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

Happy New Year - Hentzi Elek

Dear Saints of Emmanuel,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

A Great Christian New Year's Resolution is to vow to pray every day. Here are some suggestions.

"May God make your year a happy one! Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain, But by strengthening you to bear it, as it comes; Not by making your path easy, But by making you sturdy to travel any path; Not by taking hardships from you, But by taking fear from your heart; Not by granting you unbroken sunshine, But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows; Not by making your life always pleasant, But by showing you when people and their causes need you most, and by making you anxious to be there to help. God's love, peace, hope and joy to you for the year ahead."

     ( from St. Peter's Episcopal Church, St. Louis, MO, website.)

Gracious God, helps us to trust that you, God are always Good.

Gracious God, help us to trust that you love us and that we are made in your likeness and image.

Gracious God, guide us in trusting that you have good plans for us and that with you in our midst anything and everything good is possible.

Gracious God, thank you for the beauty, wonder, majesty, and awe you bestowed upon us this Christmas. Thank you for the mastery of John and Jordan our musicians and for the heavenly choir of angels and instrumentalists, the altar guild and flower guild, the readers, chalice bearers, intercessors, ushers,  and all who helped make the Advent and Christmas services transformative.

God, thank you for our Clergy,  Staff, Wardens, Vestry, and all the faithful Saints of Emmanuel.

Thank you, God, for all the people we love and all those who love us, both living and dead.

God, thank you for all the good, meaningful, hopeful things in our lives: Church, work, volunteering, music, literature, art, pets, exercise, entertainment, the glories of a beautiful day, the kindness of friends and strangers.

God, bring sanity and healing to the poverty, oppression, and gun violence that attack Baltimore and our world on a daily basis.

Gracious God, bless and protect all soldiers, police, and first responders, and their families. Uphold the wounded. Support the grieving.

Dear God, please inspire all who work for peace and justice through non-violent means.

God, please protect those endangered by the bitter cold.

Dear God, open the hearts and minds of our President and his advisors. May the leadership in Washington make just and compassionate decisions for the welfare of the whole world. God, please change the hearts and actions of our Washington leaders as necessary. And guide us in collaborating with all leaders when we can, never failing to hold our leaders accountable. Fill us with courage to resist, when necessary, the words, actions, and policies that are unjust, illegal, and immoral.

God, equip us to love you. Equip us to love our neighbors and ourselves. Fortify us to love our enemies.

And, may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and your minds in the knowledge and love of God and of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and may the Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit be with you today and always. Amen.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !


The Rev. Hentzi Elek



"Holy, although we knew it not" - Joseph Wood

As we were preparing the service for Lessons & Carols this year, I pondered the purpose of our tradition of 100+ years. It's certainly a chance to experience gorgeous music, but what does it mean that we've returned to this well again and again, year after year? Why do we hold Lessons & Carols so close to our collective heart?

Then I slowly settled on the lessons for Sunday, deciding quite what admixture of scripture and more contemporary witness would help fill out the morning. (As much as I loved what we did last year, we can hardly say that we're in the same place--or that any Christmas is every quite the same as the last.) One of them by American poet, essayist, and farmer Wendell Berry particularly brought me up short, marveling at the ways it invited me into a new kind of perception. Here it is, "VI" from his book A Timbered Choir:


Remembering that it happened once,

We cannot turn away t he thought,

As we go out, cold, to our barns

Toward the long night’s end, that we

Ourselves are living in the world

It happened in when it first happened,

That we ourselves, opening a stall

(A latch thrown open countless times

Before), might find them breathing there,

Foreknown: the child in the straw,

The mother kneeling over Him,

The husband standing in belief

He scarcely can believe, in light

That lights them from no source we see,

An April morning’s light, the air

Around them joyful as a choir.


We stand with one hand on the door,

Looking into another world

That is this world, the pale daylight

Coming just as before, our chores

To do, the cattle all awake,

Our own white frozen breath hanging

In front of us; and we are here

As we have never been before,

Sighted as not before, our place

Holy, although we knew it not.


The bucolic setting and trappings of a farmer's life are typical for Berry, and they help to set the scene within a humble, almost primal, example of human existence. In fact, the earthiness of the poem echoes the earthiness of the nativity accounts in the synoptic gospels. It emphasizes not only the personal routine of the poem's narrative, but the reality that we as human beings are people of routine. We are defined by the deep grooves that we have worn into our society, into our communities, into our own personal lives. It's not unlike that "latch thrown open countless times"--we are often well past thinking about what we're doing or why we're doing any particular activity. Thus, even as we live millennia later in a world that the people of the New Testament would find almost impossible to even imagined, we also live "in the world it happened in when it first happened." Often times, we are even treading along the exact same grooves.

However, God has a habit of upending us, unsettling us from the routine of our lives so that we can recognize ourselves and our surroundings anew. In seminary, we often called it the "in-breaking" of the Divine. And Christmas is all about that celestial in-breaking. Even as people with a long, long scriptural history, it was almost impossible for the Late Classical Judaeans to imagine the messiah entering into the mundane details of their existence. Even with their accounts, we all too often find it almost impossible to imagine. But God became human just the way that you or I are human, unsettling the oldest and deepest groove of our existence. That is extraordinary. And that's what Berry is trying to name in his poem. It is difficult to hold onto something so scandalous, something so outside of our day-to-day lives. Thus, we often have to let it go, to largely forget about it, so that we can go about our obligations.

That's why we need Christmas every year, and that's why we come back to Lessons & Carols every year. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is too amazing, too life-changing to ever really let go. So we, individually and as a community, try to remind ourselves again and again. We give ourselves the chance for a new beginning every year. In the beauty of the music and the wisdom of the lessons, we try to implicitly affirm that maybe we too can be here "as we have never been before." Because we don't have to be only people of routine, we can also be people of the Incarnation. We can seek and name holiness in even the most unexpected places of our lives. So, wherever you find yourself this Christmas Eve, listen, and listen well. Because God is inviting you into newness of life--perhaps in the midst of your family, perhaps in the midst of a congregation, perhaps on the street, or perhaps in the quietness of a private commemoration--you just have to be able to set aside the old ways of doing for a moment and enter into it.

Thou Shalt Not Be Overcome - Hentzi Elek

“Thou Shalt Not Be Overcome. All shall be well,

and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”


 “All Shall Be Well." That phrase is repeated twice and is done quite intentionally. We need to be reminded over and over and over again. All Shall Be Well.

700 years ago a nameless Christian woman ( at least her name lost to history)  lay on her deathbed. And Christ came to her and revealed a series of “showings,“ divine revelations. That woman revived and became known as Julian of Norwich.

Her conversations with Christ were eventually published in The Revelation of Divine Love “which is thought to be the first book written by a woman in English, surviving for us today.”

"Julian was the modern equivalent of a nun, living the most modest life, and providing spiritual counseling to people suffering in plague, poverty, and famine."

“She refers to Jesus as Our Mother and used vivid imagery of God as Motherhood.”

"Julian was an intelligent, sensitive, very down-to-earth woman who maintains her trust in God’s goodness while addressing doubt, fear, and deep theological questions.”

In modern words, God said to Julian, “I don’t get enraged. You do.” God doesn’t unleash fury. We humans lose our tempers and then we happily ascribe the rage to God.

And "Christ didn’t say, you won’t be tempted. Christ didn’t say you won’t suffer horribly. Christ didn’t say you won’t endure disease. No. Christ said, 'You will not be overcome.'"

And “you will not be overcome,” drives the passion of “we shall overcome.”

“Modern writers and poets as diverse as T.S. Eliot, Denise Levertov, Iris Murdoch, and many others reference Julian.” And, of course, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. builds on her faith. We Shall Overcome Some Day.

“Today, pilgrims from around the world visit the Shrine of Julian in Norwich, England.” (Thanks to the website: Juliancentre.org.)


This Advent may we give thanks.

We will NOT be overcome.

Not matter what our bodies or the world throw at us. No. We shall not drown, as the psalmists so often cry out.

All Shall Be Well. And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well.

May Julian’s courage, hope, and faith sustain you with peace and joy today and always.


With my prayers and gratitude,

Hentzi Elek, Rector

Sealed & Sent – Joseph Wood

            This Sunday, the Right Rev. Chilton R. Knudsen, Assistant Bishop of Maryland, will visit Emmanuel. As part of the festivities, two of our own will be confirmed. The question is: confirmed to what? And what is the rite of confirmation, that it should wait until a bishop shows up to enact it?

            In the catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, the definition of confirmation is given as a reaffirmation of our Christian faith: “Confirmation is the rite in which we express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop.” (860) When I was growing up, the Roman Catholic Church talked about the sacrament along similar lines, describing it as being sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as an adult within the Church. (In fact, the Episcopal practice use to be that one couldn’t receive communion until one was confirmed.) In both cases, the name makes perfect sense—we confirm and are confirmed into the community of faith that most of us were baptized into as children. Where once others made promises and statements of faith on our behalf, now we taken them wholly upon ourselves. The words of the service echo this understanding in the prayers over the candidates when we ask that God “renew in these your servants the covenant you have made with them at their Baptism” and “send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them” (BCP, 418). Thus, the ceremony is poised between two points, recognizing both the covenant that has already been made “at […] Baptism” and the continued unfolding of their vocation as our Triune God draws them into the service “set before” the confirmands. Past, future, and the believer’s commitment to both are brought into a single unity, because we recognize with the Rev. Sara Miles that “conversion is not a single moment of epiphany but an ongoing process.”* In many ways, the conversion of ourselves and our communities is the task of the Christian life, and confirmation stands as testament to that complicated, grace-filled process.

            Now, let’s talk about the bishop. We believe as a church that Baptism is “full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit” (BCP, 298), so what are we and the Spirit doing in confirmation? I don’t think the answer lies in any sort of insufficiency with our Baptisms, but rather the bishop as symbolic of the larger Church. In fact, bishops are the default presider for Baptism, and priest do so in most Episcopal parishes under the auspices of our bishop(s). (I could go into a longer discussion about how the word “Episcopal” refers to bishops and what that says about our communal identity, but I only have so much room in these meditations.) Accordingly, when the bishop comes to a congregation and confirms the already baptized, we’re recognizing and lifting up what God is already doing in that place. Just as past and present collapse in the moment of the rite, the near and far are inexorably linked too. The confirmed are members of a parish, but they are also members of a diocese, of a denomination, and the Church Universal, the royal priesthood and body of Jesus Christ. When a bishop lays their hands on us, it’s in recognition of our membership in all those manifestations of Christian community. We are all saints of God, and the person of the bishop is an important reaffirmation of just how far those identities can extend. We are called to be faithful followers of Jesus, as best as we can, not in any one time or place, we are called to be Christians in all times and all places. For these reasons and so many more, let’s join together on Sunday to joyously and emphatically celebrate the continued movement of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the lives of our friends.


*from her book Take this Bread

Reach Out - Hentzi Elek

Dear Saints of Emmanuel,

 I can’t thank you enough for the welcome you have shared during our first two months together. Your faithfulness is humbling. God bless you.








I need your help.

Those 5 words summarize my primary goal with you for the next year. Listen, Learn, Laugh, Adapt, and Love.

So, please speak to me, so that I can listen.

Teach me, please, so that I can learn.

 Show me what makes you laugh and what does not.

Be patient with me as I try and adopt your ways and adapt myself to you, the Saints of Emmanuel.

And Risk.

Risk trying to love me.

Risk letting me love you, love you with all that I have and all that I am.

Please reach out to me directly. I welcome the feedback. I welcome your reactions. I can’t promise you miracles, but I can promise you that I will prayerfully listen.

Honest Communication. That’s the key.

And so, I ask you to please reach out directly to me--with thoughts, or questions; with words of praise and words of constructive criticism.

I am happy to meet with you over coffee, or lunch, or dinner, or sometime in between.

410-685-1130   Office Phone

610-715-8629   Cell Phone

I believe in you and give thanks to God for each of you, and I am delighted to be in your midst. God is with you, Emmanuel. Be Confident. Be Courageous. And Be of Good Cheer.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Thanksgiving Meditation - Hentzi Elek

Below are some prayers of gratitude you might share this Thanksgiving. You could say them with family and friends gathered around the table or quietly by yourself.

After each individual prayer of gratitude, you might say, "We thank you, God."


Let us give thanks to God for all God's gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth, and sky, and sea.

For farmers, fisher-people, hunters. For those who transport, manage, and sell our food.

For the gifts of heating, air conditioning, plumbing, sanitation, public health, electricity, transportation, engineering, technology, the internet, phones, and computers.


For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ.

For our daily food and drink; our homes; our families; and our friends.

For all that makes us laugh and smile, fulfills us, and helps us enjoy life.

For minds to think, hearts to love, and hands to serve.

For health and strength to work, and for leisure to rest and play.


For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity.

For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice.

For all soldiers and their families.

For all who seek peace with justice through non-violent means.

For all first responders: police, fire fighters, and for those in the medical profession.

For the transparency, courage, vision, creativity, and discipline of government officials. May they serve, lead, adjudicate, and transform our world daily into the Kingdom of God.

For the persistence, vigilance, and honesty of all those who shape public opinion.


For the Church global, eternal, and for our neighboring congregations in Baltimore.

For the officers of Emmanuel's Vestry: Martha, Senior Warden; Lindsay, Junior Warden; Demetreus, Treasurer; and for Jesse, Registrar.

For the Vestry: Becki, Matt, Saidah, David, Tiffany, Jonathan, Vickie, Herschel, and Greg.

For Eugene, Bishop of Maryland, and Chilton, Assistant Bishop, and for all Diocesan Leaders; for Hentzi, Rector; Joseph, Assistant Rector; John, Director of Music & Arts; Jordan, Organ Scholar; Walt, Director of Finance & Administration; Kim, Office Manager; Taylor, Seminarian and Community Engagement Coordinator; Antoin and Sheila, Sextons; Mary and Carla, Nursery Attendants; and Tom, Rector Emeritus.

For our beautiful building; our rich history; the generosity of past parishioners; for the mission, life, and prayers of this congregation; for all the Saints of Emmanuel; for the hopes and joys of our parish's future and the will to make those dreams a reality.


With my prayers and gratitude for all of you,


(Adapted from the Book of Common Prayer, pgs. 837 ff.)

The Heart of God - Hentzi Elek

The Heart of God, it seems to me, lies in our passionate, patient, and creative will and efforts To Love. And the Bible calls us unambiguously To Love our Neighbor and To Love Ourselves.

Thankfully you, Emmanuel, live into your name. You know God is with you, and you have already built life-affirming, long-lasting relationships of mutual trust, mutual respect, and mutual affection. Hence, you have a good track record of loving yourselves and loving your neighbors. This faithfulness delights God. Sit with that truth for a second.




Emmanuel Episcopal Church, your overflowing love, is undoubtedly the primary quality that brought me to be your new rector. Your history of loving, your present love today, and your capacity to love into the future gives me great joy, and hope, and peace. Together with God we can be incredible witnesses to love.

As we all know, though, Love is messy and confusing and not always so obvious. This is also the reality of any parish life. Our greatest challenge for this coming year--and, frankly, for all of our lives--is to learn to strengthen our love and to free ourselves from whatever may limit this love.

Together in our parish community, we can listen to each other, learn from each other, laugh together, and eventually be freed by the compassion of our fellow parishioners to love ourselves with greater peace and joy.

And when you love yourself more generously, then the quality of your love for others increases exponentially. As we love ourselves with greater humility and forgiveness, then our capacity to share love with people, even those we could never have imagined, organically blossoms.

Christian love in a parish community does have some fundamental qualities that you Emmanuel already manifest and that we can always aspire towards enhancing. These qualities are: Mutual Trust, Mutual Respect, and Mutual Affection.

Strengthening and deepening trust, respect, and affection within Emmanuel Episcopal Church or within any parish is certainly not easy, and yet we believe that with God in our midst anything and everything good and glorious is possible.

Essential to trust, respect, and affection is Some Time and Some Knowledge.

I want to get to know you. And I want you to get to know me. I want us to share our hopes and joys and the challenges that we can transform into opportunities.

I believe with all my heart God is calling us to be a happy, fun, and faithful orchestra. Imagine “The Emmanuel Orchestra” as a metaphor for a diverse, dynamic (structured and flexible), life-sustaining and life-changing Communion of Saints.

You already are a faithful Emmanuel Orchestra. Together, we can continue and build on the blessings of your history. Together, we can be and become a beautiful and inspiring orchestra; a community of courageous, intelligent, and resilient Saints; a church, shaped by the dance of prayer and action.

With God in our midst, barriers can be overcome and transformed. With God in our midst, we can love each other and share that love with the world.

 This is my deepest hope for you. This is my deepest hope for me. And this is my deepest hope for the Emmanuel Episcopal Church of the future.

Now & Then - Joseph Wood

What are modern believers suppose to do in the face of apocalyptic literature? In this week’s lectionary readings, both the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids from Matthew and Paul’s words from 1 Thessalonians speak to questions of preparedness for the end of the world and our final communion with Christ. For the early Christians, the need for such cautions were readily apparent—they thought that they were living in the last days of the Messianic Age, waiting for Jesus to reappear at any moment. Accordingly, they understood the Church’s mission as a horizontal one, spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth as quickly as they could. Over the generations, it became plain that a somewhat more vertical approach was needed; one that would take into account both the evangelical and chronological needs of the various communities of faith.  Slowly, the efforts to preserve the Church qua institution became almost ends in themselves, perpetuation often eclipsing preparation. So, how are we, as inheritors of millennia of establishment, supposed to respond to the messages we’ll hear on Sunday? What does it mean for us to keep awake?

To be honest, whenever I think about the end of the age, I remember the words of a bumper sticker that’s tacked up in the offices of a church I use to work for: “Jesus is coming—look busy.” It can be tempting to move to the other extreme, creating an unforgettable flurry of activity, but I’m not sure that such a single-minded focus on the present is any more faithful to the Biblical witness. Rather, I believe that keeping awake according to Christ’s parable is about constantly living into a balance, recognizing the needs of both the moment and all of those yet to come. There’s actually a meme that I’ve seen making the rounds several times over the years that speaks to that balance almost perfectly. It’s a quote “from the Talmud”* that draws out to the tension upon believers and their communities by playing with the commandments from Micah 6:8: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” We cannot know if it will be ours to complete the work (“neither the day nor the hour”), but we cannot let ourselves be overcome by the enormity of what it means to bring the Kingdom of God either. Neither the moment nor the future should become idols that eclipse our continued relationship with God and those around us. Instead, we must commit ourselves again and again to those relationships, doing our best to offer hope in every direction.

A Racial History of Emmanuel Church

In honor of tomorrow's Trail of Souls pilgrimage, here's the recounting of our parish's story that will appear in the booklet each participant will receive. Many thanks to Richard Fawcett, Audry Gagnon, diocesan archivist Mary Klein, and all who helped with the research for this vital project.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church was founded by Christ Church in 1854 to better serve Baltimore’s burgeoning Mt. Vernon neighborhood. The first parochial reports from Emmanuel printed in convention journals do not mention the presence of any persons of African descent.  However, the report of 1858 refers to “25 scholars in the colored school.” Within a year, that school had grown to 80 scholars with nine teachers. Meanwhile, the parish registers make only four references to “colored” members throughout the church’s early decades —twice in baptisms and twice in marriages. The 1860 parochial report differentiated between white and “colored” communicants, and it echoed those numbers by reporting 475 white communicants and two “colored.” The number of white communicants in 1862 had increased to 566 white, while the number of “colored” communicants remained the same.  In 1863, the report noted 595 white communicants, and three “colored.”

Perhaps the low number of communicants of African descent at Emmanuel, both during the 1860s and later, is explained by the church’s reputation as a confederate-sympathizing community. After a northern army victory in 1862, the Right Rev. Dr. William R. Whittingham, Bishop of Maryland, imposed upon all congregations the reading of “A Prayer of Thanksgiving.” These prayers were quite disturbing to a significant portion of the Emmanuel congregation, as they considered the President of the United States an enemy and a northern victory might mean the maiming or death of relatives and friends. Tradition relates that the more fervent southern supporters would rise and stand during these collects, then return to their knees for the remaining prayers. In 1865, a bazaar was held to raise funds “for the Relief of Sufferers at the South.”

However, not all members of Emmanuel were sympathetic to, or supportive of, the South and slavery. The vestry minutes of January 3, 1861 record a request to the police board for the attendance of a police officer in the vestibule of the church to preserve order.  (The request was denied, as the board stated it did not have power unless there was an infraction of the law.) Similarly, oral traditions have been passed down suggesting possible connections to The Underground Railroad in a space under what is now Eccleston Chapel.

After the Civil War, Emmanuel continued its mission to persons of African descent under the leadership of the Rev. Alfred M. Randolph, who possessed a life-long concern for their religious advancement. With the help of the Women’s Missionary Society of Emmanuel, his first endeavor was to establish a mission for black people, named Howard Chapel and located on Park Avenue between Lanvale and Dolphin Streets. Named after the former assistant at Emmanuel and founding rector of Memorial Episcopal Church, Howard Chapel was a black mission congregation that continued from 1874 until 1894. Emmanuel offered pastoral and financial assistance to the chapel throughout its existence, including providing for the religious education and training of 60 children from the black orphanage on Biddle Street.

Much of Emmanuel’s racial history from this time period can be seen as outreach-oriented, such as the Chinese Sunday School formed by the parish—the first of its kind in the city. Nonetheless, the parish would remain overwhelmingly white until the late 20th century and beginning of the 21st century. The church’s shift towards integration appears to have started as somewhat of a top-down phenomenon, especially under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Alfred Starratt and the Rev. Frederik J. Hanna.  Starratt and Hanna were instrumental in diocesan and local governmental civil rights discussions in the early 1960s, writing, preaching, and teaching extensively about the racial divide within Baltimore and the nation.  Even so, a parish profile written in 1965 expressed concern at Emmanuel’s “superior detached image” while making no mention of race.  In order to fully embrace its current, growing diversity, the parish will need to continue to address the silent assumptions of such dichotomies.  A promising sign in that direction is that in July 2016, members of Emmanuel made up the bulk of one of the diocese’s largest “Seeing the Face of God” anti-racism trainings, which prompted a number of congregants to establish an Anti-Racism Discussion Group in order to continue their work of truth-telling and reconciliation.

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