A Letter to clergy and laity in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut from the Rev. Deborah Meister with the Rev. Ranjit Mathews on behalf of the emerging "Let My People Go" Ministry Network :
In the first parish I served as rector, there was a woman named Cecile. She was brilliant, quirky, strongly opinionated — rarely on the same page as anyone else. She would take hold of an issue or an idea and push it, push it, push it, until everyone around her gave way, not in agreement, necessarily, but in exhaustion. The most immediately distinctive thing about her were the numbers on her forearm, tattooed there in a German concentration camp when she was nine months old. Those numbers framed her identity for the rest of her life. Whenever she introduced herself, she would say, “I am Cecile, but my first name was a number.”
Over the past few weeks, my attention has been riveted by the specter of thousands of children like Cecile: children who have traveled hundreds of miles on foot or hopping trains, alone, hoping to find safety and a future in the United States; or who have been brought here with their families, only to be ripped away from their mothers or fathers or aunts or grandparents, and taken and held in crowded wire pens, sleeping on concrete floors, eating food that is still partially frozen, denied soap and toothbrushes and the most basic requirements of human dignity.
Media Release, July 11, 2019 St. James Episcopal Church, 76 Federal Street, New London CT
CAGED HOLY FAMILY DISPLAY AT ST. JAMES CHURCH IS WITNESS INSPIRED BY FAITH
New London - Statues of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus have been placed inside two cages outside St. James Episcopal Church as a means of witnessing against the inhumane conditions for migrants on the nation's Southern border.
By the Rev. Jonathan Folts, Rector, St. John's Episcopal Church, Essex
Photo: The Ven. Narciso Langa, Archdeacon of Pungue, the Rt. Rev. Carlos Matsinhe, Bishop of Lebombo and Mr. Leonardo Cossa, Treasurer of the Archdeaconry, visit the parish of St. George in Beira, Mozambique. Courtesy Episcopal Relief & Development
On March 14 and 15, a vicious and destructive cyclone (Cyclone Idai) made landfall and struck Mozambique as a Category 2 storm with winds exceeding 105 mph. It has been rated as the most devastating climate disaster to hit the southern hemisphere. The area that received the brunt of the cyclone’s force was the city of Beira, the fourth largest city in Mozambique, population 530,604, and situated in the Anglican Diocese of Lebombo. Ninety percent of Beira was destroyed by Cyclone Idai with the death toll nearing a thousand souls.
St. John’s, Essex, has had a long partnership with the Diocese of Lebombo through the years and has participated with them in God’s mission in many different areas.
By Karin Hamilton, Canon for Mission Communication & Media
With the Feb. 1, 2019 start of Alli Huggins as ECCT's first "Digital Storyteller," (announced in this enewsletter) we had to decide: Where would we put the stories? And quickly settled on the answer: a blog site! A new one, with a familiar name: episcopalct.blog
We launched it publicly February 19, 2019. Alli transferred over a few of the most recent posts from this blog including her first ones as our new ECCT Digital Storyteller. The rest will be archived, and we'll be using the new blog from now on.
The blog will have stories from Alli, of course, plus short posts and links to our weekly Friday podcasts, Coffee Hour at The Commons. We'll also use the blog to share stories from others and link to stories published elsewhere. All searchable and archived. At the bottom of the home page you'll find links to our other social media and a box to subscribe, and at the top of the home page you'll find a form to submit a lead on an interesting story. What's not to love?
When asked if she could have a life motto, Frankie Williams quickly answered, “I am ‘too blessed to be stressed.’” Frankie will turn 94 on March 11, and she has seen change – in the world, in the church, in her town, and in her parish.
I had the pleasure of sitting in “her pew” with her at St. Mark’s to hear about her life.
Frankie and her family joined St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Bridgeport, a parish and community of color, in 1954. Two years later she was confirmed. Frankie moved her family to Bridgeport from Stratford in the 1970s and has lived in the same house – just three blocks away from St. Mark’s – since.
“When I became an Episcopalian and thought about raising my children in the church, I just felt that they needed a community with people of color.” When Frankie and her family first joined St. Mark’s, the altar’s was still east-facing, she remembers “very vividly” switching to the Book of Common Prayer 1979, and all the transitions that came with it. These changes she said at first bothered her, then added, “but, change is just the way life is.”
This post is contributed by Suzy Burke, co-leader of ECCT's Racial Healing, Justice, and Reconciliation Ministry Network, as part of their ongoing communication. It was originally written for the Southeast Region newsletter.
Owning My White Privilege by Suzy Burke
I am Debby Irving. No, I’m not changing my name, but when I read Debby Irving’s book, Waking Up White: Finding Myself in the Story of Race, I realized she was telling my story. Like Debby Irving, I grew up in New England in two all-white towns, and I never had a classmate of color until I began my graduate work at Columbia University, and even then it was rare. My parents had grown up during the Depression, so although my dad was a successful NYC executive, I was raised to be frugal and hard-working. I was also told that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up so long as I was willing to put my nose to the grindstone. I imagined that my success was due to the fact that I had loving parents who could afford to give me a good education, and I had internalized the value of hard work.
…Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
This year was the 12th year IRIS and the community gathered outside Wilbur Cross High School, only blocks away from their office in the East Rock neighborhood of New Haven, to run 3.1 miles for refugees and immigrants. The community’s excitement, pride, and joy for the work IRIS does and the mission for which it stands was palpable throughout the morning. Local neighbors in New Haven, as well as neighbors from nearby towns, states, and countries, cheered, held “Refugees Are Welcome” signs, and even played instruments and music on their front porches along the course to show their support.
The Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT) was one of the over 25 race sponsors to publicly and financially support the welcoming and protection of immigrants and refugees in Connecticut and America.
An architect-designed altar made to look like books is back at Trinity on the Green in New Haven after 150+ years. The altar was designed in 1815 by Ithiel Town, architect for Trinity’s second, and current, building. Town’s personal library included over 11,000 volumes. That made him, said Peg Chambers, a Trinity historian and architect herself, “the perfect architect for the job of designer/builder of our new altar for our new church.”
But the story of the book-altar really begins with two tablets: Town’s altar may have been inspired by both his love of books as well as a desire for a “modern” presentation of the tenets of faith that had been displayed on two tablets in Trinity’s first church.
St. Swithen’s church parking lot: It is late in the evening after a long vestry meeting. The meeting went overtime due to an emotionally charged discussion about a recent bequest—a grand piano from the estate of an elderly member, an unexpected but graciously received gift. Early on it became evident that several vestry members have differing views about how the piano should be used. Sally, a long-time choir member serving her third year on the vestry, calls out to Henry as he walks to his car.
Sally: Henry, do you have a few minutes? I’m furious how this meeting went tonight. I can’t believe that our senior warden suggested donating this beautiful piano to a nursing home. What a ridiculous idea! He has no appreciation for our music program. Just because he can’t carry a tune does not give him the right to discard an incredible gift. He’s out of touch with what this church really needs. If you let him know that some people are upset, he’ll listen to you.
Henry: Hi Sally. I had no idea you were angry about tonight’s discussion. I’m not sure the warden will listen to me, since I’m a new vestry member. Why don’t I send him an email to let him know how you feel? See you Sunday.
Sound familiar? “Parking lot conversations” are as much a part of church life as the Sunday morning coffee hour. However, these informal, private conversations can do great harm. They may seem innocuous, but things begin to surface when there is anxiety in the congregation’s leadership. It is no longer about the piano but about more substantive, unresolved issues that have been festering—and sometimes for a very long time.
Unfortunately, Sally has put Henry in a sticky situation by asking him to speak to the warden about how upset some people are. It is likely that nothing will come of this conversation but hurt feelings and mistrust.
As spiritual leaders, we are often caught off-guard, finding ourselves in awkward situations and unsure of how to handle them. Practical tools and guidelines, like the vestry covenant, can help us navigate these sometimes turbulent waters in our congregations.
A valuable tool for your vestry toolbox, a vestry covenant can help members:
Explore the dynamics of their relationships with one another
Facilitate healthy and open communication
Eliminate the negative behaviors that derail necessary and robust conversations
In recent years, many vestries have adopted the vestry covenant as their standard for healthy leadership. These covenants provide the cornerstone for building a trusting and viable community of spiritual leaders.
Biblical examples of leadership often involve covenants and have been around since the days of Abraham, Moses and Noah when God used them to establish a relationship with God’s people. Jesus himself is the fulfillment of the New Covenant. He is our model for leadership and how to do this good and holy work of building healthy, life-giving relationships.
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus uses parables to teach the importance of loving relationships. He models what we call “good communication skills,” by being truly present and listening to those around him. Paul’s letters to struggling communities are powerful reminders of what it means to live as Jesus lives. They encourage us as leaders to be “an example to believers in speech, life, love and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Covenants provide for accountability while building relationships based on love, trust and respect. Both are essential in creating a safe environment that fosters trust and confidentiality, whatever our differences.
So how does a vestry go about making a covenant that is not just another well-meaning project that ends up on the shelf collecting dust? Below are some suggestions to consider in drafting your vestry covenant:
Love one another, speaking the truth in love
Treat each other with respect, despite differences
Deal with conflict by speaking first to the individual
Strive for unity in seeking God’s will in all things
Be a living example of faithfulness through study, worship, giving and prayer
Respect confidential issues
Just as important as the covenant itself is the process of drafting the document. The entire vestry should be involved and each member encouraged to contribute his or her ideas. It is a good practice to review the covenant annually and ask for input from new vestry members. The overall goal is to create a culture of openness.
This process takes time, and there will be mistakes along the way. Persistence will pay off as vestry members experience the value of working together, setting an example for each other and the entire parish as they strive to be the living Body of Christ. And it begins with simply loving our neighbors as ourselves, as Jesus taught us.
If St. Swithen’s had a vestry covenant, the parking lot conversation might have gone a bit differently:
Sally: Hi Henry. I’m not happy with the way the meeting went tonight. I think I will give the warden a call tomorrow to discuss it. This is an important issue for me.
Henry: I can see that you are upset. I am sure the warden will appreciate your letting him know how you feel. Thanks for sharing your concerns. See you Sunday.
The Rev. Susan Pinkerton is Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in West Hartford, CT. After graduating from Berkeley School of Divinity at Yale University, Susan entered ordained ministry following a successful career as a trial attorney. She has served on staff at Trinity Wall Street in Manhattan; St. Mark’s on Capitol Hill in Washington DC; the Church of the Holy Spirit, Lake Forest, Illinois; and as interim rector at St. Paul’s, Peoria, Illinois, the former Cathedral of the Diocese of Quincy. Susan also serves as a transition consultant for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. As a “military brat” who has lived all over the world, Susan claims Washington, DC as her hometown. When time permits, she enjoys being with her three adult daughters and their families, including her three wonderful grandchildren. Traveling internationally, kayaking and reading are favorite pastimes.
Much of this material is taken from “Vestry 301: Communication & Vestry Covenants,” a presentation given on April 1, 2017, at the Diocese of Connecticut’s annual Spring Training and Gathering
The Vestry Resource Guide - This tremendous resource to help newly elected vestry members learn their responsibilities includes a sample vestry covenant. Published by the Episcopal Church Foundation, it is available from Forward Movement Publications. www.forwardmovement.org
How to Hit the Ground Running - A Quick Start Guide for Congregations with New Leadership. This convenient, step-by-step workbook for a new rectors, wardens and vestries in congregations in transition covers the period from one month prior to a new leader’s arrival through the first eighteen months of the new ministry. www.churchpublishing.org
In the aftermath of hurricane Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, many individuals and families have taken refuge on the mainland. Some evacuees have support systems already in place with family members, however many do not and need housing, employment, integration into school districts, and the basic needs. Connecticut is one of the states that has opened its doors to the citizens of Puerto Rico.
Volunteers Stepping Up:
Volunteers from a wide range of organizations and entities have stepped up and provided assistance to those arriving, with much of the work being taken on by American Red Cross, United Way 211, Catholic Charities, CT Rises and The Salvation Army along with community organizations in Waterbury, Hartford, Bridgeport, New Britain, and New Haven. Currently resource centers are open in Hartford, Waterbury, New Britain, Bridgeport, and New Haven to assist evacuees.
Unmet Needs: There are several ways to help right now.
New Haven – Junta for Progressive Action is managing a resource center at 169 Grand Ave. They currently need donations of scarves, gloves, hats and coats (adult and child sizes). They also need Spanish speaking volunteers to assist in the morning hours with FEMA applications and case management needs for families. For more information on how to donate or volunteer contact Paola Serrecchia firstname.lastname@example.org
Hartford – The Hartford resource center is being managed by CREC at 15 Van Dyke Ave. and needs volunteers to assist with distributing food and clothing, sorting clothing donations, restocking shelves and preparing the center for service, and stacking food donations. Specific dates and times can be found athttp://signup.com/go/bdkHsDt or call CREC at 860-240-6668
United Way 211 – Is looking for about 3- 4 Spanish speaking volunteers to help serve individuals and families displaced from Puerto Rico. We are looking for volunteers that meet the below requirements. 211 would provide the necessary training. Volunteers would report to our office which is located on the Silas Deane Highway in Rocky Hill, CT. For more information contact Mike Corey, email@example.com
Desire to serve
Excellent phone voice
Bachelors or Associates Degree
Ability to quickly learn our computer and phone technology
Ability to serve at least 2 - 4 hour shifts per week.
For more information on volunteer and donation opportunities for arriving evacuees please contact CT VOAD chair Mike Corey,firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-518-4124
Open Resource Centers
Bridgeport: 350 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport, Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Hartford: 15 Van Dyke Ave Hartford (Capitol Region Education Council—CREC), Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
New Britain: Currently, schools are operating as resource centers for enrollees and families. CCSU and Ana Grace Center working to open separate center.
New Haven: Currently, support efforts are being managed out of the Junta For Progressive Action offices, located at 169 Grand Avenue, New Haven. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. They are closed Friday through Sunday.
Waterbury: 236 Grand St. 1 floor, Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.