Return & Renewal: A Stewardship Homily

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Early in the pandemic I saw a comic which read: “I Finished Netflix!”  I laughed out loud because at the time I didn’t have a subscription to Netflix.  Now I do.  

Since signing up, my friend Erin recommended that I check out the Netflix series TURИ.  Reluctantly, I tuned in one day and to my surprise I found myself hooked.  But, as each episode ended, I found myself murmuring the oft said phrase, “Just one more!” I did this even as the clock ticked near 0-dark-30, with the uncomfortable knowledge that an early morning zoom call awaited me and I needed to be on my A-game.  

So, after a couple nights, I knew I needed to employ some form of self-discipline. Moving forward, I promised myself I would only watch two episodes a night.  Okay, to be fair, once or twice I did watch three episodes back-to-back, but I assure you, never more than three.  Ultimately, I say this as if to convince you, my reader / listener, that I am NOT a Netflix addict.

TURИ is an American period television drama based on Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring (2007.)  The story covers events from 1776 to 1781, and features a farmer from Setauket, Long Island, and his childhood friends.  The friends form an unlikely group of spies called the Culper Ring, who eventually help to turn the tide during the Revolutionary War in favor of George Washington and his troops.

It wasn’t that Netflix had turned me into an addict.  Nor was it television itself.  It was the compelling human lives of the people characterized in TURИ who had me wanting to know at the end of every episode, what on earth was going to happen to them, next?  I found the story about George Washington’s spies hugely captivating because the actors made these characters literally come to life—even George Washington!

Through hell and back, these young spies reported on British activities in New York and Connecticut bravely carrying the information they gathered back to General Washington and his intelligence officers.  They risked life and limb, fell in and out of love, lost loved ones, and found themselves doing horrible things they probably never believed themselves capable of, all for the good of the cause.  Following the British surrender in Yorktown, Virginia, the spies move on, and in some cases, return home to the lives they had before the war.  

In one final scene General Washington travels to Setauket and gathers his young spies together as a way of appreciating all they did and gave for the cause of the revolution.  Reunited, they laugh, reminisce, and talk about all the things that transpired in their lives since the last time they had all been together. 

During this festive gathering, Abraham Woodhull, the leader of the spy ring, challenges General Washington and says to him that “none of us did what we did for money,” but the truth is simple, spying challenged every other aspect of their lives. In Abraham’s case, he lost his home, his father, his brother, the love of his life, and very nearly his farm.  Abraham tells Washington that what he needs is not appreciation, but money in order to plant his next crop, otherwise he will lose his farm.  

Washington writes a check to Abraham, not out of funds from the war—because there were no such funds—but rather, Washington writes a check to Abraham out of his own personal account, from one farmer to another.  Abraham was moved to tears by this gesture, thanking General Washington effusively.  In response, Washington says to Abraham, “You are owed much more than this.” And then went on to say, “Our country owes its life to heroes whose names it will never know.”

Our country owes its life to heroes whose names it will never know.

Our country owes its life to heroes whose names it will never know.

Let’s take a moment and let that sink in.

Our country owes its life to heroes whose names it will never know.

I found myself in the days after the series ended, missing my young 18th century patriot friends.  I found myself in my walks with Max thinking about and being forever grateful for the heroes whose names I will never know … for all they gave so I can live the life I live today … so we can live the lives we live today.

I found myself, this many centuries later, thanking, over and over again, those early warriors who gave their lives so these United States could be birthed into the amazing country we are today.

One hundred and ten years ago, two seminary students from this historic chapel (G.P. Christian and J.H. Gibbony) birthed into existence the church we now call Emmanuel.  So often these days I find myself, as we worship here in this sacred space, ever grateful for their evangelism, courage, and call to come down into the valley on Russell Road to gather us as a community of faith.  How do we ever completely thank those two young men?

How do we completely thank the generations of parishioners who came before us, who took two seminarians’ vision and built it brick by brick first into a chapel, then into a church, then into a preschool, and finally, added a parish hall?  We can never fully thank them, but we can promise to never forget them.  

Today officially begins our Annual Giving Campaign when together we make a commitment, a pledge, if you will, to share our time, talent and treasure to continue the good work of our church.

I’m not sure I have ever thanked you for your support more personally than what I want to do right now.  Many of you know my story:  that I came to the Episcopal church after having grown up in the Catholic Church, and then serving as a Catholic priest for 21 years before, finally, miraculously, I found myself welcomed into the Episcopal church just about ten years ago.

Much like our country, during those early struggles of separating ourselves from a foreign power, several hundred years ago, the Episcopal church in these United States, worked to create a religious democracy where ordained and lay individuals worked side by side to discern God’s call for a new path forward here in our country.

Throughout the centuries, we, as a church worked to rid ourselves of our addiction to slavery, worked to welcome women fully into ordained ministry, embraced a priesthood where priests can be married if they feel such a call, welcomed separated and divorced people with the dignity and respect they deserve, and created an environment where I, as a member of the LGBTQ community, would find welcome and a spiritual place to call home.

Every one of you have a faith journey story of your own.  A story of finding a path that led you from wherever you were before to being here with us now as a part of our parish community.  I’ve enjoyed hearing all of your faith journey stories and marvel that God would bring us all together in this space during this time.  I’m so grateful you are here. 

As a church we hope that every member will volunteer in some capacity for the church, that those who feel so called will volunteer in some capacity in our larger outreach to the surrounding community and abroad.  And that every individual and family unit will make a financial pledge to support our parish community.

I would like to thank you personally for the roof you put over my head and for the food you put on my table.  A large portion of our annual giving campaign goes to cover the salaries and benefits of our employees.  You provide not only for me, but for Joani, Ryan, Janie and Karen, and now Katherine Connor, our new Youth Minister.  Were it not for you and your pledge we could not be here to be of service to all of you.  But because of your generosity and commitment to us, we, in turn, make a commitment to all of you, that week after week, day after day, year after year, we will bring our best selves to this time of worship and love, and faithfully serve you with every fiber of our being.

Others have made great sacrifices on our behalf, and today, we are called to do the same: to make a loving prayerful, intentional and sacrificial pledge to God.  Thank you to all of you who have made pledges in the past, thank you to those who are discerning now what to do, and thank you to those who are a part of our parish community and do not yet know how or when you might make such a pledge.  All are welcome.

Please allow me to conclude with an invitation to all who hear and read this message – our community and all it offers owes its existence to God and you.  Please help us to write, live and share together the next chapter of our church’s history. 

  • Peace, chuck.

P.S. If you have not already, click here to watch this week’s Giving Message for Worship: EEC@Home: The Documentary”.

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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