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  • The Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector’s Note: Sacred stories and holy food will sustain us.-1.18.24

We are holding one another up this week. It’s what churches do. Which is why I’m exceptionally glad to be part of one right now.


I had thought that we would spend the week in a time of vigil supporting the Rev. Emily Richards as she lay near death. But she slipped away from us so quickly Tuesday morning, that by Wednesday we found ourselves in mourning for her family and her parishioners at St. Thomas, Whitemarsh, as well as for our own community in its loss.


About 30 people gathered Wednesday morning for our weekly Eucharist service. We moved it from the tiny St. Philip’s Chapel into the church, turned on the sound system, and spent time telling stories, sharing memories and wiping tears.  Emily had been a mentor to me in the difficult year before I was ordained, after the diocese sent me back to think about whether I was truly called to be a priest. She listened to my story, told me hers, wept with me and helped me keep the faith, as I waited for a second interview process, ultimately a successful one. She was the homilist at Laura Palmer’s and my ordination in 2019, which many of you attended. That was what I shared. Others told of visits and hikes and women’s retreats, welcomes, care and open arms. She was a fine priest, as so many of you know.


The chapel remains open this week as a “garden of repose” to remember Emily with photos, and prayers and candles to light. Linda Toia dropped off a copy of Emily’s sermon on “The Disabled God,” for visitors to read while in the chapel. Feel free to add your own memories, photos and reflections.


Even as we mourn Emily, we prepare for Art Lorentz-Burnett’s funeral on Saturday at 11 a.m. He was interred this morning at Washington Cross Cemetery with full military honors.  And we will make room for hundreds of guests on Saturday to celebrate his life. (Extra parking will be available across the street in the lot next to Ivy Rehab, and there will even be helpers to make sure the crossing is safe).


Sacred stories and holy food are at the top of my list for what sustains a faith community when it’s in a period of loss like this. That’s why on any given Sunday we have Scripture and Eucharist – stories and food always at hand, no matter what is going on in our souls. At funerals, we add eulogies and receptions. On Wednesday, we shared memories, and thanks to Karen Sayer and Suzanne Teleha there was coffee and pastries afterward. Stories and food fill the empty places. They work best in an assembly, a family, a gathering. Because community also sustains us.


So let us hold one another up this week. Be gentle with yourself if you find yourself distracted or out of sorts. Make room for sacred stories and holy food and prayer in between. We will get through this together. And Emily and Art and all the holy souls that are with God will help us. For they are with us, as well.


Love,

Rev. Barb

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