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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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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