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St. Thomas' Parish at Dupont Circle – Washington, DC

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Ministry in Daily Life – An Urban Experience




Dr. Wayne Whitson Floyd
Parish Administrator & Clergy Spouse, St. Thomas’ Parish at Dupont Circle
Parish Administrator, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church

I was asked recently to write something for a group of Episcopal bishops, clergy and lay people about the way that St. Thomas’ Parish lives out our baptismal covenant — the way we do “ministry in daily” life as a congregation.  Here is what I said.

“I work in two parishes, and belong to one of them, where my wife, The Rev. Dr. Nancy Lee Jose is Rector, in the heart of Washington, DC. The parish where I am a member has pioneered “ministry in daily life” now for more than three quite distinct generations.  Originally a large urban English Gothic church that could boast of F.D.R. as its Senior Warden before he was President, and that Eleanor Roosevelt delivered out first lay homily, the building that “was” St. Thomas’ Parish was a 1970 victim of arson that destroyed all but the previous social hall and parish offices, which remain our entire  “church” still.

The remnant of the congregation who remained swapped a “building” for a “neighborhood” – becoming a visible and vocal presence at the interface with Dupont Circle war and political protesters, and then the LGBT community, and more recently the influx of young professionals – straight and gay – who have adopted our neighborhood precisely for its generous-hearted and socially-active posture in the larger Washington, DC, urban context.  We are constantly being pushed to make more space for our community and its ministries, and as a result have raised almost a million dollars from our members towards a capital campaign finally to build a new worship space to house the work we do amidst our neighbors in Dupont Circle.

St. Thomas’ chose to remain committed to the neighborhood, whoever came to live and work here, in so doing found itself constantly changed by, as well as changing, the daily life of the area where we have lived and worshiped now for more than a century.

One simply couldn’t keep church and life separate when life has so much to say about how you “do church,” and when church understands itself to be intimately entwined in “daily life” – whether confronting police lines, holding funerals for community members and their friends who died during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s at a time when few other churches were willing to do so, developing one of the first services in the Episcopal Church in 1998 for the Blessing of Same Sex Unions, or claiming to have spiritual relevancy for a generation that can find it as hard to come out as Christian as a previous generation found it difficult to come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“Daily life” for our parishioners is spent working for Congress members, holding senior positions in NGOs and nonprofits, doing research at NIH, going to graduate school, working for the State Department, or raising children while playing in the National Symphony Orchestra.  The sacramental life of the parish continues to seek new ways to ground people’s everyday attempts to find God in the world where they work.  They in turn bring that world back into the church with them in challenging and amazingly faithful ways.

Our leadership continues to emerge from the people who arrive on our doorstep, most of whom for a generation have been young, highly educated, professionally ambitious, and spiritually hungry. Our Junior and Senior Wardens are forty and under; several Vestry members are in their twenties; and hardly anyone grew up in the Episcopal Church – many didn’t grow up in any church whatsoever.  The parish took a risk to call a partnered gay man as their Rector in the 1990s and a straight married woman, who happens to be my spouse, as their first female rector eight years ago.  The “daily life” of our parishioners now includes more and more children, whose parents reflect the broad array of sexual orientations, ethnic backgrounds, political persuasions, and vocational choices that “are” Dupont Circle in the twenty-first century.  We “are” a slice of tomorrow’s America today.

We continue to pioneer ways of engaging the real world in which our members live and work and play – inviting a Montessori School to share our facilities, hosting a Korean Presbyterian congregation, and developing a Taize service that reaches many who otherwise have no ‘religious’ connections whatsoever. Most recently we have partnered with Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson to begin work to start a Center for Nonviolent Communication at St. Thomas’ Parish that he will lead as he makes our parish his “church home” when he is in Washington in retirement and also working with the Center for American Progress.  We want to help facilitate a more civil and responsible public discourse that can invite “daily life” into “parish life” – and vice versa — in new and creative ways. In the process I think we will once again help to redefine both “ministry” and “daily life” in fresh and responsive and courageous ways.  We aren’t striving to be a “big church” but rather a “growing community” of involvement, responsibility, and faithfulness.

No one could have predicted the path we’ve taken to get this far.  But with God’s help we will find our path into the future, sure to be surprised and awed by who and what we find there and what faithfulness requires of us in ministry, as in daily life.

 

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A Letter Responding to October 2012 Intowner Newsletter

ST. THOMAS’ FAITHFUL STEWARDSHIP OF CHERISHED RESOURCES
A Letter Responding to the October 2012 Intowner Newsletter

The InTownerIn your October 2012 issue, you reprinted some of our internal communications under the headline, St. Thomas’ New Church Building Plan May be Scrapped. While we hadn’t expected that publicity, we are delighted now to provide you and your readers with more information – a bigger picture of our building plans.

St. Thomas’ Parish is a thriving faith-community in the middle of our nation’s capital. We are supported by an active lay leadership, strong organization, and a clear vision of how we are responsibly moving into the future. Part of that vitality comes from honest and clear communication with parish members about our plans – and the growth and change in those plans.

We also believe in communicating with the community at large. Here’s more of what you should know:

We haven’t “scrapped” anything. We have received all of the necessary permits to build the new sanctuary we have designed and presented to the community and we continue to successfully raise money from our own parish members and donors outside of our community. In an effort to continue careful progress toward our goals, we continuously reevaluate our plans to be the best stewards possible of the resources we have. This process has led us to realize that the plans we initially developed for building new worship and gathering space at St. Thomas’ Parish needed not to be scrapped, but to be imagined even more broadly and comprehensively — not just as a “new building” but as the best possible use of the entire property we own on the corner of Church and 18th St NW. So instead of proceeding with “modest” plans for a single new building, we are pursuing a “bolder” plan to work with a developer to rework our entire footprint in Dupont Circle — to design a new worship and gathering space that meets our needs, the community’s needs, and is financially viable for St. Thomas’ Parish. To do anything less would not be responsible stewardship of the resources we have.

Our Continuing Commitment. As a matter of context, in the midst of the financial crisis of 2008, we raised nearly a million dollars from within a congregation of about 200 members. And we proposed a building design that would serve our congregation’s needs for more space, and which would serve the Dupont Circle neighborhood as a “third space” for community gatherings, meetings and events. It will house a new Center for Nonviolent Communication that will be led by Bishop Gene Robinson, retiring Bishop of New Hampshire. None of this has been “scrapped”. It is being reimagined given demographic and financial changes that have taken place since our building planning process began.

Our Continuing Vitality. During a time of national decline in church attendance, St. Thomas’ Parish is sustaining our level of attendance and financial support at a healthy level. In a city where there is a constant “churn” of young professionals coming in and out of government, nonprofit, and educational settings, we have the regular blessing of new members who take the place of those who move away from DC for new jobs and professional opportunities. We also regularly hit a ceiling of how much growth can take place given the small gathering spaces we currently have. This is inevitable. It is a sign of our health as an organization. It is also a constant reminder that long-term, we have a critical need for more space to house and support our mission.

Our Continuing Responsibility. Change is not a zero-sum game. And “growth” is always about change. Our plans are changing, but this does not mean they are being scrapped. If anything, our plans are broadening, maturing, responding to the realities of the times in which we live. We have learned that we need to put together a more comprehensive plan that includes not just a new building, but future plans for our current building and for our adjacent parking lot. This strategy has been pursued successfully by other churches in Washington and surrounding cities. It is what our Diocese recommends. It is a strategy that our Vestry wisely has chosen to pursue. We have been a presence in Dupont Circle since 1893 and we plan to be a presence in our city a hundred years from now. This requires nimble responses to changing realities, and creative and courageous plans to address changing needs and resources.

This is an exciting and optimistic time in the life of our congregation. Come visit us. Call. Email. Talk to us. We are eager to build our relationship with the Intowner and with the entire Dupont community as we continue to imagine what will grow on our plot of sacred ground on the corner of 18th and Church Street in this neighborhood of Washington DC.

The Rev. Dr. Nancy Lee Jose
Rector

John Johnson
Senior Warden

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The Church’s Mission as Promoting Justice

[The final installment in a 4-part series by The Rev. Dr. Nancy Lee Jose, Rector, exploring the calling and mission of St. Thomas' Parish]

Christians all know that Jesus taught us not just “to love God” but “to love our neighbors as ourselves.”   “Love” here isn’t just a feeling, or a desire, or a goal.  It is a way to live – with peace and nonviolence. It means, too, to live in such a way that our very lives promote justice “among all people” and “respect the dignity of every human being.”

This word “justice,” however, can mean a lot of different things.

  • We use the word justice to mean a person’s right to what is lawfully theirs – not just things but, for example, rights like freedom or equal protection of the law.  The promotion of “civil rights” or “gay rights” is justice in this sense.
  • We also use the word justice to speak of contracts and agreements individuals have with one another.  Justice requires the fulfillment of the contract by all parties involved.   Churches, as a result, have contractual agreements with their clergy and lay employees, which we, too, are obligated to fulfill.
  • We also use the word justice to talk about what needs to occur when human rights are violated, or contracts or laws are broken. Retribution – the application of punishment appropriate to the violation of rights or laws that has occurred – is this kind of justice.
  • We use the justice, finally, to mean that everyone gets everything that they deserve – this kind of justice is about fairness, compassion, responding to the needs of others in distress, or the distribution of the gifts we have been given among those less fortunate than us.

As a church community, we try to live in ways that respond to problems of justice when they arise – when discrimination occurs because of gender – or when we fail to live up to legal contracts we have with one another – or when someone in the neighborhood has needs that far exceed their resources – or when homeless persons come to us with needs for shelter or food.  For example, we are active in volunteering at Christ House and Matha’s Table, providing meals and support for both organizations and the people they serve.  Our bottomless Food Basket provides emergency rations for those who come to us on Sundays or during the week.  And the Rector’s discretionary fund exists to provide emergency resources for the most pressing needs among those who come to the church’s doors each week.

We also try to live in ways that keep those problems from occurring in the first place – for example, by supporting laws and practices that don’t discriminate against gays and lesbians, women or children, the elderly or those with physical disabilities.  St. Thomas’ Parish was one of the founding congregations of Samaritan Ministry. We support the Transitional Housing Corporation in Washington to furnish regularly a new home for a family beginning the crucial transition from homelessness to eventual home ownership. Our support of the Trinidad Conservation Project provides sustainable agricultural practices and clean water for rural villages in Honduras. We are a core-supporter in our Diocese for the Millennium Development Goals to end world poverty.

When our Prayer Book says that “the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ,” we are challenged to respond with all that we are and all that we have – in the ways we pray and worship, the ways we promote peace and love, and our commitment to acts of justice not just for ourselves but for all of God’s creation.  The Catechism states it simply: it means “to be honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom and the necessities of life for all people; … to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God”; and “to speak the truth, and not to mislead others by our silence” (The Book of Common Prayer, page 848).

The church’s mission of reconciliation begins in our prayer and worship; it extends outwards in the peace and nonviolence we learn to practice; it is embodied in the works of love we undertake in the world; and it must lead us not just to respond to injustice, but to promote justice in ways that keep injustice from being as likely to happen.

  • No one of these parts of our “life together” can exist without the others.
  • All are essential if we are to be agents of reconciliation in the world.
  • All of these are necessary for us to fulfill our mission as God’s people.

For us at St. Thomas’ Parish, this is who we believe we have been called to be, and this is what we believed we have been called to do. We obviously have not yet arrived at our destination, so we ask all who read this for your prayers for us on our unfinished journey of faith.  And we invite you to join us if you desire as we try to learn together to become this kind of community as followers of Christ.

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Celebrating the Mission of St. Thomas’ Parish

 

[The first in a 4-part series by The Rev. Dr. Nancy Lee Jose, Rector, exploring the calling and mission of St. Thomas' Parish]

We at St. Thomas’ Parish celebrate our unique mission as part of the family of God known as the Episcopal Church.   In the words of  the “An Outline of Faith,” commonly called the “Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer defines our mission as followers of Christ like this:

  • The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
  • The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
  • The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

At St. Thomas’ Parish we take very seriously the unique history of our participation in the church’ s mission of reconciliation, which itself gives flesh to Christ’s mission to restore all people to unity with God and each other.

This happens through a wide variety of ministries, or ways of living and acting as followers of the living Christ.

Our primary ministry is reconciliation that we prepare for in prayer and worship and then live out in our identity and actions as Christians.

Reconciliation with God and one another  takes shape through our promotion of justice beyond, not just within, our doors.  It starts when we keep filled our Food Basket for those who come to our doors otherwise unable to feed themselves or their families. We were a founding parish of Samaritan Ministry in Washington, DC.  Our members regularly cook meals and serve at Christ House & Martha’s Table here in the District of Columbia.  Each year we furnish an apartment for a family seeking their own home through the work of the Transitional Housing Corporation.  And on a global scale we support and participate in our Diocesan commitments to the Millennium Development Goals; parishioners regularly travel to Central America to do work for the Trinidad Conservation Project.

And reconciliation happens as we learn together in community how to promote peace and love as the grounding principles of our life together. Historically at St. Thomas’ Parish this often has found central expression in providing sanctuary and support for the LGBT community.  More recently we have chosen to begin learning the foundations and practices of nonviolent communication — respectful, civil approaches to the differences of opinion and conviction that are inevitable in human society.

Christian faith for us is not otherworldly, but deeply engaged in the needs and joys and beauty and tragedy of the world we share with others, as we seek in them the face of Christ who is the very face of God-made-flesh out of God’s neverending love for creation.

We invite you to join with us as you choose to and are able to support the presence in Dupont Circle of our small circle of whose trying daily to follow The Way that God has shown us in the compassionate and extravagantly generous hospitality of Jesus.  Our mission is to do nothing less than to help God draw the world into the embrace of love like that — and to help God heal the divisions and wounds we inflict on one another and that are inflicted upon others by the injustices of the world.

As we celebrate such mission at St. Thomas’ Parish we continue to grow in numbers and resources and desire to help God heal the world.  We are by no means perfect; but we know where God is calling us, and we are learning in love to lay the foundations for a more just and compassionate tomorrow.

>>NEXT.  Why we begin in prayer and worship in community & how that prepares us to be agents of reconciliation in the world.

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Christmas Services: St. Thomas’ Parish

 

 

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Make it Happen

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Voices of Wisdom: Mike Creighton

The third guest preacher and celebrant at St. Thomas’ Parish at Dupont Circle on January 23, 2011, as part of our series, “Voices of Wisdom – Radical Welcome,” is the Rt. Rev. Michael W. Creighton, Bishop Retired of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania (1996-2006). He is a 1968 graduate of Episcopal Theological School and served parishes in San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle before being elected Bishop of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania in 1996.

Bishop Mike, as he is affectionately known, is the son of The Rt. Rev. William Creighton, the Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, DC from 1962-1977.  While his father shepherded the Diocese of Washington through the turbulent period of Prayer Book Revision and the first ordinations of women to the priesthood, Bishop Mike arrived in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania the year that charges were dismissed, after years of controversy, against retired Bishop Walter Righter who had ordained the first partnered gay man to the Episcopal priesthood in the Diocese of Newark, the Rev. Barry Stopfel.

Bishop Mike later welcomed Barry as an instructor in the Diocesan School of Christian Studies, where Barry assisted Wayne Floyd in teaching lay courses on human sexuality.  And Bishop Mike also invited Wayne to co-chair the Bishops Commission on Human Sexuality that laid the groundwork for laity and clergy throughout the diocese to engage together in respectful conversation and disagreement about issues of sexuality among people representing the whole spectrum of opinion.

Based on a growing consensus in the diocese in support of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians into the life of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Mike and the diocesan delegation from Central Pennsylvania courageously voted “yes” to consent to the election of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.  And then Bishop Mike spent much of the final three years of his episcopacy providing strong and unswerving pastoral leadership with parishes and clergy who disagreed – sometimes quite ungraciously – with his decisions.

Bishop Mike is one of those inspirational “heroes” in the lives of me and Nancy Lee.  Wayne served as Canon Theologian for the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania for six years under Bishop Mike, and Nancy Lee was ordained by him to the priesthood at the Cathedral Church of St. Stephen in Harrisburg, PA.

His clear sense of faithfulness to the traditions of the Episcopal Church has been combined with a generous-hearted pastoral sensitivity that has made Bishop Mike a quiet, yet deeply effective, leader in our church during difficult times. Without the leadership of bishops like Mike Creighton, and his father before him, we would be living in a very different Episcopal Church today.  We owe him a debt of gratitude before he even arrives on our doorstep.

Bishop Mike and his wife Betty are living in Annapolis, MD, during their retirement.  We are thrilled to have him with us to lend his own powerful voice of wisdom, and his example of the integrity of radical welcome, to Sunday worship at St. Thomas’ Parish.

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Exciting Guest Preachers for 2011

VOICES OF WISDOM – RADICAL WELCOME

Beginning this past October 31st, St. Thomas’ Parish initiated an exciting guest preaching/presiding schedule for Sunday mornings.  This initiative is an expression of the high value we have long placed on providing a generous pulpit of welcome and hospitality.  It also embodies our commitment to greater diversity in the faces of leadership in our community.

Our first guest preacher/celebrant was on Oct. 31st, The Rev. Janice Robinson, former rector of Good Shepherd, Silver Spring and the current chaplain of the Bishop’s Search Committee.   She was followed on November 28th by The Rev. Bill Doggett.

The 2011 lineup of guest preachers and presiders at the Eucharist are:

  • January 23rd – The Rt. Rev. Michael Creighton, Retired
  • January 30th – Canon Charles LaFond, Canon for Congregational Min. (NH)
  • February 27th – The Rev. Simone Bautista, Canon for Latino Ministries
  • March 27th -  The Rev. Preston Hannibal, Canon for Academic Ministries
  • May 29th – The Rev. Kim Baker, Chaplain – Washington Episcopal School
  • June 6th – The Rev. Mpho Tutu, Director of Institute for Peace & Reconciliation
  • June 26th – The Rev. Mary Sulerud, Canon for Deployment & Vocational Ministry

More information will be provided about each preacher prior to their day with us.  We are proud to give worshipers at St. Thomas’ Parish this chance to hear some of the best preaching that can be heard today in the Episcopal Church.  Please join us and bring a friend (or two!).

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Hot time at St. Thomas’ Parish

Lots has been going on at St. Thomas’ over the summer; and right on cue Blogging-Thomas crashed for a month!  Resurrection, however, is at hand — just in time for Richard Morgan’s edgy and thoughtful and fun Washington Post “On Faith” article, “Once a victim, St. Thomas’ Parish rebuilds.”

Some of my favorite parts (disclaimer: I am, after all, the spouse of the rector at St. Thomas’ Parish!) –

That hot August 24 morning, the building that The Washington Star in 1923 called “one of the most beautiful edifices in the country” was ordered razed. The next day the church paid $50,000 to demolish itself.

The congregation is a motley crew — former Catholics, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Quakers, families from Silver Spring and Alexandria, African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, and a pride parade’s worth of gays (“a He-Man Woman Haters’ Club for Jesus,” said one, “except we actually do have female members, and they’re pretty cool too”).

St. Thomas’ is a church at its most human, its most tender and frail and vulnerable, asking questions of itself and of its past and future — and, toughest of all, its present — that it never imagined.  Akin to a 40-year-old leaving his hometown for the first time, the personal sense of identity here asks a secret, taboo question: What does church mean to you? And what would you do — how would you handle it? — if you could rebuild yours?

There’s Nancy Lee Jose, 61, the fourth-generation Washingtonian who is a priest of equal parts Geraldine Ferraro and Mary Lou Retton — petite, joking, gentle, bold — a confection of a woman topped with a whipped-cream dollop of Miranda Priestly hair. [WF: "That's my sweetheart!!"]

It’s not a best-face-forward church. It’s honest, treating people as valued, as good, as loved. God, gays, education, equality. They’re all so strong here and all about the same thing: understatement that’s both powerful and radical.

This is a real church.  And bit by bit we’re building a stronger community every year.  By the grace of God we may build a new building.  But God has been at work in this place for a long time, building what lasts – a place of faith, and love, and hope … the only things, after all, that last forever.

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Great movie opportunity

The Pulitzer Center and St. Thomas’ Parish present



Glass Closet:

Homophobia, Violence and the Spread of HIV in Jamaica

a film screening and Q & A with Lisa Biagiotti

The Glass Closet: Sex, Stigma and HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, a reporting project by Micah Fink and Gabrielle Weiss, was produced in partnership with WNET’s Worldfocus program and correspondant Lisa Biagiotti.


The project explores the effects of homophobia on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Jamaica and includes four short documentary films that were broadcast on Worldfocus.


The Glass Closet videos will be screened at St. Thomas’ Parish in Washington, DC, on Monday, August 30. A discussion and Q&A with Lisa Biagiotti will follow.

6:30 p.m. – Reception
7:00 p.m. – Screening


St. Thomas’ Parish Episcopal Church – 1772 Church Street, NW – Washington, DC 20036
Metro: Dupont Circle, on the Red Line – RSVP requested - rsvp(at)pulitzercenter.org


Lisa Biagiotti is an independent multimedia journalist. She recently produced a documentary on toilets and open defecation in India and Indonesia for Current TV’s Vanguard documentary series. Lisa has produced and edited short-form videos and weekly radio shows for Worldfocus — a daily public television news program and website. She was awarded the 2009 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in the international television category and was nominated for a national news Emmy Award for the videos she produced on the crisis in Congo. Lisa worked with the Pulitzer Center as a Worldfocus correspondent to produce “The Glass Closet: HIV/AIDS in Jamaica.” Learn more at http://lisabiagiotti.com/
The Glass Closet is part of the Pulitzer Center’s in-depth reporting on HIV in the Caribbean, which also includes current work in Haiti and the Emmy award-winning project HOPE: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica.

The Pulitzer Center promotes in-depth engagement with global affairs through its sponsorship of quality international journalism across all media platforms and an innovative program of outreach and education. To learn more visit www.pulitzercenter.org
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