The gifts Christ gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. — Ephesians 4:11-13
Hanging by a Thread: Individually and Collectively
By Fr. Paul Wanter
In reviewing the past year prior to the actual writing of this Annual Report for the year 2020, I realized that I have found myself echoing in amazement that oft repeated and more or less rhetorical question, “Where has the time gone?” As always the answer is ambiguous at best; that is, if there can be any answer at all.
I sometimes think that we, as individuals, and even as gathered communities, rarely have answers; certainly not all the answers. It is the questions that move our lives forward through the days, seasons, and years of our lives, with God providing the needed answer for each question and every life at its appropriate time, God‘s time; this regardless of our impatience and desire for the immediate answer. Theologically and by Christian faith, Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection was and is the ultimate Answer. It does not follow that we have ever necessarily heard or even heeded the answers; or for us Christians, the Answer: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I suppose that is what constitutes the human comedy or tragedy, as one’s case or perspective may have it.
It could be argued reasonably that the community of Advent found itself immersed in a number of life questions both for the community, and as individuals during 2020; this was already true even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only magnified all these questions. These questions, actually all facets of just one question, are not a peculiar to this faith community at Advent. All Christian churches and denominations are either facing, avoiding, or denying this question. Where do we as Christians find ourselves in the context of the present time; what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in our time and place? What does it mean to grow up, grow to maturity, in Christ? The answer does not come readily. Indeed, many of our tools or methods for discernment and the answers themselves are outdated. Unfortunately, old answers, though lifeless, are all too easily and comfortably accepted or embraced. On the other hand, each new answer is all to readily and unquestionably embraced also; both, old and new answers, then become confused with the Answer. The darkness as always seeks to cloud our vision, not without some success. These are dark times, and, yes, there is now more work to be done, and more questions to be asked. Please remember these are cautionary reflections.
In the midst of a world turned upside down during this past year and even before this year, I confess that I have failed you, and I am truly sorry. I have failed you in all the ways I’m sure you can enumerate. I have failed you also in not empowering and enabling you in your ministry and transformation by God in Christ. Too often, I have been in my silence an enabler of practices, behaviors, actions, and words that divide; all with a long history. These are not constructive to the building up of the body of Christ in this place. I am sorry for my part in this. As for those of you who think I haven’t been silent enough, I’m sorry for that also.
The list continues. Too frequently I have given up on Advent Bible Studies or adult education because of small numbers in attendance. Surely there was irony, or was it God’s humor, as we were just beginning a study this year on world religions and actually attracting a goodly number of individuals that the onset of the pandemic put an end to it.
Where all this will eventually lead me I am not certain at this time. God knows, and I do know I must trust God’s leading. One day this past week, a week of much prayer, or as I like to call it my conversation with God, I was sure I knew. The next morning I awoke with just two words: empower and enable. God does speak in riddles! Pondering this, what I do know is that I can’t minister for you, but I can minister with you; this is not semantics. Everyone of us has gifts to give. Either we have a mutual ministry, not only regarding our ministries in the wider world but also at Advent, and that being regardless of whether I or anyone else is the priest. If not, Advent will cease to exist as have so many other Churches in the recent past. Most probably many more will soon join them after this pandemic ends.
I do not want to see this happen here. I pray God it doesn’t happen; but for it not to happen will require change on the part of all of us. Long ago, an older woman, a parishioner of the mission where I first served, told me some words she remembered from a professor of her school days. I have never forgotten them: “People tell you they know what they like, but really they like what they know.” The circumstances of the world are such that what we thought we knew, or even think we know and like, is no longer applicable to sustain life or the institutions we love. Life, individual or otherwise, is always change no matter how much we resist it. This has always been the truth even if present change seems to be accelerating at a faster speed. As an example I proffer my long and resistant struggle with modern means of communication; now I find myself using Zoom for the Annual Meeting. Oftentimes the things we fear are far less fearful than the fear itself! However, I do pray God that I don’t make a complete fool of myself; which now means I probably will.
Please believe me, I am not trying to be a Debbie Downer. I have been attempting not to delineate problems but rather to envision the opportunities we have to move forward; to foster a growth in the deepening of our faith and the broadening of our love. We are a community of love, but do have to grow in all ways.
In point of fact, there have been some very positive things that have occurred this past year, despite or even because of the pandemic. We were one of the first parishes to have our COVID-19 guidelines approved by the Diocese, allowing in-person Services for periods of time and reopen Born Again Furnishings; this thanks to Dan Clifford, Mary Tru Swanson and Shirley Roberts. We had/have a beautiful Christmas tree thanks to Hope Gaines assiduous and lovely work. We continue to support the Back-pack program. We continue to have an regularly updated website. Our banners still serve as an evangelism tool. Pre-school still utilizes our facilities. Above all this, thus far we, have had no members with COVID-19, and the devastating or worse effects from the same.
Many thanks to Mari Tru Swanson our Sr. Warden, Peggy Carbine our Jr. Warden, Amy Mashburn and then Darlene Scovell our Treasurers, Darlene Scovell our Clerk and all the Vestry Members for the work they did during a very trying year for all. Many thanks to Mari who is going off the Vestry. It was a most difficult year to be Sr. Warden. I have greatly appreciated her work and counsel Many thanks to B.T. Darnell who went off the Vestry at the end of June, and many thanks to Shirley Roberts who left the Vestry on her move to Missouri in August; both for their work on the Vestry and their leadership of Born Again.
Given our present circumstances and under the darkness of this pandemic, both as individuals and as a church, I am reminded of an account in the Book of Genesis 32:22-31. It is the story of Jacob who sent his wives, maids, children, and all that he had across the ford of the Jabbok River in anticipation of an upcoming meeting with his estranged brother Esau. Jacob was left alone and he wrestled with a man all night. Who this man was is debated. Some say he was an angel (messenger of God). Some say he was God. Jacob tells us he saw God. In any even Jacob wouldn’t let go; wouldn’t give up, and that even with his hip being put out of joint. Jacob wouldn’t let go until he was blessed. He was blessed and given a new name. No longer Jacob, the supplanter, but Israel, prince of God, or He who wrestles with God (take your pick). Jacob now Israel was changed, he had to grow up, and he moved onward from there. We individually and as a Church need to be like this Jacob/Israel, and we need to hold on to God. The Blessing will always be given despite, or maybe because of, our woundedness. May we become as leaven (yeast) to the lump of this broken world.
In Christ’s love, my love, and with my prayers,
IMAGE: Maksim Tkachenko
Benjamin F. Ginn
John F. Brannock
Isa D. Barton
Emma Clifford Wyatt
“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” — Mark 1: 17.
Youthful Souls: An Elegy for Those Already “Fished,” and the Fishermen
By Dan Clifford
This past fall I cataloged three forgotten little family cemeteries and the markers of the bodies. Four of the dead were very young people: Benjamin F. Ginn (1828-1858), John K. Brannock (1846-1860), Isa D. Barton (a woman)(1866-1886) and Emma Clifford Wyatt (1882-1904). All were Christians, based on their stones.
So, Ben was 30, John was 14, Isa was 20 and Emma was 22. I am always fascinated by what happened to young folks when they don’t make it to old age. We’ll never know.I am further fascinated with the “near miss with oblivion” a new-found, previously forgotten, overturned-and-lost-in-the-dirt gravestone has just avoided when I clean it up, take a photo of it and put it on Find-A-Grave. Assuming the electricity stays on forever, or all the world’s hard drives don’t crash at once, these dead people and their grave markers just made it to the recordation immortality they presumably had hoped for.
Conundrum: So, have I simply passed the baton of their vanity on to my own, and then pushed those forward to the guy who rescues them (and hopefully me) from the future scrapheap of the Internet? Or have I done something better?
Ben, John, Isa and Emma lived only a few hills apart. They likely did not know each other. John and Ben could have known each other for 12 years, as their graves are in the same cemetery, but Isa was not born until 1866 and Emma was four when Isa died. To be honest, Emma’s grave was not previously unknown, as she is my great-grandfather’s little sister. But this summer after my uncle died we were going through some old boxes of photos and found a portrait of Emma, probably the only picture ever taken of her, and saved it from its ongoing fate as mold, mouse and silverfish food. This is even juicier than finding words on a gravestone — a face.
Isa’s grave is the most mysterious. Her husband is not there. He likely moved on with life. Several vertical word-less limestone rocks mark other graves nearby, all anonymous now. These were poor people. The cemetery is on a hilltop not really near anything. No records exist of Bartons in the area on any old maps or deeds I have seen. It has been suggested she was a of a family of recently-freed slaves, but reliable lore and some research does not account for anyone in this area of rugged clay hills owning slaves, or of freed ones settling the area. Who were you Isa? Did you live here by choice? What were your plans? Were you just passing through? Did you go to school? If so, where? Get a report card? Have a doll as a child? Have a best friend? Did you die having a baby? What would you tell the world if you had five minutes? If you lived today would you prefer Xbox or PlayStation, the Cats or the Cards? Were you a saint who didn’t make it? Maybe you did.
Back to the conundrum. So why do we do it? Why gravestones? Why trusts, brass plaques, monuments and endowments? Why donor-restricted gifts? Why pyramids and mummies? Do we not have enough faith that the eternity we profess is enough? Don’t we just want a little bit of “insurance” in case we’re wrong? Isn’t it just vanity, hubris?
But — perhaps, and the way I like to ponder it — we also do it for those who come after us, more selfless than selfish, like the fleeting breadcrumbs in Hansel and Gretel, in the hope we will leave behind some good or some message for those who remain. I find this the more correct answer, more inspiring. It is not just that the interred want us to remember them, but want as much to remind, even warn, us to reflect on ourselves. There’s a difference, a message, a forward flow. So, while I thought I had discovered, or perhaps fished, these buried souls, just maybe they had fished me, confronting me with my duty as a disciple.
Maybe Isa was just starting her life’s message, wanting to say more, limited by money and the engraver’s lettering. I want to reflect on her (and me) that way. An incomplete message may even be the best kind: She lies alone, 20, buried in an obscure place, and yet loved enough to warrant a memorial. So let’s push it forward, not vainly but reverently. We live in an age where it’s so easy to do. Or hasn’t it always been?
John, whose mom and dad must have been a little bit better off, left this for us on his headstone:
“Death may the bands of life unloose,
But can’t dissolve my Love:
Millions of youthful souls compose
the Family above.” 
We are all youthful at any age, unfinished, full of messages. Look at the headstones and faces of these young people. You know them now. Five minutes ago you did not. You have a duty to remember and reflect, to carry on, to keep on fishing. They are us. You can hear them.
 Emma died in, or just after, childbirth and her son, Estell, died at age 7 from tubercular meningitus. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/123598636/emma-j-wyatt
 From the Reformed Methodist Hymn Book, Compiled by C. Gillmore & P. Shepherd, 1833. Hymn 24, Verse 4, written by Samuel Stennett, D.D. (1727-1795). Dr. Stennett was born at Exeter in 1727. His father was pastor of a Baptist congregation in that city; afterwards of the Baptist Chapel, Little Wild Street, London. In this latter pastorate the son succeeded the father in 1758. He died in 1795. Dr. Stennett was the author of several doctrinal works, and a few hymns. (https://hymnary.org/text/thy_life_i_read_my_dearest_lord?extended=true)
After the homily above was written, the marriage license of Isa was found. She was married on Nov. 5, 1884, and was Isa Dora Whiteker, daughter of John Whiteker. Witnesses to her wedding to Asa Barton were B.F. Whitaker (most likely Whiteker), I.N. Bayless and Joseph Davis.