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.
The road to Gaza. He asked himself, how did he ever get here? Just a few days ago he was preaching and proclaiming the Good News in Samaria, and now God called him to the Gaza Road. The angel of the Lord had said “go” and so he did. He hadn’t thought much about it when the call first came, but now he was curious. What was God up to and how was God inviting him to serve?
When God called Philip to go to the city of Samaria, he had some sense of what to do. He would go and listen to the stories of the people in the community and share stories of Jesus. He could share his own story of coming to Christ and how he was commissioned by the apostles in Jerusalem to serve at table and to share the Good News out in the world.
And now he was curious. How was he to share God’s hope on a road? Along THIS road? And where was he supposed to be on this road? “Go to the road” the angel had said and so he did. And here he was, walking about, curious about what God was calling him to see and hear. What was he supposed to do? What was God up to? It made no sense for Philip to be here, and yet some how, since he began following Jesus, nothing in the old world made sense and yet everything made sense. Everything was filled with the wonder and the possibility of sharing God’s love. Even the challenges and the surprises were opportunities.
Wait a minute, Philip thought, this is the wilderness road. What was he thinking! He remembered stories he had heard about this road....the Gaza road is not a safe place to be! Philip checked his emotions. Was he afraid? A little bit. Was he curious? A whole lot! What was God up to!
He could see a chariot in the distance. Was this who God was calling Philip to be with? Then the fear took over... What if this man robbed him and left him for dead by the side of the road? He had heard stories about the Gaza road. He remembered hearing a story in Samaria about a man who had been beaten and left for dead by the side of the road, was that the Gaza road? No, he remembered, that was the road to Jericho. He paused for a minute. Hum. The world seemed so unsafe all of a sudden. Violence seemed to permeate all the stories that people were telling. Violence here, a violent act there. Places where you might expect and places where you would never dream violence ever would come. He was glad that he had found Jesus or been found by him. Jesus offered hope. When he lost sight of that hope his companions and the Christian community helped him to feel God‘s love. Even when he felt like he was in the wilderness, he still felt some small connection to God. Centuries later the Christian author Frederick Buechner would write, “The promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him ... as from the first he has loved us – loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us… And rise we shall, out of the wilderness, every last one of us, even as out of the wilderness Christ rose before us.( Listen to your life)
Philip wanted to share God’s hope with the world...a world broken and divided, struggling with anxiety and frozen grief. Jesus’s message and witness are filled with stories of love and forgiveness, reconciliation and new life. He wanted to join God in healing this broken world. By being in loving relationships with others and offering a new way of being in the world, God’s love would bring about a more peace-filled future. Sharing God’s love in word and action.
Philip was deep in thought when the angel of God again spoke to him. “Go over to the chariot and join it” the angel said. Well, that answered the question of what he was to do next. He walked over to the chariot, a little cautious and very curious....here is an opportunity for me to proclaim the Good news of Jesus Christ. He took a deep breath in, he was excited and ready to evangelize....and then he paused. He felt God calling him to slow down, to breath out, and to listen. Just Listen.
Philip heard the man reading aloud a passage from the prophet Isaiah. He was surprised and over joyed. Trying not to be too overbearing, Philip gently responded to what the man was saying, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He asked with a genuine sense of curiosity. Did the man understand it? How did he understand it? Philip was open to however the man responded. The man replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” Philip paused again, “don’t be too pushy” he thought. Wait. Listen. And then the man invited Philip to come sit beside him. Responding to the invitation, Philip climbed into the chariot and they began to explore together what Isaiah was saying.
Philip shared the stories of Jesus, he shared about God’s hope and love revealed in the resurrection. The man in the chariot could feel Philip’s excitement and his genuine joy in knowing Jesus. And, he could also feel Philip’s genuine care for him. The hospitality of Philip was a profound gift. Here was a complete stranger who had taken the time to listen to him, listening to his stories and exploring with him answers to his questions. He felt heard and cared for in a new way. He had not always been well received by friends and strangers alike. As a court official in service to the Queen, he was respected for his position, but at times he felt lonely or excluded. He longed for community, for something more. Perhaps that is why he had traveled to Jerusalem, to the Temple. He was looking for something. And could feel that something or someone was looking for him. The stories of Jesus which Philip told him filled him with hope. He felt as though it was God who had been looking for him, and he had been looking for God.
Meanwhile, Philip was thinking what gracious hospitality this man was offering. He wondered, Who is the guest and who is the host? That question was lost. They were companions in Christ, fellow travelers on the road, both physically and spiritually.
Philip baptized the man that day, bringing him into the fellowship of Christ and joining him with the Christian family that was expanding across the world. God then immediately called Philip away to a new adventure and the new convert continued on his way, rejoicing ... and curious, how was God calling him to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world? He was open and excited about how he could share God’s love particularly to a world that seemed longing to hear such a Word.
I wonder....How might God be calling you? Are you curious?
In 1786, two years after his consecration, Samuel Seabury, Bishop of Connecticut, did something unheard of in the 18th century Anglican Communion and Episcopal Church: he had a mitre made.
That mitre returned to The Commons last month following a five-week restoration at the Textile Conservation Workshop in South Salem, N.Y.
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth W. Cameron, a former Episcopal Church in Connecticut archivist and a professor at Trinity College in Hartford, allegedly recovered the mitre from a fraternity that “enjoyed” it at parties. One rumor, according to current ECCT archivist Meg Smith, is they drank beer from it.
The mitre sat in a specially-built wooden box, with a lock and glass door, from 1971 to 2014, “covered inexpertly with UV (very dark) film,” Smith said. It was transferred to an acid-free manuscript box in 2014.
Although a donor had expressed interest in funding the restoration, Smith said, the bishops and canons felt that the Episcopal Church in Connecticut should undertake the project.
“It’s in our interest to preserve this mitre as the first mitre in the Anglican Communion,” she said, quoting Bishop Diocesan Ian T. Douglas.
Seabury had already broken new ground with his election and consecration. He was the first Episcopal bishop outside England and the Celtic churches and, because he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the king, ended up traveling to Aberdeen, Scotland to be ordained by bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church, who had not sworn allegiance to the King of England.
Loving God, You have made the whole of human life in your image; Each one of us shaped in love. Your goodness is ever-present within us all. But, there is so much evil and pain in our world, it comes at us from every direction. Teach us how to rediscover Your love within us, to use that love as a force for good. Help us to turn our hearts toward the world in hope, praying for each other, regarding each other as treasure. Join us all together in prayer, that we might be the light which darkness can never overcome. Amen
About this prayer:
This prayer has come out of the Women’s Prayer Circle of St. John's Episcopal Church in North Guilford, which meets twice a month to pray for our parish, our friends, and ourselves.
Over the last many months we have had many discussions on the state of the world we live in and how to bring God’s love to this time. Out of our time together, this Prayer for Change came about.
Once the prayer was written, we began to share it with our larger community. We introduced it during our Sunday service and it was well-received. Many people commented on how it expressed things they were feeling and how necessary it felt to pray for each other.
We now have it in our own newsletter each week so people can use it for pray during the week, and have incorporated the prayer into our worship which we say as a congregation at the end of each service.
Now, the Spirit has shown us that we are ready to send it out into the world. We will bring it to our Congregational neighbors this fall and ask that they will use it for a month each Sunday along with us, so that our two churches can create an energy for change that is ever-widening. The prayer will then be sent out from our church to others around us, so that this growing prayer energy can be a force for loving change.
I hope it can be a blessing to you and to all of us in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, and beyond.
--Carol Lyons, MS, MPH, is a member of St. John's, North Guilford, Connecticut and its Women's Prayer Circle
A good crowd of about 30 or so people gathered “down by the river” in Falls Village on Sunday, July 23, to welcome Appalachian Trail (AT) hikers with food and outdoor worship. Unexpected acts of kindness, gifts of food, water, and other hospitality for hikers are colloquially known as "trail magic." July 23 was ECCT's version this year.