filled with Resurrection joy. It is a perfect time to plan our way out of the pandemic, anticipating the joy of a renewed life as God's people in the church. Resurrection is coming! Nicholas+