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Letter from Amy: Feb 1, 2023


Simeon in the Temple, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1669

Dear friends,

Last week's letter was light and newsy. This week, I write with grief. I came into the week heavy-hearted over the death of Tyre Nichols. I was grateful for Caroline leading us in prayer on Sunday as we lamented again: how long, O Lord?

I was also shaken by yesterday's news of the student overdoses at my daughter's high school in South Arlington. As a mother of a teenager, I am constantly aware of the heavy burdens our young people carry; the ongoing mental health impact of the pandemic; and the availability of ever-deadlier substances with which to numb the pain (this recent article provides more context about mental health and substance abuse in Arlington schools). Please join me in prayer for these students.


And I was freshly saddened, disturbed, and angered by the comprehensive report released on Monday detailing the abuses of Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche International. This report was the result of a years-long investigation by an independent Study Commission tasked by L'Arche with digging more deeply into Vanier's abusive beliefs and practices and their influence on the history of L'Arche. You can read a statement by L'Arche-USA about the report here, and the Study Commission's full findings here.

Though I am relieved to learn that people with disabilities were not abused, and that Vanier's theology and practices did not permeate L'Arche beyond its first house in Trosly, France, I am left deeply troubled. Vanier had been one of my heroes in the faith. When his abuses were first reported by L'Arche in 2020, I felt shocked and betrayed. Those feelings only deepened this week as I read the English summary of the latest report.


This news hits close to Incarnation, too. Our church is home to local L'Arche staff and core members, and L'Arche is our outreach partner for February. We will pray for L'Arche every Sunday this month, and we will welcome members of our local L'Arche community to worship with us on Sunday, February 12. These members with and without disabilities continue to bear witness to the upside-down kingdom of God in our midst, even as their founder has profoundly failed them. It is our privilege to pray with them in solidarity and hope.


And this news hits close to home in other ways. In recent years, spiritual and sexual abuse by Christian leaders has come to light within the broader American church, including within our own denomination. This reality weighs heavily on me as both a priest in this church and as a survivor of abuse myself. Last night Katie and I attended an online conversation with Esau McCaulley and Rachael Denhollander on "Responding to Abuse in the Church" — it was excellent, and I will share the video of the event when it is released.


I pray for our province, our leaders, our church, and myself. I pray we will follow the example of L'Arche wherever we encounter abuse: Bring the truth to light, no matter how painful or costly. Seek the expertise, objectivity, and help of those outside our institutional echo chambers. Prioritize the healing and protection of survivors over the institution. And commit to self-examination and change. May we all walk this path of confession, repentance, and amendment of life, for the sake of the most vulnerable.


***


The Prophetess Anna (detail), Rembrandt van Rijn, 1631

This Sunday is Candlemas, when we remember the presentation of Jesus in the temple. On this day, we bless the church's candles as an expression of our hope in the light of Christ. I mentioned last week that this is one of my favorite passages in scripture; the steadfast hope of Simeon and Anna never fails to move me.


For all their lives, Simeon and Anna waited for the redemption of their people. They waited even when God seemed silent, even when the ancient promise of redemption seemed like foolishness, like a fairy tale. They waited through lives marked by oppression, loss, grief, and disappointment.


And that waiting prepared them to recognize God's redemption when it finally broke into their midst in a way they never imagined: in a poor, fragile baby.


So much of our Christian vocation is simply learning to wait. Waiting trains our eyes to recognize God's presence even in the poorest and most fragile of forms. Waiting fuels in us a holy hunger, a longing for resurrection, a conviction that the pain of this world is not the end of the story. Waiting trains us to hope, even when evidence tells us otherwise.


This Candlemas, I am still waiting. For a safer world for our youth. For healing for abuse survivors. For repentance by our failed leaders and renewal of our broken churches and institutions. For more of Jesus' kingdom in our world now. And for the final coming of his kingdom in the restoration of all things.


This song has been both a comfort and a prayer:

Come, Jesus, come. Be our light. Drive out the darkness.


Waiting and hoping,

Amy

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