Harrowing Of Hell
January 11, 2014

The Feast of Epiphany and Our 100 Year Celebration

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt Conn




This is the feast of Epiphany. It is our Eponymous feast, or namesake feast, that we celebrate every year. But this year’s feast has increased significance as it marks the end of our 100 year building campaign. In truth Epiphany is a bit older than 100 years. She was founded in 1907. The Chapel was built in 1911. A timeline will be set at the back of the church after the service and I encourage you to take a look at it, and write on it. We have been handed a gem, a gift and tonight is the perfect night to celebrate what we have and what we are passing on.

Our story is tightly wound around the Gospel story we hear each year at the Feast of Epiphany. The three Magi arrive in Bethlehem.  They have gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.  They have been following a star, it stops over a manger, they enter, and seeing Jesus they are overwhelmed by joy, and fall on their knees and praise God.

The star was their invitation. Astronomers say it disappeared into the night sky, a conjunction, as Diana Bender spoke of last Sunday, that flared then fizzled as is the nature of flaming balls of gas that speed through the universe.

But I don’t believe it flamed out. I believe it was passed on. My evidence is here in my hand. It is a star that was given to me last Sunday as I made my customary visit to The Meeting Place between services. I was talking to a few of the children there. One was Sofia Balducci, who showed me this star. We talked about it for a bit. One of the lessons we teach in our Sunday school has to do with Abraham and the promise God made that his ancestors would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.  The lesson teaches our children that they are these stars. And I like it, because when I look up in the night sky I always think of Abraham and our ancestors and the promise of God. As I was leaving, Sofia said, as if an afterthought, “Why don’t you take it?” and handed me this star.  So I did, right home to my study where I laid it on my desk to remind me to write her a thank you note.

As I was praying one morning it occurred to me that this star is the star that we are following at this Parish. This is the star that called us to this 100 Year Building Campaign. It is the star of our ancestors and the star held by our children. So we bring gifts, to honor those who have preceded us and full of hope for those who come after us. We are like the Magi.  The analogy is obvious.

But there is more to the analogy than meets the eye.  I have seen it these past two years, as we have considered Epiphany, who we are, and where we are going. Our story is the Magi’s story and they were changed in the process of bringing gifts to the Christ child.  You may recall, as I have told the story, the Magi’s original intent was to bring Jesus back with them to Babylon as their king. It was an idea that came from prophecy and out of necessity. But something happened in the process, and they left by a different road. That is true with us as well.

Along the way during this campaign meant to honor the past and secure the future, a new promise was born.  A promise that Epiphany would be a kingdom of God outpost that not only survived, but thrived in 21st century Seattle. You want to talk about miracles? I believe that the Holy Spirit is moving through this campus in a most remarkable way. I am hopeful.  I am so hopeful for us – we, who call ourselves Christians. Who we are and what we do and how we live matters to the world beyond these walls.

Tonight doesn’t mark the end of a building campaign, it marks the beginning of Epiphany’s robust role as a place of Christian faithfulness & consideration & inspiration & formation; where people come to become competent Christians, to express their Christianity, inspired to say, in an articulate way, what it means to live in the kingdom of God. And this makes a difference!

Two years ago some elders of this parish encouraged me to begin considering how we were going to articulate Epiphany to future generations. So I spent a summer drafting what came to be known as our 100 year document. A group then gathered to carefully edit it, and review it in light of the current state of our campus. This led to twenty-eight gatherings of over two hundred and sixty people to comment on the document, but more importantly to share stories, and express hopes and make passions known.

Two committees were formed in the aftermath of these conversations. One to further explore, based on the feedback given, what needed to be done to the campus, and how it might be done, what it could look like, and how much it would cost which led to the formation of another group to consider how we might raise the funds to do this.

A goal over time emerged, but not one set on a dollar amount, rather on parish commitment and involvement.  The number chosen was 256, based on the approximate number of annual pledges we receive. With 256 gifts we believed we would raise the right amount of money, and it would be enough, whatever amount it turned out to be. That is fundraising in the kingdom of God.  It is based on relationships, not goals or aspirations or even needs. It is based on the generosity of hearts committed to the common cause of Epiphany as an outpost of the kingdom of God prepared to serve this city for the next 100 years.

256 was the goal, and whatever amount that raised was going to be the right amount and enough. Tonight I am pleased to announce that we have exceeded this goal. As of tonight 268 people and families have stepped up and said, “Yes” to Epiphany.  And if you want to know how much money 268 Epiphany “Yes’s” equals, it is $9,135,490, which is enough.  Well done.

I am so hopeful for Epiphany, for so many reasons. One has to do with this time capsule.  When I announced we would be filling a time capsule with prayers to be opened and read in 100 years, a group of acolytes over heard and started to conspire. One approached me and suggested we change the time capsule opening date to January 6, 2064, 50 years hence.  They reasoned this would allow them to be both part of the closing and opening of the time capsule.

I said the decision was not mine to make, but why not write the people who are running the campaign and see what they think. So they did.  Here is part of the letter:

“Dear Mrs. White and Mr. Moseley,

We are writing to you as a voice for the youth and children in our Parish regarding the 100-year time capsule and the length of time established before it is opened. We realized that a large percent of our church will not be alive to participate in both its sealing and opening, if we wait 100 years. We were wondering if you would consider changing the opening time frame to 50 years?  It is our hope that many of us are in Seattle in 50 years, and maybe even still part of Epiphany Parish. We are aware that even today there are members of Epiphany who have been here seventy or more years.  As the next generation of this Parish in 50 years, we will be the ones who are passing it forward as you have passed it forward to us. Thank you for the gift of this Parish and thank you for considering our request.”

What do you think? Who is for opening the time capsule in 50 years?  Some people in this room tonight will remember this day.

Tonight we bless the gifts you have given. I will bring them into our midst. We will sing Alleluia, and the children will join us. I invite you to turn toward the center of the nave and hold hands. I know, not very Episcopalian, but we are family and its OK. And together we are going to pray. We are going to give thanks to God. And then we are going to have a party.  It is called the Eucharist, and then we will have an after party, which will take you all over this campus.

As you wander these holy grounds consider how it has been passed down to us. Be mindful that even today, it looks different than when it was first built. Only a few here may be able to tell the difference (Susie Stoller or Bobbie Spaeth or Sally Clark, or Brooks Hawkes, or Eleanor Burton or Leigh Nowell – I am sure there are others). Most of us just know that whatever was done over the years was done well.

My commitment to you is that whatever we do in the restoration and renovation of this campus will be done very well. Things will change and we will love most of it; and we will grow to love some of it; and we will learn to like some of it; and we may never like a little bit of it… and that is OK, because that is normal.

But what is important is that we remain a family and we hold relationship with God as paramount and relationship with our neighbor as primary.  After all, in the kingdom of God, relationship is primary.

And so what is next? Well, we restore and renovate the campus.  Our construction team has been holding meetings, open to the congregation, regarding the specifics of the building plans. You may have noticed postings for these in Weekly Word.  When these are finished the final plans will be drawn up and the building calendar set. It is my hope that we will be done with the construction by Christmas of 2015.

But as all of this is happening keep in mind the deeper truth, the more profound reality, the new promise that has emerged. That this campaign is not just about the buildings, it is about God and Epiphany as an outpost of God’s kingdom in this city, Seattle, for another 100 years.

It was said to me during the campaign, by a person deeply involved, that his real hope was not placed on the restoration and renovation of these buildings, but that if all of these buildings burned to the ground, they would be rebuilt.

And they would be because we are Christians committed to a way of life that calls us to our better selves, in a way that makes the world beyond these walls a better place.  This is a lifestyle we are committed to practicing, preserving, expanding, celebrating and passing on.  That is what is happening here tonight. It is what we are celebrating thanks to all of you. So join me as we together give thanks to God.