Belovedness Part IV: Grace & Peace

Belovedness Part IV: Grace & Peace

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Grace to you.

Peace to you.

Not me giving to you, or you to me, but us sharing the grace and peace gifted to each of us from God the Father and Jesus the Son.

This is Paul’s greeting in his many letters to the Romans, the Thessalonians, the Corinthians and others. It is how he opens each letter. It is his constant reminder of two of the great gifts from God and a compass for how we live into and share the love of Jesus Christ.

Each quarter of this year, we have focused on some aspect of belovedness through the lens of diaconal ministries by some of the deacons of the diocese. Ministries that we have featured deal with creation care, prison ministry, and serving the local community with asset based ministry. Each of these has been focused in our localized areas, our neighborhoods and communities.

To finish the year however, we move into a greater geographical community and, at the same time, a close knit community in journey and commonality.

Many of us are old enough to remember the Vietnam War or perhaps the Korean War. There are still some who have memories of World War II. More recently, Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm and the war in Afghanistan pepper our history. Not unlike any war or conflict, these are not without cost. Not just monetary cost, but cost of human lives both living and those who died in the conflict. Those who served came home from Iraq or Afghanistan or the many other conflicts around the world changed forever.

Deacon Susan Fritz (Christ Church Durham Parish, Nanjemoy, Maryland) shares her story and ministry with veterans who have served our country. It is a story of grace and peace.

A Deacon’s Passion

A Deacon’s Passion

Warfigher Advance, Lions Camp, Nanjemoy, MD

Five years ago, following my ordination to the diaconate, I was called to the ministry of Warfighter Advance, a ministry that has become near and dear to my heart. As a diaconal candidate, I was required to have a psychiatric evaluation. It just so happened that the doctor was the executive director of Warfighter Advance and a reserve Navy Commander. I was still serving in the Navy at the time. Naturally, we hit it off. As we talked, she explained the mission of Warfighter Advance. I couldn’t help but want to get involved.

Warfighter Advance is a nonprofit non-medical program that provides training, team events, and alternative methods of dealing with PTS for people who are active, retired, discharged, or serving in the reserves of our military. These individuals are all highly trained team members who have suffered some kind of moral injury and are having trouble reintegrating back into civilian life.

The first thing Warfighter Advance does is to give them back their team. We provide a 7-day evolution at Lions Camp Merrick in Nanjemoy, Maryland six times a year where individuals are welcomed from around the United States and other countries. With the help of generous donors, the program is provided free to the participants. They receive a set of clothing that represents their branch of service, room, meals, and transportation. Upon graduation, they become part of the alumni which has grown to over 500 strong. Each and every one of our alumni is contacted on the 22nd of each month to ask how they are doing and if they need anything.

Warfighter Advance, coping with grief
Faculty and volunteers at Warfighter Advance

When you are passionate about something, it becomes easier to prioritize it in a busy schedule and find ways to bring it up in conversation. Though at the time I didn’t know the path I would walk, my heart recognized this as a diaconal call when I first learned about this incredible organization. I have come to see the power of taking the church into the world through ministry in sometimes unexpected ways and places, and today I serve as a board member, treasurer and chaplain.

Warfighter Advance stands by our mission, the successful reintegration of every warfighter. I could not be more proud or more humbled to assist this worthy cause.

For more information contact Deacon Susan Fritz or check out www.Warfighteradvance.org.

The Rev Susan C. Fritz
Deacon, Christ Church Durham Parish

The Rev. Susan Fritz, left, at the Vietnam War Memorial
Belovedness Part III: One Voice

Belovedness Part III: One Voice

“One voice, singing in the darkness…”

These are the first words in the song, “One Voice,” written and performed by Barry Manilow on his album from 1979 by the same name.

One voice, finding the courage to sing in the darkness, to ask why and how and what if. One voice, daring to point out a need, an injustice, an opportunity or a challenge. One voice that calls to others, inviting conversation and community, exploration and possibility. This one brave voice reaching into the unknown can be the thing we didn’t know we needed that winds up leading us into taking our next faithful steps in becoming beloved community.

A few weeks ago, I met up with The Rev. Greg Syler, Rector of Resurrection Parish in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Resurrection Parish is made up of St. George’s, Valley Lee and Church of the Ascension in Lexington Park. Greg and I enjoyed an afternoon iced coffee while he told me the story of the transformation that is happening in the church building at Ascension.

First, a little context. Ascension’s church building sits at the threshold of a neighborhood that has long been disenfranchised and cut off from the center of power in the county. While the median home price in St. Mary’s County is $365,000, the one for this neighborhood is less than half of that averaging around $165,000. About 5,000 residents live there and the median household income of the neighborhood is less than $30,000 per year.

But this story really begins with a “No Trespassing” sign. Some time ago, when Ascension was experiencing trouble with its neighbors while the building was unoccupied during the week, the leadership decided that a no trespassing sign and the fact that the county sheriff had an office next door might help curb the problem. Greg related what went through his mind when he drove up to the church for the first time and found this sign: What message was the sign sending? Where were the open arms of Jesus’ embrace? How could this church share that love with this sign hanging in the small parking lot? How would the community ever see the church as more than a ‘Sunday Only Clubhouse’ for members only?

In that moment – when Greg lifted his voice, putting words to an unintended othering – is when change began. The next steps became clear: the church leadership and congregation had to crack the door open and start the work of joining the neighborhood and becoming more than a building occupied by worshippers for a couple of hours one day each week.

Ascension is much different today. The building is full of people nearly every day of the week.

The classrooms once dedicated to Sunday School now house medical and mental-health care services that are provided on a sliding scale keyed to what a client can afford to pay. No one is turned away. The restrooms in the lower level of the building are waiting for grant dollars from the county to be turned into public showers for the unhoused to use. There is a food pantry that is supported and operated by a coalition of churches and community partners which include among others: WARM, a shelter program, three other churches in Lexington Park, and the support of the local chapter of the NAACP. In the coming year, this community partnership will formally establish a 501c3 corporation to sustain and grow the work they are doing. Deacon Martha Eldredge coordinates the activity of the partners and serves as the communication hub to make sure everyone is on the same page. Greg points out, “We don’t do this work alone. Partners make the work easier to accomplish.”

Intergenerational Christian formation is now taught “in action,” outside of the repurposed classrooms. And instead of venerating an historic church building, the congregation is creating a forward-looking legacy that is grounded in discipleship, finding new ways they can serve the community, and spreading the love of Jesus.

The people of Ascension and their community partners have taken the term belovedness to heart. There was a voice… joined by another, and another, and another. They took some courageous steps and imagined the church as more than it once was. An aging congregation joined with partners to become an advocate for their neighbors and work toward raising the quality of life for them. With each action, they are saying: you are beloved and loved.

Are you that “one voice”? Is God calling you to speak up and to have a conversation about the love of Jesus Christ? Is it your turn to share this belovedness? If it is your time, can you muster the courage to take that next faithful step? If you do, you will never be the same. You are on the threshold of sharing the love and unspeakable joy of the belovedness of God.

The song ends with these lyrics:

It takes that one voice
Just one voice
And everyone will sing.

The Ven. Steve Seely
Archdeacon and Diocesan Liturgist

What Is a Nice Girl Like You Doing In a Place Like That?

What Is a Nice Girl Like You Doing In a Place Like That?

I was in prison and you visited me.
Matthew 25:36

Being involved in “Correctional Ministry” over the past 10 or so years, I have heard some variation of that question many times. Variations include: “Why would you want to do something like that?” and “Why would you put yourself in that kind of danger?” or–the most distressing to me–“What does that have to do with the Church?”

In my adult life I have always tried to be involved in some kind of service ministry, varying from overseas medical mission work to working for “Healthcare for the Homeless” when I relocated to Washington in my younger days. I have always been interested in behavior change from the inside out, and have felt a call to the ministry of reconciliation. When my knees and hips could no longer leap tall buildings and run faster than a locomotive, I began to consider the one to one ministry of reconciliation in earnest, and found a fertile mission field among the incarcerated.

The people we find in prison are mostly the victims of a variety of ills in our society: poverty, poor education, lack of good parenting (or none at all), lack of good opportunities for meaningful work, systemic white privilege, a justice system that lacks justice and more often than not is punitive rather than rehabilitative.

The women I minister with are really not that different from me. We all have needs that are the same–for love, for safety, for purpose and meaning, for opportunities for self-efficacy and self expression. Most of the ones I meet in prison have made poor decisions–often ones they saw as the best of multiple less-than-optimal choices. Yet the resurrection of Jesus means that no mistake anyone has made defines them, and no sin is the final end of the story. I am called to witness to that reality in my words, actions, and by choosing to “show up” for those who society has put out of its sight and mind. They too are loved by God and in need of His redeeming love.

Jesus quoted from Isaiah in pronouncing his own manifesto: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18). He invites us to share in this in whatever place we might find ourselves, to proclaim “a year of favor from the Lord”, to proclaim that a person’s identity is not what they have done, but who they are in the eyes of God, His beloved.

Prison is a fertile place to plant the seeds of a new identity that Christ offers, and a place that the message is truly saving and life changing. Much of what I do with the women I minister to is to help them choose to accept that new identity for themselves and in changing that identity, change their lives and make healthy, good decisions about their lives going forward. It is participating in the ministry of reconciliation that God calls each of us to.

I would love to discuss possibilities for participation with anyone who might feel the Holy Spirit’s urging them to be involved as well in ministry to and advocacy for the incarcerated.

The Rev. Adrienne J. Clamp, MD
Deacon, Church of the Redeemer, Bethesda

Belovedness Part II: Our Brothers and Sisters in Jail

Belovedness Part II: Our Brothers and Sisters in Jail

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I tore the tag off a piece of furniture… you know, the one that says, “Do Not Remove This Tag Under the Penalty of Law.” After I did that, I was told what it said, my father and older brother began to tease me about how I broke the law and was going to jail. I was frightened beyond belief and I remember my big fear was that I was losing my family.

Moving forward many, many years in my life to a couple of years ago, I received a call from the switchboard at the local hospital. The operator asked me if I was able to come to the hospital. There was a patient in the ICU that really needed to talk to a chaplain. I told her I would be right over, I live less than a mile from the local hospital.

I arrived in the ICU, and was directed to the appropriate room. To make a long story short, after some conversation with the patient, he told me that he had committed a heinous crime that had resulted in the death of a close family member, and then he attempted to kill himself. He knew he was going to jail as soon as his self-inflicted wounds healed enough that he could be transferred to the jail.

But in all of this emotion and fear, there was underneath it all, a beloved child of God that was reaching out for help and a path to some form of remorse and reconciliation, whatever that was destined to look like.
It is easy to think about our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated and say that they are where they are because of their own choices. It is easy to use terms like penalties and consequences. In other words, it is easy for us to not think about these people and their needs… their spiritual needs. It is easy to forget that they, too, are beloved of God. But they are. We are called and we promise to care for them each time we repeat our baptismal vows.

In this installment of our continuing series of the ministry of deacons in the diocese, The Rev. Adrienne Clamp talks about the ministry she is doing with incarcerated women in Montgomery County. She is not the only deacon involved in this type of ministry. In fact, prior to Covid, many deacons and parishes were engaged in this ministry, and many are moving back into the facilities now and caring for these beloved brothers and sisters that God has given us to care for. Caring for their spiritual needs as they pay their debt and working to help them with successful reentry into society. Deacon Adirenne’s is one story of the many in our diocese who have answered God’s call to care for these beloveds.

As a 6 year old boy, I did not go to jail. But I have never forgotten how afraid I was. I have grown to realize that there was much more to lose than what my young mind could comprehend then. And it makes me realize that even though mistakes and missteps happen, regardless of intention, God still loves. And God still holds us as beloved.

If you feel called to find out more about ministry to the incarcerated, please feel free to contact me, and I will put you in touch with one of our deacons or parishes engaged in this ministry. You can reach me by email.

With you on the journey,

The Venerable Steve Seely
Archdeacon