Two paths, one faith

Louis Crew Clay reading poetry at his 80th-birthday celebration. Photo/Sharon Sheridan

By Sharon Sheridan
Traveling the night before Thanksgiving, I opened my e-mail to the news that Louie Crew Clay had gone home to God.

I often said that Louie was the most Christian man I knew.

A white, gay Southerner who married a black man and launched the organization Integrity to support and push for full inclusion of LGBT people in the Episcopal Church, he suffered more than his share of life’s slings and arrows. But however much they vilified him, he countered his critics with grace and wit. He demonstrated how to love one’s enemies. And he steadfastly signed his messages: Joy anyway!

Predictably, tributes soon appeared across Facebook and listservs from all corners of the church he had served as a member of Executive Council, a six-time deputy from the Diocese of Newark, Integrity founder and tireless advocate for social justice.

Everyone, someone commented, had a Louie story. I could tell several, from when I first encountered him when I began working as a church reporter in the 1990s to when he sent me a gift for my 2018 ordination to the transitional diaconate.

Some of my favorite memories of this former English professor involve poetry. At the 2009 General Convention, he joined in a poetry slam, giving, as I wrote for the Convention Daily, “an animated reading of two poems from his collection ‘Quean Lutibelle’s Pew’ (the ‘Quean’ is his alter ego, he explained), adopting an auctioneer’s stance for ‘Lutibell Goes to an Auction’ and crossing himself solemnly and invoking the Trinity as he began reading ‘Lutibelle Imitates a Strait Male Prayer.’

“‘God, I can’t pray just now,’ laments the praying man. ‘Some people/have been saying/that you/might not even be a real man,/might be instead an androgynous mutation. … It was difficult enough/when those black children/started coloring you black./Before long/even sissies will be saying/that you lisp/or go about in drag.”’

Seven years later, I was thrilled to participate in a poetry night in honor of his 80th birthday. And I was both surprised and touched when he greeted news of my progress through the ordination process with not only delight but also an admonition to keep writing poetry. When I visited his church in Newark in 2017, he inquired during coffee hour what poems I was working on.

Through the years, Louie’s voice projected in the halls of General Convention and beyond. But he also had a knack of encouraging other voices, including mine.

As I thought and read about Louie, and prayed for his husband and the many others who loved him, I received word of another death during that Thanksgiving weekend.

He was not a public figure, so I’ll just call him John to protect his family’s privacy. While Louie’s obituary made multiple churchwide publications, Google reveals no obituary for John. I learned of his death by chance, while visiting the church of one of his relatives and hearing his name in the prayers.

I met John when he began attending the church I belonged to when I started seminary. Many in the church were well-off or solidly middle class; but John inhabited a lower economic stratum.

It’s long enough ago that I’ve forgotten the details, but I know he faced challenges. I recall some level of housing and employment instability. I don’t think he had a car. His voice certainly did not echo across the diocese, let alone throughout the wider church.

And yet, what stands out in my memory of John is not so different from how I viewed Louie.

He was a Christian. He was kind. He served his church.

While John lived locally, he faithfully attended worship. He willingly pitched in when we needed tables moved or other assistance around the facility. He attended our first-ever parish-wide weekend retreat. The last time I saw him, he was visiting my friend at her church during Christmastide two or three years ago.

Two different men. Two very different spheres of influence.

And yet, I saw the spirit of Christ within them both.

One had what I imagine was a small and quiet funeral. The other’s memorial service will, I suspect, be a standing-room-only life celebration by people gathered from across the country.

And yet, the same God welcomed both home, inviting both equally to the heavenly banquet, just as God invites us all to the same Communion table each week.

We each receive a portion of talents and challenges; we steward the one and battle the other as best we can. In the end, it is the faithfulness and integrity of the journey, not the sphere of influence or scope of worldly accomplishment, that matters.

I doubt they met on earth. But I like to picture Louie and John meeting now, and going in to sit at the banquet together: unequal in life circumstances, but equally loved children of God.

Joy anyway, my friends. Joy always.

The Rev. Sharon Sheridan Hausman is priest associate at Christ Episcopal Church in Newton, N.J.

Digital Advent materials available

Dec. 1 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.

By Cara Modisett, Episcopal Cafe
New and updated Advent resources for congregations, dioceses, and communities of faith are now available from the Episcopal Church at Digital Christmas Eve services are also being offered.

Digital Invitation Kit for Advent (available in English, Spanish, & French)
Continuing the invitation to connect Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s “Way of Love, Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life” more deeply to the seasons of the year, the church has developed additional free and downloadable resources for congregations, dioceses, and communities of faith. An Advent Digital Invitation Kit is available now to help congregations invite people to enter into this season of preparation.
The theme of the kit is inspired by Mark 1:3 and Isaiah 40:3 “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” and includes a customizable poster, postcard, and flyer; a social media-ready graphic; and a Facebook cover image.
The Way of Love ( is a journey that begins by saying “yes” to God’s call to birth new life into our lives and the world.

Journeying the Way of Love Advent curriculum and Advent calendar (available in English & Spanish; calendar available in French also)
A four-week Advent curriculum and Advent calendar pegged to readings and themes from the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke that incorporates Way of Love practices and the Nativity/infancy narrative of Jesus to enable participants to grow spiritually during this season of preparation.

#AdventWord (available in English, Spanish & Haitian Creole)
This popular Advent practice returns in 2019. Sign up to receive a daily word, visual and short written meditation. Each day during Advent, meditations will be available in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole, with ASL videos. This global effort asks participants to post a reflection of where they find the #AdventWord as part of their spiritual journey. Find #AdventWord at

Sermons for Advent and Christmas
Advent can be an important time to slow down and anticipate the joy of Christmas. This is a compilation of Advent and Christmas sermons from some of the best preachers in the Episcopal Church. Whether you use this book for private devotionals and inspiration, small group study, or reading from the pulpit, we pray that you will find this holy season brightened by the Everlasting Light himself.
Find sermons at

Created by Susan Elliott with drawings and text by Jay Sidebotham, this 2019 calendar poster suggests ways to mark the days through the Advent season. The calendar offers ideas for prayer, helping others, and being thoughtful about the true meaning of Christmas. It is available at

Bulletin inserts (available in English & Spanish)
Bulletin inserts for each Sunday in Advent are designed to complement the revised Advent calendar and Journeying the Way of Love Advent curriculum. Available in full page, one-sided and half page, double-sided formats.

Advent reflections
Episcopal Migration Ministries will offer weekly advent reflections on the EMM blog and on the Hometown podcast. Hometown episodes can be found on SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play and iTunes.

Christmas Eve programs
The Episcopal Church is offering digital Christmas Eve services on December 24, making Christmas Eve worship accessible to those not attending a service or program at a local church. More information on the digital Christmas Eve programs will be available at

Cara Modisett lives in Roanoke, Va., where she serves as music director at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church and staff collaborative pianist at Radford University. This article was published on the Episcopal Café website,

German Romantic painters elevated spirituality of landscape

“Winter Landscape with Church” by Casper David Friedrich

By Dennis Raverty
It is often claimed by art historians that early 19th-century Romanticism represented a secularization of subject matter, long after the pinnacle of religious art had been reached during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The rise of landscape painting at the beginning of that century signaled the end of the era of great Christian art, it is said.

But the German Romantics transformed and elevated landscape painting from the minor genre it had been up to that point, to be the bearer of the kind of serious and sublime content that had formerly been reserved for biblical or mythological subjects alone. Artists such as Caspar David Friedrich did not abandon the sacred but instead radically redefined it and expressed spiritual aspirations and moral lessons in terms of an implied but ambiguous narrative found within the work — a narrative often characterized by the theme of going on a journey, an excursion laden with mystical allusions in these haunting, and in a sense sacramental landscapes.

The “Winterreise,” a Romantic song cycle by Friedrich’s younger contemporary Franz Shubert, tells a tale through music of a young man’s wintertime travels. The word “romantic” comes from the root word “Roman,” which in both French and German means “novel.” It is this novelistic quality, this sense of storytelling, that informs the lieder cycle, where, ultimately, the protagonist represents the listener, and his wanderings embody the traveler’s destiny as it unfolds over the course of his lifetime–his spiritual journey, his very own Roman, the “novel” of his life, so to speak: his personal “Winterreise.”

In the extraordinarily subjective world of early 19th-century painter Casper David Friedrich, we are almost always positioned before a landscape that strongly suggests our presence, whether by placing us directly on a path into the forest, or even in the much subtler evocation involved in a painting like “Bushes in Snow,” which seems to invite us to enter and inhabit the space with our presence, like a roadside shrine honoring this humble and easily overlooked bit of shrubbery

“Bushes in Snow”

The scene is nonetheless an entire world unto itself in Friedrich’s romantic realm, precisely because it is designed to be visually and imaginatively entered and “colonized” by the viewer, thereby re-enchanting the mundane and making the very act of representation itself sacramental, while the experience of a sympathetic viewer of the picture then becomes almost mystical.

Often the narrative is both more complicated and more ambiguous in Friedrich’s work, as in “Winter Landscape with Church.” Here, the artist has depicted an actual outdoor shrine with a crucifix in the shadow of a small cluster of evergreens, echoing the Gothic church steeples in the distance shrouded in a mist of light snow and fog during the last few minutes of twilight, before darkness descends on the scene. The destination of the wanderer/viewer seems to be the distant church, representing, perhaps, his spiritual quest, his highest aspirations — and yet it seems so far away as to be almost unreachable, like a vision or hallucination.

In the right foreground lies a crutch in the snow, and a little further on, another crutch. Following the trajectory of these abandoned crutches, we notice a small figure sitting in the shelter of the rock, his hands folded in prayer, his face gazing rapturously at the crucifix. We are aware that the artist is representing some sort of a narrative here, but the exact nature of that narrative remains unclear. Why has the man left behind his crutches? Why does he stop here? A miracle cure could be one possible answer, with the grateful restored man giving thanks to God afterwards.

But one could just as easily interpret the scene entirely differently. Perhaps the man is finally giving up all hope of ever reaching his destination before darkness descends, and so, throwing away his crutches, he collapses in the snow, praying for the forgiveness of his immortal soul during these final moments or hours before hypothermia ends his life. The narrative is purposely left unclear by Friedrich, so as to permit a variety of such possible interpretations.

Despite the references to infirmity and death, it is not merely a despairing, hopeless vision of the ultimate futility of all human endeavor, but rather, its lesson seems to be almost the opposite. Namely, in the voyage of life, beset as it is with various obstacles and diversions, you may very well never reach your highest aspirations. But regardless of whether the seeker actually reaches his destination or not, the painting seems to say, it is the journey itself that is of paramount significance: a process where the striving is more important than the achievement.

“Hut in the Snow”

In “Hut in the Snow,” the hunter’s hut has been long since abandoned; the door hangs open and unhinged, with only blackness inside. Long unkempt grasses surrounding the hut bend beneath the weight of the heavy snow. Apparently no one has walked here for years. As if to underscore the references to the absent hunter, a large branch of a dead tree has fallen to the ground, blocking our way to the empty hut. The hunter is either too old to enjoy the sport any longer or (perhaps more likely) he’s dead.

The strange trees behind the hunter’s hut, which branch off so oddly from the lower, much thicker branches, are an indication that the tree had been cut back at a certain point and new branches have sprouted from where it had been truncated by the saw — it looks like quite a few years previously. And if these “re-sprouted” trees were not enough to make his point, it will be noticed that a few pink blossoms have sprung up just to the left of the dark doorway — a detail almost too understated to notice.

 The viewer’s presence in this scene is as a witness; the narrative is implied rather than stated directly by suggestive elements such as the fallen branch, the abandoned hut, the sprouting trees and the blossoms in the snow. The significance in Friedrich’s sublime painting of this humble and easily overlooked hunter’s hut, then, is exactly the same as in the traditional iconography of the three astonished women at the empty tomb of the resurrected Christ early that Sunday morning.

Dennis Raverty is an associate professor of art history at New Jersey City University, specializing in art of the 19th and 20th centuries.

How Assisi Became a Place of Pilgrimage (For Everyone)

Pilgrims visit St. Francis’ hometown of Assisi, Italy. Photo/Roselinde Bon/

By Roselinde Bon
I wander through the cobbled streets of Assisi, full of balconies with vibrant little flowers. On every corner, I notice the overwhelming historic ambiance of central Italy; ancient and medieval traces from centuries and centuries of human activity. While slowly approaching the Basilica di Santa Chiara, I realize the summer crowds that surround me aren’t the usual selfie-snapping tourists.
There are small groups of nuns everywhere, wearing white, blue, or black habits and veils. The colors of their clothing vary, and so do the colors of their skin. Assisi seems to draw believers and pilgrims from every corner of the globe.
A few seconds later, a group of what sounds like American monks walk by. Their flowy, light grey habits make soft rustling sounds. I hear them laughing and chatting about the town’s history, looking around with large eyes and big smiles on their faces. They seem to be heading to the Basilica of Saint Francis, making their way on their brown leather sandals.
Others had chosen to not wear any shoes at all, like the woman dressed in white, resting near the church while reading her book. She was clearly walking solo, but she was not alone. I spotted many more modern-day pilgrims, equipped with backpacks, walking sticks, and the occasional dog. They’re walking the Camino di Francesco, which follows the footsteps of Saint Francis.

Religious souvenirs are displayed in Assisi. Photo/Roselinde Bon/

I wondered: how exactly did Assisi become a place of pilgrimage? And after so many centuries, what makes so many people retrace the paths of the medieval pilgrims?
In order to answer these questions, we will have to travel back to the 12th century. It all started with Saint Francis of Assisi, who was born around 1181. Of course, Francis wasn’t born with that title. The saint started his life as the son of a wealthy Italian silk merchant and a noblewoman from France.
Francis grew up to be a rich young man, wearing fine robes and spending money without giving it much thought. As he became an adult, however, and began to see more of the world, Francis grew disillusioned. He went through many experiences that made him doubt his lifestyle.
In the following years, Francis started to completely change his life. He stopped wearing shoes, went on a pilgrimage to Rome as a beggar and continuously asked God for spiritual enlightenment. The relationship with his father became so hostile that Francis eventually had to renounce his inheritance and broke things off.
Francis completely changed his life around and rejected his wealth. He stopped wearing shoes and went on a pilgrimage to Rome as a beggar.
Later on, Francis also began to preach (illegally) in the streets of Assisi. He wanted to convince the people to devote themselves to a life of poverty and walk in the footsteps of Christ. That’s what Francis found as a spiritual answer: living a life of peacefulness and great modesty, or even poverty.
Francis quickly gained more and more followers, and this eventually became the Franciscan Order. One of his first and most loyal followers was Saint Clare of Assisi, who founded the Order of the Poor Clares for women. She was the first woman to write a set of monastic guidelines. The order continued to grow in members, and when Francis eventually died in 1226, he was pronounced a saint by the Pope.

The Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi. Photo/Roselinde Bon/

The very next day, the Pope (who had become friends with Francis), laid the first stone of what would become the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi. The tomb of Saint Francis was hidden in the Lower Basilica, so nobody with ill intent could ever find it.
The tomb was finally rediscovered in 1818, and anyone can still visit the crypt of Saint Francis today. Likewise, Saint Clare’s crypt is located in another church that was constructed after her death: the Basilica of Saint Clare, which is also open to the public.
Francis evidently left a legacy within the Catholic faith, but he is remembered by many more around the globe. Francis wasn’t only known for his teachings, but was also respected for his love for animals. This is why he is still considered the patron saint of animals: World Animal Day is on October 4, which is the feast say of Saint Francis.
Once, the story goes, a brother rescued a rabbit from a trap and brought it to Francis. The rabbit refused to leave his side, even when Francis took it back to the forest. Other stories describe how birds would never fly away when Francis approached them, and they quietly listened to his voice when he preached. The most famous tale is one that describes how Francis tamed a dangerous wolf, who had been pestering the people in the town of Gubbio.
Some of you might be wondering what it means to visit Assisi when you’re not religious yourself. Do you have to believe in the values that Saint Francis used to preach? The truth is: I don’t follow any religion either. I don’t believe in anything in particular, but I can sense the weight of everything we will never know for sure. One thing is certain: the story of Saint Francis is a fascinating one.
Assisi is a place that shows how powerful thoughts can become physical, and how a philosophy that started with a few can shape an entire town for many centuries.

Roselinde Bon, a Netherlands-based travel writer and photographer, blogs at

Commemorating 400 years of African American history and culture

This historical marker located at Point Comfort/Fort Monroe, marks the location where the first Africans arrived in the English colonies that would later become the United States. Photo/Wikimedia Commons

Episcopal Church Public Affairs Office

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the year that the first enslaved Africans landed in English North America. Events are being held at Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton, Va., the site of the ship’s arrival, including a national church bell ringing on August 25.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Diocese of Southern Virginia Bishop James B. Magness invited Episcopal churches to take part in the bell ringing.

“The National Park Service is commissioning, and asking, churches and people from around this country to commemorate and remember that landing and the bringing of those first enslaved Africans to this country by ringing bells,” said Curry.

“I’m inviting us as the Episcopal Church to join in this commemoration as part of our continued work of racial healing and reconciliation … We can join together with people of other Christian faiths and people of all faiths to remember those who came as enslaved, who came to a country that one day would proclaim liberty. And so we remember them and pray for a new future for us all.”

Magness said that “the 2019 commemoration of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to North America is for me a highly personal occasion.” He continued, “as a descendent of slaveholders, and as a white male who came of age in the racially polarized south during the 1950s and 1960s, I am painfully aware of my own complicity in furthering and perpetuating the subjugation of my African American brothers and sisters. At a time when the racial divide in this country seems to be growing rather than diminishing, we are in dire need of a moment, an event when we can stop and take stock of our responsibilities to bring the races together, perhaps in a new manner that truly is an embrace of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.”

Detail of 1624 map of Virginia showing the location of Point Comfort (now Fort Monroe National Monument) and Jamestown. Photo/Library of Congress

“Let’s unite as one on this day and show our appreciation for 400 years of African American history,” said Terry E. Brown, Fort Monroe National Monument superintendent. “We must embrace the West African concept of Sankofa, which teaches us we must go back to our roots in order to move forward.”

Susan Goff, bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Virginia, said “the first African people were brought to this continent in harrowing and dehumanizing circumstances. As we remember the 400th anniversary of their arrival, I pray that we will do the hard work of reconciliation that God longs for us to do.”

As recorded by English colonist John Rolfe, the arrival of “20 and odd” African men and women at Point Comfort in late August 1619, was a pivotal moment in the nation’s history. Stolen by English privateers from a Spanish slave ship and brought to Point Comfort on a ship called the White Lion, these natives of west central Africa are believed to have been traded for food and supplies. They were the first Africans to be brought to English North America.

“With bells tolling across America, we pause to lament the centuries of suffering and wrenching grief of slavery and racism in our land,” said Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Diocese of Washington (D.C.). “The first slave trade ship to land 400 years ago planted the seed of sin that spread through the active participation and complicit passivity of nearly every American institution. As we grieve, may we dedicate ourselves to addressing systemic racism and the multi-generational impact of enslavement and discrimination faced by all of the African diaspora.”

As the landing point for the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies in 1619 and the site of the first emancipation policy decision during the Civil War, Fort Monroe marks both the beginning and the end of slavery in the United States.

The majority of the Fort Monroe peninsula was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Fort Monroe National Monument was proclaimed by President Barack Obama in 2011. In 2018 President Donald Trump signed into law the 400 years of African American History Commission Act. A special federal commission was formed to commemorate and educate the American public about the 1619 arrival of the first enslaved Africans to the English colonies at Port Comfort, Virginia.

Visit and for more information.

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

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

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:

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.