Sermons by “The Rev. Della Wager Wells”


Walking in the Fifth Gospel

It’s been another active, wonderful week at Emmanuel. We had the EDS Pumpkin Parade Tuesday, and the churchyard was filled with amazing jackolanterns and whole families dressed in coordinating costumes. One of my favorites was our EDS student dressed as a rainbow – creatively made of bent pool noodles nested in a cloud of cotton batting, all worn on the back of her pink spangly dress. Mom was the sun, complete with a crown and wide wings of rays, and Dad was dressed as a parachuter, with helmet and front parachute pack carrying the infant sister.

I hadn’t had the foresight to plan a costume, and so was delighted to re-discover my black Wippell’s clerical cloak in my closet. I sailed out into the night with a miniature dragon and a Ninja Turtle concealed in its folds – who jumped out periodically to surprise parents and other unicorns, pirates, and princesses. I was a six-footed, cloaked Abouna, as the children call me, for Halloween.

From Halloween – All Hallows’ Eve – we look forward to All Saints’ Day, one of the major feast days of the church. All Saints’ Day occurs naturally on November 1, but as a major feast day of the church, takes precedence over The Lord’s Day, our weekly Sunday feast day, so we will actually celebrate All Saints’ Day on Sunday – November 3.

All Saints’ Day is the day when we remember that we are part of the communion of saints, as we say we believe in the Nicene Creed – all those holy ones who lived in ages past and are with us now and always. As one of the seven major feast days in The Episcopal Church, All Saints’ Day is also a time for baptism – and we will baptize a new member of the Christian community on Sunday!

I mentioned that the EDS children call me Abouna – and the reason they do is that Abouna is Arabic for priest. I just returned in June from a year’s fellowship at St. George’s College in Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world for Christians and Jews, and the third holiest city in the world – after Mecca and Medina – for Muslims.

In the Holy Land of the three Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – you often hear people speak of the land itself as the Fifth Gospel. The holy land gives us new insight into scripture and how God is trying to interact with us.

The particular rocks, dirt, caves, places, and homes – the actual physical surroundings of the holy family and other characters of scripture – provide resonance and context when we see where they lived, how they might have walked, how warm or cold – or wet or dry – it might have been, and what they might have had to eat, or seen along the roadside as they walked.

I am very grateful that we will welcome my dear friend, The Rev. Susan Lukens, Associate Dean Emerita of St. George’s College, Jerusalem, to join me to preach and concelebrate (a specific church word meaning co-preside at the Eucharist) on All Saints’ Day. Please join us Sunday as we welcome the newest member of our Christian family in baptism, discuss our experience with the Fifth Gospel, and explore our living relationship with the communion of saints and all our family we encounter in Christ.

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#EmmanuelNewport, #WelcomeHome

Even the Sparrow Has Found Her a House

I was so very grateful for the Emmanuel community last Tuesday night! Emmanuel really turned out for Dinner With Della+, and it was a wonderful chance for us to talk a little and get to know each other better. I look forward to many more opportunities like that in the coming months.

Dinner With Della+ was the kickoff dinner for Emmanuel’s Foyer Groups – the small group dinners we plan to have at Emmanuel that were called Firesides in another incarnation at Emmanuel.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Foyer Groups originated from Coventry Cathedral’s International Ministry of Reconciliation, which arose after the Cathedral was destroyed in the Blitz. Shortly after the bombing, the Cathedral Provost was sifting through the rubble of the cathedral and found many of the old roof nails that had fallen among the ruins. He saw potential for redemption and reconciliation in the ruins and was inspired to have them twisted together to
form a cross.

This cross of nails and the words “Father, Forgive” became the unifying symbol of the Community of the Cross of Nails, the energy behind Coventry Cathedral’s International Ministry of Reconciliation. CCN, as the group is called, believes that understanding between peoples, nations, and ideologies can come only when people meet and know each other as individuals.

In 1967, the staff of the Coventry Cathedral began meeting together in small informal groups as a way of bridging the differences among us that can separate us from each other. They noticed that a powerful bond formed among the group, which they referred to as a foyer group. Foyer is French for home, or hearthside.

People had become more separated and isolated during the war, especially with the violence and destruction of the bombings. People’s differences got magnified, so people noticed more about how they were different than how they were alike. But in the small dinner groups, people got to know each other better – as fellow human beings – and they became fast friends. They spent time. They talked. They listened. And they shared a meal.

The Foyer movement spread first to the congregation of Coventry Cathedral and then out into the Anglican Communion. Today, many Episcopal churches throughout the United States have foyer groups that are great ways for people in the church to get together and get to know each other better – sharing experiences and common interests within friendly home surroundings, in a Christian context and while breaking bread together.

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#emmanuelnewport, #godwithus

Pentecost 19 – God With Us – October 20, 2019

The wind has become a little brisker over the past week or so, and the nights are cooler. The Emmanuel Day School has recess in the church yard several times each school day, and the sight of the children running and playing in the beautiful glancing Fall sunshine lifts up my heart.

The EDS children painted pumpkins this week, and they are now decorating the school windows into the Library, shining through with their orange glow in a new stained glass design. They have also read Pumpkin Jack, a wonderful story of a jackolantern’s harvest, carving, and then decay into the cooling earth before sending out new life in the spring.

The kids are conducting their own Pumpkin Jack science experiment now in the school. Go see Pumpkin Jack and the two pumpkins that grew from last year’s reenactment of the story!

Fall is a time of harvest, and a time of ingathering. As we come back together, and gather inside as the weather changes, we see how much our community matters. This is a season of the liturgical year, as well as the secular year, that we come inside, gather together, and give thanks to God for our many blessings, especially those we have been given to love, and all those who love us.

We have had wonderful news in EDS. EDS Director Carissa Perkowski and teacher Sarah Evans have just announced new additions to their families, both expected in April of 2020. Carissa plans to work remotely, beginning in late March, ably assisted by Miss Kate and Miss Terri, as well as the EDS School Committee, headed by Debbie Venancio. I will also be available for onsite response to Carissa’s wise guidance.

I am also really looking forward to Dinner with Della+ on Tuesday, October 22! This potluck dinner (signup sheets by the door in the Library!) will be the kickoff for our Foyer Groups, called Firesides in a former incarnation at Emmanuel.

We’re calling it Dinner With Della+, because I hope that it will give me an opportunity to get to know you better – and for you to get to know me. Please come join us for conversation about our community at Emmanuel, Foyer Groups, and how first century Christians worshiped in house churches – each other’s homes.

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#Potluck, #ChurchSuppers

Pentecost 18 – Inside Outside Ravioli – October 13, 2019

When I was growing up in Watertown, New York – way upstate near the Thousand Islands Bridge over the St. Lawrence River – I just loved our potluck dinners at church. In lots of ways, Emmanuel reminds me of Trinity Episcopal Church in Watertown.

Many of my favorite childhood memories are of Trinity – the stage in the Parish Hall, much like the one in Emmanuel Day School now, with its red velvet curtains hanging in thick folds we could roll ourselves into and hide in. The big church kitchen, where my grandmother and her happy crowd of friends chopped countless onions for casseroles and made giant salads for Wednesday Night Supper. The gym in the basement, where, despite my complete inability to shoot a basket, we played kickball and dodgeball during the months when the snow drifts were too high to play ball outside. And the nave, gorgeous – like Emmanuel’s – its sturdy ship’s hull ceiling showing us that we were safe, no matter what the rough seas of winter weather or life brought.

Wednesday Night Supper was my favorite. My friend Jane’s mother made a casserole she called Inside Outside Ravioli, and it’s still the first thing that comes to mind when I think of church suppers. Large shell pasta with homemade Bolognese sauce, spinach, sharp cheddar cheese, and other yummy secret ingredients, Mrs. Spencer’s Inside Outside Ravioli seemed like the church community itself to me as a child – a big, warm, mixed up casserole of nourishing comfort, security, and love.

On October 22, we are planning an Emmanuel Church potluck supper. We’re calling it Dinner With Della+, because I hope that it will give us all an opportunity to get to know each other better. The potluck supper will also be the kickoff of Emmanuel’s Foyer Groups, which the Emmanuel Community
used to call Firesides.

The Old French meaning of the word Foyer is hearth or hearthside, and it evokes an image of warmth, hospitality, and comfort. We welcome old friends, family members, and newcomers into our homes by gathering around a fire or these days, in a kitchen – close to where food is being prepared, for fellowship.

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St Francis Preaching to the Birds

Pentecost 17 – Feast of St Francis – October 6, 2019

I am really looking forward to my first Blessing of the Animals at Emmanuel Church on Sunday. The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi is one of my favorite feast days in our church year, not only because I am a well-known animal lover (although that’s indeed a thing!), but also because I find St. Francis’s teachings and prayers so inspiring. St. Francis is remembered to have lived and taught peace and reconciliation, both among human beings and in the natural world – a holistic kind of unity that honors our incarnate world as God’s own creation.

Why do we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi with a Blessing of the Animals? We remember St. Francis for, among other things, his dedication to preaching the gospel. It is said that he preached to the birds of the air, and they listened to him, and that he once convinced a wolf that was terrorizing a village not to hurt people or livestock any more, but to wait peaceably and patiently for the villagers to feed him. The wolf lived out his days, the story goes, cared for and beloved by the villagers.

Our pets bring out our gentlest selves – our tender, patient, loving sides. Their trust, loyalty, and affection reminds us of our own best parts. We come together to notice and bless those holy responses and the relationships with our pets that inspire them, inspiring us to walk in love and peace in all of God’s creation. We remember St. Francis with the Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

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