Two Florida communities search for common ground

Key Biscayne police led a “March for Peace” in 2016 with children from the Miami neighborhood of Liberty City. Photo/Leo Quintana

By Bob Libby 
Episcopalians are helping — for the seventh year — to set up a “Christmas in July” event to be held July 15 on the village green in Key Biscayne, Fla., an upscale island community east of Miami, for kids from Liberty City, an inner-city Miami neighborhood that was the scene of deadly riots nearly 40 years ago.

In 90-degree heat, Santa Claus will hand out toys and school supplies, but this Santa is usually played by an officer of the Key Biscayne Police Department. The event is a symbol of an unlikely, but growing, relationship between Liberty City and Key Biscayne, spearheaded by Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press, a member of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, Key Biscayne.

Key Biscayne Police Officer Gordon Spitler plays Santa at “Christmas in July” for the youngsters of Liberty City. Photo/Foncham, Warley and Marko

“This is not a church program, but a community wide venture, where many members of our congregation are leaders,” said the Rev. Susan Bruttell, rector of St. Christopher’s.

In 1980, Liberty City and other Miami neighborhoods were the scene of racial unrest following the acquittal of four police officers charged with the death of Arthur Mc Duffie after a motorcycle chase. The rioting resulted in 18 deaths, more than 300 injuries, 600 arrests and $100 million in property destruction.

Interviewed about the riots, the Rev. Ken Majors, who at the time was the rector of Liberty City’s Incarnation Episcopal Church, said, “Our community was in shambles. Blacks felt betrayed by the white establishment. We just didn’t trust one another, but thanks be to God things are better now.”

In 2004, Press established the Chief Press Foundation under the umbrella of the Key Biscayne Foundation “to improve the relationship of police to the children of Liberty City.”

The foundation’s website notes that, “building on Chief Press’ charitable work, in 2013 the Village of Key Biscayne partnered with the Miami Children’s Initiative (MCI) to create a sister city partnership with Liberty City.”

The object was two-fold: “1) provide better outcomes for children in underserved communities; and 2) provide opportunities for neighbors of different cultures and socioeconomic levels to learn and care about each other. What is most important here is to understand the dynamic of a very wealthy community partnering with one of South Florida’s most economically deprived areas.”

Another St. Christopher’s member, Pat Molinari, established a fresh vegetable co-op as part of an 18-block community space developed by MCI, where residents can access a food bank, a clothing closet, medical resources, tutoring and parenting classes.

Now retired, Molinari knows food, as she founded Parties-by-Pat, which catered social events on the Key. “I started with a large box of 50 to 60 dollars’ worth of fresh produce and sold them for no more than five dollars. Quite often, cooking lessons followed and in most cases fruit was a new experience,” Molinari said.

Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press has led efforts to link affluent Key Biscayne with inner-city Liberty City. Photo/Leo Quintana

A signature moment occurred five years ago when Press led a “March for Peace” parade of Miami-Dade uniformed police officers around Liberty City with several hundred youngsters holding their hands. A barbecue and games followed.

In another example of the community’s development, Liberty City’s Charles H. Drew K-8 elementary school has moved from an “F” to a triple “B” rating and there are several charter schools being constructed to offer their services to the area’s 2,800 kindergarten to grade 12 students.

John Devaney, a lifelong member of St. Christopher’s and the founder and CEO of United Capital Markets, was instrumental in securing initial funding for Press through the Key Biscayne Foundation, which Devaney helped to establish.

As word of the Liberty City venture got around, support from community groups such as Rotary International grew and in 2013 the relationship received the official endorsement of the Key Biscayne Village Council which declared Liberty City as the “Sister City of Key Biscayne.”

In 2018, Press took eight senior high school students to San Francisco to attend the “My Brother’s Keeper Conference,” designed to encourage young black males to take responsibility for their families and communities.

It was sponsored by the Barack Obama Foundation, and for the Liberty City delegation, it was the first time they had flown on a plane or been out of South Florida. “They came home,” Press said, “with a whole new hopeful vision of their future.”

Also in 2018, a new venture began on the education front when Bill and Toby Rohrer, who were married at St. Christopher’s 25 years ago, committed $200,000 to establish a scholarship program for Liberty City students at Miami Dade Community College.

“There’s still a lot to be done,” reflected Press, “but I do believe we’re beginning to make a difference. In the meantime, Christmas in July is only days away.”

The Rev. Bob Libby, a published author and frequent contributor to Episcopal Journal lives with his wife Lynne on Key Biscayne, Fla.

“Les Colombes” soars in New York church

Thousands of white paper origami doves suspended from the ceiling at the Church of the Heavenly Rest. (Photo/Pamela A. Lewis)

By Pamela A. Lewis

From Jerusalem to Munich, Salisbury and London, and most recently Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, the art installation “Les Colombes” (“Doves”) has been journeying around the globe since 2007. Now in its first East Coast venue, the extraordinary display is on view at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York through August 18.

Michael Pendry, an artist, set designer and actor, created “Les Colombes.” At Heavenly Rest, the installation was created in partnership with Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, an organization that provides college education, life skills, and reentry support to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men and women.

Photo/Pamela A. Lewis

Thousands of white origami doves were folded by members of Hudson Link, New York City schoolchildren, Heavenly Rest parishioners and people around the world. The work is intended to bring attention to the issue of mass incarceration in the United States, and also explore what “release” means to individuals in prison or recently released. Those who folded the doves wrote messages of peace, resilience and hope, and their thoughts on the concept of “release.

With its lofty, Gothic-inspired dimensions, the 150-year-old Heavenly Rest’s high-vaulted ceiling is the perfect backdrop against which the paper doves “fly” (suspended by almost invisible cables) above the nave in an entrancing serpentine formation. “The doves create an atmosphere of calmness, gentleness and virtue as they fly through the air in an arrangement which appears to be a loose flock of birds. Folded by so many people, the doves in their unity stand for the right to peace and freedom for all people,” Pendry said.

“Les Colombes” is the culmination of the first year of programming under the new arts initiative at Heavenly Rest that has included group, solo, and collaborative exhibitions, as well as educational and spiritual programming focused on those shows.

For more information, contact Lucas Thorpe, program organizer, at lthorpe@heavenlyrest.org.

Pamela A. Lewis writes about topics of faith. She attends Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York City.

Why talk about women priests now?

Director of Photography Nikki Bramley, right, records an interview with the Rev. Marie Moorfield Fleischer for Director Margo Guernsey’s film on the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church. (Photo/courtesy of Margo Guernsey)

By Margo Guernsey

I was born in 1974. I am not Episcopalian. I was raised in a UCC church with a male minister, but knew of plenty of women ministers and never questioned women’s leadership in the church. I’m of the generation that always knew of Episcopal women priests, and did not know the struggle that came before. I always assumed it was the norm.

About seven years ago, I learned about the Episcopal ordinations that took place in Philadelphia in 1974, and was blown away by the bravery of the women involved. At what point did they decide to challenge a venerable institution? How did they consider the risks? The more I have uncovered, the more I respect others who were an important part of the process including the members of the Church of the Advocate (site of the ordinations), the priests who were taken to ecclesiastical trial, and the bishops who ordained them. They jeopardized their careers, their parishes, and their futures, in order to support a group of women who were called to the priesthood.

As a former union organizer, student of the civil rights movement and college history major, I understood these ordinations as a kind of civil disobedience that has been forgotten to history classes and the next generation. I believe they should be a part of our national narrative when we tell the story of twentieth century America. That is why I embarked on a journey to make a feature length documentary film, currently titled “The Philadelphia Eleven: To Be Whole.”

Eleven women kneel at the altar of the Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia, during their ordination on July 29, 1974. (Photo/courtesy Episcopal Church Archives)

This was not a small event. The ordinations in Philadelphia in 1974 rocked Christianity by questioning who speaks the word of God. By celebrating their call to the priesthood, these women suggested that God does not have a gender. The media flocked to the story. Major print and broadcast networks covered it for two years.

We are now in a historical moment where patriarchy, white supremacy, untruthful media, and other oppressive structures are flexing their muscles. For people on the front lines, there is a day-to-day challenge of survival. Within any struggle, there is also opportunity to learn from the leaders who have come before us.

The Philadelphia ordinations confronted patriarchy in new ways, simply by being direct. Male bishops and priests who participated in the civil rights movement, and spoke publicly on behalf of women’s rights, were suddenly forced to examine their own positions in a patriarchal institution.

From left, the Revs. Alison Cheek, Carter Heyward and Jeannette Piccard celebrate a eucharistic service at Riverside Church in New York on Oct. 27, 1974. (Photo/RNS/Chris Sheridan)

The ordinations upend generally held assumptions about civil rights and gender. In the 1970s, most leaders of the women’s movement supported white women’s issues at the expense of women of color, and low-income women. Black male civil rights leaders tended to focus only on race, and not on other forms of oppression. Yet there was an intersectional element to these ordinations. Eleven white women were ordained in a black city church, under the leadership of an African-American rector who was actively supportive of the Black Panther Party. An African-American woman led the procession, and would later become the first woman ordained a bishop in the Anglican Communion. A number of the women ordained identified as queer. They did not feel safe making that public; yet the white male bishops ordaining were prepared to defend them if anyone were to raise the issue publicly.

What can we learn from this intersectional challenge to a patriarchal system? I do not think there is ever one clear answer; but there is a lot to contemplate. I strive to make a film that will inspire viewers to go beyond first impressions to a deeper discussion.

The women ordained in 1974 and 1975 stayed true to their call to the priesthood despite institutional obstacles, and by doing so they challenge us to look at our own lives. How do we pursue our vocations regardless of whether society is ready? How do we keep our integrity when it feels like the easy answers ask us to compromise? How do we stand up for justice in every moment when life pulls us in so many different directions? I can imagine post-film discussions where we all reflect on how the story of the original women priests asks us to consider big questions that confront us in our own lives.

In 2015, I, along with my friend and fellow filmmaker Nikki Bramley, started filming the women ordained “irregularly,” because we did not want to lose the opportunity for the women to tell their own stories. The generation that lived through the irregular ordinations have a personal connection that only they can relate. I recognize how different that experience is from my own. I find I am at my best as a director when I am listening and allowing the protagonists of the story to lead. We need to finish filming while we still have the first women priests with us.

Margo Guernsey is a documentary filmmaker based in Boston, Mass. For more information about “The Philadelphia Eleven,” go to TimeTravelProductions.com.

Traveling exhibit gathers art from the Abrahamic faiths

Sinan Hussein, Abraham and Ishmael’s Birth, mixed media on canvas.

By Paul-Gordon Chandler

In today’s climate of increasing prejudice and stereotyping, resulting in what some are calling a new tribalism, it may seem that religion is more of a divisive force than ever. The rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in the West seem to confirm this impression — from a Jewish cemetery in France recently being vandalized with swastikas to the recent New Zealand mosque massacre. Now, more than ever, it is essential that creative demonstrations of dialogue be developed.

CARAVAN, the East-West peacebuilding arts non-profit, is launching a touring exhibit that aims to demonstrate artistically that religion can be a force of unity. Titled “ABRAHAM: Out of One, Many,” the exhibit is presented in partnership with the Episcopal Church Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations.

Referring to the United States’ traditional motto of E pluribus unum (“Out of many, one”), “ABRAHAM: Out of One, Many” is an art exhibition that reminds us that Christians, Muslims and Jews all have the same family heritage, our ancestor Abraham, and focuses on what we can learn from his life and faith about living together harmoniously.

Left to right, Sinan Hussein, Qais Al Sindy, Shai Azoulay

Abraham is a spiritual figure of distinct significance within the three primary monotheistic faith traditions, whose followers are all referred to as “children of Abraham.” The patriarch has much to teach us about welcoming and embracing the “other.” In these three faith traditions, the figure of Abraham is seen as a model of hospitality — of welcoming the stranger.

The exhibition involves three acclaimed Middle Eastern contemporary artists from Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith traditions: Sinan Hussein, Qais Al Sindy and Shai Azoulay. Each artist has created five paintings that interpret specific themes from Abraham’s life for our contemporary context.

Shai Azoulay, Abraham’s Circle of Love, oil on canvas.

For artist Qais Al Sindy, a Chaldean Christian from Iraq, participating in the exhibition has special significance. Reflecting on his artwork in the exhibition, Qais said, “Abraham was a Chaldean as well, coming originally from Ur of the Chaldees, which is now called Nassiriya, a governorate in Iraq situated along the banks of the Euphrates River, about 225 miles southeast of Baghdad. I bought an old Nassiriyan shepherd’s cloak made of sheep wool. Then, I cut the cloak into pieces and pasted some of them on the canvases for Abraham’s clothes. I wanted to bring the spirit and soul of this great prophet through the material of his native land.”

The imaginative art of Sinan Hussein, an artist also from Iraq but of Muslim background, leads the viewer to reflect deeply on Abraham’s contemporary significance. About his painting titled “Abraham and Ishmael’s Birth,” Sinan said, “In my painting, I am attempting to move beyond the traditional understanding found in the Qur’an and the other monotheistic religions, into its contemporary meaning for us now. This is what I am trying to do in my depiction of Ishmael’s birth.”

Qais Al Sindy, Abraham and Isaac, detail of a sketch-oil on fine art paper.

Shai Azoulay, a celebrated Jewish artist who was previously featured at the Frieze Art Fair and was awarded The Moses Prize from the Jerusalem Artist House, has brought his heritage and contemporary culture into some of his work. His style moves playfully, albeit mystically, back and forth between the figurative and the abstract. In his artistic depiction of Abraham’s sacrificial love for God and others, Shai’s energetic painting shows the patriarch on a flying carpet observing a large circle dance whose participants illustrate the diversity of our world. About the painting, Shai remarks, “Circle dancing is very much part of Jewish culture. For me the circle represents something that connects people from all backgrounds and breaks down all walls. In a circle we become one. This is something Abraham teaches us.”

Leonard Bernstein, the renowned late Jewish composer and conductor, said, “the point is, art never stopped a war … Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed — they then act in a way that may affect the course of events...by the way they behave, the way they think.”

“ABRAHAM: Out of One, Many” will begin its 20-month tour of sacred spaces on May 3, 2019 in Rome at the historic church of St Paul’s Within the Walls (Episcopal). It will be then be showcased over the summer in France at the American Cathedral in Paris and in Edinburgh at St. Cuthbert’s Church, as part of the Just Festival during the Edinburgh Art Festival. In the fall of 2019, it will begin touring cathedrals and sacred spaces in the U.S. through 2020, with the first two venues being the Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha, Nebraska and St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Boston. In each venue, the exhibition will serve as a catalyst for the local Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities to work together and develop programming focused on what we can learn from Abraham on living together peacefully.

The Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler is an appointed mission partner of the Episcopal Church and president/CEO of CARAVAN.

For more information on ABRAHAM: Out of One, Many, see: www.oncaravan.org/abraham

Who was the real Jesus?

 

Bob Libby states his purpose in writing this slim novel plainly in the prologue to his latest book — and it’s a bit startling if one thinks all priests have rock-solid faith and no doubts.

“In my own spiritual journey, I had a midlife crisis. Was the Incarnation, ‘the Word made flesh and dwelt among us,’ merely a nice idea, or did it really happen? Was Jesus for real? Was he really ‘truly human and truly divine?’”

Over more than half a century of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church, Libby notes, his job has been to relate Scripture to human experience. He’s preached in many settings — parish ministry; as director of radio and television at the church center in New York; in schools, cruise ships and cathedrals. His published works include “The Forgiveness Book” and “Grace Happens.”

At the beginning of “What If It’s True?”, Libby settles for himself the question of whether Jesus actually existed in a few (perhaps too few) sentences, citing the biblical and historical scholarship of N.T. Wright.

He goes on to wonder about Jesus’ early life, sparsely covered in the Gospels, and especially about Luke’s account of Jesus in the temple at age 12, astonishing the elders with his questions and answers.

In seeking to draw a personal portrait of Jesus, Libby uses Scripture, some apocryphal accounts (such as the existence of Anne, Mary’s mother) and archeological discoveries such as Sepphoris, a Roman city near Nazareth where, Libby posits, Joseph may have worked as a carpenter.

The author gracefully expands the biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth and youth, placing him in the context of a family that includes grandparents and a half-brother, James. Libby imagines that James was a son from Joseph’s previous marriage that ended with the death of his wife, Sarah.

In Libby’s hands, these are ordinary people involved in an extraordinary event and entrusted with a gift from God. His portrait of the 12-year-old Jesus is particularly vivid — a normal human boy not only learning from his parents, running around with his cousin (the young John the Baptist), but also questioning and discovering his divine destiny.

At the temple, Jesus meets the great Torah scholars Hillel and Gamaliel, gathered there for the celebration of the Passover. The boy asks about the Golden Rule, about God’s laws and about how King David, a sinful man, could be beloved of God.

As the book unfolds, the reader has the sense that author Libby is both telling the tale and following it to see where it will lead. It ends with Mary recalling the Annunciation from the Angel Gabriel and a quote from Luke after the temple scene: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

It feels a bit unfinished, and in some books that would be a flaw. However, for “What If It’s True?”, there is also the sense that the story continues, as we know it does.

Time with the TARDIS enlivens campus ministry

Ohio University visitors pose for a selfie photo with the TARDIS replica at Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. Photo/courtesy of Church of the Good Shepherd

By Episcopal Journal

“I want to tell you, seeing the TARDIS every day this semester has been what keeps me going.” — student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Since September, a big blue box has occupied the front steps of Church of the Good Shepherd, located in the heart of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Fans of the long-running BBC science-fiction television series “Doctor Who” quickly recognize it as a replica of the TARDIS, the vehicle the title character uses to travel through space and time.
The church created the replica to advertise its fall “Gospel According to Doctor Who” series. More than serving as a marketing tool, the box has sparked what the church called “powerful and unexpected interactions” with members of the university community.

First launched in 1963, “Doctor Who” is a BBC television series about an extraterrestrial “Time Lord” who explores the universe — past, present, and future — with human companions. They travel in his purloined TARDIS (short for Time and Relative Dimension in Space), which resembles an old-fashioned British police call box on the outside but is a large, technologically advanced space ship on the inside.

Annoucement of “Gospel According to Doctor Who” series with TARDIS replica at Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. Photo/courtesy of Church of the Good Shepherd

After the TARDIS materialized outside the church, church members observed people of all ages photographing themselves with it. During Homecoming weekend, visiting alumni took a picture with the TARDIS, posted it with a description of the church and promoted the Gospel According to Doctor Who program on their Dayton business’s Facebook page.

Among other interactions the church reported:
• Student groups who meet with the priest or use the church space asked about it, which provided a conversational way to introduce them to the Episcopal Church. A few students attended church services because they saw the TARDIS in front of the church.
• During the parish book sale, a young woman stopped by and bought two books because, when she saw the TARDIS, saying it felt like a sign that she would be welcomed. She also said she didn’t think highly of churches because of news stories predator priests but that the presence of the TARDIS made her realize not all churches were bad.
• The university music department borrowed the TARDIS for a Halloween season “Hallowpalooza” music program for area school children. When the TARDIS moved, passersby expressed concern that it was leaving, and students applauded when it later was reassembled on the church steps.

“It has been a wonderful opportunity to explain that when the church is at its best, it is very much like the TARDIS: symbolizing hope, a place for help and [somewhere] bigger on the inside, which means it shows us something larger than ourselves and has room for all people,” said the rector, the Rev. Deborah Woolsey. “The TARDIS has given us ... a new and surprisingly effective way to engage in campus ministry. We have been reminded that interacting with the Holy Spirit can be playful and joyful and still be holy.”

An organ crescendo 10 years in the making

The new Miller-Scott organ at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York. Photos/Benjamin K. Hoskins

By Kirk Petersen
The Living Church

After more than a decade of planning, fundraising and construction, a prominent New York parish has introduced a pipe organ for the ages.

More than 1,100 people packed the pews at St. Thomas Church Fifth Ave. for the Oct. 5 dedication recital of the new $11 million Miller-Scott organ. They heard more than 90 minutes of organ works from an instrument that combines an ancient invention with sophisticated modern electronics.

St. Thomas occupies a unique spot among places for Anglican sacred music. In addition to a large church community, the parish also is home to the St. Thomas Choir School, America’s only church-affiliated choir boarding school, which the New York Times likened to Westminster Abbey in London. St. Thomas was founded in 1823, and the current building opened in 1913.

Each year, 25 to 30 boys in grades 3 through 8 study, work and live at the school. They perform in the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, which periodically tours in Europe and throughout the United States.

With the new organ, “we now have the instrument to match the quality of the music and the world-class choir we have here,” said Ben Sheen, associate organist.

The church voted in 2006 to launch a capital campaign to restore stained-glass windows and acquire a new organ. The midtown church had not conducted a capital campaign since the 1930s, said Ann Kaplan, the church’s director of development. More than 1200 donors contributed close to $9 million toward the $11 million project.

Ornate carvings on the organ cabinet include a dedication to John Scott.

The instrument is designated as the Irene D. and William R. Miller Chancel Organ in Memory of John Scott. Miller is a former vestry member and retired pharmaceutical executive; Scott, at one time the organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, was the church’s organist from 2004 until his sudden death in 2015, at the age of 59.

Scott was succeeded by Daniel Hyde, a Cambridge-trained Briton. The church recently announced that Jeremy Filsell will succeed Hyde in the spring of 2019, when Hyde returns to King’s College in Cambridge.

The organ is large but its 7069 pipes are not record-breaking. The Boardwalk Hall Auditorium in Atlantic City has more than 33,000 pipes, but most of them have been out of commission for decades. The Wanamaker Grand Court Organ in Philadelphia is the largest functioning organ, with 28,750 pipes.

More than 100 draw knobs control the various ranks of pipes on the Miller-Scott organ console.
“You have string stops, which are the softer stops on the organ, and the flutey stops, the reed stops, and then there’s one entire division of the organ that is dedicated to orchestral sounds,” Sheen said. “So we have an oboe, a cor anglais, a clarinet, a French horn, so it can replicate the full symphony orchestra just from one person playing it.”

A reminder to silence cell phones.

Sophisticated electronics enable one musician to control all those stops while also playing multiple keyboards. Sheen said that many combinations of stops are programmed to respond at the touch of a button. He likened the organist’s console to an airline pilot’s cockpit. “You essentially control the entire orchestra from that one seat.”

Pipe organs have inspired the phrase “pulling out all the stops,” meaning to use every available resource. Sheen said that as a practical matter organists never pull out all the stops.

The organ was built by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa. The $11 million paid for more than the organ — a variety of factors drove the rest of the cost, starting with structural work to the church. Steel girders had to be installed to support the weight of the instrument and acoustical changes were made to accommodate the new pipes.

The former organ had all its pipes on one side of the chancel, but the new organ required a new case on the other side. An ornately carved wooden case was designed and built to complement the existing one and the interior of the church.
“This is an instrument that will, hopefully, last without needing any renovations for 50 to 100

A tribute to the four writers of the gospels.

years,” Sheen said in explaining the total cost.

To appreciate the quality of the instrument, there’s no substitute for hearing it under the 95-foot vaulted ceiling of the Fifth Ave. church. But the church website offers an audio webcast of the dedication recital, and even the tinny speakers of a computer can provide an aural glimpse of the range and complexity of the organ’s sound.

Kaplan said the New York location also added to the expense. Dobson workers from Iowa typically were housed in the choir school, which helped with the cost, but travel costs were significant.

Hyde, who played at the dedication in October, will play the second of six recitals in the church’s Grand Organ series on Dec. 22. Sheen and three other award-winning organists will play at the remaining recitals, which run through May.

Philadelphia cathedral’s arts show explores ‘themes and variations’

“Themes and Variations” artwork is displayed in the sanctuary of Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. Photo/Thomas Lloyd

Reflection by Thomas Lloyd

The congregation at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral includes a number of visual artists. To celebrate their gifts, the cathedral arts program devotes an exhibition every two years to their work.

Having served as director of music at the cathedral since 2010, I was asked last summer by Dean Judith A. Sullivan to add the visual arts program to my responsibilities. As a long-time art lover who already had gotten to know several of our artists, I was especially excited that I had started just in time for the biennial Cathedral Artists exhibit already on the schedule for November and December of this year. This inspired me to take the opportunity to visit each of the artists in their studios to see their current work and talk about their creative process.

I noticed a common tendency to return to certain subjects again and again, even as the artistic approach, technique and media of each artist continued to change over time. From this observation came the idea of unifying the show under the familiar musical title “Themes and Variations.”

We also had just engaged the congregation in a focus on creation (following a theme recommended to churches nationally). I believed this new exhibit also could reflect the infinite variety and unity of our divinely created world through the way artists imagine variations of human or natural subjects, religious symbols, colors and forms.
Our artists also are drawn to a broad panoply of media (painting, mixed media, etching, sculpture, photography) and styles, across the spectrum from abstraction to realism. As I saw how they kept coming back to the same subjects and ideas over extended periods of time, I wondered: “What is it that these artists keep searching for that we might be missing, that might be essential, beautiful, quietly unnoticed?”

“The Artist,” photograph by John Dowell

We then worked together to choose multiple works illustrating the idea of “variations.” John Dowell’s large and finely detailed photographs from his “Rittenhouse Square” series contain multiple views from different ranges above this historic Philadelphia park. As Dowell wrote in the show catalog, “I noticed [that] when the trees shed their leaves I could get a better sense or feeling of a particular area looking through the branches. It was so different from above, and you could feel the enveloping of the space. You met friends, had lunch, lay on the grass or danced. This I rediscovered spending hours in the square at all times of day and evening, realizing the wonder of this beautiful place. Many of us pass through it, but we rarely see it for what it truly is. I want to make you stop, look and absorb.”

Mixed-media painter Anne Minich contributed works from her “Heads” series, one of a number of distinctive themes she has developed throughout her career. She explained that the image was “intentionally gender neutral.”

“Trio,” mixed-media painting on wood by Anne Minich

In “Poet’s Prayer,” a wooden relief version of the image is surrounded by embedded seashells and three white shapes containing the words “recollect,” “intend” and “compose.” These words “indicate what I believe all artists need to do before starting a work of any kind, in any discipline,” Minich said.”

In “Trio,” three flat, copper versions of the head image are presented in a row, all with brilliant white halos against a penetrating, clearly carved red background on gessoed wood. This “variation” recalls images of heads and halos throughout Christian art and iconography.

“Three Perspectives on Life,” painted wood sculpture by Won Choi

A series of three abstract wood sculptures by Won Choi reflect her “experience of changing perspectives at different stages of my life. ... At the third stage [Three Perspectives on Life], I am perceiving the world as a place where one comes for the purification of one’s soul through many stages, one at a time.”

Suzanne Duplantis painted “At a Crossroads — Kelly Drive” alongside other paintings of hers linked by the idea of “seeing through.” She said she was drawn “by the idea of seeing through a passage way to a focal point, a focal point that is more or less not the point. I guess you could say the point is the light along the way.”

“Alley, St. Michael’s,” oil on wood by Suzanne DuPlantis

The artwork is displayed in the cathedral’s sanctuary, where space and light make it possible to view the works at close range or while participating in liturgy. The same space is used for social-outreach ministries during the week, where a wider range of people have access to work of this dedicated community of artists. Exhibits change every four to six weeks during the year, with Lent reserved for a display of one of two sets of Stations of the Cross by Cathedral artists Gerald Di Falco (permanent collection) or Virginia Maksymowicz (on loan).
For the complete exhibition catalog, visit the arts page of www.philadelphiacathedral.org.

The direct link to the exhibition catalog is /https://drive.google.com/file/d/1HUXzcd9lgitIJq7URshA4-pFwVlCW-9o/view

Thomas Lloyd is director of music and arts at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.

 

Advent: The faith-filled countdown to Christmas

Dec. 2 is the first Sunday of Advent, the Christian season of spiritual preparation before celebrating the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Episcopal Journal presents some resources suitable for the season.

Books from Forward Movement:
O Wisdom: Advent Devotions on the Names of Jesus
Edited by Rachel Jones
Songs of thanks and praise, of lament and longing, of restoration and return have been on people’s lips for millennia. The verses of the ancient hymn, the O Antiphons, explore and celebrate the many names of Jesus and present a way to sing along with the story of God. Drawn from the scriptural words of Isaiah, the O Antiphons have been sung in churches and monastic communities since at least the eighth century. Through meditations, art, poems and photos created by people from across the church, this book offers space and time to embrace Jesus’ presence among us now — and await his coming in glory. One can enjoy these prayers and praises throughout the seasons of Advent and Christmas as they beckon: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

I Witness: Living Inside the Stories of Advent
By Kate Moorehead
Many have heard the story of Jesus’ birth, but have they lived inside it? Episcopal priest Kate Moorehead invites readers to enter the story of salvation with hearts and minds wide open, experiencing the miracle of Jesus through the eyes of witnesses: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Wise Men and others. Moorehead encourages readers to bear witness — both then and now — to the marvel and majesty of a babe born in a manger, of Christ the king. These daily devotionals offer a companion through the seasons of Advent and Christmas and urge the faithful to keep reading, keep listening, keep learning, experiencing the story of Christ’s birth as both familiar and new in each retelling.

Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos
By Tim Schenck,
with illustrations by Jay Sidebotham
With humor anchored by spiritual truths, author Tim Schenck helps readers maintain spiritual sanity through the often-frenetic chaos of Advent and Christmas. Illustrated by cartoonist Jay Sidebotham, “Dog in the Manger” also explores the major characters of the season in new ways, including John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Questions following each section make “Dog in the Manger” appropriate for personal or group use.

Dawn from on High
By John Alexander
Through inspiring and accessible meditations, John Alexander provides a theologically rich and biblically grounded journey through Advent, Christmastide and the first days of Epiphanytide. Based on the eucharistic lectionary of the Episcopal Church, Alexander takes the reader into the heart of Advent’s focus on “last things” and then the incarnation of Jesus. Preachers may find this volume a useful resource for preparing sermons, but any Christian may benefit from these homilies while seeking a focus on the great mysteries of salvation.

Calendar: Slow Down. Quiet. It’s Advent!
(2018 Advent Calendar posters)
Created by Susan Elliott and Jay Sidebotham, this colorable Advent calendar poster suggests ways to mark the days through Advent. The calendar offers ideas for prayer, helping others and being thoughtful about the true meaning of Christmas. It offers advice to take to our hearts and walls: Slow down. Quiet. It’s Advent!
For information on ordering these resources, go to www.forwardmovement.org.

 

Books from Paraclete Press:
Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations
By David Bannon, foreword by Philip Yancey
Christmas can be a time not only of joy but also of tears, memory and prayer. Celebration does not always come easily. In 25 illustrated daily readings, “Wounded in Spirit” offers the opportunity to commune with Scripture and the wounded artists that gave the world masterpieces of hope: Gauguin, Tissot, Caravaggio, Tanner, Delacroix, van Gogh, Dürer. While the artists’ names and paintings may be familiar, this book provides an inspiring look into the humanity of the artists themselves. They were flawed and often troubled people: a widower that saw a vision of Christ; a murderer who painted himself as Peter; a grieving father who drew his sons as Jesus and John; an orphan who saw his salvation in the Holy Family. Despite their wounds — perhaps because of them — these artists achieved the sublime. Based on the latest research in history and grief, “Wounded in Spirit” returns readers to where Christian art began. From mourning in Roman catacombs to works of the masters, readers may join the world’s great religious artists on their pilgrimages of hope and brokenness, encountering in the artists’ wounds — and their own — “God with us.”

Mother and Child: Ever Ancient, Ever New
Art by Christine Granger
Christine Granger’s artistic portrayals of Mary and her infant son Jesus, paired with the words of sages, saints, and sinners through the centuries, lead the reader to moments of intimacy with the divine Mother and Child.
For ordering information, see www.paracletepress.com.
Meditations from
Seminary of the Southwest:
Each Advent, Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, produces a free pocket-size Advent Meditation booklet. The contributors are a mix of faculty, students, alumni and friends who offer perspectives on the Scripture of each day. The meditation authors also record themselves reading their submissions, and the seminary shares these on its website and through its Sowing Holy Questions blog.

Children drum the rhythms of life at camp

Campers, counselors and staff learned drumming from professional drummer and dancer Yahaya Kamate. Photos/Sharon Sheridan

By Sharon Sheridan
Episcopal Journal

Trevor attended his first summer drumming camp at St. Stephen’s in Millburn, N.J., three years ago, and he keeps coming back — this year as a counselor-in-training.

“It’s good being a counselor. You can help out kids,” said Trevor, 13 (Trevor and other teen participants’ last names are withheld to protect their privacy.) Throughout the August afternoon, he enthusiastically joined in the day’s activities: dancing, drumming, decorating T-shirts, playing on the church lawn, eating dinner, competing at Bingo, making s’mores over a campfire.

Shepherded by paid staff plus youth and adult volunteers, about 10 children a day attended the weeklong PATCH (Parents and Their Children) drumming camp at the church in late August.

During the school year, the PATCH program, supported by the Diocese of Newark Prison Ministry, transports children with incarcerated parents to visit their parents at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark. It also provides Christmas parties and presents for the children, back-to-school backpacks loaded with school supplies, and summer camp opportunities or supplies.

Yahaya Kamate, left, a former member of the Ivory Coast’s national dance company, teaches dance moves to campers and counselors at the PATCH drumming camp.

Each day during the annual summer drumming camp, the PATCH children learned drumming and dance skills from professional instructor and performer Yahaya Kamate. They also enjoyed games, dinner and snacks and created crafts projects, including decorating T-shirts honoring Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday and painting “kindness rocks” with slogans such as “Be the change you want to see in the world,” which they placed in the church garden.

At week’s end, about 40 family members and friends attended a final performance of drumming, dancing, singing and a skit about the life of Mandela, the late anti-apartheid leader and former president of South Africa. Each child recited a piece of Mandela’s biography; then all proclaimed together: “I am Nelson Mandela!”

Some of the children, like Trevor, were repeat campers.

“Next year, I’m coming again” to be a counselor-in-training, said Shekinah, 13. She enjoys “the drumming, the dancing, especially the art, and the singing.”

“I hope they really want to come back — to something creative and fun and authentic,” said Kim Williams, church music director and one of the camp coordinators. Kamate is a good role model for the children, she noted. “I love his way with the kids. He’s firm in his expectations. He just naturally commands respect. But he also is kind and gentle with them.”

A native of the Ivory Coast, Kamate plays the djembe and the doundoun (a bass drum) and was a member of his country’s national dance company before coming to the United States in 1994. He currently teaches at the Alvin Ailey School in New York as well as leads workshops at various schools, hospitals, churches and juvenile detention centers.

At the camp, he sat at the head of a circle of colorful drums, where campers, staff and counselors practiced drumming techniques and rhythms. A large poster behind him listed words and phrases to help drummers remember different melodies, or rhythm patterns. Some also provided positive motivation, such as “Yum, yum! Eat my veggies” and “Never give up.”

Positive messages also accompanied some of the sequences of dance moves, such as: “I will fall. I will sit. I will get up. I will survive.”

The church’s music director and one of the camp coordinators, Kim Williams, confers with a young drummer.

Beyond the ability to master a drumming sequence, Kamate says he hopes to instill skills that campers will use in school and elsewhere, such as patience and working together. He also stresses equality. “We are all the same,” he said. “Because I’m teaching, that doesn’t mean that I’m better than them.”

JaTaria, 15, reflected on what she had learned from when she first was a camper to becoming a counselor.

“When I was a camper, at first I was kind of scared and shy,” she said. “Over time, I learned how to play drums … I learned how to dance better.”

She found being a counselor hard but rewarding work. “I love kids,” said JaTaria, who aspires to be a nurse practitioner or lawyer. “It was incredible. I’m proud of them. … I learned how to be patient with kids. I learned how to drum, like a traditional African drum. I learned how to let myself be free and let my personality come out.”

The annual drumming camp costs about $7,500, with the biggest cost being the daily van to transport the children to and from the church, Williams said. Some food is purchased, some donated. Some staff, including a retired Newark special education teacher, are paid. “It’s very important to have consistent leadership,” Williams explained.

Volunteers — young and old — also are crucial to the program’s success.

“I always feel like this is kind of the heart of who St. Stephen’s is,” Williams said. “We do ministry. It’s not a checkbook church.”  

Sharon Sheridan is a member of the Diocese of Newark Prison Ministry.