Episcopal Diocese of Washington

To draw people to Jesus and embody his love
for the world by equipping faith communities,
promoting spiritual growth, and striving for justice

News & Features

The Church as a Hotspot: Providing Internet Access to Students in Southern Maryland

September 17, 2020

There are no words to express the gratitude we have for our St. Mary’s County educational system. The teachers and administrators are working extra hard to understand and learn a process whereby our children can be educated during these uncertain times. Their dedication is an inspiration and a blessing.

For several years, Church of the Ascension in Lexington Park, Maryland has been in a partnership with Lexington Park Elementary school, offering an after-school tutoring program for primary students. When the coronavirus pandemic required the closure of school buildings and a pivot to online learning, we approached Dr. Rebecca Schou, principal of Lexington Park Elementary and Ms. Kelly Courtney, principal of Piney Point Elementary to see how we could help. They indicated a desire that we continue to support their students and during our discussion about what the help might look like, we learned that of the 18,000+ students in the St. Mary’s County Public Schools district, there are 147 families without access to the internet.

In direct response to the needs expressed by our principals, this fall we will expand our tutoring program by offering Church of the Ascension and St. George’s in Valley Lee as points of internet connectivity, supervised “hotspots” where students can bring their devices and access the virtual classroom. We’re inviting parents, too. 

We’ll host two daily sessions Monday through Thursday--one group from 9:00 - 11:00 a.m., and a second from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. To start, we have six 2nd and 3rd graders per session lined up. We’re working with both the school system and  the SMC Department of Health to be fully compliant with CDC guidelines. 

We’ve also established volunteer opportunities for college and high school students looking for credit and service hours. SMCPS uses the Schoology platform, which is directed by the classroom teacher so the role of the volunteer will be monitoring, making sure students are able to log in, and answering questions. As we grow our volunteer corps, we’re looking to our surrounding communities: our sister Episcopal churches, young professionals’ groups, the College of Southern Maryland and St. Mary’s College, and high school students. The need is high and we welcome those who can help. 

If you’d like to volunteer, please email me

The Rev. Marty Eldredge
Deacon, Church of the Ascension, Lexington Park and St. George’s, Valley Lee

Category: News

What Date Do You Run Out of Food?

September 17, 2020

When the Episcopal Diocese of Washington voted to become a “Sanctuary Diocese” in January 2018, confronting a pandemic disease was probably not what the authors of the resolution had in mind. Although diocesan churches were encouraged “to serve as places of welcome and healing, and to provide other forms of material and pastoral support for all persons, regardless of immigration status,” likely no one envisioned what 2020 would bring. 

While the concept of sanctuary dates back thousands of years and was a feature of Judaic, Roman, and later British Common Law, the modern-day Sanctuary Movement dates to 1980 and two congregations in Tucson, Arizona that began assisting refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala. Nearly 40 years later, Washington, DC, is one of more than 500 sanctuary locales across the United States and home to dozens, if not hundreds, of initiatives working in solidarity with or support of the rights of migrants and refugees. 

St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church, located in Columbia Heights just off 16th Street Northwest DC, provides a home for several initiatives that work to meet the needs of immigrants, refugees, and other vulnerable people affected by the pandemic. Blessed with a massive building, early on in the pandemic St. Stephen / San Esteban was able to turn its basement dining room and nave into a space to  store and pack perishable and non-perishable food, diapers, toilet paper, cleaning supplies--the necessities of life. 

Four organizations--Loaves and Fishes (a ministry of St. Stephen / San Esteban), Sanctuary DMV, Thrive DC, and We Are Family--do some or all of their work from our church building, benefiting from the fact that the church has been in the food “business” since the mid-1960s, when the congregation first began sharing food with its neighbors. Each of these initiatives has significantly increased its outreach efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Thrive DC, which works to prevent and end homelessness, was providing 60 people with free groceries at its regular Thursday food pantry, immediately prior to the COVID-19 lock-down. By mid-July, they had provided groceries and emergency supplies to more than 3,000 people--and several hundred meals each day.

  • We Are Family, which supports the needs of senior citizens--especially those unable to leave their homes--had, by June, increased its deliveries of free groceries to reach more than 900 households.

  •  Loaves and Fishes, which has provided weekend meals to people in the community for decades, moved from preparing hot-cooked meals to bag lunches and is now providing a mix of bag and hot-cooked lunches to about 125 people each Saturday and Sunday. They have also distributed more than $10,000 worth of gift cards to people in need of food, most of them undocumented immigrants.

  • From helping a few hundred people early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanctuary DMV has since supported an estimated 30,000 people with food and essential supplies across the DMV. They have raised more than $240,000 in donations--but more funds and more volunteers are needed, as they have a waitlist of more than 3,000 requests for help. (And by the time these words are published, these numbers will be out of date.)

"What date do you run out of food?” 

This is one of three questions asked by Sanctuary DMV volunteers when they respond to a request for help, because right now, the demand far exceeds the supply among those who may not be able to buy food. Food, shelter, water, heat/cool--these are the basics for survival. Sanctuary DMV was established to help in these situations, and is linked to a network of some 70 faith-based organizations across the DMV, some of them churches in our diocese, including St. Stephen’s / San Esteban. 

For the undocumented accessing these necessities is only one of the challenges before them. The undocumented also face the threat of deportation--and of detention in places severely affected by COVID-19--as well as the fear and worry associated with being removed and leaving young children behind. 

What happens to young children in these circumstances is the focus of the Standby Guardianship Project, which has online resources to help undocumented parents--especially in Maryland--ensure the care and safety of their children, without going to court, if they are disabled (by illness, for example) or removed. Thanks in part to the efforts of another St. Stephen / San Esteban parishioner, there is now a Standby Guardianship law in Maryland. Similar emergency legislation in Washington, DC, has since expired; a permanent law will require public hearings and Congressional approval.

How can we help? 
Time, talent, and/or treasure are needed by organizations acting in solidarity with their fellow DC, Maryland, and Virginia residents, of which these are but a few:

Sally Ethelston
Postulant for the diaconate, St. Stephen and the Incarnation / San Esteban y La Encarnación

This article draws on information provided by Denise Woods, volunteer coordinator for Sanctuary DMV Food Justice Initiative; previously published materials, in particular an article by Loaves and Fishes; and conversations with members of St. Stephen and the Incarnation. 


Category: News

Engaging the Needs, Hopes, and Concerns of the World: The Charity to Justice Continuum

September 17, 2020

How do you engage the needs, hopes, and concerns of the world?

Deacons are tasked with assisting faith communities to grow in their response to the needs, hopes, and concerns of the world. In other words, deacons encourage their communities to develop justice ministry initiatives. Helping the community learn and develop ministry in ways different from “how we’ve always done it” can be a challenge. Welcomed or not, change--in how we learn, worship, or grow--is difficult. 

One tool that can remove the emotional attachment inherent in change is the Charity to Justice Continuum. The Continuum helps individuals and faith communities assess their progress on any justice concern by asking a series of questions that allow folks to evaluate and discern community involvement and engagement in social change. We teach the Continuum in the Diocese of Washington’s Deacons School.

There are two important things to keep in mind when using the Continuum. The first is to understand that its value comes from engaging the justice concern under consideration at every aspect of the continuum, not in placing emphasis on any single part. The second is to be honest as you ask and answer the questions in the evaluation process: What are we doing? How are we engaging the community? Are we taking risks? Are we following the gospel imperatives to proclaim good news, release captives, provide sight, free the oppressed?

There are four components to the Charity to Justice Continuum: Charity, Service, Advocacy and Justice. Connecting ministry to all four of these dynamics can provide a way for every member of the faith community to engage in the ministry and offers a holistic approach to any particular justice initiative. A Continuum is a sequence or progression of values with slight differences from element to element. The extremes are quite different and all are necessary. 

Let’s follow the Continuum on one justice initiative--food inequity.

The Continuum begins with Charity. In the case of food inequity, the immediate problem is that people are hungry and the response is to feed them. Often charity can take the form of bringing a canned good to church every Sunday or writing a check to your favorite feeding program. Until no one is hungry, charity will always be needed. There is little risk involved for the giver and almost no relationship. Charity is distant, yet it focuses directly on the problem and can give immediate satisfaction to the giver. 

Service takes on a little more risk and more time for those who choose to engage this part of the Continuum. Those who engage in acts of service may or may not develop relationships with those who are hungry, but they will likely develop relationships with the community that is participating in the service. Service focused on food inequity concerns might include serving a meal in a soup kitchen, making sandwiches for distribution, or handing out groceries at the local food shelf. This can be a good formational experience for those involved and an easy way to see firsthand the realities of hunger in our society. 

Moving to Advocacy alters the focus from “doing” to confronting society’s causes of  hunger . The person or community participating in advocacy will take greater risks for those who are hungry. They will provide a voice for those who do not have the power to address our broken systems and they will broaden relationships in order to connect people and programs. The focus moves away from feeding hungry people to the rights of hungry people. 

And finally we come to Justice. People participating at this level of engagement and risk seek to empower those who are hungry, develop networks that work together, and organize communities to focus on the causes and systems that create food inequity. This quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains justice: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

We need ministry in all four stages of the Continuum so that hungry people are fed, even as we struggle upstream to combat the root cause of hunger. Deacons are catalysts in this effort, assisting individuals and faith communities in responding to the needs, hopes and concerns of the world. 

Deacons always ask: what are we doing and how can we do more?

If this is a question you ask on your own behalf or in your faith community, consider using the Charity to Justice Continuum to aid you in your efforts.

The Ven. Sue von Rautenkranz

Category: News

Latino Deacons School: Voices and Opportunities

September 17, 2020

After a number of years running a well-designed and successful deacon’s formation process in the Diocese of Washington, diocesan leaders recognized there were people in our midst missing from the table, our Latino brothers and sisters. The vibrancy of our Latino congregations and the commitment of Latino leaders in the diocese were a divine sign that we needed first to recognize God’s work and calling to ordain ministry in our Latino members, and second to provide opportunities for clergy (deacon) formation in Spanish language. 

The need was there. We heeded God's call and responded faithfully by creating the Diocesan Latino Deacons School to provide academic formation for Latino postulants to the diaconate.  

The Latino Deacons School launched last winter with the first three Latino postulants in the history of our Diocese: Adela Vázquez, Rosa Briones and Francisco Serrano. 

As a way to honor Adela, Rosa, and Francisco's stories and their individual calls, I invited them to respond to three questions: 

  1. How did you discern God's call to become a deacon in the Episcopal Church? 

  2. How is your life being transformed during this time of formation in the Latino Deacons School? 

  3. How do you see yourself as a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington? Their words are more powerful than any review I can make, and I share them with you right now. 

For Adela, the announcement of the formation in Spanish for Latino Deacons was “a surprise” that made her think about “God's call to her.” Rosa and Francisco “never thought about ordination until their priest suggested they attend the discernment workshop.” That was the moment when Francisco “realized that he, too, was being called to be a deacon in the church” and that “the doors were being opened not only for him, but for all those who were eager to say ‘yes’ to God's call” in the diocesan Latino community.  

For seven months the three postulants have been involved in intense academic formation every weekend. They have finished three modules about the Bible: Old Testament, New Testament, and Movements of Resistance and Spirituality. During the rest of this year, they will study other subjects such as Church History, Systematic Theology and Ethics. This academic formation period “has been especially important and nurturing” for Adela, as it has helped her “discover herself as God's servant in new ways.”  

Rosa feels that during this time she has been “transformed radically in her journey of faith” and she recognizes that her relationship with the Scriptures has deepened. She is very thankful to “all the professors that have shared their wisdom in her formation process.” Francisco understands the formation time as Paul's image of the “armor of God. Every soldier needs to be instructed for war… and we are Christ's soldiers being instructed by the Word of God to be relevant in God's work.” 

Thinking ahead about how they see themselves as deacons in our Diocese, Adela sees herself as “a humble sower of the Word of God in the world.” Rosa dreams with “the opportunity to serve others in need in a deeper way, especially the suffering Latino communities around her.” Francisco hopes to “extend God's work that others initiated in the diocese in the past.”

I hope that their voices and calls can be also an invitation to others in our congregations to wake up to God's call for them. 

The Rev. Yoimel González Hernández, Dean of the Latino Deacons School
with Rosa Briones, Francisco Serrano, and Adela Vázquez


Category: News

...And Other Duties As Assigned

September 17, 2020

September 22, 2018, Bishop Mariann ordained twelve deacons in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. I was one of them. The liturgy for ordination can be found in the BCP beginning on page 537. There are many important promises that the twelve of us made to the church that day. I didn’t know it then, but the most impactful words are found on page 543, “…and you are to carry out other duties assigned to you from time to time.” I remember Bishop Mariann commenting that this was her favorite part of the ordination liturgy. 

That should have been a sign to me.

What is it like to be a deacon serving in a congregation? A deacon has liturgical responsibilities. They are important to the deacon’s ministry but a small part of it. Liturgically, the deacon proclaims the Gospel, invites the confession, prepares the altar for the Eucharist and gives the dismissal. Deacons also preach from time to time.

But, the real ministry of the deacon is the living, breathing fulfillment of the ‘other duties as assigned.’ It is, to borrow a cliché, where the rubber meets the road. Let me give you an example.

It was summer of 2019. The number of students in transition (without permanent housing) in Charles County where I serve is between 700 and 800 kids. Churches all over the county were planning their back-to-school supply drives. These churches and the people of the church have great intentions, but the average drive yields an odd assortment of supplies that make only a limited impact. 

So, what does the deacon do? Ask the question: what if churches worked together to make a true impact for these students? 

I partnered with Deacon Susan Fritz from Christ Church, Durham and St. James, Indian Head, and we devised a plan to collect 4 things: notebooks, pens/pencils, crayons, and glue sticks. The congregations we serve threw their hearts into the drive, and at the beginning of the school year, we were able to deliver nearly 10,000 pieces to the school system to help the students who need it most. 

Other duties as assigned: who could have ever predicted?

The deacon is called to get the laity involved in taking on the needs of the world and energizing the church to meet those needs by either bringing those in need into the church or by taking the church out into the world to meet those we can serve where they are. 

Our ministries, while sometimes well-defined in our ordination vows, more often fall in Bp. Mariann’s favorite words, “…and you are to carry out other duties assigned to you from time to time.” It is in these words that I have the very presence of the Holy Spirit as I live into the words and promises of ordination. 

These are the words, too, that invite every person in every congregation to live into the love of God and share that love in big and small ways in our communities, with friends and strangers alike. 

God is calling all of us to the world to live and share His love. Who knows what will happen when we answer?

The Rev. Steve Seely
Deacon, St. Paul's, Waldorf


Category: News