Highlights for June

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New book highlights lives of a Kansas woman and her slave mother

By Melodie Woerman

When Jim Beck began to research a former member of St. Paul’s, Clay Center, Kansas, he quickly knew he had quite a story. But before too long, he realized he actually had a book.

That book, which Beck self-published, is titled “Have You Seen My Spirit?” It describes the lives of Mai DeKonza, an African-American woman who was a member of St. Paul’s from 1900 until her death in 1959, and her mother, Elizabeth Lawton, who was a slave in Missouri, freed during the Civil War and survived Quantrill’s Raid in Lawrence.

Beck’s work on DeKonza, which highlighted how she was ostracized by the church because of her race to the point of keeping a separate chalice for her use in receiving Communion, spurred the church to hold a service of repentance in September 2015 for its racist treatment of her.

But Beck’s curiosity took him beyond his original research on DeKonza. He learned she had been an author, speaker and musician, so he started to look for more details about her works.

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Antiques dealer Jon Felz, center, appraises an icon for Joanne and Sal Torrisi during an April 21 fundraiser for Diocese of Newark Prison Ministry programs, held at St. James Episcopal Church in Upper Mountclair, N.J. Photo/Sharon Sheridan

Police officer-turned-antiques dealer discovers heart for prison ministry

By Sharon Sheridan Episcopal News Service

For 20 years, Jon Felz helped send people to prison as a New York police officer. Today, he’s volunteering his time to help those behind bars as a member of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark’s Prison Ministry.

“I have over 1,200 felony arrests,” he said. “But when you lock somebody up, you spend three hours with them processing them, and then you rarely see them again unless the case goes to trial. Ninety percent of the cases don’t go to trial. You don’t get to focus on them as human beings.”

But Felz’s faith journey has lent him new perspective and purpose. Now an antiques dealer and certified appraiser, Felz led an “Antiques Roadshow”-style event on April 21 at the Episcopal Church of St. James in Upper Montclair, N.J., to raise money for the diocese’s programs for inmates and their families. Looking ahead, he hopes to join ministry members in leading Bible studies for inmates.

“When God opens your heart, you really take this stuff to heart,” he said.

Felz, 60, began his New York police career during the “drug wars” of the 1980s. At age 22, he was assigned to the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, which set a precinct record with 137 homicides in 1984. During his career, he survived three gun battles and engaged in New York-to-New Jersey car chases to arrest suspected drug dealers.

“As I got older, I started to study the Bible — first from a historical point of view, because I love history,” said Felz, the son of an antiques dealer. His retirement from police work to enter the antiques business in 2001 gave him more time to reflect. “The years went by; my faith started to get stronger.”

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