Seminary of the Southwest Christ Chapel

Seminary of the Southwest Christ Chapel
The view I get to experience everytime I attend Christ Chapel!!!!!!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The End is Near...

The End is Near…

When I began the discernment process towards ordained ministry almost 7 years ago, I never thought this time would come.  God willing in the next few weeks I will receive my Masters of Divinity and be ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons.  Thanks be to God!  It is with the love of God and all the amazing people in my life that I have finished this journey.

Now, it is time for a new journey.  The journey of ordained ministry will occur in a sweet parish in Fayette, Alabama, St. Michael’s.  I am honored and blessed to be able to serve this parish.  It brings tears to my eyes every time I think about being with these amazing people as we worship and love our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Thank you for loving me, supporting me, praying for me, and all the other things you all have done for me.  I can never fully express what it means to me to be loved by so many people.  I am forever grateful and blessed!  Come visit me in Fayette!

As the next part of a new journey begins….

Mary Balfour

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Where has the time gone?

Where has the time gone?

I have been HORRIBLE about writing on my blog this semester.  Something I told myself I would never do.  I only have a few more months to write on this blog, and then my journey as a seminarian will be over.

It is a hard concept to think about.  Over?  Didn’t I just get here?  I feel torn about it.  I am ready for the next step God has prepared me.  I will make mistakes, but I am ready.  That is confidence I didn’t have three years ago.  But, I am sad too.  I have loved my experience at Seminary of the Southwest.  It isn’t always peaches and roses; in fact it isn’t most of the time.  But the experience, the formation, the friendships, the sheer joy of basking in God’s love has been amazing and I will miss it dearly.  I am not there yet, but it isn’t far away.  As you all probably know about me, I have to grieve and process these things so that’s where I am at this moment.

I am looking forward to being home with family and participating as the chaplain at the Diocese of Alabama’s Christmas Conference.  All that happens very soon!

I am not looking forward to the General Ordination Exams in January.  So, I am reaching out prayer warriors.  You have lifted me up for two and half years and now I am asking for more.  The GOE’s will be January 2nd-6th and they will be tough for me!  I am preparing and praying, but I need your positive thoughts and prayers too.  As we all know I am not a star in the academic field.  So my anxiety is high.  But, I also have faith in my professors that they have instilled in me the knowledge.  I also have all the faith in the world that God will guide me through it.  But once again, a few extra prayers never hurt.

I wish you Advent Blessings and a Merry Christmas.  The birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ is one we should celebrate everyday! 

As the journey continues….

Mary Balfour

Friday, September 6, 2013

Church in the Park...

Church in the Park…

In July, a dear friend of mine who is priest in the Diocese of Alabama asked me to preach at Church in the Park.  My friend started Church in the Park with several other clergy to bring the Church and most importantly God to the homeless who spend their days in a downtown park in Birmingham, AL.

I was very honored that my friend asked me to preach.  I must admit it was one of the hardest sermons I have ever written.  What do I say?  How do I preach the Gospel to people that suffer hardships far worse than anything I have ever experienced?  I tried to let go and let the Holy Spirit do its thing.  The result was a sermon that I felt was suppose to be preached that day.

What was really fantastic about that day was watching God’s people, black, white, male, female, rich, and poor, worshipping together.  Praising God for the many blessings we have been given, asking God for forgiveness of our sins, and asking God to help us in our times of trouble- no matter what that trouble is.  We don’t have a home or our marriage is on the rocks.  It doesn’t matter the need, the pain, it only matters that we go to God.

Here is my sermon, its not really my sermon, it is the Good News that God put on my heart that day in the park.  Blessings as the ride continues…

I am reminded of a woman that I knew named Bea, Beata to be exact and her parents named her after today’s Gospel reading, commonly known as the Beatitudes.  Beatitudes means blessings.  Bea grew up in a time of great fear and poverty, the Great Depression.  She never had much, she lost two siblings at a young age, and her mother died just a few months after her birth.  Bea never had the opportunity to finish school and had to scrape to get by through life.  Bea knew that she was often at the bottom, but at the bottom is where she felt closest to God.  She never doubted her faith, even though she went through many hardships and failures.  Bea knew that the grace of God was always with her.

One of the hallmarks of the teachings of Jesus that no one can dispute is that lowliness is next to Godliness.  The ones who occupy the lowest place in the world’s power ladder are the ones who are most likely to enter the Kingdom of God.  These are the lost, the weak, the defenseless, the broken, the bruised, the diseased, the dying, and the forgotten. 

In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew quotes Jesus, with the opening breath of his first teaching saying that spiritual power lies at the bottom, not at the top.  It lies where people hurt and know that they hurting. 

You see Jesus knew that, at the bottom, nobody much cares about defending the turf they don’t have.  At the bottom, there is no need to prove one’s own correctness, not to God, to society, to Church, or to anyone else.  To be more specific, when you are ravaged by cancer, or when you have been unemployed and out of money, you have lost a child, or lost yourself, or a host of them, you are blessed, Jesus says. 

Blessed, He means, because you are near the bottom.  And being near the bottom is about all in this world you are sure of.  It is at the bottom that we are broken into Gospel blessedness.  It is there that we reach out for the unseen, healing presence of Jesus.  The thirst for grace becomes strong enough to open us to Gospel blessedness.  So Jesus begins his most famous teaching by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Maybe some get by in life without undergoing the hardships that you face, but not many get by without experiencing sheer brokenness.  Something of the bottom comes upon us all and in that coming lies a crucial choice.  We can try to rely on ourselves or we can yield to our circumstances as an invitation to rely on grace.

The open arms of Jesus await to any that will come, but it is the “poor in sprit” who have the best chance of entering the embrace.  The bruised and brokenhearted, they are the ones nearest to surrender, to letting go and letting God.  Bea has now embraced God in heaven, she died last year.  There is nothing broken in Bea now.  In her death, as in her baptism, she has been claimed by Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit to be whole, to be free, and to be truly blessed.

How does that song by Winona Judd go?  Isn’t it “things are rough all over, but I’ve got good news.  When you get down to nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.  In a way, rock bottom makes good solid ground.  And a dead end street is just another place to turn around.” AMEN.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Blessing of Summer...

The Blessing of Summer…

God has blessed me so incredibly this summer!!!  As I begin the journey back to Texas tomorrow, I am reminded of my many blessings.  I think I have crossed the Tennessee/Alabama more than 20 times this summer, but the driving was worth it.  I have been looking forward to this summer ever since I started seminary because I knew I would have the opportunity to work with the youth in the Diocese of Alabama.  I was not disappointed and feel so blessed to have been a part of Sawyerville and Camp McDowell this summer!

The first three weeks of June I had the opportunity to be an intern at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Murfreesboro, TN.  For those of you that do not know, my father is the rector of this parish.  I always felt that I was an experiential and visual learner and this opportunity certainly proved that suspicion!  It was amazing to be a part of the daily activities of a Church- worship planning, preaching, attending meetings, communications, setting the table, writing, pastoral care- the list goes on.  An added bonus was spending time with and learning from a great teacher, my Dad! 

The last week in June I served as the chaplain for Lower Camp at Sawyerville Day Camp, Session 1.  I was just smiling the whole week.  Sawyerville is truly one of the best ministries I have ever been a part of.  I am “hooked” and I hope to be a part of Sawyerville for a long, long time.  Watching the youth of the Diocese of Alabama care for the children of Hale County (one of the poorest in the country) and literally be the hands and feet of Jesus is something I will never forget.  I feel honored to have just had the opportunity to watch it happen.  Although I don’t know why I am surprised because that is just the way our amazing God works.

I then spent four whole weeks on the beautiful Monteagle/Sewanee Mountain.  I am a child of that mountain and have spent every summer of my life there.  I sat on the porch, read dozens of books, had wonderful discussions and laughs with my 89-year-old grandmother and just basked in the beauty of the mountain.  What a gift from God it was and I treasured every minute of it.

Lastly, I was privileged to serve as a chaplain at Wonderful, Wonderful Camp McDowell!  It was a heavenly week in God’s beautiful creation and I was in awe of the opportunity.

I can not believe that in one week I will begin my senior year of seminary.  I am looking forward to once again being in the classroom, seeing my classmates, and spending time and learning at my field parish, St. Richard’s. 

This summer has been a blessing in every way.  I am so thankful for spending time with friends and family, meeting new friends, and enjoying my amazing parents.  But, it is time to go and continue to be on this journey God is leading me through. 

Blessings as the ride continues…

Sunday, May 5, 2013

John 14:23-29

A Sermon Preached at St. Richard’s Episcopal Church
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2013
John 14:23-29 
Gracious, God, you are our God and we love you.  O God, we thank you for those who came before us, who in their relationship with you wrote their experience down and now it is Scripture for us.  And we ask that you would speak to every listening heart here today.  May we walk in obedience to your Word and remember that we are not alone. Amen.
Recently in my Pastoral Care class my professor asked us to think about a time when we learned something from the process of someone dying.  My mind immediately went to my Grandfather, Edwin, or as we grandchildren called him, Papaw.  Papaw had heart problems for many years but he lived to be 86.  I was 29 when he died.  To say that I had a longtime to know my Grandfather, learn from him, and most importantly love him, would be an understatement.  I feel very blessed to have known him so well.  I also often say that any bit of kindness that I have in my heart comes from my Papaw.
At the end of Papaw’s life, he knew he was dying and so did we, his family.  The 4th of July is a big occasion for my family and I believe that Papaw was waiting until we could all be together before he died.  He asked that we share communion together, he picked out his favorite hymn to be sung at his funeral, and he reminded us that our relationship with him wasn’t ending, he would always be there for us.  Papaw was preparing us for his death.  On July 6, 2006, my Papaw died and went to heaven to be with Jesus and is now one of the saints in glory. 
I believe that Jesus was doing for the disciples what Papaw did for us, preparing us for his death.  Assuring them that although He would no longer physically be with them, the relationship would not end.  Isn’t that reassuring, that even in death we carry on the relationships that mean so much to us, specifically our most important relationship, our relationship with God.          
It is not hard to make a personal connection with today’s Gospel.  We can understand completely what the disciples must have felt.  They must have been experiencing fear, grief, and anxiety.  Fear about what Jesus will soon be facing.  Fear for themselves, how will they go on without their teacher?  Fear of abandonment and anxiety of what will happen next.  I think we have all experienced those emotions at some point in our lives.  We all have moments in life that we are so beaten down and so unsure of ourselves that we think, what will become of me?  It is such a human response. My guess is that it is exactly what was going through the minds of the disciples on that day. But Jesus offered the disciples and us language of assurance and love; these words are what carry us through our faith.  These words are Jesus’ love language to us, His family.
Jesus tells us, “Those who love me will keep my word…" But what is His word?  His word was the language He used and the life that He led.  Jesus spoke of the value of a life lived in prayer and in response to God.  The language of Jesus fills the promises of a loving God.  Words have power.
The words we use can prepare us for death, bring others to Christ, and can convey God’s love.  If we use loving language we can see and do our work together.  It all starts with words, but it will grow into every corner of our life if it is allowed to take root, if we let Christ fully into our lives.
"Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with them." Those are powerful words that Jesus gave us.  They are strong enough to carry us through any adversity, including the death of someone we love.  I hope they brought comfort to the disciples that day.
We are created by God in love and for love.  We are created to be in a community of love with one another.  God is love and that statement alone is what binds us together as a community of Christians.  I have been on a number of emails that Stuart has sent to many of you, his parishioners.  Every one of his e-mails ends with the words “much love.”  You never doubt that his love for you is present and that is exactly how God’s love works.  It is always there, it is constant and you can see it though Stuart, or the person sitting right next to you.  You can see it when you buy a tractor for those in need in Tanzania.  You can feel it when you raise $800 in a yard sale for women in need.  You can hold on to it when you learn, live, and pray together all in the name of God’s love. 
And if you need more proof that God loves us than all you have to do is to remember that God’s massive, abundant, amazing love was proven to us the day Jesus died on he cross.  Jesus gave up his life that we might have abundant and everlasting life with God, a life of love and unity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever. 
 Love is stronger than loss, God does not leave us comfortless, and there is more than one way to transmit the love of God to those who are ready to receive it.  Jesus was preparing His disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus was teaching them about a new day.  Jesus told them to get ready.
Jesus then says, ”I have said these things to you while I am still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”  The word advocate translated in Greek means the one who stands beside you.  The one that stands beside you when you are sad or in trouble.  The one who stands beside you when you are having a hard time understanding the choices your children are making.  The one who stands beside you when you are hurt by something that happened at your Church.  The one who stands beside you when someone says something that is cruel.  The one who stands beside you when you are watching someone you love die.  So take a deep breath, God is not our enemy.  God is our advocate, our friend, the one who stands beside us.  Jesus was giving that same assurance to the disciples that day, letting them know that they would not be alone, that their advocate would stand beside them-ALWAYS!
Then, John tells us, Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”   What exactly is this peace that Jesus is leaving with us?  The disciples are experiencing the end of something, yet Jesus is assuring them that this is not the end, that they will not be abandoned, that they will have peace.  He is telling them do not be afraid.  He is telling them and us, that it is alright.  Because don’t forget we have the one that stands besides us-ALWAYS!
The love of God, the peace of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit have all been promised in today's Gospel.  Jesus does not describe exactly when, or even what this Holy Spirit will be like.  But He gave His word and then told the disciples to live it.  And He promised that love would be the proof of the God's presence.  When our hearts beat with the love of God the spirit is present among us.  When we allow God to move fully in our life, when our advocate is by our side, then we can face anything, even the death of a Papaw, or someone that we love dearly.  The best part is the relationship doesn’t die in death, it only grows in God’s love.
Jesus prepared his disciples for his upcoming death so that their faith would be strengthened rather than shattered by it.  The Good News is that Jesus is resurrected and He is alive today. In John’s Gospel reading we are told this was always God’s plan and Jesus needed to prepare the disciples and us by saying. “And now I have told you this before it occurs so that when it does occur, you may believe.”
Remember we are never alone; we have an advocate standing beside us.  Even at moments of deep loss and sadness God’s peace surrounds us.  Take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is holding our hand and remember the words are always there when we need them.  AMEN.