In This Issue
How to contact us, submit articles & pictures About Spirit
A directory of all the churches in the diocese Directory
How to contact us, submit articles & pictures About Spirit
A directory of all the churches in the diocese Directory
I have only very simple memories of Lent from my childhood. For this young schoolboy, Lent was an arbitrary time of year when one was expected to give up some wonderful treat for what seemed like an interminable period of time.
I’d like to blame my R.E. (Religious Education) teacher (the parish vicar) at my Church of England school for my early lack of Lenten knowledge. But it’s far more likely I was being a squirrely child and not paying attention. So it was that for many years I thought Ash Wednesday had something to do with all the near-by ash trees, not to mention an excuse to forego lessons and join the school in a march up the hill and across the fields to the village church.
There was no imposition of ashes that would have made an impression on a young schoolboy and that might also have prompted at least a passing interest in the proceedings. I suspect that such a practice was far too Roman Catholic for our village church. Unfortunately, my interest in things Lenten peaked (rather than being piqued) the previous day — Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday if you prefer — when we enjoyed our once-a-year treat of pancakes. I’m talking real English pancakes here; thin crepes, drizzled with lemon juice, dusted with sugar, rolled up, and eaten while still warm. After that, there was only one thing to look forward to. Easter Eggs.
Fast forward fifty (plus) years and I’d like to think that I have a little more mature view of the proceedings surrounding Lent. I’ve seen a shift away from my childhood emphasis on sacrifice and (perceived) austerity towards reflection, education, and a modicum of penitence. We have a whole host of Lenten programs that we can follow to prepare us for Holy Week and the Resurrection. Each year I pick one of the programs and try and follow it through. I set aside a short period of time each day to reflect on my chosen Lenten activity. Over the years I’ve spent my time studying the Saintly form, and following the (often passionate) discussion of the merits of the various saints in Lent Madness. It’s great way to learn a lot more about why we revere these people, and often quite humbling too. I’ve read the Daily Lenten meditations from Episcopal Relief & Development, and I found last year’s ‘Growing a Rule of Life’ from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist very helpful. So much so, that I’ve decided to go with their ‘Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John’ program this year. How about you, which programs have you found helpful?
I’ve included links to many of the Lenten programs below. Even if you don’t read this until much later, they all have their merits and are worth investing some time in at any time of year, so why not pick one and give it a go?
Oh, and I’m still looking forward to Easter Eggs.
March is time for Bishop’s Days, or to give it it’s full title, ‘Bishop’s Day with Wardens, Vestries, Administrators, & Clergy’ That’s quite a mouthful. This year we have added a lot of new content, as well as retaining the essentials for those new in their roles. Essentially it’s an annual opportunity for all those involved in Church Leadership and Management to get together and learn in detail how various aspects of the diocese works and integrates with the individual churches. It is an essential primer for new vestry members, and it’s a great place to hone skills, learn what’s new, plus a chance to meet and compare notes with others performing similar roles in other churches.
We hold two Bishop’s Days one in the north and one in the south of the diocese. This year they are being held on March 3 at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City, and on March 17 at Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield. I strongly encourage anyone in a leadership role, or with an interest in a church leadership role to attend. I’ve included a link to the complete list of the offerings below.
We look forward to seeing you there.
Death in life and life in death are fundamental to our faith.The Rt. Rev. Martin S. Field Ten-minute read. Resources
The other day I attended a gathering of folks who follow the daily disciplines of the Cursillo movement within The Episcopal Church, a gathering known by the Spanish word Ultreya. It was a nice evening. We had dinner together. Since we gathered on the evening that the Winter Olympics held its Opening Ceremonies, we introduced ourselves by explaining what Olympic sport most appeals to us and why (curling for me because of the strategy involved). We sang some of our favorite, uplifting, churchy songs. It was nice. Then we had a speaker speak to us, Fr. Ron Verhaeghe.
That’s where it stopped being just a nice evening. Fr. Ron spoke to us – from his many years of experience as a hospital chaplain – about death. He spoke how death is the part of life we so often want to avoid. We want to avoid talking about it. We want to keep it at arm’s length. We don’t even want to say the word, choosing rather to use euphemisms such as: he passed away; she’s gone on to Larger Life; he’s gone to a better place; etc.
Fr. Ron encouraged us to think about death and to think about death as natural, as part of life, and even as a friend. I appreciated what he had to say. It was, to me, a very useful reminder of the theological truth that (being oh-so-very human) is not often lived out in our often-fear-driven lives. Thanks, Fr. Ron, for the reminder and for the jolt out of my worldly attitudes about death.
During Fr. Ron’s talk, my mind ran to a passage of scripture, Mark 9:24 to be exact. The story in chapter 9 goes like this. Jesus has just descended the Mount of Transfiguration where his appearance was changed to dazzling brightness as he conversed with Moses and Elijah. When he comes down, he happens upon an argument between his disciples (on one hand) and a crowd and some scribes (on the other). One man in the crowd, the father of a boy possessed by an evil spirit from childhood, tells Jesus that he brought his son to Jesus’ disciples to be healed, but they were not able to do the feat. Jesus asks that the boy be brought to him, and when he comes into Jesus’ presence, straightaway the spirit sends the boy into an epilepsy-like fit. With his son writhing on the ground, the father asks Jesus: “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus’ reply is not what you’d call gentle: “If you are able! — All things can be done for the one who believes.” (The emphasis is mine.) At Jesus’ words, the father immediately cries — and this is the part that came to me during Fr. Ron’s talk — “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
I have a hunch that this sentiment is real and true for most of us when we think about the Church’s historic teaching about death. The Church says that dying is the gateway to life. The Church says that life is changed, not ended. The Church says that there are many dwellings in our Father’s house. We want to believe; Lord, help our unbelief.
The Pentecost 2015 issue of the Sewanee Theological Review shares an article by Ellen Bradshaw Aitken, Your Life is Hidden with Christ in God. I want to quote from the opening of her article:
“Everything has changed, yet nothing has changed. On a hillside overlooking the North Sea in the Scottish town of St. Andrew’s there is an ancient stone archway. Once, centuries ago, it was the doorway in a small church built by some of the first missionary monks who came to preach in that region. But the rest of the church has fallen down, its stones taken for building houses and walls, and now only the stone archway remains. It is a peculiar archway, since when you walk through it, it seems as though something should be different on the other side. You should be in a different room, or inside rather than outside, or perhaps outside rather than inside. But no, you are simply on the other side of the archway; it is the same, bright, clear day — or, since it is the coast of the North Sea in Scotland, the same, grey, foggy day — as on the other side. Everything seems to have changed; yet nothing has changed.”
The grave and gate of death present us with a similar paradox. And that brings us to the importance of Lent and the victory celebration that follows: the Great 50 Days of Easter.
Lent is one side of the archway. Easter is the other. Lent seems different than Easter, very glum, very gloomy, even very sad, with a side order of morose. Easter, in contrast, seems light and happy, joyous and celebratory, festive and triumphant. But aren’t they just two sides of the same arch? Aren’t they just two aspects of life and death? And are they really so different?
Lent begins with a reminder of our mortality: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Easter reminds us of our eternity in Christ, an eternity won for us, not by us, a gift from God.
Essentially, we observe Lent for the same reasons we celebrate Advent and even Christmas; we do it to live into God’s story. How we observe Lent is not as important as why. Too often Lent becomes a to-do list of things to give up or add on, of ways to make our life more spiritual by pretending the allure of material things is less, or of taking a brief hiatus from things earthly. We give up candy. We ignore the internet. We read the Bible (a very good thing!). We help at a rescue shelter or a food pantry. And much of this is good, much of this serves the purpose of any Lent observances, which is to remind us of “the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith” (BCP, p. 265).
Another way to express the purpose of observing a holy Lent is this: The Church suggests the disciplines of Lent (self-denial, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, self-examination, repentance, and reading and meditating on God’s Word) to help us grow in virtue. Virtue leads us to that which is truly good, which is God Himself. Growing in virtue, we are freed from the things that keep us from God. Lenten disciplines aid us to love more fully: we are better able to be attentive to those around us rather than being distracted by our own wants.
One of the Christian virtues is humility. At its root, humility is knowing that one is not God. Lent is the time when we realize anew that we are not God, never were, never will be.
Writer Jacques Phillippe says, “The desire for perfection is a good thing, but it can be ambiguous. What do we really want? We would like to be experienced, irreproachable, never make any mistakes, never fall, possess unfailing good judgment and unimpeachable virtue. Which is to say we would like to have no more need of forgiveness or mercy, no more need of God and [God’s] help. If at bottom our dream of perfection is to be able to manage without God, we are no longer on the path of the Gospel.”
In Lent we assume our rightful place. In humility, we recognize that we are creatures, created by the God who made us, the Creator we still need, the Source of life without whom life cannot reach its fullest abundance.
Easter, is the other side of the archway. Easter celebrates the truth toward which Lent has pointed. God is the wellspring of life, gives life in abundance, fills life with meaning, and continues life beyond the grave. If Lent helps us realize who we are, Easter is the celebration of what God has done for us.
But are the two sides of the arch truly the same? I believe they are because God is on both sides of the arch. God is with us in this life and in the next. God gives life and brings life back into his eternal presence for time without end. Lent and Easter help us see that life is continuous and that life in God is on both sides of the archway, on both sides of the gateway of death and the grave.
All glory to God our Savior!
How energy efficiency saved $1,200 at St. Anne’s last year.Eric Rhodes Eight-minute read. Resources
And the answer is: three. One to call an electrician, one to mix the drinks, and one to talk about how much they liked the old one. Okay, so maybe not at St. Anne’s where a lightbulb change brought about a savings of $1,200 a year.
Like many churches, St. Anne’s resources are limited, so we must make the right choices – especially when it comes to how we invest our money and use the physical plant. Each church has its own unique needs and requirements. A dollar spent on the church plant is one that cannot be spent on ministry or supporting clergy. While you can’t ignore the buildings, you don’t want to spend more than necessary. Here I want to share our story of how we’ve worked to lower our electrical spending from $5,400 in 2014 to $3,235 in 2017- while rates went up over 10% during this period.
Some of the savings came from simply being better stewards of our usage – turning off those lights (just like your parents told you to do). However, a lot of our savings came from making the right investments in the way we take care of our building.
At St. Anne’s we were faced with roughly 50% of our sanctuary bulbs burning out every three years. We decided there needed to be a change, it was uneconomical to pay to replace half our bulbs every three years, not to mention the time and energy wasted. LEDs are all the rage, so this is where we started. We could replace the bulbs less often and they would be more energy efficient. We soon discovered that each fixture currently being used was 500 watts! Our sanctuary was using the equivalent of 175 lights.
Having made the decision to make changes, the next question was how. We began exploring opportunities to replace our 21 sanctuary light bulbs and we knew it would be expensive! And boy was it, we ended up ordering 22 lights at a cost of $225 apiece, or roughly $5,200! These are commercial fixtures, you can’t just walk into your favorite hardware store and pick them up. The lights were retrofits that fit our existing dimmers. However, if you have simple bulbs in your space LEDs can be found off the shelf that are much cheaper and easier to replace.
Like all churches, we worry about funding, luckily the installation was going to be provided free of charge by a parishioner who is an electrician, but we still had to cover the $5,200 costs. Normally, the price to replace all the lights would be $420 plus about $300 for a lift rental. So, there was a roughly $4,480 gap in funding.
Luckily, this is where your utility provider steps in. KCPL has a 20-30% rebate per fixture. We were able to secure a rebate of $1,150 for the interior lights, cutting the actual cost down to $3,330. To cover this shortfall we were able to solicit additional funds from the parish.
We worked with the electrician and supply company who set us up. The lights came in and were installed during a very long 10-hour day but we knew we would be seeing savings for a long time.
… I can’t stress enough, if you have lights that are high usage or require high wattage, you need to replace them… If you have lights that burn out often, put in a LED. The fixtures may be expensive but make the investment.
We spent the first year with bills coming in 20 – 30% lower than previous comparable months. Even when KCPL made a rate increase mid-way through the first year we still had lower bills. As a side note, business utility rates are different, so you really need to understand your bill to see where you can save. Over the next full year we went on to cut our usage by 7,880 KwH, $1,159 in savings, with the bonus of a decrease of 9,600 pounds of CO2. For us, this is smart work. First, LEDs don’t burn out at the same rate, 18 months and they are still all working- so no replacing bulbs every few years, meaning maintenance costs go down. Second, we are investing in future savings, which allows us to reallocate that money to more important priorities. Thirdly, and best of all, we are lowering our impact on the environment. We are winning all around.
Following our success with that project, we decided to replace our outside lights, again with an eligible rebate. At this point, we only replaced our security or decorative lighting and have plans to tackle parking lot lighting later. With this project, we chose to prioritize the savings and environmental impact over lowering our light pollution. This is a tradeoff, but the safety and security concerns outweighed decreasing our light pollution.
Vestries, I can’t stress enough, if you have lights that are high usage or require high wattage, you need to replace them. If you have lights that require professionals to change, next time, put a LED in. If you have lights that burn out often, put in a LED. The fixtures may be expensive but make the investment. If you don’t have the funds, ask for them. Often power companies will rebate commercial light fixtures. They will save you money. Your year on year savings can be used on ministries in your church.
And the best news? In 2017. Our overall spending was down 10.2%.
Take time to start replacing those bulbs, look to your utilities to see what rebates might be available. Replace thermostats with smart thermostats. Our thermostat reverts back to energy-saving levels every three hours, just in case someone turns it on and forgets it.
And the best news? In 2017 our overall spending was down 10.2%.
The Brotherhood of St. Andrew is a 133-year-old ministry to men in Episcopal and Anglican churches. Currently, the Brotherhood has over 4,000 members in more than 500 chapters.Jim Goodson Five-minute read. Resources
The purpose of the Brotherhood is to bring men and youth to Jesus Christ. The men in this ministry have a rule of life that includes the disciplines of prayer, study, and service. Sharing these disciplines creates a sense of purpose in men’s lives, bonds them together and provides opportunities for men to share their faith journey questions and to learn from each other how to follow Christ and bring others into his kingdom.
Men, by nature, keep their problems to themselves. The Brotherhood offers an avenue where men can allow themselves to share concerns about their spiritual and personal lives.
… as Christians, we are called by God to feed the poor, visit those who are sick or in prison, comfort the afflicted, and as Brothers in Christ our daily prayers and regular studies challenge us to encourage and support others in their walk with Christ.
Clergy often turn to the men in the Brotherhood to provide leadership roles in the Church. The Rev. Jim Nelson, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Friendswood, Texas says, “For me as the rector of a church, the Brotherhood is a group of men who take their faith seriously, who I can count on to put Scripture into service both within the parish and in the community.”
Brotherhood chapters and organized men’s ministries perform hundreds of local, community and worldwide outreach ministries. These ministries include everything from painting the church buildings to driving people to church, building Faith Chests for the newly baptized to raising funds to support ministries in Honduras, Peru, and Uganda.
Brotherhood chapters are quick to respond to crises in their local communities. Brotherhood chapters and men’s ministry groups hold fund-raising events to support homeless veterans, abused women, build Habitat for Humanity Homes and provide food, clothing and shelter to people in need.
One Oregon chapter built a ship to deliver a medical mission team throughout the Micronesian islands.
All Brotherhood chapters perform some form of ministry in their parishes, towns and cities.
All Brotherhood chapters perform some form of ministry in their parishes, towns and cities. Brotherhood chapters are quick to respond to crises in their local communities. When a tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma in 2013, hundreds of Brothers from Texas and Oklahoma responded almost immediately, helping families recover and rebuild their homes. The same thing happened in 2012 when the hurricane Sandy struck New York and New Jersey. A team of Brothers was on the scene before the National Guard.
When an explosion rocked the hamlet of West Texas in 2013, hundreds of Brothers contributed thousands of dollars even as Brothers from nearby Waco were on the scene helping clean up the mess. Most recently, the flooding in Houston, Mississippi, and the mud-slides in California brought Brothers from our churches out to help.
On a national level, the Brotherhood leadership provides speakers to regional meetings throughout the nation, to educate and inform men and women in our churches and communities about the racial reconciliation, recovery from addictions, and provide prison ministries both inside and outside state and federal prisons.
“We help churches develop Veteran Friendly Congregations,” President Jeffrey Butcher says. “It’s a proven program that offers support to veterans returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts.” We work with congregations to assist them in developing and supporting Scout troops, we offer discipleship and mentor training programs and we work with congregations to help combat sex trafficking.
So why do we do these things? Because as Christians, we are called by God to feed the poor, visit those who are sick or in prison, comfort the afflicted, and as Brothers in Christ our daily prayers and regular studies challenge us to encourage and support others in their walk with Christ.
If your church does not have a Brotherhood of St. Andrew chapter and you would like to get information about starting one, contact President Jeff Butcher or Executive Director Tom Welch (contact details below).
May the power of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.
Join us for this year’s Book Study Challenge.The Rev. Dr. Canon Steven R. Rottgers One-minute read. Resources
During my 32+ years as a parish priest, I’ve watched many a New Year’s Resolution falter and fail within days and weeks of its initial formation. I’ve since adopted a KISS attitude by keeping intended hopes, plans and goals for a New Year to a healthy list of 1-3 items.
I’ve seen the same format playout with Congregations and their hopes, plans and goals for a New Year and Vestry leadership become overwhelmed with well-intended lists of 12-15 points. Ignoring the basic Pareto (80/20) Rule, many frustrations and dashed expectations replace the initial hopes, dreams, plans, and goals.
For this year, 2018, I’m encouraging all clergy, vestries, book clubs, laity, and leadership of all sorts to consider a simple yet transformative path. It’s in the form of a Book Study Challenge. There is no hard “Start” date and no hard “Finish Line” for this plan, yet it does depend upon a thread of commitment on an individual or congregational level to just “Do It!”
The discussion/study outline is simple for all to participate and be heard
Finally, we invite you to come with your group and share your insights, applications or ideas at the Summer Church Summit, Calvary Episcopal Church in Sedalia on Saturday, August 25th, 2018.
On August 25, 2017, the most powerful storm to hit the state of Texas in more than 50 years pummeled the Greater Houston area. Hurricane Harvey. Tens of thousands of residents were devastated with major damage to property and homes.Mike Smith One-minute read. Resources
During major disasters like Harvey, Episcopal Relief & Development works closely with church partners to address immediate and long-term needs in impacted communities. Prior to this event, the organization’s US Disaster team provided disaster preparedness training and resources for volunteer leaders in most dioceses around the Episcopal Church including the dioceses of Texas and West Texas. Immediately after the hurricane, key stakeholders across impacted areas were invited to participate in informational webinars to help even more local partners respond. Church leaders were mobilized to distribute resources for temporary housing and household goods, using church knowledge to prioritize those with the greatest need.
Native Texan and Major Gift Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development, Mike Smith, recently traveled to his home state to witness and document the devastating impact of the storm. During his trip, he gained a deeper awareness of how neighbors work together during recovery efforts. Mike also witnessed the strength and power of ecumenical cooperation as congregations and church partners leveraged local relationships to meet the immediate and complex needs of diverse communities throughout Texas.
“If it weren’t for all the churches, we’d be right back where we were right after the storm.”
— Loa Heckendorn, Dickinson, Texas
Read the following short stories that Mike captured during this visit.
We lost all of it. The children lost all their belongings, their toys. But now the kids are happy because it is starting to come together and I’m happy. Very Thankful.
Episcopal Churches and Episcopal Relief & Development partners are doing amazing work all over the vast greater Houston area. Literally, hundreds of church communities are working every day to serve those in need.
St. Andrews Church in Pearland, Texas, 23 miles south of Houston, developed such an appetite for service that three years ago its members formed an outreach mission church called MOSAIC. They hold events with names like “Messy Church,” “Yoga Worship” and “Dinner Worship.” And they rebuild houses for those who barely made it through Harvey. Debbie Allensworth is MOSAIC’s director. She assembles volunteers, organizes their schedules, helps procure building materials and tries to keep everything on schedule.
I visited one of MOSAIC’s rebuilding efforts in Pearland, just a few miles from St. Andrews. It is the home of Norma Gallegos, a single mother of four who supports her family on her job at a local fast food restaurant. Her house lost its roof, floors, several feet of walls, and her family lost many possessions. Norma and her children, ages 8 to 17, have continued to live in the house through rebuilding. It’s chaotic and difficult, but the work is getting done.
“I worked very hard to provide the necessities of life,” Norma said. “We lost all of it. The children lost all the belongings, their toys. They were very sad. But now the kids are happy because it is starting to come together and I’m happy. Very thankful.”
I can’t think about the world’s problems. I just try to stay focused on this little piece that I can do something about.
40 miles north of Houston in Conroe, Texas, The Abundant Harvest Food Truck serves meals to residents of the Needham Road community. On this half-mile long street, River Oaks Drive, with about 100 homes, everyone lost a lot and some everything.
Molly Carr is the human food service machine that makes this ministry without walls work. I met her at the kitchen of Trinity Episcopal Church in The Woodlands, Texas where Molly, Dulce Salas and their volunteers prep and cook meals.
They had received 160 pounds of donated Texas barbeque—brisket, sausage, ham, and chicken that morning. It would make 400 meals. Molly, Dulce and volunteer Michele Berkowitz made short work of prepping the food, Michele said she saw the food truck on the street one day, looked it up and liked what she read. This is the fourth time she has volunteered to help. The women sliced, pulled, chopped and vacuum-sealed the food and stashed it in the freezer.
Molly drove me to the Needham Road community where she serves regular meals with the help of neighborhood women. Nestled between the West Fork of the San Jacinto River and Grants Lake, the street got hammered with floodwater from both sides.
Most of the residents in this community work long days and try to repair their homes between shifts. Some of them are lucky enough to have a trailer, but some are living in tents in the yard. It’s a close-knit community and people look after one another.
After preparing the meals for the food truck, Molly, Dulce and the volunteers meet at one of the residents’ houses and eat together and often have church together.
Molly said she couldn’t think too long about how much work there is still to do, how many people are in need across the Houston area. “I can’t think about the world’s problems. I just try to stay focused on this little piece that I can do something about” she said.
If it weren’t for all the churches, we’d be right back where we were right after the storm.
116 days after one of the worst storms ever to hit Houston and South Texas, reminders of Hurricane Harvey are everywhere: from spray-painted scrawls that designate “condemned” buildings to piles of wallboard, carpet and two-by-fours mucked out of homes that can still be salvaged.
There is also a lot that isn’t so obvious, such as the work being done by churches and their indefatigable volunteers from the very communities that were hit or neighboring areas.
Loa Heckendorn is food pantry supervisor for M.I. Lewis Social Services in Dickinson, Texas.
“If it weren’t for all the churches,” she said, “we’d be right back where we were right after the storm.”
On the day I arrived, Ms. Heckendorn was handing diapers, boxes of cereal, and other supplies to Chelsea Weaver, whose baby Ava was born five days before Harvey hit. The family needed food, but the M.I. Lewis offices and warehouse couldn’t supply it on their own. Inundated during the storm, their food supply had been ruined.
Enter Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, which donated space to start a new pantry as well as space in the church buildings for the agency’s office functions.
“Holy Trinity has accommodated anything we need,” said Loa. “A lot of the food has come from the church. I’m not even worried about restocking our pantry. The churches will do that.”
Kecia Mallette is director of operations for Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Dickinson, Texas. She juggles two cell phones and scores of relationships she has made with people all over Dickinson, where roughly 80% of residents suffered damage from Harvey. She bounces over the roads in her black Nissan Frontier, checking on the progress of a rebuilding project or meeting with clergy from other churches in the community, or just stopping by to check on people.
Originally, Mallette’s job was part-time. She came in to help with the parish business processes and to hire and train a new office manager. But Harvey changed all that. Mallette became a founding member of the Galveston County Long Term Recovery Group, sanctioned by FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). She’s supervised the building of a new website for a group called Galveston County Recovers.
“It’s an interfaith group that includes non-profits, faith-based organizations, community groups, all of them local,” she said. “The disaster was so broad-based, it required all these groups working together.”
Kecia said that approximately 45,000 people applied for FEMA benefits in Galveston County, south of Houston, and probably 4,500 of them will need individual case management to guide them through the maze of agencies they must navigate to get back on their feet. If Kecia thinks this is an overwhelming job, it doesn’t show. She seems to take one thing at a time, and then move on to the next. And she has helped put Holy Trinity at the forefront of disaster response in the community.
They come here for food, but they leave with so much more.
The line forms before sunrise on the day of the “Food Fair” at ECHOS, Episcopal Community Health Outreach Services. Snippets of Spanish, Vietnamese and Mandarin, as well as English, are heard as people huddle under blankets in the parking lot of The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany. Executive Director Cathy Moore buzzes around the office, making sure that the doors can be opened soon to the 150 or so who wait patiently in the morning cold. A table with donated clothing, diapers, bedding and toys is available to all.
Each client fills out paperwork and interviews with an ECHOS case manager to determine the family’s needs. The staff at ECHOS helps clients sign up for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare and Medicaid. Health care teams from University of Texas Dental Branch, University of Houston Optometric School and Texas Children’s Hospital provide services on a regular basis.
“They come here for food, but they leave with so much more,” Moore said.
“We want to help them get health services before they walk into an ER when things are so bad, their foot has to come off,” she said. “People wait so long because they think they can’t afford care.”
Through November ECHOS had served almost 11,373 individuals and more than 5,000 households this year. After Harvey, 49% are new clients.
ECHOS was established by The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in 2001, a response to the rapid influx of immigrants and changing demographics in the Southwest Houston community. Many of ECHOS clients live nearby in apartments, many of which were severely damaged by the flooding.
After I lost everything in Harvey, the nice people here helped me so I choose to help them. I’ve lost but I’ve also been blessed. I’ll be here anytime they need me.
ECHOS provided rental assistance to many who lost their apartments and needed help getting into new housing. They have also provided beds, dressers and tables.
The twice-a-month food fair provides each family 45-60 pounds of fresh produce, fruits, bread and dairy products. The Houston Food Bank is ECHOS’ long-time partner.
Louis Ramirez hoisted boxes of corn from the food bank trailer. He lives in the Southwest Houston neighborhood and was hit hard by the storm. Ramirez finally got back into an apartment on Nov. 1, with rent assistance from ECHOS.
Now he is the one helping others as a regular volunteer at ECHOS.
“After I lost everything in Harvey, the nice people here helped me so I choose to help them. I’ve lost but I’ve also been blessed,” he said. “I’ll be here anytime they need me.“
I pinch myself all the time about this house. I would never have believed this could happen.
Kathy and John Bradley stayed in their Dickinson home during the storm. John has emphysema and a heart condition. Kathy had knee replacement surgery recently, so they both had trouble getting around. When it became obvious that they needed to get out of their house, it was too late.
The mandatory evacuation order came late at night when most people, including the Bradleys, were asleep. The couple couldn’t see how to leave safely or where they would go. They played cards at their kitchen table as the waters rose.
“When the water started coming in,” Kathy said, “we swept it out. I’ve lived in Florida so I’ve dealt with hurricanes before. “
The “22-foot ditch” next door—the bayou—was supposed to handle the excess water. It didn’t. And like so many of their neighbors, the Bradleys’ walls were damaged. When the water finally receded, the house was a mess. It needed extensive repairs.
An insurance adjustor walking down the street of abandoned houses saw a debris pile in the front of the Bradleys’ house. It was the only indication that someone might be living there, so he knocked on the door. The adjustor called a local Presbyterian church that put the Bradleys in touch with The Fuller Center for Housing. Fuller is a non-profit ecumenical organization that partners with community groups to build and rehabilitate homes for people in need.
Fuller sent in a team to rebuild; when I visited, they were putting the finishing touches on the house, which now has a new roof, back wall, siding, bathroom, drywall, kitchen island and cabinets. Kathy chose the colors. Everything except the brick was rebuilt.
Fuller decides whose house can be rebuilt based on several priorities, including: people without insurance, income at 50% of area median, elderly, handicapped, single parents with children at home, and owned by the residents. Homeowners are only required to pay what they receive from their insurance company or FEMA. The estimated cost of the repairs done to the Bradleys’ home was $75-80,000, according to Brian Gioe, Fuller’s building director.
The Bradleys have lived in their house at 4805 27th Street East for 30 years. He’s a former Navy veteran who served on the USS Saratoga. She spends a lot of her time taking care of him.
“I pinch myself all the time about this house. I would never have believed this could happen. If this is our last Christmas together, it will be in a beautiful house.”
We will light a candle. We will not let despair rule the day.
When Hurricane Harvey and its endless rains pummeled South Texas, Holy Trinity Church in Dickinson, Texas somehow remained above water, miraculous given that the church building sits next to the banks of the Dickinson Bayou.
Faith Lutheran Church, 1.6 miles around the corner and down the street, wasn’t so lucky. Faith lost pews, hymnals, carpet, flooring and walls. Parishioners don’t expect even to get back into the building until late January. The main worship space will take longer and will cost more than they have.
The Rev. Stacy Stringer, rector of Holy Trinity Church, reached out to her counterpart, Pastor Deb Grant, inviting her and the Faith congregation to share Holy Trinity’s space and worship together. They’ve been doing so ever since, with a kind of tag team approach, alternating preaching and celebrating.
I was there on Advent 1. The priests’ stoles and the Advent wreath candles were blue, not purple, a simple act to recognize the Lutheran tradition.
In the Litany for Advent Hope, Pastor Grant prayed: “People of God, what will you do with hope?
The congregational response: “We will light a candle. We will not let despair rule the day.”
Advent tells us to keep watch, prepare, to see what is needed and then to do something to help. Maybe this is exactly what I’m being called to do.
In her sermon, the Rev. Stringer spoke of the darkness that had threatened so much of the Dickinson community since Harvey, and how easy it can be to fall into despair. But she reminded worshipers that their community had not fallen, that they were bringing light to the world through their care for each other.
“Advent tells us to keep watch, prepare, to see what is needed and then do something to help, “she said.
The Rev. Stringer never thought much about disaster relief and response, but now says, “Maybe this is exactly what I’m being called to do.”
The church parking lot, which was used as a launching point in September for a flotilla of rescue boats, was full on the Sunday I visited. After services, the Rev. Stringer and Pastor Grant greeted worshipers after the 10:30 service.
People lingered, talking with the ministers and each other, finally leaving to return to their lives, some of which will be in flux for a long time.
Heading back down route 517, I passed Faith Lutheran church and saw the marquee that said, simply: “We Thank God for Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.”
We can’t stop doing this. This is what ministry is all about.
It started with a drive through the neighborhood. Pastor Amos Charles Sowell, the minister at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Dickinson, saw peoples’ houses flooded out, all their possessions ruined.
“I didn’t suffer any damage,” he said. “I saw all these other people who lost their homes, cars, everything.”
He decided, he said, that he didn’t need to play as much golf. He asked for volunteers to prepare meals in the church kitchen for neighbors who didn’t know where their next meal would come from. They started small, rice and beans mostly.
“People came here devastated, with tears in their eyes,” he said.
A food pantry contacted the church and asked if it could deliver two truckloads of food. Pastor Sowell said they would take it. Since then the church kitchen has received more than 45 truckloads, and cars line up around the corner and down the street to pick up food.
Pastor Sowell said they give a lot of food to people who come back two or three times a day. But he knows it’s because they are feeding other families, relatives and neighbors. There is a substantial undocumented population in the area, and they are likely some of the recipients.
Mount Olive has 150 active members and twenty of them volunteer regularly to sort, organize and pack. When we visited, two women packed boxes and two men moved them into trunks of waiting cars. Pastor Sowell says he packs boxes in his sleep.
He asked his congregation if they would like to stop this work at the end of October or November. The congregation decided to continue indefinitely. An older woman in the church who regularly volunteers told him, “We can’t stop doing this. This is what ministry is all about.”
This article was originally published by Episcopal Relief & Development.
The Kansas priest who brought God’s redemptive grace to troubled boys.Shane Schneider Five-minute read. Resources
Western Kansas in the 1940s was a vast expanse of sky and rolling earth sparsely dotted with towns and farmsteads. Episcopalians and their churches were few and far apart, cast across 10,000 square miles of wind-blown prairie served by The Rev. Robert Mize Jr., a young and energetic priest. Fr. Bob served isolated churches and families with a pastoral heart and a spirit of simplicity modeled after Francis of Assisi.
Like Francis, Fr. Bob cared little for money and embraced a poverty that was both practical and unaffected. This was just as well, since the Missionary Diocese of Western Kansas was poor, and his boss, The Rt. Rev. Robert Mize Sr., could barely afford to pay his son’s living expenses. That was okay with Fr. Bob, who preferred to wear donated, second-hand clothing and who gave nearly every coat he owned to homeless men he met on the street. Like Francis, he served Christ by serving the poor and marginalized. He believed resolutely in the power of forgiveness to heal even the most broken, and though he never married, his spiritual children can be counted in the thousands.
Nearly 75 years ago, Fr. Bob opened Saint Francis Boys’ Home in the dilapidated former “Old People’s Home” in Ellsworth – against the advice and counsel of, well, nearly everyone. During his travels across the Kansas prairie, Fr. Bob had met many boys in trouble with the law for reasons ranging from truancy and vandalism to car theft and armed robbery. Most ended up in the Topeka Industrial School or other institutions of the juvenile justice system – disregarded, forgotten, written off. That any boy might be given up for lost was an affront to the redemptive power of God, and it troubled him deeply.
Fr. Bob believed a Christ-centered approach held the key to a boy’s rehabilitation. He called it “Therapy in Christ,” and it involved daily prayer, accepting responsibility for one’s actions, unconditional love, and forgiveness. Fr. Bob fervently believed unconditional love and forgiveness (even before it was sought) would enable boys to regain their self-worth and begin to order their lives accordingly.
It didn’t happen overnight. Fr. Bob initially faced skepticism and stiff community opposition in Ellsworth. He spent countless hours apologizing to local merchants, returning stolen merchandise, and tracking down boys on joyrides in stolen cars. Yet, he never wavered in his conviction that unconditional love and forgiveness could change lives. And it did. Gradually, most of the boys quit running, reformed, and left the home to lead happy, productive lives. Eventually, Saint Francis opened another Boys’ Home near Salina, and by the time Fr. Bob left in 1960 to become Bishop of Damaraland in Southwest Africa, the ministry he founded had built a solid reputation of success throughout the state, the nation, and the Church.
Today, Saint Francis Community Services serves more than 10,000 children and families through active ministry in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, Mississippi, and in the Central American countries of El Salvador and Honduras. As a ministry, Saint Francis serves and advocates for children and families struggling with poverty, drug and alcohol dependency, mental health issues, domestic violence, refugee status, and human trafficking.
Bob Mize died in 2000 following other successful ministries in Africa and the United States. Today, he lies buried back on the windswept prairie, in a humble church cemetery near rural Hays. Many over the years have called him a saint; perhaps he was. Only God knows for sure. But to the thousands of children and youth served by Saint Francis over the last seven decades, Fr. Bob’s vision gave life-saving healing, hope, and redemption.
Fr. David argues that the Good News of Christ Jesus — Good News for all people, gay and straight — makes no distinction between them when it comes to monogamous lifelong committed relationships.The Very Rev. David Kendrick Eight-minute read. Resources
On Saturday, January 20th, I celebrated and blessed my first same-sex marriage, which was also the first at St. John’s. If you had told me I would have done this 10 years ago when I was first ordained I would have had a hard time believing you. If you had told me 20 years ago that as a layperson I would even have attended a same-sex wedding, I would not have believed you. And yet I have done just that.
The vast majority of my parishioners are either supportive or at least accepting of this. But a few have questioned whether, to paraphrase Richard Niebuhr, I’m putting Culture above Christ by linking the Church to a social movement for gay rights rather than standing for the truth. This article is an adaptation of a longer pastoral letter in which I tried to explain why that is not the case. But justifying this to my local parish alone is not enough. I promised at my ordination to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel (from the Old English God-Spell—Good News) of Jesus Christ. And so, I here proclaim that the Good News of Christ Jesus—Good News for all people, gay and straight—makes no distinction between them when it comes to monogamous lifelong committed relationships.
Twenty years ago, it seemed to me that Holy Scripture commanded two righteous ways of sexual expression. One was a lifelong marriage between a man and woman. The other was more a sublimation of that sexuality, namely lifelong celibacy in anticipation of that day when there will be no need for exclusive relationships because, standing in God’s glory, we shall all love each other equally. That was how I read Jesus’ teaching on marriage and celibacy in Matthew 19:1-12.
I deceived myself and others by my supposed compassion for those whom I took at their word that their attraction to the same gender was as much an instinct as mine to the opposite gender. By no means was their attraction a sin, I insisted, just their acting on it.
But the more I studied Jesus’ teaching, in Education for Ministry before Seminary, in Seminary, and after Seminary, the deeper and deeper understanding I was given of Jesus’ teaching on human sexuality. And the more and more convicted I became over the chains I was willing to place on my gay brothers and sisters. Jesus was being asked about marriage at a time when it was only between men and women, but his words should not be fixed to the cultural presumptions of that audience, time and place.
Having just heard Jesus say that they can’t divorce their wives at will, his male disciples then ask if they should be like Jesus,
19…10His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Matthew 19:10
In other words, must we be celibate like you Jesus? To this Jesus answers,
19…11“Not everybody can accept this teaching, but only those who have received the ability to accept it.” Matthew 19:11a
Quite obviously, no human being can possibly give such a gift to another human being or impose it. Only God can give the ability to accept lifelong celibacy, and only “those who can accept it should accept it,” (Matthew 19:12) Jesus concludes.
While he may have been speaking to straight males, I concluded that Jesus’ teaching should be applied equally to those whose desire for union with the same gender is as much an instinct as the instinctive desire of heterosexual persons. I was also convicted of my cruelty in presuming to impose an obligation of lifelong celibacy on a certain group of people when I would never have considered imposing that burden on myself or those like me. If anyone, heterosexual or homosexual, discerns the gift and call of celibacy from God, who am I to judge? But who am I also to judge those who have not discerned from God the ability within themselves to abandon the worldly hope of an exclusive loving relationship?
And so, I came to believe that Jesus would no more impose lifelong celibacy on homosexual persons than he did on heterosexual males. And I came to this belief not by ignoring the words of the Gospel, but by reading more deeply, the Word made flesh (John 1:14) speaking through the human authors of Holy Scripture.
But marriage? One might pastorally accept and even bless a monogamous gay relationship. But marriage as the outward and visible sign of God’s grace and Christ’s personal presence? Gay marriage a sacrament? What would I say to a gay couple asking not just for a blessing (which I and most priests are rather profligate about giving) but for the public celebration of their commitment as sacramental, a sign and vehicle of God’s grace and Christ’s presence?
More than once since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in July of 2015, homosexual couples have asked to be married at my parish church. Each time I explained the longstanding rule in my parish that at least one of them must be an active member of the parish. Thus, as with any other couple, a gay couple would need to visit us, get to know us, kneel before the Bishop and be either confirmed or received before I could consider their request. Gates Wagner and Lanora Samaniego fitted that description perfectly.
In May of 2016, the St. John’s Evangelism Committee proposed that we participate as a sponsor of the Greater Ozarks Gay Pride Festival, and the Vestry voted to do. So, on Saturday, June 18th, just one week after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, we went to our gay brothers and sisters rather than wait for them to risk coming to us on any given Sunday not knowing how they would be received. And it was there that I met Lanora and Gates.
Soon after we met at Pridefest, Gates and Lanora made their first visit. Coming from the Roman Catholic tradition, they took to our Anglo-Catholic parish like fish to water. They were received into The Episcopal Church by Bishop Field that November. They are both active in the Outreach Ministry Group, and the Evangelism Committee. And their Friday yoga class has helped parishioners and others in pain. In short, Lanora and Gates fully committed themselves to this parish before asking me to officiate at their marriage.
I agreed to do the same premarital counseling with them as I do with other couples. Once they had completed that counseling and I was convinced of their mature commitment to each other, I found myself with Saint Philip the Deacon on that wilderness road with the Ethiopian Eunuch who asked in so many words — What is to keep me from the Sacrament of Baptism? (Acts 8:26-40). Simply because he had been picked as a newborn to serve the Ethiopian Queen, and his testicles crushed with a stone, this Eunuch could be drawn to the One and only God of Israel, and even go to Jerusalem as a religious pilgrim. But as a disfigured eunuch (and not of his own choice) he could never be a Jew by the Law of Moses. As that eunuch asked Philip, so I heard Gates and Lanora asking me — What is to keep us from the Sacrament of Marriage?
What exactly makes marriage a sacrament of God’s infinite grace? “[Marriage] signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church,” the Priest says in the opening declaration of the Marriage ceremony. Underpinning this teaching are the words of Saint Paul to the Ephesians:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:25, 32.
In the patriarchal society of Paul’s time, it makes sense that these words were directed to husbands, whom prevailing culture said should assert authority over their wives (an idea Paul paid lip service to while emphasizing much more the husband’s obligation to sacrifice himself for his wife if necessary). Understanding more fully the equality of male and female, the Church today calls both people in a marriage to love each other as Christ loved the Church and died for that Church. That is what makes a marriage Christian, not the gender or orientation of the two persons involved.
Seeing that Christ-like love in Lanora and Gates for each other, and their commitment to that part of Christ’s Body the Church called Episcopal, I was able to look at Paul’s words to the Ephesians about the “mystery” (in Latin, sacramentum) of marriage more deeply than the culture in which they were written, the same way I had looked at Jesus’ words in Matthew. And I could see no reason why something that no person chooses determined whether their love for each other was sacramental. And so today, they are Lanora and Gates Samaniego.
None of this has been about surrendering to the Culture. It has been about hearing the Word of God who is with God and is God speaking eternal truth through the human words of Holy Scripture across the millennia. It has also been about God the Holy Spirit opening our minds to a new interpretation of those human words.
16…12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:12-13
I believe that same-sex marriage is one of those things that has come. And I cannot say no to those whose monogamous love is no different based simply on their gender. To God’s grace and truth through Jesus Christ I offer my mind, and my heart, and those in my care whose love for God is at least equal to mine.
Mark Ohlemeier was ordained into the Sacred Order of Presbyters at Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield on Saturday, January 13, 2018.The Rev. Mark Ohlemeier Two-minute read. Resources
As the grandson of an Episcopal priest, I was raised with a healthy faith in the risen Christ. I regularly attended church with my family, went to Sunday school, served as an acolyte, and my parents instilled within me a strong belief in the love of God and of my role as a servant to the Lord. Throughout my childhood, however, there was a small, quiet voice in the back of my mind calling me to something even greater, but that voice gradually faded as I replaced it with other interests during my adolescence and college years.
I stopped attending church while I was in college, enjoying a new found freedom to make my own choices, but a few years after my graduation I felt as though something was missing in my life. I returned to regular Sunday worship and was instantly reminded of God’s unfailing love for me, even during those times when I was distant. Furthermore, the soft voice I had heard as a child returned, but I quickly dismissed it as simply a fanciful notion from my past. I eventually married a wonderful woman, and a couple years later we were blessed with a beautiful daughter. My new family became faithful and devoted members of the church, and as far as I was concerned, that was enough — more than I deserved — and each day I thanked the Lord for everything I had been given in my life.
The quiet and small voice, however, continued unabated. I tried to satisfy it by getting more involved in various lay ministries — lector, vestry member, ceremonial verger, etc. — but the urge for more would not cease. I also began to perceive similar suggestions from family members and friends, people who saw some sort of pastoral quality within me that I could not see and had been denying for years. The heavens then converged when I was facing a decision in my employment and a crossroads in my life. I was having a very difficult time ignoring the voice this time. After countless hours of consultation with family and clergy, and even more time spent in deep personal prayer, I entered the discernment process to convince myself whether or not ordained ministry was the path where God was leading me to.
I emerged from discernment with a confidence that the priesthood was, indeed, what God was calling me to pursue. My three years of seminary at the School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee, were some of the most joyous in my life, even with all the struggles and heartbreak and challenges that I faced during this time. I was ordained to the diaconate on June 17, 2017, in Grace Cathedral in Topeka, Kansas — coincidentally, my sending parish — and was ordained to the priesthood on January 13, 2018, at Christ Church in Springfield in the warm embrace of the congregation where I have been serving as curate. And through it all, I have continued to be surrounded by a loving and supportive group of family and friends, a body of Christ that, as I look back, has been with me on every step of my journey. I can only hope and pray that this new chapter in my life is devoted to reflecting on all of the blessings I have been given throughout the years, and that I may be strengthened to spread the joy of God’s love and mercy to others.