Episcopal Diocese of Washington

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News & Features

Diaconal Training Becomes a Priority

January 05, 2017

the Rev. Susan Walker, left and Sandra Bramble, right

By Lu Stanton León

For most of her adult, life Susan Walker has been a servant leader—feeding the hungry, serving the sick, working with the marginalized and underserved. Yet despite all the work with her church and community, she felt a deeper call to service. In 2012, she was ordained a deacon.

Now, Walker works during the week as resident services director and leasing agent at St. Mary’s Court, an apartment community for seniors with low-to-moderate-income, and at 8 a. m. on Sundays she serves as a deacon at St. Stephen and the Incarnation in the District. She is also helping guide the diocese’s first class of people seeking ordination to the diaconate.

Under the leadership of Bishop Mariann Budde, diaconal training has become a priority. Last March, the bishop called the Rev. Sue von Rautenkranz as the diocese’s first archdeacon. In this role, von Rautenkranz, a deacon and Christian formation coordinator at St. Dunstan’s in Bethesda, oversees the discernment, formation and deployment process for deacons in the diocese.

In my favorite shorthand,” von Rautenkranz says, “the priest (pastor and teacher) invites people into community for feeding and nurture while the deacon pushes you back out into the world to do mission.

“We currently have 18 persons officially in the process toward ordination to the diaconate,” von Rautenkranz says. “Five of those are now candidates and, if all goes as planned and God is willing and the people are consenting, these five will be ordained in the fall. Thirteen are postulants and will begin the diocesan deacons school this month. They have been taking academic classes for the last year.

“The canons require that deacons receive academic training in scripture, theology and the traditions of the church,” von Rautenkranz says. “Our diocese is requiring basic survey courses in Old and New Testament, church history—including Anglican and Episcopal Church history—ethics and systematic theology.”

The candidates who will be ordained in the fall already have master of divinity degrees or “equivalent master’s level work in religious or theological studies,” Rautenkranz says. The postulants are taking classes locally as well as participating in an online classes through the Center for Anglican Learning and Leadership, a program of Church Divinity School of the Pacific, an Episcopal seminary in Berkeley, California.  CALL works with partner dioceses around the country to develop curricula and online courses that support local formation for ordained ministry. Students are taught by experienced instructors.

“​The diocese has a special agreement with CDSP to provide the classes we need every calendar year if we have at least four to five students in those classes,” von Rautenkranz says. “This group [of postulants] will go before the Standing Committee in the fall of 2017. If all things proceed as expected, then members of that cohort will be ordained one year later, in the fall of 2018.”

Von Rautenkranz says the 18 people in the process now “are a very diverse group with skills and passions for ministry from chaplaincy with the elderly to jail ministry. They bring years of work in many social service settings and jobs, and many have waited a long time for the diocese to commit itself more fully to nurturing vocational deacons.

​Walker, who serves as spiritual formation advisor to the diaconate program, says “We are supposed to model servant leadership so others can say, ‘I want to do that in my life.’ It’s helping people own their own ministry.”

Sandra Bramble, a part-time parish secretary at St. John's, Mount Rainier, Maryland, says the diocese’s new diaconate program is just what she has been looking for. A native of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, an island in the Caribbean, she’s been active in her parish more than 20 years “doing the work I actually love.” She’s the head verger and a member of the altar guild, the Episcopal Church Women, Daughters of the King, Mothers’ Union, and St. John’s social and cultural committee. She also works with the youth and volunteers in community feeding and service programs.

“What I feel about this program for deacons is that a person might be involved in a lot of things and want to be a part of what happens in the church, but they may not feel that call to be an ordained deacon or priest,” Bramble says. “I think it is a call that you hear from God. I felt this call. I finally had to realize that God was calling me to this type of ministry, to serve in the church in this way.”

A deacon, she says, is “the go between of the people out there and the priest. It’s about serving others. This is why I like the community work that I do, because I am able to be a servant of the people, servant of the Christ, servant of the church.”

The Rev. Joseph Constant, rector of St. John's, Beltsville, testifies to the value of deacons. The Rev. Tyler Jones, who was in a diaconate program that the diocese piloted under Bishop John Bryson Chane, was ordained with Walker and the Rev. Terri Murphy, who now serves at Church of the Ascension in Silver Spring, in 2012, served as deacon at St. John’s until moving out of the area.

“I think the services that Tyler provided to St. John’s were invaluable,” Constant says. “Especially for a parish that can only afford a full-time rector and nothing else, to have another ordained person is so valuable.” Most deacons are non-stipendiary.

Deacons wear a clerical collar, and Constant says that makes a particular difference hospital visits. “As you know, we can all do ministry and pastoral care,” he says. “We are all ministers of the church. But when it comes to death and dying, it certainly helps to walk in there in a collar. It also helps to actually have someone who is ordained at the end of life service.”

Walker agrees.

“I think being ordained brings with it, for me, this inner sense of being, this identity as a person of God who is called to be with people in a loving relationship no matter who they are,” Walker says. “Wearing a collar when at I’m at St. Stephen’s … that identifies me as a person of God. So perhaps that gives people some more accessibility to me in terms of their spiritual needs.”

Walker says she’s excited about the upcoming group of deacons.  

“With so many deacons being ordained in the next few years, it will be an eye opener,” she says. “We’re not junior priests, and we’re not taking anything away from priests or laity. It is a calling, not just what I want to do but what God is calling me to do.”

For more information, please visit the diaconate page of the website or email von Rautenkranz at archdeacon@edow.org.

Category: News

St. Mark's to Host National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence

December 01, 2016

 By Kathleen Moore

The Fourth Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence will take place December 14 from 7:00 to 8:00 pm at St. Mark’s, Capitol Hill.  December 14 is the fourth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Since the shooting, an estimated 120,000 people have died from gun fire in the United States, and another 300,000 have been wounded, sponsors of the vigil say.

St. Mark’s, along with the Newtown Foundation, Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, States United to Prevent Gun Violence, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Organizing for Action, are bringing families of victims and survivors of gun violence from Newtown and around the country to Washington for the vigil, which is part of Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend.

This year’s vigil is taking place during a time of uncertainty in the wake of the recent Presidential election. “These families of gun violence victims come from all over the country, and they’ve used their personal tragedy to advocate so that no one else has to have this tragedy again,” says the Rev. Justi Schunior, associate rector at St. Mark’s. “This year, because of the election, they’re feeling very vulnerable. It’s a scary time for the gun violence prevention community, because it is unclear where this is going to be as a priority for activism in Congress. So, my goal for this year’s vigil is to surround these families with love and support.”

St. Mark’s initially became involved with the National Vigil in 2014, when last-minute meeting space was needed for the two associated days of lobbying. “The first year when we offered meeting space, there were only a handful of volunteers, but it was really powerful,” Schunior says. “Then, when we hosted the vigil last year, we had about 100 volunteers. This year, we have even more involvement and ownership. It’s just really exciting.”

Schunior notes the congregation’s involvement in the vigil is part of its growing activism. “I feel something new going on in the parish around wanting to take part in changing this culture of violence and racism,” Schunior says. “When I gather people together, they tell me, ‘We need to do something.’ I feel a new energy. And I hope that after the vigil, we come back and say ‘Well, what does this mean for us throughout the year?’”

Those planning on attending the National Vigil at St. Mark’s are asked to register in advance online. Congregations are also invited to pledge participation in the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend.

Category: News

Bishop, council urge Trump to speak out against hate speech

November 19, 2016

Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde and Diocesan Council have written to President-elect Donald J. Trump urging him to speak out vigorously against hate speech and acts of violence. The letter comes in the wake of racist vandalism at Church of Our Saviour in the Hillandale neighborhood of Silver Spring, Maryland, and in the midst of a rising tide of hate crimes and racist and homophobic harassment nationwide.

Here is the letter:


November 17, 2016

 The Honorable Donald J. Trump

The President-Elect

1717 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC  20006

 Dear Mr. Trump:

We write on behalf of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and its 88 parishes in Washington and Maryland.

While we recognize you will not assume the Presidency until January 20, 2017, we believe it is imperative that you speak out forcefully now against the hate speech and acts of violence which have occurred since the election. 

Last Sunday, the priest at Our Saviour Episcopal Church in Hillandale, Maryland found graffiti declaring “Trump Nation Whites Only” on a sign advertising their Spanish-language Mass and on the wall of the parish's memorial garden. We do not know who the vandals are or whether they were actual supporters of your presidency, but we do know this language should be unacceptable to all of us and particularly to you as it was done in your name.

While we do not assume a direct connection between the often divisive language of the campaign and this and other acts, we cannot fail to recognize that words matter. The present climate in our nation leaves those who are most vulnerable to hate crimes and language understandably scared. Instead of coming together as a nation after an intense campaign as we have done in the past, we are faced with those trying to permanently divide us.

It is for this reason we ask that you, as you take the steps necessary to assume the leadership of this great nation, denounce explicitly those who are using language or engaging in acts that could tear us asunder. There is no place for such violence in our land.

We will speak out as well and will stand with those with reason to fear for their safety and will defend their place in our society. It is imperative that we do so. Together we must work for our highest ideals:  “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”


Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde and the

Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Washington

Mrs. JoAnn Appold

Mr. Paul Barkett

Mr. Paul F. Brewster                                                                           

The Rev. Cassandra Burton

Ms. Diane Clark

Canon Paul E. Cooney

The Rev. Canon. Rosemarie L. Duncan, D.Min.

Mr. Kurt A. Ellison

Mr. Herman Gloster

The Rev. Caron Gwynn

Mr. Thomas Hattaway

The Rev. James Isaacs

The Rev. Timothy A. Johnson

Mr. James Jones

Ms. Mary Kostel

The Rev. Luis León

Mr. Vincent Napoleon

Mr. Keith Roachford  

Ms. Deanne Samuels

Ms. Maureen Shea

The Rev. Cynthia Simpson

Dr. Kathleen Staudt

The Rev. David Wacaster

The Rev. Dr. Andrew Walter

Ms. Penelope Winder

Category: News

A Garden Grows in Bowie

October 27, 2016


By Kathleen Moore 

When Holy Trinity, Bowie junior warden Thomas Sykes first read an article about church gardens, he knew right away this ministry would be a good fit for his parish.

“I just thought ‘wow, our parish already has land and a kitchen—two things other parishes would almost die for,’” says Sykes, who envisioned the parish garden as a way to reach out to the community and as a bridge between the parish and the Holy Trinity Episcopal Day School.

“Over the years, the school and the church communities have become distanced,” Sykes explains. “It’s a common story—there are no longer many parishioners who have kids enrolled at the school, and many students’ families don’t realize there is a connection—that the school is our parish’s largest mission.”

Sykes got to work immediately. “I talked to the rector and senior warden about the feasibility of doing this, and they were both on board,” he recalls. “Then, I did a lot of homework. I researched materials and costs, and more importantly, I started thinking about the reasons for building this garden.”

In February, Sykes presented the idea to the vestry. Bishop Mariann Budde happened to be present for the meeting, and heard the presentation as well. “I look at that as a Holy Spirit moment,” Sykes says. “Bishop Mariann came up with the tagline ‘Come grow our church as we grow our garden.’” The parish had a sign made up with Bishop Budde’s tagline that now sits in the garden.

The next step was forming a steering committee to get started on the work of realizing the vision. “I was hoping to get four volunteers, but we got ten right away,” Sykes says. “Once again, the Holy Spirit was saying, ‘it’s just a fit.’”

The outpouring of volunteers from the parish has continued through the planning, building and maintaining of the garden. “It’s not always the same volunteers,” Sykes says, “but collectively we always have people eager to help.” The parish reached out to businesses around the area, receiving discounts and donations of many of the necessary materials.

Holy Trinity’s rector, the Rev. Leslie M. St. Louis, credits strong lay leadership with the successful garden project. “Holy Trinity is a parish that is deeply in transition,” St. Louis says. “It's a 305-year-old parish that is really facing the reality that the way we’ve been doing things—five, 10, 15, 20 years ago—no longer works and hasn’t been working for a long time. Our lay leadership is really taking hold of the question of how we connect to the world the way we are now, and is willing to experiment with a lot of different things, and I think the garden is an expression of that.”  

The completed garden is 20 feet by 25 feet with eight raised beds and a four-foot path down the middle. “It was important the garden be accessible to any visitor in a wheelchair,” Sykes says. “We made sure these guests can get through the gate and into the garden.”

In its first season, the parish crops included peppers, cantaloupes, watermelon, honeydew, squash, and eggplant as well as sunflowers and gladiolas. Volunteers bring fresh produce from the garden to the narthex where community members can help themselves. The parish also makes clear that members and neighbors are welcome to harvest food for themselves. The remaining crops are brought to the local foodbank, the Bowie Interfaith Pantry and Emergency Aid Fund. Between its own garden and the donations from Holy Trinity, the foodbank was able to keep two eight-foot tables filled with fresh produce all summer long.

The opportunity to volunteer in the garden has helped to foster relationships between the parish and its neighbors. “We have one woman who attended a funeral of a family member who had been a member of the parish 20 years ago,” Sykes says. “And I was talking to her about the garden, and now she shows up regularly.” While volunteers describe working in the garden as therapeutic, others “simply sit in the garden and watch what’s going on,” Sykes says. “That’s therapeutic as well. It really is.”

“The garden is a way to reach out into the community and be active with the community in a way that's really healthy,” St. Louis says. “It's brought another avenue to authentically talk to people about God, that isn’t just, ‘hello I'm going to talk to you about Jesus Christ.’”

The garden is also playing the role Sykes had hoped in strengthening the connection between the parish and its school by becoming an outdoor classroom for students in grades one through four.

“Last Friday we spent the morning in the garden with three science classes—they came out one class after another,” Sykes says. “That’s when all the hard work of building that garden just goes away. They come out with questions and clipboards. They ask questions like, ‘Why did you decide to build a garden?’ One class was learning about bacteria, so wanted to know all about bacteria in the garden. It is really higher level learning.”

When students asked how tall the tallest sunflower is, Sykes simply pulled it out, roots and all (it was the end of the season) to show not only the height that was visible above ground, but the 8-inch root system below. “That all started from one little seed,” Sykes explained to the students. “Nurturing little things is so important in a garden. And then, they become big things.”

The garden has become a way for students to learn about science, math, food and nutrition, and the importance of creation care. Students have participated in planning, planting, harvesting, and composting. Later this year, students will bring worms they have been watching grow and learning about in their science classroom out to the garden.

“Every time we have a class, the time runs out before questions stop,” Sykes says. “It has fulfilled and exceeded our expectations. It’s so rewarding when the teacher emails to say, ‘They are so looking forward to spending a day with you in the garden.’ And when the new crops start coming in, those students will be able to say, ‘I did that.’

Category: News

New Website Launches

October 13, 2016

The diocese launched a new website and unveiled a new logo yesterday.

The Spanish language site has also been updated and rebranded. It has a new url: es.edow.org

The new website is bright and colorful with a homepage that features more photos and less type than the previous site. The logo retains a variation on the white cross at the center of the previous logo, but surrounds it with deeper, richer colors.

“In interviews with diocesan staff, clergy and lay leaders, the site development team was struck by the emphasis people in our diocese place on living out their faith and trying to make a difference in the world around them,” said Canon to the Ordinary Paul Cooney. “Our website development team set out to create a site that is clean and easy to use, but also one that captures the active, vigorous faith people spoke about--and I think they succeeded.”

Cooney and Mitchell Sams, the diocese’s communications and events manager, were the staff liaisons to the developers.

The site emphasizes the diocese’s commitment to congregational vitality by devoting one section exclusively to parish growth and renewal initiatives. All ministries and networks are grouped under one heading, as are all resources and forms.

The News and Events section contains the diocesan events calendar, newsletters and stories, and links to the diocese’s Facebook page and Twitter stream. A Newcomers section provides introductory information about the Episcopal Church to those whose spiritual explorations bring them to the diocesan website.

Canticle Communications, the diocese’s communications consultants, provided overall editorial direction and project management for the new site, and, with Sams’ assistance, did the writing and editing.  Jans Carton of WebSanity in St. Louis, developed the site’s infrastructure and Martha Hoyle of Martha Hoyle Design in Evanston, Illinois, created the logo and provided art direction.

Category: News