Over 13 years, knitters locked stitch, step to comfort hundreds

For most groups meeting in the church, size and seating configuration determine room assignment. Not so with the kinitters. They can settle in just about anywhere, provided they are close to their storage closet, a nondescript hideaway over Cheney Parish Hall.

Inside, it’s anything but mundane. Clear bins of shawls, bears and prayer squares have been blessed by a priest and are ready to go. Another batch awaits blessing, really for the second time. Every piece has already been held in quiet prayer by the woman who knitted it, mostly in her own home against the backdrop of the sounds and activity of her life.

Few things are as heartfelt or sacred as a gift spun from raw materials and quiet concentration. The Knitting Ministry at Holy Communion has been turning out its wondrous combinations since 2004.

This summer, it produced its 1,000th prayer shawl. When it was announced in worship, the applause was immediate and sustained.

“There was no question about it. As soon as we talked it over, Carol (Duke) said she thought the shawl should go to Bettie Clemmons,” said Linda Christopher, a five-year member, a newcomer in this circle of needles and yarn.

“Everyone agreed.”

In a quiet celebration of Holy Eucharist in the chapel at Kirby Pines, Christopher presented the mantle to Clemmons: “You are in our prayers constantly. This is for you in thanksgiving for all you have given us.”

Clemmons started the Knitting Ministry after she saw it in action while waiting for her pastor husband, Bill, at a church meeting in West Memphis.

“I had a back injury at the time and was sitting a lot. I knew there was something better I could be doing than watching television,” Clemmons said.

The church loaned her a prayer shawl to show the knitters at Holy Communion.

“I walked into Wednesday evening dinner and walked up behind (associate rector) Tom Momberg and wrapped it around him. ‘How does that feel?’” I asked him.

“He told me, ‘you get this started, and it will come under the pastoral care ministry'.’’

She did. A few weeks later, the ministry presented its first shawl to Rector Gary Jones at the annual meeting. Within months, they were getting calls from other churches, wanting to know how to get started.

Thirteen years later, 84 people have been part of the ministry, knitting into the church record one of its most voluminous ministries.

For years, the group has met one morning a month at church. In the last year, a Wednesday night group formed, including Kristin Powell. She was part of the Knitting Ministry before she was a member of the church or could even knit.

“I enjoy doing this craft and for it to be able to benefit somebody else is wonderful,” she said. “The fellowship is great. I’m glad we started the night group because I couldn’t make it during the day.”

Another nighttime member, Merit Williams, joined this fall. In two weeks, she had turned out 70 prayer squares.

Longtime knitter Carol Paterson has her own prayer shawl knitted by the group. She took it with her to surgery. When she woke, she was wrapped in it.

She doesn’t know who did it, but thinks a nurse recognized the value of the shawl. Paterson is emotional about the power of knitting in part because she often knits in doctors’ offices.

 “It makes up many conversations,” she said. “I’ve had many people exchange prayer requests in a waiting room.”

Besides bins and bins of donated yarn and at least one shelf of books on knitting, the knitters keep meticulous, computerized records of their work, including an inventory of yarn.

“We buy yarn on sale,” said Carol Duke. “We bought $200 worth a few months ago. It will last three or four months.”

On average, a prayer shawl requires three full skeins of yarn or about 550 yards. 

“There are about 12,000 stitches in an adult shawl, so you can see that a good bit of time and effort goes into each one,” Christopher said.

The knitters work closely with priests and pastoral care to get shawls, prayer bears and squares to people in need.

Last summer, when Dr. David Ouzts’ mother was sick, a FedEx box arrived on the doorstep of her rehabilitation unit.

“By its catalog number (and through the CHC grapevine), I learned that it was knitted by my longtime friend Sunny Ross. When I returned to Memphis the next Sunday, I just happened to see Sunny after the 8:00 service, and we took a photo of us, which my mother loves to this day.”

When Christopher delivered the prayer shawl to Clemmons in early September, she tucked in two knitted bears too. Clemmons had alerted her to a need.

“It’s for a baby born with leukemia and is being treated at St. Jude,” Clemmons said. “The baby isn’t doing well. Her great-grandmother is a resident at Kirby Pines.”

The knitters likely will never see the child as is the case with many recipients of their work. More often, one of the knitters or someone in the church knows the person and the need for a shawl.

 “If mailing is the best way to deliver them, we do that, but we much prefer to have a personal delivery,” Christopher said.

Shawls from CHC have gone to England, Lebanon and South Africa, plus across the United States.

“Here’s what I love,” Christopher said. “If we’re picking out a shawl to give someone, you’ll hear someone say, ‘Does anyone know her favorite color'?”

 

Posted by Jane Roberts at Monday, Oct 16 | 0 comments
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Through Episcopal Service Corps, we plowed deeper ground

The people who ducked into Grace-St. Luke's for the closing Eucharist on a late afternoon in June came from government agencies, nonprofits and churches. The common denominator was the Episcopal Service Corps and the interns who served our city with their muscle and ideas.

 Memphis barbecue followed in the parish hall, the same way countless other milestones of faith and family are celebrated in this community.

This one, although technically the end of the two-year City of Soul partnership with Holy Communion and Grace- St. Luke’s, had the feel of seedtime. Besides barbecue and fixings, each table was full of people who likely were strangers when it began. They aren’t anymore. The connections they’ve made to each other are one of the lasting rewards of the work the two congregations did through ESC.

“It solidified relationships we already had in the community,” said the Reverend Broderick Greer. “For instance, so many parishioners have supported St. Columba for years. But having Kayla (Deep) there as an intern last year really brought its work home to us. What she was doing, the progress she was making really helped St. Columba transform its understanding of sustainability.”

In the two years, the two parishes supported a total of six corps members who lived communally in a nondescript rental house east of the fairgrounds and worked for some of the city’s best-known nonprofits, including MIFA, Bridges USA, Just City, even the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office.

They each received a monthly $800 stipend, free rent and the expectation that they make a dent in Memphis. 

In some cases, the placements defined their career steps. Chelsea Kapes knew she wanted to go to law school before she came to Memphis last summer as a new college graduate from Massachusetts. A year in the public defender’s office and the connections she made there made it both easier to get into Duke Law School, where she will be this fall, and see herself as a public defender.

“I do want to go into public-interest law. I’m not sure about being a public defender, but there’s a stronger possibility of that now than when I arrived,” she said.

Adam Nelson, who interned last year at Emmanuel Center on St. Paul,  jumped from exposure to poverty in South Memphis to being program director at Constance Abbey, the “new monastic community” that serves the neighbors at St. Mary’s Cathedral with family-style dinners, washers and dryers, worship and advocacy, particularly for the homeless.

 “When I applied for Episcopal Service Corps, I had a part-time job without much future, skills I had developed in college but never used, and a blossoming faith,” Nelson says.

“ESC supplied a challenging work environment in which I was expected to try new things, spiritual formation and study to develop my awareness of Christ's presence, and a family of other corps members to provide mutual support and insight.”

Will Chaney worked days at Bridges, and through his own personality and interest, was instrumental in birthing the new young college group at Holy Communion.

“While that was beyond his job description, it was one of the things that happens when you have committed people,” said the Reverend Hester Mathes, who helped coordinate the partnership.

“This whole experience showed the importance of deepening relationships with a few historic partners,” Hester said. “It also strengthened the young-adult groups at both churches and really helped us think about ways in which we could support each other.”

For Chaney, the year of purposeful reflection on his work with a diverse group of teenagers in Memphis and the spiritual discipline that comes with being a corps member reinforced his wish to serve the church as a vocation.

“I want to work for the Episcopal Church and to do it for as long as I can,” he said. He has not ruled out the priesthood.

He leaves Memphis now to work in campus ministry at the University of Kansas, in a job funded by the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas.

Besides the interns’ contributions  -- Kapes organized the Bus Riders Day this spring to help a dozen lawyers see exactly how difficult it is for clients in the Mental Health Specialty Court get to  court-mandated appointments -- the partnership leaves a network of contacts and relationships already bearing fruit.

The offering from the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service last fall at Holy Communion went to Just City. And with the seeds Nelson planted at Emmanuel, it was a natural when Holy Communion was looking for a site for congregation-led weekend of work to launch its first-ever “Urban Pilgrimage” at its campus on the fringe of the last housing project in the inner city.

“We had Adam as a liaison between Emmanuel and Holy Communion,” Hester said. “Because of that excitement and momentum, we now have over a dozen tutors who go weekly to Emmanuel for Team Read. And that is ongoing.”

ESC, she says, was a chance to work with ministry partners in a deeper, everyday way. For the congregations, that engagement means a better understanding of the partners’ work and needs but also access to their brainpower.  

The interns were placed in the worksites that were either longtime ministries of the churches or connections from their pews. Stephen Bush, for instance, is the chief public defender in Shelby County and a member of Grace-St. Luke’s.

“I’m not exactly sure how the cooperation will continue,” Broderick said. “And I don’t know what shape it will take, but I would not be surprised if Stephen thinks of a way. Either way, it’s an easy phone call.”

The benefits run both ways. This summer, for instance, Holy Communion had more students involved in Bridge Builders simply because Hester was at the table when Bridges was discussing its needs.

“I recruited. I would ever have known that as a priest I could nominate students for the program without that connection,” she said.

Assistant public defender Kelly Pretzer was Kapes’ supervisor. With Kapes’ feedback, she learned how to better structure intern assignments and how to be a more effective mentor. She’s grateful.

“I think I may be looking for another Chelsea, which may be difficult. She really showed our office what you could do to deal with the broader issues our clients face,” Pretzer said.

The Reverend Sandy Webb visited Bridges in action this summer. He called the church staff from his car to say how excited he was to be thinking of next steps

Bridges staff members will be guest speakers one Sunday this fall in Rector’s Forum, the built-in pulpit rectors have for promoting programs they see bearing fruit. So will Stephen Bush and staff from MIFA.

Episcopal Service Corps began more than 30 years ago as a part of a discerning process for young people interested in working for the church. It has grown to a network of dozens of congregations in 30 communities that annually offer more than 200 internships to college graduates who commit to for one year to live simply, develop spiritual awareness and serve with eyes for justice.

From the beginning, the partnership here was limited to two years.

“We could not find a model that was sustainable for the two congregations financially,” Broderick said. “The board was wise in that decision. We were trying something and appreciating it for what it was. We impacted numerous lives through these two years. Not everything is meant to be forever. The unwise thing would have been to say, ‘We are going to power though this and put extreme strain on both our systems and do this until we burn out.”

Linda Marks, head of inter-faith and community outreach at MIFA, stood quietly in the Nave at Grace-St. Luke’s after the Closing Eucharist ended, reflecting quietly on the sweetness of the service.

“We’re sending these wonderful young people off to whatever they can do,” she said. “Sweet may not be the right word. But there will be more bad news, maybe even by the time we get home tonight. This is hopeful and peaceful,” she said as the last of the worshipers filed down the hall for dinner.

“And I am grateful to be part of it.”

 

Posted by Jane Roberts at Wednesday, Jul 12 | 0 comments
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We mourn the death of the Reverend Reynolds Smith Cheney II

(Sandy's note to the congregation on Tuesday, July 11.)

 

Dear Friends,

With a mix of personal sadness and resurrection joy, I write to let you know that the Reverend Reynolds Cheney, Church of the Holy Communion's third rector and the Diocese of West Tennessee's senior priest, died yesterday evening. 

Even as the rector of a large parish, Reynolds insisted on connecting with his parishioners in the same way that Jesus connected with his friends, learning their names and walking the road of life alongside them. Reynolds was a churchman of the best variety, serving on numerous boards at the denominational level, and training many new priests for lives of service in the Episcopal Church - I am honored to have been one of them. Reynolds' legacy is one that extends far beyond his life here below, even as he now lives above.

Church of the Holy Communion will host a Requiem Eucharist in Reynolds' honor on Monday, July 31, at 2:00 p.m. Reynolds' family will receive visitors in the room that bears his name, Cheney Parish Hall, from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. Please join us for this celebration of life and faith, and of a life lived in faith.

 

Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints, 

where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Into thy hands, O merciful Savior, we commend thy servant, Reynolds. 

Acknowledge, we humbly beseech thee, a sheep of thine own fold, 

a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming. 

Receive him into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, 

and into the glorious company of the saints in light.

 

Posted by Jane Roberts at Wednesday, Jul 12 | 1 comments
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Koziel inducted in state music teachers' Hall of Fame

Ellen Koziel, head of the church’s children’s choirs, received the Hall of Fame Award this spring from the Tennessee Music Educators Association, a group of nearly 2,000 music teachers in public and private elementary, middle and high schools, plus colleges, across the state.

Koziel, who retired in 2015 from Shelby County Schools after teaching elementary music 31 years, taught thousands of children in that time and also helped hundreds of teachers improve their skills as a master teacher in Orff-Schulwerk methods at the University of Memphis.

 “She works with many, many teachers during the summer,” said David Potter, music teacher at Levi Elementary. “She completely brought my teaching to life; she really connected things for me.”

“There is joy in everything she teaches. That really stuck with me,” he said.

Koziel began her work at Holy Communion in the fall of 2015. In a year, participation in the children’s choirs, including the new St. Cecilia Choir, had doubled.

With her guidance this school year, the older children in the CHC Choristers participated in the Royal School of Church Music training, mastering 13 targets required to earn their first RSCM ribbon this spring.

TMEA has given the Hall of Fame Award since 2003, according to executive director Ron Neers.

“But there are some years, we don’t give it all because we don’t have strong candidates,” he said.

“Just Ellen’s resume would bowl you over,” Neers said, noting that Koziel is among the hardest-workers he knows.

“It’s got to be something inside that pushes them. It’s an internal force.”

Posted by Jane Roberts at Wednesday, Jun 21 | 0 comments
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Organ Plays Role in Acoustics Puzzle

Behind a secret, sliding panel in the choir loft stands a world unto itself, a cross aesthetically, between a treehouse and a densely-packed wine cellar. Except there’s nothing remotely consumable here, unless you like the idea of organ music about to descend.

If you do, the hundreds of metal and wooden pipes are the stuff of dreams, cascading in graduated heights and widths in a dizzying array of precision and order and standing testament to the evolution of  man-made music, at least through the late 1970s, when the church organ was manufactured in Highland, Illinois, by the Wicks Organ Co., and shipped in vast crates to Memphis.

“A lot of people think this is the organ,” Dr. David Ouzts, minister of liturgy and music, says, gently thumping the wooden console that serves both as the platform and control panel for the church’s organists.

The organ in its entirety is a much grander proposition. It includes nearly 2,000 pipes, all housed in specially built chambers on over three levels of the choir loft originally designed to hold people.

“It is as much a part of the fabric of this building as the heating and cooling system is because it was custom-designed for this room,” Ouzts says.

The pipe organ was dedicated in June of 1980, replacing the home pipe organ given by Frank Norfleet when the church opened in 1950.

The congregation heard the new organ for the first time when its notes pealed over their expectant heads on Palm Sunday 1980. It cost $96,000 and took months to install in a series of hand-built cabinets with spring-loaded louvers for controlling the sound. Inside, the system is connected by catwalks and bunkhouse-like ladders (for the tuners) and air-flow tubes meticulously engineered to get an unbroken column of wind to each pipe, from those narrower than a pencil to the great behemoths that stand like portly courtesans at the end of each row.

In the meantime, the organ has appreciated to more than $1 million even though it has only two manuals (levels of keyboards), and most choral and organ literature requires three or four.

As the Vestry studies the feasibility of reconfiguring the Nave, Ouzts has become the local physiologist of sound, explaining patiently that while engineers once believed a domed ceiling improved the flow of sound, the theory has been debunked.

“Trying to raise our voices in song in praise to God in this room is very difficult,” Ouzts says, noting that the barrel-domed ceiling distributes sound unevenly. The ceiling is also covered with tile that absorbs the sound, shunting it into the unseen rafters. And not just the organ and choir, but the spoken word from the pulpit too.

“For instance, when our children’s parents sit in front row to listen when the children sing, they are going to see them of course, but they won’t hear them very well. Our sound, for whatever reason, makes an arc and travels ten pews back.”

People seated in the back of the Nave tell Ouzts the organ is too loud. And people in the front can’t hear it or the rest of the congregation singing, making them feel like they are worshiping in a vacuum, he said.

An analysis of the Nave done in 2016 by Threshold Acoustics in Chicago outlines a number of issues, including the porous tile and barrel-domed ceiling.

If the Vestry approves the changes in the Nave suggested by noted liturgical space designer Terry Byrd Eason, the ceiling would be flattened and plastered, creating an optimal environment for the church’s electro-pneumatic pipe organ.

Eason’s concept drawing, which the congregation saw in listening sessions in May, also includes a “bump-out” to the choir loft to accommodate the console, freeing up space in front for musicians who now crowd the doorways during special services, including Christmas and Easter.

Besides safety and sound, the improvements would go a long way to putting Holy Communion on the organ concert circuit, including stoking interest from prestigious groups like the American Guild of Organists, which rarely holds recitals at the church.

“Right now, we don’t have room, and our organ is limited,” Ouzts said, noting that the Vestry received an estimate of $64,000 to add a third manual and digitally retrofit the console.

“That would allow us to more easily play a church service and organ literature written for the 19th and 20th centuries, and it would allow us more flexibility when accompanying choral anthems,” Ouzts said.

 

Posted by Jane Roberts at Monday, Jun 19 | 0 comments
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Bishop's steadfastness, vision and wit central to where we are today _ Letter from the Reverend Sandy Webb

Dear Friends,

Late last week, Bishop Don Johnson sent a message to the Diocese of West Tennessee calling for the election of his successor, which signals his plan to retire. Out of love for the Diocese, and in keeping with tradition, he has agreed to remain in office until his successor is elected and consecrated, a process that usually takes about eighteen months. Bishop Johnson remains in charge until that time.

Since 2001, Bishop Johnson has shepherded the Diocese of West Tennessee through a time of great transformation in the Church generally, and in the Episcopal Church specifically. His signature blend of steadiness, vision, and dry wit has everything to do with where we are today.

One of the unique elements of Bishop Johnson’s legacy will be his ability to identify talented young clergy, his willingness to give them challenging opportunities, and his gracious care as they grew into their new roles. I will always be grateful to have been one of the young priests in whom Bishop Johnson saw potential, and in whom he was willing to place his trust.

The Bishop has been accompanied on this journey by his wife, Jeannie Johnson, who has had an active ministry in her own right. An Education for Ministry mentor at Church of the Holy Communion for many years, and a leader in the Diocese’s recent efforts to partner with the Kaleidoscope Institute, Jeannie also leaves behind a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.

Times of transition bring with them feelings of uncertainty, but the Bible reminds us that it is in the midst of uncertainty that God’s presence to his people becomes most evident. I have absolute confidence that the Holy Spirit will guide us in the months ahead as we – the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement between the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers – discern what God is calling us to become.

We will have many opportunities to honor Bishop and Mrs. Johnson for their ministries among us, and for their support of Church of the Holy Communion, their geographical home parish. We will also have many opportunities to talk about the future of our Diocese. But, for now, please join me in praying for the Johnsons as they enter this time of transition, and in giving thanks for their many years of faithful service among us.

Yours in faith,

The Reverend Sandy Webb, Rector

PS: Messages of thanks and encouragement can be sent to the Bishop in care of the diocesan office: 692 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38105.

Posted by Jane Roberts at Sunday, Jun 18 | 0 comments
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Vestry sets course with new priorities

In late May, the Vestry voted to focus on ‘’four priorities that will define both how it budgets money and how it shapes its presence in a city of need.

After several months of discussion and refinement, it has chosen to focus on hospitality, worship, service and learning, finding in the matrix a way to help others, minister to the parish, welcome the stranger and continue the congregation’s yen for meaningful formation.

“This is what we are committing ourselves to become,” said the Reverend Sandy Webb.

“This will be the major tool for the administration committee when they craft next year’s budget. These are our core priorities,” he said.

To see the priority statement, go here.

Besides welcoming everyone, the hospitality is to be intentionally outward as we “respond to God’s love with friendliness, generosity and kindness.”  In worship, the priority statement reminds the congregation that “we exist to glorify God,” but moves on to say that we also prize meaningful worship and opportunities for all to serve.

The service will be rooted in community but not one-sided. “We will work alongside the people we serve, learning from each other and building personal relationships,” as the congregation has done in its work with Emmanuel Center and outreach across the city.

Learning as a priority is punctuated with the proviso that Holy Communion is a community of teachers and learners and that besides the challenge of offering thoughtful learning opportunities, “we will also discuss how our faith applies to the real issues that members of our congregation are facing.”

The priorities will become the template for deciding how the church’s money is spent.

“It will also be the tool we use when we are presented with opportunities to sponsor something or participate in something,” Sandy said.

The vestry has been working on its priorities essentially since its winter retreat, honing the direction and then aligning clergy roles to fit.

For the next year at least, the bulk of Sandy’s time will be spent in overseeing worship and leading the kinds of “signature” classes that have defined adult formation since he arrived in 2013.

Hester’s majority focus will be coordinating parish life and outreach, plus her own preaching schedule. Ben’s focus will be the pastoral care of the congregation, including much of the hospital and home visiting.

By late summer, the Vestry will have selected three or four parish statistics for measuring the progress of each priority.

 “That will also help us decided to where to make investments,” Sandy said.

Extra weight is to be given to hospitality as a way of demonstrating the church’s welcome to all people, including the hundreds that know us through exercise programs, the meeting space we provide and the sacraments we offer to all. 

 “I hope people in the pews will see us balance the welcoming of new folks and fellowship with  returning folks, balance our inward focus on formation and our outward focus on service,” Sandy said.

As the design phase of the $7 million construction and renovation project proceeds, the Vestry is equally determined that the work of the church -- its preaching, congregational care and formation -- is not diminished by the construction that within a year will affect all the daily routines in the church office.

 “One of the major discussion points at our (February) retreat was around how we maintained a strong organization around this capital campaign but at the same time, not losing sight of the bigger mission we have and how we pay attention to the daily life of the church and what the parishioners need,” said John Lewis, senior warden.

“That led to a discussion of: Do we have a methodology that makes sense in terms of how we use the resources we have? What our strengths and passions are and then, how do we find the best way to focus our resources?”

Staff and vestry defined the priorities through writing and discussion. The individual responses were compiled and shaped into a narrative.  Clergy responsibilities have changed to reflect the new emphasis.

With the capital campaign now in the design and drafting stage, the Vestry is also clear that Sandy’s role is to lead the church and its work and not be mired in project management. The Vestry is in the final stages of hiring an owner’s representative to advocate for its interests.

 “It goes back to the initial discussion we had at the retreat,” Lewis said. “We can’t allow Sandy to be sucked into this project full bore and be unable to do the normal, daily activities of running a church. We have a lot of things happening around ministry. Those things will never go away. The construction will be here and gone in few years.

“Most of the parishioners are aware of the construction. They want to see it happen. But at the end of the day, they want a reason to come to church. They have a need to be fed. They want programs, other activities and small groups.”

The leaders of the three Vestry committees associated with construction have been directed to keep Sandy apprised of their actions, but he will not be their spokesman.

 “I will go to every committee meeting, stay for 20 minutes and leave,” Sandy said. “We are asking the chairs to come back and report to the Vestry. I will know in advance what is on the agenda and I will weigh in. When they finish their work, the chairperson will send me the notes. I will give immediate feedback, but the chairperson will report to the Vestry.”

 

 

 

Posted by Jane Roberts at Thursday, Jun 1 | 0 comments
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White Station choir familiar voice in our Easter Vigil

When the sounds of the 45-member White Station High School begin wafting through the Nave during the Saturday night Easter vigil, settle back in your seat and give thanks for the regard Episcopalians have always had for education.

For third year, the award-winning choir will be in the choir loft here, lending its collective voice to one of the church’s most hallowed services.

“It’s a nice thing to look out and see the people who are turning around in their seats to listen,” said Joseph Powell, director of choirs at the school. “It’s easy to see they are really enjoying the performance.”

White Station’s choir does perform in a few other churches, although not as part of the service. At Holy Communion, the feel is a little different, Powell said because the choir has as relationship here.

“We have our choir camp every summer at Holy Communion,” Powell said. “And in addition to that, we usually end up having a couple of smaller concert events in the parish hall. It’s our way of saying ‘thank you’ to Holy Communion.

“We like to maintain a presence with our students. And it’s very convenient. The kids don’t have to get a ride; they can walk.”

The choir members, who all must audition, practice for several months the pieces they will sing for the vigil.

“Interestingly enough, we usually find some way to work in a piece that we’ve been working on separate from the Easter Vigil. David (Ouzts) is good about a spot in the liturgy where it is appropriate to add it in.”

The collaboration is part of a growing bond between the public school down Perkins and Holy Communion. Julie Fike, director of recreation and wellness, is pitching in this winter and spring with the track teams.

“Because we share the campus with St. Mary’s Episcopal School, which has been here since the 1950s, I think it’s important for us as an Episcopal church to support school education,” said Dr. David Ouzts, minister of music and liturgy.

“With White Station being literally just down the street and being one of the best high school choirs in the state, I think we need to celebrate that in whatever ways we can. And I think it’s a good thing that a public school group like the White Station choir feels at home in our building.”

Because most members of the choir are not Episcopalian, the music is their introduction to the vigil and its symbolism.

“I explain the liturgy to them, from the movement from darkness to light, from death to life and the rekindling the new fire as a symbol of the resurrection,” Ouzts said.

Powell, who attended Episcopalian school from kindergarten to senior high in Mobile, Ala., explains the background in class.

“Usually, I try to give some historical background on what we are singing, but there would be no reason to tell them about the Easter Vigil if we were not singing it.”

Posted by Jane Roberts at Thursday, Apr 6 | 0 comments
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Youth program bears Arehart's DNA

Room 319 on most days looks like it’s managed by a professor with concentration issues. In one corner, carnation seedlings are growing in a happy haphazardness. Across the room, a semblance of a clothesline is tacked to wall and weighed with clips that hold clusters of affirming notes the students write to each other each week.

In between, the walls are painted with the kinds of murals junior-high kids paint for themselves. This is their room, and one of the best symbols of the massive curriculum-writing project Youth Minister Matthew Arehart envisioned from nearly the day he started work at Holy Communion in 2012.

What existed before still makes him shudder.

“Demographically, the lessons were written for smaller, rural churches,” Arehart says of the J2A curriculum created in 1986. “The examples were not at all current. The model wasn’t working. The kids didn’t pay attention to it. There was absolutely nothing in it they found interesting.”

In 2012, Holy Communion stopped using the model. It borrowed and pieced lessons together until Arehart was ready to start writing. 

“We didn’t have anything to move into, but for me, it was more important to stop. As long as we had that safety net, we weren’t going to try to figure anything else out,” he said.

Now, each lesson has a science, art or sociology activity to add relevance and help kids with all kinds of learning styles grasp the message. 

“To me, the experiments just make it more interesting,” Arehart says. “You don’t always remember the lesson, but you remember the experience and the relationships. And that’s almost more important. When you revisit it, your mind will connect to that experience.”

The curriculum is the new map for how junior high and high school students move through formation and confirmation at Holy Communion.

“In junior high, we wanted to give them a grounding in the faith they inherited, to grow into the covenants,” Arehart said “As we move, they will have experiences to do outreach at home in Memphis. The idea is that as they grow, their faith worlds will get larger, culminating in an international pilgrimage the church will offer now once every three years instead of every two years.

The curriculum matches the three-year lectionary cycle. The old model was a series of Bible stories tied to the liturgical year but often unrelated to Sunday worship.

“I just remember the old way being very unstructured,” said Kneeland Gammill, 18 and a senior at St. George’s Independent School in Collierville. “We would read something out of the New or Old Testament in Sunday School, but it wouldn’t relate to what we were talking about in the church service.”

The other issue, he said, was that a significant portion of Sunday School in pilgrimage years was turned over to preparing for the trip, including fund-raising projects.

“Now, we sit down talk ten, fifteen or twenty minutes,” Gammill said. “There is usually a Scripture reading. Matthew explains it, and then we do an activity. He puts a lot of emphasis on the modern. He weaves elements into the lesson that is more practical and easy to understand.”

Arehart will finish the three-year junior high lesson cycle this semester. He is more than halfway through writing the senior high lessons.

“A few years back, Rabbi Micah Greenstein spoke at CHC and something that he said has stuck with me. He talked about how so many people want to do good and plan these mission trips and go do something to help people somewhere else, then they feel good about the work they have done and come back home to place that needs help.  He said we need ‘do the most that you can with the time that you have in the place where you are.’  Here, we had a large group of youth, a desire to do good, and a city that has a lot of work that can be done… but how could we be more active in our city?

“Once I started thinking about this, then everything started to make much more sense,” Arehart said. “Once we changed how we do pilgrimage, then the doors would open to be able to do so much more as a youth program and to so more in the city of Memphis.  So, moving pilgrimage to Year C of the Lectionary, we now have two years to do other things.”

Year A is focused on local mission.

“I am currently putting together a summer retreat that deals with learning the history of Memphis, what is going on in Memphis now that is positive, and how can we get involved?  This would continue Year B when we would add a regional mission trip,” Arehart said.

Under the new format, the four Sunday morning classes for grades 6-12 have been replaced with a junior- and senior-high offering, reducing the recruiting it took to find teachers and substitutes for classes.

“The cool thing is, Matthew is really flexible on adjusting the lessons,” said David Visinsky, a parent who co-teaches the junior high class. “If something really clicks, we can go deeper. That flexibility wasn’t available with a canned product.”

Visinsky is the first to say the Old Testament is a challenge for middle schoolers. “It’s not the most fun thing in the world to teach, but Matthew has turned it into something that is a lot more fun.

“He’s not just rewritten the lessons, he has really revolutionized it. He took something that was off-the-shelf and made it ours. There is so much more value in teaching that way as opposed to a three-page thing that may not be applicable to our class.”

Several other congregations have asked Holy Communion for permission to use lesson plans, including St. George’s in Germantown and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dyersburg.

“I didn’t know that,” Gammill said. “That’s impressive. Matthew built this from the ground up. We would joke, ‘Matthew must live at the church’ because he was always working. We all gained a lot of respect for him. He cares about it so much and has put so much of his time and effort into it.”

 

 

 

Posted by Jane Roberts at Thursday, Mar 9 | 0 comments
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Annual Meeting colored by applause, expectancy

It’s not unusual for annual meetings at Church of the Holy Communion to erupt in applause. This time it was loud and sustained as Sandy announced first the capital campaign results and then that a family has stepped up to give an additional $750,000 as a lead gift for work in the Nave.

“This is absolutely outstanding! Something we could never have hoped or dreamed of,” Sandy told the several hundred parishioners at the meeting on Sunday, January 22.

“In order to start using the $750,000 for the Nave, we need to close the gap on our $7 million capital-campaign goal. We want to finish one project before we start another.”

By 10 a.m. the next day, when the campaign pledge cards were tallied, the total topped $6.7 million - up more than $200,000 from the Friday before  -- a more than gentle assurance that the plan to improve Holy Communion – the largest in the church’s nearly 70-year history – is well-grounded and on its way.

When Carter Gammill asked when the work will be done, every head in the room turned back to Sandy.

The church has a master plan for the projects, Sandy said. “But that is not something you can give a contractor and have them build it.”

Between now and April, the Vestry will sign a contract with an architect. It will form committees to oversee the various stages of work. And it will listen to how the members envision using the new ministry areas.

In total, it will take about six months to design the spaces and convert the architects’ renderings to construction documents.

“Please know we have an architectural process we have to go through before we can start to swing sledgehammers, tempting as that might be,” Sandy said.

The largest part of the church’s $7 million campaign is the $5 million it will take to gut Blaisdell and Greenwood, and then rebuild -- starting with a two-story central-reception area and atrium. Ministry spaces and meeting rooms will fan off the atrium. Besides offering an easy-to-identify entrance, the atrium will add grandeur to buildings constructed soon after the congregation put its stake in the ground at Perkins and Walnut Grove in the late 1940s.

The campaign also includes $1 million for the church’s portion of the $19 million wellness center it will share with St. Mary’s Episcopal School, plus $1 million replace the church’s central heating and air conditioning.

Two days after the annual meeting, architects from Fleming began advising the Vestry on parts of the project that could be done soon and which portions will be better done simultaneously with St. Mary’s. 

Demolition of the gym, for instance, and work to the back-parking lot will likely wait until the wellness center project is ready to proceed.

Once the $7 million is raised, Sandy says the church hopes to proceed with “one construction season instead of many seasons” on the work.

“I am very confident we will be looking at $7 million in the rearview mirror and that the entire $750,000 will be used for the Nave,” he said.

A plaque in the Narthex will eventually honor the donor family for the Nave gift. For now, its gift challenges the congregation to consider changes in the Nave that would significantly improve acoustics, lighting and flexibility of space. The changes are estimated on the high end at $3 million.

The initial master plan included work in the Nave. But because early responses were mixed, the Vestry decided to revisit the project when the $7 million was raised.

The lead gift adds a measure of confidence that Nave improvements are possible now too.

As a show of how widely the weight of the $7 million campaign has been carried, Sandy had members stand at the Annual Meeting who’ve played any role at all.

Nearly a tenth of the room stood, including a new generation of church leaders.

Sandy noted the new faces “setting out to make their mark,” adding that his peers in ministry across the nation “wish they had a group of young leaders saying ‘this is my church.’ I am so grateful.”

To help people think through possible improvements in the Nave, Sandy will offer a three-week class in liturgical design on Sunday mornings, beginning April 23. Public feedback sessions will follow.

“We’re going to look at why we design worship spaces the way we do, and then we will have listening sessions. Then we will recontract with the designer to help us carry that forward. And we will provide signposts - mile markers - as we go,” he said, but also noted that the church, which has no debt, is not planning to incur long-term debt for any of these projects.

“We are committed to doing this right and listening well,” he said, but he also said that “nothing we do is going to please everybody.

“When there are opportunities for feedback, please come. Please offer your feedback. Serve on committees and trust your fellow parishioners. This is an opportunity our church has never had before and won’t have again for a very, very long time.”

 

Posted by Jane Roberts at Tuesday, Feb 7 | 0 comments
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