The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
20 August, 2023
This past July Fourth is one that I will never forget. I received the phone call that I had been dreading. Fr. Charles Everson called to inform me that he would be leaving St. Mary’s. I responded with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was happy and excited for my colleague and friend for his new ministry in Chicago, but, at the same time, I was seized by panic: “What will happen to St. Mary’s now?” I could not imagine St. Mary’s without Fr. Charles. He had hired me as his assistant priest four years ago, and we had worked closely together. He had guided the Church through the many challenges, including Covid, and placed us on a firm foundation. His departure would create a huge vacuum in the life of our church.
After Fr. Charles made the announcement of his resignation to the congregation the following Sunday, my good friend and fellow historian, Dr. Bill Stockton, came up to me and said, “You must be feeling like Harry Truman when he took over from FDR.” To say that Franklin Roosevelt left big shoes to fill would be an understatement. FDR was a beloved leader who had served an unprecedented four terms as president – 16 years, guiding the nation through the Great Depression. And when he died, the nation was in the middle of World War II. I think Truman probably sensed some panic when he heard the news that he would be taking over. So, it’s an appropriate analogy to our situation now, when we are worried by the uncertainties of what might come next.
But, actually, when I think about it, I rather like the comparison. As some of you know, I grew up in Independence, Missouri, Harry Truman’s hometown, and even graduated from Truman High School, and hence there’s the personal connection. But, more importantly, Truman turned out to be a great president, providing decisive leadership not only for the United States but for the world during World War II and the Cold War. So, Truman has become a kind of inspiration for me during this time of major transition for our Church.
Another source – a much greater source – of inspiration and strength for me these days is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Patroness, whose feast day we observe today. Mary knew something about change. She knew what it was like to be suddenly faced with a momentous responsibility. Mary was a teenage girl, recently engaged to Joseph, when one day the angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that she was to bear the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38). And how did she respond to this extraordinary news that would change her life and the life of the world forever? She could have responded like Moses with a litany of excuses. I’m not the right person for leading your people out of Egypt. The leaders of Israel aren’t going to listen to me. I’m not a good speaker. At one point, Moses flat out told God: “Please send someone else” (Exodus 3 and 4). Or Mary could have responded like Jonah. When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh with the message of repentance, what did he do? He fled, ending up in the belly of the whale while trying to avoid God. No, Mary did not come up with excuses or try to flee. On the contrary, she responded with the words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to Thy word” (Luke 1:26-38). And with Mary’s act of humble obedience to God’s will began the history of our salvation.
Be it unto me according to Thy word. I pray these words every day when I pray the Angelus as part of the Daily Office. The prayer reminds me to set aside my anxieties and worries and leave it all to God. It calls me to turn away from my ego and self-centeredness to focus on God’s will, not my own. Of course, this is much easier said than done. It is a daily, perpetual struggle.
Well, you’ll be glad to know that the initial panic has subsided, but the hard work of the transition has begun. Fortunately, my job as Priest-in-Charge has been made a lot easier by everyone who has stepped up. From the Clergy and Vestry to the Staff and Volunteers, many have rolled up their sleeves and committed themselves anew to maintaining and growing the rich and vibrant life of our Church.
St. Mary’s is special in so many ways. To begin with, we are only one of a handful of Anglo-Catholic Churches in the entire country. And here in the Midwest, we are the only Anglo-Catholic parish in a multi-state area. It is rare to find the kind of glorious traditional worship and piety that you find here, and I’m not aware of many Episcopal Churches that have the devotion we have here to the Virgin Mary. Moreover, located in the heart of downtown Kansas City, there are opportunities for service here to the poor and needy that you won’t find in suburban churches. We are a beacon of hope and love in our community.
Let me share with you an example. This past Friday afternoon at church, I witnessed Fr. Larry and Mary Parrish, and Raja Reed, our Parish Administrator, ministering to a young homeless person, a victim of abuse. Not only did we provide him with food and other necessities; we purchased a long-distance bus ticket for him to get back home, and the Parrishes even provided a ride to the Greyhound station. The most moving part of the experience for me was when we all held hands in our Church office, and Fr. Larry prayed for God’s protection and guidance. What a beautiful and holy moment. This is what our faith is about. This is what Our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to do.
It is truly an honor and privilege to be your Priest-in-Charge at St. Mary’s. I do, however, have a complaint. I don’t like my title – more specifically, the phrase “in charge.” The fact is, I’m not in charge here. I’m just part of the team – yes, with a leadership role but nonetheless still part of the team. God is the one in charge of St. Mary’s. It is God who will lead us through this transition. It is to God to whom we should turn for guidance and inspiration.
And it is God who is calling you today. How will you step up? In what way is God calling you to serve? Perhaps you are being called to assist us in our worship by reading Scripture or serving at the altar. Perhaps you are being called to serve behind the scenes to help with reception and hospitality. Or perhaps you are being called to one of our many outreach ministries. This past week’s newsletter featured the Blessing Bag ministry, and we have distributed hundreds of bags filled with food and other necessities to our homeless neighbors. We will be featuring other ministries in our newsletter in the weeks to come.
Dear sisters and brothers, the Church needs your help. You are part of the team. I pray that you will open your hearts and minds to God’s calling. And whatever God is calling you to do, I invite all of you to join me in your daily prayers to offer to God the prayer of Our Blessed Mother: Be it unto me according to Thy word. Amen.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!