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Obituary for Randolph S. James, Organist and Choirmaster

Obituary for
Randolph Sebastian James
June 16, 1961 – July 6, 2022

“Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, holding a glass of champagne, totally worn out, shouting “Holy crap, what a ride!”

This is how Randolph Sebastian James lived much of his life, arriving peacefully at its end on July 6, 2022, in Tallahassee, FL.

Randolph was born June 16, 1961, in Washington, NC, the only child of Bobby and Loretta Turner James. He first heard an organ played in church at age two, and was playing it by age four. He began his career in church music at the age of 12 as Organist and Choirmaster in the church where his father served as Senior Minister.

Randolph discovered the Episcopal Church in high school and has been an Organist and Director of Music in the Church since 1979. He served as Organist and Master of the Choirs at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Birmingham, Alabama, 1979 – 1983; Church of the Holy Comforter, Tallahassee, Florida, 1983 – 1988; Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta, Georgia, 1989 – 2000; All Saints Church (Interim), Worcester, Massachusetts, 2000 – 2002; Grace Episcopal Church (Interim), Newton Corner, Massachusetts, 2002 – 2003; Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church, Falmouth, Massachusetts, 2003-2011; and at Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Cartersville, Georgia, 2012-2018. He served most recently as Organist at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Quincy, Florida.

A force of nature, Randolph masterfully built the skills and repertoire of (mostly) volunteer choirs that flourished under his leadership. His mastery of integrating music and worship led to transcendent experiences of God while his temperament, humor, irreverence, and generous heart generated a devoted choir family everywhere he served.

In 1993, Randolph met Gordon Ganter in Atlanta. They committed themselves to one another among family and friends on Nov. 3, 1995, and later married in Concord, MA on August 17, 2004. Gordon’s extraordinary gifts of hospitality expanded the beauty and joy of choir family and church community.

Randolph was preceded in death by his mother Loretta; and his husband Gordon and their three exceptional standard poodles: Sebastian, Johann, and Widor. He is survived by his parents Bob and Carol James and sisters Freela Hudson and Jennifer Kirk. He is also survived by a multitude of friends, gathered along the way, who are, in turn, devoted friends of one another.

More than 50 choristers from Randolph’s choir families will lead in singing him heavenward at a Celebration of Life with Holy Eucharist on Saturday, August 6 at 1:00 pm at the Church of the Ascension in Cartersville, GA. The committal of ashes–both Randolph and Gordon’s–will follow outside in the memorial garden. A festive reception will be held in the parish hall where laughter and tears will flow and all will raise a glass, so glad to have been along for the ride with Randolph Sebastian James.

The service will be live-streamed on Ascension’s Facebook page HERE and later archived on their YouTube channel HERE.

Memorial gifts can be made online HERE or sent to The Church of the Ascension at 2015 W. Cherokee Avenue, Cartersville GA 30120. Gifts in memory of Randolph may also be sent to any of the music programs where he served.

The links referenced above are:
Ascension’s Facebook page for live-streaming of the service:

Ascension’s YouTube page for watching the service at a later time:

A link for online memorial gifts to Ascension:

Circle of Stewardship In-Person Workshop

The Circle of Stewardship

The Commission on Stewardship for the Diocese of Atlanta invites you to attend Circle of Stewardship, a workshop for clergy and lay stewardship leaders, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Saturday, August 20, at the Cathedral of St. Philip (2744 Peachtree Rd NW, Atlanta, GA 30305).

The Circle of Stewardship is designed to mobilize clergy and lay leaders to develop stewardship resources, enabling parishes to worship joyfully, serve compassionately, and grow spiritually. This workshop will include the scriptural building blocks of Christian stewardship, practical resources for organizing your annual stewardship program, designs for tailoring stewardship communications to multigenerational groups, a detailed framework for implementing a comprehensive year-round stewardship program, and the importance of telling your story as a way to start a holy stewardship conversation in your parish.

There is no charge for this workshop and lunch will be provided. Registration is available online at If you have any questions, please contact Tammy Pallot at

We are excited about stewardship and we hope you will make plans to join us and find out why!

Parish Rallies Community to Buy Tractor for Substance Recovery Center Garden

A HeartBeat Story *

CLAYTON, GA – “Here it comes!” the excited group called out as they watched the new Kubota garden tractor and attachments roll into the driveway of Victory Home.

The tractor’s arrival marked the culmination of a fast and furious community fundraising drive led by St. James Episcopal Church in Clayton.

The Rev. Doris Graf-Smith, Priest-in-Charge of St. James, blessed the group, and the new tractor. It was another big achievement in the books for the small North Georgia parish.

Neil King, Sales Manager, Jim Short Tractor & Equipment, Alto, GA, (center) hands keys to Mark Beach, Director, Victory Home as the Rev. Doris Graff-Smith reacts. Photo: Kathy Booker

Many of St. James parishioners are part-timers, second homers, and summer residents of the lakeside Blue-Ridge-Mountains community two hours north of Atlanta. The average Sunday finds fewer than 75 in its pews. But the numbers don’t reflect St. James’ 60-year history of outsized service.

The latest project grew from an idea of parishioner Kathy Booker, a longtime volunteer at Victory Home. She heard from residents that they wanted to have a garden for fresh vegetables they could cook and eat. They didn’t have the necessary tools and equipment, but Booker couldn’t shake the idea of what could happen if only…

Booker’s relationship with Victory Home dates from 2013, just after she accepted a request from then St. James Rector, The Rev. Steve Hall, to serve as parish nurse. Soon after completing training as a faith community nurse, she heard that Victory Home in Tallulah Falls also needed someone with her skills. She has since served as a volunteer at both St. James and Victory Home, which operates a six-month, faith-based substance abuse recovery program for men.

Victory Home’s small garden will be expanded using the tractor bought with proceeds from the St. James Episcopal Church community wide fundraiser. Photo: Kathy Booker

Booker took her idea for providing a tractor for Victory Home to the Rev. Graf-Smith, and parishioners Peggy Melton, who is Outreach Committee Chair, Communications Chair Ginny Heckel, and a few other parishioners.

They quickly took to the idea.

The fundraising appeal would be framed as supporting the recovery of the men at Victory Home. The men would learn new skills working in the garden while reaping the benefits of being outdoors. The garden that a tractor would make possible could impact lives for years to come.

But they knew they would have to answer practical questions. What kind of tractor? How much would it cost? So, the committee met with a local tractor dealer who helped them decide what was needed, what was available given supply line issues resulting from COVID, and how much it would cost.

The group ended up setting the fundraising goal at $24,000, but there was one small catch. To buy the tractor and attachments for that price, it had to be purchased in one months’ time. $24,000 in a month? Really? Yes, $24,000 in 30 days!

Neil King, Sales Manager, Jim Short Tractor & Equipment, Alto, GA, (right) explains operating procedures for the new tractor received by Victory Home. Photo: Kathy Booker

So, with no time to waste a “We are planting seeds. Growing hope. Harvesting a future.” page with links to donate online was added to the parish website to tell the Victory Home and tractor stories. Booker began presenting the idea at Sunday services and to community groups.

The fund got a kick-start from a challenge gift and soon individual contributions were coming in. Then, special grants arrived from the Lake Burton Civic Association and Lake Rabun Association. Help also was provided by members of the local master gardener group, and the UGA Extension Service agents for Rabun and Habersham Counties.

On the eve of the one-month funding deadline, New Orleans Chef Leon LeMoine, a part-time St. James parishioner, donated, cooked, and oversaw a flock of delighted helpers at a sold-out 100-plate Jambalaya dinner.

Neil King, Sales Manager, Jim Short Tractor & Equipment, Alto, GA, (right) explains operating procedures for the new tractor received by Victory Home. Photo: Kathy Booker

It seemed that God’s blessings were literally coming from everywhere!

The following Sunday, Booker had a message for St. James and Victory Home. “Praise the Lord! The goal was not only met but it was also exceeded.” There was enough to buy a package that included the tractor, tiller, front loader, bush hog, quick hitch, and box blade with the $27,337.43 raised.

The members of the little group are grateful to their friends and the wider community for the outpouring of support but say they also discovered a deeper message. It was the seeds planted by longstanding relationships that took root and flourished.

Learn more about Victory Home.

Learn more about St. James, Clayton.

HeartBeat Stories amplify the ways the love shown by people of the Diocese of Atlanta is improving their communities – and sometimes – the world. To suggest a HeartBeat story, send your idea along with a way to contact you, to

Racial Healing Center Expands Board to Reflect Expanded Programs and Reach

Opening of The Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing, October 2017. (pictured left to right) The Right Rev. Robert C. Wright, Bishop of Atlanta; Center founding director Catherine Meeks, PhD., The Right Rev. Victor Atta-Baffoe, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Cape Coast, Ghana; The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. Photo: Don Plummer.

ATLANTA (July 15, 2022) – As The Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta celebrates its fifth anniversary this year it is expanding its Advisory Board.

Since opening in October 2017, the Center has grown its program and established itself as a national and international resource in the racial healing arena.

Founding Director Catherine Meeks, PhD., said that enlarging the Board to include local, national, and international members better supports the Center’s expanded work.

“We are delighted and encouraged by the amazing support that we have received over the past five years and the enthusiasm that continues to surround us as we allow the Spirit to lead us forward,” Meeks said when introducing the Center’s new Board Chair, The Reverend Matthew Heyd, Rector at Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York.

The Rev. Heyd said his parish’s work with the Center has involved difficult conversations but has attracted people to his parish “who want to be involved in something real that follows The Spirit and addresses the healing work that you’ve helped us to do which God calls all of us to and so I believe it’s The Spirit draws people in.”

“And in this moment when so much is up for grabs and the world is upside down so its broken and to be part of a place that’s committed to healing, I think is attractive even if the conversation can be difficult,” Heyd said.

“What you and Bishop [Rob] Wright have created is a wonderful gift and to be able to share it is a privilege and to be invited to be on the board was something that I was eager to be a part of and eager to support because I know our parish has really benefited by the relationship and I know that when you and I have these conversations nationally you can feel the energy in the connections you have made to all the programs and parishes that are and will be part of this national network,” Heyd said.

Heyd joins existing Center Board members: Sheryl H. Bowen, The Rev. Isaiah Shaneequa Brokenleg, Clint Deveaux, Judy Fielder, LaFawn Gilliam, The Rev. Dr. Simon Mainwaring, The Rt. Rev. Brian N. Prior, Archdeacon Juan Sandoval, Malinda Shamburger, The Very Rev. Fabio Sotelo, The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, Ken Stewart, and The Rev. Dr. Ken Swanson.

Cofounded by The Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, The Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing offers prayerful education that forms and reforms individual and collective action: a defined curriculum, thoughtful training, pilgrimages, and dialogue. Guided by faith and led by intention, the Center seeks to create the beloved community and the rewards of living life in that community – free of racism. More at

Atlanta Deputies Return from General Convention Exhausted, but Hope-filled

Members of the Diocese of Atlanta deputies to General Convention 80 in Baltimore returned with indelible memories of what by all accounts was a most unusual gathering.

Normally a festival of the church this year’s triennial convention was just the opposite – no packed exhibition hall, elaborate banquets, and multiple social gatherings. But, in response to an uptick in COVID19 cases, General Convention 80 was shortened to four days, had one-tenth the number of attendees and no social gatherings.

First-time deputy Tammy Pallot from Macon said she did extensive preparation for the convention.

“After attending over 50 hours of legislative committee hearings via Zoom and creating a massive Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the 431 resolutions that would be coming before us during our 4 short days together in Baltimore, I was excited and ready to hit the floor running,” Pallot said. But, from the beginning there were unexpected challenges.

“I had to laugh a little when we were only a few minutes into the training session on how to vote with our iPads and everything came to a screeching halt. The network had crashed.”

Beth King of Atlanta, who has attended multiple General Conventions, recalled the gathering as “intense, exciting, frustrating, efficient, again frustrating, celebratory, tedious, compassionate and hurried.”

“However, at the core it was sacred. So many passionate personalities, perspectives and agendas collided, all with the intent of getting our work done in a finite (and abbreviated) number of minutes,” King said after returning from Baltimore.

Bishop Rob Wright shares some Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta swag with Bishop Michael Curry and Bishop Sean Rowe at the 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in America.

The Rev. Sarah Fisher was new to the General Convention but expected it to be a larger version of our Diocese of Atlanta Annual Council which she has attended for nearly two decades.

“As a new deputy, there’s such a huge learning curve. I didn’t know or expect that. I figured I’d been doing the Annual Council for 17 years -how different could this be? Trust me–it’s different,” Fisher said. “There’s politics, mixed with the Holy Spirit, mixed with love of the Church and it’s unlike any church gathering I’ve ever attended,” Fisher said by email while heading to vacation.

It was the second Convention for the Rev. Cynthia Park of Gainesville. Both times a first clergy alternate, Park said.

“The most exciting thing to me this time was the emphasis on our common life together and our shared inheritance of the damage the Episcopal church did to the Indigenous peoples of this country between the late 1800’s up to the current generation,” she said.

Park said the changes imposed on Convention by COVID were a microcosm of the past and future of life in a time of the pandemic.

“I look forward to what gifts from our covid years will open for us in the next era of what it looks like to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth,” she said.

First-time deputy Archdeacon Carole Maddux was struck by the diversity of deputies from the 11 countries comprising The Episcopal Church.

“In fact, the convention hall was filled with a huge variety of people—from different places and countries, who spoke different languages, who saw the world through different lenses—but who had this in common: we all loved Jesus, The Episcopal Church, and Her people,” Maddux said.

Among the most important actions by GC80 according to Atlanta delegates:

  • Electing Julia Ayala Harris, the first woman of color, as President and The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, the first Indigenous woman, as Vice President of the House of Deputies,
  • Prayer Book Revision,
  • Reunion of the Diocese of The Episcopal Church in North Texas with The Episcopal Diocese of Texas, and
  • Resolutions acknowledging The Episcopal Church’s complicity in racism.

Deputy Pallot from Macon said she had thought of the Reunion resolution as simply a logical and practical action until Texas Deputy Katie Sherrard rose to speak.

“With fierce tears streaming down her cheeks she spoke of the hurt in 2008 when those who chose to stay in the Episcopal Church were left with 8 churches and 10 priests and the devastation once again in 2022 when the Supreme Court allowed ACNA to leave with all of their property, including their name,” Pallot remembered.

“The pain and power of her testimony was met with a standing ovation as tears streamed down my mask. Our hearts hurt for the people of Ft. Worth, but we stood in awe of their resilience and strength. It was a moment of the Church being the Church. Hundreds of us acknowledging the pain and fortifying Deputy Sherrard and all of the people of Ft. Worth with the love of Christ. It was a holy moment, and I am so grateful for the privilege of being a part of it.”

Rev. Fisher said watching the process of the resolution expanding the Prayer Book beyond the red book in church pews was “fascinating.

“The House of Bishops and House of Deputies taking legislation back and forth, all for the growth and good of the church. In so many ways, this legislation is a microcosm of all the work that was before us: how do we honor, listen to and learn from our history while moving forward into the world that is now.”

Another first-timer, Archdeacon Carole Maddux, who also directs the work of the Georgia Interfaith Public Policy Center, said she was surprised to receive a phone call prior to Convention telling her she had been assigned to a committee.

“I was honored to receive a call from President Jennings early one morning placing me on the Social Justice and US Policy Committee. My experience with GIPPC came in handy!”

11-time deputy The Rev. Canon Sam Candler of the Atlanta deputation received a House of Deputies Medal for his steadfast service as a member of the Standing Committee for Liturgy and Music. He also drew praise for his leadership as chair of the Atlanta delegation.

“I was overwhelmingly grateful for Sam Candler’s leadership,” Rev. Fisher said. “He answered questions, listening genuinely and well, helped deputies make connections with other deputations and generally helped us find our way. And he’s so clearly respected by the House of Deputies -for his wisdom, humility, and humor. He has a great way of being with people that helps empower everyone to do the work before them.”

Rev. Fisher said one of several times she was brought to tears was “Listening to a survivor of an Indigenous Boarding School talk about her experience there and hearing people talk about how the Episcopal Church had been part of that wounding and now has an opportunity to be part of the truth telling that will, hopefully and with God’s help, lead to healing.”

Veteran deputy King said she was also brought to tears by the gut-wrenching testimony of the abuse survivor, but that “I needed to hear it and move to acknowledge that the time for action is long overdue. I bring the mandate of the work ahead home with me to share across our diocese.”

Still, King said, she comes home reassured by the reaction of those attending this most extraordinary session.

“Newbies and veterans alike took it all in stride, never forgetting that masks, daily testing, no smorgasbord of snacks on the tables (my waistline is grateful!), an absence of time to socialize with old and new friends alike, and very long days, was a demonstration of everyone’s care and concern for one another and commitment to the future of the church.


Please thank our deputies for their hard work.

Beth King, The Cathedral of St. Philip

Carole Maddux, St. David’s Roswell

Cynthia Park, Grace Episcopal Church Gainesville

LaFawn Gilliam, St. Luke’s Atlanta

Lauren Holder, Cathedral of St. Philip

Lindsey Hardegree, Cathedral of St. Philip

Mary Caroline Cravens, Cathedral of St. Philip

Sam Candler, Cathedral of St. Philip

Sarah Fisher, St. Catherine’s Marietta

Tammy Pallot, St. Francis Macon



Special Retreat on Parish Ministry at Mepkin Abbey

It is no small thing to trust in the movement of the Living Spirit.

Tilden Edwards

I have held that wisdom close for a decade now as I wrestle with the pressures of daily life as a parish priest. Given the anxieties and fear we face in our culture—and in the perceived decline of the traditional congregation—our impulse may be to overly rely on a program maintenance model.

Might there be another way: to cultivate a deeper awareness of the indwelling presence of God so that our hearts are transformed to embody compassion in the world? Traditional parishes are being invited to ground themselves in this indwelling presence as spiritual communities who live out of an awareness of our oneness with God and each other.

Our whole business in this life is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.

St. Augustine

This special retreat at Mepkin Abbey, outside Charleston, South Carolina, will focus on the current context of parish ministry–both the challenges and opportunities–as we wonder together how a deeper practice of prayer and discernment can nurture an awareness of the Spirit’s presence in our lives.

The event is open to anyone wishing to explore parish ministry and contemplative prayer.

To learn more about the retreat, and to register, here is a helpful link to Mepkin Abbey’s website.

Acorns To Trees With St. B’s: Introducing Spanish To Early Learners

Acorns to Trees with St Bs

The original 4-Part Series, “Acorns to Trees with St. B’s,” is an opportunity for St. Benedict’s Episcopal School (STBS) to introduce Spanish to families of early learners in the broader community using music, song, and interactive lessons. Initial Lessons will range from numbers, weather, and time of day to the days of the week.

Hosted by St. Benedict’s Native-Speaking Spanish Teacher Marta Caamano (Señora Marta), families will explore new fun and simple topics each week. Weekly worksheet activities will accompany each lesson. After each show’s initial airing, parents can go back and replay the episode as often as they’d like. The 60-second mobile (vertical) content will air every Tuesday in July and will be available to watch via Instagram Reel, Facebook, and Tiktok.

Señora Marta, a native of Colombia, is a graduate of Javeriana University. She is a 12-year teacher at St. Benedict’s and is known by her colleagues and administration as expressive, caring, and dedicated to student success. Señora Marta makes learning interactive and fun – even through remote and hybrid learning.

A study by Common Sense Media, an organization dedicated to helping families use technology wisely, reported that 75 percent of children under the age of 8 have access to tablets or mobile devices. St. Benedict’s aims to create a simple, fun way of using digital technology that also allows parents to engage with their children in the learning process. According to the Office of Educational Technology, most research on children’s media usage shows that children learn more from content when parents or early educators watch and interact with children, encouraging them to make real-world connections to what they are viewing while they are viewing and afterward.

“St. Benedict’s shares a long Episcopal tradition of diversity, community, and faith,” stated STBS Head of School Father Brian Sullivan .”As educators of preschoolers to 8th graders, St. Benedict’s is setting the foundations of learning the language. By adding Spanish as a core curriculum offering, we are deepening a child’s understanding of neighbors, cultures, and individual points of view. When our children graduate, they are not only ready for advanced Spanish placement, but they do work together for a better future.”

At St. Benedict’s, students are taught by native-speaking faculty, and the Spanish curriculum is a core class at every grade level. Through songs, stories, and interactive lessons, students build a strong vocabulary foundation that allows them to understand key commands and phrases. Students begin to read and write in Spanish through conversation, literature, and grammar and continue fine-tuning those skills throughout middle school. Because of the emphasis placed on Spanish in Preschool-8th grade, our graduates typically enter high school Spanish as second-or-third year students.

For more information or to stay updated on upcoming episodes and other summer activities with Acorns to Trees with St B’s, visit

Beloved Pride | Hubert’s Story

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To be beloved, is to be loved unconditionally by God. It is both knowing and receiving God. It is openness to the Spirit’s work, which leads to incredible stories worth telling.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:7

Beloved is a new series from The Offices of Communications and Digital Evangelism focused on sharing the stories of God’s beloved. These are stories of love, belonging, and seeing God in the world. It’s testimony of the heart in a broken world.

Each release features a story captured behind the lens from a person in the diocese as well as a time of reflection with the same person through a conversation with Beloved host, The Rev. Ashley Carr. These reflections are real time via YouTube and Facebook live and will take place a week after the release of each Beloved story.

This is Hubert Tate’s story. Hubert was raised in the church and knew at a young person that he was gay. His story is one of being invited to an Episcopal Church and how that experience has shown him what it means to be a beloved child of God. Hubert worships at The Cathedral of St. Philip.

Remembering the Emanuel AME Church Tragedy

The Rev. Canon John Thompson-Quartey views memorials in front of Emanuel AME Church on the day he delivered the donation from the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Photo: Don Plummer

The Rev. Canon John Thompson-Quartey views memorials in front of Emanuel AME Church on the day he delivered the donation from the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Photo: Don Plummer.

In June 2015, a mass shooting during an evening Bible study at historically Black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, killed nine people.

On the seventh anniversary of the event, we take a look back and update the story.

Initial reports said only that a young white man had killed nine people, including the Church pastor.

Leaders of the Episcopal Dioceses of Atlanta and Georgia were stunned by the brutality of the attack and quick to respond.

Bishop Rob Wright of Atlanta and then-Bishop of Georgia Scott A. Benhase immediately issued a joint statement condemning the slaying. Here is an excerpt.

As we weep with those who mourn today, we are assured that even amidst the blood love wins!

God’s mercy is with the dead, with those who have lost loved ones and with the one who pulled the trigger.

But we must be clear: our work does not end with the home-going services of these faithful martyrs. The vicious act directed at worshipers in Emanuel AME Church was not only murder, it was also a racial hate crime.

Over the next week, the world learned more shocking details.

First, the young white man had been welcomed into the group’s Wednesday night Bible study and after participating he stood and calmly opened fire. He told the only survivor he spared her so she could tell the world his motive was to ignite a race war.

Next, there was even more stunning news. The family members of the victims and the survivors – one after one – stood up during the suspect’s bond hearing with messages of forgiveness.

Once these facts became known Bishop Rob Wright of the Diocese of Atlanta decided to honor the faithfulness to Jesus’ command to love our enemies by the families of the Emanuel victims.

He designated a special offering at the June 27 ordination of priests for the iconic church known as Mother Emanuel for its history as a church founded by slaves. The next day, a delegation presented the offering during the Sunday morning service at Mother Emanuel, only the second held since the murders.

The Rev. John Thompson-Quartey and Rev. Sharon Hiers, who is from Charleston, presented the offering and expressed the diocese’s condolences to the packed church service, which included a surprise visitor, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and his family.

The Rev. Canon John Thompson-Quartey and then Vice President Joe Biden at the service. Photo: Don Plummer

The Rev. Canon John Thompson-Quartey and then Vice President Joe Biden at the service. Photo: Don Plummer.

Rev. Quartey vividly recalls the 2015 service.

The congregation had just experienced a terrible loss when a lone gunman brutally massacred nine members, including their pastor, shortly after an evening of bible study and prayer, by a white supremacist.

The grief and sorrow of the congregation were palpable, and yet, the worship service was uplifting and celebratory, to underscore the Christian belief that even in death, we make our song, alleluia! For no amount of hatred could separate the children of God from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The lone gunman who committed such an act of hatred was intending to start a race war, but the reaction and response from the faith community thwarted his evil intent. Rather, the people of God came together to honor the lives that were suddenly cut short.

The throngs of people that came to Mother Emanuel AME Church that Sunday morning included people from all racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. This was a hopeful sign and a loving testimony to the unity that we all share in Christ Jesus.

In addition to our greetings and condolences, we presented a generous check, which was a special offering collected from the priest ordination on June 27, 2015, to the Reverend Norvel Goff, the presiding elder of the 7th District AME Church in South Carolina.

Such acts of violence – which stem from race hatred – continue to tear asunder the fabric of our common humanity. The people of God must raise our voices to let our elected officials know that we have had enough of these mass shootings and that some constructive actions must be taken to prevent future acts of violence with guns.

On June 17, 2021, the anniversary date of this violent act, another evening Bible study convened at Mother Emanuel.

The study was on Mark 4:1-9, the Parable of the Sower, which the nine victims were studying when they were murdered. Among faith leaders participating In what organizers styled as an Inaugural National Bible Study, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry.

The Bible study organizers said the clergy and Bible scholars explored the passage through the lens of an alternative title for the passage, The Parable of the Soils.

“In view of the rising tide of white supremacy in America, the panelists will address questions to be put before the nation: What kind of soil are we? What kind of soil are we willing to become?”

Other participants included Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; politicians, including Rep. Jim Clyburn and Sen. Tim Scott; and relatives of the victims. Just before he arrived at Friday’s event, Presiding Bishop Curry had to issue a Pastoral Letter, a deadly shooting Thursday evening at an Alabama Episcopal Church had killed three parishioners. Here’s an excerpt.

Even as I write, I am on the way to the commemoration of the nine who were martyred in 2015 at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The plague of gun violence in the United States affects us all, and now it has affected a congregation in The Episcopal Church.

Curry directed readers of his letter to Bishops Against Gun Violence. Get updates on the latest news and actions to take at the Episcopal Public Policy Network.

Looking Ahead

Leaders at Mother Emanuel AME plan to honor the nine lives lost with a memorial on the church grounds with a groundbreaking set for the fall. Church leaders hope the memorial will serve as a symbol of hope for people in the community.

The church said it has raised $12.7 million so far for the project. The fundraising goal is $20 million. The church said it hopes to unveil the memorial by 2024.

Learn more about Emanuel AME Church

Episcopal Community Foundation Grant Boosts Gainesville’s Gateway Center

A HeartBeat Story *

GAINESVILLE, GA – A grant from the Episcopal Community Foundation for Middle and North Georgia helped the Gateway Center Against Domestic Violence make vital improvements to its facilities and services.

Gateway board member Dr. Susanne Turner said the $25,000 grant provided both needed cash and helped increase Gateway’s visibility in the community.

“Gateway is grateful for the recent grant from the Episcopal Community Foundation. Without support like this, Gateway wouldn’t be able to expand and offer the wide variety of services we can offer today. All grants and donations are meaningful, but grants and donations from our community help us grow roots that will strengthen our center for years to come,” said Turner.

Turner, who is a parishioner of Grace Episcopal Church, said the grant enabled Gateway to continue major renovations to their secured residential facilities, including substantial upgrades to their commercial kitchen, a necessity considering the increased number of residents who reside within its safe confines until safer permanent housing is identified. Those renovations are now complete and relocating to these improved facilities is planned for early fall 2022.

Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville, through its Compassion and Outreach Committee, advocated for Gateway to receive the grant.

The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham, rector of Grace Episcopal, said domestic violence is a problem that exists, sadly, in all socio-economic households. Violent abusers may suffer chronic unemployment or be among professions such as medicine, law, or commerce. Violent abusers may suffer from mental illness, substance abuse, or be acting out of their own history of violence learned as children.

“Stereotyping violent abusers is not helpful to successful programs to intervene in these dangerous situations. Learning to know the common signs of violent abuse, however, is possible,” Higginbotham said

Because of this, Higginbotham said it is important that churches, such as Grace Episcopal, learn to recognize the signs of abuse, and that key church staff members be prepared to offer counseling, invite law enforcement into the situation, and assist in contacting close friends or family who can provide a compassionate presence as the situation is assessed and the appropriate next steps are planned.

Knowing that isolation from friends and family can be two of the conditions that give the abuser a sense of power over his family, Grace has a large corps of trained lay chaplains who are part of the Community of Hope, International. These lay chaplains stand ready at any time to step in and assist with counseling, guidance, and referrals.

“Our corps of trained lay chaplains are continually called upon and joyfully respond to situations that desperately need compassionate listeners. Otherwise, those persons who, in our society are victims of violence, or persons attempting to rehabilitate their lives would remain marginalized or fall through the cracks altogether. We are always available to respond to the needs of the women who find safe shelter in the Gateway Center and know very well the healing power of compassionate listening,” said parishioner Sue Montgomery, who leads the Grace Episcopal chapter of Community of Hope, International.

Grace Episcopal’s Senior Associate Rector, The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Park, who is also a licensed professional counselor, said that in addition to this lay chaplains’ corps, Grace’s clergy do not shy away from truth-telling in sermons and in classes about what now appears to be a culture that fosters what is termed “toxic masculinity” through violent video games, movies, and music that pervades our culture. We recognize that the men, and sometimes women, in our faith community are not immune from this poison.

“Preaching and teaching about the character of any person who considers themselves to be disciples of Jesus Christ is woven throughout our Christian Formation program throughout the year,” Park said.

Beyond serving on the governing board of the Gateway Center, Grace parishioners also raise awareness of this critical issue.

In 2021 and 2022, Grace made $5000 donations to Gateway Center.

“Grace Episcopal Church is pleased to be able to support this organization and grateful indeed for the generosity of the Episcopal Community Foundation in granting them this funding to assist in their efforts to provide safe shelter for victims of domestic abuse along with education and skills that will prevent its continuation,” Park said.

The Episcopal Community Foundation for Middle and North Georgia (ECF) is a ministry within the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. ECF funds Episcopal parishes and their nonprofit partners who help people experiencing poverty and oppression, particularly efforts around hunger, homelessness, generational poverty, refugee services, human trafficking victims, and those whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system.

Learn more about Grace Episcopal

Learn more about Gateway

Learn more about the Episcopal Community Foundation

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