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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

UPCOMING NEWS: St. Michael and All Angels - TUCSON, Arizona announces TEAM VISIT to GUATEMALA

¨There will be a Guatemala Lenten Delegation / Team Visit beginning February 23, 2016. If you want a direct, intimate expereince, would like to meet some of the CPR health leaders in the Ixil area in the northern highlands, and also make connection in Antigua, Guatemala, where St. Michael's Rector Emeritus Fr. Smith and spouse Terri are expecting you, please join us. This trip will be good for first-timers, as well as more experienced international volunteers. For more information see the Advent issue of The Messenger, and contact Guatemala Project coordinator Ila Abernathy.¨  Life at St. Michael and All Angels

St Alban Episcopal Mission, diocese of Guatemala, IARCA

Cordially invites the TEAM VISITORS from St. Michaels and All Angels, diocese of Arizona/TEC, Tucson, Arizona, to come visit us.

Please join us in worship and fellowship in Antigua during the time of your upcoming visit to Guatemala.

Please contact Senior Warden, Elizabeth Bell or Doña Terri Smith  so we can plan time together in Antigua, Sacatepequez before, or after, your mission at the Ixil area. We look forward to greeting and meeting ALL visitors from St. Michaels and All Angels!


Leonard Clark, Junior Warden




Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.


The Reverend John Smith, Vicar.
5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE

Monday, December 28, 2015

THE REVEREND JOHN SMITH: ¨Jesus, and Jesus alone, reveals God completely¨

Michelangelo, Creation of Adam, from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Rome, 1508-1512, fresco
The Difference is Jesus

Terri and I took part this past week in two beautiful Posadas.  One was held in our own neighborhood and led by Padre Fernando, the Pastor of La Merced, and the other was in Chimaltenango, with Padre Miguel and our friend, Deacon Phyllis.  Both Posadas acted out the story of Mary and Joseph being turned away from one potential lodging after another and the only place they could find to have the baby was a cave-like stable with some animals.
Both Posadas were filled with faith and song, the Gospel, and lots of people, especially children, and not to mention many fireworks/bombs going off.  As the crowd of people passed, many gathered at their door ways to witness Mary, Joseph, and the Child carried by.  One lady knelt in her balcony.  The whole experience touched many hearts, including my own.
These beautiful expressions of faith and tradition underline what many feel Jesus' coming among us means:  the state of our hearts.  The whole validity of our religious faith seems to rest upon the lifting up of our hearts which the Christian celebration brings.  The liturgy underlines this with its frequent call to "Lift up your hearts!"  Sermons, too, usually emphasize this focus on our hearts and opening them up to Jesus' coming into our lives.
But there is another focus that is even more important than the "state of our hearts."  Jesus' Incarnation and his teaching and example is meant to change the world.  Jesus life reveals his Father's true intention and will for this world:
No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

For me this is the key to everything about our faith:  Jesus, and Jesus alone, reveals God completely.  Before Jesus, people for the most part could form or project their own ideas on God.  God, through Moses gave them the Law that was impossible to keep in it's fullness.  God would support them in their battles against their enemies- God would himself bring disaster on their enemies.  God was an unforgiving Lawgiver and avenger for his people.  Still they didn't win every battle, many died due to their unfaithfulness and sin.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law; so that we might receive adoption as children.

The Incarnation didn't make a cold, uncaring, distant God more accessible.  To warm cold hearts.  God always wanted to be close to his people and his Creation.  God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and The Torah, Law, is all about the relationships of people with their neighbors.
Jesus revealed to us, in his person and teaching, that God is not so much concerned with the state of our hearts, but more concerned what we do with our money and power.  Jesus made people in power very uncomfortable.  His birth was a threat. He taught a different way of living and was killed for refusing to bow down to the powerful.  Like the saying:  Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.  Jesus'coming makes a difference.  Following Jesus can change the world!

This is why Jesus' coming is so important:  he's a radical, life-changing person, a world changing person.  He's come among us and is with us still.  His followers, with his Spirit, can bring real change in the world.  Just imagine if every Christian refused to take up arms against others, lived in mercy and forgiveness for all, even when severely wronged, letting go of every desire for revenge and withdrawing all support for those calling for acts of vengeance and violence toward those who do violence to us.  This is what Jesus' Incarnation and life revealed to us about God.  There is no personality change between God of the "Old" Testament and the God revealed in Jesus.

No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

Did you see the picture of Pope Francis' visit to Jerusalem and his meeting with the Chief Rabbi and Imman?  The picture shows the three hugging tightly with heads close, cheeks to cheek.  It probably wouldn't have happened if the Christian didn't make the first move.  When it comes to peace and  merciful relations between the great religions, believers in Jesus will always have to make the first move, risking everything, as long as it takes, continuing this even when the state of our hearts is not the best.  Why? Because we believe in Jesus- the difference is Jesus.  

Amen! 
John+ 

Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.


The Reverend John Smith, Vicar.
5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE

Monday, December 21, 2015

GREAT and WONDERFUL: ¨Jesus, whose Incarnation we will mark in just a few days, ratified, in God-person, a covenental sea-change that began with Abraham on the mountain with Isaac.¨ John+




(So much bravado in the political debates this week:  ¨I would bomb the bleep out of them all, etc." If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy.  Then he becomes your partner.)  The Reverend John Smith

Peace on Earth

Great and wonderful things come in small packages.  God seems to agree.  God raised up Micah to tell God's people that his plan for the peace they longed for would be revealed along a path of humility.  To everyone's great surprise, God would use Bethlehem of Ephrathah, a "little clan," to bring forth a ruler who would stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord and bring, for those who heeded his example real security and peace.

God doesn't see things the way most people do.  We shun any kind of victimhood, but Jesus embraced it.  He refused to use military might to do violence to his enemies.  His power was found in forgiveness instead of whipping up his followers to do vengeance against those who would harm him and them.

Jesus, whose Incarnation we will mark in just a few days, ratified, in God-person, a covenental sea-change that began with Abraham on the mountain with Isaac. 

Let me explain.  Usually we think in terms of two Covenants:  one with Abraham and Moses enshrined in the Old Testament (now referred to as the Hebrew Bible), the second with Jesus, enshrined in the Gospels and other writings of the New Testament.  These two Covenants are helpful in ordering our reflection upon the revelation of the living God to his people and the world.
    
But what if there is another way of ordering God's will and interaction with all people of Abrahamic faith?  Before Abraham, all religions of the world (and there were many) were based on a sacrificial model:  people and things were offered (sacrificed) to the God(s) to gain salvific favor.  In the midst of this world religious practice God calls Abraham and enables he and his wife Sarah to have a son-- Isaac.  All hope resides in Isaac, yet God tests Abraham by telling him that Isaac must be sacrificed.  During an ordinary day in his village, Abraham walks down the street toward the mountain carrying Isaac and a big knife.  Seeing Abraham pass by, no one thinks anything of it.  Abraham, leader among the people, is going to do something normal:  sacrifice his son Isaac to God on behalf of his people.  You can almost hear the people sing to themselves-- Happy days are here again!  With Abraham's great offering to God things will definitely improve!

Abraham gathers wood for the immolation of Isaac's soon to be lifeless body.  He finds a suitable place for the offering to be made.  Isaac asks "Dad, who's going to be offered for the sacrifice?"  "God will provide," As he places Isaac on the place chosen and has Isaac look away, he raises the knife, and, on the downward motion, a Voice stays Abraham's hand.  Abraham would have done it, would have offered the ultimate sacrifice, as many do even to this day.  But God would not have it!  Stop!

We neatly divide God's revelation into Old and New Testaments.  But I would suggest a different, even more helpful division that respects religious history in a more comprehensive way:  The sacificial model of religion existing everywhere from Creation and Cain's murdering of Abel to God's stopping of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac and all human/child sacrifice done to win God's favor, ratified, as I said earlier in Jesus' own sacrifice to put and end to all religion based on the sacrificial model.
  
This is what the writer to the Hebrews is talking about with some resistance:

Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me . . . see I have come to do your will.  He abolishes the first (the sacrificial model of religion) in order to establish the second (Abraham and Jesus' non-sacrificial model).  And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

All religious history (which includes every person who has ever lived and those alive today) is hinged upon this "sacrificial" or "forgiveness/mercy" model.  The struggle continues today, 2000 years after the ratification by Jesus of the second model.  The vast majority of Jews, Muslims, and Christians still hold on to the sacrificial model to bring peace, but, requiring necessary deaths, all it brings is war after war.  Can all the great Abrahamic faiths get back to what Abraham learned about sacrifice from God that fateful day?

Mary's Magnificat (based on Hannah's Song in 1 Samuel) bubbles forth with joy of the One growing within her and the hope he will bring to the whole world:

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with is arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

What can we do?  We're a small community of believers, but God can use us.  Let's try to atune ourselves to Mary's Song.  Doing this, we can never go wrong!

Amen!

John+

YOU ARE INVITED TO OUR CHRISTMAS FEAST: Christmas Day Eucharist and Supper Father John and Doña Terri




Dear Friends:

Thank you all for making our Advent celebrations so special!  Now the Christmas Feast is upon us!  Terri and I are hosting a Christmas Eucharist and Supper at our home in Jacarandas y Gravileas at 3pm on Christmas Day.  About nine have said they would be coming.  All are welcome!

When you get to the Garita (gate) the "codigo" is 5326 and the call button.  We will press a button for you to enter.  At the gate office just say you are going to the Smith's at "Flor de Maria" Casa 10.  Just come up the road from the gate and make a left after the "tumulo" (speed bump).  We're in the white house on the left and will be looking for you!  Sounds complicated, but it's not ;-)

Our Christmas celebration will continue with our regular Sunday schedule on December 27th at 10am.

St. Alban's made thank you gifts to those who help with the set-up of our chapel each Sunday.  We are sending Deacon Phyllis Q1000 for a special celebration for the children of the church in Chimaltenango.  We are also buying school books for the children in Chucalibal after the first of the year when they start classes.  We are putting together a budget to help the Guatemala Project sponsored by my former parish.  It helps support trained health promoters in 22 villages in the Western Highlands and purchase needed supplies.  U.S. Tax deductible contributions can be made to St. Michael's Guatemala Project.  I will personally see that the checks are received and see that each donor a report on how money was used. Thanks for your stewardship in helping with these projects of the Episcopal Church.  St. Alban's can continue to do much good and more in the years ahead!

Have a blessed Christmas- let us be united in prayer for one another!  John+ and Terri

YOU ARE INVITED TO OUR CHRISTMAS FEAST: Christmas Day Eucharist and Supper Father John and Doña Terri



Dear Friends:
Thank you all for making our Advent celebrations so special!  Now the Christmas Feast is upon us!  Terri and I are hosting a Christmas Eucharist and Supper at our home in Jacarandas y Gravileas at 3pm on Christmas Day.  About nine have said they would be coming.  All are welcome!

When you get to the Garita (gate) the "codigo" is 5326 and the call button.  We will press a button for you to enter.  At the gate office just say you are going to the Smith's at "Flor de Maria" Casa 10.  Just come up the road from the gate and make a left after the "tumulo" (speed bump).  We're in the white house on the left and will be looking for you!  Sounds complicated, but it's not ;-)

Our Christmas celebration will continue with our regular Sunday schedule on December 27th at 10am.

St. Alban's made thank you gifts to those who help with the set-up of our chapel each Sunday.  We are sending Deacon Phyllis Q1000 for a special celebration for the children of the church in Chimaltenango.  We are also buying school books for the children in Chucalibal after the first of the year when they start classes.  We are putting together a budget to help the Guatemala Project sponsored by my former parish.  It helps support trained health promoters in 22 villages in the Western Highlands and purchase needed supplies.  U.S. Tax deductible contributions can be made to St. Michael's Guatemala Project.  I will personally see that the checks are received and see that each donor a report on how money was used. Thanks for your stewardship in helping with these projects of the Episcopal Church.  St. Alban's can continue to do much good and more in the years ahead!

Have a blessed Christmas- let us be united in prayer for one another!  John+ and Terri

Saturday, December 19, 2015

TOMORROW AT ST. ALBAN ANTIGUA (English): ¨..dethroning the proud and lifting up the lowly.¨ John+


Dear Friends:


I can't believe how fast time is going by.  We've arrived at the 4th Sunday of Advent.  The readings of the Liturgy are so crucial for our time:  dethroning the proud and lifting up the lowly.  I hope everyone in town will come for worship tomorrow.  It will be great preparation for our Christmas celebration.

Sunday we'll finalize any plans for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day celebrations.  Many of our community will be traveling or receiving family into Antigua for the holidays so it's difficult for some to attend.  We will however keep to our regular Sunday schedule on the 27th of December, singing some of our favorite Christmas music!

As we make our final preparations for the Nativity, may God bless each and everyone in our St. Alban's community!

See you tomorrow,  John+ (and Terri too- 7th grandchild born, healthy 8lb 11oz!)

Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.


The Reverend John Smith, Vicar.
5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE

Monday, December 14, 2015

JOY IN THE FACE OF VIOLENCE AND LOSS? Joy is related to the theological virtue of charity: love of God and neighbor makes Joy possible even when sorrows come John+



Experiences this week:  the "Quema del Diablo" public burning of the "scapegoat" , the Conception of Mary, and Handel's Messiah at Santo Domingo  John+ and Terri Smith on the town (Antigua)


The Third Sunday of Advent is known as Jubilate Sunday- Rejoice!  In Advent and Lent, both having a penitential aspect to them (although in Advent you can throw in an "Alleluia" or two), there is a Sunday in the season to provide a respite from the  regimen of the season.  Today is the one for Advent, and, if you have an Advent wreath the pink candle is lit.

The first reading from Zephaniah, known as the "Day of the Lord" prophet, for saw the joy of those returning from exile in Babylon:  the Lord was with them, God won the victory over their  captors.  God providentially arranged for Cyrus, King of Persia, to conquer the Babylonians and free his people and allow them to return home to Jerusalem.  Their fortunes would be restored.
  
A couple of verses that jump out at me:

I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.  I will deal with all your oppressors at that time.

The exile was a difficult period for the Jews, but they got through it remembering God's promise.  They didn't do violence to their captors and remained above reproach, instead they waited for God to work out their freedom and restore their fortunes.  Sometimes we're tempted to do God's work for him in "sacred violence" and end up making things worse!

St. Paul in the Letter to the Philippians shares the secret of getting through difficult times and circumstances:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

I think St. Paul is on to something here.  

There is a real power in rejoicing, but we don't really believe it or just "put on a happy face."  In the "real" world how can you live Joy in the face of violence and loss?  But this is really the case! (Joy is related to the theological virtue of charity:  love of God and neighbor makes Joy possible even when sorrows come).  One thing for certain:  you can't harbor resentment, anger, and plan revenge for wrongs suffered, if you "rejoice in the Lord" and let God's peace "guard your heart and mind."

Some wise person said once:  Rejoice at what God is doing in the world and let go of what God is not doing. (We often are blind to what God is doing and focus on all the violence in the world which God has no part in.)

So here comes John the Baptist again this Sunday.  One important thing to keep in mind is how different John the Baptist is from his cousin, Jesus.  Both wanted to remind the "children of Abraham" not to take for granted their chosen-ness as if it didn't matter how they actually lived day to day.  But they went about it in completely different ways.  Imagine the words of John on Jesus' lips:  You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Like trees that bear no good fruit you will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

This "throw into the fire" idea forms the basis for our imagined notion of hell. The word English word "hell" in the bible is translated from the word "Gehenna," a smoldering dump where agricultural waste was burned continuously.  John is saying "Bear fruit or you will be cut down like the trees that bear no fruit and thrown on the heap."

Hell is where the "vipers" of this world, the bad folk, will be sent by God to suffer for eternity.  This is what we, as the people in John's time thought:  Tell me what to do to not end up there.  John puts it like this:  If you have some clothing or food share it.  Be honest and fair with people.  Don't intimidate people from positions of power and don't extort to get more money.  This sounds like something Jesus himself would say.  But it's hard to reconcile the God of love revealed by Jesus with the this "throw into hell part (with all the "lucky," saved folks cheering!).

So on this "Gaudete" Sunday, how do we find joy when language like "wrath to come" and "hell" are front and center in the Gospel?  Let's take "wrath" first.  There is only one place, in Romans 1:17 where "wrath" is associated with "God."  This is only one of 17 times the word (orge) is used.  When John the Baptist says "who warned you to flee from the wrath to come" it means "hostile military action."  The Roman armies and their allies were moving and bringing death and destruction.  Wrath, never of God, is something God puts up with as a consequence of our human freedom.  When wrath is spoken of in the scriptures it is always of human, not divine origin.  If we see wrath coming down in the world, as we see everyday, it is only caused by humans, not God.

And now, what is "hell?"  I know that most of us have thought of hell as a place, as I said before, "Where the bad folk are sent."  But perhaps a better definition of hell would be the cold places that exist in all of our hearts and, sadly, cause our hearts to "ice-over," unable to be a conduit of God's love.  When John the Baptist says so humbly:

I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

God's fire is different from the fires of human wrath:  God's fire melts the ice and warms the cold places of hearts.  This opens us to a life of Joy in the midst of the world's sorrows.  Hell then, is to remain in coldness, lacking forgiveness and mercy toward others, refusing them the warmth of God's love.  The repentance that John the Baptist called for is true metanoia, meta-nous, change of mind, looking at things differently through the merciful, and not in any sence, wrathful, eyes of God.  Doing this, with God's grace, we can truly be joyful lights in a world that will never be conquered by the darkness.  

Amen!

John+


Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.


The Reverend John Smith, Vicar.
5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

THE INCARNATIONAL MOMENT OF CHRISTIANITY: ¨...when God entered into human history and while taking on all the limitations of human existence, gave us the finest example of anyone who ever lived.¨ John+

Determine What Is Best

¨Maybe we got here because our parents presented us for Baptism when we were little, or later in life, decided to follow Jesus and be part of the church he founded, whatever the reason, we are now part of a movement of faith that seeks to change this world and make it better.¨ 

The Reverend John Smith
How often have you heard a person say:  "I'm a spiritual person and not really into religion." Not that we want to get into an argument with the person about church attendance or anything like that, but it's important for us to realize that the statement is part of a big misunderstanding.  Almost all of the religions of the world are more "spiritual" than Christianity.  If that's true, and Christianity isn't very spiritual, then what is its most important characteristic?  The word that best describes Christianity is incarnational.

What does "incarnational" mean, but that a certain time in the world's history, God entered the life stream of humanity by incarnating, with the cooperation of an existing human woman, his own Son (there were always hints, but we didn't know God the Father, had a Son), taking on our human flesh, becoming one of us.   Most religions have rich histories, with very special "spiritual" beginnings enshrined in their sacred stories, but on inspection, they all lack an incarnational moment when God entered into human history and while taking on all the limitations of human existence, gave us the finest example of anyone who ever lived.

That is why today's Gospel goes through such an effort to plant John the Baptist's advent smack dab in a particular time of human history:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Iturea and Trachonititis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

 Luke the Evangelist wants to prepare us for this incarnational moment in actual world history by going to great lengths in describing the historical beginning of John the Baptist's ministry of proclamation as the messenger, prophesied by the prophet Malachi:  I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.  Luke lists all the real historical figures having power at that time.

On this Second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist is introduced to us because in very real ways what will happen to John will foreshadow what will happen to Jesus.  Both will be scapegoated and murdered by leaders united in preserving their power.

We're not anywhere near the Passion accounts yet, we have over 20 weeks to go, but you remember that both Herod (in John the Baptist's case) and Pilate (in Jesus' case) wanted to save both John and Jesus, but in both cases it couldn't be done without antagonizing the crowds.  So Herod and Pilate, powerful men that they were, yielded to the pressure of the "crowds" and in doing so become part of the crowd.  The crowd in "lynching mode" has the real political power and this has been the case forever in human history.

So we're here together because not because we are "spiritual- though not very religious." but because we are caught up in this Sacrament of history.  Maybe we got here because our parents presented us for Baptism when we were little, or later in life, decided to follow Jesus and be part of the church he founded, whatever the reason, we are now part of a movement of faith that seeks to change this world and make it better.

This is very important, this "change the world" part, because that is what "thy Kingdom come" means.  The Kingdom is taking root here, on this earth, among its people.  We're living through the birthing pangs right now.

But unfortunately, most Christians think that faith is about a personal choice, like saying, "I accept Jesus as my personal savior."  This is the first of the baptismal promises we take.  But it is more than this.  If the decision of faith is all about my personal choice made to "get to Heaven," it severely diminishes Jesus' significance for the whole world.  My personal choice for Jesus to be saved (and sorry, but woe to those who don't make this decision or have hitched their salvation to the wrong wagon) contains little or no belief or conviction about what Jesus coming is meant to do to change the world, to bring about Kingdom come here and now.  Number one conviction:  Jesus, priest and king, who allowed himself to be sacrificed as a scapegoat to end all sacrificial violence and scapegoating, that, we see everyday, is tearing the world apart.

St. Paul writes to us today:
  
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, have produced the harvest of righteousness that come through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Amen! 

John+


Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.


The Reverend John Smith, Vicar.
5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE