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Rooted in an old building, Wise County Episcopalians find new ways to be church

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 11:56am

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a continuing series about the reinvention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. Other stories in the series can be found here.


[Episcopal News Service – Decatur, Texas] The story of the Episcopal Church of Wise County is rooted in Ellen and Mark Whitley’s search for a good place to worship. As Ellen tells it, the couple moved to the area north of Fort Worth, Texas, just before the diocese’s 2008 split and found the local Episcopal congregation. However, when she asked if she could be a lector, she was told, “the men would have to agree to it.”

“We left and I had a sour taste in my mouth,” she said. “And I didn’t look (for another church) for quite a while.”

But at the end of 2014, she wrote to then-Bishop Provisional Rayford High, saying God had “smacked me up the back of the head” and told her to do something about the lack of a place for Episcopalians to gather in Wise County. High came to their house to discuss the need and the Rev. Tracie Middleton, a deacon with the diocesan staff, helped support their effort.

“Within a year, we were here,” she recalled, during a November 2016 interview with Episcopal News Service in the sanctuary of what is now the Episcopal Church of Wise County.

In between, there was morning prayer and Eucharist at the Whitleys’ house and, when there got to be too many people for that, the budding congregation moved to the community center in Boonville in March 2015. Episcopalians in Wichita Falls donated prayer books, an altar book, a Gospel book and two candlesticks. St. Stephen’s in Hurst sent hymnals.

That same month Sweetie Pie’s Ribeyes restaurant entered the story. Episcopalians and other interested people gathered there for lunch and to talk about finding a more permanent place. After lunch at the Decatur restaurant, the group took a short trip of a few blocks to see the historic Episcopal Mission of the Ascension, which was then functioning as a wedding chapel.

They peered in the windows, liked what they saw and gathered for noonday prayer in the small grassy parking lot next door. Soon, the Episcopalians came to an agreement with the owner of the building that dated to 1889 when the Rt. Rev. Alexander C. Garrett, the noted missionary bishop of northern Texas, founded it. The small white building had been deconsecrated in the 1940s, sold and used as a mattress factory.

The church was dirty and cluttered the first time they walked in but “we knew this was where we wanted to be,” Mark Whitley said. The congregation banded together to spruce up the place. In addition, Whitley, who was about to be confirmed, built the altar with no screws or nails, instead fashioning pegs to hold all the pieces together. He also made the Paschal candleholder, credence table, baptismal font and altar bookstand.

When the Episcopalians began worshipping in the building just after Ascension Day in May 2015, representatives of the Episcopal Church of Wichita Falls, who brought along some more prayer books as gifts, joined them.

“This place is an outward and visible sign of God’s action in your life as a community of faith,” said the Rt. Rev. J. Scott Mayer, during a November 2016 Eucharist to reconsecrate the building. Mayer was elected the Diocese of Fort Worth’s fourth provisional bishop in May 2015.

And that community of faith reaches beyond the small church with the white pews and the flyswatter hanging on the wall next to an Episcopal calendar in the tiny narthex. It has instituted what it calls “Mission of the Month,” highlighting a different organization to help each month. Examples of the members’ efforts include helping a battered women’s shelter, collecting food for the school children who will not be eating at school because of holidays and weekends, and helping a pet shelter collect supplies.

“Even though we’re a very small community we’re being recognized as a worshipping community that is reaching out to the people here in Decatur and in Wise County in general,” said the Rev. Anthony Hiatt, priest-in-charge.

Two leaders inthe congregation have been elected to serve the wider Episcopal Church. Senior Warden Jill McClendon was recently chosen as the diocese’s lay trustee for the University of the South and Hiatt is first clergy alternate in the diocese’s 2018 General Convention deputation.

Hiatt, a bi-vocational priest who also designs rail cars for Trinity Industries Inc. in Dallas, has been with the Wise County church since Aug. 1, 2015, in what is his first solo assignment.

The members make wise use of social media for keeping in touch with their communities and each other, including having an internet-based book club.

The Wise County Episcopalians can show the rest of the church “what we can do from the ground up, building from nothing by people who are committed,” said Hiatt, adding that they are learning that what they receive in return from giving is great. “That’s what seems to keep us going and keeps us coming back and keeps us doing more.”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Diocese of Bethlehem issues call for election of next bishop

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 9:59am

[Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem] Diocese of Bethlehem Bishop Provisional Sean Rowe said Jan. 5 that the diocese is ready to begin the process of electing its ninth bishop diocesan.

His letter follows.

January 5, 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

When you gave me the honor of serving as your bishop provisional in March 2014, I pledged to spend several years working with you to discern the Diocese of Bethlehem’s common mission and update and streamline financial, governance and administrative practices. With thanksgiving for your remarkable progress in assuring a faithful future for the diocese, today I am calling for the election of the ninth bishop of Bethlehem.

In consultation with the Rt. Rev. Clay Matthews, the Episcopal Church’s bishop for pastoral development, and Judy Stark, a consultant recommended by his office who is a daughter of the Diocese of Bethlehem, the Standing Committee will soon seek members for a search committee to discern a slate of nominees for bishop. In time, the Standing Committee will also name a transitions committee to oversee the new bishop’s consecration and welcome to the diocese. Although the final calendar for the search process will be determined by the Standing Committee, I anticipate that we will elect the ninth bishop of Bethlehem in the spring of 2018 and consecrate and seat that person in the fall of that year.

During my remaining time as your bishop provisional, I look forward to fostering the shared values and relationships that emerged from our recent diocesan pilgrimage and continuing to work with you on developing a mission strategy to unite our response to God’s call. You will receive further updates about the search for your next bishop from the Standing Committee and, once it is named, from the search committee.

I continue to be grateful for this opportunity to serve with you for a time, and I ask you to join me in praying for the leaders in the Diocese of Bethlehem who will participate the search for your next bishop.


The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe
Bishop Provisional

Reinventing St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in shopping center took ‘a lot of miracles’

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 3:16pm

Editor’s note: This is the third in a continuing series about the reinvention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. Other stories in the series can be found here.

[Episcopal News Service – Hurst, Texas] At first glance, Village Plaza looks like any other shopping center in the Fort Worth metro area – until you see that there’s not one but three  storefront churches. The newest, situated between Yori, an Asian fusion restaurant, and Thai Thip restaurant is St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

The shopping center is the third place St. Stephen’s Episcopalians have called home since 2008. First, there was the local Women’s Club building and then the Northeast Wedding Chapel. Each place was limited by the cost of rent and when it was available. So, some members went looking for a new place and the idea of moving to a shopping center came up because, as Diane Snow put it, they thought such a location “might be appealing to non-traditional church goers.”

The Episcopal Church Building Fund helped the congregation lease the space that had once housed a dance studio where one member’s daughter took classes years ago. “It was quite a risk in getting started here,” Snow said, explaining that the members wondered if it had enough room, and no one knew how long they would be there.

They took the risk, gutting the space and turning it into a multipurpose sanctuary in 2014. And, while for most Episcopalians the image of a traditional church with stained glass windows and a big organ symbolizes the presence of the holy, the Rev. Bob Gross, a formerly retired priest who now serves the congregation, said, “I’ve felt the Holy Spirit here.”

Others have, too, and newcomers have arrived. Some bring children and so the congregation offers Sunday school – in the kitchen right behind where the altar is current placed. It’s a good thing that Gross “has a nice booming voice,” said Rebecca McKneely, a member of St. Stephen’s since 1992.

St. Stephen’s is finding ways to minister to the community outside of Sunday. It is one of the saints of the 4 Saints Food Pantry. The members also collect food for the Fort Worth AIDS Outreach Center and they regularly cook supper at the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth.

The Little Free Library out front of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Hurst, Texas, has become an unexpected outreach ministry. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

And then there’s their Little Free Library out front. It looks like a little traditional church, complete with painted stained glass windows, a red door and a “slate” roof. Beside it are two chairs and anyone is welcome to take a book from the small collection inside. Each book comes with a St. Stephen’s bookmark.

The library has become an outreach effort in an unexpected way. One day a woman stopped by the library while shopping in the Village Plaza. She took a book back to the elderly woman for whom she works as a caregiver. Now the two women make a weekly trip to the library as one way for the older of the two to be outside of her house.

The lesson from St. Stephen’s story for the rest of the Episcopal Church? “Anything is possible if you will think outside the norm instead of ‘we’ve always done it that way,’ ” says Gross. “Think of ways to do it differently and each location is going to be slightly different but there are people that need to be reached out to.”

Snow, who joined St. Stephen’s in 1977, agreed. “From the very beginning, it has been extremely humbling to know what the early Christians experienced. All they had was each other and all we had was each other but we did have a lot of miracles happen along the way.”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


North Carolina adds two bishop candidates by petition

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 3:09pm

[Diocese of North Carolina press release] The Standing Committee of the Diocese of North Carolina is pleased to announce the addition of two petition candidates to the slate of nominees for the 12th bishop diocesan of the diocese.

The additional nominees are:

  • The Rev. George Adamik – St. Paul’s, Cary, North Carolina
  • The Rev. Canon Michael Buerkel Hunn – The Episcopal Church, New York, New York

The petition process is allowed per Resolution 201-1 of the 200th Annual Convention, as amended by the 201st Annual Convention, and provides that following the announcement of nominees for the 12th bishop chosen by the Nominating Committee, the Standing Committee accepts nominations by petition for a two-week period.

“Two petition nominations were received,” said Joe Ferrell, president of the Standing Committee. “The Standing Committee certifies these nominees have had the same background checks as were done with respect to the nominees of the Nominating Committee and that each nominee passed the same.”

With the addition of Adamik and Hunn, the full slate of nominees for the XII Bishop Diocesan is:

  • The Rev. George Adamik – St. Paul’s, Cary, North Carolina
  • The Rev. Charles T. Dupree – Trinity Episcopal Church, Bloomington, Indiana
  • The Rev. Canon Michael Buerkel Hunn – The Episcopal Church, New York, New York
  • The Rev. Samuel S. Rodman, III – Diocese of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts

The election of the 12th bishop diocesan will take place at a special one-day Convention scheduled for Saturday, March 4, 2017 in Greensboro.

Before the election, however, every person in the Diocese of North Carolina has multiple opportunities to become acquainted with the candidates. Materials provided by the candidates will continue to be shared on the bishop search website throughout January and February, and a series of online, one-on-one “town hall” conversations will take place Jan. 19 – 31. A full week of in-person “whistle stops” and walkabout gatherings are scheduled for Feb. 13-18.

The full schedule of events is available here.

Episcopal Relief & Development welcomes four new members to Board of Directors

Wed, 01/04/2017 - 3:03pm

[Episcopal Relief & Development] Episcopal Relief & Development welcomes four new members to its Board of Directors: The Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves (Diocese of El Camino Real), The Rt. Rev. Wilfrido Ramos Orench (Diocese of Puerto Rico), Mark D. Constantine (Diocese of Southern Virginia) and Meg L. DeRonghe (Diocese of Olympia).

“Effective leadership of Episcopal Relief & Development – whose programs touch millions of people in nearly 40 countries throughout the world – requires board members who are knowledgeable, engaged and proactive leaders in their fields.  Our newest board members more than fit that profile,” said Neel Lane, Chair of the organization’s Board of Directors. “As we live into the new strategic plan for 2017 and beyond, the diversity of perspectives represented on our Board will enable us to rise to the challenges of becoming a more powerful player in the international development space while remaining true to our Episcopal Church roots.”

The Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real. Her passion for making the Christian faith relevant in today’s complex world is reflected in her support for strong leadership in all orders of church ministry. She is an author, a leader in clergy formation and an active participant on committees and boards of The Episcopal Church. Her support for strengthening Anglican Communion partnerships is evident in the triad partnership among El Camino Real, Gloucester and Western Tanganyika.

The Rt. Rev. Wilfrido Ramos Orench is Provisional Bishop of Puerto Rico. Born and raised in Yauco, Puerto Rico, where he currently resides, he was called to serve as Latino Missioner in the Diocese of Connecticut in 1984. After his consecration as Bishop Suffragan in Connecticut and during his time as Provisional Bishop of Ecuador, he served on Executive Council, the Commission on World Mission and the Board of Trustees of General Theological Seminary.  He was Officer of The Episcopal Church for Province IX from 2009-13.

Mr. Mark D. Constantine is President and Chief Executive Officer of Richmond Memorial Health Foundation (RMHF).  Prior to joining RMHF, he directed program-related investment and affordable housing initiatives at the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, and served for more than a decade as a consultant on issues related to governance, strategy, and learning with organizations such as the Ford Foundation, Lilly Endowment and the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation. He is an author on philanthropy and social impact investing.

Ms. Meg L. DeRonghe is a Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation working on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD). She has over 20 years of experience in advocacy, public policy and resource mobilization for a range of global health issues from reproductive health to malaria. She was previously interim Executive Director and Director of Corporate, Government and Foundation Business Development for NetsforLife®, Episcopal Relief & Development’s award-winning, flagship malaria control initiative.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization operating under the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, Episcopal Relief & Development is governed by a 21-member Board of Directors that includes clergy and lay leaders from around the country. New board members are nominated by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and the Chair of the Board of Episcopal Relief & Development, in consultation with the Board’s Governance Committee. The Board votes, and elections take effect when ratified by the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church. Board members are invited to serve three-year terms beginning January 1, which may be renewed once.

“I offer deep thanks to Neel and all of our Board members for their continued excellence in leadership, and a joyful welcome to our new members who are joining at an exciting time in the development of our organization,” said Rob Radtke, President of Episcopal Relief & Development. “I am grateful that we can draw on the knowledge and experience of all of our members – both lay and ordained, those coming from not-for-profit and corporate sectors and those who understand how we as a faith-based organization can fit into the larger international development sphere – as we strengthen our ability to do our work on behalf of all Episcopalians.”

For over 75 years, Episcopal Relief & Development has served as a compassionate response to human suffering in the world. The agency works with more than 3 million people in nearly 40 countries worldwide to overcome poverty, hunger and disease through multi-sector programs, using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework. An independent 501(c)(3) organization, it works closely with Anglican Communion and ecumenical partners to help communities create long-term development strategies and rebuild after disasters.

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church puts church on stage and in the community

Wed, 01/04/2017 - 2:57pm

Editor’s note: This is the second in a continuing series about the reinvention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. Other stories in the series can be found here.

[Episcopal News Service – Arlington, Texas] The scene behind the altars of most Episcopal churches never changes. What is known as the reredos includes a cross, perhaps some elaborate carved wood or stonework with or without a picture and maybe a stained glass window. Such is not the case for St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.

The members of this church have been worshipping on the stage and in the seats of Theater Arlington for eight years and the set of whatever play is being offered forms a reredos of sorts.

Regardless of the backdrop, the Episcopalians arrive every Sunday morning, open the closet where they store the hardware of church and set up on the stage. Because it is a working theater, things happen – or don’t happen. There have been Sundays without lights or a sound system; and mornings when there’s no set but plenty of dismantled stuff all over the stage.

“But, every week, people put that together and every week God shows up,” says the Rev. Kevin Johnson, who has been St. Alban’s priest-in-charge for about 18 months.

St. Alban’s member Priscilla Promise said, “It’s so much more meaningful, honestly, when you put it together every Sunday and everyone’s a part of it.”

The on-stage nature of Eucharist is symbolic of how St. Alban’s has found new ways to be the church in downtown Arlington. When Episcopalians found themselves exiled after their fellow parishioners chose to follow then-Bishop Jack Iker out of the Episcopal Church but claimed the St. Alban’s building, one of the Episcopal members that had a connection with Theater Arlington suggested they might gather there for worship. The theater was not used on Sunday mornings and the organization also had room for church offices and classrooms in a building across the street where it rented space.

Fast-forward to 2015 when the office building went up for sale. The theater did not have the money to buy it but St. Alban’s had connections with the Episcopal Church Building Fund. Several congregations in the diocese had participated in its Recasting Assets program, a process to help congregations identify their place in the community – to understand their relevance; to build mission and value in the world around them; and to use their real-estate assets to develop financial self-sustainability.

The fund agreed to loan Theatre Arlington $500,000 – structured as a mortgage – to support its work in the community and to support St. Alban’s ministry. The theater could remain in the office building and continue, along with the Downtown Arlington Arts Management Corp., to spearhead the development of the Arlington Arts District. The rent St. Alban’s pays now goes to the theater. The congregation now sees itself in partnership with the theater and vice versa.

St. Alban’s has always given money for Theatre Arlington’s Camp Be a Star, a week-long theater summer camp for homeless children and children in transitional housing in Arlington. Recently, the members have begun volunteering during the camp and the two organizations are exploring ways to offer camp-like classes all year.

“Everything that we’re doing, they’re a part of,” said Cindy Honeycutt, the theater’s education and outreach director, of the St. Alban’s members.

The church attracts new people to its Sunday services via the internet and from signs outside on the sidewalks. “This parish, because of its history, is really committed to … valuing every human being that walks through that door – every human being,” said Johnson.

For instance, there’s a homeless shelter nearby and some of its residents make their way into the theater for Eucharist.

The parishioners, Johnson said, treat those folks “as real people, not as ‘homeless people’ first” and by doing so, “they get to see the God that is in that person, and it changes them.”

St. Alban’s is one of the congregations benefitting from the wider church’s willingness to grant the diocese money to support its growing ministry. Johnson’s part-time salary has been increased to full time.

“We’re grateful for the investment and the trust that the rest of the church has placed in this parish,” Johnson said. “I think they see, as the people of this place see, really great opportunities for expanded ministry; for new, creative ways of being church in the community.”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Canterbury backs Southern Africa primate in church v state row

Wed, 01/04/2017 - 1:21pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has declared his support for the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, in a dispute with the South African president.

In his Christmas sermon, Archbishop Thabo had rejected a call from President Jacob Zuma for the church to stay out of politics. In a statement, President Zuma later said that he had been referring to party politics. In response, Archbishop Thabo welcomed the clarification but insisted the church would not keep quiet and would not keep out of politics.

Full article.