St. Simon’s post-Sally Update

I write especially to the people of St. Simon’s.

My friends, I hope you are doing ok under these trying conditions. The church still does not have power and we are unsure when Gulf Power can get to us. Consequently we cannot host services this weekend. I will live stream from my home at 9:30 Sunday morning.

The lack of power also means the phones are out. My cell, if you need it, is 561-400-6428.

Saturday morning at 9am we will meet to clean up the grounds. It is a mess! Bring a mask and WEAR CLOSED TOE SHOES! We’ve already had someone step on a nail. If you have gloves and any tools like rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows that would help.

At 11am on Saturday we will pause briefly for prayer and a simple Eucharist. This will be our only “in person” service this weekend. If you are unable to help with cleanup, you are still most welcome to come for this service. We will be socially distanced and wearing masks. Parking is limited but I am hoping we can use next door if needed. You cannot park in the back or use the drive around the building.

Inside, there is a lot of water intrusion in walls and baseboards. We are working on that now but due to the lack of AC due to power, it is not safe inside for anyone with breathing issues. We have the inside under control, minus the water cleanup, demo, and restoration efforts. We will only be working outside Saturday unless some demolition happens before then and we need to remove materials.

Stay safe everyone and I pray you have power! God bless.

It’s Pentecost Y’all

This Sunday, May 31st, the church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost. 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, his followers have done what he asked when he was about to ascend to God the Father – gather together and pray. Pray they do and on that first Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit descended in wind and sound and flame – the church of Jesus was born, the disciples of Jesus empowered, the world never to be the same.

It has been over 10 weeks since we could gather together for in-person worship. We are steadily working towards the day when we can do so again. But we will not do so until we are as certain as we can be that the situation in our community warrants the attempt.

Even when we do, church will be very, very different. Precautions we must take will make it so. We will have detailed information for you when that time comes of course. Also, OF COURSE, no one should feel obligated to attend in-person worship until they themselves are ready and comfortable doing so. We will do our best to lower the risks, but we all know that no plan is full proof and we cannot completely eliminate risk. I am counting on each of you to make mature and safe decisions which are best for you.

But it IS Pentecost this Sunday, so we will do something different. As you probably have seen in Wednesday’s email, last Sunday’s announcements, and elsewhere in the Epistle, we are encouraging a Pentecost parade to the church via cars, where you will be able to receive communion for the 1st time since the Covid shut down took affect. Those details are in the Epistle and on our Facebook page and website. I am greatly looking forward to seeing many of you, masks on of course, and sharing communion with you. I too have fasted from receiving all this time. I could receive, following the prayer book rubrics, but it felt very wrong for all of you to fast from communion while I did not. So I chose early on not to. There are those who believe the Eucharist is not “valid” unless the priest, at least, receives. Since none of us are receiving I am not sure why that would matter anyway. As we have heard over and over – we are all in this together, and I decided that would apply to clergy receiving communion as well. It is a heart breaking act on Sunday when we consecrate a little wine and bread and then immediately place it in the aumbry. Something is missing in our lives, in our souls. But fasting from communion does help us want it all the more, so we are attempting a way to share the body of our Lord this Sunday.

So with the Bishop’s permission, we will consecrate extra wafers this week, the people present in person for the live streaming (all 3 of us!) will receive and then you will too, if you desire to drive down and join the parade. This offering may stretch the bounds of sacramental theology a bit, but I think going straight from the altar to you as you drive up, having participated in the Eucharist via live stream and prayed as those first disciples did for the Holy Spirit and the presence of Christ, this distribution is certainly valid. I cannot tell you if we will do it this way again, but I can tell you – I can’t wait!

There is a wonderful Orthodox theologian, now deceased, named Alexander Schmemann who wrote a great book about Eucharist, called For the Life of the World. In it he declares the procession at the beginning of church actually begins when each of you get in your cars and back out of your driveway. You, by that action, are making a public statement about your faith. Let’s do that Sunday, all who are able. Watch the live stream first (that is quite important to all this actually). Wear Pentecost red and take pics and send them to my wife, Jennifer (RnTwins@gmail.com) for future slide shows. Then from noon to one, arrive at the church for communion, and maybe even a little Holy Water. Some of you may want to decorate your cars, feel free! Cause it is PENTECOST Y’ALL! Time for a parade. Time for the body of Christ to receive the body of Christ. Hope to see you in procession. I love and miss you all.

Fr. David+

Wow – What a holy week

So…..I have had some, um….challenging Holy Weeks since being ordained. At St. Patrick’s in Long Beach, MS we had to figure out Holy Week in a gym at Coast Episcopal School post Katrina. We did it all of course, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil (yes, with baptisms) in the shell of a gym we were worshipping in and then in the “new” volunteer quarters. How exciting was our first Holy Week in our new space in 2010, lighting the Vigil fire in the middle of our outdoor labyrinth and processing from there into our new space. We did baptisms that first Easter Vigil in our new home, with two young people standing in a large tub where I poured water over their heads. Here is a pic – it was really cool!

Holy Week of 2011 at St. Patrick’s saw Jennifer suffering through a delicate painful 6 hour surgery on her sinuses (you do NOT want details) on Monday of Holy Week, and was then admitted to the hospital on Wednesday through Easter Sunday to manage things. I missed our first ever attempt at a Tennebrae service at St. Patrick’s that Wednesday!

Holy Week of 2013 as Interim Rector of St. Paul’s in Delray Beach, Florida was probably the most challenging. I was really sick, just trying to ignore the obvious and make it through the week. We had 3 Palm Sunday services and afterwards Jennifer took me straight to the ER, where I was admitted. I don’t remember ANYTHING about those Palm Sunday services! I was a sick puppy. I begged the doctor to get me out of there by Maundy Thursday, and he did, Jennifer and I went straight to the church, arriving just after the service started. I sat in the pew for that one, we had very capable Associate Priests there. By Easter Sunday I was much better. Yay Jesus!

In all these circumstances, we did all we could to make Holy Week as meaningful, beautiful and “normal” as possible. Putting our illnesses aside, I think a lot about how we put HW together those three “Holy Weeks in exile” at S.t Patrick’s. The church really came together to support, participate, and help lead.

Even so, we certainly learned there is something about sacred space that makes a difference.

And I have learned this Holy Week, that sacred people mean so much more.

This was the most exhausting and challenging Holy Week I’ve ever been a part of. Trying to provide some semblance of these special services via Live Streaming, at the mercy of a Windows computer (UGH) and finicky software, a sound mixer board that is slowly gasping and dying, and a Priest having to learn how to deal with it all made for some long, long days and nights. I am so blessed to have my LW Jennifer with me, who ran the sound and cameras for our live services and helped me tremendously when we were producing the others. Due to the stay at home orders, although churches can decide to be exempt, I felt it important not to have more than 2 or 3 people on site, and although our A/V guy Chris Sheppard is great and more than willing to be there, I decided due to the close proximity we would have to work, it would be better if we keep it in the family. It was wonderful to have Deacon Clelia there for Good Friday service, that one is almost impossible to do alone.

Maundy Thursday included a pre-recorded beautiful stripping of the altar with David Jones and John Leatherwood chanting Psalm 22 while Chris Westphal and I stripped the altar bare. That action gets me right in the feels! We encouraged foot washing at home, and I would love more pictures if anyone has some.

But first we had some problems! We thought all was ready to go Thursday and started the Live Stream, when we started getting messages that no sound was coming across. UGH. We just had to shut it down, reboot the computer, reset the VERY FRUSTRATING software and try again. Success, although the volume was very low for the live parts. The next day that problem miraculously went away..

Our plan for Good Friday was to pre-record and then use what is called Facebook Premiere and YouTube Premier. Premiers allow you to “run” a video (once) as if it is live, everyone watches at the same time and can comment just like on a live showing. Since we were repeating the GF service for later (noon and 630) we thought recording it and uploading as premiers made the most sense. HA. The file was over 5gb and it took FOREVER to upload to YouTube and Facebook. Finally YouTube finished “processing” and we started that premiere over an hour late. Facebook never did process the video, it just hung up forever, so we ended up just uploading it and letting people know they could watch it, without all the fancy premiere stuff. Sigh

My original plan was to have an Easter Vigil service with all its own complications, even when not streaming, as our Easter Sunday offering, starting it before sunrise (we usually do the Vigil pre-sunrise in our gorgeous outdoor chapel) and then offering it again at 1030. I just didn’t see any way to make the “normal” 8:00 or 10:30 Easter Day services work. I felt it would be anti-climatic and maybe even depressing. But some others convinced me to try it. That was before we started putting the Vigil together, we soon realized what a monster it was (I was there Saturday from 530am to get some shots of sunrise at our chapel, until about 10pm working on the production). The Great Vigil of Easter is the queen of all liturgies and also quite complicated. So we went back to the original plan, hoping it would expose many people to the Vigil who don’t normally come at sunrise.

The Vigil required 35 different inputs (that’s what the Vmix software calls anything you insert into a stream or video). We lit the new fire, processed the Paschal Candle, had videos of church members, including kids and teens, doing the four Old Testament lessons. We had my son Joseph and our youth director, Philip Iverson, send videos of several songs each. We had pictures of flowers and of the sun rising over the chapel. We had audio of hymns sung by our choir at last year’s Easter Day service. And we had the brilliant homily by my 4 year old granddaughter Eliza, explaining the mystery of Good Friday and Easter (Jesus came right back and saved the world!). We had to re-tape my homily 4 times due to sound issues. (It was different every time too. This Holy Week I did not type a manuscript or notes for any of the sermons). I had a GREAT opening funny Story to share, then forgot to do it for the final take…..you will hear it eventually though!

So instead of trying to pre-record or do Premiers, we decided to “run” the Vigil live at 6am and 1030 am. Partly because we could redo things if we failed, but mainly because I just didn’t trust the software, YouTube, or Facebook for such a delicate and complicated task. So at 6am, we go live. Mainly it meant “playing” each of those inputs in the order needed, it’s way harder than it sounds. If you were watching, you know we had to restart as Cox internet had an outage and everything froze. We started live again and that’s when, in the moment, we learned my original homily had no audio. Don’t ask! I cut that video out midway and we finished that live viewing. So between the end of the 6am and the start of 1030, we had to record another homily and that’s when my microphone decided to quit. We ended up doing the homily recording with a cell phone, and making that an input into the service.

So thanks to the help of Jennifer and many, many others, I think we produced something quite good. No, it’s not the same as being there and I missed everyone so much. The sheep in the pews helped a lot! Much love to you all as we continue to navigate this virus. In the midst of that, remember Easter is a season of 50 days, so let’s keep saying YAY JESUS as we offer our prayers for one another. God bless!

The BEST surprise Saturday morning was seeing our “sheep” were in the pews!

Special thanks to Chris Westphal (altar guild) and Debbie
Vaughn (flower guild) for the beautiful work they did telling the Holy Week story.

Palm Sunday – Maundy Thursday
Good Friday
Easter Day


And of course, sound and video tech supreme, Jennifer Knight!

THE SAME…BUT NOT THE SAME

I heard from an old friend this week, Zara Renander. I met Zara after Hurricane Katrina turned our lives upside down on the coast of Mississippi. Zara, along with the Reverend Kerry Holder-Joffrion, are experts in teaching the use of labyrinths for meditation, prayer, mental health, support and a myriad of other wonderful things. A year or so after the storm, we invited Zara and Kerry to do a weekend workshop at Coast Episcopal School and St. Patrick’s (we were meeting in the gym at Coast Episcopal then). We built a simple labyrinth with the help of the school kids on the grounds of the school, and setup another temporary one in the gym where St. Patrick’s held worship services. We invited mental health workers and school teachers from all over the coast of Mississippi and they came in large numbers to see if using a labyrinth could help with their clients and students. It was a huge success. So much so that when we built (finally) the new St. Patrick’s, we included an outdoor labyrinth on the grounds.

Zara and Kerry are amazing spiritual guides that helped me tremendously during this challenging time. This week Zara was wanting to write on her blog about the current crisis and reached out to me to see if she could use a letter I wrote at the 10th anniversary of Katrina. I was flattered and of course said yes. Here is her entire post: http://turningpointgroup.org/talking-feather-time-in-the-nick-of-time/

The part she quoted from me is this:

This is an excerpt from David’s letter and reflections on that disastrous time:

“Do I talk about the woman who almost died in her home, water to her neck, neither she nor her daughter could swim, how a neighbor rescued them out of a window and lashed them inside a boat tied to a tree, where they watched it all play out, tornadoes and wind and water and prayed the tree held, watched her home and car wash away, knowing her story was just one story of so many JUST LIKE THAT. Do I talk about the friend in Hattiesburg who is a Chevy dealer who loaned me a pickup truck that I would fill up with supplies and drive around to all the tent “villages”, especially in the Bay, and hand out what I had and money if I had it too, and then go back for more supplies and do it all over again. What a gift that truck proved to be, just in the nick of time. So much came to us just in the nick of time, over and over again God provided, in the triple digit heat and the dust and the great despair, God kept showing up, looking different every time, but present and there always. Always.”

This crisis is the same and very different. None of us know how this pandemic crisis will end. There will be pain and suffering and deep sadness. There will be miracle workers and angels we are unaware of. There will be suffering and pain and there will be glimmers of hope. As I preached last week, hope does not disappoint! Those are St. Paul’s words, not mine. May we never lose hope, for hope, the only hope that matters, is hope in God who loves us and is with us, at the nick of time and over time. This will be so hard. We have a while to go. But our sacred story speaks of a God who shows up, loves us when we are unlovable, and truly wants us to put our hope, our trust, our faith in Him. In the nick of time. And all the time.

My prayers are with you all. This blog will be much more active for a while, some of the posts will be video based. I welcome you sharing with anyone you think may like to read/hear my thoughts, reactions, and prayers. God bless! In the nick of time. And all the time.

Fr. David+

A Sad week

Last week my mother suffered a stroke. She is doing ok and beginning the long road of rehab and recovery. Jennifer and I spent Friday and Saturday in Hattiesburg with Mom, visiting when allowed to (she was in ICU then). I am so blessed to be part of my family, my four brothers and their wives and children as well as my own kids, especially during challenging times. My daughter Mackenzie left work and drove to Hattiesburg from the coast of Mississippi as soon as she heard. She is a Neuro Nurse Practitioner and has dealt primarily with stroke patients her entire medical career. She was a huge help explaining things to Mom and the rest of us. Having Jennifer there with her medical knowledge and love for my mom made a huge difference also. She made sure mom’s care team was on the job and doing what they needed to be doing.

I returned Monday for a quick visit as she was settling into the rehab floor. My brothers and I mapped out a game plan for the coming weeks. My mother is 85 and other than giving birth to her 5 sons, she had never been admitted to a hospital before!

Sunday morning I was back at St. Simon’s when I received the terrible news that my friend and colleague, the Reverend Chuck Culpepper, had died very unexpectedly the night before. If you are on Facebook you can go to his page, now set up as a tribute site, and read hundreds of heartfelt comments about Chuck, his ministry, his laughter, his love of all God’s children and his amazing ability to make anyone, especially young people, understand they too are beloved of God. Chuck was currently serving as Rector of St. Luke’s in Brandon, MS and Vicar of St. Alexis in Jackson, MS. He had just finished a camp session at Camp Bratton-Green. Chuck was a legend as a camp director and as a spiritual director for Happening and Vocare. His deep and incredible involvement in youth and young adult ministries in the Diocese of Mississippi has helped shaped the lives of literally thousands of young people in the diocese, including all three of my children. He will be deeply missed, please pray for Chuck, his wife Katherine and son Andy, and all of us who grieve his loss.

Chuck was 69 and as one of the Facebook posts said, he was always the youngest person in the room. I loved hanging out in the back right corner of the main conference room at Gray Center during Clergy Conference, where Chuck always sat. He not only was hilarious, he was also brilliant. You could count on him making really insightful comments while always championing those in need. Serving others was a core part of his life and something he lived daily, not just something he talked about.

As a fairly newly ordained priest I was sent by my bishop, along with several other clergy from our diocese, to attend a conference at Camp Allen, the Diocese of Texas’ conference center. Chuck offered to room with me. We flew from Jackson to Dallas, along with the late Reverend Hunter Isaacs. In Dallas we were to catch a flight to Houston and drive the short way from there to Camp Allen. However, the airplane for the last leg had mechanical issues and we kept getting delayed and delayed and delayed. We missed the window to arrive in time for the opening service and dinner and the 3 of us decided to rent a car and drive from Dallas to Camp Allen, about 3 ½ hour drive I think. The only car they had available was a purple PT Cruiser, so off we went, leaving Dallas about midnight. We stopped along the way at a gas station in a sketchy area, and we were quite the sight, three priests in our purple Cruiser. Hunter, very unintentionally, kept us in stitches the whole trip. Chuck’s laughter was very contagious, and we just made fun of the whole situation on the entire drive. Hunter was rooming with someone he didn’t know and was terrified he would wake his roomie up coming in so late. The next morning, he arrived at breakfast (we had all three had maybe 2 hours sleep) with a knot on his head. He had entered his room and dared not turn on a light so as not to bother his roomie, tripped over an end table and hit his head, fumbled around and got a light on to see how injured he was and realized then – no roommate was there! Chuck and I laughed about that, and the really accidentally comical things Hunter said the entire trip, for years after. I know this is a “you had to be there” kind of story, but it has replayed in my mind ever since hearing the sad news. Those memories allow me to hear Chuck’s laughter again and again, his easy going nature and quick smile seared into my memories. Good lord we will miss this man!

I pray I can be half the priest he was; I can say he taught me a lot about this vocation, and I am forever grateful for his influence on my children and my son-in-law, John Dreyfus. May light perpetual shine upon him, I look forward to the day when I hear that laugh again.

Itinerant: noun. a person who alternates between working and wandering.