Tending Our Soil: First Cohort Announced

Tending Our Soil: First Cohort Announced



We are pleased to announce that the following 12 congregations have accepted the invitation to join the first of three cohorts in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington’s Tending Our Soil Thriving Congregations Initiative. 

  • Christ Church, La Plata and Christ Church, Wayside
  • Christ Church, Washington Parish
  • Church of the Ascension, Sligo Parish
  • Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Silver Spring
  • St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, Bethesda
  • St. John’s Episcopal Church, Beltsville + Zion Parish
  • St. John’s Episcopal Church, Olney
  • St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church/ Iglesia Episcopal San Mateo
  • St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, Germantown
  • St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, K St. 
  • St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church 
  • Transfiguration Parish

These congregations are making a three-year commitment to listen to God in their congregations, their neighborhoods, and the Episcopal tradition to discern where God is calling them; reimagine or launch a new ministry  so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other, and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world. Please join us in praying for them.

Ultimately, Tending Our Soil will engage up to 36 congregations with twelve additional congregations joining in 2022 and 12 more in 2023. If your congregation is interested in participating in the future, please look at this promotional flyer or invite the Rev. Jenifer Gamber to give a presentation to your vestry.  

About Participating Congregations

Christ Church, La Plata

Christ Church began in 1683 when English colonists built a log church on the banks of the Port Tobacco River. This small congregation grew, and with the support of a tobacco tax, a more substantial church was built in 1709. In time, Port Tobacco Village became the trade and government center of Charles County – and the third largest port in Maryland. Christ Church grew in size and influence as well, counting among its members such citizens as Thomas Stone, a signer of the Declaration of the Independence. (Port Tobacco also contained Confederate conspirators with ties to John Wilkes Booth.) In 1808, the church building was destroyed by a tornado and in 1818 replaced with a larger brick building.

The current building was built in 1884 – just as the town was declining. In the 1890s, the newly established Town of La Plata replaced Port Tobacco as the county seat. The silting of the river and a railroad through La Plata hastened the end of Port Tobacco’s importance as a trade center. At the urging of Lilla Roberts (ancestor of a current vestry member!) and Lizzie Hamilton, the vestry made the courageous decision to relocate. Loath to waste a new building, they moved it by oxcart, stone by stone, reassembling it in La Plata, again next to the County Courthouse. That historic stone building is where we gather and worship today.

In the 20th century Christ Church thrived, with vibrant Sunday School, choir and worship attendance that filled the 300-seat church. In the later decades of that century, it saw decline due to social and religious changes and internal conflict. Today Christ Church, like La Plata and Charles County, is experiencing new growth and vitality. The year of Covid restrictions has brought innovation, new ways to worship and more engagement in spiritual growth, as well as in ministries of service and justice. We are poised to make an impact in our communities and invite more people into a vibrant and growing relationship with God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Christ Church, Washington Parish

Christ Church Washington Parish was founded in 1794, making it almost as old as Washington DC. Nestled in the heart of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Christ Church is a welcoming, growing, and multi-generational Episcopal congregation that cares deeply about serving the Capitol Hill community and the world beyond. We aspire to be known as a place of radical welcome, where people of all races, ages, incomes, sexual orientations and political leanings gather around the same table.

Christ Church, Wayside

Christ Church Wayside’s ministry began nearly 100 years before the Revolutionary War as one of 30 parishes created by the Maryland Assembly’s Establishment Act in 1692. The church building itself dates to the early 1700s. We have little additional information until 1750 when the Maryland Assembly voted funds to enlarge and repair the church under the direction of its rector, the Rev. Samual Claggett. Forty years later his son, Thomas John Claggett, became the first Anglican Bishop of Maryland.

The Church’s records prior to the Civil War are sketchy – some were burned and others lost during the War. However, the vestry minutes of 1864 note that the vestry voted to suspend service “because of destruction of windows and other acts of violence” until repairs could be made. The church had been used to quarter Union soldiers and also as a stable for their mounts. Finally, under the direction of the rector, Father John Todd, a contract was signed in 1869 to repair the church.

The Record Book containing the Vestry Minutes has been in continuous use since 1864. In the 20th century, Christ Church continued to serve the communities on Cobb Neck (including Cobb Island and Swan Point) as well as Newburg, sometimes with benefit of settled clergy, and sometimes with lay leadership and clergy supply. In 2013, the Vestries of Christ Church Wayside and Christ Church in La Plata (Port Tobacco Parish) agreed on a Covenant to share clergy and other aspects of ministry, now sharing musicians and holding regular joint vestry meetings.

Though small in membership, Christ Church Wayside excels in generous giving and feeding the community in many ways. They began the Wayside Food Bank, which is now housed at another church, though still actively supported by the congregation. With a newly renovated parish hall and a state of the art kitchen, we have the capacity to become a center of community life and outreach on Cobb Neck.

Church of the Ascension, Sligo Parish

Church of the Ascension (Sligo Parish), Silver Spring, Maryland’s cornerstone was laid in 1930. For the first seven years of Ascension’s life, the congregation met in the old Fire Station on Georgia Avenue. Ascension was originally a mission church of Grace Episcopal Church, Silver Spring, before being granted parish status in the Diocese. Throughout its ninety-one (91) year history, Ascension has experienced many changes and challenges, and yet has always been dedicated to social justice and outreach to those in need. Ascension was the first parish in the Diocese to elect a woman Senior Warden; the first parish to become racially integrated; and the first parish to sponsor a lesbian woman for ordination to the priesthood. Ascension has continued to grow as a welcoming and inclusive community who embraces diversity of all kinds in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, relationship status, family configuration, etc. Among Ascension’s many ministries are: 1) vibrant worship and music; 2) Christian Education for all ages; 3) outreach ministries in the community (i.e., four feeding programs, walk about ministries to assist the homeless, “mustard seed ministries” which offer opportunities to minister in small, yet significant ways, and a monthly Variety Show at Springvale Terrace, our local nursing home; 4) affinity groups (i.e. a Men’s Group, a Senior’s Group, “Ladies Night out, LGBT Pride, etc.; 5) social justice initiatives (i.e., “Conversations on Race” program, our membership in AIM (Action in Montgomery), and other political/social endeavors; and 6) annual retreats, and our pilgrimage ministry, which has taken us to Ireland, the Southwest, and next year to Israel. During COVID, we have found new ways to do “church.” Live stream worship, educational programs, meetings, etc. have opened new doors for our congregational life and we look forward to our future and “tending our soil.”

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Silver Spring

In 1959, then Bishop of Washington, Angus Dun, desired an Episcopal presence in Silver Spring near Northwood High School and Good Shepherd Episcopal Church was founded. Good Shepherd has been, and continues to be, a pastoral-sized congregation with a faithful community of parishioners. In 2002, as the result of a successful capital campaign, a new sanctuary was built. The Bishop at that time, John Bryson Chane, dedicated our new worship space and challenged the congregation saying, “You‘ve built it. Now what are you going to do with it?” At the present time, Good Shepherd counts three Vital Signs of Parish Health as particular sources of strength, Blessing Our Community, Faithful Financial Practices, and Uplifting & Inviting Worship. With an active Social Ministries Committee in the lead, we are committed to community outreach. Currently, our mission statement, “Feed My Sheep,” is embodied by partnering with Manna, Inc., Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church, St. Luke Lutheran Church, Shepherd’s Table, Crossways Community Center, and Heifer International. Good Shepherd’s Finance Committee is faithful, committed, and diligent. Our annual Stewardship Campaign is met with a steady number of pledgers whose percentage of giving continues at a consistent rate. Our worship services are inspiring, engaging, and thought-provoking. Good Shepherd parishioners enjoy music of all kinds. Our organist, Choir, Chimes Choir and the glorious sound of congregational singing fill our services with joyful praise. Hospitality is a congregational gift, not only in welcoming seekers and searchers, but also in establishing a feeling of community, a sense of a personal relationship, and a feeling of being a family. Our desire now, as we move forward, is a stronger faith connection both in our congregation and in our community, as we work to engage deeper spiritual resources and more meaningful spiritual practices.

St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, Bethesda

Located just over the DC line in Montgomery County, Maryland, St. Dunstan’s sits on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and the entrance to the Sumner neighborhood of Bethesda, positioning it well to minister to its surrounding community. Indeed, St. Dunstan’s was founded in 1958 as a mission of the Church of the Redeemer in Glen Echo, specifically in order to extend the mission of the Church into what was at the time a better-trafficked area of Bethesda. The congregation became an independent parish in l965 and since that time has striven to be “a neighborhood church with a heart for the world” by serving our global, national, and local communities.

For many years St. Dunstan’s boasted a robust Christian Formation program for all ages, overseen by a team of committed professionals and volunteers. However, over the past decade or so a number of those families left the parish, and St. Dunstan’s today is a smaller, older congregation than it was 20 years ago.

Despite our size, we seek to leverage our gifts and offer them joyfully to the community. We are blessed with gorgeous, spacious grounds (abutting the Capital Crescent Trail), and during the week our buildings house both a Montessori School and an early learning and extended program that serves families in Montgomery County Public Schools. We also place a high value on the arts. St. Dunstan’s has a vibrant music ministry that enriches our worship and soon will begin reaching out beyond our walls in a series of community jazz concerts. In addition, we are blessed by the presence of several visual artists in the congregation, including a “Liturgical Artist-in-Residence.”

As we look to the future, we are excited to see how God will call us to use these blessings in service to the neighborhood and the world.

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Beltsville + Zion Parish

Piscataway Parish was one of 30 parishes established in 1692 by the General Assembly of Maryland. Piscataway Parish was subdivided into several more parishes, one of which is called Zion Parish where St. John’s has its roots. One and one-half acres of land was donated and deeded September 2, 1856, for purposes of constructing a church facility. A wood-frame facility was built, consecrated August 6, 1857.

St. John’s Episcopal Church/Zion Parish, is a very caring and dedicated group of people. St. John’s is a diverse community with approximately 30% African, 15% African-American, 35% West Indian/Caribbean and 15% Caucasian. The other 5% represents Hispanic, Asian, and Multi-Racial. The Church recognizes this community through many occasions and fellowship opportunities.

The 2020 calendar year reported a membership of 264. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, St. John’s had three services on Sundays: 7:45am (Music on occasion), 9:15am (Family service), and 11:15am (With choir) with an average of 175 combined attendances. St. John’s also has a mid-week healing service with Holy Eucharist averaging 18 in attendance.

Most of the parishioners attending St. John’s do not live in Beltsville but reside in communities within 25 miles of the church. The population of the region is racially diverse and primarily middle class, reflected in the church’s congregation.

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Olney

St. John’s, founded in 1842, is the oldest Episcopal church in continuous use in Montgomery County, MD. It has undergone numerous changes over the years including being moved on rollers by a mule team in 1910 to a better spot on church grounds when more land was acquired.

St. John’s has an average Sunday attendance of 154. While not technically qualifying as a multi-cultural parish the congregation is very diverse and recognizes several dozen countries as home. A significant number of our members of color are African, Caribbean, or Pan-Asian diaspora.

Our longest running outreach programs are African Palms and our school. In 1961, St. John’s Episcopal School opened with 22 students in grades 1-4 in the basement of the parish hall. The mission of the school is to graduate students who are ‎academically prepared, sound in character, and of enduring faith. This fall the school is looking towards a diverse enrollment of 170+ children Pre-K to 8th grade.

Founded in 1976, African Palms sells over a million crosses to churches annually. This ministry has a dual impact, providing a wage to Tanzanians who make the crosses, and sending money back to Tanzania for grants for water projects, and health care.

As an expansion of our connection with the Diocese of Masasi in Tanzania, we are supporting eight women who are attending seminary in Tanzania.

St. John’s cultivates intergenerational links through a Prayer Partner ministry where children are paired with unrelated adults and build a relationship through praying for each other and through events such as making Advent Wreaths. We also nurture intergenerational connections through an all-ages Vacation Bible School.

The Esther Deel Ministry knits and crochets prayer shawls that are blessed and distributed to parishioners going through difficult times and blankets that are distributed to babies at their baptism.

We run monthly food drives for Olney Help, a local food bank, and run a small food pantry on site, which moved outdoors during COVID-19.

Another ministry is Our Neighbor’s House, where we furnish apartments for refugees who are relocating in the community through the State Department authorized program as administered by the International Rescue Committee.

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church/ Iglesia Episcopal San Mateo

St. Matthew’s/San Mateo is a multicultural parish made up of members from 28 countries. On June 11, 2011, the Spanish- and English-speaking congregations became one unified parish. Our parish structure is governed by our vestry who includes the Senior and Junior Wardens, two clergy, the treasurer, the clerk, and eleven members representing both the Spanish- and English-speaking communities (thirteen Latinos and five English-speaking individuals).

Our parish is alive and vibrant, with many committees and ministries–from the Guadalupana, Cooking Parents, Cleaning, and Gardening committees to the Hospitality and Welcome, Eucharistic Ministers, Evangelism, Solidarity and Youth ministries–that help enrich and inform our pastoral activities. 

One of the fastest growing parishes in the diocese with more than 500 active members, St. Matthew’s/San Mateo provides Christian Education programs at all of our services (4 in Spanish and 1 in English).

St. Matthew’s/San Mateo believes in the dignity of every human being and advocates for justice for immigrants and refugees by participating in marches, protests and other activities calling for change. In solidarity, for more than a year, we have distributed food to over 300 families per week.  

St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, Germantown

St. Nicholas’ Parish was founded as a mission in 1991 to serve the Darnestown-North Potomac area. In 2003 St. Nicholas achieved parish status. The campus and church building were consecrated in 2010. The Rev. Ken Howard was the founding Rector followed by The Rev. Beth O’Callaghan who was called in 2017. St. Nicholas is located at the far west end of Germantown Road near Darnestown Road.

St. Nicholas is a diverse and inclusive parish filled with joy and love for one another and for our neighbors. Our diversity is reflected in age, gender, race, ethnicity, political ideology and sexual orientation. Parishioners travel from Germantown, Boyds, North Potomac, Kentlands, Poolesville, Gaithersburg and Rockville.

Our average Sunday attendance is 76. We have one worship service at 10:00 am. Sunday School meets during part of the worship service. We plan to add a portable classroom for formation of young children and youth and to attract young families.

We offer a weekly daytime study group focused primarily around racial justice, as well as occasional evening Bible and book study groups. Our Prayer Group meets monthly. Outreach efforts include sponsoring a student at El Hogar in Honduras; Comfort Cases and Montgomery County Social Services; Road Clean Up on Darnestown Road; and bi-monthly Eucharistic Visitors at Shady Grove Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. We donate fresh produce from the parish vegetable garden to Nourish Now and non-perishable food to Germantown Help.

We say “St. Nicholas’ is a Place to Become and a Place to Belong.” By that we mean that St. Nicholas is a place to become or grow more fully into the stature of Christ and in love with Jesus, our neighbors and ourselves, and to belong or feel comfortable and at home in a community of faith strengthened by Jesus’ way of love.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, K Street 

St. Paul’s first came to life in 1868 on 23rd Street, as a mission of St John’s Lafayette Square. In 1870 that new church was filled to capacity for what we believe to be the first celebration of the Christmas Midnight Mass on this side of The Pond. In September 1944 St Paul’s received word that we were to be moved by eminent domain to create space for GW Hospital. Any worries that this spelt the scattering of the parish were soon put to rest: the people rallied around, and in 1948 moved into our current location on 2430 K Street. A significant construction and building expansion initiative was completed in 2009.

From the start the worship and life of this community has been rooted in the celebration of the Mass, drawing inspiration from the liturgical and social ministries of the English Tractarians, and the central conviction that in the Incarnation all people are given new value and dignity. In and through the beauty and rhythm of sacramental worship we seek to be drawn ever closer to God, to find and serve Him in others. The parish has a large and well-known music ministry and a Grate Patrol, delivering breakfasts to our homeless neighbours every Saturday and Sunday.

Like many parishes we have navigated difficult seasons in our history and have contracted over the last 15+ years; our demographics are shifting, bringing both loss and new opportunity. Today we are a parish with many young professionals, singles, and retired folk, reflecting our surrounding community. The parish remained strong and faithful during the pandemic, flipping painlessly to virtual platforms, and then regathering. We are excited to invest and move into this new season, learning about ourselves and the world around, and to hear where God calls next.

St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church 

In the spring of 1944, a portable frame chapel with seating capacity of 135 was erected in the neighborhood known as Hillcrest. The new mission was named “The Chapel of St. Timothy.” The first service was conducted in September 1944, with 211 people present.The first phase of construction on the current building was begun in 1950. Parish status was approved at the 61st Diocesan convention May of 1956. Reverend John Coleman was called to be the first rector.During the 1970s under the third rector, The Reverend Edward O. Waldron, the opening of a day care center, a community school of dance, and the ministry to the aging and other outreach ministries began.

In October 1986 the Reverend Dalton D. Downs, began his 20 year tenure as rector. Under Canon Downs’ capable leadership, the parish continued its growth and traditions of worship, music, service, community involvement and outreach.

St. Timothy’s is involved with the Church community on many diocesan and ecumenical levels including Samaritan Ministry. The major community outreach ministry of St. Timothy’s is its Child Development Center (CDC). The CDC has served the community for many years and currently partners with Educare DC to provide early Head-Start programs. After-school care is provided for students from a nearby school. Boy Scout Troop and Pack 1650, another major community ministry has one of the largest number of Eagle Scouts within the Horizon District. Additional ministries include providing layettes for newborns, distributing SHARE food coupons, sponsoring a Christmas party for the elderly; and distributing Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets. The annual prayer breakfasts, luncheons, teas, and crab feast attract diocesan-wide attendance. Finally, St. Timothy’s serves as a polling site for elections.

Transfiguration Parish

Transfiguration Parish is a vibrant, multicultural congregation serving God’s people and the communities of Central Montgomery County, since its founding as a mission in the 1960s. The Rev. Kent Marcoux began serving as our fifth Rector in January 2020 – one of many changes we are embracing in this exciting time of opportunity and growth.

Our membership is diverse, including many families from Jamaica and the Caribbean; from Nigeria, Uganda and other African countries; and from many different regions of the United States. Our members live in neighborhoods and communities throughout an area representing a 15-minute drive time to church. Our diversity reflects, in part, our surrounding community, which is remarkably diverse and growing significantly. In our immediate neighborhood we serve with Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish houses of worship, as well as other Christian denominations. This dynamic region is projected to grow steadily during the next 10 years in every age group and demographic represented.

Worship and gathering are at the heart of our community life. We celebrate joyful, Spirit-filled worship that honors our multiculturalism and includes significant multi-generational participation. We love to eat and laugh and live and love together, sharing our different cultural experiences and celebrating all that we are as God’s people. This past year we adapted our worship successfully to serve our community, while also reaching out to new people and into new fields of digital ministry.

At Transfiguration we are invested deeply in our local communities, in partnership with other leaders and organizations. This past year we supported our resident health care clinic as it served 25,000 people in the Latino and low-income communities. We continue to support Samaritan Ministries of Greater Washington as a partner parish and are founding board members of C-4, a local nonprofit serving needy families in the Colesville Our own Thrift Store will be reopening later this summer.

Calming the Storms Within

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion . . .
Mark 4:37-39 

If you attend an Episcopal church this Sunday, you’ll hear the story of how Jesus calmed a tumultuous sea with his words. “Who is this,” the disciples ask one another in awe, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Reflecting on this story at our diocesan staff meeting, several of us were just as impressed by Jesus’ ability to take a nap in the midst of the storm. What a necessary skill to cultivate, we realized, in a world in which storms keep coming.

Hazel Monae, EDOW’s Missioner for Equity and Justice, then told us of a book she planned to use in her devotions this summer, which I immediately added to my own reading list: Just Because You’re in a Storm Doesn’t Mean the Storm has to be in You by Pastor Kirk Byron Jones. 

He writes: 

Before Jesus quieted the storm, he quieted himself. This placed him in a position to bring peace to the storm. Through stillness, deliberately resting our souls in God’s grace, we may bring peace to our storms, hushing their turbulent impact on us, and blessing on blessing, perhaps even causing them to offer up surprise wisdom through their contrary winds.1

The image of resting, seeking stillness, even sleeping in a storm is a good one to meditate on this summer, not as an excuse for escapism or complacency, but as God’s promise that we can live with peace at the center of our being even as we are called to purposefully engage the turbulence around us. 

We also need the grace to rest in a storm whenever we’re faced with important decisions and we feel pulled in many directions at once. 

For example, in our congregations we’re discovering that it’s actually harder to re-emerge from pandemic imposed restrictions than it was to impose them. Church consultant Susan Beaumont writes: 

The beginning of the pandemic was overwhelming, but our focus was clear. The boundaries marking what we could not do provided clarity. Now, in-person engagement is returning, and we face another kind of overwhelm–too many options. How do we make choices when some boundaries have been removed, but not everything is possible?2

Beaumont suggests that we need to shift from a decision making mindset to one of discernment, so that we might intentionally engage the Holy Spirit for wisdom. “What needs to happen next,” she writes, “may be larger than the limits of human understanding. We need to be led by the future itself.”  

Beaumont’s entire article is worth reading, yet one piece of her wisdom particularly caught my attention. At the end of whatever discernment/decision-making process we engage in, she suggests that we test our decisions with rest. “Before your choice is shared, sit with your choice in stillness and prayer…Ask yourselves if the decision reflects Holy Spirit wisdom.” 

In all realms of life, testing our decisions with rest is incredibly helpful. For good reason, we often hear ourselves say that we need to sleep on a decision before acting on it. Not only does rest give the intuitive sides of our brains time to do their work, it affords the Holy Spirit space to speak to us in stillness. Rested, we can face what lies before us with greater strength and less exhaustion.

Again, think of Jesus sleeping in the storm. When he awoke, he was ready and had all of his faculties–human and divine–at full strength. In that moment, he may well have needed more rest than his short nap afforded, as if often the case for us. But as Byron Jones points out, Jesus made a practice of intentionally stepping away from the demands of his life in order to rest and pray. “Without question, Jesus was a mighty engager,” he writes. “He willingly faced life with all of its needs, challenges, and complexities. But the fact of the matter is that Jesus, the mighty engager, was also a master of retreat.”3

In order to live well and do good in a world of constant storms, we, too, need our times of rest and renewal. In some seasons of life, such rest will come only in small bits on the edges of our days; while in others, we are blessed with longer stretches of time. Paradoxically, it takes practice to rest well, especially when we have acclimated to a life rhythm of constant action and crisis response. 

After all we’ve been through, this is a summer to practice rest, in whatever forms our lives allow. The storms will keep coming and the important work before us will always demand our best efforts and wisest decisions. Jesus shows us that sometimes the best way to prepare and to respond is by first taking a nap. 

1 Jones, Kirk Byron. Just Because You’re in a Storm Doesn’t Mean the Storm has to be in You: A Meditation for Trying Times (pp. 24-25). Soaring Spirit Press. Kindle Edition. 
2 https://susanbeaumont.com/2021/06/11/from-decision-making-to-discernment/
3 Jones, p. 13.

Life Doesn’t Always Have to Be Hard

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:6

Jesus also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
Mark 4:26-30

Let me begin by saying how grateful I am to be in worship with you! It’s thrilling to be worshipping in person with other Christians, and yet it’s good that, as a result of the pandemic, we have developed skills and acquired tools that allow us to gather in other ways. With you, I am praying for your good rector, Cricket, giving thanks to God for the resources of our diocese and your generous spirits that allow her to take this time away for needed rest and healing. It’s been a challenging time for her and for all. Yet there is such hope in the air and in this gathering. A word of special thanks to your vestry leaders and faithful staff for all that you have done and are doing to care for the congregation.  

As we emerge from this long season of trial and hardship, reclaiming parts of our lives that we had lost, learning how to integrate challenging truths that have surfaced in this time, we face the future with both uncertainty and hope, cumulative grief and gratitude, exhaustion and the release of pent-up energy. In the words of the Apostle Paul, we are still walking more by faith than by sight. Perhaps it has always been so, but it seems especially true now. 

Thus it’s important, in the midst of all that we are called upon to accomplish this summer, to take whatever time we can to catch our breath and take stock of our lives. For those of us who feel called to follow Jesus, this is a time to ask ourselves what he might be saying to us. 

Today I ask you to consider not only what Jesus asks from us but also what He wants for us. 

I realize that it’s risky to generalize about what we’ve been and are still going through, given the particularities of our experiences. Yet as people of faith, surely there are spiritual wells from which we all can draw refreshment and inspired words that can serve as channels for God’s grace and healing. We are blessed with such words this morning. 

But before I turn to the Scripture text, I’d like to share a story that illustrates what is on my heart to say. 

The American writer Annie Proulx wrote a novel in the early 90s entitled The Shipping News. The book’s main character is a thirty-six year old newspaper reporter from New York state whose name is Quoyle. In the early chapters, Quoyle’s parents, who had never cared for him well, commit suicide. Then Quoyle’s wife, whom he desperately loved despite her infidelity and cruelty, dies in a car accident on her way to Florida with another man. Utterly bereft, Quoyle decides to accept his aunt’s invitation to move with her to Newfoundland, their ancestral home. There she and Quoyle and his two daughters establish a home together. 

In a place known for not much happening, a lot happens to Quoyle in Newfoundland, which makes for a long and complex novel. Most significantly, Quoyle establishes a relationship with a woman named Wavey Prose, whose son, Harry, has Down’s Syndrome. They are friends for a long time before Quoyle realizes that he’s fallen in love with Wavey. You see–and here’s the point of my telling you this story–it doesn’t feel like love to him, because it doesn’t hurt. Love in his experience had always been painful, and this relationship was astonishingly comfortable and supportive. “It may be,” Proulx writes, “that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.”1

Sometimes, after a stretch when life is really hard, we can forget what it feels like when life is easy, or like Quoyle, perhaps we’ve never even allowed ourselves to consider that we needn’t struggle all the time. For people of faith, when our primary or most dramatic experiences of God are of the grace that gets us through times of sorrow, struggle, and grief, we forget, or never learn, that God also comes to us in joy, and serendipity, ease. The same Jesus who said, “Those who want to be my follower must take up their own cross,” also said, “Come unto me, you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”    

I don’t mean to minimize for a moment the grace that gets us through hard times, when we are not spared and we have no choice but to go through the storms that come. I simply want to hold up, as Jesus does for us today in his teaching, another dimension of what God is like, another way that grace and love come to us that actually make our lives easier and lighter. With this grace we learn, ever so slowly, to trust that life doesn’t have to be hard all the time.  

Now to the biblical texts: From the Gospel of Mark, we’re given two of Jesus’ Kingdom of God parables. Here’s a tip: Whenever you hear or read Jesus say, “The Kingdom of God is like,” you can substitute, “This is what God is like,” or “This is what the presence of God in your life feels like.” 

The first parable, one of my favorites, focuses on the miracle of how seeds that are scattered on the ground sprout and grow. The one who scatters the seeds has no idea how the growth occurs, only that it does. And no matter how much you may actually know about how a seed becomes a plant, the fact that it does so, seemingly on its own, is nothing short of miraculous. That’s what the Kingdom of God is like, Jesus says. That’s what the presence of God is like within you. 

Think about it: How many times in your life has something wonderful happened that you cannot fully explain or account for by your own careful planning or brilliant endeavors? It was far beyond what you could make happen on your own and yet it happened for you, as miraculously as seeds coming up from the ground. 

As a parish priest I did my share of preparing couples for marriage, and when I would ask them to tell me how they met, more often than not there was wonder in their voices as they spoke. No matter the details, how any love relationship begins feels like a gift that often catches us by surprise.  

It’s a similar experience when I talk to people who describe how they discovered their life’s work, be it their profession, an artistic expression, or fabric of relationships for which they feel particularly called. For many–perhaps for you–there is an element of wonder: how on earth to account for the gift of being able to do what we do? Yes, whatever our vocation, there is hard work involved, but in truth, it often doesn’t feel like work and it doesn’t feel hard in the sense that there’s nothing else we’d rather do. 

My point is this: Sometimes grace simply shows up and carries us. Sometimes love surrounds us on every side. Sometimes things happen for good that we didn’t make happen. 

And sometimes, when we’ve been through a really hard ordeal, we can forget what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such blessings, or that we can’t bring ourselves to embrace them, for it feels like we’re negating the pain we and others have endured. 

This isn’t a question of either/or, but of both/and. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be. 

I had a foundational spiritual experience in my mid-20s, when I was living and working in Central America. Simply being there was the hardest thing I had ever done up to that point in my life. One day, after I had been there a few months, I remember taking a walk with tears of frustration streaming down my face. I looked up to the sky and cried out, “Is it always going to be this hard?” In my heart, the answer came to me, almost immediately–yes. It made me laugh out loud, because it was so clear and unequivocal. But then I heard “But I will be with you.” A settled feeling came over me, as I felt the companionship of God. With that, I knew that I could go on.  

To be honest, I’ve spent most of my life accepting that hardship was mine to accept. I expect most things in life to be hard, and that God’s grace, when it comes, doesn’t spare me from hardship, but is there to see me through. I believe that to be true and I thank God for sustaining grace. But it’s not the only truth. 

Fast forward about 20 years from that day in Central America. I’m now serving as a parish priest. I’ve been married for those 20 years, and we have two adolescent sons. I’ve hit a wall in my vocation. Truth be told, I feel stuck and even trapped. Life is really hard. 

One day I was sitting around with a few clergy colleagues, all of whom were struggling in some way. I shared the story of my spiritual experience in Central America, how God told me in no uncertain terms that life would always be hard, but that God would be with me to see me through. 

A bit later, one of my colleagues around that table, who was also a mentor, took me aside and said, “Mariann, I heard what you said about life always being hard. And I want you to know that life doesn’t always have to be hard. I think you need help. Please ask for help. Things can be easier for you with help.” 

Her words were a revelation to me. Listening to her, I felt that same settledness that I experienced in Central America and I resolved to seek help. When I did, my life got easier. Through my colleague and friend, it was as if God were saying to me that I didn’t have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and make everything happen on my own. Neither do you. 

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  

Now let’s consider Jesus’ second parable, which also involves seeds, this time the smallest of seeds that when planted produces the largest shrub in which birds can come and build their nests. This parable is a clear invitation to consider the grace and goodness of small things, tiny blessings that we can easily overlook or underestimate. 

The late Henri Nouwen, author of many uplifting spiritual books, has this to say about small blessings in his book Gracias! 

Our salvation comes from tender and vulnerable beginnings, hardly noticeable. . . Somehow, I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me of God’s saving power, but over and over again, I am reminded that spectacles, power plays, and big events are the ways of the world. Our temptation is to be distracted by them. . . 

When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence–the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends–I will always remain tempted to despair.2

The temptation to despair, which we would be made of stone if we didn’t succumb to from time to time, is eased by the small blessings that come to us. Jesus invites us to pay attention to the bits of goodness scattered in the soil of our lives. Nurture them, he says to us, so that they might take root in you and grow. 

Jesus, of all people, is not suggesting that we ignore the hard truths and the big issues before us, or that we minimize the grief and loss we’ve endured. But he wants us to trust the mystery of goodness and the persistent God-created life force that is at work in the world even when we can’t see or feel it. He wants us not only to believe, but to know in our being, that goodness and love will prevail in the end. 

In the coming weeks, I invite you to be on the lookout for small blessings. Watch for them, and take time to savor each one. Consider keeping a blessing journal by your bed and each night before you fall asleep make note of the day’s gifts to you–those mustard seed size gifts that came your way. By the summer’s end, who knows what they will grow into?

Pay attention as well to the goodness and grace that seems to carry you forward, or open doors, or ease tensions, or work things out without you needing to do very much at all. 

I’m reminded here of a line from the movie Shakespeare in Love in which the manager of the Globe theatre says something about life in the theatre, which is also true of life in general: 

“The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.” 
Someone then asks him, “So what do we do?” 
“Nothing,” he replies, “Strangely enough, it all turns out well.” 
“I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”3

Grace is a mystery. From time to time, by grace, things work out without our doing much of anything at all. 

May this summer be a time walking by faith, of small blessings, heart healing and moments when you feel carried by grace, and restored by goodness.  

Remember that what Jesus, your Savior and friend, wants from you pales in comparison to what He wants for you. Amen. 

1 Annie Proulx, The Shipping News (New York: Scribner Books, 1993).
2 Henri Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993), p.62
3 https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0138097/characters/nm0001691

Tending Our Soil: Coaches Announced

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10: 24-25 


We are excited to announce that the Rev. Lisa Saunders, the Rev. Amanda Akes-Cardwell, Aileen Moodie, and Alethea Long-Green have accepted the invitation to serve as our first four coaches for the Tending Our Soil initiative. All four are now engaged in a 60-hour training with the Holmes Coaching Group. Each of them will walk alongside three congregations for the three-year Tending Our Soil journey. 


Coaching is a proven technique to effect fruitful and lasting systemic change. The verses above from Hebrews ground our commitment to incorporating trained coaches who will support and encourage the work of leadership teams from each participating congregation. Coaching conversations will provide space for each team to identify learnings, expand possibilities, name action items, experiment, gain support, and build accountability. 


As we expand the community of participating congregations, more coaches will be hired and trained. You can read more about our 2021 coaches here. We invite you to pray for them. 


We’ll announce the first Tending Our Soil participating congregations in the June 24th Bulletin. If you have questions about Tending Our Soil, contact the Rev. Jenifer Gamber, Director of the initiative. 

Bishop Mariann’s Response to Department of Justice Request to Dismiss Civil Lawsuits Against from President and Attorney General

I am deeply disappointed that the United States Department of Justice has asked a federal court to dismiss the actions brought against the government by protestors who suffered physical injuries and violations of their First Amendment rights on June 1, 2020. It would be a sad day for justice in this country if a doctrine designed to protect officials against personal liability for good faith exercise of their duties could be used to avoid accountability for an abuse of office in carrying out an unprecedented violation of First Amendment rights, particularly against individuals protesting the murder of an unarmed man by a police officer and the exessive use of violence against people of color throughout our nation.

The teargas, flash grenades and other tactics employed that day injured innocent people and led to the forcible eviction of clergy and others gathered on the grounds of one of the churches of my diocese solely to allow the former President to use images of our church and its Holy Scriptures to convey a message antithetical to the church’s teaching. The Rule of Law means little if those injured by these egregious actions are denied the opportunity to challenge their constitutionality fully and fairly. Even a President is not above the Constitution.

The Rt. Reverend Mariann Budde
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington