We’ve asked people to share how they live God’s love at Saint Matthew’s and in the world. These stories express how people at Saint Matthew’s are using the gifts God has given them to help transform the world.
- Cal’s Message
- Ann’s Message
- Betsy’s Message
- Nick’s Message
- Amy’s Message
- Marilyn’s Message
- Peggy’s Message
- Lynne’s Message
- Thelma’s Message
I’m Cal Armistead, chair of the worship committee here at St. Matthew’s. At our meeting last month, we talked about how we loved it during stewardship when folks from the congregation stood up to tell their faith stories. The old fashioned term for this kind of story is a testimony. A statement. Bearing witness. We need more of these during worship, I said. We need to hear each other’s profound, true stories on a regular basis.
Great idea Cal, everybody said. You go first.
Okay, sure, I said. No problem. I’m a writer, stories are my life. Then I went home…and struggled. Because even though I’m a writer, when discussing faith and God, I feel like I need a new vocabulary. Maybe even a new language altogether. But I’ll do my best.
My journey, like everyone else’s, is complex and circuitous, but I guess you’d say it started off pretty straight and narrow. I’m a preacher’s daughter, brought up in a home that revolved around the church. Dad was in the pulpit, Mom was in the choir. I earned a collection of perfect attendance pins in Sunday school. I went to Christian summer camp and youth group. As an adult, I sang in several choirs and served on dozens of committees and cooked many a casserole for many a covered dish supper. We raised our daughters in the church. I became a trained Stephen Minister. I was in discipleship groups and Bible studies and adult Sunday school classes.
And then, about ten years ago, I lost my religion.
It had been slipping away a little at a time as I slogged through an obstacle course of life tests and upheavals and loss that left me reeling and on uncertain footing. To sum up: life happened, and it changed me. I became someone different, someone new. And I discovered that my old models of church and dogma and religion didn’t fit me anymore. They were too confining, too rigid for the new person I’d become. I decided I was done with church, finished with religion.
But I see now I was like a hermit crab who had outgrown its shell. I longed for, hungered for… something more in my faith, something bigger. Something that would provide me room to grow.
There’s nothing more frightening than being a hermit crab between shells, all vulnerable, raw and exposed. I won’t lie, it was a scary time. But finally I found a new shell, one that included a fascinating combination of science and mysticism and oceans of unconditional God love. It fed me and challenged me. It didn’t need a church or a religion.
When I first came to St. Matthew’s, it wasn’t for me. It was for my dad, the retired Methodist minister. Also, I was curious. A close friend had shared a poem/meditation written by Steve that knocked my socks off. I wanted to see if he was as good a preacher as he was a poet.
He was. He is. I thought to myself that first Sunday morning, this church feels different. Pastor Steve is different. His interpretation of God’s love is compatible with mine. That first Sunday, I thought with uncommon clarity, Steve and I need to do some work together.
Even with that prompt though, I didn’t dive in right away. It’s taken me about 3 years of circling the perimeter, dipping a toe in and pulling it out again, before finally making the plunge to become an active, involved member at St. Matthew’s…but for what it’s worth, I’m here now.
And I feel like I’m on the verge of another change. My hermit crab self is in the process of yanking itself out of its former shell, in search of a new one. I know it will be transforming, I know it will be good, but I’m not sure what it looks like yet. It has to do with all of you. It has to do with this church. It has to do with some new, very insistent writing projects that won’t let me rest. But I’m feeling vulnerable, and I ask for your prayers as I seek the new shell that will accommodate all I’ve got going on right now.
No, I don’t have my faith fully figured out—who does?—but I’m trying, and I’ve found this a good place to try, with good people who are also trying. Here, we can support each other and lean into the mystery together. And our faith stories are a vital part of this.
Will you share yours with us?
There are a number of reasons I give to St. Matthews, but I wanted to share just one today, the one that’s most important to me – which is:
St. Matthews led me back to God, and that has given me my life back.
When I was a young adult, there were three tragedies that happened in my small family, and I couldn’t seem to recover from that. It was hard for me to believe that God existed anymore – so I just retreated from God and from people and I buried myself in my work.
That’s how things stayed for decades.
But then, about 5 years ago I came to St. Matthews on Easter. Just by chance, I was seated next to Ed and Marilyn Roman, who were really welcoming. And so was Lynne Osborn. That meant a lot to me. And then, shortly into the service came the children’s time. I had never really heard anything like Steve’s children’s time. He talked about how much God loves us – always – and how God wants nothing more than to be with us.
Somehow that day I heard that message, and I wanted to keep hearing it.
So I started coming to church every week, and I signed up for pretty much every class that Steve was teaching. Then, the next fall, Beth offered the Companions in Christ course. I took that, and afterwards, all of us Companions continued on with three more shorter courses on our own. And then –we took the full course yet again. I think what happened over those years was that week after week, I was surrounded by these loving, caring, supportive people, who were all figuring out their own journeys with God. And at some point in that journey, I realized that I was starting to heal. There were starting to be these little cracks in the walls that I had put up. I started to trust that God was with me again, and probably had been all along – keeping me going, getting me stronger, finally giving me the courage (as Steve says every week in his prayer) to trust God’s deep desire for me. That knowledge, that trust, changed everything, and it got me back to something resembling the person I had been decades before.
So I give everything I can to St. Matthews: my money, my time, my energy, because I want St. Matthew’s to stay strong. So that all the resources – all the love and opportunities, the classes, the groups- everything that was given to me will be available to anyone who walks through the door. So that anyone who needs healing will find it
I’m grateful to everyone here for what you have given me, just by being a part of this wonderful community. Thank you.
Good morning. My name is Betsy. Today it’s my turn to talk about giving.
When I first came to St. Matthew’s,I was not a healthy person. My once-happy marriage had become source of deep anguish for me, and I had trouble seeing any meaning in my life.For some reason, I made a New Year’s resolution to see what it would be like to return to church after an absence of 40 years. You could say “I decided” or you could say “God led me,” but the result was that on the first Sunday of 2007, I walked through those doors.
And here you all were!
You welcomed, nurtured, and befriended me. You gave me the space to find God in my life. With you, I have been striving, as Steve puts it, “to live in harmony with God’s grace.” We play and pray, sing and worship, study and reflect. We love and help each other. And we work on making our church and the world better places.
As I traveled the country with my sister on our hunger project, I worshiped at dozens of churches. Some were huge and impersonal and felt like social clubs. Some were old and dusty and felt like they were stuck or in decline. Some were preaching something that didn’t sound to me like the way of Jesus. In the end, only a handful felt as loving, inclusive, alive, and Christian as St. Matthew’s.
So with enormous gratitude and eagerness,I give.
· I offer my prayers, my presence, and my witness.
· I offer my service in areas like ushering, collecting food, and chairing MOA and the Festival of Sharing.
· And I offer my gifts by helping where I might be particularly useful and by making sure that my monetary pledge is generous and increasing every year.
Now my son, my in-laws, and I are mourning the death of my ex-husband.
I know you will help us through that process, just as I know you will do your part to keep our beloved church vibrant and healthy.
Good morning. My name is Nick, and I’m here with my family David, Susan, and Lena and we moved to this area back in 2013. We started looking for a church after more than 10 years of going to 2 different Presbyterian churches, both of which we were very comfortable with and were very hard for us to leave each time. So, we started visiting churches in the area and realized very quickly that there aren’t very many Presbyterian churches around here. So we started looking at other denominations; we visited an Episcopalian church in Westford. We visited a Methodist church also in Westford and neither of those churches really captured us. We weren’t really quite sure why but in both cases we were not in a rush to go back to either Church. A smarter person might have thought we were making excuses and what not but it was difficult for us.
So we started looking for Presbyterian churches in the area and there is one in Sudbury, which is a bit far for us. When we were talking about visiting this church, I was doing a crossword puzzle in the Pennysaver magazine and I saw a write-up about a pancake dinner at Saint Matthew’s before Lent and I said, “well we could go to this place that has pancakes”.
We visited Saint Matthew’s one Sunday, not really optimistic, you know maybe we’d get some more good cake or something like that. Once we arrived we were immediately drawn in by the love that just comes out of this place. By Pastor Steve, Beth, and everybody here and this is easy to recognize when you come in the doors here, not only by how people behave and act and that they are welcoming to you, but by all of the Outreach missions that emanate from the people here and extend around the world.
Now most importantly, I think that this church is our family. We’re both from Ohio and we don’t have immediate family in the area and that’s another really important thing we found here, and it starts with the dedicated Sunday School teachers extends into the office staff and all of the generally outstanding people here. So in short, we are pleased to give because this place brings together everybody here and I think this place serves as a shining light to the world.
Why do I give to St. Matthew’s? What motivates me to give my time and my money to St. Matthew’s?
The answer to that question is YOU – each and every one of you. There is a warmth and an energy here because of YOU. We are surrounded by talented, kind, caring, prayerful, people.
We are truly blessed as a congregation, to have so many people showing God’s love by giving a piece of themselves and sharing their talents with each other and with the greater community. In fact, everyone seems to do something in some way or another. It might be a mission trip, or advocating for those who are food challenged, ororganizing and running a Boston outreach group,or providing music for worship, or creating beautiful flower arrangements for Sunday, or leading an education class, or taking freshly baked cookies to someone just home from the hospital, or lingering after worship and lending a listening ear to someone in need of an extra prayeror a chat – the list goes on and on. Big things and little things – all making a difference in people’s lives. We are surrounded by thoughtful, caring people going that extra mile for others in true Christian spirit. It is amazing what this congregation does for each other and for the greater community.
In addition to the energy of the members of the congregation, over the years, we have been blessed to have some amazing pastors minister to us. Each one has had a slightly different style – all have shared their talents with us. Pastor Steve is a perfect example with his music, his writings, his eloquence, his rapport with the kids, his prayerful support of us all – again the list is long. We are so very fortunate that over the years we have had pastors who inspire us and care for us and challenge us.
For all of these things I am very grateful. I give to St. Matthew’s so that we as a congregation can continue to grow, to serve, to thrive, and to be challenged. I give in the hopes that even more people will come to St. Matthew’s to share their talents and caring spirit. I give because I am so very thankful for the warmth of this congregation.
St. Matthew’s has been an integral part of my life for more than 40 years and I give because I’m up for another 40!
In an attempt to address my own uncertainties in teaching our high school seniors and to provide something of a measuring stick, I decided to set some goals for what I hoped we could accomplish together over the course of four years. This was the result. For each person, I hope they will:
- to have a clear sense of themselves, their values as they begin to make consequential life choices.
- to learn to value their own minds and interpretations and to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.
- to grow comfortable speaking out by practicing this skill in a loving, accepting community.
- to see how a book, parts of which are over 3000 years old, still has relevance for their lives and their world; and further to see how this book urges us to reach out, to connect, to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
- to know the many gifts that come from being part of a faith community.
As I looked at the list I realized two things: that it also spoke to what I hope for me and that undergirding much of this, was community.
At the same time I was reading a moving, powerful and sometimes quirky book entitled Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. In the chapter where she is describing the ways her congregation marks the events of Holy Week I found the following:
After Peter denied Jesus, he experienced Easter, but after Judas betrayed Jesus, he bought a field, tripped and fell, and his guts burst open. He died alone in a field of blood. He died knowing her was a sinner and perhaps thinking that God did not want him.
There was no Easter for Judas. There was no Resurrection. There was no light shining which the darkness could not overcome. Judas never got to be filled with joy and disbelief at Pentecost like those in the upper room. He never got to stick his fingers in the wounds of God. He never got to eat sacramental broiled fish on a beach, served to him by the resurrected Christ. Judas never experienced the defeat of sin and death revealed in the breaking of the bread. He chose death before seeing that death was done for. Our brother Judas.
But was what he did so unforgivable? How is it that Judas, who betrayed Jesus once and was filled with remorse, became the villain, while Peter, who denied Jesus three times and wept bitterly, became the rock on which the church was built? When it comes down to it, what is the difference between Peter and Judas? Well, maybe nothing. And maybe there’s not a whole lot of difference between us and them too.
But we get to share something with Peter that Judas never got to experience and it’s the thing that could have made all the difference. In Judas’s isolation, he never availed himself to the means of grace. Judas carried with him into that field the burden of not experiencing God’s grace because he was removed from the community in which he could hear it. In Judas’s ears there never was placed a word of grace. And let me tell you, that’s not something the sinner can create for him or herself. It is next to impossible in isolation to manufacture the beautiful, radical grace that flows from the heart of God to God’s broken and blessed humanity. As human beings, there are many things we can create for ourselves :entertainment, stories, pain, toothpaste, maybe even positive self-talk. But it is difficult to create this thing that frees us from the bondage of self. We cannot create for ourselves God’s work of grace. We must tell it to each other. It’s a terribly inconvenient and oftentimes uncomfortable way for things to happen. Were we able to receive the word of God through pious, private devotion – through quiet personal time with God – the Christian life would be far less messy. But, as Paul tells us, faith comes through hearing, and hearing implies someone right there doing the telling.
And that, for me, is the St. Matthew’s community: welcoming, challenging, forgiving and utterly precious. And I will support this community fully and to the greatest extent I am able.
My faith journey began when I was a little girl. My family went to church every Sunday and we were an integral part of a loving church family working, learning, playing, worshiping and giving our gifts to Praise God and to spread God’s Love.
I cannot imagine my life without such a church family and St. Matthew’s has been my Church home for over 45 years.
Here at St. Matthew’s I have served in many ways, teaching Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, Chairperson of Education, leading craft groups, worship leader, etc. However, for more than 20 years I have created the worship flowers/ visuals for the Sunday worship almost every Sunday. I began slowly with special designs like Pentecost and Thanksgiving but soon became fascinated with creating designs that I like to call “Scriptures in Bloom”. In January of 2000 the church hosted a seminar called “Treading on the Verge of the Jordan”. The worship committee wanted an expressive design so I suggested an underwater. You can imagine the reaction!!!
I gave it my all and it was a success! People were curious so it turned into a Children’s sermon for explanation. From there I designed several Lenten and Advent series, which also served as visuals for Children’s sermons. Many of the flowers used had liturgical meaning and symbolism.In November of 2001, St. Matthew’s hosted a liturgical art show and worship arts festival, titled “The Light of Christ: Imagination and Illumination. Expressive works for each liturgical holiday and sacrament were created by the poet, Thomas Troeger, the liturgical fabric artist, Becky Rogers Witsell and me, the floral designer. I presented a workshop to participants from all over the state on creating meaningful designs for worship. What this whole experience has done for my faith is amazing to me!It has led to more reflective Bible study, communication with church members who wish to share special occasions or memorials with the congregation through flowers, and meaningful prayer times as I create memorial arrangements. I love nature and flowers.It is a way I spend time with God.
One of the highlights of my life was attending the Washington National Cathedral Altar Guild Flower Seminar in January of 2002. On my name tag it read, Flower Arranging in Holy Spaces. It was awesome and inspiring to design right in the beautiful cathedral and to actually create the flowers for the upcoming Sunday services. Risk, Trust and Faith took on new meaning. I arrived at the College of Preachers where we stayed, physically all alone but with keen awareness of God’s presence. A week later I left with an abundance of liturgical and floral inspiration and many flower friendships all across the country. I would like to read to you excerpts from a letter from the preface of our text book ,Flowers to the Glory of God, written by Ronald H. Haines, a Bishop of Washington, DC as it expresses many of my feelings.
Excerpts from the letter: We read in scriptures “…let us offer to God an unending sacrifice of praise….” Those words call to mind the ministry of the Altar Guild. The atmosphere of reverence and beauty, whether in a majestic cathedral or in a tiny mission, so often reflects the work of loving hands and devoted servants of the Lord.
The beauty of God’s creation is a wonder to behold. To me the beauty of a flower reflects the glory of God. In a world that is scarred and drab a flower is a sign of hope. I admire the creative gift of those whose ministry it is to present to God offerings of beauty. This book on floral arranging is designed to enrich the ministry of those who serve on altar guilds. It has been lovingly prepared as an offering to God and for the benefit of the Church. Ronald H. Haines, Bishop of Washington, pro-tem
In closing, I wish to thank St. Matthew’s for the honor and opportunity to design flowers for the Glory of God most Sundays. It is a meaningful path helping me to strengthen my faith and a way I can give Praise to God. I hope the altar arrangements are meaningful to all of you and I welcome others to join me in this ministry.