This Sunday, the seventeen pilgrims preparing to travel to Ireland this summer, myself included, will have a conversation about what gifts we bring to our little community of voyagers. (Apologies for the spoiler if I’ll see you at Sunday’s meeting – you have extra time to think about our prompt!) We will share about the gifts we see in ourselves and have the opportunity to share the gifts we see in one another.

No matter our age, sometimes the question of, “What are your gifts?” can be difficult to answer. I have frequently had the conversation with friends that it would be so much easier to write cover letters and do job interviews (or build a dating profile) for one another instead of slogging through our own because we’re great at talking each other up – but not necessarily so good at it for ourselves. In a culture saturated with expectations of self-optimization and perfection, it can be difficult to recognize the gifts we possess when we are taught instead to see only what we lack.

You can be better, we’re told, if only you look this way, or buy that product. You can do better, at school or at work, if you try harder and do more. And not only can you, you should – and you should do it in this way.

I am not knocking the disciplines of perseverance and determination that are the hallmarks of hard work. Sometimes we have to grit our teeth and practice the things that do not come naturally to us. And that’s an important, healthy, experience that, hopefully, teaches us and helps us grow. Serving our communities, as Christ calls us to, can be difficult taxing work, at the same time that it is life giving not only to ourselves but to those around us. To offer our gifts, in their great diversity, is living fully. But living up to expectations set by society, or what the world deems “success,” is often a losing game, an exhausting game.

It’s also a game that excludes people who, for a variety of reasons (think of ability, age, race, gender, class, sexuality) aren’t able to achieve the “success” society demands. What about when our gifts are not seen as gifts at all, but deficits? A quick example: Disability activists and scholars are doing important reframing of the idea of disability as an important and rich piece of identity that contributes to the fullness of life of an individual or community, rather than as a hindrance to a full or good life. (A wonderful conversation on this topic can be found here; it’s a recording of a conversation between Rabbi Julia Watts Belser, Professor of Jewish Studies at Georgetown University and Associate Dean Bill Goettler of Yale Divinity School from 2019. I commend it to you!)

On Sunday, our group of pilgrims will reflect together on the gifts we bring to our community, and on how God is calling us to use those gifts. What kind of community do we want to build together for our pilgrimage? What are our priorities? How can we commit ourselves to one another and to God in this particular experience?

And these aren’t questions just for pilgrims: they’re questions for all of us. At the beginning of Romans 12, Paul invites his readers not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by renewing their minds to discern God’s will, presenting their whole selves to God (Romans 12:1, NRSV)). He goes on to remind them that just as a body has many different parts, each with their own function, so too does their community – do all members of the body of Christ (12:4). The gifts differ “according to the grace given to us,” but all are important to the body as a whole (12:6).

So I wonder:

What gifts do you bring to your community? What gifts does your community see in you? And where and how is God calling you to use them?


Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We are Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We are speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.” (Cf 2 Corinthians, 5: 16-20, The Message)

The word, reconciliation, gets bandied about a lot these days.  I wonder if we even realize its true meaning when we use it in the Church.  What the Church means by reconciliation should be a different animal from the way society or our culture might think about it.  St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians above, makes plain the basis and ground of any reconciliation in the faith community.  The very first sentence says it all.  When we look, what do we see?

Outer appearances are not important in the realm of G-D’s governance.  The adage, “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” may not be in the bible, but its spirit lives on the pages.   It is what is inside that counts and what’s inside is an entirely new person because of the nature and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.  This newness necessarily means the death of the old.  Our life journey is about learning to let go of old ways of being, attitudes, and thinking to make room for the new —the Christ-consciousness that has now taken root within us.  This transformation is the entire story that we re-enacted this past weekend.  From death to life.  It is the WAY.

Each day we arise, we are given a new opportunity to choose to participate (“enter into,” Paul says) in G-D’s plan for the cosmos.  That plan is reconciliation with G-D.  Now that we are new people living a new life, our perception is new as well and we begin to see other people, situations, and conditions differently.  Our choice has to be made daily…even hourly or minute-by-minute sometimes.  At times it may be hard, but it is always worth it!

There can be no real reconciliation if the former self is still in charge in our lives.  The Christ-self must be surrendered to for a more fruitful, meaningful lived experience with ourselves and with others.   This is true reconciliation, the reconciliation effected by Jesus and the reconciliation we all get to participate in for the life of the world.  And God only knows how much the world needs it.

Lastly, the Apostle says that we are friends of God.  Imagine that—G-D calls us Friend.  It is definitely a new life…this reconciliation; what Joy!  Happy Easter God’s Friends!  Alleluia, Christ is Risen!  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Your Easter Friend,
Freda Marie+

Dear Folks,

The Parish Day School is a principal ministry of The Church of the Redeemer. Founded 70 years ago with a commitment to the early childhood development of toddlers to preschoolers, last year the PDS Board and Redeemer Vestry committed to expanding this critical work through third grade. Former State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick helped us see that our program “completes early childhood education” by stretching to include nine-year-olds, and caught our enthusiasm for community engagement. As School Director Mary Knott and I described the on-going parish relationship with Govans Elementary School, just blocks from the Redeemer campus, Grasmick assured us that PDS already has what many independent schools only dream about. “Many speak about public-private partnerships,” said the seasoned educator and policy-maker, “but few actually realize this important and difficult work. You have something special. Build on the relationships you’ve already created through parish tutors at Govans, school to school exchanges at holidays, and BUILD organizing” with Sandi McFadden (Strong City’s Community School Coordinator). With a commitment to expand only if the school, the church, and the community benefit from the growth, excitement is growing.

Several groups of people are engaged in next steps. A Visioning Committee which includes Vestry, former PDS parents, and preschool through middle school practitioners has crafted a case for growth. We are a small, inclusive, Episcopal school which welcomes families from diverse religious, cultural, and economic backgrounds. We foster a nurturing environment grounded in vibrant early learning and respectful engagement with others. We value an open-ended and mindful process of discovery, a learning process that blends the indoors with the outdoors and prioritizes both learning and play. We provide an active, noisy, messy, joyful experience based on mutual respect and faithfulness.

Why grow?

  • To capitalize on the brain’s rapid growth during early childhood.
  • To provide an affordable independent school option for early grades in Baltimore, with small classes and low teacher-student ratios.
  • To further embody our commitment to inclusivity, diversity, and need-based financial aid.
  • To foster environmental literacy on our large campus, where outdoor learning is a priority.
  • To deepen the relationship between the church and school and community.

A By-laws Committee, made up of two current and one former Vestry members, has accomplished the critical work of articulating the relationship between the church and the school. The document, now being reviewed by the PDS Board, Vestry, and a parishioner from the field of independent school policy, strengthens the mission and purpose of the school.

A Building Growth Committee, chaired by former junior warden Tom Spies, is just beginning its imaginative work. How can we accommodate additional students in a way that meets their developmental needs, honors our extraordinary buildings, campus and the space needs of a dynamic parish, and does so in an affordable way? We’ve gathered leaders in building, finance, education, design, and faith to organize the process.

The ways we are growing will have financial costs. Through the generosity of the Covenant Fund, we’ve dramatically increased our financial aid budget. Last summer we remodeled the former church nursery in the basement of the parish hall, creating additional classroom and break-out space, but we need more. Adding classrooms and play space through third grade will require new construction at some point, and so I will be convening another group from the church and school to help me raise those funds.

In the Easter season, please join me in conversations after church, to learn more about the road we are travelling. The Spirit is guiding the church, the school, and the community, and I would love to hear your voice.