Thoughts & Homilies from our Rector
Rev. Eric L. Miller
Rector's Blog: I Miss You!
July 21, 2023
The air-conditioners are cranking. Humidity levels are high. Temperatures keep on climbing. Yes, it is summer in Cincinnati! Serving as your rector for well over a decade, I recognize many of us have the opportunity to travel, and I am quite grateful for travel too. I spent almost a week with my family in the Chesapeake Bay Area of Maryland at my brother-in-law’s. We had some lovely weather, as well as some nice excursions in a part of the country we’d not previously explored. In a few weeks, my wife and I will visit the beach for a few days, and I’m rightly excited about that.
For many, summer is a time for more intentional connecting with family and friends, a time to get away from our work environments to rest and recharge. As much as I love summer and travel with family, there’s always a part of me that can’t wait for the school year to resume; school in session means families are back in town and parishioners are back into worship again. Know that I miss you. I miss worshiping with you on Sunday mornings, seeing you at coffee hour, and seeing the joy and wonder in your eyes as you learn something new during Christian formation.
I hope you’re enjoying the summer months, and I hope you choose to join us for worship when you are in town. Have you tried out our outdoor 8:30 service yet? The 8:30 service has a completely different feel to it than our indoor 8:00 am liturgy. Have you joined us for our summer concert series or our Thursday night dinners at 6:30 each Thursday evening? Have you reached out to those you haven’t seen in a while? A&HT is a people who love connecting with God through connecting with each other. Who haven’t you seen and might give a call or even a simple text message? What about hosting lemonade and a simple snack for after 10:00 am worship? Some Sundays we have lemonade hour on the Gathering Place, while other Sundays we lack the volunteers.
The life of A&HT matters greatly to me. I want to see us growing and thriving. A gift of the long-term pastorate is trust between the rector and parishioners. Long-term pastors and their parishes know one another deeply; even if the pastor’s approach to a ministry is off a bit, parishioners know the pastor’s heart is in the right place. A challenge of the long-term pastorate is complacency on the side of the pastor and on the side of the parish. Pastor and parish know one another all too well, and it becomes easy for both to coast, even take for granted. I don’t want us to coast. I want us to continue loving, learning, and going forth as transformed people on fire for the love of Christ.
For me, the act of worship in community is a time for gathering together, hearing the words of Jesus, experiencing the Word-incarnate through sacred stories and meals, recognizing Christ’s unconditional love and mercy so that we may go forth into the world, a people forgiven, renewed, and restored to both share and receive Jesus’ love outside of our building. For that scattering and sending forth into the world to happen, though, first we must gather.
We have a beautiful, meaningful liturgy, full of history and sound theology. I attempt to cultivate and lead liturgy with a sense of reverence, but also with a sense of approachability, authenticity, and openness. I invite you to join us for worship when you’re in town, experience the gift of the Spirit through Word and Sacrament, through preaching and prayers, through music and silence. I invite you to volunteer as a reader, a Eucharistic Minister, a person who offers healing prayers once a month, an altar guild minister making ready for our holy meal of Eucharist, a singer in our choir, an acolyte helping me lead worship, a Eucharistic Visitor to take Communion to our shut-ins, an usher who greets people at the door with a smile of welcome, a coffee/lemonade hour host, a meditator, a year-round stewardship team member, a Sunday school teacher (for youth and adults), an audio/video minister sharing our service with the world, and so much more. If you are weary and tired, I invite you to simply join us for worship and enjoy the view from the pew.
Your Vestry cares about the life of this parish. Over the years we’ve put together strategic plans and implemented some of them. Vestry met in June for a planning and discerning day where we discussed the church’s values, challenges, hopes, and healthy experiences. Vestry and I still believe in our mission, Ascension & Holy Trinity lives to put God’s love into action. We still believe in our vision prayed each Sunday, that we may become a vital and growing faith community, with overflowing worship services and Christian growth opportunities. A church with compassion-centered ministries through which all find a place and take God’s love into the world. We believe in our tagline, All are welcome because all belong.
Rather than a strategic plan for the next two to three years, Vestry has been writing a prayer to guide us in our decision-making to help further us toward our vision. Thus far, the prayer is as follows: As followers of Jesus, we return again and again to him as we worship to grow in abundant, inclusive, and unconditional love, empowering people with various gifts and passions to serve each other and our neighbors.
Vestry is doing its utmost to lead us into the future, to tend to this parish's spiritual and temporal needs. And, we need your help. We ask you to return again and again to Jesus through worship so that we grow in abundance, Christ’s inclusive and unconditional love, and empower one another and the world with gifts and passions to serve.
In God's Grace,
Eric L. Miller+
Rector's Blog: Juneteenth & PRIDE
June 27, 2023
The air was hot and humid. Finding parking was a challenge, and it was a great cause for celebration once parking was found. I was on foot with hundreds of others downtown for the annual PRIDE festival with parade and booth exhibits. We had a splendid time meeting folks from all walks of life on Saturday, June 24 at Sawyer Point. Ascension & Holy Trinity was blessed to have Sara Cahall and John Fitzwater carry our parish banner in the PRIDE parade. Libbie Crawford and I tended the Diocese of Southern Ohio’s PRIDE tent together.
Countless individuals approached our diocesan booth asking what Episcopalians are about. “Are lesbians allowed into the church?” “Do you think I’m going to hell because I’m gay?” “There’s actually a church that accepts me and my friends?”
The Episcopal Church, including Ascension & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, is all about Christ’s unconditional love. Libbie and I met people where they were, listened to them, and shared Jesus’ love through expressing God’s love for all creation, including the LGBTQ+ community, with no exceptions. While the reader may well realize God’s love extends to all, there are many in the LGBTQ+ community who don’t know God’s unconditional love, or that there’s a church that loves and embraces them as beloved.
June is an important month for me. First, Juneteenth is remembered and celebrated on and around June 19 commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. The earliest Juneteenth celebrations go back to 1866, involving church-centered community gatherings in Texas. Today, communities all over the United States celebrate Juneteenth with a plethora of activities. Our very own Wyoming, Ohio celebrated Juneteenth on Friday, June 16 this year. Wyoming Community In Action did an extraordinary job with all sorts of vendors present, drumming circles, artwork for children, spoken word, and more.
PRIDE month is equally important for me. PRIDE month is celebrated each June and honors LGBTQ+ Rights and LGBTQ+ Culture. PRIDE month all started with the Stonewall riots, a series of riots for gay liberation for several days in June of 1969. Today, PRIDE is celebrated with parades, concerts, rainbow flags, and much more.
Why are Juneteenth and PRIDE important to me? I believe that God loves every single one of us unconditionally. I believe that Christ is the great liberator of all that oppresses, those who oppress People of Color, and those who oppress LGBTQ+. While we have made many strides toward honoring the dignity of every human being, we still have quite a ways to go for full inclusion.
For me, acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community is not enough. My prayer is for the Church to fully engage and love PRIDE. Over the centuries the Church has done much emotional damage to the PRIDE Community through exclusion, hurtful rhetoric, and hateful actions.
Some in the Church today grow weary and frustrated whenever PRIDE or Juneteenth are mentioned. Some feel Juneteenth and PRIDE shouldn’t have attention drawn to them. Jesus’ liberating love is too important to omit remembering our past and honoring our present Way of Love. There is still discrimination and oppression today.
The Good News is there are also many today standing in love and solidarity against racism and discrimination against LGBTQ+. The Good News is that A&HT tripled our number of participants in Cincinnati’s PRIDE presence from 2022 to 2023. The Good News is people who understand Christ as extraordinary inclusive love are speaking up today. Yes, we have a long way to go, and we are still committed to loving one another and standing up for love.
I hope you’ll join me next year in a Juneteenth event and a PRIDE event. Together, we’ll recognize inclusive and roomy love, dignity, and compassion shared with all.
In God’s Grace,
Eric L. Miller+
How well do you function when under stress? How clear is your thought process when experiencing emotional pain? We can give ourselves and our loved ones a gift by planning our funeral. Yes, I realize this topic is a bit morose, but my boys are correct when they joke, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” The fact is that every single one of us will die one day. There isn’t any way to cheat death. Indeed, we celebrate the resurrection and eternal life, and death is part of that process.
So, have you planned your funeral? If so, have you spoken with your loved ones about your wishes? Does your parish priest (me) know what you want? Ascension & Holy Trinity has a wonderful funeral planning form you can obtain from our parish administrator by emailing email@example.com. My ask is for you to read over the form, look through it with your loved ones, ask me any questions you may have, and share a copy of it with the church office and your children. I recently sent the form to my parents asking the same of them.
Why is it important to have your funeral planning form complete and on file? Well, there are a few different reasons. First, I want your funeral to be what you hope it to be. As much as I like to think I know my parishioners, there isn’t any way I can accurately guess what you might want. There are all sorts of choices, and I want you to be the one to choose for yourself.
Second, having your funeral plans prepared is a gift to those left behind. Both of my parents are alive and healthy. It’ll be awful when I lose them. I’ll need to contact their parish priest. I'll need to work with my brother on their funeral and many other things. I don’t always see eye to eye with my brother theologically or liturgically. I don’t want to have to guess what my parents want, which brings me to my third point.
We need to grieve when our loved ones die. We use all sorts of phrases like “passing on” and “going to a better place.” It is ok to say “death,” “dying,” “dead,” and “deceased.” Death is a reality, and it is harder the closer we are to those who’ve died. Having the funeral already planned is one less detail your family needs to focus on and provides more mental and emotional space to grieve.
Something else to consider is what kind of legacy you’ll leave behind. How you live today makes a vast difference in what your family and friends remember about you when you are gone from this earth. Do we want to be remembered for our loving and esteem-able actions? Then, we need to do loving and esteem-able things. Do we want to be known and remembered for how wonderful of a chef we were, but we really aren’t all that great at cooking today? Then, it would be a wise idea to enroll in a cooking class.
Another helpful idea is to remember the church in your will. Yes, I’m asking you to remember A&HT in your will. Several of you significantly help to balance our budgetary needs. I recognize our families are extremely important to us, believe me, I get that. Wouldn’t it be nice to remember the people who’ve given so much to your faith formation over the course of life? A&HT has a small endowment fund designated for building & grounds, as well as outreach ministries. You can put A&HT’s Endowment Fund in your will, or you can simply leave A&HT in your will. Churches love gifts without any strings attached. Imagine, if you will, giving a young artist the gift of all the sports equipment they could ever use. Um...they aren’t interested in sports; their passion is art. You could give them a gift of paintbrushes, but what happens down the line when they decide that painting isn’t their medium, and they begin working with clay? Trust me, the Vestry would love the gift of receiving a bequest without any strings attached. I assure you, Vestry is up to the challenge.
We are here to help. I am happy to meet with you before your death to help plan your funeral. Our finance team is happy to hear about your financial plans and answer questions. It is never too early to get these important items in place, and I’m grateful for your consideration.
In God’s Grace,
Rev. Eric L. Miller+