News & Reflections

An update about The Corner

Screenshot from The Corner presentation

Thanks to everyone who attended our Sept. 16 update about the construction project at St. Michael’s (aka “The Corner”). If you missed the Town Hall Meeting, or want to have a second look, you can download the slides here.

An Icon’s Provenance

Black Christ icon   Artist Keith Carrington

The stunning image of the crucifixion in the St. Michael’s narthex is bound into worshippers’ experience in our church. A black Christ in his torment yet with eyes heavenward hangs against a backdrop of the Lord’s Prayer.

How did this crucifixion come to us?

Not long after the Rev. Canon George W. Brandt became rector, he met Keith Carrington, the artist, an occasional churchgoer.

“Father Brandt was amazing and encouraging,” recalls Carrington, who now lives in Palm Beach, Fla., and works as an interior designer. “He knew so much about the arts.”

Father Brandt recalls, “At some point, [Keith] said he had a painting of Jesus that he would like to give to the church.”

“I told him there was just one possible problem,” Carrington says. “‘You might not like the painting. Jesus is black.’”

Father Brandt laughed and said, “Why wouldn’t I like it?” When Carrington brought in the painting, Father Brandt, impressed by the image’s power, offered to pay for it. Carrington insisted that it be a gift.

“Father Brandt’s approval was a tremendous affirmation,” Carrington says. The painting was part of a series that he had done about black people in America.

On Palm Sunday 1995, the Rt. Rev. Walter D. Dennis, suffragan bishop of the New York diocese, blessed the painting. One prominent congregant walked out. An acolyte was so moved that he wept.

“When you leave the church, ” Brandt says, ”that Jesus on the cross is the last thing you see — the heart of faith — as you go out the door.”

—Jean Ballard Terepka

Who would miss us? The New Era question

The Peace - New Era

Perhaps you’ve had a sense of Christ’s presence at St. Michael’s when you see the whispered exchanges at the healing rail, or arms upraised during the singing of “I Am the Bread of Life,” or the long line of Saturday kitchen guests.

Comes the question: What would you and the community miss if St. Michael’s weren’t here?

The answers would go to the essence of what St. Michael’s is and does as our church embarks on a new era. Three years ago this month, Mother Kate was installed. A building is rising on the corner (at last). Groups such as Education for Ministry and Community of Hope International have dived deep into questions of the spirit. And we’ve completed the RenewalWorks ministry.

This year the clergy and the vestry have been asking what our next steps should be. The surest sense of direction may come from what Christ is summoning in all of us who worship and serve in this community.

“What is God calling us to do?” Mother Kate asks. “Renewal Works gave us a congregation-wide sense of ourselves. The stage is set for personal answers.”

To that end, a proposal has come forward to gather in small groups next autumn. Call it the New Era Project — not a survey but a focused, intensive formation exercise, a spiritual census —  where together we answer a series of questions whose answers may help us know where Christ is leading us.

“Where is the spirit bubbling up around here, and in your own life?” Mother Kate asks. “From now through the summer, take note of what you see. Then let’s talk about it together next fall.”   

If you’d like to help with the New Era Project, speak to Gayle Robinson or John Stickney.

PHOTO: The Peace of the Lord – Where does the Spirit move among us?

Gail Sheehy: ‘You Can’t Help Getting Involved’

Gail Sheehy photo

Celebrated author Gail Sheehy is a fairly new member of our community, but she has plunged right in.

“Someone told me that the best way to get to know people at St. Michael’s is to become an usher,” Gail says. And so she did.

“It’s very seductive,” she says “You volunteer to do one thing at our church and you can’t help getting involved in other things.”

Gail co-led the women’s “Eat, Dance, Pray” event in November, gave out ashes on Ash Wednesday, and staged a forum in January that focused on the topic of her next book: millennials.

Gail’s book Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, published in 1976, was inspired by her experience as a reporter caught in the crossfire of Bloody Sunday in Londonderry, Northern Ireland on Jan. 30, 1972. Gail sensed her own mortality and recalled stories of other people facing similar passages in their life: “They had that inner turmoil of feeling that time was running out,” she says.

Gail’s most recent book is Daring: My Passages, a memoir of her career as a journalist for New York magazine (founded by her late husband Clay Felker), Vanity Fair, and other periodicals.

When Gail looks at the passage of time now, she likes to use a mantra that she and Mother Kate talked about at the  women’s retreat in April: “Do One Thing.” “That’s my commitment now,” Gail says. “To persist, to be aware, to be active, to be present in the moment.”

Gail admits to being a political junkie but at the women’s retreat she avoided all newspapers and never once looked at her cellphone. “I just wanted to be in the moment,” she says.

Photo: “Did you ever cross a color barrier, a gender barrier or an age barrier?” Gail asked her forum audience in January. “It’s scary to cross a barrier and act like you belong. But eventually you will.” 

RenewalWorks goals, part 4: Empower leaders

Garden blessing photo - young leaders

The RenewalWorks team came up with four goals for our parish. Here’s the third in our series revisiting them (see also part 1part 2, part 3):

Develop and empower lay and ordained leadership to facilitate spiritual growth in the community.

St. Michael’s thrives on its leaders, both ordained and lay. The danger for us all is to get distracted by mundane challenges and forget larger spiritual goals. Our church has become diligent about putting spiritual training first.

A dynamic Education for Ministry group has been established. Healing prayer volunteers, acolytes, lectors, and Sunday school teachers get training. A new group of lay members is being empowered in the principles of pastoral care in the Community of Hope International program.

Anybody who walks through our doors and says “I want to get involved” is sure to find multiple possibilities, all of them rich in spiritual growth.

Photo: Each one teach one – Fledgling gardeners learn from one another.

How do we live our faith? EfM participants ask big questions

Education for Ministry participants

Every Tuesday night, for two hours or more, 13 parishioners gather in the Angel Room to wrestle with questions of faith.

These strenuous sessions last for 36 weeks over four years. The program is called Education for Ministry, or EfM,  a theology curriculum that includes some three hours of required reading each week.

The group is very much a team. Arlene Bullard, the mentor, guides and referees the discussion.

A recent warm-up exercise was a brief reading from the prologue of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” In April, as Nature stirs, “Thanne longen folke to goon on pilgrimages …”

“Why do the pilgrims set forth?” the reader asks. “Why do we go to church?”

Somebody answers, “We are seeking God in community — and in one another.”

The class turns to the week’s reading: Episcopal theologian Verna Dozier’s “The Dream of God: A Call to Return.”

The discussion raises questions of gender inequality. Not long ago, somebody notes, women couldn’t even serve on the vestry.

“Then how did the work get done?” one of the women asks, to laughter.

Further along, a team member tells a story about a Japanese-American church in California whose parishioners were sent to internment camps at the outbreak of World War II. An African-American parish maintained the church until the Japanese-Americans returned. 

The group explores the lessons in that story until Arlene calls for everybody to split into three groups to come up with language for a collect about it. After a lively back-and-forth, a new collect emerges: 

“God who lifts up the least of these, we pray that we would be responsive to those in need, so that justice may prevail. Amen.”

Are you interested in participating in a future EfM experience? Join us Sunday, June 10, at noon for a brief information meeting.

Photo: Back row from left, Jennifer Goodnow, Carol Hamlin, Rick Hamlin, Tom Phillips, Gregory Bryant, Anne O’Loughlin, Willeen Smith and Elsie Hall; front row, Ursula Moran, Juanita Pratt, Arlene Bullard, Kris Ishibashi and Stephanie Eads.

Nurturing interfaith families

Sheila Gordon and Robin Elliott - Interfaith families

At the Easter Sunday 10 a.m. service you may have noticed some 20 people in the balcony’s first row: They were members of five interfaith families who belong to the Interfaith Community, an organization now nearly 20 years old spearheaded by Sheila Gordon, who serves as president,  and her husband Robin Elliott.

Sheila and Robin are part of one of St. Michael’s many interfaith families: She is Jewish; he, Christian.

“They loved the Easter celebration,” says Robin, a long-time St. Michael’s parishioner and former vestry member. “Rev. Kate warmly welcomed us.”

“The younger kids went off to Godly Play,” says Sheila. “And then they joined the Easter egg hunt.”

The Interfaith Community has long held classes for its members in rental space at St. Michael’s. Two teachers cover their respective traditions. Among the courses: Bible Heroes and Sacred Texts.

Sheila is a member of Romemu, the nearby synagogue that a St. Michael’s group visited in January for a Friday night service.

“We want families to be able to sustain religious traditions and pass them along to their children in a respectful and authentic way,” Sheila says.

The Interfaith Community now encompasses some 100 families with chapters also in Westchester, Long Island, and New Jersey. Funding comes from membership dues and donations. Adult education and counseling are available too.

When their two children were young, Robin and Sheila enlisted the Trinity School chaplain to help set up a program.

Robin, from near Oxford, England, is the former president of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Sheila, from the Boston area, was a dean at LaGuardia Community College and a staff member at the Ford Foundation.

The Interfaith Community has pioneered an approach that could be a model for other faiths in other communities as well. In America today, Sheila says, “Interfaith marriage is the new normal.”

Photo: Two religions, one family: Sheila Gordon and Robin Elliott “value each other’s traditions,” Robin says.  

iVolunteer Gets Everyone on Same Page

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On March 7, despite the thundersnow, 43 guests showed up for a tasty Pasta Dinner: carbonara with artichoke hearts; salad; bread; and tiramisu.

The secret ingredient was iVolunteer, an easy-to-use, splendidly versatile online sign-up sheet by which 14 of us came together to stage the feast: a captain/chef, kitchen assistants, cashiers, servers and clean-up crew, all in appropriate time slots. The link was posted in Looking Ahead and other parish communications.

Any group or ministry at St. Michael’s can use iVolunteer. For your next event, consult Lucy Culver or Kyle Oliver, who can create the form for you.

“iVolunteer keeps us organized,” Lucy says.

Of course, the presence alone of an online form doesn’t make volunteers appear out of nowhere. So please sign up to help out at our upcoming events: the May 2 Pasta Dinner and the May 5 Godly Play Training.

Photos: The volunteer crew rallies around Joyce Burcham, the March 7 Pasta Dinner captain.

RenewalWorks goals, part 3: Meet and invite others

Children's Choir photo for "invite others" story

The RenewalWorks team came up with four goals for our parish. Here’s the third in our series revisiting them (see also part 1, part 2):

Meet people where they are as we invite them to explore the Christian way of life and deepen their spirituality.

We become more ourselves — our true selves — as a result of spiritual growth. Our church community encourages that transformation through Bible studies, the Bible Challenge, quiet days, Christian basics classes, Godly Play, the Wednesday night Common Table Theology gatherings, the social justice and racial justice groups, baptism and confirmation prep, our children’s choirs — to name just a few of the many ways we reach out.

We respect people where they are, as we work together to help us all discover who we may become in Christ. And may we continue to extend that radical welcome to all who walk through our big blue doors.

Joy in worship: Our St. Cecilia choristers cavort before the Diocesan Chorister Festival at St. John the Divine Cathedral.

Arlene Bullard asks “Where Is God at Work in Our World?”

Arlene Bullard photo

Arlene Bullard can multitask with the best of them. She’s special-projects assistant to the Rt. Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche, Bishop of New York, and assistant to the Canon to the Ordinary, a position without a Canon at the moment.

Arlene manages the diocesan database and the bishops’ visitation schedules for the 193 churches in the Diocese, and coordinates the training for Eucharistic Ministers/Visitors, among many other assignments.

“In everything I do at the Diocese I get to work with people,” Arlene says. “I like the variety of it all.”

And then there are her volunteer ministries at St. Michael’s. A former two-term vestry member, she’s the mentor for Education for Ministry, or EfM; a Eucharistic Minister/Visitor; a Healing Prayer Team/Prayer Chain member; and an acolyte.

As EfM mentor, she leads 12 parishioners through an intensive 36-week, four-year course — in effect, a night-school seminary, with a curriculum on the Old and New Testament, theology, church history, Episcopal Church beliefs and practices, and more.

“The RenewalWorks survey revealed how hungry we are at St. Michael’s to learn,” Arlene says. “EfM is one way to recognize how God is at work in your life and in the world.”

In 1985 Arlene and her mother Naomi and late father Abner discovered St. Michael’s. Born and raised in Manhattan, Arlene attended public schools and colleges in New York before earning a master’s degree in marketing research.

Arlene’s first job out of college was with the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation, where she encountered some of the city’s poorest and sickest people. “That work informed my faith,” she recalls. Later on, Arlene managed Trinity Bookstore, where, she says, “I learned to talk about my faith.”

At St. Michael’s now, Arlene says, “People have an honest, intentional desire to know and honor God and to care for one another. Our ministries more than ever reflect that desire.”

Photo: As Arlene Bullard sees it, “St. Michael’s parishioners don’t feel that the week is right if they don’t start it by going to church on Sunday.”