Graduation Sunday

Good morning to our graduates!! You were a hard bunch to organize this year! Busy kids. But half of you are here, and the others have assured us they’re here in spirit. 

We’re so happy to be part of seeing you--all of you--off on this next adventure in your lives. Most of you grew up here. You were sheep, and then shepherds and angels in our pageant. Your group is known for having loved to play Ghost in the Graveyard after church, and also (I’m told) climbing some pretty formidable trees out there. You did Sunday school, confirmation, outreach (which I’ll say more about in a moment), and youth groups. St. James will always be part of your life. And I expect to see you back on holidays. Because I want to know how you’re doing. 

It’s time to pass each of you off to a new rector, though. And thus we commence the tradition of informing you of your nearest Episcopal Church to where you’re going. And I have indeed managed to contact the rectors of all those churches, letting them know to expect you. 

And you know what? Kids do show up! Sometimes I’ve had to resend the information to your parents, but this has been working!

So here we go. 

I’ll start with the kids who are here. Will West -- this one is easy. Will is going to Northeastern University, but his freshman year will be London. Lots of churches in London. :)

I looked up what neighborhood you’ll be in, and I even called Harriet, from England, to make sure I’m recommending the right place. Harriet, a good friend of St. James, preached here two weeks ago and was on our Holy Land pilgrimage last summer with your mother and older brother. She said absolutely Will has to go to (and are you ready for this church name?) St. Botolph Without Aldgate - “without” in the sense of “just outside of.” (That is a close contest with your brother Jack’s nearest church in DC “St. Mary’s Foggy Bottom.”) St. Botolphs is an 18-minute walk from where you’ll be studying. Sunday services are at 10:30 am. The priest, who I’ve reached out to, is the Rev. Laura Jorgensen. The church dates to 1125, maybe earlier. I have to admit I have no idea who St. Botolph was but apparently he’s a saint from the 700s who is thought to have founded the first church on that site—just outside the city gate. But more useful for you today, the church seems very active in the community and Harriet says it’s a lovely, friendly group of people. 

Audrey Ryan is going to the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. The first thing I noticed about her new church, Church of the Servant (a 16-minute walk) is that all the staff pictures were taken on the beach nearby. (I’m always envious when I look at these seaside churches with their tanned and relaxed rectors.) Your new rector is Mother Greenwood. I’ve told her to look out for you. Services are at 11:15, a great hour for college students, and they have a ministry to college students. The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina puts a lot into its campus ministries -- I’ll send you and your mom various resources. They even have an app to help navigate all the things they offer on the various campuses, like wellness and nutrition programs, fellowship groups, all sorts of things. You’re in good hands with that diocese, and take advantage of it. But your primary church is Church of the Servant, Sundays at 11:15. 

Ava!! Ava Zerbo is going to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. That was my brother-in-law’s alma mater and I’ve spent quite a bit of time on that campus. It is so beautiful (you know I’m from Ohio--not far from there). Your new Church is Holy Trinity. The rector is Julie Blake Fisher, who can’t wait to meet you. They have a whole outreach to Episcopal students at Miami, including meals for their college kids. Sunday services are at 10:30. They also have a very active outreach ministry. 

This year’s graduating class has been very active in our ministries here, like the Fordham Pantry, Midnight Run, Children’s Village. We had last year a program where they could submit volunteer hours for recognition by St. James, and I was surprised that many of these kids exceeded what we suggested they do. I was proud to write a recommendation letter for Ava.

So, you can continue that good work now through Holy Trinity. I sent you and your mom the link to their service programs. 

Cameron Roberts is going to the University of Texas. Again, a really great diocese with lots of campus ministries. The Episcopal Student Center at Austin is right on campus. They have their own episcopal priest. You’ll appreciate this: their services are Sunday at 6:30 pm :) The priest there is the Rev. Noah Stansbury. I told him to look for you. It looks like they have a really active student community and, I’ve never heard of this but it’s probably elsewhere, too, they have their own vestry made up entirely of students. If you want something more like what you’re used to here, the campus center is connected to All Saints Church, also right there on campus. The rector is the Rev. Genevieve Razim and services are at 10:15 am.

Ella Mulfinger is attending the University of Miami in Florida. They have an Episcopal chapel right on campus for students--it looks quite active. The Rev. Frank Corbishle is their chaplain (or priest) and they have a Sunday 6 pm service followed by dinner. I loved the short description on their website: they’re “a place where progressive Christianity and traditional worship meet.” 

We have a great diocese, but I have to say, the Dioceses of Texas, Southern Ohio (my home diocese), Southeast Florida, and North Carolina are among the more vibrant in the Episcopal Church. Our current bishop comes from North Carolina. There are so many resources for you in these places because of your connection to St. James. So please, get involved. Like our wider tradition, they’re all forward-thinking, inclusive, socially active--the things I think you’ve come to love about being here. And we need YOU to continue this work--please, please, stay involved. Christianity is so misunderstood and misused in this culture. We need you to help show what our Episcopal tradition has to offer.

The last three graduates couldn’t be with us, but I’ll quickly share their next Episcopal church.

Tyler Hughson is going to William and Mary. That’s another easy one, named after King William and Queen Mary--a lot of Episcopal churches right nearby. The rector I contacted is from Bruton Parish, which also houses the campus Canterbury (college) group. 

Camden Matles will be going to Colorado University in Boulder. His closest church is St. Aidan’s--again, right on campus. (Nobody in this group has any excuses!) St. Aidan’s has an outreach to college kids and I’ve told the rector there to look for Camden.

And finally, Yeonsoo Kim, the Rev. Kyrie Kim’s daughter. I don’t think I need to do the research on this one. She’s headed to Purdue University, where she can attend the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. Their home page says this: We have just about all the things you would expect an Episcopal church to have: “Ritual, Community, and Free Food.”

One new thing I did this year was to send a group email to all of the rectors, in addition to contacting them individually, thanking them for welcoming our kids and for the work they do. I think it’s just wonderful that they’re now connected in this random, unexpected way. In a world where people struggle to belong, and affiliate, and be part of a larger cause and community, we have so much to offer. Leaving St. James is entering a wider world of Episcopalian Christians; it’s a gain, not a loss.

The last thing I’ll say is: by a series of accidents and last-minute change in plans, I actually preached the graduation sermon last week. But today’s Gospel is also a lovely one to send you all off. Jesus and his disciples are out on the Sea of Galilee when a storm arises, and the waves overtake them. Understandably the disciples start to panic. They’re shocked to discover that Jesus is asleep in the stern of the ship, not the least bit concerned. 

To calm their fears he awakens, and settles the waves. 

Of course as you already have, you will encounter calm waters and fearsome waves, both. And this story gives us two things to take with us: first, Jesus is in the boat with you. It’s not God’s way to smooth the waters, right away. Because choppy waters are good. We need them, to grow wise. So if God seems asleep in the stern, remember this story, and remember: What’s important is: God is with you. 

The other lesson is: learn from Jesus here. Be calm when things are scary. It’s probably going to be OK. I came to appreciate more fully this image of Jesus sleeping in the boat after I heard a Buddhist parallel to it: an enlightened person can even meditate on the tip of a dragon’s tongue. 

You are leaving here -- wait; let me mention I expect to see you back at holidays, and maybe some summer months! But you are leaving here with so much love and support. No one can say beforehand what exactly your path will be, that’s life’s mystery; but you will be great. And we’re all so proud of you.