The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas: April 9,2023
Happy Easter! On this holiest day of the year in the Christian calendar, welcome to every single person here. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe, you belong here this morning. If you a little bit apprehensive about setting foot in a church this morning, I don’t blame you. There are some pretty messed up things being done in the name of this religion these days. This may be the first church service you’ve ever attended, or maybe it’s your first time back in church after a long break…or maybe you’re just here to humor someone you love. It doesn’t matter—you’re so welcome here. I can think of no greater honor a church could receive than the presence of someone who was hesitant to come. Of course we would love to see you again, but if this is our only time together, let this morning be a blessing to us all.
And to our Jewish friends and family, Chag Sameach! A blessed Passover to you and yours—and thank you for spending part of it here.
Last Sunday, after our beautiful Palm Sunday liturgy, I went to another All Saints’ Church—All Saints’ Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the East Village. I wanted to talk to them about their perspective on the war and how it has impacted them. The people of All Saints’ greeted me warmly in their parish hall. I walked in on their coffee hour, which was almost just like ours—spiritual friends catching up on their weeks, children running around, their priest, Father Vitaly, checking in on his flock. They sat me down and served me a slice of delicious chocolate cake and instant coffee, and then they told me what life is like for them.
This is where All Saints’ Ukrainian Orthodox Church became different from this All Saints’. The president of the congregation—a layperson—had just returned from the front line, where he commanded an artillery unit. The parish raised money to buy a car and surveillance drones for his unit. He left church early last week; they said he doesn’t talk about his experience, and they respect his silence. There is a steady stream of new families who have arrived from Ukraine—and they too are hesitant to talk about what they have survived. They take comfort in the familiar rituals of the liturgy in Ukrainian, but rarely stay afterward. One mother at the table said the hardest thing about welcoming these refugees is the trauma she sees on the faces of the children.
Orthodox Ukrainians recently split from the Russian Orthodox Church. Since the war began, the Russian patriarch has said that Ukraine is in the grip of evil forces and that Russian soldiers who die on the battlefield will be automatically forgiven for their sins. I asked Father Vitaly what he thought about this, and he was pretty blunt. “The first commandment of any religion is: don’t kill. But here he is saying, kill. So this is not a religion from God. It is a religion from the Evil One.”
I let the gravity of his statement sink in for a moment. And then, I looked up at the ceiling of the hall. The whole time we had been talking, there were little paper angels floating above us. The Sunday school children had decorated them and hung them as prayers to protect the people and soldiers of Ukraine. As we talked about the horrors of war, the paper angels gently fluttered above us, blown to and fro by the air currents in the room.
I thought about those angels as I meditated this week on the Easter story from the Gospel of Matthew that our beloved Deacon Jennifer just read. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central belief of Christianity. In life, Jesus was pure love. He loved every person he met. He had no attachment to earthly things like power, or doctrine, or money—and yet he was fully in the world. He died just as he lived—in love and for love. The resurrection tells us that his love is stronger than death, that the veil between life and death is, for God, hardly anything. This love is already within us. It has been in us since our birth, it is within us now, and it will remain until our dying breath—and beyond. That is the Easter story.
But the story isn’t complete without the angel who descends from heaven and rolls back the stone at the tomb. Angels in the Bible are the bridge between heaven and earth, between mystery and fact, between the ineffable and the concrete. When you see angel, you know you are about to experience something that makes no sense—and yet, somehow God is present.
Friends, God cannot be contained by our narrow thought and understanding. If you think the resurrection is strange, that it’s unsettling, that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense—then you are correct. On the other hand, if you think Jesus rising from the dead is a neat and tidy thing, a clearcut path to salvation, then I actually want to challenge your assumptions. God is working and moving in our world in ways we will never fully be able to understand. Easter is the bold proclamation that in God, life triumphs over death. We don’t know entirely how this happens—any more than we know what went on inside that tomb where Jesus was laid. But because of the light of the empty tomb, we will always be able to have hope that even in the darkest of situations, God is present and will bring us to the other side—even the other side of death.
Think again of the paper angels gently swinging from the rafters at All Saints’ Orthodox Church. Why should Ukrainians have any hope this Easter? Civilians have been massacred. Children have been stolen from their families and taken to Russia. Drones and rockets rain down on cities and towns every day. Ukraine is being told by its much larger, nuclear armed neighbor that resistance is futile. And yet—there are children who have etched their prayers with crayon on little paper angels. This is Ukraine’s second Easter under siege, and it’s still standing. There is little logical explanation for why. Yet those angels in a church hall a few stops away on the F train are heralds of something beyond rational explanation—a hope that’s as mysterious as it is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that it is holding back a brutal invading army from an innocent people.
But you don’t need to be Ukrainian to experience the sheer force of the resurrection. Perhaps you have suffered a personal tragedy recently. Maybe you feel the absence of a loved one you’ve lost, or you’re facing a difficult health challenge. Maybe you’re recovering from addiction, or you’re feeling lost, or life at home is stretching you farther than you can bear. In spite of all these things, you’re still here, sitting in a beautiful building on a beautiful April morning. You are drawing breath from the same air as hundreds of other human beings who are also here out of good will, and—dare I say it?—love. When you strip it down to this, this moment is a miracle. We do not know how we got here or how we have been sustained through the trials of living—other than to say that some mysterious, loving power has given us life, redeems the bad, and sustains us with the Good. I choose to call that power: God. And I see the resurrection of Jesus in all the ways that this life keeps unfolding, against all odds.
But it’s also important on this day to go back to what Father Vitaly said about a religion from the Evil One. He was talking about a religious leader who glorifies killing. But there are plenty of other religions out there that are not of God. And as sophisticated as we 21st century New Yorkers can be, we too often worship at these inverted shrines.
If the resurrection leads to hope and selflessness, bad religion does the opposite. It feeds on fear and greed. It tells you you aren’t good enough and that you are hopelessly flawed. It wants you to give up hope—unless you take what it has to offer, if it has anything to offer at all. We’re all victims of this bad religion in some way, but it touches some of us more than others. People of color know what it means to suffer from the one of the founding bad religions of this country: racism. Bad religion is especially focused right now on trans and queer people. It’s especially shocking to see it scapegoat kids and their families. Bad religion tells us the destruction of the planet is inevitable, that there’s no reason even to try resisting climate change. And look, I’m an Episcopalian, and this is an Episcopal church. I love our church, but it’s not immune to its own unique form of bad religion, which, when unchecked, makes an idol of itself at the expense of the very God we exist to worship.
Do you see a pattern in all these bad religions? In each and every one of them, there is no resurrection to be found. But we confess the faith of Christ crucified and resurrected, which is so much more powerful than any stumbling block. The angels herald this transformed reality, God’s reality. The empty tomb reveals holy dignity for every person, regardless of what systems and societies say about them. The resurrection places our bodies inside creation, not above it. And it is the foundation of all that is good and life-giving about religion.
So on this Easter Day, we follow the angels to the place where Jesus rose from the dead. They appeared to the women at the tomb, they are watching over Ukraine, and they are here, fluttering among us today. When you follow them all the way, you discover that resurrection and new life are all around you, among you, and within you. You were made out of the love that bridges heaven and earth. Now let that love which passes all understanding be your Easter joy. Amen.
The Financial Times: Opinion: Anglican Church Saturday, February 25, 2023
The Church of England can learn from Episcopalians on same-sex marriage:
Divisions currently roiling the global Anglican church may fade in the face of lived reality By: STEVEN PAULIKAS
Episcopalians in the US (and 21 other countries and territories) are watching the latest conflict in the Church of England with deep empathy. Two weeks ago, the General Synod, the Church’s national assembly, authorised blessings of same-sex relationships, a compromise that satisfied neither the conservative nor the progressive wings of the Church. And this week, bishops in 10 of the constituent provinces of the global Anglican communion rejected the Archbishop of Canterbury as the “first among equals” in our shared Anglican family in protest.
These developments occurred amid a somewhat noxious atmosphere in the UK around issues of sexuality — most recently the controversy over Kate Forbes’ statement that she would have voted against the 2014 Scottish same-sex marriage bill in her SNP leadership bid. Nevertheless, we have an encouraging little secret we’d like to share with our cousins in the Church of England. The Episcopal Church ordains openly gay and trans people with no strings attached, officiates same-sex marriages (not just blessings) and unequivocally affirms all trans people, including children.
We still have a long way to go on our mission of full inclusion, but our experience has taught us something fundamental: that LGBTQ Anglicans are pretty boring. In an incendiary environment that demands side-taking, it may be wise to distinguish between the party that is trying to burn down the house and the one that just wants a room on the same floor as everyone else. I’ve been the rector of my parish in Brooklyn, New York, for a decade. I was told before my arrival that my new parishioners, most of whom are originally from the culturally conservative Caribbean, would be hostile because of my sexual orientation. But nothing could have been further from the truth. Instead, it seemed like people relaxed once I arrived, as if they had been unburdened of an unspoken requirement to act against their natural impulse to offer welcome to all God’s people. Parishioners began to speak about gay relatives and mourn the inevitable wounds caused by homophobia. Some young people came out, and all were affirmed by their elders. But the traditional life of the church — Sunday services, weddings and funerals, coffee hour — continued, albeit perhaps more joyfully.
Our church has tripled in membership in the past decade. My husband and I were married in our church by our bishop. Many of my colleagues in the immediate vicinity are also gay. We plan joint liturgies on feast days, are working together to resettle a refugee family and grouse about church business that no one else would care about. It’s all very ordinary church stuff. Sadly, those opposed to people like me having a role like mine would have others believe that we are hellbent on moulding the church in our image by any means necessary. The strategy director of a prominent group representing the Evangelical camp in the Church of England said it fears its clergy will have “a target on their back”, with same sex-couples soon demanding blessings from them. He used this metaphor just a day after Brianna Ghey, a trans girl, was murdered in the north-west of England — which should give us a moment to pause and consider who is truly at risk of being targeted.
As for the global implications of the Synod decision, Episcopalians and other LGBTQ-affirming Anglican churches have withstood hollow threats and cold shoulders for decades. The statement from the 10 renegade provinces regarding the Archbishop of Canterbury sounds familiar insofar as it has no concrete institutional impact on the Anglican communion. And amid all the sabrerattling, one should note who is brandishing the weapon — it’s certainly not the LGBTQ people in the provinces they represent. If the experience of the Episcopal Church is a good predictor, the rather mundane outcome of a Church of England that embraces its LGBTQ members will be one in which sacraments are still celebrated, bake sales still take place and the needy are still served — just with more queer people and their allies present. To be honest, it has made us feel more like a church. Yes, we’ve had our share of painful division and conflict along the way. But today, ours is a fairly peaceable kingdom. Our prayer is that the Church of England’s will soon be peaceable too.
The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
Today, the convention of the Diocese of New York gathered at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan and elected the Rev. Matthew Heyd as their 17th Bishop. I want to congratulate Fr. Heyd and Ann, his wife, and wish them every blessing as they prepare for this important ministry. It was a profound honor for me to be a candidate in this bishop election process, and Jesse and I especially want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all your prayers and support in the past months. Your love and Christian affection sustained us both during a season of uncertainty.
At every point of this process, I strove to tell the story of All Saints’ Church and its people. I think the world needs to know about the amazing things that God has done and continues to do in our midst. One result of this election is a confirmation of my own continued ministry among you as rector—and for that, I give profound thanks. There is much left for us to do together, and I look forward to what God has in store for us.
It would be a great comfort to see you tomorrow in church. Our 10am Holy Eucharist will be followed by our Annual Meeting, which is a time set aside to reflect on the blessings of the past year in our parish. I hope you will be able to come. In the meantime, thank you once again for your graciousness toward me and for giving me the chance to offer myself to this discernment process among our friends across the East River.
The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
2nd Sunday of Advent
The season of Advent is a time of joyful anticipation for Jesus' coming into the world. There are so many ways to observe a holy Advent at All Saints'--from our festive 5pm Sunday Evensongs beginning this Sunday with the Grace Chorale of Brooklyn to the Christmas Pageant on Dec. 18 to helping decorate the church for Christmas.
For me personally, this is also a week of anticipation before the Diocese of New York elects its 17th Bishop on Saturday. Jesse and I want to thank you for all your prayers and kind words as we have journeyed through this process with you. Please be assured that we will communicate the results of the election as soon as possible. In the meantime and if you are interested in following along, you can check out the bishop search website here.
In addition to being the Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 4 is also the date of our annual meeting. I encourage you to come to the 10am service of Holy Eucharist and stick around for the meeting afterward so that we can be together as a church family in prayer and deliberation. And please don't forget to submit your 2023 pledge card, which you can do easily online at: https://www.allsaintsparkslope.org/pledge-card-2023.html
May God bless you, and I look forward to seeing you at All Saints' Church!
Steven D. Paulikas
NYT Opinion Piece by Rev. Steven D. Paulikas: Same-Sex Marriage Is a Religious Freedom
As an Episcopal priest at a parish in Brooklyn, I’ve officiated at scores of weddings. At each one, I stand in wonder at the divine presence that envelops couples as they make solemn vows to each other. At my own wedding, though, I learned that there is a difference between seeing and doing. Now it was me standing across from another human being, making unthinkably difficult promises, holding his hand as we committed to walking into the vast, unknown cloud of the future together.
A Message from the Rector
September 26, 2022
As you may know, All Saints’ Church belongs to a diocese, or a geographical grouping of Episcopal parishes. We are one of 130 churches in the Diocese of Long Island, which is headquartered in Garden City in Nassau County. Every diocese is overseen by a bishop, who is the chief pastor to the clergy and laypeople, ensures the good order of ministry in the diocese, and is “called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church” (BCP p. 517).
New York City is oddly split between our diocese and the Diocese of New York, which comprises Staten Island, Manhattan, the Bronx, and seven counties, mostly along the Hudson River. It contains many well-known parishes such as Trinity Wall Street, St. Thomas’ on Fifth Avenue, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, but most of its parishes look a lot more like us here at All Saints’. The Bishop of New York announced his retirement last November, which triggered a search for a new bishop.
I’m writing today to let you know that I am a nominee to be the next Bishop of New York. I am humbled and honored, and I stand before you in need of your prayers. I am surprised to find myself in this position, because I had no intention of participating in this process until a few close friends encouraged me to do so. While I’ve been eager to share this news with you all, I’ve been respecting the wishes of the search committee to maintain confidentiality until the list of nominees was announced today.
You’re probably wondering what this means for All Saints’. First and foremost, our common parish life this fall will be unaffected—so please keep coming to church! Jesse and I will participate in a series of “meet and greets” across the diocese in mid-November, but other than that, you will notice very little different this fall. The next Bishop of New York will be elected at a convention held on December 3. After that, there is another period of about two months when the person elected must gain the consents of dioceses around the church, so nothing will be official until about February 2023.
More importantly, I am but one of a slate of highly talented and faithful nominees—each of whom could easily be elected and serve the Diocese of New York well. You can see more information about them here. No one knows how the Holy Spirit will move in this process, and statistically speaking, the most likely outcome is that I will continue to serve God at All Saints’. And so we are entering a period of what I’d like to call “holy uncertainty,” during which we have no choice but to hand over the future to God.
But please be assured of this: serving as rector of All Saints’ has never failed to give me immense joy. Like you, I treasure my relationships in our church and will do my best to honor the trust you put in my presence and leadership. The Vestry, Wardens, and I will faithfully plan both for my possible departure and for the more likely scenario that I get to continue to be rector here in Park Slope.
I’ll explain the bishop election process and answer any questions you have at this week’s Sunday Forum following the 10am Eucharist. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to email, text, or call with any questions you might have. Finally, please continue to pray for All Saints’, for Jesse and me, and if you have some more room on your prayer list, for the people of the Diocese of New York and their bishop nominees.
May God continue to bless our church!
The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
A Lithuanian pastor married to a man: we look at homosexual relationships as a gift from God, we see the Holy Spirit in them
Original Article: https://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/lietuvoje/2/1737317/su-vyru-susituokes-lietuvis-pastorius-i-homoseksualius-santykius-ziurime-kaip-i-dievo-dovana-juose-matome-sventaja-dvasia
"We look at homosexual relationships as a gift from God, we see the Holy Spirit in those relationships. We are happy that LGBTQ people are completely accepted in our lives," says Steven Paulikas, a Lithuanian living in the USA and pastor of All Saints Parish, in an interview with the LRT.lt portal. The pastor notes that the sign that God is in this parish is that the parishioners accept everyone as they are.
S. Paulikas is a pastor of the Episcopal Church living in the USA, married to a man.
"I remember one grandmother brought her grandchildren, she said that it was very important for her grandchildren to see this event, to see how a priest can marry his beloved," smiles S. Paulikas.
In an interview with the LRT.lt portal, the pastor says that "God made us the way we are, and our task is to love - to love God, to love others with all our heart. If we do this, God is among us.” S. Paulikas also emphasizes that the voices of LGBTQ people are very important not only in society, but also in the spiritual world. Therefore, it is extremely painful when LGBTQ people are not accepted by their families. "It's very painful for LGBTQ people when family members don't accept them. This is perhaps the most painful thing we experience. This kind of thing happens so often in society that, I would say, it is almost like spiritual violence," reflects the pastor.
You are Lithuanian, but you have been living in the USA for a long time. Tell us your story, how did you get here?
- I was born in America. Although my father was born in 1945 in a refugee camp, my family emigrated to America, to the city of Detroit. I was born and raised there, later I lived in Lithuania for four years, I am a citizen of Lithuania, I am very satisfied with that.
In 2005, I decided to return to America, enter a priestly seminary and study to be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church belongs to the Anglican Church family, but in America it is called Episcopal.
Our customs are a little different from the Church of England, our Church is quite open, we have women priests, bishops among us. We accept LGBTQ people, we value their experiences. The liturgy is very similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church, but the values are slightly different.
- You mentioned female celebrants, acceptance of the LGBTQ community. You are married to a man and you are a pastor. In Lithuania, a priest married to a man would probably get attention. As I understand it, the situation in the USA is different in your Church - both the Church and the community are more free?
- I would say so. I imagine that the situation in Lithuania would perhaps attract more attention, because there is not much of it in Lithuania. I decided to return to America so that I could live my life here in America, because it would not be possible in Lithuania.
My husband and I live in a parsonage next to the parish. The parish is very warm, it welcomed us. My husband Jesse is fully integrated into the life of the parish, I would say they love him very much. This spiritual community is very warm, it feels like God is here among us. One of the signs that God is really here is that love really grows and lives among us, that we accept everyone as we are. We read the Bible, we understand the Holy Scriptures in such a way that God made us what we are, that our task is to love - to love God, to love others with all our heart. If we do, God is among us.
- I remember reading one of your articles in which you told how after the Sunday service the parishioners congratulated you and your husband on the court's decision to recognize marriage equality in the United States.
- I came to our parish, which is called All Saints, in 2011. Then some of the parishioners didn't really know what they thought about me being gay, openly gay. But over time, after one or two years, people saw that I was their priest, their pastor. This is the most important thing. I am their priest, I am here to pray for them, to be among them every Sunday, like all other priests. I remember one grandmother brought her grandchildren, she said that it was very important for her grandchildren to see this event, to see how a priest can marry his beloved.
The parishioners were very happy that not only me, but also other LGBTQ people in our community got the right to legally marry. If one or two people in our community are lucky, then we are all lucky. They were happy for us. If something good happens to them, I'm happy too, even if it's not directly related to me. A very pleasant feeling. We have quite a few gay and lesbian couples in our parish, and I have consecrated their marriages myself. This is a great joy for me. (...) And our wedding took place here, in our parish, the bishop came, he was here and consecrated our marriage. Almost the whole parish came. I remember one grandmother brought her grandchildren, she said that it was very important for her grandchildren to see this event, to see how a priest can marry his beloved. I was very impressed by it.
I wonder if the community would support the same if it was not an Episcopal Church, but, for example, Catholic?
- I cannot really comment on the Roman Catholic Church, because I am not a Roman Catholic myself. They have their own customs and their own way of thinking, their own theology. But I know that there are several parishes here in New York that are very accepting of LGBTQ people. I don't know much about their position, what they think about marriage, I know it's not legal under their rules, but that doesn't mean that all LGBTQ people in New York don't have a place to go to church. In America we are a minority, the majority of people are Roman Catholic and evangelical - we are a little bit different in this respect.
- The Lithuanian bishops' conference has repeatedly called for same-sex partnerships not to be equated with family or marriage. We hear cases where LGBT people are rejected even in houses of worship, we heard priests calling LGBT people devil bearers, satanists, in league with Satan and the like. Do you see discussions in Lithuania? How do you feel when you hear that?
- I read the news, I closely monitor the situation in Lithuania. I can't really comment on the positions of other people and other Churches and their discussions - they have to talk and decide how God accompanies them. (...) People who are LGBTQ can't avoid it. I am gay, my friends can be lesbian, transgender, gay, bisexual... If people exist, if God made them the way they are, the question is what does the Church do with them, with us. If people exist, if God made them what they are, the question is what does the Church do with them, with us.
If we come to the door of the church and say we are here, the Church has to decide whether to accept us or not. This is a very clear question. If we are not accepted, we leave, or we try to stay and stay, but we would do so with the idea that we do not have the rights that everyone else has, that the official position is not acceptable. If you are an LGBTQ person, this is not the best feeling, because you yourself know that your spiritual path is important, precious, like everyone else's. Also, there are certain experiences of LGBTQ people that really show this and that about God. Jesus himself spent time with those people who were not accepted elsewhere. If you have experienced it yourself, then you understand this and that about Jesus, about the Gospel. I think the voices of LGBTQ people are very important not only in society but also in the spiritual world. Our voices say something about God, about who he is. And about love. Our relationships, our feelings, show something new about love. I am happy about that. This is a sign that the Holy Spirit is doing something now, in these times. This is good news.
- I will ask again about the Catholic Church, but it is interesting to hear your opinion about what happened in Lithuania. And you mentioned that if the Church does not accept you, there is a choice to leave it or to do something different. Some time ago, as the debate escalated, some believers in Lithuania decided to leave the Church and refuse baptism. This is how the faithful reacted to the position of the priests regarding the Istanbul Convention and to the words directed against homosexual people. When listening to the speeches of the priests, some people put human rights and the teaching of the Church on two different sides. You have never felt this opposition in your personal life?
- I express my opinion and talk about my experience, what I have seen in the Church during my life. I am 100 percent for the Partnership Law in Lithuania, I think it is a good step forward for Lithuanian families. I think that the voice from the Church that would support Lithuanian LGBTQ people and families is sorely lacking in Lithuanian society.
It is very important for a believer to hear that there are priests who support you. Not just because it is a good or acceptable thing in some societies, but because according to my religion, according to the Holy Scriptures, I support those people who do not have all the rights in society. Of course, in my childhood I was not familiar with any gays or lesbians, there were no other students or teachers in my school who spoke openly. I had the opportunity to meet LGBTQ people for the first time when I entered the university.
And the situation in America and Lithuania is completely different now, I think this is a very good thing. If I had had these opportunities when I was young, a schoolboy, I would have been happy. Even in Lithuanian society, it can be seen that young people have a different attitude towards LGBTQ people than older people. This is normal. We're used to it - if you're not LGBTQ yourself, you have friends who are, you understand more than your grandparents. But I would like to say one thing to those people who maybe don't know what to think about their children, their grandchildren, who are LGBTQ. Children really want to maintain a relationship with their family, it is very important to love your children no matter what they are. If your child tells you that he or she is LGBTQ, then he or she wants to be in a relationship with you. Not accepting your children is like spiritual abuse. A lot of Lithuanians went through it. It is very painful for LGBTQ people when family members do not accept them. This is perhaps the most painful thing we experience. This kind of thing happens so often in society that I would say it is almost like spiritual violence. Not accepting your children is like spiritual abuse. A lot of Lithuanians went through it. No matter what tradition you are, it is important for priests and pastors to say something for those people who have already experienced such spiritual violence.
- I have also heard of cases where believing homosexual people are afraid to go to church, talk to priests, they are worried about the attitude that they will be rejected. Can it be easier for an LGBTQ person to access a priest when the Church is more accepting?
- What a horror that a child could be afraid to come to his priest and say something about his life. I remember, I have experienced quite a lot when a young person comes to me and says that they are LGBTQ, they want to talk, to make a strategy, how to tell their parents, their family about it. Almost every time I say, "Of course God loves you, thank you for saying such important things, let's pray that your family will accept you." Hardly 100%. those parents accept their children - maybe it will be a little painful, maybe they don't really understand, but in the end they accept their children. It is hard for me to even imagine how painful it would be if a child could not come to his priest to speak. It is not a good thing to fear your pastor, your priest, just because you are who you are.
- And after the Pope's words that "homosexual people have the right to have a family. They are God's children", the hierarchs of the Lithuanian Catholic Church repeat that same-sex couples cannot be considered a family, the Church opposes the Partnership Law.
And here in some other countries we have seen examples of the Church apologizing to LGBTQ people. In your opinion, can we call the Lithuanian Catholic Church conservative? Why is that?
- I cannot say much about the Lithuanian Catholic Church. I can say that baptizing a child, regardless of who his parents are, is a sacred thing. I personally felt the power of the Holy Spirit standing there with the baby in my arms. God does not care who the parents are, whether two women or two men. God loves that child, God loves that family.
God does not care who the parents are, whether two women or two men. God loves that child, God loves that family. Living in a family is a miracle, but it can be difficult. Families, whether LGBTQ or otherwise, need spiritual support, a spiritual community. It hurts me a little to think that LGBTQ families in Lithuania lack this, lack community. I would like to say that Lithuania is not only a Catholic country, there are many religions in Lithuania. My godson is a Lutheran, people of various religions live in Lithuania and this is a good thing. The situation in the USA is a little different - there are so many Churches, there is no one Church that prevails, so that the values of one Church would influence politics very much.
- Then it is easier to find a Church and community close to you?
- It could be, yes, I think so. In addition, we know that in Lithuania, as well as in America, young people do not go to church the way their parents or grandparents did. As time passes, the numbers decrease. I think churches need to pay attention to this. What do young people need, spiritually speaking? They need values. If we somehow think that there are those people, but they shouldn't be, then those values don't really go with the experience of young people.
- It is probably quite difficult to adapt to the needs of young people, values, what they expect from the Church. How are you adapting to what young people need? What other values do young people expect from the Church?
- On Sunday, eight new people came who had never been to our parish before, all of them were young people. This means that young people are looking for spiritual community just like everyone else. That's missing. It is not a good thing to fear your pastor, your priest, just because you are who you are. I think that if they understand that they are at least accepted, that their values go at least somewhat with the values of the Church or the community, they could find their place in that community. This does not mean that young people do not want to belong to the Church at all - they may not find what they are looking for.
- To what extent should the Church intervene in these matters? Should the Church oppose partnerships? As far as I understand, your Church does not see the issue of partnership as a threat to traditional or Christian values?
- No, we even call for the Partnership Law, we very actively advocate for women's rights, for the rights of LGBTQ people, maintain relations with politicians, try to influence their decisions. I would think that it is important for the Church to tell its values, to try to influence public opinion. There are many things where our voice is very important. What one or another Church says, I cannot say. I can say about what my Church says.
We are for the fact that all people feel safe not only in our Church, but also in society, so that all people have rights in our society. We call for it, we say that it is very important even in our spiritual life.
- In Lithuania, it is repeated that, according to the teaching of the Church, homosexual relations are a sin. As I understand it, your Church has a different teaching. How do you rate such statements?
- We look at homosexual relationships as a gift from God, we see the Holy Spirit in those relationships. We are happy that LGBTQ people are completely accepted in our lives, we have open LGBTQ people - priests, bishops, they are in our Church and we are happy about that. This is our theology.
- And how should believers behave when the Church hierarchs do not recognize their relationship as a family, and do not want to recognize love? What do you think would lead to greater dialogue and understanding between the Church and the LGBTQ community?
- This is such an individual question - everyone has to decide how they should act if they want to turn to the Church, how to sanctify their relationship, what kind of family to have. This is a personal question. But I am glad that if the family so decides, in our Church they can turn to us, be full members in our community. Other parishioners, other people in the Church look at the LGBTQ family like any other family. This is a very beautiful thing. If you haven't seen it for yourself, I'm sorry. If you see how children in our parish play with each other, it doesn't matter to those children whether their friend has two fathers or two mothers, they are just playing. Also, adults don't pay attention to it either. We have a spiritual community, we know that we are Christians, Christian love is felt here. This is a very beautiful thing. Like I said, I wish all people could see a picture like this.
By the Rev. Steven D. Paulikas, rector of All Saints’ Church, Episcopal Relief & Development board member. Find the article online here.
Episcopal Relief & Development’s support for Ukrainians displaced by war feels personal to me. I’m the rector of All Saints’ Church in Brooklyn and a proud member of Episcopal Relief & Development’s board. But I myself am only one generation removed from war and displacement in Europe. The church’s assistance to my family then made possible my life today—just like how our response today will shape the lives of millions in the decades to come.
In 1944, my grandfather disappeared from the Lithuanian village where my family lived. The way the story was told to me, one day he just didn’t come home from work, and that was that. It was during the German occupation of Lithuania, and men from neighboring villages had been disappearing for a few months. Rumors were that they were captured and forced to work for free for the German army–in other words, they were enslaved.
My grandmother was left with three small girls, alone at home. The war was not going well for Germany, and the Soviets were closing in from the east. As terrible as the German occupation had been—I was told plenty of stories about that, too—the last time the Soviets were in charge in 1940-41, a different kind of terror had prevailed. My grandmother understood that the Soviet reoccupiers would most likely accuse her of colluding with the Germans because of my grandfather’s absence. There was already news of thousands of people in eastern Lithuania in similar situations being deported to Siberia or executed, so she made the brave decision to take her daughters and flee, leaving behind everything she had ever known, and cast herself out into a completely uncertain future. She was one of roughly 50,000 Lithuanians who fled our homeland during this period.
There are so many more stories. They were on the last train out of the country. They saw the tracks being destroyed behind them. They hitchhiked hundreds of miles. One night they slept in a barn during an air raid. For whatever reason—God, good luck, smart thinking—they made it to safety behind Allied lines. My grandfather reunited with his wife and children, and my father was born in November 1945.
My family spent five years in what was called a “displaced persons camp” along with almost one million other migrants from Eastern Europe. The camp, near the Bavarian city of Günzberg, was my father’s home for his entire early childhood. My uncle, who was also a child in the same camp, used to tell me how much he looked forward to Easter, because it was one of the few times a year he got to eat meat. But one year, he discovered a long, pinkish tail in the Easter stew—and realized that all this time, they’d been eating rat meat.
In 1950, a Roman Catholic priest in Detroit included my family on a list of names of refugees he would personally sponsor for resettlement in the United States. In doing so, the priest and his parish took full financial and legal responsibility for my family, pledging that they would find them a place to live, jobs and help integrate them into American society. My father used to talk about the journey by ship across the Atlantic. He said he remembered being the only person on board who wasn’t seasick the whole time and that all the other passengers gave him their dessert.
The six members of my family settled in a two-bedroom apartment above a bar on the west side of Detroit. My grandfather took a job as a janitor at a General Motors factory, where he worked long enough to earn a pension and health insurance for his family. My grandmother cleaned houses. One of her clients was kind enough to put index cards with the English words for furniture and other items around the house. My grandfather never spoke a word of English in his life; my grandmother, because of the strange language instruction she had, spoke a form of English that was basically just a string of nouns.
These people were my heroes growing up, and they still are. I am proud to be the child of a refugee. I have never accomplished anything half as impressive as what they did, and I know that the stories I was told are really just a little glimpse into the traumas they actually survived.
But the lesson they taught me that lives inside me—the knowledge that is part of my inheritance–is this: it is never finished. Against all odds, they refused to give up. They abandoned their lives multiple times, and each time, the only way they could move forward was by having the faith that there would be a new life on the other side. Death and resurrection, death and resurrection, death and resurrection.
So when Jesus says in John 19:30, “it is finished,” he knows it’s not the final word. It’s just this particular life that’s over, but another one awaits. To believe this with him is to be a Christian.
More than 70 years after the church offered my family a new life in the United States, All Saints’ Church is proud to be sponsoring a refugee family from Afghanistan for resettlement in New York. Together with other Episcopal parishes, we’ve raised money, recruited volunteers from inside and outside our church communities and found a voice of advocacy for displaced people. We’re discovering new depths of our faith in the process and learning strength and resilience from the family with whom we are working.
We also know how many more vulnerable people around the world have been displaced since we started this work, including those who were forced to leave Ukraine. When I hear accounts of violence from Ukrainians, sometimes I simply sit and weep, wondering how this could still be happening so many years after my family experienced the same thing. Then, I’m reminded that through Episcopal Relief & Development, my church is going places where I can’t, helping to ease the burden both of Ukrainians displaced in their own country and those who have fled abroad. I remember stories of acts of Christian kindness offered to my family and my own burden is lessened just a little because of the knowledge that Episcopal Relief & Development is part of Christ’s presence in the midst of suffering.
Whenever you meet a refugee, remember this: they have died and risen again. The only reason they are still here is because they had faith that when the life they loved or hated or were indifferent to nonetheless came to an end, that it wasn’t finished for them. May their faith be our own.
June 24th, 2022
Doubtless you have heard that last Thursday, a gunman killed three parishioners at a potluck dinner at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. We mourn for fellow Episcopalians Walter Rainey, Sarah Yeager, and a third victim who has yet to be identified. And yet we know that this tragedy in one of our own churches is just one more instance of the scourge of gun violence afflicting our country.
We are people of faith. We believe in a God who makes all things possible, even an end to senseless death and suffering as a result of gun violence. I ask your prayers for the people of St. Stephen's, for the victims and their families, and for an end to this unconscionable and unnecessary plague. Much has been made of the hollowness of leaders who offer only "thoughts and prayers" on occasions like this one. But we know that true prayer leads to righteous and sustained action.
Bishops United Against Gun Violence offers a variety of spiritual and practical resources for you to use in prayer and action. I hope you will join me at All Saints' this Sunday as we gather in sacred communion with those grieving and fighting for change.
Steven D Paulikas
NY Times Opinion Piece by Father Steve Paulikas: May 31, 2021
My Parishioner Was Not Sentenced to Death. He Still Died.
Read the entire NY times piece here.