Feast of St. Brigid
Luke 2. 22-40
In the ‘before time’, when we thought nothing of gathering and going to one another’s homes, we would offer newcomers gatherings for anyone who was new to our congregation. Members of the discernment group, Andrew and I and sometimes ministry leaders would come along as well. It was an opportunity for people to get to know some of the members of our community, to make connections with each other and to learn about some ways that they could get more involved, if and when they were ready. And we always took some time to tell our origin story: why we started the congregation of St. Brigid, what some of our hopes were in beginning this ministry and we would talk about the Saint we had named ourselves after and why.
These gatherings are in a long list of things that I am looking forward to being able to do again and they remain one of my favorite things to do. Each gathering was so fun, and it was always an excellent way to get to know people in an informal setting and outside our church walls.
And it was also really good to be reminded of who we were at our beginning and why we chose the saint that we did; what she means to us. Her story has in some ways also become a part of ours; how we identify ourselves and the parts of her that we align with.
Tomorrow is February 1, St. Brigid’s Feast day. And so, to honor her, and us, I wanted to do some of what we would have done at the gatherings that we would have had at least once this past year.
So, here we go: this congregation was planted by Andrew Stephens-Rennie and I, at the Cathedral and our first gathering was in held on May 4, 2014 with 5 of us gathered in the park room, (which is the room off the kitchen), with a rolling alter and some fold-up chairs,. We sang acapella, led by me, we prayed and had Eucharist together. It was very simple and lovely.
We started this congregation, thinking it would be a church plant, because neither Andrew nor I could find what we were looking for in terms of a worshipping community. We wanted a place that was clear in its affirming stance of the LGBTQ2S+ community. We wanted to be challenged by questions and to dig deeply into the Anglican tradition, the scriptures and our relationships with one another. Andrew had been formed in a conservative Evangelical tradition and had a hunch that there were others like him, who were also looking for a church that would welcome them and also, maybe, help them heal. I wanted to be in a place that wasn’t bound by ‘the way we’ve always done things.’ And I wanted as equitable space as possible, meaning I did not want to the at the centre of everything we did, I wanted to give away as much of the leadership in liturgy and in the organization of our congregation, as possible. And we wanted to sing both traditional and contemporary hymnody and also create some of our own traditions within worship.
So that’s what we set out to do.
And it was some of that and it was a lot of other things. We have been very formed by the people who have found us. Being a church plant didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, so we stayed at the Cathedral and have been blessed by the care and support we have received from the rest of the Cathedral community.
We chose St. Brigid as our namesake and our saint, for a number of reasons. First of all, there are some really great stories about her. Brigid is said to have been born into a wealthy family. She was apparently strong willed and would grow into a great leader. As she grew, she became determined to care for the poor. He father apparently tried to control her by planning to marry her off, which she had no interest in, choosing instead to become a nun and start a monastery. The legend is that the King gave her permission to build a monastery on land that equalled the size of her cape. So she spread her cape over the ground (and here there is some discrepancy over whether her cape spread itself or her friends each took a corner and walked in the four directions spreading the cape) But it is agreed that it spread over a vast landscape enabling her to build a great monastery for both monks and nuns.
There are stories of St. Brigids’ cloak as a piece of cloth no bigger than a handkerchief called the Brat-Bhride, used for healing and protection.
She is said to have had a heart for hospitality, she was kind and compassionate and that she understood the importance of good food and drink when people gathered. She is said to have enjoyed beer quite a lot and there is even a story of her ability to turn water into beer.
There are stories of Angels carrying Brigid to Jerusalem to attend the birth of Jesus and also of her carrying the light so that Mary and Joseph could see their way to the temple when they presented him and where he was recognized by Anna and Simeon.
She is the patron saint of a strange group of people who all seem to be lumped in together, including: blacksmiths, boatmen, cattle and chicken farmers, children whose parents are unmarried and midwives, babies, printing presses, sailors, scholars and travellers.
All of them under the protection of Brigid, and we thought this group of unlikely companions fit us well.
February 1 is also the Celtic festival of Imbolc, the beginning of spring and Brigid is said to breathe life into the dead of winter.
You’ll notice that we make reference to this a little later in our liturgy.
She holds the energy of the sacred feminine and often you will see in images of her, that she is holding a bowl of fire.
One site I found offered this on why: Brigid holds the cailleach energy, the energy of the cauldron where our lives, individually and communally, need to be transformed through the power of her fire, her water. We are now halfway through the dark time of the year, the feminine days within the transformative cauldron. This is the time when, as Celtic teacher Dolores Whelan says, winter is pregnant with summer. As we celebrate Brigid’s Day we turn our eyes, our hearts, towards the maiden aspect of the sacred feminine, awaiting the return of the young days of spring, the promise of new life within as well as outside of us.
We are awaiting new life, a new spring, even now. As we celebrate in our church calendar, the presentation of Jesus in the temple, recognized by Anna the prophet and Simeon, as someone with great potential, we also might take some time to consider the potential we hold within ourselves, individually and as community. What Jesus calls-out of us as followers. And as we celebrate the Feast day of St. Brigid, I am also really aware of all of the possibility that was imagined in the planting of this congregation and what potential and new life we are still living into. As we anticipate the end of the winter season and maybe look for new life in the world around us: tiny buds on trees, little shoots starting out of the ground, the birth of baby Deirdre. I invite you to consider where you might be feeling newness or possibility in your own life, in your body, in your heart or mind or maybe all of it. I love to tell our origin story and to talk about the saint whose name we have taken. I love to think about how we have nurtured and continue to tend this community. We believe that new life can come out of ancient traditions like our own. That healing is possible in our lives and with Christ.
What Simeon and Anna saw in Jesus, the possibility of redemption and a new way that was born with him and lives on in those of us who follow: redemption from thinking that there is only one way to follow Jesus or to be community, redemption from the world that would tell you that you are not enough, when each of us are. Redemption from a world that chooses to close in on itself rather than to remain open to what is possible. We planted this community as one possibility for a new way to be church in the Anglican way and as an example that it is ok to try new things in a tradition that honestly feels allergic to new, sometimes.
And we follow in the example of Brigid because of the hope that she inspires for hospitality and welcome and healing and care. Because at its heart I believe that is what following Jesus is all about.