Where are they now?
It was great to catch up with Phil a few weeks ago when we were both in Seattle for the College for Congregational Development. He asked me if I’d consider writing an article for the Pathfinder and I jumped at the chance to share some of my post-All Souls journey.
It’s hard to believe that this month marks five years since we left Berkeley — for those of you who are newer to All Souls, I was the Associate Rector from 2006 – 2014. When we arrived in Maryland in 2014 I began by serving as the Interim Rector at Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore. In the fall of 2015 I was called as the Rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Mount Airy, MD. Most recently I’ve been called to also serve as the Director for the College for Congregational Development in the Diocese of Maryland, where we’re busy planning to launch the program in the summer of 2020.
Mount Airy is a big change from both Baltimore and Berkeley. It’s in central Maryland, a little less than an hour west of Baltimore and a little more than an hour north of Washington, D.C. Mount Airy is a smallish town of just under 10,000 people, and is a mix of suburban and rural. Let’s just say I can often hear cows lowing from our townhouse (and we’re “in town”) and it’s not uncommon for folks to post in town Facebook groups about stray livestock on local roads, but there are also lots of subdivisions and several shopping centers in addition to the historic downtown area.
St. James’ is situated on the highest hill in town at the north end of Main Street. We have about 300 members and an average Sunday attendance of 90. While we’re not large, we are vibrant and multi-generational – having a good mix of families with young children, teens, and older adults. In addition to the church, we have a Nursery School with about 140 students, and we run a Thrift Shop in the downtown business district.
The thing I love about St. James’ is the people. It is an informal congregation that leads with love – when you show up people offer a warm welcome and invite you into the community. We live in polarized times, and one of St. James’ charisms is that it is a place where people from varied backgrounds and political stances come together. It’s not always easy, but there is something powerful and beautiful about it, and it gives me hope. Other things I find exciting about St. James’ include the work I get to do with our Nursery School, leading multiple Chapels a month with different classes, and the fun of having a completely movable worship space. We moved into the new building in 2007 (the old church dated from 1890 further down on Main Street), and instead of a sanctuary and a separate parish hall we have one great hall that can be set up as needed. There was one week where everything was torn down to host our bi-annual Red Cross blood drive on Thursday; on Friday the space was set for a steel drum dinner concert; and by Sunday it was set up for worship! Also, because we’re up on a hill, it has great views of the surrounding countryside
The challenges at St. James’ are the same challenges I’ve seen in every other parish I’ve been a part of: time and money. We’re not a large parish, and yet we raise up leadership for two Boards (Thrift Shop and Nursery School) in addition to our Vestry, and all the other usual ministries. Add into it that we’re a commuter town (for Baltimore, southern MD/DC, and beyond), and people’s available time is always a challenge. And as far as money – while it’s great to have a “new” building, what that really means is that we still have a large mortgage we’re paying down. These challenges are offset by the fact that St. James’ is a healthy community with deep roots and people who step up is various ways when need arises – both within the parish and the wider community.
I am incredibly thankful for my 8 years at All Souls where I learned so much about what it means to be a priest and even more importantly, how to live a Christian life. I’ve carried so much with me that is simply intrinsic, but two practical things are one, a grounded but broad approach to liturgy and worship, and two, the work of organization and congregational development that was a part of our move to three Sunday services. All Souls sending a team to the College for Congregational Development grew from that change, and from there it became my goal to eventually get a team from whatever parish I landed in to go as well. It was through conversation with Caroline McCall that the dream of bringing the College to Maryland first formed and now we’re making that a reality!
All Souls will always have a place in my heart. I continue to watch from afar at the work you are doing and give thanks to God for your witness in the world. God bless you. And if you’re ever in Maryland give me a call!
Summer Sunday School… for Families!
In past summers we’ve done a Sunday School program for kids of all ages. This year we’re going to focus on the whole family, and ways to practice our faith the rest of the week. Some of the things we’ve been hearing this year from parents are that they’re eager both for more time to hang out and talk (and brainstorm, and strategize, and commiserate, and offer solidarity…) together, and are also often looking for more resources for how to engage our faith with kids at home. There are so many Christian books and possibilities for how to do this work as parents out there that it can be daunting to even know where to start, especially as so many of the resources don’t fit our more progressive expression of the Christian faith. With this in mind, our summer offering this year will be tailored for the whole family, seeking to make time to connect together with practices and resources that have been vetted for you.
Parents and kids are invited to gather on the playground to hang out and play in the time between services. Once we have critical mass, we’ll come together to talk a bit about a different kind of practice each week, with projects to make and resources to take home. We’ll be engaging ideas like what sabbath looks like with young kids, or how it might be different with teenagers, how we might incorporate a gratitude practice into our daily or weekly rhythm, and how to reach for prayer together in a way that isn’t totally cheesy. These conversations will all be led by parents, remembering that none of us has easy answers, but that we are here to imagine a way forward together. Then there will be more time for parents to connect and kids to play. We’ll begin this Sunday, July 7th, at about 10:15.
Have you been thinking about giving our choir or Angel Band a try, but not sure if you can commit to regularly making it to the Wednesday evening rehearsals? Or, do you know you can’t make it to the rehearsals at this stage of your life, but you really miss singing in a group? Summer choir just may be the answer for you.
The first Sunday of July (7/7) and the first Sunday of August (8/4) will be Summer Choir Sundays. We’ll be skipping our usual Wednesday evening rehearsal, and anyone who is interested is invited to show up just a little early on Sunday morning. We will rehearse a simple choral piece and an Angel Band song, beginning at 8:30 am (for the 9am service) or 10:45 am (for the 11:15 am service). You’re welcome to come to either or both services. No prior experience is necessary. If you’re curious about our choral community, and would like a no-pressure way to try it out, come join us one of these days!
Simple, Effective Evangelism:
The strange new world of Yelp
For ages, many Episcopalians have bristled at the mention of “the e-word” — evangelism. We tend to recoil at the the thought of publicly testifying to our faith, maybe fearful that talking about it would make someone uncomfortable, or feel like we were trying to convert them. The tricky part is that many, many people (most, by some counts) find their way to church because a friend invited them to try it out. We’re all for that kind of invitation, and also want to offer up another, potentially more palatable form of evangelism: Yelp. Yes, the website where you might go to find a good restaurant or haircutter… apparently a lot of people also go there to look for a church these days!
One of the things that can be most helpful in sussing out a new place, no matter what it is you’re in the market for, is hearing other people’s first-hand experience there. Was the place as advertised? Did you leave satisfied? Would you go back again? It turns out all this is true of churches on Yelp as well, in a strange twist on the ancient practice of testimony. More and more often, we hear that people find there way to All Souls by way of Yelp, our Google business page, or Facebook — and adding your voices to the mix there can be a gift.
If you have even a few minutes free and are game to help more people find there way to All Souls, consider sharing a few sentences of why you came, and why you’ve stayed. What do you really appreciate about being a part of this church? What has made a difference for you? What do you think others need to know about it? Take a little time to share that out, that others might be able to join in this goodness, too. You can post a review on Yelp here, by searching All Souls on Google and entering a review there on the right-hand bar, or on our Facebook page here. Thank you!
ALL SOULS AT THE A’S
It’s time for our annual All Souls group outing to the ballpark: Saturday August 3, Oakland A’s vs St. Louis Cardinals, 4:30 pm start for the tailgate gathering in the Coliseum parking lot, 6:05 pm game time. Cost is $33/person including the hearty tailgate spread. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible, and no later than July 7. We hope you can include this fun evening in your summer plans!
BIG SUR CAMPING TRIP
Sign-ups available online
There’s still time to sign up for the annual parish camping trip to Big Sur, July 19-21! This is always an amazing weekend of relaxing beside the river with favorite people, of skipping stones in the water, conversations with new friends, soaking in natural beauty, getting dusty and getting clean, eating great food, counting stars, singing and praying around the fire… in short, making church away from church and building the beloved community. Please join us — sign up here!
SUMMER BOOK GROUP
Our Summer Book Group continues next Sunday, July 14! Please join us at 10:10 am to start our discussion of Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans.
Sunday, July 14: Part IV (Communion);
Sunday, July 21: Parts V and VI (Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick);
Sunday, July 28: Part VII (Marriage) and Epilogue.
You are welcome to join for any or all sessions.