For All the Saints

“I’m no saint, but I was glad to help!”

I have sometimes heard that phrase spoken by people in response to a compliment they might have received for some good work. But why is this so? What image of saints do we carry within us that makes us reluctant to be counted among their number? Are we perhaps fearful that one good deed might lead to another, carrying us ever more deeply into a life where we eventually find ourselves way out of our spiritual comfort zones? Maybe that spirit of reluctance is expressed best in the old prayer that goes like this: “Make me good, O God, but not quite yet.”

The word saint can be used to describe someone whose actions demonstrate the highest level of commitment to the well-being of the world, whether in one bold event, or over a lifetime of accumulated care and advocacy. This passion may well involve various kinds of suffering and sacrifice. It can seem to place at risk not only personal safety but relationships with friends and family members.

Over the years the word saint has come to be used in a more inclusive way. It may refer to heroic acts that receive public attention as well as the quiet daily expressions of love that take place well off the main stage of life. Sainthood is for the theologically sure-footed as well as for those wracked with doubts about divine intentions. Most of us might find ourselves at home with the title that Anne Tyler used for one of her books: Saint Maybe.

When we use the word saint to describe all those who express love through a vast array of actions, we haven’t lowered the bar. We’ve just returned to the way that saints were described in the New Testament: not as spiritual elites but as people who organized themselves into gatherings around the Mediterranean world to figure out what in the world it meant to be a Jesus-follower.

When St. Paul wrote to small gatherings of faithful people two thousand years ago, he didn’t address his letters to some of the saints, the great saints, or the cool saints, but to “all the saints.” That would have included the gracious and the grumblers, the clear and the confused, the eager and the hesitant. He wrote to them as if they all had two addresses: one in a geographical location (like Philippi or Rome or Corinth) and one in a spiritual location (“in Christ Jesus”). And he reminded them that all saints are great not because of what they do or where they are born but because they are loved by God and needed by God.

We could all try putting a St. in front of our names from time to time. It would be a reminder that we are today what Jesus-followers were two thousand years ago: people with unique gifts living in unique circumstances who seek to allow the love of God through our words and bodies. All saints. . .then and now for the future.

What’s Next?

“So . . . what’s next?” It’s a common question, often asked after we cross off an item on a to-do list, or when we think about the next activity during a vacation. But those words can take on a special urgency when we’re thinking about how to approach the next stage of life, especially our elder years. What if the second half of life is not a destination but an invitation, a time to uncover creative energies for personal growth and the common good? Could it be our destiny to use those years to help those whose first acts are just beginning? Marci Alboher hopes we will answer that question with a resounding yes.

I met Marci a few months ago and learned about her work as V.P. of Strategic Communications at, a small nonprofit driving a growing movement around “second acts for the greater good.” This was my first introduction to Encore’s nationwide commitment to mobilize people in their second half of life to become change-makers; to leverage their time, talent, and experience in ways that can shape other lives for the better. Since I find myself in this demographic, I was especially eager to hear how Encore might help me to imagine my second act to bring about both personal and social benefit.

We welcomed Marci to Round Hill Community Church on October 27, and were drawn to the passion she feels for her work and what it can make possible. And it was inspiring to hear from Ruth Wooden, another Encore guest, who has experienced firsthand the renewal of energy and purpose that can emerge from a second act. After retiring from years of a demanding career in advertising, Ruth discovered the engaging world of theological education at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Having already served as a board member for Encore, she found a way to blend her support for that organization with new horizons of learning. Union has given Ruth the opportunity to teach a class for people who are making the transition into a time of life when they are eager to find fresh purpose and meaning.

When asked how a person can begin to take steps in the direction of an Encore vision, Marci encouraged a patient and thoughtful approach. Rather than rush into a project that might not prove the right fit, why not take the time to read and explore options? A good starting place would be Marci’s book, The Encore Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life. And the journey to insights about how best to live an encore life can also be helped by reaching out to local community leaders whose knowledge and expertise may reveal areas of need where we can make a positive difference in the lives of others.

To coincide with Marci’s visit, we invited representatives from several local groups eager to bring in the time and talent of this encore generation. Our congregation is developing relationships with Inspirica (a visionary program serving homeless families), United Way’s Reading Champions program, and Simply Smiles (a Connecticut-based nonprofit working to encourage the well-being of children in Oaxaca, Mexico and on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in LaPlant, South Dakota). With this new lens, we see these relationships as our way of joining Encore’s Generation to Generation campaign, mobilizing the elders in our community to stand up and show up for the next generation.

There are second acts for life . . . and as life spans continue to lengthen, there may be third and fourth acts as well. I’m grateful for the guidance of Encore, for the passion of Marci and Ruth, and for the inspiration of those who are discovering in the second half of life a whole new and beautiful way to make life worth living.