In mid-January I got to take an unusual road trip up to Buffalo, New York with friends from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Cathy Doner, Deacon Eric Elley and Music Director Sue Riley from St. Andrews and Fr. Rick Bellows (Episcopal priest and part of the clergy team for Church Without Walls) made up the crew that drove together to be part of the installation of Fr. Derrick Fetz as Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral there, formerly Rector at St. Andrew’s. I know many of you share with me fond memories of strong partnership with St. Andrew’s Church and Fr. Derrick, and he asked me to give a message about that partnership at his installation service under the theme, “Better Together.” It gave me reason to look back over years of collaborative community projects, mission, worship and adult education programs that brought together our two churches, and I thought I’d share with you what I shared with the people of St. Paul’s up in Buffalo.
You may remember that I arrived at First Church in late 2013, already passionate about working with ecumenical and interfaith partners, and quickly found a similar heart in Derrick Fetz. Here is some of what we did:
*Together we offered Adult Education with our wonderful colleague Rev. Harvey Hill –such as a summer movie nights in 2014, Women’s spirituality through Vicar of Dibley episodes in 2015; programs on racism like the Trinity Institute Sacred Conversations on Race in 2016 and the UCC’s White Privilege program in winter 2017, a series on the principles of the Reformers and joint worship for the 500thanniversary of the Reformation in fall 2017.
*We started sharing an ecumenical Easter Vigil service in 2014 and added joint Good Friday worship in 2016. Together we navigated how to share the sacraments of communion and baptism in ways true to each of our theology. Last year, when I met members of St. Andrew’s after Holy Week they told me, “we missed our First Church friends on Easter Sunday!”
*Together, we dreamed of ways to bring church to the public square as Jesus did- I joined Derrick and St. Andrew’s in Faith on Tap gatherings at local breweries but it wasn’t until we birthed “Coffee & Conversations” at Starbucks that we found traction. That group has met weekly since fall of 2016 drawing Rabbis and Jewish neighbors, Muslim friends, pastors/members of Episcopal, UCC, Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist and more local churches. We bring faith presence to the issues of our day over a latte.
*Together we held a joint Election Night communion service in 2016 to pray for our next President and reflect on that night as the ballots came in;
*And when President Trump issued his executive order banning refugees from Syria and immigrants from mostly Muslim countries, we drafted an open letter signed by 10 local interfaith clergy which we released to the media: “Silence is Akin to Consent.” We said, “this executive order, released on International Holocaust Remembrance Day . . . brings to mind our nation’s decision in 1939 to refuse entry to the Jewish refugees fleeing NAZI Germany . . . We will not stand by in silence as another generation of people are turned away. That will not be our legacy and we will not give our consent.”
*Together we cared for our youth: one year we co-led a joint Vacation Bible school; another year brought our youth groups together monthly for worship, faith formation and service; our youth groups walked together in annual CROP Walks to fight hunger; we stood together with our youth at protests against gun violence in 2018; and I’ll never forget how together, we said “no” to a local invitation to form an ecumenical christian youth group with foundation principles that excluded LGBTQ people as leaders. Together we said, “our churches affirm to full life and ministry people of the LGBTQ community, and welcome is the only message we will give to our youth.”
Together we were part of a Habitat for Humanity Circle of Faith build that made a home for a low-income family in 2016; Derrick invited us in to St. Andrew’s beautiful and expanding Church Without Walls ministry bringing weekly worship and lunch to the homeless of Springfield’s streets, and we do that now on the first Sundays of the month.
*Together we held a prayer vigil in December of 2014, in the wake of growing shooting deaths of Black Americans both locally and nationally; We said: “We are here because we must respond to the cries of our brothers & sisters, and because we ourselves need to witness that black lives matter, and this has got to stop. . .This is a time not for politics or revenge but a time for remembering those lost here to violence, for honoring the sanctity of all life, and witnessing to love that conquers death.”
We shared together about challenges in our common clergy life, and brainstormed ways of being church to youth & adults who had lost faith that our mainline religions mattered; and it was to Derrick and Harvey at last that I came to be anointed when I faced a life-threatening surgery. Our partnership gave me courage in our shared beliefs that the gospel message is needed today more than ever, but with inclusion of all people and prophetic voice against acts of hate.
I ended my remarks to St. Paul’s saying, “Derrick, there is no doubt in my heart that we are better together, and I vow to keep alive our legacy of shared leadership for compassion, mercy and justice in the name of the Christ we both serve, always with our friendship in my heart.”
There is much rich history of ecumenical collaboration with St. Andrews, not only together as two churches, but throughout our local community with the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts, Sinai Temple and Temple Beth-El, St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Longmeadow, and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and the United Methodist Church, both of East Longmeadow. We’ve partnered with neighbor Episcopal Churches and UCC churches around us, all of these friends and many more for rallies and vigils in time of trouble, joint worship, mission projects and education programs. We welcome newer leaders to our community like Rev. Susan Eibner at St. Andrews and Rabbi Jeremy Master at Sinai, and look forward to doing more together as neighbor communities of faith in the year to come!
My friends, this is a powerful witness of love and friendship that we can be proud of at First Church – a legacy of putting into action what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ, who calls us to be his face and hands in our world today. We believe in a God whose heart is with all the human family, weeping when we weep, sorrowing when we fight and war with each other, rejoicing when we dance and sing together.
Please watch for ways our churches and faith communities are gathering in 2019 and join us for everything you can be a part of! Maybe you have some ideas of your own that can become new partnering with other people of faith in the New Year. We’d love to support you in them! May our prayers surround Fr. Derrick in his new venture up in Buffalo, and also our community here in Longmeadow-Springfield, that God’s work continue to be done in the days to come.
Wishing you love and light,