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Episcopal News Service
The news service of the Episcopal Church
Updated: 9 min 9 sec ago
[Interchange] Quietly, her face filled with sorrow, a battered woman confesses, “I shot and nearly killed my husband.” The viewer is close, as if leaning across the kitchen table to catch her words.
Shelia is one of four Ohioans who share their stories in the 26-minute documentary “The Right Track,” created by the Rev. Noel Julnes-Dehner. The film premiered May 21 at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley, Ohio, and will be broadcast later this year on television.
“‘The Right Track’ is a portraits-driven documentary about the struggle between justice and redemption as experienced by people who have committed crimes, served time and have returned to society,” said Julnes-Dehner. “The goal is to bring the people experiencing this alive, and in front of viewers, because we as citizens have decisions to make. Other people are going to prison, but we are all affected.”
Moved by the stories of the Rev. Jackie Burns, who is helping Christian ex-felons rebuild a constructive relationship to society, Julnes-Dehner decided to give faces to the statistic that more than 2 million Americans are incarcerated. A seasoned filmmaker, she won a significant grant for the project from the Ohio Humanities Council to help cover the costs. Canon Joanna Leiserson of Christ Church Cathedral in Cinncinnati, which sponsored the film, has written a study guide.
Reaching out to Cincinnati nonprofits who work with released prisoners, Julnes-Dehner found four people whose stories spanned the arc from “crime to point of change and battles for a stabilized life as returning citizens,” she said. She alternates the narratives of the four ex-prisoners with those of Hamilton County judges Nadine Allen and Norbert Nadel and prosecutor Joe Deters.
“I had read things about criminal justice in the papers, but it’s not as powerful as meeting people. The film doesn’t have a point of view: It’s to promote discussion. What are the values and principles that inform our laws?” Julnes-Dehner explained. How are justice and redemption defined by the Ohio legal system and by popular opinion? “How do Ohioans balance a second chance with personal shortcoming and recidivism?”
The impact of these first-hand stories was powerful in a preview shown April 14 at the home of Cincinnati philanthropists Cathy and Tom Crain, who hold salons to explore current issues. Their living room was packed with Cincinnati leaders including Diocese of Southern Ohio Bishop Thomas Breidenthal, several City Council members, Judge Allen, County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco and staff from major nonprofits who strive to prevent crime or help people overcome the barriers created by having a criminal record.
Moved by a brief excerpt of the ex-prisoners’ stories, the group dove into passionate sharing of news and hopes. Dr. Edward Latessa, a University of Cincinnati criminologist whose research has been key in Ohio’s criminal-justice reforms, described the factors in recidivism and the implications for choosing the best sanction for offenders in different risk categories.
Allen shared her joy over the fact that new state law has expanded her ability to award expungements, plus the option to review ex-offenders one-by-one and issue certificates of employability, making previously mandatory barriers to employment discretionary and protecting employers from the threat of negligent hiring suits.
Hamilton County re-entry director DeAnna Hoskins reported on new teamwork between her office, the university, Cincinnati Works and the county’s newly elected Sheriff Jim Neil to find appropriate followup for each individual convicted of crime. She particularly commended the new handling of child-support delinquency that emphasizes keeping parents in their jobs rather than locking them up, where they have no way to care for their children.
Julnes-Dehner designed the documentary to be a perfect length for a discussion in a church, school or civic group. Any church could invite public officials and nonprofits to a forum like the Crains held, using the film as a springboard. “The documentary offers no solutions but a jump-start for discussion about what Ohioans value and changes that could be made to benefit our communities,” said the filmmaker.
Dave Eschenbach, a leader of the cathedral’s weekly 5,000 Club community dinner, was galvanized to learn of the services available for ex-offenders in Hamilton County. “Many of these agencies could help the people we see every week,” he said. “I’m planning on inviting them to meet with our guests, so we can serve as a better resource.”
– Ariel Miller is the executive director of Episcopal Community Services Foundation in the Diocese of Southern Ohio. This article first appeared in the April/May issue of diocese’s publication, Interchange. For more information about “The Right Track,” contact the filmmaker, the Rev. Noel Julnes-Dehner, at email@example.com.
[Episcopal News Serve] For those living in what is known as Tornado Alley, this time of year is tornado season. On hot, humid days, people live with one eye on the sky, watching the clouds, and many communities have gone through the heartbreak of a tornado’s destruction and resolved to rebuild stronger.
As Moore, Oklahoma, begins to pick up the pieces after the massive May 20 tornado, a town 225 miles north on the alley is still coming back two years after one of the deadliest tornadoes in United States history.
The EF-5 ripped apart Joplin, Missouri, killing 161 people and injuring more than 1,000 on May 22, 2011. Today Episcopalians across the state and beyond are helping to rebuild the city.
In one example, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Joplin, Grace Episcopal in nearby Carthage and All Saints Church in Nevada about 60 miles to the north, along with the dioceses of West Missouri and Missouri, have led the effort to build a home for a Joplin social service agency to use for families that are moving away from domestic-abuse and substance-abuse situations.
They are scheduled to turn over the home to Lafayette House July 20.
The Joplin tornado damaged or destroyed thousands of houses and businesses. A small cottage that Lafayette House used for single women in need of transitional housing was heavily damaged but was able to be repaired, according to the Very Rev. Steve Wilson, Grace’s rector.
However, the agency had long needed a place for families, and “it was pretty clear that one of the social inevitabilities [after a major disaster such as this one] was a real increase in domestic violence,” said Wilson. Thus, the need for such housing would only grow.
Plus, a large percentage of the housing destroyed by the storm was very low-income rental property, he said. People who already were struggling lived in that housing. In what Wise called the “almost frenetic boomtown” atmosphere that is Joplin today, low-income rental property is not being replaced.
“The economic burden that the tornado incurred happened to fall on people who likely had fewer resources of their own to deal with the aftermath of it and that was another factor in the diocese’s decision to do this particular project,” Lyon said. “It was a near certainty that the people served by it would be people who had fewer of their own resources to bring to bear than other persons might have.”
Then add the psychological and spiritual trauma of knowing that in a matter of 20 minutes the storm killed 161 in a county whose population was about 100,000. “That’s a massive impact,” Wise said.
The Rev. Frank Sierra, rector of St. Philip’s in Joplin, said that Lafayette House has seen a 75 to 85 percent increase in clients since the tornado.
The site for the new house is two blocks north of the path of the tornado’s most severe damage, the area Wilson called “the devastation zone.”
According to a Storm Event Survey issued by the National Weather Service Forecast office in Springfield, Missouri, the tornado, rated EF-5 on the Enhanced-Fujita Scale, traveled 22.1 miles on the ground. “The six or so mile track within the City of Joplin was by far the most intense and devastating,” wrote Bill Davis, meteorologist in charge of the Springfield office.
Numerous well-built homes and businesses were “swept from their foundation, crushed or pan-caked in place, or blown and piled into other destroyed structures and debris,” he said.
In all, 6,954 homes were destroyed, 359 homes had major damage and 516 homes had minor damage. “The wood framing from most homes disintegrated into small pieces,” according Davis’ report. “This caused thousands of deadly projectiles.”
Nearly every business in a six-block stretch of Main Street was heavily damage or destroyed, as were a number of big-box stores on a commercial strip in eastern Joplin. The high school and the medical center were also destroyed.
More than 15,000 vehicles of various sizes and weight including buses, tractor trailers and vans were tossed over 200 yards to several blocks, with some being crushed or rolled beyond recognition, Davis said, adding that some owners never found their vehicles.
“Some of the vehicles were compressed and wrapped around the few remaining trees, while some were rolled into balls. Main steel roof support trusses were rolled like paper, and main support beams twisted or curved,” the report continued. “Portions of trees that remained standing were debarked and denuded.”
The storm tore parking lot asphalt from its base and tossed the chunks across streets in some cases. It also tore up 200 to 300 pound concrete parking stops that were anchored into the asphalt with rebar, and tossed them 30 to 60 yards.
“There were also some interesting features such as a wooden chair with four legs embedded into an exterior wood and stucco wall, and a rubber hose impaled through a tree,” Davis noted.
The Rev. Lauren Lyon, secretary of the Diocese of West Missouri, said the devastation was “unbelievable.”
“It really gives you a respect for the forces of nature and the whole concept of ‘this fragile earth, our island home,’ as the Prayer Book says; that all the power we are able to muster in terms of turning the natural world to our wills is often no match for the forces of nature,” she said.
Sixteen St. Philip’s households were hit by the tornado, according to Sierra. Twelve lost their homes and four their businesses. Ten other parishioners’ homes had minor damage.
“Everybody’s back in suitable housing and we’re glad of that,” Sierra said, adding that some people have only recently moved back in.
Shortly after the storm people across the diocese and the church wanted to help and Lyon said they were told that monetary donations would be best because they could be applied to a specific project or projects as needs were discerned.
Donors contributed just more than $100,000 in response to the diocese’s call, according to Lyon.
“We’re blessed by the support that the greater church has given us,” Sierra said.
About a week after the tornado, clergy and parishioners from the three Episcopal congregations met with some members of the diocesan leadership to begin deciding “what we thought we could do both immediately and long-term that would be helpful,” according to Wilson.
Among the ideas: garage sales where all items were free, connecting a defunct nursery with trees to donate with the agency running a program to help replant trees in Joplin and finding a way to help with what was an intense housing crisis in Joplin.
By that time, many agencies with expertise in house-building, such as Habitat for Humanity, were responding. “They were all on the ground making plans and we didn’t want to try to compete with them, particularly because we don’t have the resources to try to do that,” Wise said.
It was during that conversation that Grace parishioner Katie Platt, who worked as a counselor at Lafayette House, suggested that a transitional house would be a “more long-term solution for more families,” Wise said.
The land was already vacant and the Rev. Ted Estes of All Saints, who says he’s a “local boy,” negotiated the purchase of the property for what will be called the Rose Cottage from James Herron, the grandson of the owners of Rose’s M
arket. The market sat across from a school building which is now Lafayette House. Students used to come across the street to the store to buy candy, according to Wise.
Estes said that when he explained to the owner that the Episcopalians wanted to put a shelter for domestic-violence victims on the land, Herron “graciously sold us the property for a lower price.” A gift from the Diocese of Missouri helped with the purchase, Estes said.
Then came a lengthy building process whose hurdles included finding an available contractor and finding one who could deal with the paperwork that came with a constantly updated set of local building codes.
Jeff Neely, an Episcopalian who is a Carthage-based contractor, drew up the plans for Rose Cottage, donating his work. The three-bedroom, two-bath house has above-ground poured-concrete “safe room” designed to provide shelter from tornadoes.
The house was built using the roughly $100,000 donated to the Diocese of West Missouri, according to Lyon, and the diocese’s Episcopal Church Women have been gathering softgoods such as sheets and towels, dishes and pots and pans, as well as small appliances. ECW is also soliciting congregations throughout the diocese to furnish the house, Wise said. Members of the parishes have helped paint the interior, and landscaping – including roses for Rose Cottage – is planned as well.
ECW has taken on Rose Cottage as an ongoing project so that the families who spend time there will be able to take certain softgoods with them when they move into their own homes, according to Estes. They will set up a registry at a local store so that donors can help buy replacements for the next families, he said.
All those involved said it will be a joyous time when Rose Cottage officially becomes part of Lafayette House on July 20, even though it has been a somewhat frustrating process because people wanted to accomplish something helpful much sooner than two years after the tornado.
“We do understand why and we do want to get this done right but there has been some frustration in that Joplin as a city is coming back but it’s still not back,” Wise said.
Lyon said those involved have learned that “the process recovery and rebuilding is a slow one that requires a tremendous amount of faith and commitment to a purpose. Rebuilding after a disaster of those proportions simply can’t happen overnight and people take time to heal over that; communities take time to heal from that.”
Two years later, the healing is still not complete. Wise, who calls Joplin “my big city,” said that when he goes there to shop or eat out, it’s his impression that “the whole town is depressed as if the city is in a permanent state of PTSD.”
It doesn’t help that the tornado was not an altogether unusual event. Heavy storms moved through the area over the May 18-19 weekend this year and the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch May 20 for 26 counties in Missouri, including Joplin’s. That’s the way life is this time of year in Tornado Alley.
But, Sierra said, “If it happens again, we will deal with it. God will be with us. He has been with us through this time.”
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.
[Diocese of Western New York] Residents of Randolph, New York, awoke May 20 to a village-wide rash of vandalism. Buildings had been spray painted with graffiti — some malicious and some an apparent cry for help.
Across the side of Grace Episcopal Church was painted a question of the second type: “Can I still get to heaven if I kill myself?”
As the Cattaraugus Sherriff’s Department spent the day investigating, the Rev. Tom Broad, Grace Church’s priest, pondered what the church’s immediate response might be. His idea was an unconventional one.
After conferring with two of the church’s lay leaders, he borrowed a can of spray paint from a neighbor and added the church’s reply: “God loves you with no exceptions!”
The question is a very real one in this town that has had its share of teen suicides. According to the CDC’s National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBS) 2011 survey, 19.3% of female respondents and 12.5% of male respondents seriously considered attempting suicide in the 12-month period preceding the survey. The YRBS monitors priority health risk behaviors that
contribute to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth and adults in the United States. The national YRBS is conducted every two years during the spring semester and provides data representative of 9th through 12th grade students in public and private schools throughout the United States.
[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians and others from across the globe reached out May 21 in prayer and support for Oklahomans, still reeling from a massive tornado that had injured hundreds and killed dozens of people, including 9 children, the day before.
“This is the first full day since the tornado and a lot is still evolving, information is still developing. The key is to make sure we can do what we need to do and provide support and resources to those who need them,” said the Rev. Canon José McLoughlin, canon to the ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, who forgot it was his birthday until someone reminded him.
“Imagine someone living in a neighborhood, a community, and all that gone, and seeing nothing but slabs where a neighborhood, and homes were, and where kids played,” he said during a May 21 evening telephone interview with ENS.
“It was hard to really focus or think about it being a birthday with so much going on and people in need, and figuring out all the things that need to be done.”
He had spent much of the day between two extremes: grappling with the sheer immensity of the destruction and a staggering outpouring of love and offers of support from around the world.
“It’s been remarkable. For the last 24 hours, especially, it’s been overwhelming, the amount of communication we’ve received from people ready to do whatever whenever” via e-mails, text messages and phone calls.
“The church has been amazing, from the presiding bishop reaching out to Bishop Ed Konieczny and the people at ERD (Episcopal Relief & Development), to parish priests — it’s just been amazing, the genuine outpouring of concern and genuine offers to help.”
McLoughlin said he and other diocesan staff had received expressions of concern from as far away as “Japan and Germany and Dubai … (and from) folks throughout the Anglican Communion” and from all levels of the church.
“It’s incredible the way they’ve reached out to us. Clergy across the country have reached out to ask what they can do, have said they’re holding us in prayer.
Right now, the diocese is still very much in assessment and short-term recovery response mode, he added.
“We’ve been cataloging every person who’s called in, what they’re offering, what they can do, just as we’re cataloging needs from parishes and priests to make sure we can be prepared as the days go on, because the real challenge is going to come when the media leaves and the work continues, and to make sure who’s available to help us,” he said.
As stories of heroism and service emerged, he celebrated the resiliency of Oklahomans, many of whom are beginning to shift from shock and rescue to recovery and helping one another.
Local clergy were still attempting to contact parishioners and to account for the status of all their members. The diocese offered immediate assistance to those in need of lodging, food, clothing, personal items and other essentials, he said.
The American Red Cross and other first responders were still keeping people away from some areas, “so I suspect in the coming days, once they’re no longer doing any recovery and when the clean-up starts, we’ll be securing people to help in clean-up efforts,” he said.
St. Mary’s School in Edmond had begun coordinated efforts to collect water and other comfort items such as toys and stuffed animals, but local agencies have said the immediate need is for financial assistance, the Rev. Bob Story, rector of St. Mary’s Church, said May 21.
“We’ve contacted two different agencies, the regional food bank and they’re telling us they need money,” said Story, who knew of two families displaced by the tornado. “They don’t have a need for other things right now; it creates a storage problem.”
And, while many people want “to do more than just write a check” at the present time, “the regional food bank in Oklahoma City is so well-coordinated now that they have a very precise knowledge of what they need and in order to fulfill that need, they just need money because it gives them the most flexibility,” he said.
The church had held an 8:30 p.m. prayer vigil the previous evening, “to express our grief over all the children who were killed,” he said. “We sent out an e-mail to the parish and about 15 people showed up spontaneously.”
Other vigils, including a 7 p.m. music and worship service “open to everybody” at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Oklahoma City, were planned for May 22.
Elsewhere, St. Paul’s Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, also announced a 5:30 p.m. prayer vigil this evening.
“As people of faith, we can do a number of things, the most important of which are to offer our prayers to God and to support those agencies giving disaster relief,” according to a statement the church released.
“All donations will be directed to Episcopal Relief & Development for their work on our behalf to support the victims,” according to the statement.
Ironically, McLoughlin was headed to the airport the day the so-called “monster” tornado hit (May 20), to attend an Episcopal Relief & Development disaster preparedness training session planned in St. Louis.
Thinking about the May 19 storms and tornadoes that damaged some suburban Oklahoma City areas, and hearing radio weather reports, “I got a sense of what was happening,” he recalled.
“Something just didn’t seem right. I got to the airport and I never got out of my car,” he said. “I came back to the office and never left, and then the tornado struck.”
Last night, at the end of a very long day spent responding to such immediate challenges as property and other assessment, insurance assistance, cataloging resources and offers and creating a financial infrastructure to receive donations, McLoughlin shifted his focus.
“I spent the evening with my family” as he turned 44, he said. “The irony is, I’m sitting here at my house (in Edmond) and it’s a beautiful sunny evening, knowing that in just a matter of 40 minutes drive, how much damage was done, so much devastation,” he said.
“For some people, for a lot of people, the sun hasn’t started shining yet. It feels very raw.”
Once the media spotlight is gone, he hopes support and assistance will continue for what promises to be an extended recovery period.
“It’s clear this is going to be a long process. Just the extent of the damage, the number of homes that were destroyed, the businesses, schools – three schools were impacted, one was completely demolished. Just considering the amount of time needed to rebuild neighborhoods that are completely gone, the time needed to bring that infrastructure back … there’s a long road ahead for people to make the decision whether they’re going to rebuild.
“But,” he added, “Oklahomans are very resilient; they’ve been through tragedy before. These are hearty folks who stick together and help each other out. We’re blessed to have people committed to do whatever is needed.”
–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.
Molitors comes to us from her position of associate rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, where she has served for past three years. Molitors is originally from Ohio, where she graduated from Miami University with a BA and later earned her MBA from DePaul University in Chicago. Molitors entered discernment to become a priest during her time as an active lay leader at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wheaton. She graduated from Seabury Seminary with her master’s degree in divinity in 2009. She served as seminarian at Grace Episcopal Church in Chicago prior to moving to St. Mark’s.
[Seminary of the Southwest] The Rev. Jane Patterson, Ph.D. has been appointed assistant professor of New Testament at Seminary of the Southwest by action of the seminary’s Board of Trustees at its meeting on May 13, 2013.
Dr. Patterson has served on the adjunct faculty since 2010 teaching courses in Bible and spiritual formation. Her two-year appointment as assistant professor begins June 1. “Jane’s scholarship, faithfulness, and commitment to our students’ formation is outstanding,” says Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean and president elect at Southwest. “All of us, students and faculty alike, are thrilled that Dr. Patterson has accepted this appointment, which will bring her more fully into the life of the seminary community.”
Patterson has served St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, San Antonio, in the areas of adult formation and leadership development and is co-director of a ministry called The WorkShop guiding laity in the use of scriptures for discerning faithfulness in all aspects of daily life.
Dr. Patterson is a graduate of Seminary of the Southwest, and she received her Ph.D. at Southern Methodist University, Dallas. She previously served on the faculty at Seminary of the Southwest as Interim Director of Theological Field Education, 2003-05.
[Episcopal Diocese of Texas] More than 3500 members of churches in the Diocese of Texas and the Diocese of West Texas gathered in homes last Thursday, May 16, to share a meal and share stories of their faith. Episcopalians across Texas came together in groups of eight to 12, and engaged in a faith conversation.
Sharing Faith began in the Diocese of Texas in 2012, fashioned after Interfaith Ministries’ Amazing Faith Dinners in Houston, where people of different faiths gather for a simple meal and answer questions about their faith journeys. The Diocese of West Texas joined this year and there has been interest from the Diocese of Toronto for next year’s event.
“When this many Episcopalians gather at the same time, strategically to share stories of their faith, it is very powerful,” said Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas. “People from the same congregations got to know one another on a deeper level and met others from nearby churches.”
In its inaugural year, 25 percent of the Diocese of West Texas average Sunday attendance participated.
“This is a great number, a great representation of our members, and we are thrilled with the initial response,” said Bishop Gary Lillibridge of West Texas.
When St. Francis by the Lake in Canyon Lake decided to participate in the Sharing Faith dinner there were some uncertainties, so the vestry decided to model a dinner conversation in lieu of a sermon one Sunday in April.
The vestry set up a dinner table in the front of the nave, and sat down and answered questions on the prepared set of cards that are used at each dinner. The congregation heard the questions and listened as each vestry member delivered a personal response.
The Rev. David Chalk, rector of St. Francis, said that the pre-event went “very well.” One church member told him, “You should have warned us there would be tears this morning.” Chalk said, “We had a visitor that Sunday who stood up and told us she had not been to church in five years after her son was killed by a drunk driver. She said she’d never seen anything like this in church, but on hearing our conversation, she found the courage she needed to return to church.” This was the visitor’s first time to attend St. Francis, and she has met with Chalk and the vestry and plans to join their community.
Held on the Thursday evening before Pentecost Sunday, when the Holy Spirit was given to God’s people, the Sharing Faith Dinners are modeled as a time for participants to answer what difference the Holy Spirit has made in their lives; what impact faith has had on their lives. Questions are fashioned to help people articulate their experiences in a thoughtful way.
At an event in southwest Houston, parishioners of Grace Episcopal Church gathered at the Rev. Gena Davis’ home. Ten participants shared a Mexican food dinner at two tables and then gathered in the living room to share their stories.
Sandy McKneely was relatively new at Grace before she agreed to take part in the dinner.
“I’m a pretty assertive person, so I don’t know if every newcomer who had only been to church two times would have the courage to sign up and go to somebody’s house that you hardly know. But for me — I am at a point in my life where I am needing friendships in the faith community, and I thought that would be a good way to start to make some friendships,” McKneely said.
Participants shared stories of great joy and pain, moments when they questioned their faith, and moments when they were affirmed in their beliefs. Friends shared tears and tales as they learned about each other in a new, deeper way.
“On Saturday night before I went to bed, I was thinking about going to Grace the next morning. I was thinking about seeing those people and I knew their names,” McNeely said. “That was an indicator to me that I made some connections, and it certainly makes going back more comfortable. I learned that Grace is a place that I want to return to.”
At Christ Episcopal Church, San Antonio, a group of young adults and College Missioner Allie Melancon attended and took some college students from other denominations. Melancon said what they took away the most is the determination to gather again and not wait for the church to say, “OK it’s time to share faith again.”
In Pearland, south of Houston, organizers at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church adapted special questions for children and held family style Sharing Faith dinners throughout the weekend. Children were even given time to create a response to questions through drawing pictures.
In the small East Texas town of Henderson, young children came to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in their pajamas, were fed dinner and had a program of their own while their parents participated in a Sharing Faith dinner in the parish hall. The Rev. Patsy Barnham said it was important to make it possible for young families to participate and allowing kids to come “ready for bed” was helpful to her congregation.
In homes and churches, and other creative places, Episcopalians across Texas learned a great deal about each other as well as themselves through the simple act of sharing a meal and sharing their faith.
-Luke Blount is a staff writer and communications specialist in the Diocese of Texas; Laura Shaver is the communications officer in the Diocese of West Texas.
[Episcopal Diocese of Texas] A sea of red – that’s how one might describe the nearly 150 members of St. Catherine of Sienna Episcopal Church in Missouri City as they marched into the Episcopal Diocese of Texas’ 164th Diocesan Council meeting. They proudly displayed their church banner and sang “Soldiers of the Savior,” an original composition by their music minister, Barbara Vestal. Smiles were on their faces, and joy was in their hearts – the congregation had waited nearly 14 years to be elevated from mission to parish.
“Having been at St. Catherine’s since November of 1999, first as children’s minister and now as music director, I can honestly see that the hand of God has been moving us forward spiritually, creatively and lovingly in his time,” Vestal said.
The congregation’s journey began with a Eucharist celebrated the evening of July 3, 1999, at the vicar’s home in Sienna plantation. Twenty people gathered for that first celebration of a newly formed church, which would live into the “via media” theology of the Episcopal Church.
The Rev. Vincent Uher, the founding vicar, loved music, so it always was an integral part of services. Hospitality time followed worship. And the new congregation expanded quickly: After several weeks, it outgrew the vicarage and moved to the YMCA in Missouri City for Sunday worship, spending time before each service changing a bare space into prayerful area.
Occasionally, when there was another event at the Y, the congregation had to worship elsewhere – someone’s home, a local park – wherever members could find a place. They called themselves the “church on the run.” This was before the prevalence of Internet use, e-mail and texting, so phone trees were the preferred method of communication about where the congregation would meet each week.
Stability came when the church moved to a storefront location – an old Tuesday Morning site – on Cartwright Road in Missouri City in the spring of 2000. Members scrubbed, painted and cleaned out the former store and, in time, created a respectful worship space.
The congregation worked together to furnish the new church. One member built an octagonal wood altar. Another painted “stained-glass” windows on the wall. Another member covered the walls with pen-and-ink stations of the cross. An organization in New York donated items such as candlesticks, crosses and vestments.
In August 2006, the congregation moved into its current location, a 25-acre property in the Sienna Plantation subdivision of Missouri City. It contains a sanctuary, four classrooms, a kitchen and office space for support staff.
During the transition from home-based worship to their current facility, the people of St. Catherine’s demonstrated faithfulness and endurance.
- As an infant church, they survived the serious illness of the founding rector in the fall of 2000 and were led by lay leaders and an interim rector, the Rev. Karl Choate, for many months.
- They welcomed a female priest, the Rev. Stacey Fussell, and also saw the departure of some members because she was a woman.
- The congregation was saddened when she moved out of state in 2008, leading to a period of self-governance through the bishop’s committee and another interim priest.
The church celebrated its new status at the council meeting on Feb. 9. St. Catherine’s Church now has almost 400 active members. Its school has an enrollment of 85 children, ages 2 through 5, with extended hours available for youngsters who need after care.
Among the many outreach programs now in place are Samaritans’ Purse, mission trips by youth and adults to the North American Indian Ministry in South Dakota, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Nets for Life, Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry, Rainbow Room of CPS, and canned food and pop tab collections for Ronald MacDonald House.
Now that St. Catherine’s is a parish, some things have changed: The congregation will no longer receive financial support from the diocese; its priest is now the rector instead of the vicar; and the governing board is now the vestry, instead of the bishop’s committee.
“There are many things that we have learned from this amazing experience; far too many to name here,” said the current rector, the Rev. Mike Besson. “At the top of the list? That there is nothing that we cannot do as a congregation, with God’s help, no matter how impossible it may seem. We know that this has happened so that we may be bold and fearless in our life with Jesus Christ … who knows what he has in store for us now?”
[Anglican Communion News Service] A major conference on the relationship between Faith, Health and Healing was held in Birmingham, England, at the end of April under the auspices of the Anglican Health Network. Provinces were invited to send representatives to the conference and to an AHN provincial representatives’ meeting immediately following.
Those who gathered for the provincial representatives’ meeting reflected on the Faith, Health and Healing conference and on their own ministries and experience. We realised that this was an important watershed moment and that there were very important messages to be shared widely in the Communion, hence this communiqué which has been drafted by the group.
- Health and Healing are a Mission imperative.
- The assets of faith communities represent enormous spiritual and social capital that makes an impact on the health of the people.
- Supportive family and social relationships are a very important ingredient of mental, physical and spiritual health.
- Thankfully there is increasing evidence for the value of holistic care; this needs to be widely publicised.
- The importance of faith and churches in healthcare has not been sufficiently documented—what we take for granted really matters but is not widely understood.
- Evidence-based documentation of our contributions to health in our communities will help us gain access to partnerships with governmental and non-governmental agencies.
- Churches need to re-assert their value as healthcare partners with governments. The advocacy of Bishops is vital.
- The health mission of Anglican churches would benefit from being connected within the Anglican Communion and through networking with other churches.
The Faith in Health and Healing conference in Birmingham focused on much of this evidence and shared powerful stories of the difference faith and churches can make. The communication tools which are being set up following the conference will enable all Provinces to access this information and share their own good news. (See below.)
Some facts about the Faith in Health and Healing Conference:
Almost 200 people took part, and around 60 different sessions were presented. With a strong following among professionals from churches and health services from the UK, participants also came from the United States, Canada, Barbados, Palestine/Israel, Norway, Germany, Ireland, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. A range of Christian traditions was represented and it was a privilege to hear from an innovative Sikh project also.
Some facts about the AHN Provincial Representatives’ Meeting
At the two day meeting in the Anglican Communion Office, London, that followed the conference in Birmingham, the following Provinces were represented: the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Church of Ireland, the Church in the Province of the West Indies, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the Church of Ceylon and the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand & Polynesia. On the final afternoon of the meeting, the group was joined by four Anglican health administrators who, facilitated by the Anglican Alliance, were participating in a Commonwealth Fellowship scheme in the UK. This added representation from Tanzania, Kenya and Pakistan.
As well as considering the learning of the Faith in Health and Healing conference and how that might inspire work in our various churches, the group consulted further with Sally Keeble of the Anglican Alliance, Jan Butter, Director for Communications at the Anglican Communion Office (ACO), John Kafwanka, Director for Mission at the ACO, Janette O’Neil, Chief Executive of Us (formerly USPG) and Helen Stawski, Archbishop of Canterbury’s Deputy Secretary for International Development.
The future development of the Anglican Health Network was discussed and plans made. The powerful role of web-based resources and social media for facilitating the all-important connections around the Communion was recognised, some existing websites were identified, new ones commissioned and social media links created.
Follow @faithhealthnet on Twitter
We are exploring the possibilities of using Facebook and LinkedIn.
We warmly invite you to promote these resources and communication tools in your Province and to encourage interested parties in your Province to join the Anglican Health Network. The representatives listed below will help to steer the future of the Network. They would welcome the involvement of other provincial representatives to develop further the impact of the Network.
For further information contact:
The Revd Paul Holley, Coordinator, Anglican Health Network firstname.lastname@example.org The Revd Terrie Robinson, Networks’ Coordinator, Anglican Communion Office email@example.com
Yours in Christ
Robin Paisley, Scottish Episcopal Church
On behalf of the AHN provincial representatives
[Episcopal News Service] Bishop Ed Konieczny called for prayer, while staff and clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma reached out to the community, after violent tornadoes on May 20 left at least 51 dead, including 20 children, and hundreds injured near Oklahoma City.
As rescuers continued to search for survivors amid the rubble of buildings and widespread debris, the death toll was expected to rise. “It’s been a pretty rough couple of days” with more storms possible on Tuesday, said Konieczny, during a Monday evening telephone call from his home in Edmond, a northern suburb of Oklahoma City.
“We’re still assessing where we are at today,” he said, just a few hours after a mile-wide tornado struck a hospital and two elementary schools in Moore, about 11 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. “Communications are difficult. Cell phone service is sparse. Even landlines are affected. The area where the tornado struck is blocked off, nobody can get in or out.”
He said that a storm system, created when cold and warm air masses collide, spawned six tornadoes Sunday and two or three on Monday, including the one in Moore. Winds of up to 200 miles an hour shredded homes and other buildings.
“Local clergy are trying to assess damage and to contact their members that live in the areas where tornadoes struck. They are waiting to hear back,” Konieczny said. “We know … that we have a number of members of churches who’ve lost their homes.”
A day earlier, on May 19, tornadoes struck Shawnee, about 37 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, killing at least one person.
“At this point, there’s been no significant damage to any church properties,” Konieczny said. “We have accounted for all clergy, staff and their families living in areas affected by the storms and tornadoes.”
He said that two schools sustained direct hits by the tornadoes while classes were in session. “In one of the schools, 75 students and teachers huddled in a hallway and there’s nothing left. They’re still looking for those persons.”
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a May 21 message that the prayers of Episcopalians “are with the people of Oklahoma in the midst of this tragic event. May the Spirit of God hover over the broken, lost, and grieving, and may they meet the love of God in their neighbors’ responses.”
Konieczny said he had been in touch with Episcopal Relief & Development as well as local disaster relief agencies. “We are putting things in place to respond to the immediate needs as they become aware to us and are coordinating with other emergency organizations, to work together as they try to respond to this.”
On a personal note, he said the roof on his home, in Edmond, Oklahoma, was destroyed by hail and wind damage, “but this is nothing compared to the devastation others have experienced.”
The Rev. Canon José McLoughlin, diocesan canon to the ordinary, said he and his family were forced to take shelter on Monday when warning sirens sounded near his suburban Oklahoma City home.
“The storm skirted us and went south and east” but this situation is very much still unfolding, McLoughlin said Monday evening. “Casualties are mounting, the devastation is widespread. We’ve been texting to try to communicate and assessing damages to parishioners.”
As rescue efforts unfold, “We’re prepared to do what we need to do and we’re going to do what we can,” he added.
Some relief efforts are already underway in Shawnee, the Rev. Bill Carroll, rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Shawnee, wrote in a May 21 e-mail to Episcopal News Service.
“We have identified a couple of parishioners with family members who are injured or who have lost their homes,” he said. “We have no reported loss of life within our parish, but at least one fatality in our immediate community. Our church building is untouched. Our prayers are with people in Moore and southern Oklahoma City where the damage to human life and property was worst.
“In Shawnee, we are providing tangible assistance where that is needed and working through our diocese and the Red Cross. On Sunday we’ll be soliciting donations to help.”
Also, St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Edmond took to social media to begin relief efforts, inviting donations of children’s books, stuffed animals and other comfort items for the surviving children and families. “The teachers and staff will take the items as a symbol of Edmond’s generosity to the American Red Cross,” the posting said.
The Diocese of Oklahoma includes 70 congregations representing about 25,000 Episcopalians and encompasses the entire state. A link for those wishing to contribute to disaster relief efforts has been established on the diocesan website.
But Konieczny said that the biggest thing right now, “is prayers for everyone. There’s been significant loss, not only of physical properties, but with the loss of children and other family members. Prayers would really be appreciated for us. There’s the first couple of days of the news of the event, but the real work and the real need for people is going to be in the days ahead.”
–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.
[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts Thomas Shaw underwent surgery May 17 to remove a mass on his brain that was discovered following tests conducted a day earlier.
A series of updates posted on the diocesan website confirmed that the surgery went well, with no complications, and that Shaw moved out of the intensive care unit on May 18 and “was up and walking.”
Shaw offered gratitude “for the prayers for him, for his Society of St. John the Evangelist community and for the diocese, and asks for continued prayers.”
The Rev. Canon Molly Lloyd, canon to the ordinary, wrote that more will be known “in a week or so” as to whether any further treatment is necessary.
“Bishop Tom and all of us feel the unexpectedness of this, but please know that he has confidence in his doctors and was well prepared for the surgery,” wrote Lloyd, who spent time with the bishop pre-surgery at the hospital and said he “was in good spirits, was engaged with the ongoing matters of diocesan life and, as always, his faith and confidence were contagious.”
In January Shaw, 67, called for the election of a bishop coadjutor in April 2014 to succeed him when he retires. The diocese anticipates ordaining and consecrating the coadjutor in the fall of 2014 and Shaw said he would spend time working with the new bishop before he retires. That date had not been determined at the time of the announcement. Shaw is in his 19th year as bishop.
After an 11-month search, Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill is pleased to announce that it has called the Reverend J. Randolph Alexander, Jr. as its tenth Rector. He will join the congregation on Sunday, August 25, 2013.
Randy Alexander comes to Immanuel from Christ Church in Pelham, NY, an historic church in Westchester County on the Long Island Sound, where he has served as Rector since 2000. In 2012, he was one of six candidates for Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Virginia.
Previously, Randy served as Priest Associate at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, London, England; as Assistant Rector at St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore, MD; and as Curate at St. John’s Church in Larchmont, NY. Randy is a graduate of the University of Virginia and General Theological Seminary in New York City.
He is married to the Rev. Patricia Phaneuf Alexander, a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary, who serves as Upper and Middle School Chaplain at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, MD. The Alexanders have three young sons: William, Peter and Andrew.
“Immanuel Church on the Hill is a vibrant worship community known locally for the colorful bounty of pumpkins that fills our churchyard the month of October in support of our outreach goals in both Northern Virginia and abroad,” says Senior Warden Constance Kurz. “We celebrate excellence in preaching, worship and music, as well as an abiding love of learning and discussion for all ages, stemming from our deep roots at the seminary. Randy’s considerable gifts as a priest and his broad experience will serve us well as we look forward to ‘heading up the hill’ in 2015 to our second worship space, the new Immanuel Chapel rising on the seminary grounds.”
The Vestry and members of Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill hope the extended Alexandria community will join them in welcoming Randy and his family. Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill is an Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia, affiliated with Virginia Theological Seminary, and its Zabriskie Chapel is located at 3606 Seminary Road, Alexandria, VA.
[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Exploring stewardship as a response of faithfulness will be the major focus of the 2013 Conference of The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS) on July 12 and 13 at the Episcopal Commons of Utah in Salt Lake City, Diocese of Utah.
The conference, centering on the theme Flourish in Faith, is designed to offer congregational and diocesan stewardship teams the theological, scriptural and practical aspects of stewardship information and annual giving.
Keynote presenters include J. Clif Christopher, well-known author of Not Your Parents Offering Plate and Rich Church Poor Church, and Bishop Bruce Caldwell, retired bishop of the Diocese of Wyoming. In addition, sixteen workshops will be offered on topics that range from capital campaign readiness to stewardship in Latino congregations.
This year, the opening worship, three plenary addresses and four workshops will be broadcast to the wider church through a webcast registration fee. “We envision people gathering in parish halls and parishioner’s homes to explore, engage and enrich their own stewardship journey and the stewardship practices of their congregations—from Portland, Oregon to Portland Maine and everywhere in between,” explained the Rev. Laurel Johnston, Executive Director of TENS. Johnston, past member of the TENS Board of Directors since 2009, has been named Executive Director for TENS. Previously, Johnston served as the Program Officer for Stewardship for The Episcopal Church.
Under a grant program approved by General Convention 2012 in the churchwide budget and designed to strengthen partnerships with ministry organizations, The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) awarded TENS a grant sufficient to hire Johnston for a period of three years. DFMS will also provide additional partnership support through human resources, information technology, and collaborative initiatives.
“Laurel brings extensive experience in fundraising as well as well-developed theology of money and stewardship,” commented JR Lander, President of the TENS Board of Directors. “She will invest considerable time in cultivating resources both in terms of monetary gifts and in kind support from long time partners such as the Episcopal Church Foundation.”
Conference and registration is available here.
For more information contact Johnston, firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Anglican Communion News Service] About 3,000 people from Tanzania, other parts of Africa and beyond gathered at Dodoma’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on Saturday (May 18) for the installation of the Anglican Church of Tanzania’s new Primate.
The enthronement of Bishop of Mpwapwa Jacob Erasto Chimeledya was described by one church worker as “like a dream” because of the number of dignitaries in attendance. These included the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and his wife Caroline.
Other notable guests at the service included the primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, the Most Rev. Eliud Wabukala, and representatives from other Anglican provinces, including Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. As Dodoma is the country’s political capital, the service was also attended by many government leaders including the president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete.
Chimeledya did not pass the opportunity to speak to the country’s political leaders. He urged the government to take action against those guilty of “hate speech,” especially the traditional media and those who publish comments online. With particular reference to the relationship between Muslims and Christians he asked Tanzanians not simply to tolerate one another, but respect each other. “We only tolerate an enemy, not our fellow citizens,” he said.
The archbishop also announced a plan by the Anglican Church of Tanzania to begin a new micro-finance bank that will support small business enterprises in the country, and he appealed to the government to support the church in its efforts to address people’s needs. During the service, Kikwete did commit his support to the church’s many programs throughout its dioceses.
This cooperation between church and state was welcomed by Bishop John Lupaa of the Diocese of the Rift Valley, as was Welby’s presence in Tanzania — his first official Anglican Communion engagement as archbishop of Canterbury.
“It’s a great honor to have the archbishop of Canterbury visit Tanzania,” said Lupaa. “His visit will definitely raise the profile of the Church in Africa as a whole.”
While there was only room for about 400 people in the cathedral, other guests were able to watch the two-hour service on screens under tents outside. Thousands looked on as Welby was made a senior elder in the cathedral of the Anglican Diocese of Central Tanganyika, and they listened as he spoke about the risk of fear, especially to church leaders. He stressed that while fear is a part of life, it can be overcome through the Holy Spirit.
Other Anglican groups present at the enthronement included Tanzania’s Mothers’ Union. Members, along with their new President Mwezwa Chimeledya, met with Caroline Welby during her visit to Dodoma to discuss their work.
Church Mission Society (CMS) is an Anglican agency with significant historical links to the new primate’s diocese. Mpwapwa is a place where much of the planning and execution of missionary work to the rest of Tanzania took place in the early years of the church there.
Speaking to ACNS, the Rev. Dennis Tongoi, executive director of CMS-Africa, congratulated Chimeledya and wished him all the best in his new role. He also acknowledged CMS’ emphasis on leadership development and investment as a way of growing the church in Africa.
“Finally our investment is bearing fruit. Africa now has a contingent of well-equipped leaders ready to support the growth of the church,” Tongoi said. “The new archbishop needs to shepherd the flock. Africa is a youthful continent therefore investment in [Tanzanian] youths should also be his top priority.”
Jared Houze has just graduated from the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. He has been called to serve as curate of Emmanuel Church, San Angelo, Texas. Jared will give leadership to student and family ministry, engaging and welcoming newcomers, and he will lead the parish in exploring how to connect with those who are not affiliated or who have become disaffected from the church. Jared brings with him his wife, Ericka, and their three children, Simon, Jude, & Elizabeth.
[Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan] The Rev. Whayne M. Hougland Jr. was elected at a special electing convention on May 18 to be the 9th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan.
Hougland, rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Salisbury, North Carolina, was elected on the 8th ballot out of a field of four candidates. To be elected, a candidate must have received a majority of the votes in both the lay order and the clergy order. On the 8th ballot, he received 87 of 139 votes cast in the lay order (71 required) and 34 of 65 votes cast in the clergy order (34 required).
Under the canons (III.11.4) of the Episcopal Church, the election of a bishop requires the consent from a majority of bishops with jurisdiction and standing committees of the Episcopal Church. Assuming that consent is received, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will ordain Hougland as bishop on Sept. 28 at the Van Noord Arena on the campus of Calvin College, Grand Rapids.
The election, which was held at Grace Church, Grand Rapids, followed a year-long search process in which three candidates were selected by the diocesan search committee; a fourth was nominated through a petition process. Prior to the election, the four candidates spent the first weekend in May traversing the diocese, meeting the people, and answering questions in a series of three “walkabouts.”
The other three candidates for bishop were:
- The Rev. Jennifer Adams, rector, Grace Episcopal Church, Holland, Michigan;
- The Rev. Canon Angela Shepherd, canon for mission, Diocese of Maryland; and
- The Rev. Canon William Spaid, canon to the ordinary, Diocese of Western Michigan.
Hougland has been rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church since 2005. Originally from Kentucky, he also served as canon evangelist at Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington, Kentucky, and prior to ordination worked for Lexmark International, also in Lexington. He chaired the missionary resources support team for the Diocese of North Carolina (2008-2012), and was a clergy mentor for postulants to Holy Orders for the diocese. He is married to Dana Lynne Hougland, an educator and autism specialist. They have two daughters.
Hougland will succeed the Rt. Rev. Robert Gepert, who is retiring after serving as bishop of Western Michigan for 12 years. Gepert and his wife, Anne Labat-Gepert, will be moving to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in September to be closer to their grandchildren. He hopes to do some writing, and she plans on doing a lot of quilting and volunteer work at their new church home in Lancaster.
The Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan covers the western half of the lower peninsula of Michigan and includes 10,153 members worshiping in 61 faith communities.
[Religion News Service – Washington, D.C.] Twenty-five top Christian leaders gathered in the U.S. city with perhaps the worst reputation for civil discourse May 15 and committed themselves to elevating the level of public conversation.
Meeting in a row house three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, the group spanned the Christian spectrum, and included officials from liberal churches and the most conservative of interest groups.
“The ground of our spiritual understanding is in treating other people as the image of God, treating people with respect,” said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
“Faith leaders have a remarkable opportunity to shift the conversation, but it’s very challenging, particularly in a larger society that wants to understand everything as a battle, as engaging the enemy, rather than with someone who might have something to teach us,” she said.
Among the others who joined Jefferts Schori at the two-day meeting sponsored by the nonprofit Faith & Politics Institute were Kenda Bartlett, the executive director of Concerned Women for America; the Rev. Jeffery Cooper, general secretary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and Sister Marge Clark of NETWORK, a Roman Catholic social justice advocacy group.
The “Faith, Politics and Our Better Angels: A Christian Dialogue to Promote Civility” forum convened for the first time last year.
As religious leaders, they agreed, they are called to move politicians, congregants and Americans in general to understand that mean-spirited debate makes it all the harder to solve the nation’s problems.
Sometimes, they said, that may mean calling out people — including themselves — who debate disrespectfully through name-calling or by questioning the motives of their political opponents.
“Everyone says they’re in favor of civil discourse, but the lack of civility seems to win elections,” said Ed Stetzer, vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay Christian Resources.
“You need some voice to say, ‘OK, we get that it can win elections, but maybe that’s not the best course of action.’ Typically, we think of religious leaders as voices of conscience, calling people to a better way. So therein is the hope,” Stetzer said.
One idea the group is considering, Cooper said, is a national day of civil discourse — perhaps in January, as people are making New Year’s resolutions — when preachers across the country will ask their congregants to make respectful conversation a priority in their lives.
[Episcopal News Service] The Holy Spirit comes, for some, as a comforting presence. For others, it’s a disturbing upsetter. And still, for others, it is mysterious, even scary.
But don’t confuse it just with Pentecost – the 50th day after Easter – which the church observes this Sunday (May 19) and which “challenges us to focus at least one day on the Spirit’s activity in our life,” according to the Rev. Janet Broderick, rector of St. Peter’s Church, in Morristown, New Jersey.
“That’s what’s wonderful about the lectionary, it has us focus on this,” Broderick said during a May 16 interview. “I wish it were more, because the Spirit is outnumbered in the prayers, in the lectionary.”
While the Spirit hovered over the deep during creation (Genesis 1.1-7), it still hovers today but “we are so often afraid to talk about it,” Broderick added.
“Take a thing like someone who has a revelation or a word. People suddenly know something. They know suddenly their mother died. Or, their child would be safe or found. They knew. But they tell you in whispers; years later. They’re ashamed to say it because the idea is, if you talk about the Spirit, you’re crazy or worse than crazy, you’re presumptuous, you think you’re better than others.”
The Rev. Bill Countryman, professor emeritus of biblical studies at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, said the Spirit defies definition. Its dual nature “can’t be pinned down. We don’t have control, therefore it requires a lot of reflection for individuals and community to discern what the Spirit is doing, and it’s never neat.”
The Spirit speaks to us through Scripture and sacrament, through gifts of ministry and in the experience of daily life and through other people and in conflict, he said.
It is “as simple as the strength we get from receiving the Eucharist again and again, which shapes our lives and tell us God is constantly with us, nourishing us, guiding us, giving us a sort of pattern to rely on in our lives,” he said.
But it can also be chaotic, upsetting and usher in change.
“The big changes in the Episcopal Church in my adult life have been responses above all to that,” Countryman said. “It became harder and harder to see any reason why women couldn’t be ordained, because there were women who had received gifts of ministry and who had great holiness of life, so why was it that only men could be ordained?
“The same thing happened again, with regard to gay and lesbian people,” he added. “It became harder to maintain the idea that same-sex attraction is simply an evil because there were so people who manifested holiness and gifts within the church who happened to be gay and lesbian. That’s an aspect of the Spirit’s work that we have most particularly been responding to and that’s been difficult for us.”
He added that “the Spirit is leading us into the truth of what Jesus already told us. It’s also the way in which the Gospel transforms our lives and no one generation is ever going to get that right. The whole history of humanity won’t get it right but the good news is, there’s hope even in our nastiest situations.”
Discerning the movement of the Spirit
Linnea Collins, manager of a Sun Valley, Idaho dental office, felt the Spirit’s powerful presence a year ago when she was finally able to answer a haunting question: “What is my ministry?
“I always thought I was on a track for ordination, priest or deacon,” Collins said during a recent telephone interview. “I went through discernment and they asked me about my ministry. I said I don’t know, I guess to walk with the people of God. It kept coming back to me, what is my ministry.”
Then last year, she “had a significant birthday and my son-in-law asked me ‘what is the one thing in your life you’d like to accomplish’.”
Suddenly, the answer was right there: “to work in a free medical or dental clinic.” After voicing it, the next step was obvious, especially when she learned of an available comparable position at the Boise-based Genesis World Mission (GWM), a nonprofit healthcare solutions agency.
Surprisingly, the agency offered her not one, but two jobs – as dental office manager and fund development director, because she had directed the annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival, honoring the local sheepherding tradition, for several years.
“What I think might be the right time is not necessarily God’s time,” said Collins, 60. “All of our patients live at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines, without Medicaid, without benefits; they are low-wage earners. One medical bill will break their budgets.
“But now, I have a ministry of action, a ministry of serving, and I think our patients do feel a difference, that they’re not a number. We wrap our arms around them. We do help them access medical and dental health and it is free.”
The Holy Spirit “works in great ways when you least expect it,” she added. “Sometimes you think God and the Spirit aren’t there, and you think ‘the heck with that, I’m going to power through this my way. It never works. It just doesn’t.”
Now, participating in the process of “creating a new program working with emergency rooms for folks with dental emergencies who have nowhere to go, I couldn’t be happier,” she said. “This may not be ‘the church’ but it is an extension of the church where we live daily our faith, compassion, love and ministry for those who need us most, the vulnerable and many times invisible.”
“Now, I’ve got a perfect match of putting all those pieces of my life and experience together. It sounds like a crazy story, but it’s my story.”
The Spirit’s gift of peace
Although he wasn’t familiar with any church, Jon Finley, 48, of San Diego knew instinctively he was in the presence of the Holy Spirit 16 years ago, during a moment that changed his life forever.
He’d just been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. “I was devastated, because I hadn’t told anyone, even my closest friends, that I was gay,” he said during a recent telephone interview.
“I was scared, I wasn’t responding to any treatment or medication. I was losing weight. The doctor told me I had to quit work and go on disability. All I could think about was ‘how am I going to live? My whole world felt like it was turned upside down and I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening.”
With family in another state and the future uncertain, he contemplated suicide. “I was sitting in a chair sobbing,” he recalled. “I could hardly catch my breath. I was in a very dark place.”
Then, suddenly, “this feeling of calm came over me, a calm that I’ve never ever experienced before,” he said. “I still get cold chills when I think of it. It was like a weight was lifted off me and I knew that somehow everything was going to be OK.”
He knew it was the Holy Spirit because “it wasn’t me. I was hysterical. I really can’t describe it in words, I just knew. That was the start of my pursuit of religion.”
Although he still didn’t respond to the medication “my attitude changed. I was like a new person. The doctor said ‘whatever you’re doing, keep doing it,’” said Finley, who was confirmed at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego at the March 30 Easter vigil this year.
Before his confirmation, he shared his story publicly, for the first time, with the congregation.
“This is a whole new chapter for my life and I’m putting it out there for everybody,” he said. “It’s just amazing to realize where I was before and to see where I am now. I feel like the Spirit guided me here, has guided me through that dark place and led me to the cathedral and to the point where I could finally speak the truth.
“Before, I thought I would rather die than let anyone know any of these things about me, I was so ashamed. Now I can say, this is my story.”
Accessing the Spirit
The Rev. Mary Crist, priest-in-charge at St. Michael’s Mission Outreach Center in Riverside, California, describes a Pentecost-like experience when she encountered a grief-stricken mother in the neonatal intensive care unit at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles.
“She was Latina, and she was crying. I greeted her in Spanish, but I only speak a little Spanish. She didn’t speak English. There were no other Spanish speakers around at all,” Crist recalled during a May 16 telephone interview.
“She told me that she had given birth to 23-week-old twins and that her baby boy had died the previous day. Her baby girl was going to be removed from the ventilator in the morning.
“I call it a Holy Spirit moment because it was pastoral for all of us,” Crist said. “I sat down and we held each other. I felt very deeply I was given the tools to communicate, to listen, to act compassionately, to be of comfort to her.”
The second twin died during that night but the moment “changed me forever,” Crist said. “It gave me that sense [that] I don’t have to always have words or to be able to do what I think I should say or do.
“It was just immersing myself in the love of God through that comforter. I believe we can access it because it was promised to us on Pentecost and I believe we can access it when we’re open to it.”
The Rev. Judith Favor, who teaches at the Claremont School of Theology in California, is ordained in the United Church of Christ and is a spiritual director, says one way to tap into the Spirit’s presence is through “mindfulness meditation.
“Contemplative focus on the breath and/or repeating a single word in centering prayer cleanses the lens of perception, scrubs the mind clean of toxic worries and opens the heart to receive the subtle invitations from the sacred,” she said.
Another way is to “slow things down,” she added. When offering spiritual direction, “I invite the speaker to pause in the usual rush of talk, to notice subtle nudges from the beloved, to name delicate emotions, to linger with touches of presence and to savor them.”
She adds that: “The path of love can be rigorous, demanding and difficult. Saying yes to God and each other is always challenging, especially if the other person is rooted in a different culture, language or religious tradition. Letting go of ‘otherizing’ is very hard but the contemplative path awakens us and invites us to keep showing up for sacred and human encounters.”
Says Countryman: “The Holy Spirit will always remain a mystery to us and that’s good. It’s a reminder that we don’t know it all, that we still have more to learn, a lot more growing to do in the faith. That, and all these things are great protections against idolatry. It’s so easy for us to take the faith as we happen to know it, and to treat it as if it were identical with God. But God is always greater than what we have.”
–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.
[Episcopal News Service] When the members of The Falls Church Episcopal formally install their new rector and celebrate their ministry together May 15, it will be just more than a year since they first returned to their historic building, nine months since their rector joined them and five days ahead of what they had hoped would be the last deadline in the parish’s nearly seven-year-old property dispute.
“It will be a night where we give gratitude for the past and we express our excitement about the present and the future [and] the great things that God is doing here,” said the Rev. John Ohmer, Falls Church rector, in an interview.
Diocese of Virginia Bishop Shannon Johnston, who will lead the service, told Episcopal News Service that the celebration and renewal of ministries “holds tremendous significance” for the congregation.
“After returning to their home parish a year ago, the members and leadership of this congregation have invested tremendous energy in their mission and ministry as a congregation. At this service, we will come together to celebrate that renewal and commitment to a very promising future,” he said. “That we can do so in this historic setting, home to so many generations of Episcopalians, is most fitting.”
Johnston said Ohmer “brings remarkable vision and spirit” to The Falls Church. Ohmer, the Rev. Cathy Tibbetts, vicar, and the lay leadership of the congregation “are working together to ensure that The Falls Church continues to grow and thrive in its service to Christ,” he added.
Falls Church Episcopal has been moving into its future ever since members of the historic parish in suburban Washington, D.C., voted overwhelmingly in December 2006 to leave the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church in a theological dispute. Those who decided to leave in fact stayed in the Falls Church property and refused to return it to the diocese.
Only 27 of the nearly 2,800 members remained united with the Episcopal Church after the vote. They began meeting in a living room and elected a vestry. Then-Virginia Bishop Peter Lee assigned clergy to the group and soon Falls Church Presbyterian across the street from Episcopal Church property offered them worship space in their loft. The group soon outgrew the loft and moved twice to larger Presbyterian spaces.
“The Presbyterians were absolutely amazing,” said parishioner Matt Rhodes. “We’re still involved with the shared ministry they do with the homeless.”
The average Sunday attendance soon grew to between 800 and 1000, and from the beginning, Ohmer said, the Episcopalians “really had a compelling vision for what the Episcopal Church could be again in Falls Church.”
He added that he doubted that any of them expected to spend nearly seven years in a legal dispute over the church property that eventually went to the state Supreme Court. The Falls Church was one of 11 congregations in the diocese in which a majority of members voted to disaffiliate from the diocese and the Episcopal Church. Over the years, all but Falls Church Anglican had settled their property conflicts with the diocese and the church after judicial decisions in favor of the diocese and the church.
After a Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge ordered Falls Church Anglican in March 2012 to return the parish property to the diocese, the Anglicans only agreed to allow the Episcopalians to return to the parish building to celebrate Easter (April 8, 2012).
However, the Anglican congregation soon thereafter appealed to the state Supreme Court and in the meantime asked the Circuit Court to prevent the Episcopalians from returning again until the high court ruled. The Circuit Court refused and the Falls Church Episcopalians returned to their property on May 15, 2012.
On April 18 of this year, the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court ruling returning The Falls Church property to the Episcopalians.
The Rev. John Yates, Falls Church Anglican’s rector, told that congregation April 28 that the Supreme Court ruling was an “overwhelming rejection of our arguments” and “reduces our legal options drastically.”
“Unless we can discern that there are further means of appeal which make good sense, then we can say that it is clear – we will not be returning to our old property” or recovering little of the funds that are part of the dispute, he wrote.
And in his weekly message for the week of May 19, available on the Anglican congregation’s website May 15, Yates said: “We have received further confirmation that the courts are not likely to reverse last year’s ruling.” He explained why the congregation’s leaders are “willing to lose our property and move ahead into an uncertain, unclear future.”
Still, Falls Church Anglican has until May 20 to ask the Supreme Court for a rehearing on its decision and a May 10 letter from the congregation’s two wardens and vestry indicated that the church will ask that court to reconsider its ruling. The Anglican congregation’s lawyers told the vestry that the Supreme Court based its ruling “on an argument that had never, in seven years of court proceedings, been presented by the other side” and that they had not been able to address, according to the letter. Thus, the vestry said it will be “filing a short [rehearing] petition with the court in a few days” as it continues its search for a permanent home.
“It was, of course, our hope that they would have decided that it was time to close this long legal chapter, and focus all their finances and energies, and allow us to focus all of our energies, on our ministries,” Ohmer told ENS.
Ohmer said that one of his frustrations is how the long legal process has “falsely convinced” some people that Anglicans and Episcopalians are meant to square off against each other “when in fact where we should all be marshaling our energies is in battling the common enemy we both share: that of rampant consumerism in our culture, and a general sense of meaninglessness, hopelessness, loneliness, and purposelessness.”
“Those are some of the common enemies that both ‘sides’ have,” he said, “to which the Gospel is an alternative, and I am eager to live into the day where they’re able to focus 100 percent of their energies and we are able to focus 100 percent of our energies and resources on our ministries, which are after all the same ministries.”
Ohmer said he spent 13 years as rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Leesburg, Virginia, throwing away any parish profile that came his way, he said, until he saw the one from The Falls Church Episcopal.
“There was something about this lovely, hardworking, patient group of people,” he said. “It’s a compelling story of people who really believe in themselves as a faith community that is loyal to the Episcopal Church, loyal to the Gospel and wants to be good news to the community. They’ve been through a really tough time, exiled from their own property for six, almost seven years.”
Rhodes and his family felt the same way. When the Rev. Michael Pipkin, who was priest-in-charge early after the split, needed back surgery, a priest from the Rhodes’ parish, Christ Church in Alexandria, was among the clergy who covered for him. Rhodes, who lives a mile from The Falls Church, said his family decided to attended one Sunday in 2008 to give the priest some familiar faces in the congregation.
“We never left,” he said.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy, a lot of growth” that Rhodes said comes from being back in the Falls Church property and the sense of looking outward from the church and into the future that Ohmer brought to the parish.
The congregation is discerning how best to be the good news to the community of Falls Church that Ohmer describes, both through outreach ministries such as the homeless ministry with the Presbyterians and through greater use of the church’s buildings. The church opened its doors to support groups, an English as a Second Language class and civic groups looking for meeting and banquet space.
In one case, a predominantly African-American congregation that needed a place to mark its first anniversary contacted Falls Church Episcopal and wound up celebrating in its sanctuary. Ohmer said that during the course of planning, they learned that the congregation’s senior pastor had no office and was running the church out of her car and a local Starbucks. She now rents space at Falls Church Episcopal for a minimal cost, he said.
Ohmer said they are showing that the slogan “The Episcopal Church welcomes you” is “true about the faith community and it’s true about the buildings and grounds.”
“We have a goal that a large percentage of the property is used a large percentage of the time by the wider community,” he said.
The growth in congregants — between 180 and 220 people now attend on an average Sunday — has included former members who “left when they saw what was coming in terms of the split” as well as people who have never been part of Falls Church, people new to the area and other Episcopalians “who came to see what we were all about,” Rhodes said. The Sunday school and youth group are growing as young families join, he added.
On May 15, the parish will officially welcome the latest group of between 30 and 40 newcomers, Ohmer said, calling them “a very strong outward and visible sign of the new energy and life going on here.”
And, while Falls Church Episcopal has been growing and looking outward, and dealing with the protracted legal issues, the parish has had to deal with the aftermath of the split on another more personal level. Families were and still are divided by the decisions of 2006, Ohmer said. In some cases one spouse might attend Falls Church Anglican while the other worships at Falls Church Episcopal.
When pastoral concerns arise in those families, Ohmer said, “those kinds of differences simply go away when it comes to pastoral care; we take care of one another’s families.”
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.
[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Episcopal News Service has launched a new section, On The Move, sharing the news of churchwide appointments, job transitions, clergy ordinations and retirements.
“We wanted to add this new section to the Episcopal News Service website to make it easier for people to share the news of their job transitions with the wider Episcopal Church,” explained the Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, Episcopal News Service editor/reporter.
On the Move, available here provides an area for announcements of ordinations, promotions, calls, hiring or retirements in an Episcopal Church-related job. A user-friendly form can be uploaded by the person or someone on his/her behalf, provided they verify their relationship.
Matthew Davies, Episcopal News Service editor/reporter, added, “Based on the number of job-change announcements Episcopal News Service routinely receives, we believe that our readers will greatly appreciate this service.”
“While Episcopal News Service will continue to report major employment announcements such as bishop elections, this new service expands the news available to our readers and assists us in our comprehensive coverage of the Episcopal Church,” explained Lynette Wilson, Episcopal News Service editor/reporter.
On the Move joins other reader-driven sections of the Episcopal News Service website, including Featured Jobs and Calls, a bulletin board where Episcopal Church-related institutions can post job announcements for free and Featured Listings, a similar area for announcement of events and other opportunities. In January, Episcopal News Service launched a section for reader-submitted obituaries.