Episcopal Diocese of Washington

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an enduring faith in Jesus Christ

News & Features

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

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

By Lu Stanton León

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.

“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