Grace Swinski, Deacon and Advocate

When Archdeacon Grace Swinski gave the keynote address at the 15th annual Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty statehouse vigil earlier this month, she was doing the work she had been given to do since childhood. (Read about the vigil in the Boston Globe and watch a video on Facebook.) 

Swinski is a lifelong Rhode Islander and a lifelong Episcopalian, born while her father, the late Reverend Frederick K. Jellison, served St. James, Woonsocket. The youngest child of the family, Swinski says her mother, Ruth Cummings Jellison, was actively involved in parish life and ministry. “She was the first deacon I ever knew, treating everyone with respect,” she said, remembering her mother’s habit of feeding and talking with people who came to the rectory door hungry. 

Swinski took her parents’ example to heart: when she was a young adult, she spent time as a volunteer in Recife, in what was then Rhode Island’s companion diocese in Brazil, doing childcare and teaching English. When she returned to the United States, she began raising funds to support the childcare center where she had served. Today she works with families living in poverty as the coordinator of a Title I family center, a job she has held for twenty years.  

A deacon for six years and archdeacon of the diocese since November, Swinski serves on the steering committee of the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty as part of her diaconal ministry. The Coalition, a group that includes Muslims, Jews, and Christians, has held annual vigils at the statehouse for fifteen years. When she first learned about the group, she says, “I had an image of the steeple of the cathedral ‘keeping an eye’ on the dome of the capitol and the needs of all the people of the state,” she said. “Today we pray, tomorrow we advocate.” 

When asked to offer the keynote at this year’s vigil, Swinski didn’t hesitate for long. “This is a good place for the archdeacon to speak: this is what the diaconate is all about,” she said. In her address, she noted that last year’s legislative session produced “some wonderful legislation,” including the “Cover All Kids” act that provides health care access to all children regardless of immigration status. She also cited a measure that uses $250 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to address housing issues in Rhode Island, including homelessness.  

“In 2023, we will continue to work for legislation that promotes safe and affordable housing for all,” she said, urging fellow advocates to consider how people in need can best be served with the state’s $610 million budget surplus. 

The Coalition’s 2023 advocacy goals include housing; the full use of federal aid in addressing poverty and inequality; immigrant rights; increasing benefit rates through Rhode Island Works; a “more just” tax structure; environmental justice; and food sustainability. 

As archdeacon, Swinski hopes to encourage more participation from both deacons and laypeople in local and statewide advocacy. She describes the diaconal dismissal from worship—“Go now, and do what you know you’re supposed to do,” she paraphrases—as an invitation to all members of the diocese.  

“Everyone has a calling,” she said. “I hope in my ministry to be partnered with the bishop to work together to grow and support the diaconate so people can see what deacons can do. 

 – Nancy Bryan, Canticle Communications

A Christmas Message from the Bishop

“Jesus came into the world, and having changed what it was to be human, he changed the relationship with our Creator, and he is still with us.”

Christmas Services 2022

Here is a listing of Christmas Services happening in Episcopal congregations around Rhode Island; for more details, please contact the individual parishes or check their webpages:

Christmas Eve

Cranston St David’s on-the-Hill 10:00 PM
Hope Valley St Elizabeth’s 4:00 PM
Providence St Martin’s 4:00 PM with Pageant
9:00 PM
Warwick St Mark’s 5:00 PM
10:00 PM
Westerly Christ Church 5:00 PM with Pageant
10:00 PM  music begins 9:45
Woonsocket St James 7:00 PM

Christmas Day

Charlestown Church of the Holy Spirit 9:30 AM
Warwick St Mark’s 9:00 AM
Westerly Christ Church 8:00 AM
10:00 AM

 

Anchor of Hope 2022

The Anchor of Hope award is presented to a person who exemplifies walking with Jesus. This person brings the word and the light of Jesus, to family, friends, church communities and the people he serves.  

At the Eucharist of Diocesan Convention, Bishop Knisely presented this award tonight to Mr. Orville Forbes. 

His priest, the Reverend Eddy Lopez has this to say about Orville’s ministry at Church of the Transfiguration: 

“Humble, faithful, thoughtful, ready to serve describe Orville Forbes.  At the center of Orville’s life is the love of his faith.  When asked to be junior warden of Transfiguration, his response was, “I’ll pray about it.” And pray he did. About two months later he finally agreed to accept the position.    

Orville is a valued member of his faith community.  He was a vestryperson, junior warden, senior warden and currently serves as an usher, crucifer, altar server and is the Director of Buildings and Grounds.  Fortunately for Transfiguration he lives two streets away, and on his way to work drives by the church early in the morning and on his way home in the evening just to be sure nothing is amiss.  Countless times he has been called upon to deal with a problem, some minor and some major and he always manages to be at the church when needed.    

There is no one who would not extend a helping hand if Orville asked for assistance.  The way Orville lives his life, with God centering every decision, makes him a true follower of our Lord.”     

Orville’s partner in Ministry for Church Beyond the Walls, The Rev. Linda Forsberg has this to add:  

“At the recent meeting of the Bishop’s Committee for the Church Beyond the Walls, we talked about Orville’s faithful commitment  and strong, steadfast leadership in our CBW community.  As CBW celebrates our tenth anniversary this year, we realize that Orville has been part of our ministry from the beginning. Orville is a man of deep faith, and that faith in Jesus Christ is the bedrock of his life. From that strong and solid foundation, Orville is a solid rock for others, a source of strength for those of us who are blessed to know him. 

When Governor Raimondo shut down all gatherings at the beginning of Covid, a small crew of us still went out to Burnside Park, to let our community members know they were not forgotten.  This was pre-vaccine,  when the fear of the unknown was gripping.  Afraid as we were of this illness, we still went out, week after week, with our Red Flyer Wagon stuffed full of care packages, and our hearts filled with prayers and assurances for our community members.  Orville was one of these faithful few who went out with us during these frightening days, week after week.     

Orville is a man of deep prayer, who is steeped in scripture.  Many times, in our CBW group texts Orville will share a word of encouragement from a Bible passage, or the fruit of his own daily prayers.  Whenever we need to have what we at CBW call “crucial conversations,” meaning difficult but necessary conversations, Orville sacrifices his precious time to share his deep spiritual wisdom.  At these critical times, and at all times, Orville truly follows the Way of Jesus and his sacrificial Love.”

Thank you, Orville for being a witness to the world of what the love of God can do. Thank you for being Jesus’s hands and heart to the communities you serve. 

Marking History at Trinity Church, Newport

Bishop Knisely and the Rev. Canon Timothy J. Watt, rector of Trinity Church, Newport, led a service of word and song to mark the dedication of a slave history medallion at the church on Sunday, October 30 at 4 p. m.

Charles Roberts, Bishop Knisely, Rev. Canon Timothy WattThe medallion was installed by the Rhode Island Slave History Medallion (RISHM) project, a statewide effort to promote public awareness of the history of slavery and the slave trade across the state. Trinity is now one of a growing number of sites at which a QR-coded bronze plaque, called a medallion, opens a web page on visitors’ mobile phones explaining the site’s connection to the history of slavery in Rhode Island.

“It’s hard to imagine any industry, any institution, in this state that was here in the early 19th century that in some way was not participating in and receiving monies that were connected with the trade of human beings, both in the United States and in the Caribbean, from insurance industries to loom and textile manufacturers to the church” Bishop Knisely said. “We are all connected to that story. And it is a hard story to hear.

“Sometimes it is hard to face the truth,” he said, “but there is no other way to be free.”

Canon Watt said since Trinity’s vestry approved the placement of the medallion, he had heard from critics who said it went too far and those who said it did not go far enough in acknowledging the church’s participation in the slave trade. But he said it was “a simple historical fact” that Trinity parishioners and several of its early rectors enslaved people or were involved in the trans-Atlantic trade in human beings.

In October 1729, George Berkeley, the eminent philosopher, preached from Trinity’s pulpit in support of the “Yorke-Talbot Opinion,” a joint opinion of the British attorney and solicitor generals that enslaved persons did not become free by virtue of their baptism.

“In other words, ‘Relax, masters, it’s okay to let them be baptized. They’ll still be your slaves,’” Watt said.

Berkeley, who was then a priest and later a bishop in the Church of Ireland, enslaved several people at his nearby farm in Middletown during his few years in Rhode Island. The opinion he defended helped legitimized slavery in Great Britain for decades.

As a Christian, Watt said, he prays that Jesus will correct him when he is in error and bring him to amendment of life. “And so, we place this marker to remember when we’re in error and for the Holy Spirit to work in us for amendment of life,” he said.

Charles Roberts, RIHSM’s director, told those gathered for the dedication that his organization places medallions at historic sites to make the history of the state’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade more accessible to the general public. On occasion, he said, people discover they have a personal connection to this history, as had happened to him.

As a child growing up in Newport, Roberts played in the nearby God’s Little Acre colonial graveyard and was taken with the two-shouldered gravestones adorned with an angel’s face that made him feel as though he were playing in “a sea of angels.” There are similar gravestones in Trinity’s own cemetery, he said.

As an adult, he learned that a stone in this style marked the grave of Cuffe Gibbs, who had been enslaved by George Gibbs and later by his son, both of whom were members of Trinity Church. The stone had been carved and signed by Gibbs’ brother, Pompe Stevens, who was enslaved by a local artisan. In signing this one example of his work, Stevens caused later historians to look upon the contributions of black artisans to colonial era culture with fresh eyes, and also gave evidence that the ties of a Black family had endured despite its members enslavement in different households. Stevens’ design is the inspiration for the design of the medallions place by RIHSM.

“This is living history,” Roberts said. “It doesn’t go away. We are in it. we are part of it.”

The service concluded with a vibrant choral performance by RPM (Reaching People Through Music) Voices of Rhode Island.

Vicar, St Paul’s Wickford

Bishop Knisely has appointed the Rev. Spencer Reece, a priest and acclaimed poet, as vicar of St. Paul’s, Wickford.  

Reece, who was born in Connecticut, was ordained to the priesthood in 2011 and served most recently as priest-in-charge at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jackson Heights, New York. He served previously on the staff of Bishop Carlos Lopez-Lozano of the Reformed Episcopal Church in Spain, a member church of the Anglican Communion. Shortly after his ordination, he won a Fulbright grant to spend a year teaching poetry at the Our Little Roses orphanage in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. 

“Father Spencer brings a deep spirituality and profound understanding of God’s transcendent love to his ministry at St. Paul’s, Wickford,” Bishop Knisely said. “I am delighted that he has agreed to serve in our diocese.”  

Reece is a graduate of Wesleyan University, where he majored in English Literature and studied with Annie Dillard. He holds degrees from the University of York in the United Kingdom, Harvard Divinity School, and Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. His poetry was chosen for the Bakeless Poetry Prize by Nobel laureate Louise Glück and adapted into a short film by director James Franco. He has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Reece, who cites Henri Frederic Amiel and T.S. Eliot as spiritual inspirations, said, “My dream and prayer and goal is to join the ongoing work of St. Paul’s in spreading Jesus’s radical love into every nook and corner of Wickford. Let kindness be our legacy.” 

 During the parish’s transition, which began when the Rev. Virginia Heistand departed for medical reasons earlier this year, Bishop Knisely is serving as rector and handling the parish’s administrative affairs. 

Convention Address 2022

At our Diocesan Convention on November 5, the Bishop spoke about the need to identify and uplift younger leadership. Watch his address here.