Only Connect


I have a Mary Englebright calendar on my nightstand. I enjoy her daily wisdom and humor along with the bright illustrations. Yesterday, March 24, 2020, my calendar pictured two trapeze artists. The caption read: “Only Connect.”

Our Governor, J.B. Pritzker, has asked all Illinoisans to practice social distancing and those who are non-essential workers are asked to stay at home so that the spread of the COVID-19 virus might decrease. So I am staying at home. I don’t like it. I miss church. I miss going out to lunch with friends. I miss singing with the SIU Choral Union which has been canceled for the semester. But because I do not want this virus to spread,  except for a daily walk outside or an essential trip to the store, I am staying at home.

During this time of isolation, people have become very creative. I have enjoyed watching churches live stream meaningful services of worship while at the same time maintaining socially distancing. I have been inspired by the meditations and prayers posted on social media by my friends and colleagues. I have received numerous phone calls from those I hold dear both far and wide. It seems to me that many of us are working hard to connect.

Yesterday I received a wondeful gift.  It simply would not have happened except for this unique time in our lives.  Last night, I participated in my former Centering Prayer Group (pictured above) via Zoom.   I connected with friends I hadn’t seen in over a year.  Most of those who “zoomed in” were located in the Richmond, VA, area but I was in Illinois and one of our members participated from Uzbekistan! We prayed together and then each of us share a high and a low that is occurring in our lives during this unique period of time.  We prayed again.  It was a holy moment.  My heart was bursting with joy.  Being connected is a wonderful gift.

I hope you are finding ways to connect.  Perhaps together we can discover holy moments in the midst of this new reality. 

I count it all joy,


So Be It!

So Be It

Ralph Cameron King was born on November 5, 1955, in our nation’s capital. He was the fourth child born to Calvin John and Sallie Fitzgerald King. Cameron was a true middle child because he came after Vallerie, Greg and Tim but before Sallie, Warren and Dean. He was a beautiful baby and grew up to be a very handsome man. He had curly hair, jewel-like blue eyes, eyelashes to die for and a winsome smile. In his younger days, woman would literally swoon when he would walk into a room.

Ralph Cameron was named for his grandfathers, Ralph King (Pop-Pop) and Cameron Fitzgerald. Pop-Pop was a mechanic for Chambers Funeral Home in Washington, DC, and Grandfather Fitzgerald was an apple farmer in Nelson County, VA. It was a name that suited him because, like his grandfathers, he had mechanical ability and he loved nature.

The King family lived in Langley Park when Cameron was a small boy, and then they moved to 502 East Schuyler Rd. in Silver Spring, Maryland. The town of Silver Spring would become his home for life.

Cameron loved nature and enjoyed going into the woods with his brothers and sister, Sallie. Our brother Tim tells the story of one day while in the woods, Cameron discovered a bird with a broken wing. He could not fix the wing, but he wanted to help the bird, so he made a nest and laid the bird gently on the nest so that it would be comfortable and not suffer. Cam had a tender heart.

He was always curious and constantly learning. He loved to memorize interesting facts and surprise you with them. As a teen, he loved Rock and Roll music. He was given a drum set and enjoyed playing the drums to records and songs on the radio for hours at a time.

Cameron was also a very hard worker. He had a variety of jobs including working at the Pizza Kitchen on Flower Ave. and serving as a bus boy at the Holy Trinity Mission Seminary on New Hampshire Ave. in Langley Park.
Cameron graduated from Montgomery Blair High School in 1973. After graduating, he worked for the United States Naval Ordnance Laboratory. His boss wanted to hire him permanently. However, because of a government hiring freeze, he was not able to offer him a job. But because his boss thought so much of him, he recommended him to the Maryland Park and Planning Commission for a position there. He was hired and served as an equipment operator until he retired in 1999. He worked for the parks for over 23 years. Cameron was proud of his work. He planted trees and created beautiful places for people to enjoy. He had an important part in creating Brookside Gardens. He liked to take his friends and relatives to the Brookside Gardens and show them the trees he had planted.

Cameron’s nickname was the Big C from DC. He loved the city of his birth. For years, he would go downtown every Fourth of July to see the fireworks. He enjoyed going into the city and touring the monuments. He was an avid Redskin fan. He planned his weekends around their games. He didn’t miss a game and didn’t want anyone calling him or bothering him when a game was on. He was a loyal fan even though he would get disgusted and fuss when they would lose. Cam also enjoyed the sport of boxing. He owned a punching bag, and we all can remember the sound of him pounding away.

Cameron’s first car was a Ford Fairlane. But what Cam really loved were motorcycles. Part of the reason he liked bikes was that they were cheap on gas and insurance. Cameron owned several bikes in his lifetime. He loved the feel of the open road and the freedom of bike riding. His last vehicle was a brand new white Ford truck, which he paid for in full with cash. He was so proud of his truck, and he kept it in mint condition until his death. The truck is still in the family and running like a charm. Our brother, Greg, is now the proud owner.

Cameron loved the ocean. He would make an annual trip to Ocean City, MD. Once a year when the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was open to pedestrians, Cameron would go. He walked across the bridge many times during his lifetime.

Our brother never married but as his brothers married and began to have children, he became like a second Dad to his nieces and nephews. He loved to taking them to RIO where they would play video games, ride rides, eat cheeseburgers and have so much fun. He also loved to take them to the movies. He was a generous and attentive uncle, and he never missed sending them a gift for their graduation or special occasion.

Cameron had a wonderful sense of humor. He used to call me every Tuesday, and often he would tell me a joke and suggest that I use the joke in my sermon.

Cam was very frugal. He tired to squeeze the last ounce of blood out of every penny he every earned. He was an excellent manger of money. He paid for his condo in full and left this world debt free. He was frugal but at the same time extremely generous. For example when our parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, it was Cameron who paid for our father to have a brand new suit for the occasion. It was the suit Dad was buried in. If you had a need, Cameron opened his wallet and helped. He used his resources for others.

It is no secret that Cameron was an alcoholic. After he retired, his drinking increased significantly and for the last several years, his addiction isolated him from his family and his friends. Our family will always be grateful for Sallie and Liz who stayed connected to Cameron, visited him and cleaned his apartment. They also begged him to seek medical help. Their efforts, along with the prayers and support of so many, finally helped Cameron to give up the bottle. On March 14th he called the rescue squad and asked them to come and get him. He realized he needed help. He told his family that his burden had been lifted. He did not want to drink any more. From that day on, he remained sober. We as a family celebrated his sobriety. We presented him with his first month chip from AA on Sunday, April 15th while he was in Holy Cross Hospital. All of us gathered around his hospital bed to give him the chip. He was so touched.

After his hospital stay, he was moved to Oakview Rehab and Nursing Care in Silver Spring. Because he was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease, his only hope for survival was a liver transplant. He went to Oakview with the hope that the rehab would get him strong enough to be considered for a new liver. Sallie and Liz worked with Oakview and all of Cam’s doctors doing everything they could to help him turn his disease around. In addition to Sallie and Liz, all of his family and many of his friends, surrounded him with love, care, support and prayer.
But it was not to be.

While Cam was in Oakview, I would try to call him every day, and at the end of our conversation I would say a prayer. I would end the prayer with the traditional “Amen” and then he would always say, “So Be It.” So be it is what the word “Amen” literally means. A fact Cam liked to remind me, the minister, of.

On Friday, July 20th Cam was taken to Holy Cross Hospital for the last time. He was admitted into ICU with low blood pressure. Cameron had fought hard and done everything he could to turn his liver disease around, but he was tired and didn’t want fight anymore. It was decided he that he would to go and live out the remainder of his days with Sallie and Liz in their home in NJ under the care of Hospice. He was taken by ambulance to Samaritan Hospice in Mt. Holly, NJ on Friday, July 27th. He died at the Samaritan House a week later.

During the last week of his life all of his brothers, Sallie and I and two of his nephews went to see him. Those who could not come, called or Facetimed him. He died knowing how greatly he was loved and how much he would be missed. The last words he spoke to us were, “I’ll see you later.” He died on a Friday, August 3rd just as the sun was coming up with our brother, Warren, at his side. His death was very peaceful. He did not suffer. He never lost his sense of humor. He joked and laughed with the Hospice staff until the very end. We will always be grateful to the Samaritan Hospice for the care they gave him. They provided a place where all of his needs were met. Like the nest that Cameron built for the bird with the broken wing, Samaritan Hospice gave Cameron a peaceful place to die with dignity and grace.

The last book of the Bible is the Book of Revelation. Revelation gives us a glimpse of what heaven will be like. It is place where there is no more pain, no more suffering and no more tears. It is a place where we will be reunited with all those who have gone before us. It is a place of peace. The last word in the Book of Revelation is “Amen”. And so as Cameron would say: “ So Be It!”

The Rev. Vallerie F. King
Cameron’s sister


Yesterday I enjoyed something very rare in my life. On Sunday, August 28th I enjoyed a true Sabbath day. The day began with breakfast. After breakfast, I showered and put on my Sunday best in preparation for worship. Prior to the worship service, the monks chanted from Psalm 119 for the third office of the day, Terce. The chanting of the Psalms all during the day reminded those present of the importance of praising God.
From the first office of the day, Vigils, the preparation began: Psalm 95:6: O Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.
The Mass started a lttle after 10:30 a.m. As the Abbot prayed he asked God to allow all Christians to be of one mind and one spirit. I thought to myself, while I am here in Kentucky my church family is worshipping in Virginia. We are separated by miles but one in spirit. People all over the United States are gathered at this moment to worship the Living God. I felt the Spirit of the Lord as we sang and prayed. Fr. Andrew gave the homily. The organ sounded magnificent and grand. My spirit soared.
For the remainder of the day, I relaxed, walked, read the Bible, attended the offices and listened to Dvorak’s New World Symphony. It was a day of worship, praise and rest. This is why God created the Sabbath and commanded us to observe it.
Yesterday ended with Benediction. This is the time when the monks kneel before the host, the Presence of Christ, in adoration and worship, Following Benediction,there is the last office of the day. Compline is a one of my favorite offices because it ends the day with a blessing and a reminder of the fragility of life.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel in his book on the Sabbath reminds us that Sabbath keeping is a way of preparing us for the Great Heavenly Banquet. There we will be filled with joy as we continually offer praise to our Lord. I was grateful for this sweet taste of the life to come.
I count it all joy,
Pastor Vallerie


The “diamond ring effect” is pictured shortly after the Great American Eclipse’s totality, Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, at Saluki Stadium, in Carbondale. Thousands of eclipse viewers fought cloud coverage to see the eclipse’s totality. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)
Yesterday, was the day of the Solar Eclipse. I was flying into Lousiville, KY, when the pilot of our airplane announced that the eclipse would take place about the time we were scheduled to land. The sun’s reflection on the wing of the plane was like bright white light that faded into darkness as we approached Louisville. Our flight arrived early and so I had only four minutes to run outside, find my special glasses(thanks to Robin) and look up. Although I only saw a partial eclipse, the sight was magnificent.
From Louisville I drove to Carbondale, IL, where earlier that day they had a view of the eclipse in its full totality and with the longest duration in the country. There were close to a quarter of a million people who came to Carbondale for the this event including many from the national media and NASA.
An eclipse occurs when the earth, moon and sun are in alignment. They are aligned in such a rare and unusual way that the moon, which is much 400 times smaller than the sun, totally blocks our view of the sun. The sun is eclipsed as it were. This allows us to see the part of the sun know as the corona. It is called a corona because it looks like a golden crown.
At the begining and end of toltality, another wondrous sight appears in the sky. A brilliant white light shines forth like a diamond. The diamond can only be seen during a total eclipse.
Alignment is important. I have owned enough used cars to know when my car is out of alignment. A vehicle that is out of alignment is difficult to drive and wears out tires quickly. In the same way, alignment is an important part of the Christian’s journey. When we are “aligned” with Christ and the values of God’s kingdom than Christ’s light shines through us.
The spiritual journey is the journey of a lifetime. It requires patience and persistence. When everything falls into place it is magnificent to behold. Therefore, let us align ourselves with Jesus Christ and the values of his kingdom.
I Count It All Joy,
Pastor Vallerie

Kindness like Confetti

If we had been able to gather for worship today, the sermon text that was planned was from 1 Corinthians 13 which is the famous love chapter.  This well-known biblical passage describes what love looks like.  It has been suggested that the Apostle Paul was describing Jesus, his character and actions:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Love is kind. Do you think that the world could use more kindness? I was in Walmart on Friday night before the snow storm along with all of Central VA. It was a mad house. I needed something from the top shelf on the laundry detergent aisle but I could not reach it. I tried standing on the bottom shelf, straining to get my hand on the plastic bottle but to no avail.  Then suddenly I heard a voice from behind asking, “Can I help you?”  Then the young woman reached up with ease and handed me the item I needed. Her act of kindness gave me a good feeling on a day when the crowds and endless waiting in line could have set my nerves on edge. Kindness inspires kindness.

Last Sunday, January 1, 2017, Parade Magazine cover title read: Throw Kindness Around Like Confetti. In the featured article the writer recommended that we make 2017 the Year of Kindness. The article had several suggestions of ways you and I can practice kindness.
One way they suggested is to speak to your neighbor by name.
Another way is to write a thank you note to someone once a week. Over the holidays, I received a thank you note from the Chair of Deacons thanking me for the work I do as pastor. Her note meant so much to me. Letter writing is rapidly becoming a lost art. Writing a note of thanks is a great gift because it is personal and it is something that can we read over and over again. If you go the website there are many creative ideas for practicing kindness.

On New Year’s Eve, after the ball is dropped, confetti rains down on Times Square. The confetti isn’t just any ordinary confetti. During the month of December there is a place near Times Square called the Wishing Wall where you can go and write on the paper used as confetti. You are asked to write your wishes for the New Year. So as the confetti falls, it is as if hopes and dreams for a New Year descend on the people in the square.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if you and I rained kindness down on the places we live, work and spend time?  Of all the people in the world, shouldn’t Christians be people known for their kindness?

Love is kind. Jesus Christ has shown each of us infinite kindness by loving us in spite of our sinfulness and too often rude behavior. We are truly blessed because we have known the deepest kindness possible. So , therefore, let us take the kindness we have been shown and use it to shower our world with kindness. In this way, perhaps the world will see a glimpse of the one who is kindness and love incarnate, Jesus.

I count it all joy,
Pastor Vallerie

Prayer for today:
Gracious and loving Lord, we thank you this day for the grace you have showered upon us. Your love, which you have so generously lavished on us, makes our lives rich and meaningful.
On this day when we have been unable to gather for worship because of the weather, grant that we may worship you in spirit and truth within our hearts.
We ask that all might have shelter on this bitterly cold day. Make us mindful of the needs of others and show us the ways you are calling us to meet their needs.
Grant that those who are sick might find comfort and healing. Be with those who are struggling with daily issues that sometimes weigh us down. Lift them with your Divine Presence. Be with those who grieve. Comfort them.
We ask that you protect and watch over all those who are working this day, especially our first responders.
We ask this in the name of the one who loves us so, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

A Gift after Worship

I did not know it until I attend morning worship. Today Mother Teresa of Calcutta was made a saint by Pope Frances. Several people were wearing Mother Teresa t-shirts in church.
Father Michael gave the homily (sermon) during Mass. The lectionary text included Luke 14 where Jesus tells his disciples they must hate their family and take up their cross and follow him. The other text was from Philemon where Paul asks for mercy for a runaway slave, Onesimus.
Fr. Michael did an excellent job of weaving these scripture texts together to talk about the discipleship. He mentioned the cost of discipleship to Mother Teresa. She experienced great periods of darkness while caring for the dying in India. This only came to be known after her death when her spiritual journals were discovered.
Pope Francis has declared 2016 to be the Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church. So I guess it makes sense that at the back of the church a strange woman approached me and handed me a gift. It was necklace with a picturce of Jesus. Rays of light were all around him. As I was headed out the church door, I asked a retreatant if they had received the same gift and what did it mean. No, she was not given a necklace but she was able to tell me what the necklace meant. This is the Year of Mercy and this is a picture of Jesus giving mercy to others. See the rays extending from his heart, she asked. There is a special prayer that goes with this necklace. You say it each night. You asked God to be merciful to all those who will die this day. Wow, what a powerful prayer. After all we never know when we will die or when someone we love will die.
Later the same woman came up to me at lunch and gave me a booklet explaining the prayers for the dying that Catholics are to asked to pray as part of the Year of Mercy. Of course, she had no idea I was a Baptist Pastor.
I am glad Mother Teresa was honored by her church on this day. I cannot think of a finer example of one who extended mercy to others especially the dying.
I want to be a person like her who loved Christ so much and gave so freely to others. Don’t all Christians wish we were more like her? After all wasn’t she was like Jesus. Isn’t being like Jesus the goal of our faith journey? We can start by practicing mercy. Our world is in great need of forgiveness, grace, understanding and genuine care for those who are hurting. Let’s make our church year, a year of mercy.
I Count It All Joy,
Pastor Vallerie

Looking for a Sign…

While driving across I 64 to New Harmony on Thursday, I saw three billboards that grabbed my attention. The first was: Looking for a Sign.. This is It.
It was of course an advertisement for the billboard itself. But for me it had a deeper meaning. Sometimes the signs from God are right in front of our eyes if only we take time to see them.
Gethsemani is a place where I hear God speak in so many ways. I hear God’s voice in the silence, in the chanting of the Psalms, in the presence and voices of the monks; in the beauty of the grounds and in spiritual reading I bring with me. This year God has been speaking through the wonderful notes I found in the desk drawer in room 310. So many of these love letters quote scripture.
The second billboard I saw simple said: God Knows. God does know. I see it so clearly.
The third sign said: One in every 5 children will go to bed hungry. Yesterday I met Fr. Jim for dinner in the talking dining room. Before we began to eat, Fr. Jim took my hands and blessed our food. In his prayer he asked God to care for those who have little to eat or no food to eat and all the refugees.
His prayer humbled me. How often have I prayed for those who do not have enough?
It is time for all Christians to join with all those who are working to alleviate this problem. Children should not go to bed hungry. There is enough for all.                         Let us follow Fr. Jim’s example and pray for those in need each time we say grace. Let us also ask God to show us how we can eliminate hungry in our lifetime.
I Count It All Joy,
Pastor Vallerie

House Calls



Yesterday I received word that Dr. Farrar Howard, Sr. had died. Dr. Howard was a beloved member of our community. He was also a man of great faith. When he first began his practice in Charles City and New Kent, he was the only physician for both counties. Dr. Howard made house calls. I have heard him share some of his stories about the funny things that happened to him during those house calls. He had a great sense of humor. He will be sorely missed.
We live in a time when doctors no longer make house calls. It has been said that minsters are the last processionals left to visit the home. But even minsters do not visit like they used too. I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna who is longing for the good old days but I do want to ask you a question. When was the last time you invited someone other than a family member to your house for dinner?
Yesterday, September 1, I made two restaurant calls     I drove to New Harmony, IN, and met Mary for lunch. It was delightful to see her and spend some time in good conversation. Mary retired from SIU at the end of May of this year. She is more relaxed and enjoying her new pace.
I left Mary and head back across Indiana to visit four psychiatric nurses. These are women who have made many a house call over their professional lives. They all worked for VA Nursing Association at one time which is how I came to know them. They were all part of Dorothy’s (my spiritual mother) nurses group.
Today one of them is completely retired, two are working part time and one is still working full time. The three that are working are all employed at Bridge Haven, a place that helps those who are in need of mental health care. I admire them and always enjoy our time together. Today I give thank all those who help us when we are in need physical and emotional care. May God bless all those who make house calls.
I count it all joy,
Pastor Vallerie

A Gentle Rain

On Wednesday, August 31 the rain fell upon the Abbey in the afternoon. It was a gentle soft rain shower that lasted for about 30 minutes. The birds seemed strangly unbothered. The drops of water on the leaves glistened in the sun. It was just enough rain to nourish the living things that depend on water. I sat in my room, looking out the window and taking it all in. As I did, I remembered something that happened to me on my flight to Atlanta. It was a large plane and I was seated in the alsle seat with two other passengers seated beside me. The young man in the middle seat was on his way home to San Diego. I asked him if he had been effected by the wildfires. After he gave me a quick lesson in CA geography he told me that he had not but that he knew people who had. Then he said something very striking; “You know it has not rained since March.” Imgaine no rain in over six months. I told him we were praying for people in CA and that I would would pray for rain. Will you join me in that prayer?
I count it all joy,
Pastor Vallerie

Making our Hearts a Hermitage

While on retreat, one of the monks offers a talk on spiritual matters for those who choose to attend. This week Fr. Carlos gave the talk. I like Fr. Carlos. Originally from the Philippines, he has been a monk at Gethsemani for 30 years. He is a wise and authentic man of God. Fr. Carlos said that we should all make our hearts a hermitage for God.
Hermitages are well know at Gethsemani. The most famous one is the one Thomas Merton stayed in. There are over a dozen hermitages on the Abbey property. Theses are secluded places where monks can go to be totally alone with God. They are places where one is utterly alone except with God.
There are many verses in scripture about opening our hearts to God. The idea of a heart as a place of quiet and rest where one can hear God’s voice above all others was intriguing to me.
We are all so busy, so distracted, our lives seem so complicated that it may be impossible for us to open our hearts so that God can do something with us. That is one of the reasons I come to the montastery every year. Here is where I hear God’s voice so clearly.
The Psalmist calls us to be still and know that I am God. I want my heart to a hermtiage for Christ.

Pictured above is the Abbey Church. I took the picture yesterday afternoon. If you look very closely, you will see a monk sitting all by himself praying. This is how we make our hearts a place for God.
I count it all joy,
Pastor Vallerie