Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Good (!) News from the Greater Church

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
The Messenger
April 2009

Good (!) News from the Greater Church

Since Grace Church is a big and busy place our monthly vestry meetings tend to be packed with lots of business – reports about various ministries, discussion about finances, and planning for future events. In addition to all of that, at each meeting at least a little bit of time is set aside for “News from the Greater Church.” During this part of the meeting Lauren and I take a few minutes to report on what has been happening in the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Newark. Sometimes we happily tell the vestry about the ordination of a new priest or the institution of a new rector in a nearby church. Unfortunately, all too often we share sad news about continuing arguments in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church about the interpretation of Scripture, human sexuality, and, of course, money and property. Dwelling on the strife in the “greater church” can be discouraging and often it’s a relief when this part of the meeting is over and we return to the business of Grace Church.

Over the past few months, however, I have had some wonderful experiences of church beyond Grace Church, so I thought I would use this month’s message to share some good news from the greater church!

On February 8th, the youth confirmation class and I attended the annual Absalom Jones service at Trinity + St. Philip’s Cathedral in Newark. Although perhaps a little too long, this was a powerful experience of the Church at its best. Many people from across the diocese attended the service to honor the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church. This joyful celebration, led by Bishop Beckwith, featured first-rate music performed by choirs from around the diocese and a challenging sermon from the Rev. Renee Hill, an Episcopal priest and Director of Programs at the Temple of Understanding, a multi-faith education organization in New York. And then the confirmands and I finished off this great day with a dinner at Five Guys on Main Street in Madison!

The following weekend I was at St. Paul’s in Chatham serving along with the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton and the Rev. Michael Sniffen (who was sponsored for ordination by Grace - you may remember him as “our seminarian Michael”) as a spiritual director for Happening, the diocesan retreat for high school age youth. I was very impressed by Ms. Kai Alston, the diocesan youth missioner, as well as the young people from around the diocese who planned and led the retreat. In their talks, the retreat leaders movingly shared some of their own experiences and challenges and offered deep reflection on the place of faith in our lives. One of the best features of the retreat is that it brought together young people from places such as Newark, Chatham, Paterson, and Phillipsburg who otherwise might never have encountered one another but have now become good friends. I came home from Chatham inspired by theses wonderful young people from around our diocese.

In early March our 12 youth confirmands and I made a diocesan confirmation retreat at All Saints in Bergenfield. We were there with people from a number of different churches, including All Saints in Glen Rock and Grace Church in Newark. Again, it was a fantastic opportunity for us to meet others from around the diocese. It was easy to work with this group of young people who were able to have fun playing games such as “Confirmation Jeopardy” but also able to speak freely and honestly about their faith and why they were seeking Confirmation. Many of our confirmands enjoyed their meeting with Bishop Beckwith. They were pleasantly surprised to find out that he is a “normal person” who is genuinely interested in their lives.

Finally, also in early March, George Hayman and I took a tour of St. Philip’s Academy, the Episcopal elementary and middle school housed in a dramatically transformed candy factory in the Central Ward of Newark. We were led around by a remarkably sharp, poised and proud middle school student. He showed off the gym where we saw the fencing team practicing, the cafeteria where he informed us about the organic and nutritious food served there, the rooftop garden where students grow some of their own food, and classrooms creatively decorated and featuring state of the art technology. It is clear that the students at St. Philip’s are receiving a first-class education. I encourage you to visit the school’s website to learn more:

These experiences have renewed my pride in being a member of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Newark. We are part of something very good!