The Lexington Episcopalian

Articles linked to the website of Grace Episcopal Church (formerly R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church)

Discovery & Discernment focus groups

March 8, 2017, UPDATE. The Vestry held a special meeting Tuesday, March 7, to decide on a negotiated compromise on the final cost and timing of this consultant-guided process. The Vestry voted unanimously to support continuing work by the consultants, even though this will cost up to an additional $4,000 (for a total of $16,000 maximum).

Here’s the background. Some six weeks ago, the D&D committee completed its first phase, the “Discovery” part. The committee presented an eight-page report to the Vestry and to parishioners summarizing the feelings of all the church members who participated in 13 focus groups led by pairs of D&D members. Organized as themes or answers to eight questions, the report noted many good feelings and some serious problems.

On Feb. 20, a letter from the two consultants arrived just minutes before the Vestry meeting, and copies were circulated. Due to “unforeseen issues” that drove up their expenses and the time involved, they wrote, the $12,000 the Vestry had agreed on last April is not enough to complete the process. They said they expected it would take as much as $6,000 more than the original estimate to complete the job. It was supposed to be completed in March, but now they said it looks like it could go as late as May.

The Vestry was concerned. That seemed quite a cost overrun – 50 percent. Also, it was hard enough waiting for recommendations until March, and now it might take an additional two months? The Vestry discussed the matter and decided that Keith Gibson, the Vestry member serving on the D&D committee as liaison, should negotiate a less expensive conclusion.

He and Anne Hansen (a D&D member now also on the Vestry) arrived at a compromise with the consultants. There would be a work day with the consultants in March and a final recommendation for the Vestry by April 6. That additional charge for the consultants would be as much as $4,000, making the total maximum $16,000 — not $18,000.

Driving up the cost and the time was not the consultants’ doing, but the result of the seriousness that the D&D committee brought to this endeavor. Anne and Keith underscored that point at the Feb. 20 Vestry meeting.  The six D&D members, in addition to the focus group sessions they led, have met almost every other Thursday night for two hours since last June. Apparently, they were more serious and thoughtful than the consultants anticipated. They have held back nothing, but in a covenant of trust they have kept their work confidential and agreed to speak as a group, despite differences of opinion. Anne laughed to say she probably knows the others better than she knows anyone. Keith made a similar point.

The committee is to come up with “action items.” But more important may be the model they have pioneered – a bond of Christian love that transcends differing opinions. The consultants speak not of conflict “resolution” but conflict “transformation.”

Dec. 14, 2016, UPDATE. The information-gathering phase is over. The Discovery & Discernment team is now preparing an interim report to be shared with the Vestry at its annual retreat Jan. 13-14. Col. Keith Gibson, the Vestry’s liaison on the D&D committee, thanks parishioners for an excellent participation level of approximately 100 adults. The report will be shared with the congregation after the Vestry receives it. Work on recommendations will begin in January, he says, adding this: Please continue to be in prayer for the committee and the process.

“Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob; listen to Israel your father.” – Gen. 49:2

By Doug Cumming

One evening last week, Libby and I escaped the rash noise of this very political October to spend a calming two hours in the new upper room of our Parish House. It was our turn to attend one of the twelve focus group sessions that our Discovery and Discernment Committee has been holding all month. I am on the Vestry that voted unanimously to hire the two consultants who got this ball rolling. I chaired the ad hoc committee that picked the members of the team that came to call itself the Discovery and Discernment Committee. I felt a lot was at stake for our church, and I hoped my expectations weren’t too high.focus-group-1

I was put at ease from the start of the session, but not just because I was among Christian friends. What accounted for the sweetness of this experience, I wondered. It was not just the setting, although that large new room that has been made over for college ministry has a contemporary simplicity that promises a whole new feeling for ministry at our old church. I think, finally, the secret of the evening’s peace was a little object that the D&D facilitator explained with an air of mischief, holding it high. It has magical powers, he said. The person who holds it becomes the only one in the room who can speak. All others are to listen. We laughed, but this was the serious business of the focus groups as described in the letter of Sept. 8 that went out to the whole parish – “open, respectful communication.”

I remember from the Vestry retreat last winter this game of passing around a Speaker’s talisman. The two consultants from Eastern Mennonite Church were there and introduced it to us. At that time, we went around the circle speaking from the heart and being listened to. The magic object then was a lovely slice of polished stone – with no particular meaning. This time it was of similar material, but it was a cross.

Having permission to be quiet and listen, and a chance to speak and be heard – what a powerful alternative that is to the uncivil discourse of our Election season, cable TV rants and the way we all talk and talk and talk. I am thankful to the members of the Discovery and Discernment Committee for spending many hours over the summer to bring this process to us now.

Members of the committee are Keith Gibson, Anne Hansen, Tammi Hellwig, Greg Lemmer, Ann Nay, and Steve Shultis. If you haven’t signed up for a focus group, it’s not too late.

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‘Stewardship is our life’s work’

The lay sermon of Anne Hansen, Oct. 15

Good morning!  It is so wonderful to see all of us here together in this joint service.

alpha-sunToday is an important day, and we have a lot to talk about.  The worship committee has brought us all together this morning to corporately inaugurate a season of renewal and healing. This morning we also celebrate the completion of a 72-hour straight-through cover-to-cover reading of the whole Bible, organized by the Christian Education committee.  That reading was a tangible demonstration that we take the word of God seriously. And we all participated in it.  At the beginning of the service we read together the final chapter of Revelation, marking the end of our 72-hour vigil.  We will read Genesis chapter 1 at the end of the service, because the reading of God’s word is never finished.  And also today we kick off our annual stewardship season.

We do have a lot to talk about.  But my assignment is to reflect for a few minutes on the topic of stewardship.  I can tell you, it’s a very dangerous assignment to give a stewardship homily!  You’re likely to discover that you need to change your ways. In pondering the subject I’ve uncovered a number of errors in my own approach to stewardship, and it looks like I’m going to have to change my ways.

My first error was easy enough to remedy.  I was thinking that in order to give a stewardship sermon I needed a classic stewardship text from the Bible.  You know the ones, something like the widow with her 2 mites, or Jesus’ teaching to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”  I was disappointed that today’s gospel didn’t give me much of a jumping-off point.       But then I read it again.    And I saw that today’s gospel is, in fact, directly about stewardship.  It’s a negative example of stewardship to be sure, and a pretty terrifying one.  I don’t want to lead right off with it, but we’ll come back to in in a few minutes.

With today’s gospel reading turning out so unexpectedly to be about stewardship, the question posed itself:  how many other stealth stewardship passages are there?  Well, I can tell you.  I was the overnight helper for the MIQRA on Thursday night, and I listened to ten hours of Bible reading.  Maybe it’s because stewardship was on my mind, but I’d have to say just about all of it is about stewardship!

That’s because stewards is what we are.  That was my second error.  I had been thinking of stewardship as a choice that we make.  We can do it or not, a little or a lot; it’s up to us.  The fact is, my friends, stewardship is not a choice.  We are stewards.  We were created as stewards; stewardship is our life’s work.  We can be good stewards or bad stewards; but we can’t be not stewards or partly stewards or a little bit stewards.

If I am a steward, as I believe we all are, I’m responsible for the things that have been entrusted to me.  So what are those things?  Well, in a few minutes we’re going to read Genesis Ch. 1, in which humankind is created in the image of God and given dominion over all the living things of the earth.  We’re familiar with our stewardship of the earth, but shouldn’t we stop to think about our stewardship of the image of God?  How are we doing with that?  A few chapters later, we learn by the negative example of Cain that we are, in fact, our brothers’ keeper:  we are stewards of each other.  Perhaps we might want to spend some time on that.  Going further, we are stewards of all that God has taught us through the law and the prophets about justice, truth, mercy, and faithfulness.  We are stewards of the revelation of Jesus Christ, stewards of the ever-expanding Kingdom of God, and stewards of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We are stewards of the hope of Revelation 22.

And then there’s the personal:  We are stewards of all our faculties.  When was the last time we considered the stewardship of our eyes and ears; of our strength and of our intellect and of our affections?  How about the stewardship of our tongues?  The epistle we read today spoke of guarding our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.  And of renewing our intellect by setting our minds on the things that are true and honorable, just, pure and praiseworthy.  That is stewardship of the faculties God has given us.

Our gospel reading today was the third of a group of parables in Matthew 21 and 22. We’ve been reading them over the last 3 weeks.  Jesus told these parables to an audience of chief priests and Pharisees.  They understood that Jesus was talking about them. They also understood the message: that the kingdom of God had been taken away from them.  Jesus said it to them explicitly in last week’s gospel: He said, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”  Why?  Because they have utterly failed in their stewardship.  In the first parable, which we read 2 weeks ago, they are sons, but they do not believe or obey.  In the second parable, which we read last week, they are compared to tenants in a vineyard who, instead of producing fruit, beat the servants and kill the son of the landowner.  And in today’s gospel they are invited guests who disregard the invitation of the king and mistreat the servants who bring it.  Sons, tenants of a beautiful vineyard, invited guests: they have been given everything.  But they fail to honor what has been entrusted to them.  And so God takes it all away.  My dear friends, this is a sobering message and it would be very foolish of us to ignore it.

By now the stewardship committee is getting anxious and wondering if I am going to say something about money.  Having talked about all this other, it seems to me frankly that money is the lowest rung on the stewardship ladder. But we have to start somewhere. And sadly, if I hear the scriptures correctly, you can’t get to the higher rungs of stewardship without first mounting this one. It’s not like we’re going to be good stewards of God’s image or of faithfulness or of our own affections while we’re guarding our money.

And, as it happens, my third error was about money.  If you remember, my first error was thinking that only a few passages are about stewardship.  My second error was thinking that stewardship is a choice.  My third error is the most insidious and possibly the most significant of the 3.  So listen up.  Every year at this time I think, “What’s our income, and what percent of it am I going to put in the little envelopes every week?”  That’s not a bad question of itself, but the assumption behind it is just embarrassing.  What I’m actually thinking is, “Here’s my money.  I’ve added it up.  Now, how much am I going to give to God?”  In effect, “What will I make God’s allowance this year?”       Yikes!  My assumptions are all wrong and in the worst possible way!  I am God’s steward.   The question is not what should be HIS allowance from my money, but what should be my allowance from His?  What portion of the wealth God has entrusted to my use should I claim for my own living expense?

It’s true that my thinking is full of errors and often I haven’t done it right.  That is why we need the scriptures and prayer and worship and the wisdom of each other and those who have gone before us.  It’s not too late.

The stewardship committee has given us this beautiful quote for the stewardship season, “Take heart, get up; He is calling you.”   Friends, it is not too late.  Let us indeed take heart and get up.  He is calling us.  Let us follow and obey.

A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Bourlakas

The Vestry voted at its Sept. 18 meeting to change its name from R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal to Grace Episcopal Church, a compromise recommended after a 9-month study by parish’s Discovery & Discernment Committee. The compromise restores the historic name and finds appropriate ways to honor our parish history, including Lee’s personal role in it. Bishop Mark Bourlakas subsequently sent this pastoral letter to the congregation.

The 16th Sunday after the Day of Pentecost
Dear members and friends of Grace Episcopal Church:

As your bishop, I am proud of and encouraged by the recent return to the historic name of this parish church. Your return will allow for the parish to renew its collective focus on the forward mission of the Gospel that we share in Christ Jesus. Nothing can distract us from this commission.

I am currently in Alaska at the House of Bishops’ Meeting of our Church. Bishops from all over our country have expressed to me their admiration for the name change and offered ongoing prayers for the healing of your community in the coming months. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, shared with me his gratitude for your courage and is holding your community and our diocese in his prayers.

I realize that this return to the historic name of Grace is not the path every member embraced. It will take patience, forgiveness and most of all love to heal the various divisions that have taken place over the last couple of years. At this moment, this work might seem insurmountable. However, as those baptized in Christ, we know that our discipleship always calls us into the deeper places where others, because of hardness of heart, refuse to go. Jesus calls on us to pattern our lives on his example of reaching over division and prejudice to embrace neighbors who are different and challenging to us. If we can not model this love of neighbor within the community of faith , then we have very little hope of offering God’s grace to those beyond our parish borders.

I now pray that what unites us to each other as baptized members of the One who loves, forgives and redeems each one of us is far greater that the temporal concerns that divide us. I want you all to know that I will be with you in the months of challenging reconciliation that are now before us.

Let us each begin by laying aside our personal sense of righteousness and grievance. These negative feelings hurt ourselves and infect the body. I have heard those of you on either side of this recent struggle express your love for this parish. If you truly love this parish, then I ask that you show forth that love by praying for the Holy Spirit to give you the strength, grace and peace which surpasses all of our limited understandings.

Yours in Christ,


The Right Rev. Mark A. Bourlakas, Bishop
The Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia

A Visit from Our Bishop on Thursday

Bishop Mark Bourlakas and the Rev. Canon Jonathan Harris are coming to meet with members of the parish on Thursday, Sept. 7, at 5:30 p.m. in the church sanctuary. All members of the church are invited. The bishop wishes to continue the conversation he began with the Vestry last Wednesday regarding our Discovery & Discernment committee’s recommendation on “Identity.”

Please read and reflect on that section of the Discovery & Discernment report before the bishop’s visit.

“Identity” from D&D report

Final Report – Identity

Vestry Statement on Charlottesville and Robert E. Lee

This statement was unanimously approved at the monthly meeting of the Vestry Aug. 21, voted on by all 11 present, and supported via email by the two who were absent.

We, the members of the vestry of R. E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church:

— Deplore in the name of Christ white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and racism in all its forms.  We denounce the violence committed in word and deed against our brothers and sisters in Charlottesville.  We believe that all humans are of one stock, created by God, and that Christ breaks down all racial and social barriers. We are working for the day when all creation will rejoice together before Him.

— Object strenuously to the misuse of Robert E. Lee’s name and memory in connection with white supremacy, anti-Semitism and similar movements that he would abhor.  Lee was widely admired in both the North and the South as a man of virtue and honor and as among the leading reconcilers of our fractured land.  We do not honor Lee as a Confederate.  Nor do we subscribe to neo-Confederate ideas in honoring him.  We honor Lee as one of our own parishioners, a devout man who led our parish through difficult years in post-Civil-War Virginia.  More importantly, we find our identity in Christ, the lover of all humankind, and we seek on-going renewal in Him.

— Recognize that in the current political climate, Lee has become a touchstone for controversy and misunderstanding and a rallying symbol for hate groups. We acknowledge that the best hope for Lee is the Gospel of grace, through which we are all forgiven sinners.  Our commitment is not to Lee, but to that gospel which is his hope and ours.  We invite all to share in it, and we aim to let nothing stand in the way of our proclaiming it with integrity.


The Vestry of R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church

An organ crawl: Lexington to Georgetown

Ted Bickish, our choir director and organist, gave this report in church May 14, 2017:

“This past week, the Organ Committee helped put together a trip made up of several parishioners in which we had the chance to visit a new instrument in a parish of similar size to our own, built by the company we hope to have build for us, Casavant.

R E Lee Organ 3“We started the day here at R. E. Lee by hearing two pieces, singing a hymn, and then taking a trip inside of our instrument. We inspected the collapsing pipe work, not-up-to-code wiring, R E Lee Organ 1warping keyboards, and other various mechanical problems.

“We then headed to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown to see their new Casavant organ. St John's Georgetown 2We heard the same two pieces, sang the same hymn, and inspected the inside of the instrument. The difference was truly remarkable and I believe all those who attended were impressed with it.”

Pictures are all from that trip.

St. John's Georgetown 1.jpgSt. John's Georgetown 3

Final Report is available. Parish Meeting set for April 23.

After nine months of work in a “covenant” bond, the Discovery and Discernment Committee has issued its Final Report. The report is now available in the church office for members of the parish to read. Members of the Vestry last Thursday night read it in a 30-minute period of silence in the sanctuary, followed by an opportunity to ask questions of the D&D committee and the two consultants. The Vestry hopes that all church members will read the final report in its entirety and, after serious reflection and conversations, come to a parish-wide meeting on Sunday, April 23, 2017, at 9:15 a.m., in the Parish Hall. – DC

St Francis


Plans for the Undercroft

relee_finalconcepts_booklet7Before the Parish House was built in 1959, the all-week life of the church flourished in the undercroft. In the decades since then, and especially after Yellow Brick Road early childhood center moved out in 2007, it has been a lonely and bare place in decline. Only the Sacristy under the chancel has been regularly used.

The plans by Charlotteville’s BRW Architects would bring new life, light and beauty to this space.

The design primarily addresses the needs of our music ministry. In the heart of it, with plenty of natural light from the generous campus-facing windows, would be a large choir rehearsal space. Around that is office space, robing and instrument storage, smaller rehearsal spaces and the music library. There are also places for parish committee meetings, community meetings and other activities by the outside groups that rely on us currently.

New ADA restroom facilities are planned for space adjacent to the Sacristy, which would gain a washer and drier, improved counter space and a dumbwaiter for convenient transport to the Sanctuary above.

The plans call for new finishes, lighting, flooring and furnishings. Details might change subject to review by the state to qualify for historic preservation tax credits. The proposed renovation would cost an estimated $600,000.

This is one of the four major projects that donors to the Capital Campaign may specify for their pledge. Another option is simply making an unrestricted pledge, in which case the money will be used first to pay for work already underway or completed in the Parish Hall, for a new elevator and the college ministry room. Renovation of the undercroft will remain on the drawing board pending additional success of the campaign. relee_finalconcepts_booklet3

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