St. James' Episcopal Church
St. James’ mission is to bring people together to be transformed by and to proclaim Christ’s love through worship, spiritual formation, and service.


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Rector’s Reflection During Coronavirus Period of Social Distancing

From The Rev. Meredith T. Heffner
Monday, March 16, 2020
On Wednesday of last week the clergy of the Diocese received a rather vague email from someone on the Bishop’s staff, asking us to make ourselves available for a 1:00 conference call. You could tell by the brevity and the tone that it was important.

I was polishing up my presentation for the Ecumenical Lenten Dinner that we were scheduled to host that night, and took a break from it to be part of the call—in which the Bishop announced her directive that all public worship services and normal parish operations be canceled for two weeks in order to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Suddenly things got very serious. And I found myself turning to my favorite scripture passage, psalm 139, and thinking about the first time I heard it. I’d like to share that with you today.

The summer before seventh grade, my family moved to southern Maryland. As you can probably imagine, middle school is a terrible time to move. As usual Mom had found us a church, where they had just formed a youth group. The youth group leader’s name was Mary.

I loved Mary. She didn’t treat me like the bratty teen I knew I was. She loved me, and she told me God loved me. In fact every week at youth group meetings she would tell us a different part of her story—how she came to know God during a traumatic time in her life—and every week her story ended with her telling us that it was only God’s love that got her through. And she assured us that God’s love would get us through, too.

But the following summer, something tragic happened. Mary was swimming in the Potomac River and accidentally drowned. Her death broke my heart and set me up to challenge God, which I did pretty regularly, to ask God to PROVE—really prove—that Mary was right: that God would get me through. And I needed that proof because the God who allowed Mary to die did not sound like a very loving God to me.

At that time (mid-70s) there was an amphitheater on the waterfront in St. Mary’s City. My mother was all about taking us to local events, and that summer she insisted we see a play there called, The Wings of the Morning, about the first European settlers to arrive in that area in 1633. It was a story of hardship, hope, and thanksgiving. Honestly, I don’t remember much about it, except this: at the end of the performance, the cast, in one voice, recited a verse from psalm 139, with the sun setting over the river behind them.
“If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:8-9)
I remember thinking, “OK God, you really are with me, and I am going to trust in you.”

This has been my favorite piece of scripture ever since. Every time we moved, every time there was life a transition, every time I was afraid, and every time I needed reminding that God is near—this is the first passage that comes to my mind.

I share it with you today. If you are afraid, anxious or worried—or just generally insecure about the way things are going—use it to remind you that God is near.

I also encourage you to pull up the song “Psalm 139” by Sons of Korah on your favorite music streaming service (click the link to hear it). And here’s their version of verses 6-9:
Where can I go from your Spirit,
Where can I flee from your presence, Lord?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there.
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
Even there your hand will guide me,
and your right hand will hold me fast.  
I’ve been listening to this psalm almost every day, and it continues to lift me and comfort me, and I hope it will do the same for you. God knows us, God loves us, God is with us—all of the time.

Take care of yourselves. Reach out to one another. Keep your eyes open for those who are struggling, and remind them of God’s presence and love. Be safe and wash your hands.

Much love and many blessings,

Rev. Meredith
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Fun Fact of the day!
  • I love the song “Psalm 139” by Sons of Korah, but my favorite non-churchy song is Tom Cochrane’s version of “Life is a Highway.” (Really!)
  • What is your favorite song? What are you listening to these days? What songs lift your spirit? Want to join me in putting together a St. James’ play list? Email me your suggestions and let’s see what we can do! “Churchy” and “non-churchy” songs are welcome. 
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