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Living ‘The Way of Love” in a World ‘Cracked Open” by Disease, Distrust

Living ‘The Way of Love” in a World ‘Cracked Open” by Disease, Distrust

Bishop Curry Visits

The church and the world face profound difficulties, said Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B Curry at a gathering of more than 120 clergy of the Diocese of Atlanta. But Curry reminded the clerics “the church and the world have both been here before.”

Curry said the church that was founded by Jesus has been both the church of worldly power and an underground movement sidelined and persecuted by empires.

“The outward forms of the church will change with the times,” Curry told the assembled clerics. “But the movement that Jesus began when he said to some folk, follow me and I will make you more than you ever dreamed or thought you could be.

“Now, the truth is – the real truth is – I love this church, but it’s not my first love. My first love is Jesus Christ, and it is because of that I love this church.

“But if this church should wither away, the movement that Jesus began will not go away. Because the gates of Hell cannot prevail against that. The outward visible forms of church will transform and mutate and change with time.

“We need to revisit the catacombs, the life of the early Christians in the catacombs,” Curry said during a question time following his opening address. “What were the capacities that enable them not simply to survive but actually thrive in the midst of adversity or in the midst of a profoundly difficult context.”

With both the “church and the world cracked open” by a deadly pandemic and profound racial reckoning, that isolated many, Curry said clergy and laity alike should remember that what saved the early Church was “small community worship that was intense and real.”

“They were fed by actually coming in direct contact with the living God through those means, and that relationship enabled them to do more than they ever thought they could and to become more than they thought they could, which I think Jesus was getting at when he said, follow me and I will make you fish for people,” Curry said.

Curry said that atmosphere of intense love of Christ and each other can and is being rekindled in the Episcopal Church. “Not everywhere, but in enough places and ways that I have hope,” Curry said.

The Diocese of Atlanta is one of those places, Curry said.

Bishop Curry

The Episcopal Church’s Way of Love spiritual practices and disciplines that Curry shared with the world through his 2020 book Love Is The Way: Holding on to Hope In Troubling Times and debuted worldwide at the 2018 wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle came out of a meeting in Atlanta, Curry said.

“Your bishop was part of that group of folks,” that gathered to expand Curry’s earlier theme – The Jesus Movement – which was an effort to “reinject Jesus into the body of the church, his own church,” Curry said.

“We literally locked everybody up in a hotel for 48 hours and said, ‘What’s the next step?’ and the work around the way of love, that’s the core message that grew out of that,” Curry said.

Curry also recognized the work of The Rev. Stuart Higginbotham, rector of Grace Church in Gainesville in the revitalization of the church’s spiritual practices.

“Number one, you did say, you know, get reacquainted at a deeper level with spiritual practices. I think that’s a word for all of us,” Curry said of Higginbotham. “And you also did name that balcony time and convene balcony time with a group of people, not all of whom have the same viewpoints of the church.”

Higginbotham, whose doctoral thesis was on the subject of contemplative prayer refined the concept after participating in the New Contemplative Leaders Exchange, a fellowship first gathered by Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr, Tilden Edwards, and Laurence Freeman at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado in August 2017. Since then Higginbotham has contributed to and co-edited the 2019 volume Contemplation and Community: A Gathering of Fresh Voices for a Living Tradition and authored the 2021 book The Heart of a Calling: Practicing Christian Mindfulness in Congregational Ministry.

The March 22 Clergy Day was the final scheduled event in Atlanta by Curry as Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church before his nine-year term concludes on November 1, 2024.

The Clergy Day of reflection and learning that began with Bishop Curry’s keynote was followed by a conversation with Bishop Rob Wright and Q & A with the clergy. It ended with the Presiding Bishop preaching at The Cathedral of St. Philip’s noonday Eucharist, a group picture on the steps of the Nave, and lively table-time conversation during lunch.

Clergy Attending Bishop Curry's Gathering

A sampling of reactions by clergy reflected the depth and honesty of the presentations and the joy from time together.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to gather together with all of my clergy colleagues to worship and pray, and to hear from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who clearly had a tremendous influence on so many of us. Our bishop gave us the opportunity to affirm Bishop Curry specifically and directly and it makes me think we ought to have time of affirmation like that with some frequency. – The Rev. Monica Mainwaring of St. Martin in the Fields church in Atlanta

Clergy Day was a beautiful day of rejuvenating fellowship, excellent food, and the special treat of hearing from the Presiding Bishop. I was so encouraged by his words around how the church will move into the future. I’d never heard so clearly the gospel word he gave that “the mixture of new life and ministry in the midst of the death (literal and figurative) suffered during Covid-19 WAS NOT an aberration of the pandemic but a lived experience of the paschal mystery…Good Friday and Easter all at the same time!” That word alone made it worth the 2-hour drive to the cathedral but add in the hospitality of cathedral and Diocesan staff, +Bishop Wright, and getting to spend time with clergy colleagues…well, that was icing on the cake. I had a ball! The Rev. Thelma Mathis of St. Gregory the Great in Athens

It was a wonderful gathering of colleagues and friends, and I think each and every one of us felt re-grounded in how we understand our vocation. Sometimes–often, maybe–we need to be reminded that the Spirit is truly at work, and this was one of those moments. I am grateful. – The Rev. Stuart Higginbotham of Grace Episcopal in Gainesville

I was so grateful to be present at the clergy day with Presiding Bishop Curry and Bishop Wright.  Bishop Curry’s spirit and faithfulness were inspiring to me, as they always are, and I was also very grateful for the wonderful hospitality of the cathedral and the bishop’s office.  

The wonderful food and all the extra preparation for the event helped me feel like I was entering into a special gathering, and I believe our collective spirit was lifted up by the way we were welcomed. – The Rev. Greg Tallant of Holy Trinity in Decatur

Such a blessing to be in the presence of our Presiding Bishop who leads with courage, wisdom, humility, and joy. I appreciated his reminder that we should not delude ourselves into thinking a certain era in church history was golden, or that we are finally being perfectly faithful now. The best times have always been the worst times as well. We live in this mixture of Good Friday and Easter. This is the hope that changes us and the world. Bishop Curry filled our spirits and then allowed us to fill his by offering words about what his ministry has meant to us. This is a day we’ll all remember. – The Rev. Dr. Grace Burton Edwards of St. Thomas in Columbus

Clergy day was a profoundly affirming day for me and my vocation as a priest. To be able to gather once again with all my deacon and priest colleagues in this diocese, with our Bishop Rob Wright, and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was balm for my soul as Bishop Curry named out loud the struggle, we all felt having to navigate and improvise during the pandemic. Bishop Curry’s use of imagery of Good Friday/Easter – the best of times/the worst of times gave perspective to what we all experienced and provided a soft place to land on our recollection of those times of trial. – The Rev. Scott Kidd of Resurrection in Sautee-Nacoochee

It was a great day. Inspired by the ever-delightful Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry, and filled with joy to be with so many of my peers and friends. I love it when we sing, eat, pray and gather together. The Rev. Sarah Fisher of St. Catherine’s in Marietta

Learn more about Presiding Bishop Curry and his hopes for the Episcopal Church. Listen to his podcast and read his books.

Watch Bishop Curry’s message here:

Diocese Innovations Taskforce Evolves

Diocese Innovations Taskforce Evolves

In the Diocese of Atlanta, ministry innovations are being identified, encouraged, and amplified in a new way.

While grants to support innovative ministries have been available since 2012, the focus of these grants has changed.

The Diocesan Ministry Innovations Task Force is tightening its focus to helping parishes perceive and imagine new opportunities for ministries within the parish and its surrounding community, said Task Force Convener Ginny Heckel.

Heckel said the Task Force is working with the Office of Congregational Vitality to identify and support parishes doing new ministries.

“The goal is to collaborate with groups or individuals who have new and innovative ideas for ministry,” Heckel said. “Our focus will be to create opportunities for worshipping communities and other Diocesan ministries to expand their presence in their communities through innovative partnering projects.”

The first grant awarded with this new focus was to Imagine Worship for the purchase of a Candy Apple Red Nord Stage 3 Compact 73-Key Keyboard.

Nord Keyboard

While Imagine Worship isn’t a brick-and-mortar community, Heckel said it met the criteria of being an innovative way to expand the Episcopal presence in the online community it serves.

“This initial grant highlights the expanding of imagination in ministries we are seeking to encourage,” Heckel said.

Easton Davis, Canon for Communications and Digital Evangelism, said Imagine Worship has innovated in response to the needs of its community.

Imagine Worship began in 2020 as Imagine Church, a completely online worship experience focused on responding to the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice,” Davis said. “As the pandemic has dissipated, Imagine Worship has come to life as an in-person experience that continues to be recorded and released online. The Spirit of God has been at work as new partnerships have emerged to support this new work.”

Davis said Imagine Worship is committed to developing young leaders in ministry and bringing liturgy and technology together to reach new demographics. It is a new way to gather people to worship God in The Episcopal Church.

Innovations Task Force member Beth King said she is enthusiastic about the new focus for innovation grants.

“I believe humanity’s greatest mistake is limiting God to our own imaginations,” King said. “Just imagine, just once, if anything and everything were possible! How would you look at work within the church differently? Imagine the possibilities! This concept applies to all parts of our faith life and work.

“Now, imagine a God you’ve never imagined before. One who has no human-imposed limits. Imagine inviting that God into your planning and development process.

“The best part of all – when you imagine this larger expanded vision of God you expand your own personal relationship with God beyond what always was or could be,” King said. It’s a Win-Win all the way around. Go grab hold of that God and have some fun!”

To begin imagining a new thing for your Diocese of Atlanta worshiping community, ministry, or school, contact the Ministry Innovations Task Force.

For People Welcomes The Very Rev. Canon Martini Shaw

For People Welcomes The Very Rev. Canon Martini Shaw

The Very Rev Canon Martini Shaw

Celebrating Absalom Jones

As Black History Month closes, we wanted to take some time to discuss the life of Absalom Jones, the first Black Episcopal priest in The Episcopal Church. Absalom’s story is one of loving God and loving all people. One of starting something brand new with and for God!

In this episode, Bishop Wright has a conversation with Canon Martini Shaw, 17th Rector of The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the congregation founded by Absalom Jones. They discuss Absalom’s story that led to the founding of St. Thomas and how his legacy is lived out today. Listen in for the full conversation.

Read the story focused on The Absalom Jones Commemorating Service hosted by The Union of Black Episcopalians of The Diocese of Atlanta at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Decatur on February 19.

Listen Here

The Very Rev. Canon Martini Shaw is a native of Detroit, Michigan. In 1982 he earned two undergraduate degrees from Wayne State University, one in Psychology and the other in Biology.

In 1988, Fr. Shaw earned a Masters of Divinity Degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in Hyde Park (Chicago). Never one to shy away from rigorous challenges, Fr. Shaw also earned a Certificate in Anglican Studies from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois the same year.  In 2008, Fr. Shaw earned the Doctorate of Ministry degree from the Graduate Theological Foundation, with completed coursework at the University of Oxford, (Oxford, England.)

In 2003, Fr. Shaw became the 17th Rector of the Historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia, Pa.  The church was founded in 1792 as the first Black Church in the Episcopal Church, U.S.A. It is also the oldest African American Church in the City of Philadelphia. Fr. Shaw proudly now serves as a successor to the Rev. Absalom Jones, the first Black Priest of the Episcopal Church, and first Rector of St. Thomas Church.

Parish Partners with Community to Turn Derelict House into Haven for Homeless Families

Parish Partners with Community to Turn Derelict House into Haven for Homeless Families

St. Edwards Episcopal Church

LAWRENCEVILLE, GA – Sometimes a gift can become a burden.

That was the case for St. Edward’s Episcopal Church when a gifted property began requiring more upkeep than the parish could afford.

The stately two-story columned home adjacent to the church had been bequeathed to the parish after the death of its owner. It had for years been useful as a space for group meetings, classes, and other church gatherings.

But by 2020 it needed major work.

Some members argued for selling the home and grounds to provide financial relief for the parish. Others said relinquishing the home would be a mistake.

Vestry member Jeannette Best-Nunez was among those for keeping the structure despite its problems.

“We were in the desert for a while, we were trying to find our way out of financial predicaments, losing parishioners, losing interest in the church,” Best-Nunez said. “We couldn’t use [the house] for anything because we had some mold issues over there. There were serious problems with the plumbing and the sewer.”

Vestry member Darcey Tatum was among those who thought it was a good idea to sell.

“We clashed over that,” Best-Nunez said. “And that was, you know, emotions ran pretty high.”

St. Edwards Home for the Homeless

Army retiree Tatum said he doesn’t remember getting emotional but said while the parish was embroiled in the dispute, God revealed other plans for St. Edwards after he discovered a teenage couple living in a tent behind the church.

Tatum, who had already retired twice – once after 25 years in the U.S. Army and a second time after 25 years as an international program manager, said he had decided that his third career would be helping people.

“I wanted to help people. So, it was a good opportunity. God sent Briana and Nick to do that. So, that was it,” Tatum said.

The vestry approved making some of the needed repairs and made part of the house livable for the teens.

Briana credits Tatum and St. Edward’s with making a dramatic difference in her and Nick’s lives.

“I was 15 during the time and it was one of those kind of runaway things. Just running off with your boyfriend. We had a tent back there; I think for only a couple of weeks before Darcey found us,” Briana said. “It had rained and flooded our whole tent. So, he found us on the step of the house.”

As church members busied themselves with helping the teens, Tatum and Best-Nunez had another encounter that would change the course of St. Edwards.

Carol Love, the executive director of Family Promise of Gwinnett County (GFP) was struggling financially from the effects of COVID-19. Previously churches had taken turns hosting homeless families as GFP work to help them get back on their feet.

Living Room of St. Edwards Home for the Homeless

But with COVID restrictions closing churches GFP was now spending a thousand dollars a week on motel rooms for their homeless families.

GFP had begun its program in the church’s house in 2005, so Love approached the church about using it to shelter multiple families.

Tatum said the church’s history with GFP made it an easy sell.

Love came to rely on Tatum’s experience.

“Darcy was amazing. He was my mentor in understanding how all of this works, the stages in the process, and who we needed to find” Love said.  “I’m like, I want to give the opportunity for people to give up their time, talent, and treasure. And God would just open the door.”

The door to 50 companies who donated over $250,000 of in-kind services and materials. All the engineering design documents were donated for free. The general contractor who donated his time. A $20,000 grant from the Episcopal Community Foundation. A donation of $74,000 worth of landscaping with which members of the church signed up to water.

Renamed Promise Haven, the house is being leased to GFP by St. Edward’s for five years at a rent of $1 a year. Renovations to the house allow it to serve up to three families (up to 11 people) at a time with a sleeping room for overnight volunteers and a separate apartment for the GFP house manager.

Valerie Curry, GFP Volunteer Coordinator at St. Edward’s, said the renovated property has significantly increased the parishes’ visibility within its community.

“Hundreds of ‘hands-on’ volunteers from dozens of other Christian faith communities come to our St. Edward’s property of Promise Haven to volunteer for this mission, significantly increasing our visibility in the county and the landscaping in front of Promise Haven makes it look like any other home in the neighborhood and not a shelter for the temporarily homeless,” Curry said in a report to the St. Edward’s vestry.

GFP’s Love credited the new facility to “God at work.”

 “One of the cool things about St. Edward’s is that the house that we renovated was our first day center. So, they had been heavily involved in helping us launch ourselves back in 2005,” Love said.

“And then, now to relaunch ourselves after COVID. So, to know that we are starting Family Promise 2.0 exactly where we started Family Promise 1.0, is just seeing God at work.”

Absalom Jones’ Life is Blueprint for an Active Faith, Bishop Wright

Absalom Jones’ Life is Blueprint for an Active Faith, Bishop Wright

Bishop Wright at the Absalom Jones Service

The life of the first Black Episcopal priest is a blueprint for building an active faith life, Bishop Rob Wright said during the annual Absalom Jones commemoration.

The February 19 service, sponsored annually by The Union of Black Episcopalians, was held this year at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Decatur, where The Rev. Dennis Patterson, Jr. is Priest-in-Charge.

Bishop Wright began his sermon by ticking off Jones’ biography and accomplishments.

  • Jones was born in Delaware in 1746, 30 years before America was America.
  • At 16, Jones, his mother and his six siblings were sold by their owner, then separated.
  • Jones’ new owner allowed him to receive four years of education at a Quaker night school.
  • At 20, Jones married Mary King and bought her freedom.

“He bought her freedom first,” Wright said. “So, that his children would never be able to say that they were born enslaved. So, that they would be born free. He bought his own freedom, listen now, 18 years later, when he was 38.”

In 1787, the same year that that the United States Constitution was being drafted, debated and signed at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Jones and Richard Allen organized a walkout at St. George’s over the poor treatment of black congregants.

“Three years later, now you got to get this now, three years later, he was so successful in welcoming black people to church that he scared the white folks at St. George’s Methodist Church. I’m not making it up, look it up. In fact, it’s in the bio in the front of your program. Their response to this church growth was to segregate blacks to the balcony without giving them any advance notice. ‘Good morning, welcome to St. George’s, you sit in the balcony.’

“Three years later, just three years later, Jones and Allen founded the Free African (benevolent) Society. A society that begins to network with similar kinds of organizations across state lines. This is the 18th century y’all. It also collected dues and had an independent economic component.

In 1794 Jones founded the first black Episcopal congregation, and in 1802, he was the first African American to be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church of the United States. He is listed on the Episcopal calendar of saints.

“Five years later, they start building the church. Two years later they complete it. That’s a feat even right now. They were admitted to the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania the same year and Jones was ordained a deacon one year later. He would become a priest seven years later, when he was 56 years old. He would die 16 years after his ordination at the age of 72,” Wright said.

Jones’s friend Richard Allen became a Methodist preacher and was a founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), now one of the largest independent African American denominations in the country.

The Blueprint

Wright then turned to the lesson to be learned from Jones’ accomplishments.

“My thesis behind this brief presentation of history is that while Absalom Jones was the first African American Episcopal priest, we get the best and most enduring sense of him and how he understood God and himself as a layperson and a deacon.

“Put that idea into biblical terms and we would say that we know Absalom Jones best by his fruit. A lot of people talk about ministry, Absalom Jones bore fruit. And while some folks will pay attention to his Blackness this month, and even the racism that he rebukes throughout his whole life by word and example, I want to pay attention to his blueprint. Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. I got that real clear. But Absalom Jones is the blueprint for us who are called to follow Jesus in the church.”

The Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing is an example of building upon Jones’ blueprint. Created by the Diocese of Atlanta, The Center opened in October 2017. Its model of prayerful education forms and reforms individual and collective action. Its curriculum, training, pilgrimages, and dialogue have become the standard for racial reconciliation work in and beyond The Episcopal Church.

People gathering for the Absalom Jones service.

Black Episcopal Leader Recognized

Wright offered a prayer for The Rev. Ricardo Bailey who was about to leave the diocese to become rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. With all priests and deacons at the service surrounding Bailey, Wright prayed for Bailey’s new ministry at the historically African American parish founded in 1847 as a church for enslaved and free persons of color.

“Gracious God, what a wonderful God you are. You call us according to your grace. You dig deep the well have faith in us. We know well your love for us. Lord, we pray that you will continue to bless Ricardo, his mind, body and soul, and make him whole. We pray Lord, that you would touch his tongue and give him the eloquence that compels hearts to faith. That you protect his family. Make his home a haven of your blessing. Help people see him but see past him and see you. Give him a new ableness. A new readiness. A new joy. A new zeal for your service. Surround them with your angels, your wise guides, your mentors. That you might continue to work at work on wonderful work in his life. Bless his children, cause them to thrive and to know you for themselves. And let his feet not stray from the places oh God, where he met you. Neither let his heart be drunk with the wine of the world, until he forgets you. Keep him on that path with his ancestors on every side, guiding him safely home to your embrace.”

Bailey, the immediate past president of the Atlanta Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians, had served as priest-in-charge of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Decatur since 2018, and as head chaplain at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta.

South Carolina Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley said Bailey is an inspiring leader when she announced Bailey’s selection as rector at Calvary.

“Father Bailey’s spiritual gifts and leadership will be a dynamic match for the people of Calvary. I have enjoyed getting to know him as chaplain of the House of Bishops, where he has inspired and guided bishops from across the church. I anticipate this will be a vibrant next season of joyful growth at Calvary, building on the strong foundation of this historic parish,” Woodliff-Stanley said.

Speaking from Charleston as he prepared for Ash Wednesday services on his first day as rector at Calvary, Bailey said he was overcome by joy.

“I am humbled to be called to be their next rector. I know I will be on holy ground, and I pray that as we were redeemed on Calvary over 2,000 years ago, Calvary Episcopal Church will lovingly, joyfully and enthusiastically proclaim the love, the life and the liberation of Jesus to everyone who sets foot on this holy ground!”

Communion at the Absalom Jones service.

Absalom Jones Scholars Fund Proposed

The offering from the service was designated to benefit Vorhees University and St. Augustine University would be matched by the Diocese, Wright said. The universities, founded in the 19th Century, are the last two historically Black Episcopal Colleges.

Wright noted the need to encourage and support black students to gain college degrees.

“It is good that we give to Vorhees and St. Augustine, but we also need to start at home. There are children in our congregations who are really struggling to get to college,” he said.

Wright then floated the idea of creating a scholarship fund in the Diocese of Atlanta named for Absalom Jones.

“Part of Absalom Jones’s growth and development was to educate his mind. And so, I’m asking if we can start something this year called The Absalom Jones Scholars. So, the people who know me, they know that I value partnerships. So, I’m putting that out there. And I will make sure that we get some funds generated in that. But for those of you for whom this is an idea that catches fire, let’s find a way to do this. So, let’s figure out how to develop the Absalom Jones Scholars, right now.”

Wright sketched his vision for the blueprint of the proposed fund.

“Let’s develop a pot of money and find some deserving young people and let’s sow into them as they go off to college. Let’s set up a fund, the Absalom Jones Scholars here in the Diocese of Atlanta, where we identify deserving young people – we get all that information from the rectors – we figure out how to give them a blessing – financial blessing – as they go off and try to do the right thing which is to educate their minds and be of some good use to the world. Amen?

“Y’all let me know if we’re serious about this. I think it’d be a great thing. It’d be a great thing to start in honor of a man who after the singing stopped, he got to work,” Wright concluded.

Interested in supporting the Absalom Jones Scholars fund? Email The Rev. Pauline Samuel to learn more.