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How One Episcopal Priest and His Congregation Have Been Quietly Breathing New Life into a Traditional Church – and the City That Surrounds It

How One Episcopal Priest and His Congregation Have Been Quietly Breathing New Life into a Traditional Church – and the City That Surrounds It

For decades, America’s mainline religious denominations have battled dramatic declines in membership, financial support, and just about every other standard measure of what makes a church successful. (After peaking in the 1950’s, mainline church denomination membership in the U.S. has declined by nearly 33% percent, to 21 million from 31 million.) 

But don’t tell that to The Very Rev. Dr. Chip Graves, Rector of Huntington, WV-based Trinity Episcopal Church. He adores his congregation and  their love for Christ.

And together they have resurrected their church. New feeding programs now serve over 14,000 people each year. New worship services have nearly tripled their weekly attendance. New stewardship programs have increased their annual pledge by 25%. New educational programs have multiplied their Bible study attendance. Their food pantry now serves over 5,000 families with over 60,000 meals of groceries each year. Their anti-drug programs now support hundreds each year with addiction, unemployment, homelessness and medical care.Their partnership with local Marshall University medical students now serves thousands of people each year.

Because for the past few years, Dr. Graves and his congregation have been turning those statistics on their heads with Metro Theology, a unique program created by Dr. Graves that uses newly-formed, powerful partnerships between church, city, and state organizations to tackle some of the region’s toughest challenges.

A philosophical and moral imperative as well as a practical, action-oriented program, Metro Theology was designed to strengthen engagement between his church and his city.

Metro Theology – A Unique Approach to Asset-based Community Development

By design, Metro Theology focuses on discovering – and using – Huntington’s strengths; moving deeper into the community to and extending the reach of limited resources. Huntington mayor Steve Williams calls Metro Theology “a partnership that offers a unique approach to asset-based community development.”

With innovative outreach programs, strategic partnerships with other non-profits, and non-traditional opportunities for worship, Metro Theology is helping Trinity attract members and supporters with a fresh take on what it means to be a church member; win grants that fund its own and other local initiatives; and draw in new parishioners from that most-prized of demographics, the American family.

The program has also played a key role in reinvigorating a sense of Christian community both inside and outside church walls. “When you’re an urban,” Dr. Graves says, “you don’t have to look very hard for places to do good things. They’re right outside your sanctuary door.”

Mayor Steve Williams: It Takes a Village

Citing the old adage “it takes a village,” Williams adds that “Metro Theology has already had an enormous impact on our city when it comes to addressing poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, crime, and other societal problems.”

By stepping outside Trinity’s walls to create ecumenical and interfaith alliances and partnering with local nonprofit organizations and the city, Graves and others are addressing, at the grassroots level, the challenges facing Huntington. Dr. Graves describes Metro Theology as a Christ-centered strategy for partnering a church with another local business or non-profit to develop new ministries that can lift up underserved members of the community and have a positive impact on serious issues like homelessness, addiction, unemployment, and health care.

Metro Theology’s Four Steps to Success

In laying the groundwork for what would become Metro Theology, Trinity:

  1. Conducted a church-wide survey in 2012 that identified the congregation’s goals, challenges and assets.
  2. Surveyed its immediate city neighborhood and challenges such areas faced.
  3. With a team that included Dr. Graves, Mayor Steve Williams, and parishioners who had found renewed enthusiasm for doing God’s work in the world, outlined specific areas for the development of new ministries
  4. Began to theologically reflect on the new ministries and their impact, working together to discern: Where is Christ in these new endeavors? Are there signs of Resurrection and new life? Are there signs of Baptism and transformation? This Metro Theology process takes one on a journey of self-reflection and how we may help others, given our resources, traditional and non-traditional. This process allows one to more deeply discern and therefore connect Christ’s teachings

People really stepped up to the plate, says Dr. Graves.

“If we were to succeed, both clergy and congregation had to let go of the old ‘dependency’ model of the clergy-congregation relationship,” he observes. “Church leadership could no longer be the sole provider of spiritual sustenance. In a re-invigorated Trinity, we are all responsible for what takes place. Everybody has to step outside their comfort zone.”

Learn More About Metro Theology Might Work in Your Community

Trinity Episcopal Church in Huntington, West Virginia has successfully partnered with its city and other nonprofit and business groups to actively address local challenges like drug addiction, unemployment, youth education, homelessness, and the development of local fine arts projects.

The concept of Metro Theology transcends specific Christian denominations. To learn more, visit http://www.wvtrinitychurch.org/ or MetroTheology.com.

Miguelina Howell Becomes First Latina Episcopal Cathedral Dean

Miguelina Howell Becomes First Latina Episcopal Cathedral Dean

The Very Rev. Miguelina Howell became the first Hispanic woman to be a cathedral dean in the Episcopal Church when she was installed Feb. 18 as the 10th dean of Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Hartford, Connecticut.

Howell, an Episcopal priest born and raised in the Dominican Republic, was elected last November after serving as the cathedral’s vicar since fall 2013.

Howell’s installation was a celebration of culture and people as much as an official ecclesiastical act.

A quena flute and a charango – which looks like a small, 10-string guitar – were as integral to the event as the pipe organ, with its 60 stops and 71 ranks. Formal choir offerings from Bach and Faure gave opportunities for quiet meditation as much as a different group of cathedral musicians gave opportunities to clap and move with the rhythms. Incense filled the space, lingering to the end; holy water was sprinkled on everyone, using bundled boxwood sprigs, following a renewal of baptismal vows. Language flowed between English and Spanish.

At the installation, Hartford’s mayor Luke Bronin read a proclamation naming Feb. 18, 2016, “Christ Church Cathedral Day.” Other city leaders, with whom the cathedral has built partnerships, were present along with many officials and guests from across the provinces of the Episcopal Church. The Office of Latino/Hispanic ministries arranged to broadcast the service to reach an even wider audience.

Underscoring another important partnership that evening, the cathedral installed the Very Rev. Emsley Nimmo, dean of the Diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney in the Scottish Episcopal Church, as an honorary canon of the cathedral. The Very Rev. Issac Poobalan, provost of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in that diocese, read a message of goodwill from their bishop, the Rt. Rev. Robert Gillies.

These attendees highlighted the historic 231-year relationship between Connecticut and Scotland, which began in November 1784 when the Rev. Samuel Seabury of Connecticut was consecrated in Aberdeen as the first American Episcopal bishop. Seabury and the three consecrating bishops signed a concordat of agreement between the Episcopal Church in Connecticut and the Episcopal Church in Scotland, which included taking the Scottish Eucharistic rites to the newly forming Episcopal Church.

Nominating and installing members of one another’s diocese as honorary canons of their cathedrals has been part of how the relationship has been sustained. Currently, the Rev. Michel Belt, recently retired rector of St. James Episcopal Church, New London (home parish of Samuel Seabury), serves as honorary canon of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Aberdeen.

Howell received a cope and stole from representatives of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut and the cathedral congregations who asked her to “… be among us as a pastor and priest, encouraging us to participate in God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation in the cathedral, the city of Hartford, the Episcopal Church in Connecticut and the world.”

In his homily, Connecticut Bishop Ian T. Douglas emphasized the particular role a cathedral can take in that participation. He started with a history lesson about cathedrals. First millennium cathedrals, he said, were places from which people were sent out to be about God’s mission, and later, to plant churches. Over time, in this country, the Episcopal Church began to build or designate cathedrals as symbols of power and privilege, to which they expected people would flock. Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, the largest and wealthiest parish in the diocese at the time, was designated a cathedral in 1919.

“Instead of go, go in the mission of God,” Douglas said, “cathedrals became a place of come, come and be drawn into the ‘one, true church.'”

Douglas’ charge to Howell, and to all of the Episcopalians in Connecticut, was to make Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford a place where people are sent out.

“If this cathedral is to have meaning in the 21st century then it must reclaim the ancient calling of a cathedral as a place from which we go, go in the mission of God.  Like the 72 in our gospel tonight, sent out to every town and place traveling lightly, we too must go, go from this cathedral, to every town and city in Connecticut and beyond, to effect God’s healing and proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near,” said Douglas.

He added, Howell “gets it.”

“Lina gets that our vocation, our baptismal vocation, is to be fundamentally about the mission of God in the world. She knows, at the very center of her being, that following Jesus means going out into the neighborhoods, traveling lightly. Each and every one of us is called in baptism to be agents of God’s healing, God’s kingdom, God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation.

“In addition, as the first and only Latina dean of an Episcopal Cathedral, Lina embodies the breadth of the cultures and languages of the Episcopal Church in the 21st century; and especially in this city of Hartford where 40 percent of the population is Hispanic. I am convinced that her commitment to the Gospel, her ceaseless energy, her incredible organizing gifts, and her love of Jesus will help this great cathedral be the resource it can in empowering each and every one of us as apostles in God’s mission.”

Howell grew up across the street from St. Andres Episcopal church and school in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. She used to “play church” when she was young, and no one was around, and also helped the students in her Episcopal school to participate in the school’s weekly liturgical service. She began her vocation in the Episcopal Church as a teenager, serving various youth ministries.

After finishing her graduate studies and licensing as a clinical psychologist, she earned a theological degree from the Centro de Estudios Teologicos and was ordained a priest in 2003.

One of the projects she was asked to do in a ministry formation program was to plant a church where none existed, which she accomplished, with a friend. That parish continues to this day and now runs a school as well. In the Dominican Republic, Howell served three congregations and as executive director of the diocesan camp and conference center.

She has served as a member of the presiding bishop’s staff as associate program officer for young adult ministries and leadership recruitment at the Episcopal Church Center in New York. She recently served on the church-wide Task Force for Restructuring the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church Executive Council, and is a member of the Episcopal Church Latino/Hispanic Ministries Council of Advice. She also serves as CREDO faculty.

Before moving to Hartford, Howell served parishes in Orange and Paterson, New Jersey.

Douglas’ charge to “change the direction” of the cathedral has already begun. Over the past few years it has been discerning its current and future vocation. Among the conclusions of that discernment, reached in 2015, were to “develop ongoing relations with civic leaders, and with organizations and institutions that are devoted to the common good”; see itself as a “catalyst for mission, identifying ways in which parishes can work together, connecting parishes with other faith communities that are participating in God’s mission, and connecting the faithful with secular ‘missionaries'”; and “explore new mission fields from time to time, using its resources to clear a pathway for others to follow.”

Now, the cathedral faces a moment of “evident adaptive change, creativity and collaboration in the ever-evolving landscape of the city of Hartford, the Episcopal Church in Connecticut and in the world,” Howell said.

“The cathedral is looking to be outside of our walls, changing the way we used to do things, and this is part of what my ministry has looked like in the past, in different places,” Howell said. “I bring gifts of collaboration, of empowering lay leaders to recognize their role and their ministry in the life of the church and in particular their participating in God’s mission, of vision and strategic thinking and planning, of organizing, all of which will support the work and vision of the recommendations of the discernment task force.”

The cathedral has already started to send people out into the Hartford neighborhoods, co-sponsoring a music program at a local school for children of limited financial means.

“I think Hartford is a place in which there’s so much opportunity to make a difference in the world,” Howell said. “It is the right time in the life of this city. The Cathedral is in a position in which we are ready to support the growth of this city now. [We are] present to encourage cultural development and to encourage young children, young people, to see other choices in life, to see there are other opportunities that are available to them.”

Press Release

            The Society for the Increase of the Ministry (SIM) announces the appointment of Courtney V. Cowart, Th. D. as its incoming Executive Director effective March 1, 2017.  SIM’s current Executive Director, Thomas Moore, will serve with Dr. Cowart until his retirement from that position on SIM’s 160th birthday, October 2, 2017. 

Dr. Cowart brings a wealth of experience in theological education and leadership development along with strong working relationships with Episcopal leaders and major foundations investing in formation.  With her close understanding of SIM’s ministry, she expresses her enthusiasm for this new position and challenge: 

"In its 160th year, the Board's vision for the Society for the Increase of the Ministry never mattered more: To build a diverse army of outstanding faith leaders with a strong public witness for the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, and to lead a turnaround in funding theological education through significantly expanding scholarships for those consecrating their lives to God's loving, liberating, life-giving presence in the world."

Part of Dr. Cowart’s work at SIM will be focused on long-range and strategic planning; she envisions developing a funding mechanism that equips all Christians to receive the training and formation to live out a baptismal call to ministry.

Dr. Cowart comes to SIM from the School of Theology of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, where she has served as the Director of the Beecken Center and Associate Dean.   At the Beecken Center she developed educational resources and networks for delivering resources for vocational discernment, leadership formation, and church renewal.

Her career in the Episcopal Church has been devoted to a vision of the church passionately engaged in the transformation of lives and society. Her thesis as a doctoral student at General Theological Seminary (GTS) documented the ways nineteenth-century New Yorkers through voluntary societies sought to heal the spiritual and social wounds of their day. Later as a theological educator at GTS, she helped manage the ministry of St. Paul’s Chapel at Ground Zero.  Her impact at Ground Zero led to a five year deployment in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to steward the largest domestic grant ever made by Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD).  After the completion of her work in New Orleans, Dr. Cowart was hired by the Fund for Theological Education to create new curricula for theological education programs and deliver them to the church on a national scale.

In this opportunity to lead SIM, the only organization raising funds on a national basis for support available to all Episcopal seminarians, Dr. Cowart sees potential for developing a funding mechanism that equips the baptized to receive the training and formation that can mobilize large numbers to live out their calls to ministry.

The Society for the Increase of the Ministry invests in theological education of Episcopal seminarians and in their formation as leaders to increase the ministry of the Episcopal Church.  Since its founding in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1857, SIM has supported over 5000 seminarians with over $6 million in scholarships.  In the current academic year, SIM is providing support to 48 students attending nine seminaries.

About his successor, Mr. Moore stated: “Of SIM’s accomplishments of which I am most proud, attracting Courtney Cowart as my successor is at the top. We will be in the good hands of a proven leader.”  

 

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Yuma Rector & SIM Alum Awarded Fellowship for Fiction

Yuma Rector & SIM Alum Awarded Fellowship for Fiction

The 2015 Sewanee Writers’ Conference awarded the Rev. Timothy True, rector of St. Paul’s, Yuma, with a fellowship.

For two weeks, October 26 – November 6, Father True will research and write a work of fiction about the ghost lore of Sewanee.  His finished product “will have significant theological undertones surrounding last rites, body and soul, and our final rest." He looks forward to being in the seminary community again, and worshiping with his two daughters who are undergrads there.  Congratulations!