This is the reflection the Rev. Paula Jefferson of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Keller, wrote after she spent a recent afternoon working with the people of St. Mary’s, Hillsboro. St. Mary’s is one of the congregations shut out of their building after the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear our appeal, letting stand the judgment of the Texas Supreme Court awarding Episcopal Church property to a group that left The Episcopal Church in 2008. Jefferson leads worship at St. Mary’s on the second Sunday of the month.
Episcopalian is a word that rolls off the tongue with the velocity of a well-aimed watermelon seed. For some, it recalls an image of red doors and stained-glass windows. As a chaplain, I often heard it used in the past tense (‘Oh, yes, my grandparents were Episcopalians’). I’d never really thought about Episcopalian being a verb…well, not until recently.
This week’s routine e-mail flood included a surprise invitation from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Hillsboro. Locked out of its church last February, St. Mary’s met the challenge of legal losses with a ballsy response. They shook the dust off their sandals and said, “We’re moving on”. And so they did.
Word of the lock-out spread. A local business offered its conference room for Sunday worship. For a few months, the group gratefully gathered there. Week by week, St. Mary’s grew. They began with 12 people and three months later they have grown to 19 people. (Someone with CPA tendencies would mention that this is better than 50% growth in three months; but, alas, it’s not about the numbers).
A local businessman holding a vacant bank building offered the property for their use. St. Mary’s would need to clean up the building and do some mechanical repairs. Here was a place to call home. A place where this joyful community can gather for worship and fellowship.
Diocese of West Texas and others help out
A neighboring diocese offered sanctuary furniture and 60 chairs for the worship space. Books of Common Prayer, hymnals, and all the accoutrement of our worship life came from parishes around Texas. St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Keller, produces bulletins for monthly Eucharists and sends them to St. Mary’s with a priest.
And then there was the surprise invitation that I mentioned earlier. It was an invitation to help clean the building and clean up the property. The group gathered and worked on a steamy May afternoon. Below are samples of the verb Episcopalian:
Our work crew included 2 young men from another faith. They came and worked tirelessly to help with the outdoor clean up. They also served as our photographers for our group photo.
Episcopalian, as a verb, is hard to express with words. But here are a few ideas that I brought home from St. Mary’s:
Pruning: The necessary work of letting go so that new growth can flourish.
Perspiring: Translating our energy into God’s mission.
Living: Not in the past, not in the future, living in this moment.
Welcoming: There is room at the table for y’all. Come.
Calling: Moving toward God.
Loving our neighbor.
Thank you, St. Mary’s, for welcoming me. Thank you for your witness of grittiness. Thank you for your witness of hopefulness. I’ve jotted down the new address…but I’m using pencil this time. The day will come when ink will be appropriate.