First and foremost: thank you to this extraordinary community of lay leaders, staff, clergy, and vestry. I am part of the best team in Christendom.
According to the gospel this morning (Luke 24:13-35), there are really just two ways go. We are either on the road to Emmaus or the road to Jerusalem.
Have you ever run away? That’s what Cleopas and his companion are up to, sometime on that first Easter Sunday, Luke tells us. I get it… their charismatic leader has been killed, in a pitiful display of meanness and fear. Jesus’s vision of healing old hurts, of setting the captives free, of widening the circle of God’s and human thriving, by loving the enemy and the stranger and the neighbor and ourselves, was too much to take for the powers that be. “Who do they think they are,” the powerful murmured. “Who wants to be in a club that will take anybody and everybody,” they scoffed? “How am I going to know that I am right, unless I use them/you to define what is wrong or bad or ugly?” So Cleopas and his friend have sidled out of town with their tail between their legs, probably embarrassed to have felt important, or included, even strong for once. “I guess nothing ever changes,” they probably muttered to themselves. And so they run away to Emmaus. “Emmaus” is where we withdraw to when we have lost hope or don’t know what to do anymore. “It’s the place of escape, or forgetting, or giving up,” writes one theologian. (Kate Huey)
But then a stranger appears and listens to them, and then gives to them what each of us longs for—the dignity of our doubts and fears—as well as a larger narrative that frames our suffering in a context of dying and rising. The story of scripture is your story, he tells them. All of life is a gift. You are your brother’s keeper. Violence always begets more violence. We are judged not by what we have, but by how we love. The greatest love is to suffer with and to suffer for someone. And “that suffering with and suffering for” is another name for God.
Later, when they stop and eat together, they realize that the person talking to them is no stranger at all. It’s Jesus, but he’s alive somehow. And he reminds them that struggling through is the point, that each of us is called to put the other guy first, and that dying and rising is the pattern of life. And so, borrowing his courage, they turn around, and walk back toward Jerusalem: what looked like only a scene of failure is now a place of resurrection, a city and a cause worth giving their lives for.
There really are just two ways to go, toward Emmaus or Jerusalem, one defined by fear, and the other liberated by love.
Years ago, the people of Redeemer decided to give their lives for the city of Baltimore, to process our fears and gather our resources, and walk toward Jerusalem, if you will. And the work of the history committee this year has reminded us that we stand on the shoulders of leaders, giants some of them, lay and ordained. They were not perfect, for sure, but they rarely settled for “good enough,” and instead stretched to be a place and a people that held themselves accountable to the Way. “Much has been given to us, and so much is expected,” said one ancestor. And another called the vestry to build a church for the future, “and not for ourselves.” We will have a lot to process and give thanks for, when the history committee gives its report to the vestry in October, and as we envision a compelling path forward.
Also exciting to me is the growth of the Redeemer Parish Day School over the past three years. Always a strong preschool, PDS will soon welcome 170 children each morning to a continuous early childhood education program that serves 2’s through 3rd graders. We have rediscovered the gift of our 9-acre campus, with learning and play occurring on every inch of ground, wherever two or three are gathered. We have welcomed new faculty, added a school musical and afterschool programs, and deepened our partnership with Govans Elementary School.
We’ve strengthened our connection to the school by involving Rebecca in teaching, as well as in weekly chapel. At the parent’s request, parish clergy are preparing some PDS children for their first communion, and we’re pleased to see PDS students and grads acting as church lectors and singing in our children’s choir. We have significantly increased our financial aid budget, including $13,000 from the Covenant Fund.
The Building Design Committee, which brings together leaders from both the school and the parish, has worked closely this year with architects from GWWO Architects and contractors from Whiting-Turner. Together they have designed an expansion of our current physical plant to create a home for our elementary division, integrating the new structure with existing buildings through outdoor learning spaces and walkways. It is still a work in progress, as we incorporate all that our programs need in a vision that is beautiful and affordable, but we are on schedule to begin construction in the fall of 2024.
We now enter a phase of measuring the interest and financial capacity of all of our community members—current parents and grandparents, past parents, alums and parishioners. In the coming months, we will ask each person to participate as generously as they can. Our opportunity is to build a facility that will usher in our future, further engage the community of Baltimore and all of its compelling diversity, and offer a transformative experience to our students and families and those of the next generation.
Youth programs at the parish have also had a strong year: 12 youth and 5 adult pilgrims travelled to Ireland last summer, 19 young people will be confirmed this spring, and teenagers joined the ranks of lectors during Lent. RYG, along with troop 35 and our new troop 435 for female scouts, together offer life-changing youth fellowship and service to scores of young people each month. Young adults meet every other week, thanks to the leadership of Maddie Socolar and others. Freda Marie is leading a cohort of adults in enquiry classes. Book groups, Bible studies, and mid-week services continue to welcome new members. I am excited to announce that a director of the Center for Wellbeing has been identified, and I’ll announce further details about our new team member in the late summer.
Redeemer parishioners are engaged in meaningful community partnerships: in particular, they are assisting in classrooms, tutoring, and reading to students at Govans Elementary & Johnston Square Elementary Schools; and donating food and volunteering at GEDCO-CARES.
Our efforts to move “Baltimore as it is” closer to “Baltimore as it should be” have deepened through BUILD-Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development. Last October, 70 of us participated in the 1000-person Action at Coppin State University to secure commitments from then Governor-elect Wes Moore to work with us on our agenda to take action on housing, violence, jobs, and healthcare. Then in February, 50 of us were among the 300 leaders who stood in front of Greater Harvest Baptist Church in southwest Baltimore at a public press conference with Mayor Scott, showing our support for ReBuild Metro and BUILD’s strategy to address the decades-long crisis of vacant and abandoned homes in Baltimore. The body of our city is wounded, and we have charted a way forward that brings healing and hope.
In addition, over 100 staff, vestry and parishioners have been trained in 1:1 relational & house meetings this past program year. We believe inviting every member to be a part of a small group in the coming year will enable continued growth, and make it more straightforward for newcomers to become a part of the community.
In addition to $83,500 in grants made to community partners, the Covenant Fund contributed $190,000 to ReBuild Metro, and $52,000 to other partners last year.
And attendance is growing: 981 for Christmas (with 400 YouTube views), 984 for Easter, 312 on the average Sunday, adding 97 YouTube viewers. Finally, the national church has asked us to participate in a census this fall, to better understand demographic shifts, and we will accomplish that task both electronically and on paper, by request. It has been a very good year.
And in mid-October, after the vestry/staff/history committee retreat, I will go on sabbatical until February. Cristina will serve as priest in charge, and I’ll come back with lots of stories to tell.
Remember what I said about the road to Emmaus vs. the road to Jerusalem, the way of fear or the way of love? Borrowing courage from Jesus, the leaders who helped shape this place, and the ones who inspire us now, Redeemer is making its way clear. We are giving our lives for the glory of God and the thriving of the city of Baltimore. Thank you!