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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The relationship that unleashed a powerful plan

 At church and in the halls of St. Mary’s Episcopal School, no one is much surprised at the chortles and general good humor that tend to precede Head of School Albert Thockmorton and Rector Sandy Webb.

Because they both love jokes, they’ve been racing each other to the pun and punch line for more than three years. But the sound of their laughter has come symbolize a deeper reality: Without their easy back and forth, the largest capital campaign in the church’s history would likely still be on the shelf.

“We are sharing energy, momentum, a vision and the same direction,” Albert said. “We are also just very compatible souls.”

While Sandy is younger, the two have a peer status that Albert credits to Sandy’s leadership.

“He is very wise, and he suggested a ground rule from the very beginning - before we had anything on the table,” Albert said. “If there was anything that was any concern, we would bypass all the staff – all other ways of communicating – and talk directly to each other, face to face.”

If “it’s just chicken” – their code for minutiae - the details are worked out down the chain. When it’s not, there’s an impromptu summit between Albert and Sandy. When the office doors reopen, they have a plan, and the two go back to their jobs, often with their goodbyes echoing down the hallway.

“I think it started when we first met,” Sandy says.  “We just hit it off immediately. It was a great conversation,” he said, noting that he said, “what if we talk about our gym, rather than your gym or my gym?

“There’s no doubt that Albert’s principal interest is St. Mary’s and my interest is Holy Communion, but we can see that that we are going to be strongest together when both are strong independently.”

For years, the school and the congregation have known they needed a new gym and wellness center. The problem was, the church didn’t feel strongly enough about the facilities that it could ever imagine building an entire capital campaign around it. 

With Sandy and Albert’s friendship and the trust that has come of it, each side has been able to contribute from its strength – which from the church, includes land and a timeline.

For both institutions at the corner of Perkins and Walnut Grove, the campaign is the first time they are raising money together and will be expanding both of their footprints.

“The relationship between Holy Communion and St. Mary’s has always been strong, but it is great now,” said Emily Woodside, senior warden. “We are working extremely well together. We’ve always cooperated, but it’s a more positive, energetic cooperation now. We have always shared well, but now, there’s a coming together and an excitement on both sides.”

For two institutions that share a city block on one the busiest thoroughfares in the region, the partnership looks like it was ordained. It hasn’t always been.

“The long and short of is, nothing had happened,” said Ben Adams, a longtime church member and a co-chair - with Bill and Carmine Vaughan - of the church’s campaign. “The leadership cycles for the two institutions and the leadership through the process have not been in synch.”

This time, early in the process, Bill Vaughan had a sense it was going to happen.

“To me, it was the first time in about a dozen years that I really felt like we had a very good chance of making it a success,” he said. “Part of it has to do with the church’s and the school’s relationship. The relationship Sandy and Albert have forged, before the campaign ever came up, it was clear to everyone on both sides that these two leaders were in synch. It’s amazing how collaborative they have been on everything. The first question for both is: ‘How is this going to affect the other institution?’”

Both Albert and Sandy say the circumstances that created their harmony would be hard to duplicate. For one thing, they both came to their positions within a year of the other.

 “We didn’t have the opportunity of leveraging seniority over each other. We were in it together,” Albert said.

“Both us knew that in accepting these jobs, our leadership expected a project to get underway quickly,” Sandy said.

To symbolize their partnership, Sandy has a seat just behind Albert during St. Mary’s daily chapel in the church.

 “That is not something rectors have traditionally been offered,” Sandy said. “When I sit behind Albert in my seat, that was the gift that was offered to me as a sign that St. Mary’s was grateful for the relationship I was promoting on the church side.”

“And the gift you offer in return,” Albert said, “is that you actually use it.”

The soon-to-be built gym is the symbol of their willingness to consider what was best for the other.

“If you look at the campus as a map, the school’s buildings march along Perkins Extended, and the church buildings run along what we call “little Perkins,” Albert said. “The gym is the handshake – the school’s program spaces reaching around to join the church program spaces.

“To me, it’s not a handshake: It’s a clasping of hands.”


Posted by Jane Roberts at Thursday, Dec 29 | 2 comments
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Stockings of school supplies? Try bags - 393 of 'em - for Shady Grove Elementary

Shady Grove Elementary principal Kiersten Schnacke watched gift bags from Holy Communion pile up around the foyer Christmas tree Wednesday and quickly disappeared. By the time she reached her office door, tears were running down her face.

“I get emotional at all the things people do to help,” she said, steadying the stammer in her voice.

“If people only knew what this means to us.”

Thanks to the ingenuity of retired schoolteacher Carol Paterson, Holy Communion provided each of the 393 students a bag of school supplies –  what she calls "a mid-year refresher kit" -  with grade-appropriate items, all purchased from the teachers’ supply lists.

“Crayons run out. Paper runs out. Pencils run out,” said Paterson, who taught 34 years in Memphis public schools and knows paper and pens are a low priority for families struggling to buy Christmas gifts.

With about $300 Holy Communion raised from the sale of Shady Grove gift tags that Paterson made for the Outreach Gift Fair, she bought 250 pairs of scissors, 36 reams of notebook paper and enough pens, pencils and erasers to fill in the cracks for the rest of the year.

“Office Depot was very generous. They cut us some deals,” she said, “discounting many of their Office Depot brand supplies.”

Diane Williams donated boxes of crayons and helped stuff bags. Susan Russell and Don Paterson also stuffed bags.

The children will get their gift bags before they leave Friday for holiday break.

Shady Grove, in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in East Memphis, serves an entirely different population. Many of students are bused in from neighborhoods along Whitten and Macon roads, including four interstate motels.

“The district considers those children homeless,” Schnacke said. “Some actually live there. Some have  parents who work there and are allowed to live there. Some others might have parents in and out - incarceration or whatever their circumstance is – and while it is more expensive to pay by the week rather than rent, a lot of them are there because they have to have that back-up.”

For Schnacke and her staff, the sadness, and especially at Christmas, is the extreme circumstances some of the students face.

“When you hear some of the stuff, and they are still here, coming to school,” said Kathy Martin, school counselor, shaking her head. “And they are 6- and 7-year-olds, dealing with these issues.”

“It’s all about the love. That’s why I get so emotional about the volunteers because the kids feel they are loved,” Schnacke said. “Someone is coming in for them and only them.”

About 20 Holy Communion members volunteer an hour week at Shady Grove in TeamRead, a program to help second-graders improve their reading skills by learning to recognize sight words.

“it’s magic, pure magic,” said Christy Yarbro, member and a former Shady Grove team leader. “I honestly think I may get more out of it than the kids do. The little boy I worked with last year profoundly impacted by worldview. He was super sweet and full of hope. Small children are just so true.”

In the state report card, released this week, Shady Grove scored 3 out of 5 for growth in literacy and a 1 (the lowest score) for math. A score of 3 means the children are making a year’s worth of growth in the subject. Anything less means they are losing ground.

Schnacke credits the volunteers for the gains in literacy. She is thrilled that four medical students from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine have signed up to help with math and science.

 “I promise you, the volunteers make the difference. You can put the children on a computer all day, but that extra human, that person taking an interest in them, it’s the difference. That’s totally the difference.

“For so many kids, all they want is for you to take time in our fast-paced world to just listen. That’s how volunteers really help us the most. They are that other set of listening ears. Academics, yes, but listening really helps the social, emotional side.”

Holy Communion gave money to buy 18 school uniforms in the fall, plus socks and underwear. It also donated 140 “Rise and Shine, I’m on Time” t- shirts, which Shady Grove uses as an incentive for children with high-absentee rates.

Individually, Emily Woodside and Dr. Bill Falvey have provided funding for Opera Memphis visits to Shady Grove for four consecutive years, a big hit with the students, Schnacke said.

“But nobody ever wants to be recognized for anything. Please come and let us thank you."

Pictured, from left, are school counselor Kathy Martin, Carol and Don Paterson, principal Kiersten Schnacke and Emily Woodside.


Posted by Jane Roberts at Thursday, Dec 15 | 0 comments
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Ode to the gym: In your walls, we sweated, laughed and grew

Alice Bolton remembers clearly the summer night in 1963 when she and her husband, Jack, drove across town to a night club on South Third to pick up the barely known Jerry Lee Lewis.

Jack was in charge of getting entertainment for the newly conceived X Club, the Friday night dance in Holy Communion’s new gym that launched something of a social revolution.

“We walked in down a long hallway of chairs and right by this scrawny-looking kid. We thought he a was teenager sitting there with his guitar,” Alice says.

It was Lewis.

“He was the shyest human being. We had to drag words out of him to get him to talk to us,” she said, remembering the strange trip back to Holy Communion with Lewis in the back seat.

When he got to the gym and starting playing the church piano, the crowd was agog, including the very mild-mannered rector, Eric Greenwood.

“Eric Greenwood was the epitome of reverence and learnedness. His eyes were just popping,” Alice said. “It was just wild. Jerry Lee was playing with his feet and all.  The rector, who was a musician in his own right, was worried, wondering if that piano was going to survive.”

The gym, which will be torn down to build the new gymnasium and wellness center, is a repository of Memphis history from the mid- to late-20th Century. Cybil Shepherd and her brother, William, played basketball in it, sweating and scoring and learning the teamwork that contributed to the success of hundreds of Memphis teenagers. After desegregation, Holy Communion opened its doors to multi-racial teams, making the church a place where all Memphians could play together.

The gym opened in April 1963. Three months later, Associate Rector Dan Matthews introduced the X Club, attracting teenagers from as far away as Brownsville, Tennessee, for the live-music stage.

“It was a brilliant idea,” said Dan Conaway, a member of the church’s Words3 writing group, and back then, a member of the congregation.

“It attracted the East Memphis crowd as well as the town crowd. It was a lot of fun for everyone involved; plus, they had great bands.”

Randy and the Radiants, a well-known Memphis garage band, performed. So did Tommy Burk and The Counts. David Porter, a complete unknown at the time, appeared with his buddy, Isaac Hayes. Elvis was invited.

“Jack called Colonel Parker. He said Elvis was getting overexposed and didn’t need to perform at an East Memphis church,” Alice said.

The Brotherhood of St. Andrew sponsored the club and provided all the volunteers.

“The X is the symbol of the Brotherhood, so it became the X Club,” said Fred Beeson, who along with John Salmon and Matthews, were the brains behind the gig.

“At the time, there was not much for teenagers to do. We met on Friday nights in the summer. We got those name entertainers, which was largely because of Jack Bolton, who was the sales manager for the TV station,” Beeson said.

To get in, boys had to have an X Club membership. More than 100 did.

“Boy, did I catch a lot of flak for that,” Beeson said. “The boys were the members, but all  the mamas wanted girls to be members too.  But we thought it was a good idea because then the guys would have to ask the girls for a date.

“You had to bring your card, a girl and $2 to get in the door. We thought asking a girl for a date was an important part of  growing up. Sometimes they said no,” Beeson said.

Conaway was a member.

“It wasn’t hard. All you had to do was ask,” he said. “But you had to have a card, so you felt like you belonged.

“That is a key period of time in  your development,” Conaway said. “You’d just meet all kinds of people there. It was a very cool thing to do, and that rubbed off on Holy Communion. It was a happening kind  of place.

“I met a lot of people I still know as a result of those summers.  Kids that went to Central High came to those parties. So did kids from White Station, East, MUS (Memphis University School), Hutchison, St. Mary’s and kids from Midtown. You were either dancing or looking for someone to dance with,” he said.

Now, some 50 years later, the gym’s story is less amusing. For ten years or more, the roof has leaked, which means Tom Cowens, who referees basketball games, often has a wad of paper towels tucked in his sock or waistband for quickly mopping up the floor.

“Julie (Fike) and I and are often wiping the floor during the games,” he said. “It’s just become part of the job to watch for water on the floor.”

The gym, which has only one bathroom, also doesn’t have regulation-size basketball court. On one side, it butts dangerously close to a concrete-block wall.

It’s scheduled nearly continuously by St. Mary’s during the day, and with church recreation leagues and fitness classes on nights and weekends.

During basketball season,  Zumba gets rerouted to the parish hall one night a week and back to the gym in the hopscotch it takes to accommodate all the teams and classes.

“I have to coordinate it all,” said Julie Fike, head of Holy Communion’s recreation and wellness programs. “We have meetings that are backing right up to the classes starting, and then things have to be set up.”

The new gym will have dedicated space for church wellness classes, allowing it to offer a larger variety of classes and more sections of each.

In its day, the gym with the beamed ceiling and pine floor, was a showplace. In the oxygen molecules, surely there are traces of Lewis and Porter and Hayes and their legendary performances.

 “When we drove Jerry Lee back to the night club around 11 that night, he reverted to his former shy, country-boy self,” Alice said. “It was amazing.

“What  is so funny is that I went for 40 years without this ever crossing my mind. About five years ago in one of Dan Matthews’ talks at Calvary, he mentioned the X Club and Jerry Lee Lewis. That brought all the memories back.”

Demolition is not yet scheduled, but that doesn’t keep Beeson from thinking about the cross the Brotherhood placed high in the left-hand corner of the ceiling.

“For us, it was a symbol that they would always be dancing under a cross,” said Beeson, from his new home in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“I sure want to somebody to save that when the gym comes down.”

Posted by Jane Roberts at Thursday, Dec 15 | 2 comments
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Vestry announces $7 million campaign for new gym, renovation

Holy Communion is launching a $7 million capital campaign, the largest in its storied history, as it prepares to serve in an even larger way as the sacred space in the center of the city.

The largest piece of the work - $5 million – will gut and entirely renovate Blaisdell and Greenwood, the heart of the education and ministry space.  The campaign also includes $1 million for the church’s portion of $19 million gymnasium and wellness center it will share with St. Mary’s Episcopal School, plus an additional $1 million for improvements and maintenance on the church’s heating and cooling system.

More than $5.5 million has been raised in the campaign’s quiet phase this fall. As the campaign goes public, every family in the church – between now and the end of January -  will be asked to help meet the end goal.

When the work is done, Holy Communion will have a prominent front door and open-atrium reception area on the ground floor of Blaisdell, plus easy and expanded parking off Walnut Grove. It will also have offices for all staff on the third floor of Greenwood, clustering ministry employees together in contiguous offices for more cohesive communication and programming.

And, except for morning  chapel in church, the project means that the first time in more than sixty years, St. Mary’s will be in its own space, including its own well-lit cafeteria in the lower level of the new gym, giving the church room to expand its ministry and outreach, including extended suites for junior-high and senior-high programs on the first floor of Greenwood.

“The community at Holy Communion is strong and energetic and we have strong leadership,” said Emily Woodside, senior warden.

Since 2013, average Sunday attendance is up about 21 people and pledges have risen more than 30 percent. The growth was a sign to Sandy and the vestry that the congregation was ready for major challenge.

“I am one of those people who thinks the numbers follow depth. If people are getting what they need, they will come,” Sandy said. “Do they feel both challenged and encouraged by the messages they are hearing in the classrooms and the sanctuary? Do they feel cared for by the pastoral care teams?  Do they feel challenged in the education offerings? That is what brings people to church.

“My goal is to have a Christian community that is learning about Jesus, that is supporting each other, that is walking the road of life together. The more we can do that, the more the numbers are going to follow. And frankly, the giving is going to follow too,” he said.

“That’s been my experience here.”

For close to two decades, Holy Communion knew it needed a new gym. The reason it didn’t happen earlier was partly the ebb and flow in leadership and finances between St. Mary’s and the church.

“They ebbed and flowed at different cycles,” said Albert Throckmorton, head of the school. “The school may have been growing while the church may have been stagnate, or the church may have had visionary leadership when the school was having to attend its own issues.”

When St. Mary’s decided last year that a new wellness center was critical to its mission, its board of trustees committed $18 million to the project, leaving the church with the chance to expand and solidify its own recreation and wellness programs for only $1 million.

 “We’ll be able to have games and practices going at the same time,” Emily said. “The gym will have two 84-foot basketball courts or one 94-foot court for varsity teams.

 “We’ll have fitness rooms specifically for the church’s tai chi and Zumba classes.”

St. Mary’s commitment to the gym opened up avenues for the congregation the vestry hadn’t expected. When it got word from architect Scott Fleming that Greenwood and Blaisdell were structurally sound but underused, the focus shifted to improving the ministry space and creating an easy- to-identify front entrance with a centralized reception area, plus meeting rooms, on Blaisdell’s main floor.

“Thank God we did a full master planning process,” Sandy said. “The architects came and listened to our people – 40 to 50 parishioners participated in listening sessions. Scott Fleming, the architect, did the math and said, ‘You have all this unused space. We don’t need to build a new building. We just need to use the space you have already got.’ That was the game-changer.”

The church and St. Mary’s are running separate fundraising campaigns. The school has not announced the full scope of its work or launched its public campaign. The two are sharing the cost and strategy of fundraising through a joint contract with CCS Fundraising, a global company that for decades has specialized in helping nonprofits grow.

While much of the money has been raised on the church’s project, there is no timeline yet for when construction will begin. Part of the reason, Sandy says, is that there could be sizeable savings to doing the construction on both sides of the property at the same time.

Tom McQuiston remembers, as a small boy, the excitement when Greenwood and Blaidell opened.

“I remember the smell of fresh paint and people being excited about the accomplishment,” he said.

The construction and the pace of the growth in the surrounding neighborhoods in the 1950s and ‘60s touched off a growth spurt that made Holy Communion one of the most influential parishes in the diocese.

“Our Boy Scout Troop was the largest in the council. Jack Lyon was our scoutmaster. He was well-respected and instrumental in driving the growth of that troop. It was so big, it had to meet on two nights. That is an indication to me of the growth,” McQuiston said.

He expects this project will kick off another round of growth.

“I think our location is still one of the best. And we now are in the geographical center of the metro area. I have always felt like it was the heart of Memphis,” he said.

“We can draw from all parts of the city and do things that appeal to newcomers.”

The results of the fundraising will be reported in the annual meeting on January 22.

Posted by Jane Roberts at Sunday, Dec 4 | 0 comments
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Sunday, Sir Roger Scruton will discuss Anglican Church's gift to Europe

Sir Roger Scruton, one of the best known modern-day philosophers in England, has great pride in the Anglican Church and credits it for shaping great swaths of  Europe’s culture through its architecture and sacred texts, the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

Scruton, knighted last summer, will speak at 9:15 a.m. Sunday, November 6 at Holy Communion on the power of the Anglican Church, one of his great loves. His book, Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England, was published in 2012.

He answered these questions ahead of his visit:

Q: If one of the abiding strengths of the Anglican Church is its place in England’s history and its culture-forming nucleus, what are its modern-day shortcomings?

A:  It has lost the evangelical habit, and has become too apologetic about the things that it believes: Apologetic most of all about England and its meaning.

Q: If the church in England is now the least-visited building on the block, what role do you see it playing in a multicultural society? And, in your opinion, how does that translate to the United States?

A. The decline in congregations, we must hope, is temporary. In a multicultural society, it is vital that there be a central and officially respected belief – Christianity in our two countries, comparable to Islam in the Ottoman Empire. The role of the church is not to condemn other faiths, but to defend a general respect for faith and to open the way to dialogue about the nature of God. At the same time, it must announce clearly its own belief in the redeeming message of Christ.

Q. What lessons are there for the Episcopal Church in the United States?

A: It is important to respect the beliefs and devotional habits of ordinary people, and also to stay clear of political controversy if possible. The Episcopal Church is a sacramental church, and it is through the sacraments that it will retain its congregation and give them hope.

Q: What is your advice for mending the rifts in the church while still maintaining the Anglican tradition?

A: I wish I had an answer. I suppose the important thing is to hang on to what is essential, and to pray for guidance. The great questions that trouble us now are those of marriage and sexuality. In addressing them we must remember that it is not we and our appetites that are important, but our children and their needs, and – in guardianship over us – the God of us all.

Sir Roger Scruton is one of more than a dozen noted speakers Holy Communion has brought to Memphis since the church formed its Speaker Series ministry in 2002.

“Robbie McQuiston was instrumental in organizing the ministry and laying the groundwork for its long-term success,” said John Russell, president of the  seven-member committee that attends to the details, including continually scouting speaker prospects.

“Our first speaker was Elaine Pagels, the American religious historian who is professor of religion at Princeton University and is probably best known for her book on the Gnostic Gospels,” Russell said. “Through the years, we have hosted writers, scholars and theologians, including Bruce Feiler, Jon Meacham, Jan Karon, Diana Eck, Anne Lamott, Karen Armstrong and Walter Brueggemann.”

Scruton, an English philosopher who specializes in aesthetics, is one of a tiny handful of speakers in the series’ 14-year history from outside the United States.

Dan Cullen, who teaches political philosophy at Rhodes College, first encountered Scruton about 20 years ago when he “stumbled” upon his writing, startomg with The Meaning of Conservatism. “It is one of the most important works of political philosophy of the 1980s and is a book that challenged the adequacy of the ideas associated with both Reaganism and Thatcherism. As I read more and more widely, I discovered a thinker, a genuine philosopher (not a "professor of philosophy" or an "intellectual") and a writer of luminous prose (a rarity in academia).” 

They met a few years ago at Oxford University and Cullen invited Scruton to lecture at Rhodes.

“Over the last few years I have organized symposia on his thought and invited various scholars from the fields of aesthetics, philosophy, music and political theory to discuss his work with him. I include bits of his work in my syllabi whenever I can,"  said Cullen, who is compiling a book of essays on Scruton. 

“I think Scruton has been surprised and gratified by the interest in his work among North American scholars, and he has finally begun to receive the recognition he deserves."

“Discovering Roger Scruton was an intellectual awakening for me. Because he writes about serious matters in a serious way, Scruton is ‘controversial.’ He has a point of view that illuminates the human world, which is in danger of being rendered invisible to us by the perspective of science and the dominant trends of contemporary philosophy,” Cullen said.

The purpose of the Speaker Series, funded with personal gifts, has always been “to engage in meaningful dialogue for spiritual growth,” both in the congregation and in the larger community,” Russell said. “The events attract numerous visitors from outside our congregation. Importantly, our parish has the opportunity to show hospitality to a wide cross-section of the Memphis community.

“I know parishioners who found Holy Communion specifically because of the Speakers Series,” Russell said. “They saw a banner for a Speakers Series event, came to Holy Communion for the lecture, liked what they heard, and have been here ever since!”

On March 23, Holy Communion will host Dr. Omid Safi,  professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University and director of its Islamic Studies Center. Safi is an expert Islamic mysticism (Sufism), contemporary Islamic thought and medieval Islamic history.  He has served on the board of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University and is the co-chair of the steering committee for the Study of Islam and the Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. 

“Because many prominent speakers are outside our budget, we are now working to collaborate with other groups. This has worked very well,” Russell said. “Last spring, we partnered with Calvary to bring the Rev. Walter Brueggemann. His lecture was very well-attended. We also partner with Rhodes College, as we did with Scruton.”


Posted by Jane Roberts at Thursday, Nov 3 | 1 comments
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Youth, young adults spend Sunday fixing up home for employee's brother

From his neighbor’s porch, L.F. Harbin, 81, sat and squinted into the late October sun at the workers scrambling in and out of his house in southwest Memphis.  

A sheet of plywood was being carried in the back door, teenagers from a local Scout Troop were washing down plastic furniture on the curb and in the front room, another half-dozen teens from Church of the Holy Communion were painting the front room and soon would be headed down the short hall outside the bathroom.

A large hole gapes open at the base of the toilet, exposing the ground and pipes and the home to rodents and cold. The bathtub has shifted in its mooring and is sagging. Shafts of light pour in where it once met the floor.

The kitchen floor has given way in spots and the ceiling has rotted through in a crumble of deteriorating plaster and wood.

“I didn’t know they were going to do all this,” Harbin says, his voice soft against the noise of the  traffic that streams back and forth on the four-lane East Mallory. “I thought they were just going to do some carpentry.”

Harbin, brother of a church security officer Buford Harbin, has lived in the two-bedroom home since he was 36. Several years ago, he tried to apply for help with the home repairs, which were estimated at $39,000.

“Nobody’s got that much money,” Harbin says. “You won’t get nothing if they don’t take your application.”

His MLGW bill, which covers water, two electric heaters in the winter, a couple of burners on the stove, water heater and a handful of lights is $207 a month. The furnace doesn’t work.

“It’s cold except when I am sleeping,” said Harbin, who worked on the loading dock at the John Morrell meat packing plant “until it closed up on me in '82.”

About five other jobs ended the same way, leaving Harbin and thousands of other Memphis factory workers out of work or underemployed over the last 40 years.

Harbin, who now sees only in one eye, asked his brother for help a few months ago.

“I mentioned it to Matthew (Arehart),” said Buford. “It was all God’s idea. See what the Lord does.”

Sunday, after a quick lunch at church, about 20 youth and young adults, including three members of his Carter Gammill’s Boy Scout Troop, showed up at the house with hand tools, paint and brushes, a generator, lumber, buckets, brooms, drop cloths and cleaning supplies.

Within three hours, skilled volunteer carpenters had covered the holes in the kitchen walls and floor with plywood. Matthew reinforced the foundation below the bathtub. The rest of the crew painted, moved furniture out to dust and vacuum, washed and swept the floors and moved all the furniture back in.

“It’s really sad,” said Daniel Russell, 13. “It’s sad he is having to live in this kind of condition. It’s just terrible. I’m glad he has a better place to live now.”

 For Daniel and several of his peers, the project was a dose of Memphis they had never seen.

“I’ve never thought about it. We take everything we have for granted,” he said.

Avery Holdeman, 13, saw Harbin when she arrived. He didn’t speak.

“I think he is hanging by a thread,” she said. “I think he has hope, but he needs more help.”

Research by the National Center for Healthy Housing in 2013 showed Memphis had a larger percentage of unhealthy or substandard housing than any of the 45 metro areas it studied. About 35,700 units in the nine-county metro area have "severe" or "moderate" structural problems that include water leaks, and rodent and insect infestations.

“It was neat to see the interaction between the young adults and the youth and the Boy Scouts and the neighbors,” said the Reverend Hester Mathes. “They came by and talked to us.

“You know, the level of participation falls right in with the millennials. They want to do service projects, like More than A Meal. We had a better turnout for this than we have for some of the social events.”

By 4 p.m., Beverly Russell was on the neighbor’s porch, extending her hand to Harbin and telling him how much the congregation loves his brother.

“Do you know how your brother ends every conversation he has with us,” she asked. “He says, ‘You have a blessed day.’ Do you know what a neat thing that is? I feel so blessed for knowing him.”


Posted by Jane Roberts at Sunday, Oct 30 | 0 comments
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Holy Communion part of Team Read victory at Shady Grove

Second-graders at Shady Grove Elementary scored an impressive win with sight words, those one-syllable words that are mighty predictors of school success.

Last school year, in a feat school principal Kiersten Schnacke attributes to tutors from Holy Communion, second-graders who received tutoring learned 290 sight words, about 260  more than the previous year’s second-graders, with the help of Holy Communion tutors and a program called Team Read.

Shady Grove is our adopted school.

The success has the feel of a gold medal at Shady Grove, where teachers are gearing up for another year of working with our tutors.

 “First of all,  thank you so much to all the volunteers from Team Read that came to help our students,” said Susan Groppe, one of the teachers in last year’s second grade-grade class.

“It really showed a lot of growth. For many of the students, it was so important to have an adult come in to help them with their reading.”

Research shows that one of the biggest predictors of who will be incarcerated is difficulty with reading. In Shelby County Schools, nearly seven out of 10 third-graders do not read on grade level. Statistics, you may not be surprised to learn, show that seven out of ten prisoners can’t read.

Shelby County Schools would like to get 1,000 volunteers and 10,000 donated books in a Team Read campaign it is kicking off now.

If you would like to tutor through the church, contact Christy Yarbro, christyyarbro@gmail.com



Posted by Jane Roberts at Wednesday, Aug 17 | 0 comments
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