Author Archives: sjadmin

Thursday Reflection 9.13.18

Inspired To Make A Difference”    – In Memoriam
Thursday Reflection
September 13, 2018
         On Sunday afternoon as I was sitting on the floor with Abby over my shoulder sniffing the note pages of what will become a Sunday sermon, when my phone beeped. This turned out to be the first notification I was to receive that Rev. Chip Andrus, the pastor of South Salem Presbyterian Church had passed away. I remember just sitting back against the sofa, turning off the background noise of a baseball game, and saying a prayer asking the Lord to welcome home a dear friend who has returned to our God and Father far too soon.
           As a person who lived so long and was so well known in this community, there will be a host of memories posted and sermons/speeches given by people to whom he ministered, with whom he worked / played / drank and who he loved. This simple reflection is by a friend and brother in ministry, and that is a different kind of relationship. Ministers share a calling: a consistent inner belief that one does not have control over one’s own life. Belief in God explodes into a belief that our God, for reasons of God’s own choosing, has asked you to be a shepherd of God’s flock – to use the words of the psalms!
           Between us there were cups of coffee shared, breakfast planning sessions, exploration of ecumenical possibilities and just plain old gripe sessions on the phone when this or that parishioner had pushed either of our buttons and we could not vent in public. Brothers in ministry vent to one another.
           Behind the “good ole “southin” boy” persona that he mastered so well (although for reasons I shall never comprehend, he really did love his off the grid cabin in the woods in Arkansas) he was a fine preacher and teacher. He was so bright. He had earned his Doctorate and was entitled to be addressed as “Rev. Doctor” but I never once heard him use it about himself except in jest. He had a passion for justice and especially women’s equality and safety issues. Our political conversations were always “interesting”: he the liberal and I the cynic! Neither could convince the other of his folly, but friends do not have to do that.  And what a musician he was. He could incorporate music in our session with middle schoolers when one year our churches shared a religious ed. class for that age group on Sunday morning. Oh to have the power to use music to reach others. What a gift!
           This past week, we as a divided Christian Community will come together to commend one of our own to the mercy and love of God. It was always a pleasure to work with him, and I can promise you that he shall surely be missed by the people he served and whom he deeply loved.
In our Book of Common Prayer we have a phrase towards the end of the Funeral Rite which I offer as a final word: Into your hands O Merciful Savior we commend your servant Chip. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy. Into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.
–Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 9.6.18

“Inspired to Make A Difference
September 6, 2018
                 This Sunday my dad would have celebrated his 98th birthday. Ours was a very “different” relationship. While others might conveniently treasure or despise their relationship with a parent, ours was far too complicated for one word descriptions.
He was so pleased that I had an academic (perhaps even scholarly) bent, and yet was prouder of the fact he knew far more than most scholars in spite of his not having a college education. He believed that my playing baseball was being frivolous with my time, yet it was he and my uncle who took me to my first major league games as a preteen.  He never wanted to the parent who examined your report card but was clearly never pleased with “only” a 98 or 99 in anything.
My dad served in the Second World War, was associated with Patten’s 3rdArmy, must have seen more than his share of chaos and death, and (perhaps predictably) would never speak about his experiences. I can remember my being assigned to a debate about the Vietnam War in “Civics” Class, rehearsing my arguments at home, and then having him tear into me no matter which side of the argument I would have presented. His memory of that war was complicated to say the least.
He had an almost total distain for “politicians” and had a view of American society that would have made Archie Bunker seem like Bernie Sanders by comparison. Yet he was the one who introduced me to his friend (from the service? I never knew nor was old enough to ask) who played pro ball in the Negro Leagues – so I learned about the stupidity and evil of racism as a young child. As a little boy I did meet a fellow serviceman from his unit who hailed from Puerto Rico. I was to address him as “Mr. Webber,” because “he is a man who deserves your respect. Learn his language as well as he has learned yours” I was told!
Dad was not only not a church goer, he absolutely abhorred religion, clergy, or theology in any way, shaped or form – and his times in any church building for the mandatory funeral or wedding of a family member were made under vocal objection. He even used to speak approvingly of the beheading of French clergy during the French Revolution! I know my becoming a priest was a matter of deep disappointment and annoyance. Did we have our share of arguments: well, as I said, ours was a complicated relationship!
 I think on Sunday, I will leave the church early and perhaps drive down to the cemetery in New Rochelle. I don’t know if” the apple fell far from the tree.” I don’t know if we do become our parents. I do know that we all impact those with whom we live or whose lives we interact. For better or worse, this particular complicated relationship does make me strive to excel and not be satisfied with 2nd best.  Live the Gospel as best you can, and give others something to model, even if you don’t, do so explicitly or with a lot of fanfare. If there are one or two virtues that I “inherited”, I hope they are “integrity” and “consistency” and perhaps a bit of having an intolerance for pride filled self-important people.
–Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 8.30.18

“Inspired to Make A Difference
August 30, 2018
           Even though we are actually slogging into the ninth month of 2018, our lives seem to totally revolve around the “school year.” So the notions of “change” and “new beginnings” are about to immerse us. School buses will reappear with a vengeance. Our schedules go from summer-filled to winter-insanity. Is everything ready to go? Is change on the horizon?
           So anyway, I was run-climbing the grassy knoll up to the tennis courts at the Town park with Abby (indeed a sure sign my heart is healed!), and I was trying to explain how her little life is going to change. For over a year, no one has lived in the big house in front of the clergy residence, but that will change this week. A family is moving in, and to the point, they have two dogs of their own. So guess what: although you are an Episcopalian dog imbued with the belief that “we’ve always done it this way,” life must change.  It is no longer ONLY your yard, your road, your hills, your grass or chasing your squirrels.  You are going to need to share what is no longer only your space. Heck, you might find that you will have to share barking at the Fed Ex delivery guy/gal from now on. Of course, I got a snort and a harrumph and grumbling bark. Border Collies love order. Border Collies love repetition. Border Collies HATE change.
           And are we humans all so different? Is there anything more disturbing than being told that we’ll have to do things differently – whether at the parish, or at your jobs or in your family. I know as this autumn begins, there are faces (Aniston, Georgia, Richard, Reilly, Henry, Izzy, Dan) – all of whom are now university students – and two have been for a few years) that are no longer a regular part of “us” because they are growing into their own lives and starting to pen their own adult stories. And this is good and as it should be. But this marks change.
           This will probably mark the last group of high school candidates for Confirmation for our parish for a while – as there is this large gap in ages with the next group of kids. The demographics of Lewisboro have changed. Our parish face will change. Saturday we marked the death of a powerful political leader. Politics as we know it has already been changing. (Maybe not always for the better!) Changes are not always good, but always occur.
           I look at parish mission focuses, liturgical music, the concepts of our two places of worship, and I wonder if there is change on the horizon – actually closer than that.
           So the school year is upon us. Changes in our children’s lives are but a fraction of the number of changes that will come for all of us.  We may need to change how we “see” or “do” church – we’ll see. Are we willing to adapt and change? Or will we be frozen in demanding that all things remain as they always were- which of course cannot happen as much as we might wish it would. Heck, Abby still believes she must be fed each day exactly at 7:00 a.m. and 4:58 p.m. She will have to learn to change this year. I hope we shall as well.
–Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 8.23.18

“Inspired to Make a Difference”

  Thursday Reflection                                                                                     

August 23, 2018

This won’t be a prophetic text of overpowering insight.  It’s just a call for us to take time and remember and move on.  Remember the days and dates that meant so much to you.  A call to reflect on the hopefully happy, the sometimes not-so-happy, the challenging, the eye popping memories that we call carry within us.

It’s August 23:  and on August 23, 1971 (“a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away”) I boarded the Leonardo da Vinci (sister ship of the Andrea D’Oria – by the by … oops) and headed off to spend the next four years as a theology student in Europe.  And indeed my ideas about my country and its place (and responsibility) in the world, and my call to greater scholarship as a candidate for Holy orders changed me forever.  So I remember this date with fondness.

Of course we should remember the birthdays of spouses, child(ren), grandchild(ren) or parents.  We remember the day we took vows and promised before God to do all in our power to commit ourselves to the “other” in love until death.

I hold in memory the sadder days: the day, when I was still a child, that my youngest brother died and changed our family dynamic forever.  I remember Sept. 11, 2001 and its legacy in terms of national identity, national fears, hope and hopelessness and being drawn back into the pseudo-religious tragic decisions that were the “Crusades” and their now 21st century aftermath so many centuries later.

Holding on to memories is not an excuse for never letting go of the past.  It can be an invitation to better appreciate those who are our loved ones even as we hold in our hearts those who have passed on.  I’m sure this parish will always remember its former days with fondness and longing even as we have to admit that those days and the culture that supported this parish decades ago is “…but the chasing of the wind.”.

Truly remembering can free us from the burden of carrying the burden of a false nostalgia – as if what was past is only what was good or only what we should or could be.

It’s August 23, and while I remember with fondness where I was and with whom on this date forty seven years ago, I can (hopefully)  move on and not be stuck there – in memory.  After all, if I were to tell the WHOLE, story, not only do I remember leaving New York Harbor, or the water canon salutes from the ferries, or the anticipation of four intensely demanding but wonderful years of study with classmates who were so much more gifted academically than I ever could have been, I must also remember how SICK I became later that evening as I was introduced to the reality known as sea sickness!  Remember – hold the memories close – appreciate those you remember – but always move on!

— Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 8.16.18

“Inspire To make A Difference”                                                    

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                    

  August 16, 2018

Some people have their best conversations or do their best thinking (and I have heard, best singing) in the shower.  Not me!  I believe my best on-my-feet thinking comes whenever I have these early morning walk-n-talks with Abby.  She has a way of posing such seemingly innocent but self-serving yet pointed questions.  She does her “Border collie” species proud!

So anyway, this morning (Sunday) as we were racing up a hill, she questioned why I am forever trying to get her to not bark at every unexpected sound or every person who walks by the house,  (or into my office when she comes to work with me).  I tried explaining for the zillionth time that while I understand that it’s in her nature to bark to strangers (who might secretly be wolves trying to hurt her sheep – one never knows), just because it is a part of her nature, she does not have to do this every time.  Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to do it each and every time.

So she asked for concrete examples.  It’s like being a Met’s fan, I told her.  You know the team, as constituted, is abysmal.  The season cannot end soon enough, and there is little hope for the near future.  You CAN always choose to support another team and end the pain.  But I choose not to.  My dad and uncle brought me to my first game when I was 12.  It’s where I belong.  Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should.

When I’m driving on stretches of road without another car in sight, I certainly CAN exceed the speed limit.  After all, who would know?  But should I?  So Abby, you can bark, but perhaps you should choose to not bark

So then she asked:  is it like this:  you American humans certainly could choose to not sink into social media hype and hate speech diatribes towards others with whom you disagree.  You can avoid hate centered town gatherings and marches if you choose to.  You just choose to not do the right thing.  Just like I choose to bark and not be quiet.

Now I explained it’s more complicated than that.  Here we have laws and systems of rights and guaranteed freedoms and all the complexities of 21st century high tech political and social life with which to contend.  So she retorts: I’m not sure what any of that means.  I just know that you told me that simply because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you always should. So I guess this only applies to dogs and not humans?  Now that sounds right and just .. not!  These early morning walks-n-talks are starting to give me a headache!  I hate it when she’s right!


— Fr. Joe

Thursday Reflection 8.2.18

Thursday Reflections

August 2, 2018


“Inspired to Make a Difference”

If you could travel back in time, what person would you want to meet or which event would you want to witness (or even change)?   Would you speak with Capt. Smith in April 1912 on the bridge of the Titanic and ask him:  “Race at Full speed at night into the ice fields.  What could possibly go wrong?”

Would you like to be able to determine what the real electoral count from Chicago precincts were in 1960 – and did Kennedy actually win or lose Illinois and thus the election? (And you folks thought presidential electoral political chicanery was invented in 2016! Seriously?)

Would you like to have listened to the missing minutes on the Nixon tapes before they were erased?  Would you have wanted to be in the stadium and cheered (perhaps alone and being abused) when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and changed processional sports forever?  Would you have loved to have seen the faces on the Cardinals in the Vatican Ecclesiastical Industrial Complex when in 1959 Pope John XXIII decided that his Church needed to open the windows and let in the Holy Spirit?   “Were you there when they crucified my Lord”?

On a lazy hot summer day, it’s always fun to play “what if”.  But we are creatures bound and limited by time.   We can only know our present, and can only act within the horizon of our own experiences.    We can never know with certainty what others may have seen or heard or felt in the past.  As limited human beings, we remain flawed and fragile, hope filled and failure prone.  The limitation of temporality is a reminder that we only create our stories in the “now”.

And no one will ever really travel back in time and judge why they (or we) did what was done.  No one will ever be able to truly justify another’s motivations or actions with absolute certitude.  We live in this moment and are responsible now for what our decisions or actions cause.  For the last time, we are creatures living in the present and journeying into an always uncertain future.  We have no power to change what has been!

So in answer to my own question:  what person or event would I wish to witness if I could travel back in time?  Frankly, what’s the point?   I would prefer to live life to the fullest now, and work with all the gifts God has given me now and do my limited human (but grace filled) best for our future.  I’ll leave the past to itself.


— Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 7.26.18

Thursday Reflection 

July 26, 2018

At present I’m reading an historical account regarding the “true story” behind the miracle at Dunkirk.  From what I can glean from the texts and orders quoted, the memories recorded, and the diaries reopened, it seems that what I was taught in history class wasn’t even close to the truth about the debacle that marked one of the opening events of WWII.   There are no possible or logical reasons to explain how the British (and other Allied) forces were rescued off the French beaches from utter annihilation by the unstoppable Nazi divisions.  There were acts of sheer courage, incredible stupidity, dumb luck, careful planning, weather interference, grace under fire and human hubris all rolled into one lost battle that saved hundreds of thousands of lives – in spite of being soundly beaten at that moment.

So when I look at the condition of the Jesus Movement today – in our secular and hostile USA “culture,” when I see churches closing, or in financial peril, or with inner circles of “entitled” still clinging to the illusion of power in too many parish communities;  when one witnesses  inter- and intra-communal antagonism, lukewarm (at best) commitment on the part of a growing numbers of “members” who seem to want (when it is convenient for them) some kind of warm fuzzy religious feeling but without commitment, one could throw up one’s hands and simply ask the last person to turn off the lights when they lock down the building.  It seems that what happens in “life” can happen at church: “acts of sheer courage, incredible stupidity, dumb luck, careful planning, weather interference, grace under fire and human hubris!”

Or we can remember that with God, all things are possible!  Whenever I see nothing but darkness, I believe that there is a dawn just beyond my field of vision.  I am convinced that the Lord never stops calling ordinary disciples who can make such a difference in other believers’ lives.  Like yesteryear’s war heroes who were simply ordinary folks who stepped up when needed. So I uphold our Episcopal Church and believe this “bridge church” can and will touch lives and raise minds and hearts to God.   I also believe that the Lord will continue to call “ordinary believers” to step up and provide the leadership and the “grace under fire” that the Christian movement needs today.  After all, we have seen the impossible happen.  Who am I to declare that a religion-less culture is our inevitable destiny?

–Fr Joe

Thursday Reflection 7.19.18

Thursday Reflection   

 July 19, 2018

There is one lie (among many) that our culture perpetuates, and we parents and grandparents, as much as we love our offspring, do them no service by perpetuating the illusion.

Have any of you heard that foolish comment that we show our children love by telling them that they are so special and that there is “nothing” they cannot accomplish if they really want to have or do something!   The facts of biology, talent, having financial resources and all the other unfair aspects of “life” shows such a cultural dictum to be utterly absurd.  I think about the five high school freshman (teenagers all: 4 girls and 1 boy) with whom I spent so many months preparing them for Confirmation.  As much as I pastorally love and care for them, I can guarantee you that not one of them, no matter how much they try, or wish, or would demand will ever develop into a 6’10” NBA power forward!  Not going to happen.  There are limits to what we can accomplish.  Sorry!

This is a cancerous notion that infects our culture.  It’s called “entitlement.”  I want something, therefore I should have it.  I am entitled to it.  And while those who live by this notion are annoying and arrogant at worst (and just plain foolish at best), the saddest thing is that this belief is a betrayal of what we’re called to be as disciples of Jesus.  We’re to love one another as much as the Lord Jesus loves us.  That sometimes means facing hard truths about our own physical, emotional financial, psychological limitations and the effects those limitations might have on our family life.  I cannot have it all.  I cannot do it all.  I need to face the truth about this, and live within the limits of  gifts and abilities that our gracious God has given me.  Use those gifts and abilities, work to expand them if possible, never be satisfied with mediocrity, but also learn what my boundaries will ultimately be, be at peace with them, and be the best I can be.

In baseball, a young pitcher is taught to “stay within yourself” – to know what you can and cannot do.  I just wonder if middle class suburban “culture” has become so filled with “entitlement” that we have lost our way and we just cannot or will not live within our limitations.  God loves without limit.  God alone acts without being subject to limitations.  We humans can’t do either of those things.

We keep going back to the Genesis story of the primordial couple who are told:  eat this fruit.  You’ll be just like God.  After all, you’re entitled.  And how’s that been working out for us?

–Fr Joe


Church Tavern Challenge

Labor Day

5K/10K Run/Walk


Kids’ 1K

St. John’s Parish is proud to announce the first annual Church Tavern Challenge 5K/10K Run/Walk presented by Domino Sugar. The Challenge replaces the seven-year Labor Day tradition of the Church Tavern Biathlon (which included a bike race component) with run/walk-only races, featuring distances to appeal to everyone from the serious runner to families who just want a fun day together. The day will also offer a 1K race for kids. The traditional tankards will be awarded for first and second-place finishers, with other prizes for the top finishers in each age group.

In addition to celebrating Labor Day and encouraging fitness in our community, the event raises money to help with the outstanding work of the Community Center of Northern Westchester and the continued work of the parish.

Beginning at 9:30 am on Monday, September 3, the races will wind through the hills and country lanes of South Salem, New York, starting and finishing at St. John’s Church on Spring Street. The competitions will be followed by a chance to cool down and relax with delicious barbecue, musical entertainment and fun games for the kids.

Event chairperson Matt Shue describes the Challenge as “a perfect set of races, where you can be as competitive or as laid-back as you wish. The point is to get out in the fresh air, have a great time and contribute to a good cause.”

Registration for the 2018 Church Tavern Challenge is now open on the running website.

 Click Here to Register

Cost is $25 per runner or walker, and $10 per child (12 and under) for the 1K run.

Further details on the race course will be announced shortly.

Thursday Reflection 7/12/18

Thursday Reflection                                                                                                            

  July 12, 2018


JoAnne had a disturbing experience walking Abby last week.  They had been in Katonah walking about and doing whatever Border Collies and their adopting moms do on a “girls day out” when, as JoAnne relates, they came to a particular street and Abby just froze.  She became fear filled.  She whimpered. She refused to walk down that street – no way no how!  She dug her paws in, engaged her brakes, lay down in defiance, and did whatever other doggie type cliché you wish to conjure up.  Fear had her paralyzed.  And what was most confusing was that there were no overt signs of any trouble ahead.  There were no aggressive dogs (or persons) lurking in the shadows (because last week’s blistering noonday sun had eliminated them all).   There was no rational “reason” to explain her behavior, but freeze up – she did!  And it took all sorts of cajoling, bribes, and pleading to cross the road and move beyond that street in order to return to the car. I’m not asking you for solutions to Abby’s issue.  Maybe she has a memory from her puppy wandering days down south that this street brought to mind.  Maybe, she was just tired and played JoAnne for sympathy.  We’ll never know.

But this experience can be a metaphor for parish life, small Episcopal Church 2018.  We, like too many other small parishes in our small Communion of less than 2 million members nationwide, are approaching unknown avenues, having to make decisions, planning for an uncertain future and looking out on unfamiliar paths, and there is the temptation to just freeze.  It’s always easier to claim that the past was “Utopia”, and it is better to return to what “was” than to face the uncertain “now” (or future).  Some parish communities get trapped in an ideological quicksand of inaction because folks claim that they want to change or grow, but they want things to stay the same as when they were perfect (or at least “better than this”) in the past.

The questions we, as a small parish, must be asking ourselves are just what is it Christ wants us to be and where does Christ wish us to go?   In the end, it’s not about institutions, or buildings, or “things”.  It is about discipleship.  It is about love being manifested.  It is about not being afraid to do whatever we discern God is calling us to do.  Dogs (usually) are motivated by food or play.  Christians must pray, and struggle, and discern and then must act in love.  Only then can we avoid being frozen in fear.

–Fr Joe