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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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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