Sermon | St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Dyersburg, Tennessee | The Reverend Sandy Webb


St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Dyersburg, Tennessee

The Reverend Alexander H. Webb II (“Sandy”)

September 29, 2010


The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21C)

Revised Common Lectionary

Psalm 146

Luke 16:19-31


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” Fair warning: Rich people do not tend to fare very well in Jesus’ parables, and this man will not prove to be an exception.

Whenever the rich man left his estate, he had to walk right past a poor man, Lazarus, who begged at his gate. When the rich man would go to work, there was Lazarus. To the store, there was Lazarus. Even just out for walk after dinner, there was Lazarus, with the dogs licking his sores.

Maybe the rich man gave Lazarus a few coins every now and then, maybe a few leftovers from his groaning board, but for the most part, the rich man would walk right by. After a while, the rich man probably didn’t notice Lazarus anymore. To him, it was as though Lazarus was not even there. A physical boundary kept Lazarus out of the rich man’s estate and an invisible boundary kept Lazarus out of the rich man’s consciousness.

Boundaries are sometimes necessary for our safety and our health. Ours is a violent age and it is not always safe for us to engage with people we do not know. Ours is a broken world and our souls can only withstand so much bombardment by sorrow and sadness. Yet, the practical necessity of our boundaries does not negate the harshness of their reality. High walls, of both the visible and invisible varieties, serve only to separate the children of God one from the other, and there is no way to escape the spiritual tragedy of that separation.

I have to believe that God will give us license to keep ourselves safe, but I cannot believe that God would ever give us license to ignore the needs of those around us. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are not at liberty to create divisions so firm or fix chasms so wide that we are unable to see the people suffering on the far side of them.

When we ignore the suffering of others, we create a space not only between them and us, but also between ourselves and the ones for whom God expresses a special, even preferential love. The Psalmist writes: “[The Lord] gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger. The Lord sets the prisoners free [and] opens the eyes of the blind…The Lord cares for the stranger; he sustains the orphan and widow…”

All of the divisions and disunities in our world – the divisions between rich and poor, young and old, male and female, black and white – are the outward and visible signs of a world that has been subsumed by sin. We can train ourselves to ignore these divisions, but in so doing, we make them wider and deeper and starker than they already are.

When Lazarus passes from this life into the next, the angels carry him to a place of eternal rest. When the rich man dies, he is taken to a place of torment. Jesus tells us very little about the rich man’s torment, but I have a theory: I suspect that the rich man’s torment is being made to peer across the chasm that he had fixed. I suspect that the rich man’s torment is having to acknowledge the separation that he created and then so long ignored.  

In death, the rich man is forced to see Lazarus – literally and figuratively. He is forced to reckon for the first time with Lazarus’ core identity as a beloved child of God. The rich man’s torment is the shame of knowing that he has allowed another human being to suffer because it was too awkward, too uncomfortable, or too inconvenient for him to do anything about it.

Yet, as we interpret this parable, we should not too closely associate ourselves with either Lazarus or the rich man. In this story, we are the ones whom the rich man ultimately tries to save. We are not yet dead. We are alive. We are the living ones who have on our ears the words of the prophets and the teachings of Christ. We are the living ones for whom God raised his Son from the dead. We are the living ones who have within ourselves the power to choose, the power to repent, the power to tear down the divisions that serve to separate us from the children of God whose physical needs are not being met.

In preparing to worship with you this morning, I learned about Matthew 25:40, a ministry that you founded and that now share with your community partners. As I understand it, Matthew 25:40 gives food and clothing to people who need them, financial assistance to the extent that you are able, and advocacy for the unique needs of children.[1] Would that the rich man in Jesus’ parable had St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dyersburg as an example of what to do, as an example of how not to walk past those in need. Today’s story might have turned out very differently.

In today’s parable, Jesus invites us to see the world as it really is and then to imagine what the world really could be. Jesus invites us to reach across our boundaries, visible and invisible boundaries just the same.

St. Mary’s is off to a very good start. St. Mary’s stands as an example to its neighbors in the City of Dyersburg and its neighbors in the Diocese of West Tennessee. St. Mary’s makes a difference, but St. Mary’s cannot stop there. Our Lord will not let you rest on your laurels. Our Lord insists that you keep pressing on until every gate has been torn down, until every boundary has been beaten under foot, until every Lazarus has had his needs met and has been invited into the fellowship of the faithful.

We know what Moses and the prophets would want us to do. So, let’s go do it: Feed the hungry and heal the sick. Preach the Good News and transform the world.  


[1] I commend to everyone reading this note the work of Matthew 25:40, as described in this useful brochure:

Posted by The Reverend Sandy Webb at Wednesday, Oct 2
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Sandy Will Lecture on River Cruise Ship

The Reverend Sandy Webb has been invited to be a guest lecturer for a company that has been arranging inspiring travel for Christians since 1974.

In October 2020, Sandy will be the lecturer on a cruise that will sail from Paris to Normandy and back. The nine-day trip includes the beaches of Normandy, Claude Monet's home in Vernon and the last home of Vincent van Gogh, Auberge Ravoux. The cruise is on AmaWaterways.

“I will give four lectures while we are underway. They will focus on theology and the religious aspect of the sites we are seeing, including the American cemetery at Normandy,” Sandy said.

“This is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and 75 years ago, it was a war zone.”

Rebirth is quintessentially a Christian and Easter theme, and at least one lecture will focus on the power of life over death, he said.

The lectures are taking shape in Sandy’s mind now, including the one for the day the group sees the Monet house. 

“I want to talk about who we co-create with God. Does God invite us to create or do we create through God?”

The tours are coordinated through EO Tours. The company creates dozens of trips a year around themes such as mission, Holy Land, heritage sites, Oberammergau Passion Play, Journeys of Paul and others.

 The Reverend Donald Fishburne works for EO Tours and connected them with Sandy. Fishburne, retired rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chattanooga, was Sandy’s professional coach when he arrived in Memphis. 

He has also done consulting work with Holy Communion's vestry.

The Reverend Fishburne contracts with American Waterways Operators.

“We invited Sandy in particular because he is a gifted teacher, a person and priest of deep faith, a gracious host and pastor to friend and stranger alike,” Fishbourne said. “When considering clergy and lay leaders for lecturers, we look for people with at least some of these qualities.” 

For details about the trip, go to Be sure to register with Holy Communion’s group ID: 59473.

Posted by Beth Mitchell at Monday, Jul 8
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Diocese elects the Reverend Phoebe Roaf as bishop

The Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee elected the Reverend Phoebe Roaf, rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA, as its fourth bishop. She was elected on one ballot.

Roaf will be in stalled in a consecration service May 4 at Hope Presbyterian Church. The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, will preside.

Roaf is a lifelong Episcopalian. She grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. She is rector at St. Philip’s, the oldest African-American church in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, where she has served as the parish leader since 2011. Before St. Philips’s, Roaf was associate rector for three years at Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans.

Roaf, who earned a law degree from the University of Arksansas, Little Rock, and clerked two years for Judge James L. Dennis, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, worked in commercial real estate before pursuing a call to serve the Episcopal Church as clergy.

She completed her bachelor’s degree at Harvard University and MPA at Princeton University. She attended Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. She is vice chair of the board of trustees at Virginia Theological Seminary.

The other nominess for the position were the Rev. Marian Dulaney Fortner, rector, Trinity Episcopal Church in Hattiesburg, MS; and the Rev. Sarah Hollar, rector, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Huntersville, NC.

Roaf was chosen in a balloting process in the diocese’s annual convention at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Germantown. All clergy and elected lay delegates are allowed to vote. Under the canons of the denomination, bishops are chosen by a clergy and lay leader votes. They must receive a majority from each group on the same ballot in order to be elected.

Roaf succeeds Bishop Don E. Johnson, who has served the Diocese of West Tennessee as bishop since 2001. The diocese, which covers all of Tennessee west of the Tennessee River, has 8,260 active members and an average Sunday attendance of more than 3,000.

The diocese announced the three nominees in late summer. They visited in late October, meeting with parishioners and clergy in Memphis and Dyersburg and responding to questions in a public forum.

In her application materials, Roaf referenced the divisions in the society and the role of the church.

“The Episcopal Church is ideally suited for a time such as this, when community building and reconciliation are needed. There is a deep hunger among many people to bridge our differences and to form meaningful connections. My life and ministry in multi-cultural and multi-racial environments make me uniquely suited to serve among the geographic, economic, racial and ethnic diversity found within in the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee.”


Posted by Jane Roberts at Saturday, Nov 17
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Shrimp Dinner cooked up by crew that knows its heads, tales

The Shrimp Dinner that'sbeen an All Saints’ tradition at Holy Communion is shepherded and cooked by a crew of boil experts who’ve earned their stripes - and a few nicknames too - for the efficiency of their process and bonds of friendship.

Much of the story persists in a trail of emails. Some of them, five and ten years old.

“Here’s the debriefing from 2010,” says Richard Hollis, pulling up an email from the dank archives of his computer. “'Looking forward to improving the performance of the corn,’ That’s from Matt Prince,” Hollis says, chuckling as he reads through the notes.

“There’s scads of emails alone on getting the right burners,” Hollis says.

“In 2010, we had a sold-out crowd, and the CJ2000 burner came on line,” he says approvingly.

CJ stands for Cajun Jet, a propane jet burner that so improved the efficiency that there are now two running all day - plus a spare - behind the church kitchen where all cooking is done.

Anyone in the cadre of shrimp cookers at Holy Communion knows that Ron Ayotte, aka “the quartermaster” gets credit for improving the processes for this shrimp boil, which through the years, has run in every kind of weather, including cold, drenching rain.

The CJ200 was just part of it. Ayotte also devised a system to get the melted ice off the cooling shrimp by building draining racks to fit the bottom of the ice chests and draining the water off at an angle so the shrimp never sit in water.

“He wants things right,” said Matt Prince, who took over running the show at least eight years ago. Through it all, the nicknames have persisted. There’s the Shrimp Boss (Kendall Visinsky); Shrimp Master (Hollis); Head Shrimp Boy (Prince); Thaw Boy 1, aka Old Bay, (Mott Ford); Thaw Boy 2 (Shawn McGhee); Cut Man (Tom Cowens); and Deckhand (Davis McGhee).

“It might be an all-male cooking crew, but Visinsky is the boss,” Prince says.

Each ingredient is cooked and cooled separately. That means there are separate ice chests for corn, potatoes, sausage and shrimp. (One year, the potatoes were smashed because the corn was poured on top to cool. It hasn’t happened again.)

The spice is ordered from a specialty company in south Louisiana. The specific order, year after year, has given Holy Communion a reputation the crew learned one year, when the order was late arriving.

 “It turns out, they couldn’t get exactly what we wanted in advance so they waited until they could and made arrangements to FedEx to us,” Prince says. “They know we don’t want any deviation.”

The equipment, including enormous boiling pots, is stored at a warehouse. The crew wears white rubber shrimp boot, except the Shrimp Boss. She wears red. At noon, the members break to share steak sandwiches from the Belmont Grill.

It’s hard to know exactly how old the All Saints’ Shrimp Dinner really is. Barbara Wilson suspects it’s well over 30 years old.

Hollis, who learned to cook shrimp and crawfish from his mother’s kin in South Louisiana, remembers coming to his first Shrimp Dinner in the Blaisdell dining room. He was handed a paper plate of tasteless, little shrimp, steamed the day before at Seessel’s.

“I said, ‘What if you give me the same amount of money you’ve been spending and we see what we can do in the way of cooking shrimp?’

“Brack and Leigh Carter and my wife, Jeanne, helped with the cooking. For years, Jeanne helped with the serving.  Back in those days, we were cooking 50 pounds of shrimp. Now, they’re at 250,” Hollis says.

“Volunteers would serve the shrimp. Sometime later, we said, ‘Let’s put baskets on the tables and tell them we would like them to put tips in the baskets to help the children going on the pilgrimage,’” he said.

The proceeds have been as high as $4,100.

The work begins on Saturday with the thaw boys hacking up the 5-pound blocks of enormous, frozen shrimp.

All the vegetables, including onions and garlic, are chopped by hand. The corn is purchased fresh (a process also honed by trial and error) from the Restaurant Depot on Summer.

“You can’t have good corn if it’s frozen,” Prince said.  “I figured that out by calling someone I know in Louisiana who does this for a living.

“Starting about 10 years ago, we started keeping records,” (Prince’s spreadsheets on the dinner are meticulous) “of how much spice, how long they cooked, etcetera. It gets tweaked every year,” he said.

“But the shrimp are the showpiece. If you get that wrong, no one cares about sausage, potatoes and corn.

“We cook the shrimp in 25-pound increments. The beauty of that is we can oomph up next batch if it needs more spice,” he says with a knowing nod.

When it’s over, the crew with their frat-boy nicknames, mingles for a while with the guests before taking a seat together to watch the crowd enjoy the evening.


Posted by Jane Roberts at Sunday, Nov 4
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Thanks, Matthew, for how much you care

As a teenager, Matthew Arehart felt the redeeming power of Holy Communion’s youth program. He intuitively understood its strength when he realized the most meaningful interactions he had with his peer group happened at church.

A few years later, when he was in charge, he built on what he knew all middle and high school students need: A place to fit in, no matter how odd they believe they are.

As he prepares to leave the program he has run for more than six years to be the full-time director of camps and event manager at St. Columbia Conference and Retreat Center, he’s grateful and reflective.

“One thing that I loved about being a part of the youth program growing up was knowing that I had a loving community that accepted me for who I was,” Arehart said. “I not one of the cool kids at school and I didn’t really fit into any of the standard cliques. I was an AP art student who played soccer, was on the bowling team and was a member of the German Club.  I did these things at school, but I did not fit in with those groups.

“But when I went to church, I felt right at home. I was able to relax and be me. But at the same time, I was always challenged, pushed to think about things differently, have conversations that were uncomfortable - but important - and practice being inclusive.

“Those were the same exact things that I wanted to bring to CHC. I wanted every person to know that this church was a safe place where they did not have to worry about fitting into a certain stereotype. They could have the conversations here that it may not be so easy to have at school. I wanted to challenge them too, but you can’t challenge anyone who doesn’t feel safe,” Arehart said.

“I felt as if I spent most of my high school years trying to figure out things about myself and searching for who I was and what social group to fit in with, when the real group I belonged to was the one at church.  And that group was a mix of all types. I didn’t have to hang out with the art kids or the soccer kids only, the church group had all of it.”

The kids Arehart has touched, many of them now adults, say his consistency and faithfulness changed their lives.

John Monaghan, 14, now active in youth events, didn’t participate until this year, when his confirmation was on the horizon.

“Matthew’s been a form of a friend to me,” John said. “He’s very trustworthy. You can talk to him about anything. He will always cheer you up and make the mood of the group better.”

Beyond that, John says Matthew is the person who taught him to pray.

“He also helped me learn how to be spiritual when I’m not in church. When I’m on my own.”

He expects those skills will be with him the rest of his life.

Amelia Dowling, a rising freshman, says similar things, including that Arehart is someone “who listens and actually cares.” But she’s experienced him as reassuring presence, including last summer when she had to return to a place that caused her emotional pain.

“He stayed with me, and he reassured me that this time it would be different,” she says.

Besides being personally comforting, Arehart gave her a pattern for facing frightening things. She won’t forget it.

Neeley Mathes, 15, remembers Arehart was the person who introduced her to members of the youth group when she knew no one.

“It made me want to come back,” she says. “That gesture made the difference for me.”

She also says the Wednesday night events Matthew orchestrated “helps me get through the week. It’s something to look forward to.”

Kendall Visinsky says it’s natural to think of Arehart’s impact on kids. The circle, she said, is much larger.

“Matthew has brought families to church because their kids wanted to be part of what he put together. People like to be around him. He’s the Pied Piper.”

And he was serious about building a place of diverse thought in the youth rooms, says Visinsky, who Matthew recruited to teach middle school formation with her husband, David.

“He’s meticulous about mixing up the groups so the youth can cultivate new friends and perspectives.”

For instance, on Arehart-led pilgrimages, every kid has a different roommate every night.

“This is part of the journey of the pilgrimage,” she said.

CHC hired Arehart in the spring of 2011 as a youth department intern. He taught middle school formation, chaperoned trips and was a “presence” at youth events. In March 2012, he was promoted to part-time interim youth director. A few months later, he was named full-time youth minister.

Since then, he has rewritten the Sunday formation curriculum for middle and senior high, basing it and the youth trips on his observation that kids do better when they learn the faith of the ancestors chronologically, (Old Testament, then the New Testament) and experience outreach first in their hometown before branching out to consider need in the larger world. He has taken students on three international pilgrimages. He’s led five rafting trips and nearly an equal number of diocesan ski trips after he and other youth leaders revived the trip in 2013. He’s a valuable adult to teens, their parents and extended families. And to his colleagues on the church staff, he’s an indispensable, can-do guy with a plan, a hammer and saw, and mythic skills.

“The first time Matthew was ever described to me, it was as that guy that builds things,” said Father Sandy. “If you need a ten-foot-tall board-game spinner or a life-size foosball set, Matthew is your guy.

“His creativity knows no bounds. It’s also a beautiful thing to watch him be in relationship with the youth. He leaves with all my blessing and encouragement. This is a wonderful opportunity for him. I am proud of him for pursuing it.”

The average youth minister stays with a congregation about two years. Arehart is by far the most senior youth minister in the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee and among the most senior in the state.

“It means that I have spent a lot of time helping new youth ministers,” Arehart said. “In the diocese, I think I have worked with 20 people who have come and gone since I started.”

In his new job, he will oversee Mud Camp, Camp Able and all events and retreats at the retreat center, which also means  supervising hospitality, food service and housekeeping staff.

The congregation said goodbye in a reception at the church on Sunday, June 10.

For Arehart, one of the most rewarding parts of his time is working with young adults he remembers as teenagers or younger.

“Words cannot describe how it feels when you taught someone Sunday school when they were in sixth grade and now you work side by side with them putting on programs for sixth-graders.”

“Matthew’s influential presence in my life has helped shape the man I am today,” said Adam Cruthirds, who was under the care of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital most of his junior and senior years in high school. He is heading to his junior year at Rhodes College this fall and is studying Spanish in Ecuador this summer.

“He has been with there through the best times and worst times with open arms. It is hard to put into words just how selfless and caring he is, and I want to thank him for simply everything.”

Jim House and Cruthirds were sixth-graders when Arehart arrived.

“It was always interesting to walk through the door of his office because you never knew what you were going to be doing that day,” said House, adding that Arehart was one of the men he patterned in which he tried to pattern himself. “He changed the youth program at Holy Communion for the better in so many ways.”


Posted by Jane Roberts at Wednesday, Jun 13
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Holy Communion calls Jonathan Chesney


The Reverend Jonathan Chesney, Holy Communion’s new associate rector, will arrive in October as both a newlywed and a member of the clergy with four times the required credentials in clinical pastoral care training.

This summer, he’s wrapping a year of intense training as a resident at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where he is the chaplain for the emergency room and orthopedic care. 

When he arrives in Memphis, Chesney, 35, will be one of a tiny percent of Episcopal priests with enough background in clinical pastoral education to pursue board certification, which requires four units of training.

Ordination usually requires one.

“Jonathan has a sweetness and depth of spirit that put me instantly at ease,” said Father Sandy. “He gave me the confidence he would serve well at Holy Communion. His exceptional training in pastoral care brings the resources we need to take our large and tenured pastoral care ministry to the next level.”

The volunteer-driven program at CHC is at least 15 years old and was revamped under the Reverend Benjamin Badgett.

“Jonathan’s training will bring extensive resources as we keep the best of what we have and add new components,” Sandy said.

Chesney says in-depth training in pastoral are “has radically changed” the trajectory of his ability to be a pastor, noting that he noticed the power of skilled pastoral care while he was associate rector under the Reverend Geoffrey Evans at Holy Trinity in Auburn, Alabama. (Evans and Father Sandy were seminary classmates.)

“I could see him building relationships and his initiative in making connections. It’s not rocket science, but it is time spent and intention. Through it, I could see how much Holy Trinity as a parish grew in strength and relationships,” Chesney said.

“The connections become like a spiderweb that crisscrosses the whole church. Strong pastoral care becomes the glue that helps bind the church together and helps it stick together in the midst of challenges,” Chesney said. “The more we know each other, we more we are able to share experiences of faith and see it through someone else’s eyes.”

“It can be hard to maintain a sense of God’s love for us in dark times. The more relationships there are, while it doesn’t make it easier, it spreads the weight out a little.”

As a hospital chaplain resident, his example is two patients with identical diagnoses.

“The one that has a supportive family, friends - church or community – it’s night and day in their ability to cope.”

Chesney left Auburn a year ago to pursue three additional units of clinical pastoral education.

He will fill the associate rector’s opening left when Benjamin Badgett and his family left in late January.

Chesney will spend half of his time on pastoral care, including heading the teams of volunteers who do much of the work. The rest of workweek will be equally divided between preaching, leading liturgy and being the clergy connection to the youth ministry team.

He was born in Virginia and lived in several places on the East Coast before his family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, when he was in middle school.

“It is the place that feels like home,” Chesney said.

Chesney graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary in 2014. He came to ministry through youth ministry. He served four years as head of youth ministries at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Montgomery, Alabama.

He earned his undergraduate degree at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

He and Alison Marie Papp will marry this fall and move to Memphis soon after.

Papp’s background is in secondary education, social services and environmental/agricultural education. In Alabama, she directed the Farm School at Camp McDowell, promoting agriculture and sustainable food practices.


Posted by Jane Roberts at Thursday, Jun 7
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Cowans Leaving Memphis to Pursue Faith Vocation

This summer, the Cowans will leave the city and church that has nurtured them for years to pursue a calling that has whispered quietly and intently in Sarah’s soul for three decades.

In early August, Sarah will begin her three years of study at Virginia Theological Seminary, stepping out in faith in a way that will eventually bring her back to minister to the people of West Tennessee as an Episcopal priest.

“I have considered this vocation since I was in high school. Then college, career, family and all those things entered in,” Sarah said, smiling at the blessings the years have bestowed.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people, lay and ordained, over the years. Finally, one day I was having lunch with John Burruss. He said, ‘If you have been thinking of this for 30-some years, you should just start.’”

She took a night class at Memphis Theological Seminary to see if she could manage graduate-level work. And in the fall of 2016, she began the intensive work with Sandy and later, a committee of parishioners, to discern her call.

“It was wonderful. Discernment is not a defined process in the Episcopal Church. Sandy created his own after consulting with other ordained friends,” Sarah said.

The two met every month for the better part of the school year. In January of this year, Bishop Don Johnson named her a Postulate for Holy Orders, a seal of affirmation from the parish and diocese that also means both will offer financial support while she is in seminary.

In the Episcopal Church, the discernment process starts first in the heart of the postulant and then flows into the parish and diocese, symbolizing the concentric and ever-widening circles of confirmation and affirmation it takes to succeed in ministry.

“The Episcopal Church believes God’s will is discerned communally, not individually,” Sandy said. “A person does not simply say he is called to ministry; she invites her community of faith to share in her discernment. This is a vulnerable process, but also one filled with love. By discerning in this way, both the priest and the church are given an increased level of confidence that we have heard God’s voice correctly.”

Robert Propst headed the lay committee. Its members were Anne-Morgan Morgan and Barb Boucher.

“In a general sense, the lay committee gets to know the journey the person has been on,” Robert said. “If there were areas in the person’s life that we felt like might be a detriment, we would suggest they need to pray on that more and consider more. Ultimately, the committee makes a recommendation if, from our perspective, it is appropriate for them to continue their pursuit of this.

“It’s an honor to walk beside someone who is pursuing a personal and godly thing to serve God in such  sacrificial way,” Robert said. “It’s an honor to be part of that and to really experience the deep, deep abiding love they have for their church and how they want to serve Christ in the world.”

For Curt, the process underscores the centrality of the parish.

“This whole thing started in this parish. It started with a meeting with Sandy. The center of church life happens at the parish level. The most important things in a church happen right here in your home church,” he said.

For a denomination that is losing priests to retirement much faster than it is ordaining them, the decision to him feels like very personal. 

“We are doing something that needs to be done for the greater church … It’s meaningful to me that the church needs Sarah.”

The Cowans will move to Alexandria in early August. Their children, Corinne and Billy, will begin their new schools after Labor Day. As a reward, they will get a puppy when they are settled.

“It’s probably the first thing we do after we get our beds in our rooms,” said Billy, 8, who’s looking forward to new adventures.

“There’s also a whole seminary I can ride my bike around on the street.”

The Cowans did not tell their children of the move until the pieces were all in place.

“One day, at dinner, Mom announced that she had always wanted to be a priest,” Corinne said. “Billy and I were so surprised, I think our mouths fell open. It’s just hard to imagine,” she said, looking at her mother.

“I know you have really wanted to be a priest. It’s just difficult to think of you as one.”

Part of the commitment a postulant makes to her home diocese is to return for two years of service in parish assigned by the bishop. After that assignment, she may take an assignment any place in the world.

“I’m excited for our family to have a three-year adventure and be in a place that really feels like the place  that would form me the best for this vocation I am choosing,” Sarah said. “But we’re also looking forward to coming back and serving in West Tennessee.

"I'm excited to be a student again and immersed in new learning. And I'm excited to be formed as a priest at a seminary that feels very 'right' for me. A wide variety of faith communities - St. Peter's in Del Mar, CA; St. George's Independent School, Church of the Holy Trinity and church of the Holy Communion - have formed me as a Christian. Now, I am excited to go to VTS to be formed as a priest."


Posted by Jane Roberts at Wednesday, May 9
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Father Boyle saw a need, created enterprises for healing

Father Gregory Boyle is the face of the multi-million Homeboy Industries operation in Los Angeles that exists to give reformed gang members a way to work side by side with rivals and heal.

      “’Women work things out face‑to‑face, and guys work things out shoulder-to-shoulder.’ That’s my experience in the bakery,” Boyle says. “Enemy rivals will work side by side making croissants or something. They’re not talking stuff out, but they are working stuff out. I don’t know how it works, but before you know it, there’s a bond deeper than they’ve ever known in their gang and stronger than anything they’ve even known in their families.”

      Homeboy Industries, which he has run since 1992, helps 15,000 people a year with jobs and social services. To keep the $17 million effort afloat, Boyle must raise $11 million a year. The remaining $6 million comes from revenue produced by the enterprises, including Homeboy Bakery and Homegirl Catering.

            This is our interview with Boyle.

Q. How many enterprises in Homeboy Industries? How do you decide what to add?

We have nine enterprises. We decide in a very haphazard way - stuff comes to us; we throw it against the wall to see if it sticks. Sometimes it does, sometimes not so much (Homeboy Plumbing).

Q. It’s interesting to me that you view the living and working together at the worksites as more important than the profit they create. What do you see happening between rival people?

We are all called to create a community of kinship such that God would recognize it. Enemies, rivals working side by side...invite the rest of the world to more fully inhabit what we are all called to become: One.

Q. Do you find that people graduate from needing Homeboy Industries as a worksite? Or do they tend to stay on?

Ours is an 18-month training program, so folks move on. If they surrender and cooperate with us, then they engage in the essential, foundational healing that happens at HBI in 18 months. Then they move on. We help them find employment beyond us. By this time, they are resilient. The world will indeed throw whatever it wants at them, but this time, they won't be toppled by it.

Q. I was struck by how much money you have to raise a year. Is Homeboy Industries growing in the number of people it serves? Can you give some statistics on the growth?

It is a lot of money to raise each year. One day, we will be endowed like any animal shelter in our country. Fifteen thousand folks a year walk through our doors, wanting to have their hearts altered and to move beyond the minds they have.

Q. Have enterprises in other cities modeled work on what you have been doing for more than two decades?

We have the Global Homeboy Network, 46 programs modeled on HBI in the U.S. and six outside the country. We gather every August to share stories and best practices with our "partners."

Q. When you have time to think about this work, what does it mean in your soul?

HMI has helped me to decide to live in other people's hearts. The Christ in me recognizing the Christ in them.

Q. What good comes of speaking to Christians in distant cities?

We need to speak, as Pope Francis says, of the "Joy of the Gospel." It IS where the joy is. It is joy's location. It would seem important to speak to that everywhere.



Posted by Jane Roberts at Sunday, Mar 18
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Hester leads with a heart for the people

The Reverend Hester Mathes came to Holy Communion nearly four years ago to minister to a community that was already very personal to her.

She graduated from St. Mary’s Episcopal School, has longtime friends and professional relationships throughout the diocese and region, and grew up in the parish that birthed Holy Communion.  In a word her connections in and through this parish are immense. And it turns out, her heart for the ministry is too.

In February, she was promoted to senior associate rector, and is now in charge of outreach, youth and children, recreation and hospitality, plus the staff that lead all these ministries.

“Many people have asked if I want to be a rector someday. While I do not rule it out, I think the more important question is to consider where I am able to do ministry to my fullest. Holy Communion is that place and you are the people who are allowing me to use every ounce of my gifts and talents and passions for ministry.

“Moving into a senior associate role allows me to keep growing and serving in a way that is exciting and challenging in a community I love dearly. 

No other parish in the diocese has a senior associate rector. At Holy Communion, the need for a clear second-in-command reflects the size of the parish.

“We are a large and complex system with so many major initiatives going on at once,” said Sandy. “While I work with the Vestry with issues of budget sustainability and our building project, Hester will work with our programming and all the things we offer to the congregation and community. She will be my partner in leadership of the church.”

When she first arrived, she remembers what felt like the steep learning curve of growing into liturgical leadership as an ordained minister.

“CHC has given me the freedom to develop my own liturgical style in a way that honors both tradition and individual expression of theology.  I am immensely grateful that CHC values diversity of style among its clergy, and I could not ask for a better team to serve alongside.” 

In her role has head of outreach, Hester connected this congregation to movements and issues in the city on top of the ongoing partnerships with traditional ministry partners. Through her, the parish has relationships with Bring It Food Hub, Memphis Women in Film, Team Read, Just City and Camp Able.

Last summer, she coordinated the congregation’s personally guided tour of the Dixon Galley and Gardens with docent and parishioner Dr. Phil McMillion.

On a larger scale, she has built remarkable ecumenical bonds in the community. With her connections to a Lutheran minister, whom she met last summer as clergy in a wedding in which both were officiants, Church of the Holy Communion hosted the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with a worship service that included four Evangelical Lutheran Church of America congregations in Memphis.

The service included Holy Eucharist with Bishop Don Johnson and the ranking head of the ELCA congregations in Memphis.

“The Reverend Hester Mathes contributes greatly to the rich ecumenical life of Memphis, and we are blessed by her service, dedication and joyful spirit,” said the Reverend Monica Weber of Epiphany Lutheran. “May God bless her in her new role as senior associate rector.” 

Hester was key to Holy Communion also hosting the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service in 2016 and is a member of the leadership team from three faiths that annually plans it.

Her promotion comes as the church is preparing to call a new curate or associate rector. Two candidates will visit in March.

“The new priest will not have personnel oversight,” Sandy said. “This person will be selected specifically for gifts and charisms with pastoral care. The new priest will be a specialist in pastoral care. Hester will be a generalist over a large, sweeping section of our ministry.”

In a climate where people are stressed and overscheduled in their everyday lives, Hester hopes to work against the national trend of doing more in programming.

“Instead, I would like to nurture a culture of growing deeper in relationship with ourselves, our neighbors and most importantly, with God.

“Faith in action takes hard work, and formation and programming give us the tools to do that important work.  A meaningful faith journey also takes commitment, and my vision is to cultivate the desire to commit even more deeply and more intensely to living into and spreading the Good News even in the times we feel most separated from God.”



Posted by Jane Roberts at Thursday, Mar 8
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Good Outweighs Inconvenience

(Editor's Note: This is Father Sandy's editorial running in The Commercial Appeal this weekend. The City Council is considering significant changes to the ordinance that governs how groups register for races and parades after a complaint was filed by a neighbor regarding the church's Book It 5K.)

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This old saw came true for Church of the Holy Communion on Sept. 16.

Despite our best efforts to hand-deliver notices about our “Book It 5K” race to every house on our route, at least one family did not get the information. We learned about this for the first time in The Commercial Appeal, and have sent a letter to that family expressing our regret. 

This neighborhood concern has garnered the attention of City Council, which will consider an ordinance Tuesday to extend the process for scheduling a public event and raise the cost by requiring sponsors of public events to pay the full cost of police protection rather than just the cost of any overtime officers required. 

In this divisive time, we need to make it easier to plan community events, not harder. We need more events that draw us out of our homes and into community with our neighbors. The work of the church has always been focused on inviting people into deeper relationship with each other, and that work has never been more important than it is today.

For the past seven years, the Book It 5K race at Church of the Holy Communion has brought together people from the East Memphis neighborhood and from across the city, and it has raised more than $175,000 to promote literacy through two local charities: Emmanuel Center has mentored young people in one of America’s poorest Zip codes, 38126, for more than a quarter century and boasts a 100 percent high school graduation rate over the last 11 years; Books from Birth will send an age-appropriate book to every child in Shelby County every month for their first five years of life.

The Commercial Appeal estimates that Memphis is home to more than 300 races annually, each one supporting meaningful causes in the same way that our race does. Memphis has recently been designated as a “Runner Friendly City” by the Road Runners Club of America, drawing further recognition to this special aspect of what it means to be a Memphian. We need to encourage events like this, not hinder them.

Ironically, the proposed legislation would have raised the cost of the Book It 5K, but not changed much else about it unless an appeal were made and a City Council vote taken. Our permit was filed more than five months in advance, and we have always done our best not only to notify our neighbors, but to invite their participation. We have heard almost no concerns from our neighbors in the past seven years. 

The street where I live is closed this morning for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon, as it is every year on the first Saturday of December. I had to adjust my usual routine. 

To me, this inconvenience is outweighed by the good that St. Jude does for children with cancer, by the impact St. Jude has on our city, and by the wonderful way that the marathon draws our community together. I am thankful today, not upset.

Reverend Sandy Webb is rector of Church of the Holy Communion Episcopal.

Posted by The Reverend Sandy Webb at Friday, Dec 1
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