Are we here to simply survive?

Sermon for Aug. 28, 2016, by the Rev. J. David Else:

I believe St. Stephen’s is at a critical time in its life. I believe McKeesport is at a critical time in its life. I believe our church, our nation, our world is at a critical time in its life.

Let’s get back to St. Stephen’s. By all rights, we should be closing up shop. Our resources, both financial and our membership, are not sustaining. We’re damned good survivors, don’t get me wrong, but are we here to simply “survive”? Continue reading

Thanking God in a Time of Uncertainty

Dear Friends in Christ,

We enter into the time of Thanksgiving with fear on our hearts, with concerns about our future both near and far away.

Twenty-four hours a day, the media has been filled with images of horror. We hear stories of unspeakable terror. We hear about victims who are too young to be singled out for death, of the elderly and of the innocent. It makes it hard to focus on Thanksgiving when our hearts and minds are being pulled away by the events perpetrated by people bent on destroying and killing.

The Old Testament lesson for tomorrow, from Joel 2, reminds us of God. A God who loves and cares for his people.

Do not fear, O soil;
be glad and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.
O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil…

Twice Joel tells us to “Fear not.” He then goes on to remind us that there will be an abundance; that the rains will come; and that the threshing floor will be full and the vats overflowing with wine. Joel reminds us that God is bigger than any event. God is bigger than any series of events.

It is from God that we receive our abundance. The abundance that gives us life and joy.
Continue reading

A history of Halloween, or “All Hallows’ Eve”


From the Episcopal Church Center:

The term “Halloween” is shortened from “All-hallow-even,” as it is the evening before All Hallows’ Day.

Halloween originated with the Celtic tribes who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. For the Celts this Festival marked the end of summer and the coming of winter.

For Celts it is a time when the bridge that separates the world of the living and the world of the dead becomes firmer, allowing spirits and ghosts and ghouls to cross over. These spirits or departed souls are honored and asked to grant luck and prosperity.

The 21st century secular popularity of this holiday has caused the Festival of the Dead to be less about honoring the dead and more about the commercial sale of ghoulish masks and frightening frivolity.

The dressing up was to resemble the souls of the dead which the pagans believed walk the land that night, along with the evil spirits, which people wore masks and lit bonfires to scare them away.

However, over the centuries our Christian beliefs have given way to focusing on honoring the dead through worship, prayer remembrances, and community, not only on All Soul’s Day but also the evening before known as All Hallows’ Eve.

In 1979, the Book of Occasional Services was created as a result of a General Convention Resolution. The All Hallows’ Eve service can be found on page 108. The service of the light, found on page 109, may be used prior to the All Hallows’ Eve service.

The photo, from Wikimedia Commons, shows a cemetery outside a Lutheran church in Röke, Sweden on the feast of All Hallows. Flowers and lighted candles are placed by relatives on the graves of their deceased loved ones.