Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Engaging a changing world with
an enduring faith in Jesus Christ

News & Features

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

Hunger Walks Step Off on Oct. 16

October 13, 2016


By Lu Stanton León

Whether you’re interested in lacing up your walking shoes or sponsoring those who do, you can help fight hunger and malnutrition in the diocese by supporting the upcoming 2016 Hunger Walks.  Money raised from the walks—$8,000 last year—is distributed by the Diocesan Hunger Fund and goes directly to organizations working against hunger throughout local communities.

This year’s two Hunger Walks get underway at 1:30 p. m. Sunday, October 16. One starts at Lake Needwood in Derwood, Maryland, and is organized by the youth group at Christ Church, Rockville. The other walk begins at Serenity Farm in Benedict, Maryland, and is organized by parishioners at Christ Church, Port Tobacco Parish in La Plata, and Christ Church, Old Durham.

Last year the Diocesan Hunger Fund distributed $53,200.00 in grants to 13 organizations. The fund receives administrative support from the diocese but no funds from the diocesan budget. All funding comes from parishes, either through monthly or periodic collections or special events like the annual Hunger Walks.

This past June a $4,400 Hunger Fund grant was awarded to the Kwanzaa Kitchen breakfast program, which has operated out of St. George’s Episcopal Church in the Bloomingdale/LeDroit area of northwest Washington since 1992. Volunteers there serve 50 to 100 hot breakfast meals (dine-ins and carry outs) two Saturdays each month.

“Our program wouldn’t exist without the Hunger Fund,” says Janis Evans, who has volunteered at Kwanzaa Kitchen since 1994 and is now program coordinator. “We have seen the number of people served go down over the years, but I think it’s because of gentrification. A lot of people have been pushed out. Now, between 25 to 40 people come for breakfast. In addition to giving them a dine-in plate, they can take carryout. A lot of them take one home to eat later or take to shut-ins.”

The Hunger Fund was established in the mid-1970s under Bishop John. 2016 has been a tough year for the fund.

“This has been the worst year for money I’ve seen in a long time,” says Lee Mericle, chair of the Hunger Fund committee. “We are way down in funds this year. I don’t know why, but as of August we had received a little over $51,000 in requests and had funded a little over $25,000, which is not good.”

The Hunger Fund awards grants throughout the year. Mericle hopes that direct donations and donations from the Hunger Walks will increase this fall.  Direct donations can be made through diocesan churches. Donors can also give online.

As with many feeding programs, the Hunger Fund is Kwanzaa Kitchen’s life line.

“Number one, because of our financial issues, it would be impossible for St. George’s to fund a program like this,” Evans says. “We really count on the Hunger Fund to provide this service. And two, the patrons look forward to it. They don’t have the resources for a hot meal. They look forward to a nutritious, hot, full breakfast.”

The nourishment they receive goes beyond a hot meal.

“We get to know them by name,” says Evans, who is chair of St. George’s outreach committee and is a licensed counselor. “It’s like a family. They look forward to it. It’s not just breakfast; it is fellowship.”

Breakfast is served from 9 a. m. until about 11 a.m. by volunteers including parishioners, community members, fraternities, sororities, and high school students fulfilling community service requirements. The menu includes scrambled eggs with cheese, turkey bacon, pancakes, seasonal grits or cereal, coffee and juice. And sometimes fresh fruit on special occasions and holidays.

“I start with a scripture reading, then we have a prayer,” Evans says. “We move into the kitchen and have prayer for the servers. Then we serve. I’ve done surveys before where I’ve asked them what is it that keeps them coming back. A lot of them say for the fellowship, for the prayer. It’s not just the food.”

In addition to Kwanzaa Kitchen, the Hunger Fund awarded grants in the District to: Calvary Church; Charlie's Place at St. Margaret's Church; the Welcome Table at Church of the Epiphany; Loaves and Fishes at St. Stephen and the Incarnation; Seabury Resources for Aging and Reaching the World Community Development. The fund awarded grants in Maryland to: Christ Church, Port Tobacco’s food pantry; the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless; Mt. Ennon Development Corporation; St. Peter's, Poolesville; Shepherd's Table; and We Are Family Senior Outreach.

To participate in the upcoming Hunger Walks, get people to make a donation to support your walk and turn in the donations at a parish church. Others who wish to support the fund can donate online.

The walk at Lake Needlewood usually starts with yoga stretching exercises and goes along the 75-acre lake that is surrounded by parkland. The walk at Serenity Farm runs through a working farm that dates to the founding of Benedict, in the late 17th century. Both walks are laid out so walkers traverse between five and 10 kilometers, or 3.1 or 6.2 miles.

New Chapter for Misa Alegría

September 20, 2016

Esperanza Conesds remembers the first time she visited Misa Alegría, the Spanish-speaking community at the Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation in the Columbia Heights neighborhood just off 16th Street Northwest. A friend had invited her, she remembers, and she was apprehensive at first. “But everybody was friendly,” she says. “Everybody was nice.” The music spoke to her of her native country of Guatemala, and it wasn’t long before she was singing in the choir.

Every Sunday after the Eucharist, the people of Misa Alegría gather in the parish hall for dinner and usually some communal singing, and Conesds, a part-time care giver and companion for the elderly who lives in Bladensburg, makes sure she sits at a different table each week.

“I talk with everybody about their life,” she says. “Some people feel discrimination, but they say that at Misa Alegría they feel great because people accept you whatever your race or your country.”

“The community at Misa Alegría has long been a spiritual home for people who felt threatened or marginalized in their lives in the United States,” says the Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin, the diocese’s transitional Latino missioner who was its founding pastor, “but Misa is growing into a confident –proudly Episcopal--congregation.” Nothing symbolizes this new stage in the congregation’s life as vividly as the recent transition of leadership at St. Stephen’s.

In June, Goodwin stepped down as the congregation’s Latino missioner after 10 ½ years, and the Rev. Sam Dessordi Leite became senior priest in charge of St. Stephen’s and Misa Alegría, now constituted as a multicultural, bilingual parish. The parish still holds English language services on Sunday mornings, and Misa Alegría continues to meet on Sunday evenings, but parish governance has been unified, and major feasts days are marked with bilingual services and events.

“When they offered me the job, one of the things they made clear is that they were looking for leadership who would help the communities come together,” says Dessordi Leite, who came to St. Stephen’s from the Diocese of California. “And it is not about a melting pot, it is not about blending in. It’s about unity without losing identity.”

The distinctive identity of Misa Alegría was shaped by the challenging circumstances many of its members faced in making a life for themselves in the United States, and the gifts that clergy and lay people drew upon in responding to those challenges in their daily lives.

“My pastoral work was not primarily taking communion to those who are sick or going to pray with people,” Goodwin says. “It was going to advocate for people. It might have to do with health insurance, or being there to talk with the doctors and making sure that this person is not forgotten and is able to make decisions. The same thing can happen with schools. How do you make sure that your child is not overlooked or determined to be slow because their English development lags behind others? It is advocacy in immigration, housing, juvenile problems with the law and all manner of helping folks navigate complicated new social systems.”

In addition to helping members of the congregation with these emotionally fraught encounters with a variety of bureaucracies, Goodwin thought it was essential to give English-speaking members of St. Stephen’s and of the diocese a deeper understanding of what the lives that members of Misa Alegría led, both before and after arriving in the United States.

In the winter of 2015, she organized a book discussion group that included members of Misa Alegría and the mission committee at Church of the Redeemer in Bethesda where she had been a seminarian. The group read “Enrique’s Journey,” by Sonia Nazario, a book based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning article that told the story of a young Honduran boy’s harrowing journey to find his mother who had migrated to the United States.

In a story for the diocesan website, Goodwin wrote that the groups began stiffly but eventually opened up to one another. “We used the book as a point of departure for sharing our own stories. It’s not often that we privileged North Americans have the opportunity to know those who so often make our lives so much easier by their labor and toil. Suddenly people who lives are too often invisible became real. We were amazed by the resilience and valor exemplified in their stories. trying to make their stories real,” she says now.

Resilience, creativity and the depth of members’ faith are on display each Sunday night as the community gathers for Eucharist at 5:15 p. m.

“Misa is about joy. Alegría means joy and music is at the heart of it,” Goodwin says. “Our musician, Cruz Aguilar, is the ‘joy master.’ He has a way of making every occasion special. People sing with gusto and often respond and participate in sermons. So it’s a high energy service.”

The decision at St. Stephen’s to function as one parish, rather than two congregations that share space but function separately is part of an emerging trend in the Episcopal Church in which Spanish and English speakers interact more frequently, attend services in each other’s language and look for new ways to grow together and share their faith and lives with one another.

The trend is abetted by demographic change. Immigrants who came to the United States as children learned English growing up. As young adults, most speak primarily English in their professional lives and are raising children who also speak primarily English. Their desire to maintain, or in some instances reestablish cultural ties, however, is strong.

Laura Stump, who attends both English and Spanish language services at St. Stephen’s, says young English-speaking Latinos from the parish’s Columbia Heights neighborhood are among the fastest growing segments of the parish. “They are interested in cross-cultural experiences,” she says, and she and her fiancé, Phil Kennedy, chose the parish “specifically for this dynamic.”

“We do a lot of Easter and Holy Week services and they are all neatly integrated bilingual services,” Stump says. “The Easter Vigil is not just bilingual, it’s this really beautiful bits of acting and different forms of art that aren’t spoken, and it actually flows back and forth seamlessly.”

The lack of a common language presents a challenge for the community, but not an unsurmountable one, Dessordi Leite says. “We need to stop thinking of language as a problem, but something that empowers us because then you can connect with more people in different ways,” he says.  “If people say they are not fully comfortable, that isn’t necessarily a problem. There is a side to feeling uncomfortable that tells us there are other ways of seeing things that shows us the gift of being diverse.”

Conesds agrees. “I don’t feel comfortable in the bilingual services,” she says. “But I like them.”

The calendar provides opportunities not only for celebration, but for instruction, and Dessordi Leite says he will make the most of them. Next month he plans to offer workshops on Halloween, All Saints Day, Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) and All Souls Day. In a parish that encompasses most North and Central Americans cultures and a few South American ones as well, not everyone observes these celebrations and commemorations in the same way—or observes them at all. “What is really neat is to observe how the groups came together and read that experience and work together,” Dessordi Leite says.

Goodwin is happy about what she sees transpiring at St. Stephen’s. “I think Sam is in a position to help them grow, to help the entire community move forward under one vision,” she says.

Her experiences at Misa Alegría, she says, have shaped her ministry. “I learned that the joy of the Lord is contagious,” she says. “And I love our people and the joy they bring to their faith. I think our Episcopal Church could benefit so much from this joy and love of God that is deeply sewn in their hearts. And when you encourage that joy to burst forth and to spill over, it can revitalize congregations.”

Category: News

Radio San Mateo Wins Digital Evangelism Award

September 01, 2016

The Rev. Vidal Rivas and  Iglesia San Mateo in Hyattsville have received the inaugural Cast the Nets award for digital evangelism from the Office of Latino and Hispanic Ministry of the Episcopal Church.
The award was presented at the Nuevo Amanacer conference that concluded today at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Some 20 members of the diocese joined Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, the Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin, transitional Latino minister, and Araceli Ma, the diocese Latino communications specialist, at the conference, which is held every two years.
San Mateo was recognized for its "use of social media in pastoral work in promoting discipleship and empowering lay people in the use of new technologies in order to spread the Gospel and to promote a culture of respect, dialog and friendship." 


The communications team at San Mateo developed Radio San Mateo, a 24 hour online broadcast, after attending E-formation, a conference on digital ministry held annually at Virginia Theological Seminary. The station airs Sunday services, Rivas' daily readings and reflections, music and interviews.
"We wanted to recognize San Mateo's creativity and innovation in reaching out beyond their church," said the Rev. Anthony Guillén, the Episcopal Church's missioner for Latino and Hispanic ministries. "Radio is a great way to connect with Latinos, so this project is an important evangelism experiment."


Rivas said San Mateo is exploring ways to involve the diocese's six other Spanish-speaking congregations in the project.


"Lots of creativity and long hours of dedicated work have gone into this," Goodwin said. "People from our region and several countries tune in to hear the Sunday transmission and the daily reflections." 
The diocese's delegation to Nuevo Amanacer travelled to North Carolina by bus with members of the Diocese of Virginia, a group of 45 in all. At the conference they attended workshops, worshipped and sang and heard speakers from the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The two churches sponsored the conference together this year for the first time.

"It was a time of renewal," Goodwin said. "We will be returning energized and empowered for ministry."

Category: News

Collaboration Creates Music Ministry In Prince George's County

August 18, 2016

When the Rev. Melana Nelson-Amaker got a call from the Rev. Prince Decker asking her church to join his in a new jazz and gospel hip hop ministry, it was easy to say yes.

the Rev. Melana Nelson-Amaker“It’s pretty simple,” says Nelson-Amaker, rector of St. Christopher’s in New Carrollton.  “I already knew Prince: his passion for the gospel, his love for people and his commitment to the church. When he called with this idea, I said yes to my friend. Based on the relationship we already had, I bought into this project for St. Christopher’s. I think Bishop Mariann [Edgar Budde] has this in view as she encourages clergy and churches to have relationships with each other. It makes working together easy.” 

Building relationships among churches and with surrounding communities is at the heart of the new music ministry being offered by St. Christopher’s; the Rev. Decker’s Epiphany Church in Forestville; Christ Church, Clinton; and St. Barnabas in Upper Marlboro. This summer the program was awarded a $10,000 congregational growth grant from Diocesan Council. Its four quarterly events are designed as an outreach to young adults and families in Prince George’s County. 

“Music has a healing power,” says Alethea Long-Green, the senior warden at Epiphany who was instrumental in developing the grant proposal. “It certainly is universal and brings people together, and when we thought of the goals and objectives of the diocese and our goals at Epiphany, we thought this might work. We’re not starting from scratch. All four churches have done some version of music outreach.”

Plans call for each church to host one quarterly music event on either a Friday or Saturday night and invite the community to enjoy music, light refreshments, and an evening of fellowship. Members from all four parishes will attend and support all four events. Concert attendees will be invited to attend the host church that Sunday, where the featured band will participate in the service. Each of the participating churches will decide what music to feature, be it jazz, steel drums, contemporary gospel, hip hop or Christian rap.

“We thought we could probably get people in the community to attend a Friday-night musical event, but we wondered how could we get them into church on Sunday,” Long-Green says. “We thought what if we said, ‘If you enjoy this, come and hear them again. They’ll be performing at our main service Sunday.’ If it’s nice enough, people will come back on Sunday.”

Once they come to the Sunday service, it’s up to the host church to make the case for them to keep coming back.

St. Barnabas is hosting the first event.

“Last year we had an Advent steel drum concert, and we’re planning on doing it again this year and offering it as part of this collaborative ministry,” says the Rev. Robyn E. Franklin-Vaughn, rector of St. Barnabas. “This is a way of doing outreach to the unchurched, the unhappily churched and lapsed church members. It’s a way of bringing them in, in a very comfortable atmosphere.

“It’s also important that whatever we present is not completely different from what we would usually do. Two of the steel drum members are part of our congregation, so it is not unusual for us to have steel drums accompanying our hymns. It’s not a bait and switch. We are actually offering what you might find.”

Like Franklin-Vaughn, Decker considers the new program to be a musical ministry to people outside the church doors. 

“This is not just an activity, not just another calendar event,” Decker says. “It’s an evangelism outreach to those who have never been to our churches. You print fliers, you knock on doors. You can’t sit on your hands, you have to go to them. If you want them to come to Bible study, give them something else you think they’ll come to first.”

The idea for the new outreach program began at Epiphany, where Decker and Long-Green presented a number of collaborative outreach ideas to the vestry.

“They voted for this one,” Long-Green says, “so we looked at our cluster churches and our neighbors and who we thought we could invite to come in and work with us. We’ve already had our first meeting, which I think generated some excitement.”

The Rev. Cassandra Burton, rector of Christ Church, Clinton, says the history of collaborative ministry between Christ Church and Epiphany goes back almost a hundred years to when the two churches shared a priest, a fact she discovered when reading the church’s history.

“There was a priest who walked from our church to Epiphany,” she says, marveling at the six-and-a- half mile walk. “I haven’t figured out how long it took him.”

Building on that connection, in 2015 Burton invited Decker and his congregation to join Christ Church for their Easter sunrise service. Christ Church sits on 14 acres and offers a beautiful spot for the service, she says.

“We usually don’t have an Easter dawn service, and Christ Church does,” Decker says, “so I took some of our church members there on a very cold morning. I took the fire from her paschal candle at Christ Church and, with it in the car, I drove very carefully back to Epiphany, where we ignited our own paschal candle with it.”

That Easter sunrise service “reignited the spark that we could do something else together, and we talked about what else we might do,” Burton says. “The idea of sharing ministry is not something new. I’m always reaching out to other colleagues to see what we can do together.”

Nelson-Amaker agrees. “I learned years ago that if congregations come together to pool knowledge, people, money and materials, projects are possible that one church couldn’t do alone,” she says. “Part of the value of collaboration means Prince’s good idea can be carried out without the whole burden being put on Epiphany Church,” she says. “I think, too, that doing one event, one time, from one church has less impact than a repeated occurrence. To present a series is stronger than a one-time thing.”

Burton, Decker, Nelson-Amaker and Franklin-Vaughn all say their churches have a history of innovative music programs and community outreach. Christ Church provided jazz concerts in the past and offered its first Latin jazz performance in June. In years past, St. Barnabas held candlelight concerts, a ministry they are working to revive, and as an offering to the community, St. Christopher’s has done the Messiah for close to 20 years.

“The notion of doing something musical for the community to enjoy is a long standing one at our church,” Nelson-Amaker says. “Within our walls musical variety just makes sense.  Our congregation’s make-up—many from West Africa and the Caribbean as well as people born in the United States—begs for an eclectic liturgy. When I put services together I draw from as many of those traditions as I can. We regularly have African praise, music from the African-American tradition, contemporary Christian music, some Caribbean hymnody and even some songs from CDs, in addition to the 1982 Hymnal.

“Praising God can be done with any number of styles of music. The important thing is the lyrical content and the intent of the music. So if you have a sincere song that comes from classical European music, or is like a folk ballad, or comes from gospel music or even from hip hop, if the reason for the piece is to praise God and to allow people to freely give of themselves to God, that’s what is important. Some styles of music will do that better for some people than others.”

The concert series schedule and program specifics are still being formulated.

“I think one of the best possibilities that could come out of this is for the community at-large to get a different than usual glimpse of the Episcopal Church,” Nelson-Amaker says. “So if after a concert and the follow-up service people are saying “I didn’t know Episcopal churches were like this!” we’ll have made a big evangelistic step forward.”

Interested in applying for a congregational growth grant? In June Diocesan Council awarded the first five congregational growth grants, made possible by increased congregational contributions to the diocesan operating budget. Grants ranged from $3,000 to $20,000 and will support Latino and campus ministry initiatives as well as new worship services and musical offerings. The next round of grant applications are due October 1, 2016. To apply, read the guidelines and complete the application.

Congregations Continue Silver Spring Relief Efforts

August 18, 2016

A gas explosion leveled an apartment building in Silver Spring last week, killing 7, injuring more than 30, and leaving at least 90 without housing. While the investigation into the explosion continues, several congregations continue to support the families who have been left with little.

The Revs. Vidal Rivas (San Mateo) , Joan Beilstein (Ascension, Silver Spring), Terri Murphy (Ascension, Silver Spring),  Kent Marcoux (St. George’s, U Street), and Carol Flett (Diocesan Interreligious Officer) provided pastoral care to the families on scene. Ascension; Our Savior, Hillandale and San Mateo coordinated donation efforts with the Red Cross, the Montgomery Housing Partnership, and CASA de Maryland. The Montgomery County Faith Community Advisory Council organized a prayer vigil on Sunday evening.

There remains much to be done to help these families rebuild their lives. The Washington Post has information on how to help in the recovery effort. The Montgomery Housing Partnership is accepting financial donations online (indicate LONG BRANCH FIRE in the ‘comment’ box.)

Category: News

Vigil for Community Hit by Silver Spring Explosion

August 14, 2016

A vigil will be held tonight, August 14, at 6 p.m. for the community affected by the explosion and fire that killed at least three, injured scores and displaced almost 100 people at the Flower Branch apartments in Silver Spring on Wednesday. The service will begin at the Long Branch Library, 8800 Garland Avenue, Silver Spring. Participants will process to a nearby site for music, prayers and brief reflections.

The service will last no more than an hour and much of it will be conducted in Spanish, the primary language of the community affected by the blast. 

The Washington Post has information on how to help in the recovery effort. The Montgomery Housing Partnership is accepting financial donations online (indicate LONG BRANCH FIRE in the ‘comment’ box.) CASA de Maryland is helping to coordinate relief efforts.

Episcopal clergy and congregations in southern Montgomery County are providing pastoral care and facilitating relief efforts.

Category: Events

Collection for Survivors of Silver Spring Explosion

August 12, 2016

A gas leak triggered an explosion and fire at the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring on Wednesday night leaving at least two people dead, five to seven missing, 34 injured and more than 90 are without homes.

Clergy and congregations in southern Montgomery County are responding to the widespread human need.

Church of the Ascension, Silver Spring, is collecting the following items on Sunday from 8 am to 11:30:

  • Bottled Water
  • Diapers of all sizes
  • Socks of all sizes
  • Canned goods and non-perishable food items (they have no ability to cook or heat up food)
  • Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, hair brushes, combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, razors, shaving lotion, soap, hand and body lotion, hand wipes, towels, wash clothes)

Church of Our Savior in Hillandale, near the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and Powder Mill Road, has consulted with authorities and will be collecting the following items on Sunday from 8 am to 3 pm:

  • Diapers
  • Baby bottles
  • Clothing (women, men and children)
  • Underwear, new (women, men, and children)
  • Personal hygiene / personal care products 

Several clergy also are providing pastoral care to those affected by the explosion.

Category: News

Bishop Names Interim Missioner for Young Adults

July 21, 2016

The Rev. Elizabeth Bonforte Gardner will become interim missioner for young adults on August 8, succeeding Jason Evans, who is leaving the diocese to join the bishop's staff in the Diocese of Texas.

"I am grateful that Elizabeth accepted our invitation to serve at this important time," said Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde. "Young adult and campus ministries are vital to the life of our church, and she will help ensure that the collaborative work accomplished under Jason's leadership will continue as we discern next steps. I am also grateful for the ministry of Epiphany Church, DC, where Elizabeth has served as interim rector for the past year."
In her new role, Gardner will work with campus ministries and parish-based young adultgroups throughout the diocese. In addition, she will help discern a strategy for the diocese's work withyoung adults that will inform the hiring of a permanent missioner next spring.
"Rarely do we get the chance to work directly with those whom we admire," Gardner said. "I am so excited to be a part of the EDOW team and work with the dedicated chaplains spreading God's love at universities across the diocese. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Gardner received her Master of Divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary in 2013 and was previously associate rector at St. John's Episcopal Church in McLean, Virginia. Before entering the seminary, she worked as a political consultant, a HazMat trainer and a buyer for Nordstrom's.  

Yes, Together We Can

July 07, 2016

By Jesse Velásquez and Vidal Rivas, part of the Vestry Papers issue on Buildings & Grounds [& Mission] (July 2016)

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo es disponible en español aquí.

St. Matthew’s/San Mateo Episcopal Church in Hyattsville, Maryland, in the Diocese of Washington, has gone through many changes over the past 200 years. While the congregation is 204 years old, the church buildings were built in the 1950s and 60s (the rectory was completed in 1951, the parish hall in 1954, and the church/sanctuary in 1964). Since 2008, this venerable old church has experienced a veritable renaissance with the arrival of Latino/as from countries such as El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Chile, and others.

Many hands…

We Latinos have contributed a great deal to the changes in our church. When we joined the existing congregation in 2008, the church had been neglected. We cleaned it, raked the leaves, fixed the garden, and applied a fresh coat of paint, both inside and out. We also cleaned and repaired the pews. In the winter we cleared the snow, and three times a year staged a thorough cleaning to keep our church beautiful and in good repair. We did it to honor those who built the temple.

This summer we have two important projects. One of them is to install a welcome sign outside the main door, so people know that we are a welcoming church. The second, is to install a central air conditioning system, something the old church has never had. We’ve already built the infrastructure for the air conditioning and we are currently fundraising for the $70,000 needed for installation. Half of the money for the air conditioning and all of the money for the sign has been raised through dances, food sales, and raffles. The church has secured a loan for the remainder of the air conditioning expense; plans are underway for a campaign to pay off the loan.

Our community donates its time and talent to raise funds and to achieve our goals. Among many other things, we have secured donors for the paint and labor required for all of the building projects that we have undertaken. We are hardworking and dedicated, and approach all projects as a big family. When we work together it seems that we are having a party, because while some work, others cook. There is always lots of food, music, and joy.

Meeting our neighbors 

When we arrived in 2008, only about 55 English-speaking parishioners attended the service. Soon after we added a service in Spanish, more people began attending and the church experienced a true renaissance. We’ve also made the church more visible to the community. The neighborhood no longer sees our church as a relic, but as one that is alive. To gain new members from the neighborhood we visited homes, distributed booklets, and organized processions in the street for the Virgin of Guadalupe and on Good Friday. Through those events, the church eventually became full of new people from the community. Now, we have several active committees: hospitality, communion, prayer group, Catechism teaching for children, and communication. Additionally, we have three music ministries to cover our four services attended by over 500 people every Sunday. There is opportunity for anyone who wants to be involved. We also have many retreats and workshops. We are a parish committed to social justice, and our church is a sanctuary for immigrants.

Another way in which St. Matthew’s/San Mateo reaches out to the community is through our radio station. The station’s mission is to spread the Gospel beyond our community. Our radio helps us to establish a spiritual connection through daily prayers. Radio San Mateo can be heard 24/7 with lively programs full of hope. We can be reached at 641.552.5821, or by visiting our website atwww.iglesiasanmateo.net. We also have a large presence on Facebook and other social media networks where we can post upcoming events and the community can share their feedback.

A second home

It is important to feel that one is part of a community, and church community is a second home, which is how we have to take care of it. When the community feels that the church belongs to them they will do what it takes to keep it standing. We must consider the church as part of ourselves, and not allow anyone to destroy it. We must keep on building it to make it even stronger. We are always moving forward with new projects so that the church will continue to grow and be a home to all of those who enter it. Some years ago we installed a bannister to make the second floor safer for our girls and boys; as always that was done with donated labor and materials.

What makes a community is a sense of brother/sisterhood, of dedicating ourselves to it, and the knowledge that we are a family with the same Lord, the same faith, and the same temple. When there is certainty in that understanding, together we are strong. When people visit St. Matthew’s/San Mateo we welcome them with open arms, we love them, we treat them with respect and warmth, and we give them opportunities to participate. When they say that St. Matthew’s/San Mateo is a lovely community we see the fruits of our communal efforts working together for the good of the church. Our efforts are rewarded with positive feedback and an image that we feel proud of, which we have learned is very important when attracting new members. St. Matthew’s/San Mateo is once again a place where you can feel that the Spirit of God is present.

Jesse Velásquez is a musician and program director for Radio San Mateo. He has three sons with his wife, Carmencita and is Salvadorean. He has helped Father Vidal for many years in several churches and in many ministries, especially in the music. 

Vidal Rivas, the rector of San Mateo, was born in El Salvador and has been a priest for 24 years and an Episcopal priest since 2008. He and his wife, María de los Ángeles have three children and live in Maryland. He is the founder of Comité de Solidaridad Monseñor Romero (Committee in solidarity with Bishop Romero) in Washington, DC that supports low-income people in need with various solidarity projects. 


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Category: News