Written, Filmed, and Photographed by: Caela Collins
I once read that our souls need to be reminded of what lies beneath the fear of darkness. I think this is especially true as we move from the season of Advent into Christmas. Here in Connecticut, especially in December, we move through days that are short and nights that are long. On December 21, we experienced the Winter Solstice, the darkest night of the year. It may sound odd, but the presence of light inhibits growth if it is not balanced with darkness. A seed, before it can grow and send up its shoots of green, needs time in the soil’s dark depths—it needs a season of undisturbed transformation. In darkness, a seed grows and brings about new life, which is why we “green” the church as we await Christ in Advent. We are waiting for this new life, this bright light, to emerge and bring us into the new season of Christmas. Let us explore three parishes within the city of New Haven which is part of the South Central Region, and learn how they green their churches during the dark season of winter as our spirits sprout towards the coming light that is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
From Top to Bottom we visited the following parishes:
“What’s your idea of a perfect day?” I quietly scanned the question, tracing the black font typed on a small strip of white paper that was neatly unfolded & laced between my fingers. The weight of this question was disproportionate to the thin sliver of paper it was printed on; so light that even a feather could outweigh it. Yet, there I was, calculating the formula for my perfect day that could fit in the span of 24 hours.
What do I like to do? What makes me happy… like really happy? What does “perfect” even look like? That heavy question on the thin piece of paper, gentle in its gaze, seemed to beam up at me, wide-eyed like an inquisitive child, eagerly waiting for my answer. With a few deep breaths, all the superficial things that once clouded my head, dissipated and the things that brought true joy to my soul shined bright like the sun.
So what did my perfect day look like?
Well, it was the ease of waking up to the absence of an alarm clock, a long hug from a loved one, putting my playlist on shuffle and every song being as good as the last, no skips required. It was getting a random compliment, not the kind of compliment that strokes an ego, but the kind of compliment that makes your inner light feel seen & appreciated. It was getting an extra donut free of charge at the drive-thru, meeting a kind stranger, finding the $20 bill you forgot about, deeply tucked into your wallet that your mom advised you to do in case of emergencies. Then it hit me, mom. It’s her, my dad, brother, grandmother, and every family member by blood or chosen that pours love into me.
At first, a perfect day was an accumulation of small simple moments that warmed my heart and grounded me in gratitude. However, the more granulated it became, I realized that it always led to sharing moments with the ones I loved most.
The above sentiment reigned true for the Karimi’s, a refugee family of seven, whom tightly held onto the notion that family was the most important remedy for turning even the most imperfect of days into something perfect.
“Jesus was born in a makeshift shelter, too — A place not really meant for human dwelling — And yet it was there that he met us, in the lowliest refuge. Two thousand years later, it’s good to remember That Christ is still being born, here and now, Most especially in places we’d rather not go, Places from which we’d rather look away. God of illumination and incarnation, Open not only our eyes, but our hearts, That we may open, too, our hands And make generous offerings of love, As your holy light reflects from nylon tent flaps, Your holy song rises from a crackling campfire, Lit against the cold, against the night. Amen.”
–Prayer Written by Cameron Bellm -Art Created by Kelly Latimore
We all know the Nativity story but as we explore diversified sacred images in our upcoming Annual Convention, we’re able to identify & reframe that story for what it truly is: a refugee story. Mary with child (Jesus) and Joseph were forced to flee, escaping persecution, from their homeland, a place that held everything they knew, but much like the Karimi’s, not everything they loved.
The Holy Family is still among us currently, in the faces of the refugee, the migrant, the immigrant, the poor and the oppressed. Many individuals are often in need of more clothing, blankets, food and better shelter; and much like the stable, Holy Advent, Clinton, opened their hearts and doors to a family seeking refuge.
The Karimi Family’s Journey, like tens of thousands of Afghans, began with the urgency to flee out of fear of persecution and escape from the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group whom took over Afghanistan in August 2021 after waging a twenty-year insurgency. For families like the Karimi’s, The Taliban targeted those who worked for the original government structure. After being badly beaten and hospitalized, the patriarch of the Karimi family, Mohammad Karimi, decided to find refuge, leaving the only home he has known.
The family escaped to Brazil, managing to live in a church basement for 3-4 months, then trekked to Tijuana, crossed into California, only to be arrested and placed in a ‘camp’ there. Unlike many refugees, the Karimi family was blessed to have contacts within the states, Saba and Mahdj, who opened their home to the Karimis. Without acquaintances who have gone before them and offered aid, there is a likely chance that the family would still be in that camp today.
Fast forward to December 2022, the Sunday before Christmas, the Karimi family attended a church service at Holy Advent, Clinton. From that point on their lives were forever changed:
Want to Help?
Help Financially: Checks can be written to Holy Advent Church, with ‘Refugee/ Asylum Seekers’ clearly written in the memo line. All funds received will go directly to the Karimi Family.
Employment Opportunities (must be in Clinton or Remote): Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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 andsayings; 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 alsoexploring 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.
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. “
Teach others, including children, about the holiday.
Read books about Juneteenth.
Watch videos and documentaries about Juneteenth.
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.
Support Black-owned businesses.
Listen to music from Black artists. June is also Black Music Month.
Visit an African American Museum.
Host a Juneteenth information session at your parish and hire a speaker of color.
Create a Juneteenth inspired Liturgy via hosting a Juneteenth Sunday Service and invite locals within your community to attend and learn.
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.
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.”
My name is Miranda Wilson, I’m 24 (25 on March 31!) and I’m from Norwalk, Connecticut, my home parish being Saint Luke’s Darien. I’m currently a year into my placement as a member of the Young Adult Service Corps of the Episcopal Church (YASC).
My placement is in Geneva, Switzerland, where I am working as the Communications Officer for Emmanuel Episcopal Church, as well as serving as a Geneva Additional Representative at UN Geneva for the DFMS (The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America).
My days include everything from running social media pages, creating service bulletins and email newsletters, to managing event logistics and taking part in meetings at the UN!
What is YASC?
The Young Adult Service Corps, or YASC, is a program for Episcopalians ages 21-30 that places applicants in different dioceses in the Anglican Communion around the world. Depending on their interests and skills, participants can work at churches, refugee centers, transitional housing, schools, and various other places connected to each diocese. In my YASC cohort, there are 10 of us, with placements ranging from Costa Rica, Italy, and Sri Lanka!
Where were you placed?
Originally, I was assigned a placement in Oman, but due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, I ended up instead in Switzerland. I’ve found it really exciting to be living in Geneva—it’s truly an international place, with so many international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and non-profits, all working to make the world a better place. It’s definitely been a bit of a challenge getting my French up to speed, but one that I’ve enjoyed! Working at Emmanuel has been a really great way to integrate myself in both the local and the expatriate communities.
In fact, Emmanuel is the only Episcopal Church in all of Switzerland (8.8 million people)! If you compare that to Connecticut (3.6 million people), which has over 150 Episcopal parishes, that’s a big difference.
I think this makes the local Episcopal community value Emmanuel even more, due to the lack of specifically Episcopal worship in Switzerland. It’s really exciting, as a young Episcopalian, to see such a vibrant Episcopal community flourishing outside of the United States.
From your point of view, what are some strengths of The Episcopal Church that empower you as a young Episcopalian?
As a younger member of the Episcopal Church, I think the Church is doing a lot right. One important aspect the Church has done well in is issuing public statements against injustice and inequality in our world. I was heartened by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s statement against the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June of 2022. It is important to me, as a young woman, to know that the Church I support also supports me in my right to have access to healthcare. I would not feel nearly as welcome or comfortable in a church that did not outwardly express support for women in that manner.
I also find it important that the Episcopal Church recognizes the marginalization and oppression of LGTBQ+ folks, as well as racial discrimination against Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, and other minority groups. As long as these statements continue to be followed up with thoughtful, meaningful action, this is truly a step in the right direction.
In what ways can The Episcopal Church connect more with the youth?
However, I still think The Episcopal Church could do more to actively encourage and involve youth and young adults. It’s important that we have just as many opportunities to be on committees and councils that are making decisions. Having more young adults in positions of leadership throughout the Church allows our voices to be heard, as well as representation in a setting that often skews towards the elder portion of a population.
“In this day and age, social activism is more important now than perhaps ever to young people as we face an overwhelming host of issues in our world, and we want a Church which not only supports us in that, but actively partakes in it as well.“
Describe how you adjusted to living in a different country:
In my life so far, I’ve been really lucky and privileged to have lived in various countries outside of the United States. While this comes with truly amazing experiences, adjusting frequently to life in a new country can be really challenging and exhausting. One common thread I’ve found in my experiences abroad has been the Episcopal Church.
When I lived in Thailand following high school, I didn’t have an Episcopal church near where I was living. That made me realize how I, unwittingly, took for granted the steadfast presence of my home parish, Saint Luke’s Darien, in my life growing up.
When I moved to Scotland for college, I looked specifically for an Episcopal church I could join. I became a Choral Scholar at St Andrews Episcopal Church in St Andrews, Scotland, and this provided me with an extra community throughout my time at school. Not only did I get to meet locals who weren’t necessarily students at the school, but I also became part of a warm, welcoming family of Episcopalians. My fellow choir members came to my musical and theatrical performances, gave me baked goods, and offered comfort and support during the COVID-19 pandemic. When I visit St Andrews now, the church is one of the places I’m most excited to go back to, because I know I will always be warmly welcomed by familiar and new faces.
Now that I am in Switzerland, having the Episcopal church here has only solidified my stance that having an Episcopal community while abroad is very important for me. There is something so beautiful, and also so comforting and familiar, about singing a favorite hymn from The 1982 Hymnal, or reciting The Nicene Creed both at home and thousands of miles away.
Wherever you go, The Episcopal Church is always the same, waiting to welcome you—how amazing is that?! Today, I’m enmeshed fully in the life of Emmanuel, learning French, attending meetings, workshops, and seminars at the United Nations, performing with a local Musical Theater group, traveling around Europe, and meeting amazing people from all over the world—I could not be more blessed to be a part of YASC and The Episcopal Church.