This time last year I spent Advent by my mother’s side as her long life slowly faded away. Before I left Anchorage, I stopped by St. Mary’s Episcopal for a service. The Episcopal way is not in my family tradition, but during my life I’ve found meaningful moments in several of their churches.
When leaving that service, I was one of the last out as I’d talked with several individuals. I mentioned to Rector Michael Burke that I was leaving for Tennessee to be with my mom in her last hours. He immediately dropped everything he was doing and took me back in the sanctuary, asking to pray for mom. Before praying, he asked her name. I’ve never heard a more honest, earnest prayer to God, presenting her name before Him in a way I’m unaccustomed to. It was a moving experience and taught me much about effective, meaningful clergy action.
Last Sunday, first Sunday of Advent, found me back at St. Mary’s reconnecting with this great congregation at their 11:30 a.m. service. I found meaning in their Advent commemorations, warmth to guests, musical presentations, and excellent sermon by Rector Burke. The memories of last year are still real, and very painful, but this service showed me the power of a congregation that cares.[img_assist|nid=158911|title=St. Mary’s Advent Candles (after service)|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]
I see a growing awareness at St. Mary’s of the guests who enter their doors. Any guest here will understand what is happening, and clearly be included by word and action.
The 11 a.m. service at St. Mary’s offers inspired music by a folk group led by Wade Hampton Miller. Often the group sings one or two of the many original pieces Mr. Miller has written. This is not light, pop Christian music, but strong themes containing words like: God, Son of God, Father, Creator, King, Spirit, good news, hosanna, praise, preparing the way, love, joy, hope.[img_assist|nid=158910|title=Rector Burke & Assistants Lighting Advent Candle|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=290]
The lighting of the first Advent candle, the Hope candle, was a reward in itself. First Advent is the beginning of the church year in many major denominations.
Clergy at St. Mary’s alternate in delivering sermons/homilies to the congregation. Rector Burke gave an excellent first Advent sermon in keeping with the true spirit of the day, that of hope, longing, and preparing one’s heart for the coming of the King. You can download his sermon below. St. Mary’s does an excellent job of providing sermon copies the day of the sermon.
All guests and members were invited to the hospitality room for coffee and refreshments following the service. I really like this tradition as it allows an additional informal opportunity to connect with others.
I did not attend St. Mary’s last Sunday in anticipation of writing a review. But, because the service carried me to a different place, brought relief for my pain, and redirected my thoughts, a blog post has resulted. I appreciate churches like St. Mary’s who have a heart for each other, the community, and the stranger who enters their gates. They are not the only one in Anchorage like this, but their light clearly shines brighter than many.