In the section on social justice and community engagement in our annual Diocesan Convention booklet this year, we shared the declarative and inspirational words of God to the prophet Jeremiah: “Seek the welfare (shalom) of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare (shalom) you will find your welfare (shalom).” (Jeremiah 29:7) We picked this verse to highlight the faithful community engagement work many of our EDOW communities are already doing to take the Gospel beyond our church walls and visit the wells of the public square with our testimonies of transformation from drinking the living water of Christ. And, it was our hope to inspire leaders around the Diocese to step out this year and find new ways and means to seek and share shalom in the neighborhoods in which God has planted and blessed our churches. Since our January gathering at the Cathedral, the Rev. Dr. Peter Antoci, Pastor at St. Thomas’ Church in Upper Marlboro, MD, has led his parish in precisely this kind of joyful outreach.
Peter reports that he “wanted to take very seriously the community right outside our church door.” St. Thomas’ Church has a chapel building a few miles from the main sanctuary (Incarnation Chapel) that stands across the street from Brandywine Public Elementary School. Peter sent a simple but warm email to introduce himself and the St. Thomas’ community to the principal. To his surprise, she responded within 24 hours, saying she would love to meet and would Peter please come to her office. In that meeting, they discussed possible collaborations and partnerships in the future. Peter invited the school to visit Ashes To Go outside his church and to attend Ash Wednesday Eucharist. On St. Thomas’ behalf, Peter also offered to sponsor a student art exhibit for Black History Month at the chapel hall during coffee hour. With the help of some dedicated parishioners, the chapel hall welcomed children and families from the school who displayed their inspirational art projects on black history. Many kids and families had driven past the chapel for years or parked in front of it to attend school but had never entered the chapel before. Both the chapel and the public school are now looking forward to future activities and adventures they can share together.
Peter and parishioners have since repeated the same outreach to Mattaponi Elementary which is near St. Thomas’ Church with the same wonderful results: parents, teachers, administrators, students visited both the main church for a student exhibit and reception hosted by the parish. According to Peter, they are now approaching local high schools, all of which have community service requirements for their students, so that St. Thomas’ can be an approved site for community service.
These joyful and life-giving community connections began with the spark of a simple email. The Holy Spirit longs to accompany us in every journey from the altar into the world. What might be your next courageous step that becomes a spiritual spark in your neighborhood?