Continuing Community for 150 years

Continuing Community for 150 years

Interviewed by Caela Collins feat. The Rev. George Roberts, Rector of St. James, Farmington

What does it mean to be a church that has lasted 150 years and is continuing to last, through so many different changes throughout time? and What is unique to your parish that you feel has aided in being able to have such longevity?

  • There is a real weight and I mean that in the very best sense. A weight to responsibility maybe is privilege to be living into the reality of what started in 1873 October of that year, and that the life of this community that has grown, expanded, ebbed, and flowed over 150 years, holding that responsibility in 2023. To me it is a real privilege and blessing.
  • What has helped us endure for all those years is, and I think, is probably true for any church that’s been around for a really long time is our people themselves. They are incredibly spirit filled and dedicated people who have in various ways channeled the hope, the expectancy, the love of Jesus through the generations of this church. Through the extension of hospitality, primarily to be in the place where we stand still, are a vibrant community that is a real period of energy and growth.

Can you tell me about the history of St. James?

  • We had at one time in this church, four generations of the founding family or one of them, of the parish, The Mason family. Henry Hall Mason and his father, Charles Mason, were the primary architects and builders of the initial church sanctuary, which is still our worship space. Charles was an immigrant from England, who came to the Farmington valley in the 1850s, I think, and he and his son have built this church from native stone and lumber mainly from this mountain. They hauled it with a horse and cart to this site, and did a lot of the work themselves with of course with other people.
  • When I first arrived, Henry Mason’s grandson, another Henry, was an aging member of this parish, and his son, Henry, who we call “Skip,” is a member of our choir, an active member of our church, a member of the vestry. He came on this year, partly to help us usher in this 150th. Henry’s daughter, Anne Marie is a member of this parish, and his grandchildren were both baptized in this parish during my time here, and so there is still a living, active legacy of the father and son who built and helped begin this worshiping community 150 years ago, and started the construction of this church in 1898. And so, we’ve been in this physical space for 125 years this year.

How would you describe the Spiritual Atmosphere of St. James?

  • There’s all this legacy and you can feel it, really, when you go into the worship space. There are these echoes of nurturing, and welcome and invitation and love, that really permeates the fibers of the pews and the walls of the church and the altar, which was installed in 1910 by Henry Mason, who built it, and it was dedicated in that year. So there are all these really wonderful reminders of a distant past, but it’s not so distant that we don’t still feel connected to it.
  • What we are trying to do to honor that legacy of Eucharistic and congregational blessing is to continue that history and legacy of welcome. Everyone really who comes to me, and has decided to join St. James over the last 10 or 11 years, they just feel welcome here. They felt like this was home for them spiritually, and they were seeking, they were looking, and they found a home here because they felt that blessing of welcome here. It’s a really welcoming church physically and spiritually. That’s a legacy that was established long before I came here. It’s one that we want to continue to honor by the way that we conduct ourselves and the way that we open ourselves up to the people who come to us.

Can you just tell me a little bit about the welcoming energy of your church? Like if you had to put it into words, what aspects about your church, make it both physically and spiritually welcoming?

  • Physically, it feels like a welcoming place, which I know is hard to describe. But I came here from serving as an associate at a large, brand new worship space in Columbia, South Carolina, and kind of pristine, stained glass filled church that was beautiful acoustically, and just a physically beautiful church. I quickly discovered that this very simple New England style Episcopal Church just had a physical warmth that you feel when you come into the worship space. All the dark wood, and the carved very simple, detail to the lectern, and the pulpit, and the altar, and all of it has a very kind of homey sort of feel to it, a personal feel. So is there is that welcome that you feel from the physical space when you come into it. I believe we’ve worked really hard over the years, and certainly, since I came here, to be a church of noticing, so we notice people and sayings; so when people come into our space, we kind of gravitate toward them. I’d like to think in the best possible sense not overwhelming them, but noticing that they’re they that they’re here.

Let’s dive deeper into a culture of “Noticing” Can you explore that in more detail?

  • This isn’t just me, it’s from the ushers to the people in the pews, noticing that someone is new, noticing that someone is seeking, and coming to that person and talking to them. The same is true for lemonade on the lawn in the summer or coffee hour during the program year. That not having people come in and just kind of be feeling disconnected and wandering around but really noticing that they’re here and connecting with them in what I believe is a warm and inviting way, channeling the Spirit of Christ’s Welcome to people as they come through our doors.
  • When I had the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with them in person, they’ve all mentioned how welcome they feel here, how invited and blessed they feel here; not in some kind of a generic sense, but they really feel a real spiritual, Christ centered connection. Feeling really connected to that open welcome that I think Jesus intends for all of us to experience in our worship communities.

Outside of the immediate Episcopal community how do you/ or do you connect with your local community, the neighborhood that the parish resides in?

  • Yes, we are in kind of a village, a primarily residential area and we’re surrounded by the boarding school, Miss Porter’s school, that is the girl school that’s right down the street from us, and has existed since before we did. We have a real what for us, and I think for them, too, is a really important connection. When COVID Initially came about, they asked us if we maybe had some space that they might be able to use, they were just trying to spread out, more social distancing, etc. So we invited them to use our parish hall during the week for classes. They were live streaming the class via video to the girls who were learning from home who had decided not to come back to campus, at least at that time.
  • We’ve had lots of connective energy, like that we had this past year, for the whole year, we’ve had Porter’s, intern; they have an intern program for juniors and seniors, where they can do real work in the community and learn something. One of the girls in the fall and two of them in the spring, working on specific projects related to our 150th. There was a girl in the fall, who designed our logo for the 150th in conjunction with our 150th committee. Then we had two girls in the spring that worked with me and created a video that is now on our main page. Really wonderful, kind of professional looking video, where they interviewed members of the parish about what they loved about St. James.
  • We’ve talked about doing like a Women’s Summit that would be hosted here, but essentially run by Porter’s that would do empowerment seminars for young women. And we always have a faculty member or two from Porter’s that are part of our community who’ve worked on those kinds of projects in the past.
  • I am the chaplain for the fire department fire houses. We have some church members from the Fire and Rescue Service in Farmington. We have cooperatively done first aid treatment days, CPR classes, we’re going to do another one of those in the fall that we host here but are actually done by members of the first responder community in Farmington.
  • The elementary school across the street, we’ve done some volunteering as story readers, etc. there and they have participated in our Thanksgiving basket collection that we do for the town of Farmington at Thanksgiving every year. Usually a kindergarten class will bring over one basket worth of stuff, and they’ll pull it over with a little wagon, and the whole class will come over and pull it over here.
  • We’re also involved heavily involved in New Britain with the Friendship Service Center, which is a full service. Homeless and substance abuse Center that provides residential treatment, residential housing, job counseling and coaching and then segue into apartments.

In regards to community engagement you’ve mentioned embracing failure through trial and error: Do you have any advice for other parishes who have had a failure, and trying to reorganize or create something new?

  • Yeah, I think that there has to be lay buy in, a group of people in your congregation, meeting with the leadership of any entity that you want to, in an area where you think you might want to exert some energy, and seeing what they need and asking them what they need, and how they envision a partnership working. So we got involved in the beginning in the area where they felt they had the greatest need, and as we got more involved, we realized there were other needs that they had as they were growing and expanding and we tried to be flexible and meet those needs, while at the same time continuing to come back to our community and saying, is this meeting our needs? And it’s okay to say okay, we believe this is part of our mission and ministry. And this is an area where we want to exert energy in. It’s also exploring what are the organizations that are doing this kind of work, and being willing if an organization no longer we feel is it is meeting that need that we have to exert energy. It’s being willing to pull back regroup, and say, Okay, do we need to explore other organizations and areas, that might be a better fit for this ministry?
  • Communication is tremendously important; and when it’s absent or lacking, it makes it hard to do the things that we need to do. So, openness, communication, being true to your mission, and being willing to reevaluate, I think those are the primary things that has been successful for us just in this one particular instance. But I think in all of the other things we’re involved in as well.

The Diocese of Steady Habits?

Written, Interviewed, Filmed by Caela Collins

Unbeknownst to many and known to some, Connecticut was coined as “The Land of Steady Habits,” which first appeared in the 1800s. That moniker coincidentally has as much breadth as the biodiversity within Hawai’i, the most biologically diverse regions on the planet. The “steady habits” of Connecticut have proven over centuries to be quite unsteady due to our state’s capacity for change, which ironically is the steadiest feature of our inverted saucepan-shaped land. Following a steady journalism beat, ECCT’s Digital Storytelling nomadically hunts down stories within the realms of our Northeastern nutmeg sector. However, what is the “Land of Steady Habits” without habitual change?

In early August, only days prior to the wildfire devastation in Maui, I visited The Episcopal Diocese of Hawai’i to conduct a story on the rich history of the isolated oceanic archipelago’s diocese. With a heavy heart, I craft a story from a different angle that allows us to not only learn the history of the great island(s) but also highlight how we can aide our Hawaiian siblings as we learn of their culture.

The Hawai’i Islands

Hawai’i is a archipelago, group of islands, that consists of eight major islands. From left to right:

  • Niihau: ‘The Forbidden Island’ is the most untouched of all the inhabited Hawaiian islands with under 200 native Hawaiian residents who preserve the Hawaiian language and culture with their dedication to living the lifestyle of their ancestors.
  • Kauai: ‘The Garden Island’ known for its lush forests and waterfalls and being the greenest of the Hawaiian islands due to its emerald tropical landscapes.
  • Oahu: ‘The Gathering Place’ which is the most visited island due to world famous Waikiki beach, historic Pearl Harbor, and state capital, Honolulu, where The Diocese of Hawai’i resides.
  • Molokai: ‘The Friendly Isle’ known for its intentional quaintness in a rural setting to preserve a slow-paced atmosphere. The people harness Aloha spirit which is a way of life valued by Hawaiians to treat each person with warmth and respect as their ancestors did. It’s the spirit of coordinating both mind and heart.
  • Lanai: ‘The Pineapple Isle’ is its nickname due to the island’s Dole pineapple plantation origins; once producing 75% of the world’s exported pineapples.
  • Maui: ‘The Valley Isle’ due to its unique geography divided by two mountain ranges—the Haleakala and West Maui Mountains. The island’s interior is less than 200 ft above sea level, sandwiched between the two major mountain ranges, which feels as though you’re traveling through one massive valley.
  • Kahoolawe: ‘The Target Isle’ used as a bombing range by the U.S. military for testing and training.
  • Island of Hawai’i: ‘The Big Island’ because it is the largest island in the U.S. over 4,000 square miles and can fit 63% of the Hawaiian archipelago’s combined landmass.

The Hawai’i Diocese consists of 35 worshipping communities on five islands. Watch below to learn about the geographical layout of the eight major islands that make up Hawai’i.

The Rev. Cn. Sandy Graham, Canon to the Bishop

A Sign of God’s Grace

Here at ECCT we have been exploring diversified sacred images through Iconography. The piece above/behind the altar showcases the Hawaiian Madonna and child which was painted for Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, Lahaina, HI in the 1940s.  “The unthinkable happened when wildfires ravaged the island of Maui, tearing through Lahaina town, and leaving death and destruction in its wake.  Holy Innocents Episcopal Church was one of hundreds of structures that succumbed to the fire.” In the midst of wildfire smoke, the same iconographic image, Hawaiian Madonna and child, that stood at the altar was also used for the church’s welcome sign and by the grace of God, that welcome sign is still intact in the front yard! This is a testament that even in a spiritual season of winter, a waiting season with darkened days faced with the cold reality of loss or change, is also the time when God is doing something powerful underground which we cannot see. That welcome sign still standing is a visual and tangible representation that God is forever present even in times of refuge. It affirms that a church is so much more than four walls or a building at all; a church is a home where your heart rests in the Lord through all spiritual seasons.

Prayer for Maui

Almighty God, who is our strength and our refuge; be with those who are besieged by fire, guide those who evacuate so that they may find care and comfort in a safe place; protect their homes and their pets, their neighbors and their friends, so that they may return home to a loving community. We ask this in the name of Jesus your son, who abides with you and with the Holy Spirit. Amen.

O God, whose love encircles us; sustain those who respond when wildfires roar, keep them safe from harm and hold them in your sheltering embrace so that they may complete these burdensome tasks, return home to their families, and keep the lives and homes of all they protect safe from harm, in the loving name of Jesus, who gave his life for all. Amen.  

Loving God, our strength in times of despair, be with all those who have lost their homes to wildfire, comfort them in their distress, strengthen them for the journey ahead, and sustain them with your loving embrace, that they may find a sense of home once again. We ask this in the name of your son Jesus Christ, who heals the sick and restores the lost. Amen.
The Right Reverend Robert L. Fitzpatrick

How to Help:

Hawai’i: Where Culture & Religion Collide

“We have a different cultural and ecclesial history and understanding than often happens in the Episcopal Church.” -The Rt. Rev. Robert L. Fitzpatrick

The diocese of Hawai’i is unusual due to it being brought over by Royal Hawaiian invitation. Cultural heritage is a major pillar for Pacific Islanders which makes their embrace around Christianity different. They immerse their own ways of worship that reflect their cultural symbols and heritage at large within the Christian faith. For example, November 28th is the Feast of the Holy Sovereigns, King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma of Hawai’i who in 1862 asked Queen Victoria to send a bishop. Much like Connecticut, The Land of Steady Habits, Hawai’i too has a strong tie to multiplicity in it’s efforts of balance between becoming and being. There’s a deep understanding of cultural identity and how it holds a sacred place both within the past and future. Everything that is historical will undergo constant transformation.

Mai Poina ‘Oe Ia‘u
(Remember Me)

Painting by: Leohone Magno

Queen Lili‘uokalani was raised in the Congregational Church and was the musician for one of their main and historic churches in Honolulu. Throughout her earlier years, however, she was connected with just about every denomination, including the Mormons. Most of the Ali‘i, certainly most of her Mo‘i predecessors since King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma founded what it now the Episcopal Diocese of Hawai‘i, had been members of our Church/generally at the Cathedral.

At the time of the armed overthrow by US businessmen backed by US Marines and her subsequent trial for treason and imprisonment (first at ‘Iolani Palace, then moved to Washington Place, next to the Cathedral and St. Andrew’s Priory School), she wrote with heartbreak over how all of the different denominations turned their back on her; all but our Church/Denomination.

‘Iolani Palace

Two of “the English Nuns” at the priory gifted her with a prayer book the same month that the “Territorial Government” was proclaimed, and she mentioned the book being a source of solace in her imprisonment. The bishop also continued to visit her, which she mentioned was a source for her of information about what was happening outside of her house arrest.

At Washington Place, stories abound of her sneaking through the fence to spend time with the nuns at the priory, and she was baptized/confirmed at the cathedral and spent most of the rest of her life heavily involved as a member there (her signature appears on things as simple and otherwise everyday as altar guild reports).

  • Historical Account Provided by The Rev. Cn. Sandy Graham, Canon to the Bishop

Transfiguration in a Prison Cell

Listen to Story Here

Reparations Task Force Did You Know?” Story from The Rev. Don Hamer

Scriptures: Exodus 34:29-35  and Luke 9:28-36

I love a good mountaintop experience, and in the Scripture passages appointed for last Sunday, we heard about two of them. Mountaintop experiences are moments when everything changes. You gain a sudden insight into something that up until then, was hidden. You see things for what they really are. And you’re never quite the same again.  

But “mountaintop experiences” don’t only happen on mountaintops. I had such an experience during the summer of 1973, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a 23-year old college graduate who, until my senior year, had been planning on becoming a Roman Catholic priest, but I abandoned that. After a year working at a national news magazine, I was accepted to begin Georgetown law school in Washington, D.C. in September. In order to save up money, I came home to Connecticut for work. Through a friend of a friend who had a high-ranking job in the Department of Corrections, I was able to land the unlikely job of being a summer correctional officer at the old Seyms Street jail in Hartford. At the time, I realized I was lucky to land this job, and how privileged I was to have this friend of a friend get me an interview that, with zero experience, I most assuredly didn’t deserve.

Now you might be wondering how this 23-year-old suburban White boy who until then had been preparing to be a Roman Catholic priest did as a correctional officer? What struck me immediately was a disparity: All but one of my colleagues was white, while the vast majority of the incarcerated residents were Black or Latino.

The first evening got off to a rocky start: At supper time, another officer asked to borrow my keys and I inadvertently locked myself up on the third floor cellblock. Everybody else was downstairs, laughing like crazy, and there I was, alone and locked up on the third tier. “Hey, somebody go up and let that officer out,” was the amused cry from down below.

Several weeks later, having settled into the routine of the job, another officer and I had recreation duty outside after supper. One resident came up to me complaining that a guy named Charlie had stolen his commissary card. Other residents confirmed that this had happened. When I approached Charlie and asked him to see the commissary card to confirm the owner, he refused. I reported it to my fellow officer, who said I had to “write him up” on a disciplinary report. Which I did. As it turned out, Charlie had in fact stolen the man’s commissary card.

What I DIDN’T know was that Charlie was considered to be one of the toughest and most combative residents in the jail. It took 8 men to forcibly bring him to the holding cell that was known as “deadlock.”

As I was doing the paperwork relating to Charlie, I reflected on the experience. Apparently having some pastoral gifts still at work within me, I reflected on how the incident might have gone differently and was moved to seek some sort of reconciliation with Charlie. Before I left for the night, I went down to the cell to see Charlie. I assured him that I was not there to taunt him, and told him that I was going to be off for a few days. I told him that I was sorry about the way things turned out that evening. I told him that I was going to do some praying & reflecting on how the events of the evening might have turned out differently. I asked him to do the same. It was pretty clear that Charlie was in no mood to deal with me, and I didn’t blame him.  

When I returned three days later, Charlie was out of deadlock and back in general population. At supper time, he approached me in the dining hall and said he appreciated my visit to him that night. He invited me up to his “house” and said he had something to show me. Now it occurred to me that this might be a trap, but, with my 23-year-old naivete and my Christian belief in the basic goodness of all people, I said, “Of course!” So after supper, he brought me up to his cell, and there he proudly showed me two walls literally covered with intricate, beautiful pencil drawings that, with more sophisticated materials, would have been considered of professional quality. He said, “I thought you would like to see what I can do.”

In that moment, Charlie was transfigured before me: No, he didn’t appear in glistening white robes with a radiant face like Jesus on the mountaintop or Moses when he comes down.  But just as Jesus was revealed on that mountaintop to the disciples for who he really was, Charlie was revealed to me in that moment, as the person he was in his essence. He wasn’t the angered, callous young man who challenged the world with bravado, but the talented young man who had a beautiful dream for his life to be an artist, one who had a beautiful vision of what the world could be. That dream, like the dreams of so many other young men whom I met that summer, never came true for a variety of reasons and massed situational layers, which collectively were so overwhelming as to snuff out his dreams at such an early age.

I don’t think that it is much of a stretch to say that in the confrontation and reconciliation that Charlie and I experienced, we were each transfigured in the eyes of the other, our relationship changed by seeing something in the other that had not been visible before. Were we going to be best friends forever? No. But we developed a respect and appreciation for the other that changed the both of us for the better. I truly believe that God was present in that moment of sharing.

When you think about them, the two mountaintop experiences we read about in Exodus 34:29-35 and Luke 9:28-36 actually worked on two levels. In the case of Moses, the encounter with God changed his own appearance before his people – his people saw and understood him in a new way. However, Moses’ experiences on the mountaintop also changed him — his understanding of God and of his relationship with God. Likewise, in the passage from Luke, the apostles are given the unique opportunity to see Jesus for who he is – the Son of God, in the angelic company of Moses and Elijah. In that appearance, they themselves were changed – they understood that this rabbi they were following was indeed connecting them to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in new and transformational ways. This understanding led them to a new understanding of themselves.

My friend and seminary colleague, Maryetta Anschutz, an Episcopal Priest and founder of The Episcopal School of Los Angeles, said that “We cannot escape God, Immanuel among us. God will find us in our homes and in our workplaces. God will find us when our hearts are broken and when we discover joy. God will find us when we run away from and when we are sitting in the middle of what seems like hell.“

As God has done since the Creation, God today is summoning us to a re-visioning of what God’s dominion is like in this present time. Who is God calling us to be in this time – as individuals, as public citizens, as the church? How does being a Christian make a difference in our day to day lives? How can the transformative relationship we have with God transform our relationships with one another? How can we see each other in that new light that only God can shine upon us? Even in the midst of distress, even in the midst of pain and suffering, even in the cold and lonely reaches of a prison cell – perhaps, even especially in those times and in those places – God is inviting us to open ourselves up to one another, in mutual vulnerability – to see in each other the light of Christ, the presence of God’s love.  

Understanding Juneteenth Beyond June

Written and Filmed by Caela Collins

Today marks exactly one month following the Juneteenth National Celebration. As of June 17, 2021, The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was passed by Congress with unanimous consent. This bill was passed over to President Biden whom signed it into law, making Juneteenth (June 19th) a federal U.S. holiday. Although Juneteenth is a fairly new addition to our list of U.S. federal holidays, it has been a core societal reset which flung the gates of God’s beloved community wide open; challenging the world to be the community God called it and needs it to be*. Stemming back to June 19, 1865, freedom from enslavement was embraced by more than 250,000 African Americans by executive decree.

For “Sacred White Folk,” a term used by Dr. Christena Cleveland, social psychologist, public theologian, author, and activist who has collaborated with the ECCT Office of Mission Advocacy, Racial Justice, & Reconciliation, Juneteenth is a celebration that can be widely celebrated alongside your Black and Brown siblings in Christ due to the divine nature of diversity. From lush green forests to dry sandy deserts, or the luminous stars within the night sky to the pitch-black depths of the frigid ocean, we can note God’s intentionality of diversity. The extent of physical variation within God’s creation is a reliable citation for the Creator’s purpose of painting a beloved community on this earthly canvas.

Quote: The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey W. Mello:

“Jesus is the gatekeeper, not us…I hope you will challenge the church to be the community God calls it and needs it to be, I pray this room will not rest until the church lives up to its promise of being a place of love, and support, and community for ALL…I ask you to join one another, join together, in flinging the gates of God’s beloved community wide open, so that all who seek God may find and know God. That, my friends, is your task, that is OUR shared task and we will keep doing it with God’s help until everyone has life and has it abundantly. “

How to Celebrate Juneteenth

  1. Learn more about the holiday.
  2. Teach others, including children, about the holiday.
  3. Read books about Juneteenth.
  4. Watch videos and documentaries about Juneteenth.
  5. Have a Barbecue Family Feast highlighting red colored foods like fruit punch, red meat, watermelon, strawberries, and red velvet cake, symbolizing the bloodshed, sacrifice, ingenuity, and resilience of enslaved ancestors.
  6. Support Black-owned businesses.
  7. Listen to music from Black artists. June is also Black Music Month.
  8. Visit an African American Museum.
  9. Host a Juneteenth information session at your parish and hire a speaker of color.
  10. Create a Juneteenth inspired Liturgy via hosting a Juneteenth Sunday Service and invite locals within your community to attend and learn.
  11. Learn more about your parish’s past by connecting with the Witness Stones Project.
  12. Collaborate with local Black churches to learn about Juneteenth and its tie to Christianity as a time of Jubilee.
  13. Connect with our Office for Mission Advocacy, Racial Justice, & Reconciliation.
  14. Write a card or kind note or prayer for your Black and Brown siblings in Christ, appreciating their contributions and spread the gift of love.
  15. Contact and coordinate with your local towns or DEI (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) Leadership to find out what Juneteenth events are happening within CT!

A Great Example

On June 18th, 2023 St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Hebron hosted a Juneteenth Service. In creating this Juneteenth service, the parish did something groundbreaking by having the descendants of formerly enslaved persons by the parish’s 1st rector officiate the service.

Quote: The Rev. Ron Kolanowski:

“While I was away at a family wedding, I was confident that our lay leadership and others in the wider community would join hands to make this a memorable experience for all.  The descendants of formerly enslaved persons by our first rector took an active part in leading much of the service.  The family is half Muslim and half Christian, and both took active part in the service.  We’re especially indebted to Zakiyyah Peters Hasan for bring us a powerful word for that day and helping to shape the service to reflect the values of all.”

ECCT Iconography Project with Kelly Latimore

Interviewed & Voiceover by Caela Collins

Listen to the Story

With the support of Bishop Diocesan, The Rt. Rev Jeffrey W. Mello, on Tuesday, June 20, the Racial Healing, Justice & Reconciliation Network and the Office of Mission Advocacy, Racial Justice, and Reconciliation created an Art Exhibition (on display until Convention; all are welcome to come and view) at The Commons, Meriden which diversifies sacred images as an embodiment of our collective spirituality followed by a lecture with artist, Kelly Latimore.

Kelly Latimore is one of the most celebrated artists of contemporary religious icons, that’s dedicated to prayerfully creating art depicting “God in plain sight.” Latimore’s modern take on the centuries-old practice of iconography in recent years fuses bible imagery and modern cultural resets. He substitutes well-known biblical figures for those who represent the marginalized and oppressed. For instance his piece, “Mama,” a pietà icon, which represents the 13th station: ‘Jesus is taken down from the cross’. In this image, Jesus is depicted as the late George Floyd, an image that was carried by Black Lives Matter marchers.

The below artwork was purchased by ECCT in June 2023


Kelly Latimore 

St. Joseph

Kelly Latimore 

Artist Statement:

As an artist, I’m entering into this improvisation or this dialogue, which I think doesn’t happen in a lot of artists’ work. Working on this artwork with churches can be very hard. But what is so gratifying and is a gift to me is that part of the work: the communality, the conversations about images that mean something to them and that want to push them toward communities and push them toward new ways of being in the world and new ways of relating to one another. I wouldn’t be able to enter into that if I wasn’t doing this work specifically, so I think it’s just about receiving those gifts and doing the best I can to translate that gift [of commonality] into the work.

The Benefits of Silence

“We are just constantly inundated with images. What happens, especially with the social media world, TikTok, Instagram, whatever, is that we can be so quick to speak about something. I hope my art has the potential to teach us not to speak into something but to learn how to observe, to be still, and observe something. And that’s my hope for these images, that they can potentially create dialogue. Not only an internal dialogue but also a dialogue between each other. And that just observing and not speaking into something, I think, is the first part of connecting to the piece of art, whether it’s art in churches, in this iconography, or elsewhere.” -Kelly Latimore

Food for Thought

“What is our church art for? Is it glorified wallpaper, or can it be something that can help us see each other, see in new ways and see God in new ways?”

It’s Time to Branch Out!

Written, Interviewed, Voiceover, & Filmed by Caela Collins

Listen to the Story

As June comes to a close let us realize that it is the month of magic, not the kind of magic that hides in the depths of a Mary Poppins carry-on or the depths of a black top hat. Its also not the kind of magic that’s tucked underneath the cool side of a pillow, appreciating in value as the clock strikes midnight. June represents the kind of magic that can’t be contained, the kind of mysterious wonder and awe that only God can comprehend fully. God speaks to everyone in their own unique way whether it be dance, or nature, or liturgy. However, one profound way God’s magic emanates isn’t that of songbird nannies, rabbits, or tooth fairies, it’s in the stillness and silence of universal reminders to abundantly & unapologetically love our earthly siblings.

June’s true magic is born through reminders, which hold the magical wisdom of God’s word:

  • A reminder to accept one another as they are and where they are. (LGBTQIA+ Pride Month)
  • A reminder that our Black & Brown siblings in Christ are equals, not by emancipation, but by birthright. (Juneteenth)
  • A reminder to respond with compassion to those who mask their despair with anger, irritability, and bitterness. (PTSD Awareness Month)
  • A reminder to protect & prevent American children and teens from a man-made epidemic through programs like Swords to Plowshares.(Gun Violence Awareness Month)
  • A reminder that monetary success, material assets, and hierarchical titles can fly far away like Icarus [*Proverbs 23 4-5] but to keep core memories with loved ones extremely close to your heart and soul. (Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month)
  • A reminder that the word “home” isn’t exclusive to tangible walls and curated designs inspired by the latest trend on HGTV; its wherever you have love, feel safe, are seen & welcomed. (Immigrant Heritage Month)

A final reminder that June enchants us with is to help keep one another safe from the workplace to anyplace (National Safety Month). With the help of The Rev. Matt Handi, Priest in Charge at St. Luke’s, South Glastonbury, ECCT visited the parish house next door to learn more about a charitable pop-up shop called The Olive Branch.

Branching out can be a bit daunting, but not for Jacqueline Ford, founder of The Olive Branch, South Glastonbury and bureau of external affairs, Department of Children and Families (DCF). In regards to National Safety Month, St. Luke’s, South Glastonbury created a safe space for The Olive Branch to grow roots as it spreads it’s branches to offer peace and reconcile family relationships:

Interview with Jacqueline Ford at St. Luke’s Parish House, South Glastonbury

Questions Asked:

  • Introduction
  • How did you get Started with The Olive Branch? and What brought you to St. Luke’s, South Glastonbury?
  • Why South Glastonbury?
  • What called you to do this work?
  • What is a story that has always stuck with you?
  • Why name it The Olive Branch?
  • What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in volunteering or even starting their own charitable pop up shop?
  • Explain what DCF is and how it connects to The Olive Branch:
  • What is the Olive Branch Experience?
  • Tell us about your collaboration with St. Luke’s, South Glastonbury?

Get Involved!

Donations“We are accepting new toys for birth to 18 and we’re in desperate need of items for our teenage population they can email me and we can make arrangements to meet in the community. I’m thinking about having different hubs in the community, but we’re gathering items all year long. It’s not just about Christmas time. It’s really about all year long!”
Website: The Olive Branch

Ordination to the Sacred Order of Diaconate

By the divine permission Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, Holy Orders under the protection of Almighty God were administered to 6 ordinands, Cecil Tengatenga, Christopher Gregorio, Emily Carter, Dylan Mello, Michael Southwick, and Roxana Videla on June 17, 2023 at Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford for ordination to the sacred order of deacons.

“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

-The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey W. Mello & The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens

Cecil Tengatenga

“To have been called to serve despite of my vulnerability and fault is an overwhelming experience of God’s redeeming love. I pray that ECCT can grow our spirituality by centering mercy and forgiveness as part of our witness to the works of Christ.”
  • Sending Parish: Trinity on the Green, New Haven
  • Presenters: Lindsey, Sekai and Shamiso Tengatenga, The Rev. Donald Hamer Vesters: The Rev. Luk de Volder, The Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga
  • Contact:

Christopher Gregorio

  • Sending Parish: Episcopal Church at Yale
  • Presenters: The Rev. Ali Donohue, David Rivera Vesters: Gregas and Eufemia Gregorio
  • Contact:
    • Mailing address until July 363 Saint Ronan St, New Haven, CT 06511.
    • After that, it will be 14 School Street, Hanover, NH 03755.

Emily Carter

  • Sending Parish: Episcopal Church at Yale
  • Presenters: The Rev. Heidi Thorsen, Diana Alvarado Vester: Phoebe Oler
  • Contact:
    • 56 1/2 South Main St Apt 5
    • Norwalk, CT 06854

Dylan Mello

“The moment when Bishop Laura laid her hands on my head and shared the ordination prayer, I felt an unexpected feeling of faith, love, and affirmation. I am grateful to ECCT, our bishops, and my colleagues for their support and care over this journey. I am excited to see how God will use us all in the world.”
  • Sending Parish: St. Mary’s, Manchester
  • Presenters: Alejandra Mello, Carolyn Mello, Violette Mello Vesters: The Rev. John Betit, The Rev. Jane Hale
  • Contact:

Michael Southwick

“I’m still processing the significance of the ordination. It was an incredibly meaningful and spiritual event and such a blessing to be surrounded by so much love and community.  I was particularly thankful that I was able to take this next step in my journey with five extraordinary companions who will provide immeasurable gifts to the Church for many years to come. I am truly humbled by the prospect of walking along this path with them. My heartfelt thanks go out to the Bishops, Rebekah, the Standing Committee, the Commission on Ministry and the entire ECCT community who have all provided me with guidance and support in one way or another throughout the past seven years.”
  • Sending Parish: Christ Church, Greenwich
  • Presenters: The Rev. Terry Elsberry, Lynne Smith Vester: Taylor Gray
  • Contact: / (203) 228-6388
    • Michael J. Southwick 
    • 15 Sunset Road
    • Old Greenwich, CT 06870

Roxana Videla

“I am so glad to serve my Lord and my neighbor as an ordained minister. I will help everyone who is in need, especially families of immigrants.”
  • Sending Parish: All Saints, Meriden
  • Presenters: The Rev. Molly F. James, Ph.D., Delia Soria Vesters: The Rev. Michael Carroll, Elizabeth Rivera

ECCT Formally Enters into The Communion Forest

ECCT x Creation Care Ministry Network hosted a Liturgical service at Camp Washington, Lakeside on June 14, 2023 to bless three newly planted trees that were native to the local landscape and ecosystem.

As part of our induction into The Communion Forest, “a global initiative comprising local activities of forest protection, tree growing and eco-system restoration undertaken by provinces, dioceses and individual churches across the Anglican Communion to safeguard creation,” the three trees were planted in dedication to three ECCT Bishops: The Rt. Rev. Dr. Ian T. Douglas, The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens, and The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey W. Mello.

The Liturgy below was created by Margaret Sipple, Member of Trinity, Branford and Coordinator of the parish’s Creation Care Ministry Network Team:

The Trees that were Planted

Reflection by Bishop Diocesan:

“Thank you. What an honor, I don’t feel like I’ve been here long enough to deserve a tree. And it feels like an incredible gift but also a mark towards the future, that as we plant a tree, we think about how the tree will continue to grow and become more and more of the tree that God needs us to be, which is something we think a lot about as church. I love that it’s a berry tree, because one of the things I’m constantly reminded about fruit trees, is that sometimes it can take a couple of years for a tree to bear fruit. So I ask you to keep that in mind. When you think about the person for whom this tree was planted that sometimes we expect when God has touched our hearts or planted something new in us, we expect immediate results. And so I hope this tree reminds all of us to be patient with ourselves and to let God continue to nourish us and grow in us until in God’s good time we bear fruit together. And so thank you, I’m deeply honored.”

Reflection by Bishop Suffragan:

“I’m truly humbled and really blown away by this gift. This is incredible. I also want to give a shout out and a thanks to the Creation Care Network and let anyone know in ECCT, you can always join this network it’s an amazing network that’s helping us care for this fragile earth, our island home. I’m particularly humbled and honored that it’s here at Camp Washington. Particularly because this is such a pastoral space for young people in particular who come here and find in the summer a brave space where they can try on new ideas and be the people that God is calling them to be. It’s also that kind of space for all of us, every time of year, to use the space, this pastoral brave space to help us live into God’s call to us, to share his love more broadly.”

Creation Care Ministry NetworkThe Rev’d Dr. Anita Louise Schell
Camp WashingtonBart

A Prayerful Life is the Bees Knees

Written By: Caela Collins

When I think of World Bee Day (May 20th), the word “Opportunity” immediately comes to mind. So many opportunities to lace this #ECCTStory with bee puns because unbeknownst to the ECCT masses, your Digital Storyteller is quite punny. All jokes aside, there is something very buzz-worthy about this worldly holiday that expands beyond the confines of honey. World Bee Day presents an opportunity for us to get closer to our Lord.

In college, one of my three roommate’s had an assignment where they had to identify a plant that symbolized everyone in their acting class based on their personality, essence, or what I like to call, their overall vibe, then present it. After hours of researching a series of floral arrangements, there was one particular classmate that gave my roommate major planter’s-block. The block was so prevalent that me and my other two roommates were immediately inducted into the garden consensus of Room 304 that evening. While the makeshift floral advisory committee, aka my two roommates, offered suggestions for what flowers could be attributed to my roommate’s final classmate, I sat quietly and listened.

Finally, after some internal deliberation, I spoke up, “Your professor said plants, right? It doesn’t have to just be flowers?” I asked. My roommate nodded as everyone turned towards me, anticipating a great revelation that would fall from my mouth after sitting silently for so long. With my arms crossed, I flashed a Mona Lisa smile and proudly said, “Grass.” Everyone immediately started laughing but much like Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous portrait, I was quite serious.

There is symbolism in ALL of God’s creation, even something as simple or seemingly monotonous as grass. (P.S. My roommate did in fact go with my idea of grass, which represents interconnectedness.)

The Bee in Bible

Jesus wants us to live our best life, abundantly ( John 10:10 ), and we literally can’t do that without our Bee-FF’s.

A world without bees would seriously sting.

There are actually-factually over 60 references where bees are used in the bible, so they must be super important, right? Right, indeed: Bees are dire to our survival, they’re responsible for 1/3 of the food Americans eat due to pollination. Without them, the food-chain would deteriorate, over 100K plant species (including our fave fruits & veggies) would become extinct if bees were to go away.

How to Bee More Prayerful

My child, honey is good for you, so eat it. It is sweet on your tongue when you taste it. In the same way, wisdom is also good for you. If you find wisdom, it will help you in life. The things that you hope for in the future will surely happen. [Proverbs 24: 13-14]

Bees symbolize wisdom, new beginnings, and hard work; they are visual symbols of how God’s creation can help us lead a prayerful life. The momentous & ancient work that bees do by pollinating various landscapes in order to help crops and plant-life grow is truly holy work. They work to sustain God’s creation by upholding the true purpose of the land that God has crafted for us. Earth was created with the intention of abundant living and taking pleasure in God’s land how God intended to be. The wise yet interconnected workings of the Honey-Bee is devout and we can take notes. Bees respect God’s land which flows with milk and literal honey, collecting pollen & nectar from flowers in such a way that will cause the least amount of damage to them, leaving the flowers whole and unharmed.

How wonderful would it be to collect lessons and love from our peers in such a way that will also leave them whole?

How can we use our natural God-given talents mixed with some elbow-grease to work in ways that sustain God’s creation from landscape to creature?

How awesome and un-bee-lievable is it to know that our small steps can really create a huge impact?

A Prayerful life is the bees knees, no kneeling required.

The Beeger Picture

Take a look at some of the lessons I gained during my Bee visit at St. John’s, Guilford:

World Bee Day visit at St. John’s, Guilford to view their bees and pollinator garden/meadow.

Interested in Starting a Pollinator Garden or want Tips/Help with Beekeeping?

From Longing to Belonging

Interviewed & Written By: Caela Collins

What if I told you belonging was singular? Often times, we package belonging as a way to be accepted and folded into communal spaces outside of ourselves. But what’s community when you aren’t even home within the confines of your own body? Who is the representative that stands in the place of your true reflection? What masquerade ball has your soul spinning around eggshells, dizzying your identity in the process?

When you come to the realization that belonging doesn’t require any external deliberation and it is only you who has that voting right, you step into your power of belonging to self. I won’t sugarcoat this journey; belonging is a consistent act that takes courage. It requires you to stand alone and belong to yourself above all else. Being a person of color requires a daily practice of choice: choosing to unapologetically stand firm in who the Divine has beautifully and intentionally created you to be, even if you are cast against a stark background. 

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI for short), a time where we highlight communities with connections to Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Hawaiian, and other Asian and Pacific Islander ancestries, consisting of approximately 50 distinct ethnic groups and speaking over 100 languages. I had a powerful conversation about cultural identity and the notion of belonging by coming home to oneself with Ranjit K. Matthews, our Canon for Mission Advocacy, Racial Justice & Reconciliation who is Indian-American.

Ranjit’s Cultural Roots:

My parents came here from South India, in the early 1970s. And they came separately. And they met here through mutual acquaintances, and they got married in around the Boston area. And you know, we’re from a part of India that’s called Kerala, which is in the southern part of India, which is a state where the Apostle Thomas traversed from the Middle East down to Kerala and evangelized. My spouse, Johanna and I, and my family, all of us are sort of a part of that Marthoma lineage and Mar Thoma means Church of Thomas. So, that’s where we’re from, we trace our lineage from Thomas.

Intergenerational Journey and ties to Priesthood:

My great grandfather was a Mar Thoma priest, and people from all over Kerala and I think South India would actually travel to go see my Veliappacha and my Veliammachi, that’s what we call them, to have my great, great grandfather pray over them, because he was known for his gift of healing. People would come and stay with them for a couple of days while he would offer prayers often times coming with tears. So that’s sort of the lineage. When my great grandfather died, my father wanted to be a Priest and follow my grandfather into ministry. That’s why he came to the United States. My dad would do lots of other jobs in the broader Boston community, like, working as a Therapist at McLean Hospital, in Belmont, Massachusetts. He was an executive director of the Asian American Resource workshop. He was a banker and an insurance agent. My mom held a steady job as a hematologist at Mass General Hospital.

Finding a Church Community in the U.S.

My dad had a yearning to follow God. He came to this country to go into ministry, and he completed his master’s in divinity at Princeton, but didn’t have a community around him. And so because of that, we went to a lot of different churches in and around Massachustte, because he was responding to his call, and then found a home in the Episcopal ChurchAnd at that point, I was 11 years old. I guess, felt home at a church and outside of Boston in Milton, where we were going, I felt really moved there by a sense of embrace that I found from, a Priest there now a colleague, and a dear friend of mine.

Unknown Untethering

I went to college in, Washington, DC, and there, I was looking for an Episcopal presence. And I remember going because I wanted to replicate that same experience that I had at St. Michael’s in Milton, and find an equally embracing community. I found a community that a first was community oriented; but the theology they were preaching and espousing was rigidly fundamentalist, and conservative. I was instructed to not hang out with people who were from different religions, this is what we call Purity Culture, and those are my friends. I had friends who were Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Jewish, really from all over. I had to really give up part of myself to be part of the space and that was really awful.  I gave up going dancing and even gave away my Hip Hop CD’s, which I was told, were not of God.

The Turning Point

But, it really came to the fore, in my sophomore year, when my family, and I, my dad, my mom, and my sister, we traveled to India. We did that every four years, and my parents hope was for my sister and I to be connected to our family’s heritage and keep my sister and also on a cultural level. I remember my father, who was now deeply within the ordination process within the Episcopal diocese of Massachusetts. He was very open and I was this guy that had these blinders on. I remember sitting with my father on my grandparents, veranda, one afternoon. I remember I was going through theological questions, of who was saved, who was not saved. My father, in his wisdom, said, you know, Ranjit, “Do you believe that everybody here in India, who are not Christian, do you believe they’re going to Hell? And then after a pause, he said, “Because that’s not the type of God that I believe in.” That questioned was a seed in my heart and it opened up my theological and spiritual imagination.

Two weeks later, my family and I were in a cathedral in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. We visited a city called Mysore, and the Cathedral which had trappings of British colonialism. But we walked down, we took off our shoes, and were wowed by the beauty of this spiritual place.  When we were heading back up, at the top of the stairs were two girls who had leprosy. And leprosy at that time was, I don’t know, was maybe a little bit more common. But they didn’t have any legs and they were pushing themselves around on like make shift skateboards and one of them very powerfully looked down at me while I was on the stairs, and, you know, she touched My Feet, which in India, within different cultures that are in India, it’s a sign of respect. You touch their feet, and you bring it to their mouth, or to the chest. And she did that to me. And I felt on a spiritual level, I felt like she was saying to me, Ranjit just be who you are, don’t judge anybody just being who you are. And I was seeing God in her and she was saying to me, you know, come and be here with me and India and fight for justice. And so that moment with her, that really opened my eyes. I think, that was my is a my most spiritual mystical moment was that moment, that was my awakening. And that moment led me into ministry, you know, in different work in South Africa, and Tanzania, and different places across the United States.

Ranjit K. Matthews with family in Kerala, India

How do you Honor the Belonging with Self?

I try to challenge the norms of White Supremacy by what I wear, my kurta’s, and things that I wear, even the foods that I eat, you know, even how I eat, it’s not just something that’s performative, it’s something that is who I am, right.

And so I have a lot of joy, and even what, you know traveling to India a month ago, people might consider going to be a vacation, but for me, it was, you know, it wasn’t really a vacation, but an real opportunity to deepen my connection, reconnect with my roots, and then help our boys, who are American through and through really connect to their foremothers, their extended family. It’s so deeply critical that we went on that trip, so that they can experience the beauty of our culture, of our food, of our clothing, of our language, of the noise, the color, just all of that beauty that I’m so proud of now. I didn’t have much appreciation of my culture growing up, from my name that teacher’s and others would struggle to pronounce, the aroma of mom’s delicious Indian cooking in my house when friends would come over, but it’s something that I’ve come to really embrace as part of me, so deeply a part of me.

What does your Absolute Unapologetic Full Self look like?

Just someone that is free. That doesn’t cater to the norms of society, that would allow me to be unapologetically me and not, not diminish myself. My great uncle Alex, who had many vocations as a physicist, a psychotherapist, like meditation guru who. I remember one time on the T in Boston, as we were heading for my father’s ordination. I remember seeing him dancing, without any inhibitions. All of us, his relatives are sitting on the train, a little embarrassed but our great uncles, he dancing because he’s free. He’s was unencumbered by the fact that people were staring at him how other people are looking at him that he’s free. And so remembering that and bringing him into my, into my mind space into my heart space, and realizing that he is part of my ancestry.

What Antidote can you give to those Seeking to Belong to themselves?

My real medicine is silence you know, and the quiet. That’s my prayer time when I can go so fully internally with God and that is such a real important gift to me to be able to do that. It allows me to space my to be authentic self. Reminding myself of my food, or language and culture, those nourishing spaces that that again, remind me of who I am. But we do have a thing, create our own space, and God has given us agency. So what has been important for me, is in whether they are groups of Beloved’s in my life, have friends in my life, that have nurtured me and connected with me. Sending me affirmations of love, irrespective of the institution or place, it’s just a space to be me, a space to be free and to take down your mask. Rest, being in touch with your body, if my mind, if my body, if my soul is rested, then it might be a space to dream and think with some theological imagination.

When you enter into a place that doesn’t necessarily look like you, those are the things that give me spiritual and mystical strength from God, you know, to, to show up unabashedly to show but some boldness, and with some strength.