United, Not Uniform - Ashley Newton

I’ve heard a lot of people say that their favorite season of the church year is Lent, even though this is usually prefaced by a quick disclaimer: “I know it’s odd, but...” Lent is a penitential season and the world teaches us that this isn’t something we’re supposed to enjoy. In fact, when I mentioned Hentzi’s Ash Wednesday homily about not making Lent a season of self-shame to a Catholic friend of mine, he was very much taken aback at how different this was to his own priest’s words that morning. 

Lent is my favorite season too, although not because of the focus on penitential behaviors and liturgy, but because of the sense of unity I feel that it brings to the wider church community. I was traveling out of state earlier this month, and I had to go to a different church on Sunday morning. I was struck by how, even though the surroundings were so very different from Emmanuel (the incense was thick enough to make me grab for a Kleenex), the people and the feeling on that fourth Sunday in Lent were so very similar to home. Sure, the building was different and the altar was different and the words in the service were different, but these were all superficial changes. The spirit of Lent was still present, the people were still taking this season to self-reflect and try to improve their relationship with God and each other. It didn’t matter what church it was or what the sermon was--everyone there was somehow connected to all the other Christians observing this Lenten season in whatever way was personal to them. 

Even though Lent is observed a little differently from church to church and even from person to person, I am reminded of a paragraph I read late last year: 

Unity is not uniformity. Unity is harmony; uniformity is monotony. Do not stickle for uniformity, as long as unity is secured. The having the same order of Worship, the same liturgical observances, the same hymns and the same prayers in the same method of arrangement, -  friends, the Unity of the Church of Christ does not consist in this.*

So, even though Lent is not observed uniformly by all Christians, every Lent I am still reminded that we are all one Church--united in our desire to be closer to God this season, if not uniform in how we choose to do it.


*Quote from On the Communion Office by Goulburn; 1865 (pg 16)

Yours, Mine, and Ours - Elizabeth Shaner

Don't you love the feeling of an "Aha!" moment?  On a neurological level, it feels great because the brain is rewarded with a rush of dopamine. On an emotional level (for me) it makes me feel excited, joyful, and content.  I had an "Aha!" moment in church a few weeks ago during the end of Epiphany--no pun intended.

I was struck by the use of the pronoun "us" and "we" in our regular liturgy, particularly in the Confession of Sin and the Lord's Prayer.  I realized every time I recite those words, I think about the evil I have done or that has been done on my behalf.  My Father in Heaven.  Asking God to forgive me, as I forgive those who trespass against me.  I say the words "we" and "us," but I'm not thinking in those terms.  My personal petitions to God--and the things I probably should not have done during the week--run through my mind.  I also find myself listening to the sound of my own voice; the voice of the person in front of or behind me; or the sound of the congregation speaking in unison--usually in that order.  On this particular day, I listened to my voice briefly, then the whole congregation, and I thought about how the literal reason we say "we" and "us" is because we are all praying for our individual needs at the same time.  But what if we repent not only for our individual sins, but for each others'? Asking God to forgive me, and asking God to forgive the sins of the person in front of me?  Praying not to my Father, but a God who is yours, mine, and ours?

In many ways, I consider Lent  an "I" focused season that can sometimes be isolating, but approaching the liturgy in this way during Lent has been very meaningful for me.

Commitment - Jack Carroll

This year during Lent, Erin and I will be starting pre-marital counseling in preparation for our wedding this summer.  The timing is a coincidence, but counseling during Lent may be appropriate:  it’s a chance to step away from the busyness and stress of planning a wedding and make sure that we’re making the right decision.  I have no doubt about my marriage to Erin, but I have been struggling with commitment in other aspects of my life.  I want to be fully invested in my community, but Baltimore has often left me frustrated by our inability to confront our problems compounded by poor decisions by our leaders.  Is this really the place where I want to live my life, pursue my career, and (perhaps someday) raise a family?  Similarly, I have been heavily involved at Emmanuel, and the ups and downs of the last few years have been difficult.  Will I have the energy to keep it up?  As I begin preparing for marriage this Lent, I hope to have the opportunity to reflect on the other commitments in my life and find a way to move from anxiety to peace, optimism, and renewed passion.  As my relationship with Erin takes the next step, I will work to make my commitments to my city, my church, and my job become deeper and more meaningful as well.

An Impatient Lent - Erin McClure

     As I was contemplating how I would celebrate Lent this year, my attention turned to the practice of patience. I am an impatient patient person and this is not good. Slow walkers, unpredictable drivers, and long lines annoy me. I struggle with waiting for things to happen and often end up rushing matters that require careful consideration and deserve to develop in due time. I'm impatient for the future to get here and frustrated that I can't know what will happen next. Patient people seem happier and less irritable, so patience is probably a good characteristic to cultivate in my own life. However, it seemed to me that anything I would do in Lent to control my impatience would just be a self-improvement exercise and not a penitential, God-seeking practice.

     Upon further reflection, it occurred to me that, as in my own life, impatience is alive and well in Lent. For example, we can be impatient about the gloomy time of repentance and suffering (if you're into that sort of thing), and just want to make it to the joyful Easter celebration. Some people abstain from certain foods or practices during Lent and impatiently count down the days until they can indulge again. These negative aspects of an impatient Lent should probably be avoided. Yet, they seem to be built into how a lot of Western Christians celebrate the season.

     On the other hand, an impatient Lent can be a holy Lent. Perhaps we should embrace this impatience and live into it fully. A few examples of this positive sort of impatience come to mind. First, I am impatient with the state of my relationship with God. Some people seem to have a connection with God marked by incessant prayer and deep contentment. This has not been my experience, but perhaps my impatience with a shallow relationship with God can motivate me to intentionally seek God during Lent. Second, I, like many other members of Emmanuel Church, am impatient about the sins of racism, violence, and poverty in Baltimore City. I'm impatient to get to Easter – to the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, where justice prevails and these sins no longer hurt ourselves and our neighbors.

     Given my excellent grasp of impatience, I have decided to embrace frustration during this Lenten season. I can channel my impatience into prayer and acts of service that impact individual people, affirming their holiness and playing my part in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.

These Ashes - Nate Butler

(“Remember, thou art dust”  – Ash Wednesday)

Today, I’ve come back once more
I’ve come to this spot worn smooth by a parade of awkward knees,
I bow like the fragile man that I know that I am -
In my latest attempt to gain immortality
I seem to have fallen short again,

No more bluster, no more bravado, I meekly wait,
I anxiously search for a pair of understanding eyes,
Caught in the net of my flesh I stretch out a timid hand,
Twisted in the snare of my weakness I cry out for help,

Oh please, dear friends, do not despise,
Oh please, dear Lord, do not refuse
This Son of Adam reluctantly kneeling before you now -
This contrite man that finds himself in this place,

Today, people wear the grey ashes of mortality on their foreheads
Today, they say, “We are truly sorry and humbly repent”,
An ancient and interesting ceremony to be sure,
Only this time it’s not some anonymous penitent-
This time it’s me.

- N8 3/3/14-2/9/18 (changes made 2/11/18)

February Is Black History Month – John Repulski

     This month we acknowledge and celebrate important people, events, and culture in the history of the African diaspora. The official commemoration of February as Black History Month—or African-American History Month—was initially proposed in 1969, though it wasn't nationally acknowledged until 1976 by the proclamation of President Gerald Ford at the United States Bicentennial. Before that time, "Negro History Week" was created in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History as the second week of February due to the birthdates of President Abraham Lincoln (2/12) and famed African-American abolitionist, orator, and author Frederick Douglas (2/14). 

     At Emmanuel, we strive to deeply value and honor the cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity in our congregation, community, and world, doing our best to be a Christian example of equality, diversity, and empowerment for all peoples. 

     One small way that we express those aspirations is through our music. hrouhgout the month of February, there will be powerful examples of hymns and anthems from the rich spiritual and/or Gospel music traditions, as well as works by African-American composers. 

     Even more prominently, we will be presenting "God's Trombones,” a service of readings and spirituals, on Sunday, February 25, 2018, in place of our regular 10:30 a.m. service.  Join us for this dramatic reading of James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse.” This historic work, written in 1927, is a collection of poems patterned after traditional African-American religious oratory. Titles include: “Listen Lord — A Prayer;” “The Creation;” “The Prodigal Son;” “Go Down, Death;” and others. Between each reading, the Emmanuel choir will sing arrangements of spirituals known to Johnson, including: “There Is a Balm in Gilead;” “Any How;” and “Great Gettin’ Up Mornin.” The service will conclude with everyone singing the rousing hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was written by Johnson himself. There is no charge for this event and, again, it will take the place of Emmanuel’s regular Sunday 10:30 a.m. service. (There will be no Eucharist at this service, but it will be available, as ever, at 8:30 a.m. in Eccleston Chapel.) If you have any questions about this special service or our other musical celebrations of Black History Month, please contact me at john.repulski@gmail.com.

A Tribute to Emmanuel’s Musical Saints - Hentzi Elek

Sing to the Lord a new song;*
    sing God’s praise in the congregation of the faithful...


Praise God in God’s Holy temple;*
    praise God in the firmament of God’s power.

Praise God for God’s mighty acts;*
    praise God for God’s excellent greatness.

Praise God with the blast of the ram’s-horn;*
    praise God with lyre and harp.

Praise God with timbrel and dance; *
    praise God with strings and pipe.

Praise God with resounding cymbals;*
    praise God with loud-clanging cymbals.

Let everything that has breath*
    praise the Lord.


            So begins Psalm 149 and Psalm 150 continues, the last of the Book of Psalms in the Bible. Closing with these two psalms reminds us that music is one of our most reliable and sacred windows to God.

            What amazing singing! What talented directing! What beautiful organ playing! Mr. John Repulski, our Director of Music & the Arts: you inspire us with creative, resourceful liturgy and wonderful music. And, John, you weave together the various musical genres with the seasons of the Church year and the needs and hopes of Emmanuel Episcopal Church with a wisdom and pastoral sensitivity that amazes. From the Classical repertoire to Jewish and African-American Gospel, from the ancient to the contemporary, you give us a most healthy and dynamic diet of the musical world. God Bless You!

            Mr. Jordan Prescott, our Organ Scholar: you share tremendous organ gifts with all of us, giving us that great organ feel of a bountiful orchestra. Jordan, your humility and genuine grace are inspiring. Your promise for the future is exciting. God Bless You!

            And the choir. Oh, the choir! Lead by John and assisted by Jordan--together, you do the Psalms proud offering beautiful and diverse music. When you sing, the heavenly chorus of angels, archangels, and all the company of Heaven gleefully join you.

            You, the Emmanuel musicians make each Sunday a source of comfort and celebration. Your leadership, organ playing, and singing are invaluable in our journey with God. No words can do our gratitude justice.

            With my prayers and awe,

The Rev. Hentzi Elek


Kindness - Hentzi Elek

Dear Emmanuelites,

       The dynamic field of neuroscience teaches us  that our brains are “ plastic.” This term, “plastic," suggests that brains are growing, evolving, and learning--not just in childhood, but throughout our lives. Hence, through practice, the plasticity of our brains can make us kinder each day.  

       Kindness takes root and blossoms through practice, a practice shaped by the daily recognition of the importance and fruitfulness of kindness.    

       Your mind may be clouded with anger, pain, brokenness, born of the genes you’ve inherited or the environment that has shaped you. We all bear some suffering from the DNA of our ancestors and that family and world which are regularly trying to impress their will and norms upon us.

       Kindness is one of the most effective keys to our freedom. Believe in the power of kindness. Ask God to help you be kind. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Be kind to strangers. Accept the kindness of others with gladness.

       Remember that kindness is not a tool for control or correction. No, kindness blossoms when we are quicker to praise than to criticize, quicker to see the log in our own eyes rather than the speck in our neighbors. Kindness lives best with her sisters humility and compassion.

       Our world needs Christian communities to be kind, for the world will look to us and learn with us if we model relationships truly rooted in the kindness of Christ.

       May Kindness always be our guiding light for us and our world so trapped in cruelty and self-centeredness. May the kindness of God’s love give you patience and hope, courage and peace today and always.

       With my prayers and gratitude for all of you each and every day,


The Rev. Hentzi Elek


Direct Communication With Me, Ideally Face to Face -Hentzi Elek

Dear Saints of Emmanuel,

            Please reach out directly to me with whatever you wish to say, words of praise, words of criticism. Recognizing God’s presence in you, I will do my best to listen and honor your ideas and your feelings.

            Basic Respect, Trust, and Listening are at the heart of any faithful Christian Community. One of my fundamental goals this year is to listen to you. I hope to learn your deepest heart’s desires for Emmanuel as well as questions and concerns that you might have.

            We share the mission of Emmanuel Church together. We share the faithfulness of Emmanuel Church together. And we share the joys and sorrows, the victories and the frustrations together.

            Some people are quite happy to come and speak directly to clergy, and you have approached me directly.

            Some of you come and thank me and praise me for who I am and how I lead. Thank you.

            You even praise me for the inspirational beauty that John, Jordan, and the choir share. I can’t take credit for them, and I urge you to thank them directly.

            And, some of you speak up about things you miss or don’t like, about me, about Emmanuel, about our common lives together. Thank you for your respect and trust in approaching me.

            I also know that there are some of you, who for whatever reason,  are reluctant to approach a priest with your questions or concerns. May God help you overcome that reluctance.  

            I hope over time you can respect and trust that I don’t bite. I won’t hold it against you if you have things you don’t like about me and about my leadership.

            However, we unnecessarily limit our growth together, if we don’t speak directly with each other.  I can’t adopt new traditions and adapt myself to Emmanuel if you don’t directly approach me with your concerns.

            Emmanuelites, this year I ask that you help us all enhance our basic trust, respect, and listening skills. The more direct communication we have, the more we can assess our blessings and our challenges in faithful ways. That clarity then helps us forge concrete goals and action plans so that Emmanuel can continue to evolve into the wonderful Communion of Saints God has created us to be.

            Please reach out directly to me, ideally face to face, with whatever you have to say. I promise to respect you and to listen in a spirit of love.

With my prayers for you each and every day,


What’s Love? - Hentzi Elek

For Christians, Love is a mix of three dancing elements:

Humility, Thankfulness, and Joy.

1.)   Humility reminds us that we are created by God, that we are never totally in control, and that we need each other to be the best Saints that God has created us to be. Needing each other means we need Community and the courage, patience, perspective, and, yes, humor to serve and to be served, to lead and to be lead. Humility also reminds us how much we need To Pray for each other.

2.)   Thankfulness helps us appreciate the amazing nature of our very existence, the beauty and majesty, wonder and awe of humanity and all of creation that surrounds us. Thankfulness also helps us remember and celebrate all the people and experiences of our history that have enabled us to enjoy today and have hope for tomorrow. This thankfulness can further fuel our prayers.

3.)   Joy is the ability to recognize God’s very immanent presence in the eyes and actions of friends and strangers. Joy is the fun, peace, and delight that God’s transcendence shares with us through the appreciation of kindness, peace, and beauty. The wonder of joy hopefully shapes your daily prayers.

In this Season of Epiphany, may we celebrate how God has woven God’s Love into the very atoms of our existence. The triune aspects of Love--Humility, Thankfulness, and Joy--are gifts we receive freely by God’s grace. May your New Year overflow with such Love in all of its expressions.


With my prayers, gratitude, and fondness for all of you,


The Rev. Hentzi Elek, Rector