The month of February is interesting on several levels. First, at 28 days, it is the shortest month of the year. Second, it is the month where we begin to feel the end of winter’s grip is at hand and that warmth of spring is just around the corner. Finally, for those of us who are Christians, the Season of Epiphany guides us to make way for the Season of Lent.

There is something comforting about the predictable seasonal cycles in life that we experience. Winter will give way to spring. Spring will give way to summer. Summer will give way to the fall. And finally, fall will usher in winter to complete the cycle. The same is true with our faith. Advent leads to Christmas. The 12 Days of Christmas lead to Epiphany. Epiphany brings us to Lent. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and thus we engage with the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and giving alms.

In South Louisiana, the time after January 6th through Ash Wednesday (this year it is February 22nd) is marked by King Cakes, colorful beads, parades in the streets, and pure unbridled revelry. It culminates with Mardi Gras, which means Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the somber start of 40 days (not counting Sundays) of Lent. Lent is a time of penitence. It is meant to be a time of deep reflection. It is an opportunity to get our lives back on track once again and press forward. Lent is also a season to remove the bad habits that have creeped into our lives this past year. It’s like hitting the spiritual reset button so to speak.

People are prone to take on all types of traditional Lenten disciplines in hopes of ending a few bad habits and creating some new good habits. Some will give up alcohol, sweets, or red meat. Some will take on reading the Bible. Others begin modest exercise regimens to develop better health. I personally believe that small incremental changes verses large dramatic changes have the best chance for bringing about lasting change. 

Here is what I’m going to suggest for Lent, 2023. The worst of the pandemic is now behind us. Come back to church. Get out of bed on Sunday morning for the six Sundays in Lent and go to church. For a faith community to thrive we need to be intentional about being present with each other. It’s time to come back to church.

Two years of dealing with the COVID virus caused new habits to replace familiar habits. Let’s use the Season of Lent to create something new together. It’s not possible to go back in time and relive the past. It is possible to take the lessons in life that we’ve learned and strive for something better. This year, make a commitment of creating a new habit of being present on Sunday mornings here at All Saints’. For just six Sundays, come back to church.

Peace, Mark+

Another New Year has arrived. It will take me a couple of weeks to adjust to writing 2023 instead of 2022 for the year. The calendar is mostly a tool used to simply mark time. It helps us keep track and remember the important events in the world and in our own lives.

In my parent’s generation, people wanted to know where you were on December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked? Some twenty-eight years later the defining question being asked was, where were you on July 20, 1969, when the astronauts landed on the moon? A date, a time, an event in history, all help us to keep track of our place in God’s creation.

In my own lifetime, 1976 marked our nation’s Bicentennial. It also happened to be when I graduated from Captain Shreve High School, in Shreveport, LA. Six years later, on March 6th, 1982, Liz and I were married in St. James Episcopal Church. Next came our son, Christian, on May 20, 1987, our daughter, Micaela, on November 20, 1989, and finally, our youngest, Mallory, on January 14, 1997, which was during the Great Ice Storm that hit Lake Charles, LA, that year.

For people from Louisiana, we remember August 29, 2005, as the date when Hurricane Katrina came ashore and forever changed life as we knew it. When three inches of snow hit Baton Rouge, in December of 2008, we now proudly refer to it as the Great Blizzard of 08’. On February 1st of 2017, I became the new rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Morristown, Tennessee. Of course I will always remember when my bishop here in East Tennessee, told us to get ready for the COVID-19 pandemic back in March of 2020.

As I reflect on the years that have gone by, I realize that there has never been a year that was just plain ordinary or uneventful. There have always been wonderful times when I have stood in total awe of the power that humanity has to serve the greater good. There have also been those times when my heart has been broken because of humanity’s indifference to the suffering of others.

The year 2023 is indeed a new year. It brings with it the potential for tremendous good and bad. So this new year I have only one resolution to make. I resolve to live into my Baptismal Covenant. This year I want to really seek out Christ in all persons and love my neighbor as myself. This year really I want to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

While it is true that there is much more to the Baptismal Covenant, I’ve chosen to focus on the last two promises. As I see it, those two alone are more than enough to keep me busy for the whole of 2023.

Peace, Mark+