Follow where you believe God is calling your heart

The Rev. Jo-Ann Drake, the first woman ordained to the priesthood from the Diocese of Rhode Island, wasn’t able to make the luncheon the diocesan chapter of the Episcopal Church Women hosted recently to celebrate the 49th anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood. But she sent a note. It read, in part:

“On Sunday I had the joy of celebrating the 45th Anniversary of my Ordination to the Priesthood. When Bishop [Fredrick H.] Belden ordained me, he congratulated me on being the first woman priest in the Diocese. I thanked him then told him that all that really mattered was that I wouldn’t be the last.

Your gathering this day demonstrates how resoundingly God answered our prayers and affirmed our call. My thoughts and prayers are with you all and may you have a joyful and Spirit filled day.”

Drake found her way into the Episcopal Church through campus ministry programs at Rhode Island College and Brown University. Belden, a staunch advocate for women’s ordination at a time when the diocese was divided on the issue, ordained her to the priesthood on October 1, 1978, at St. Peter’s Church in Glenside, Pennsylvania, where she had been serving as a transitional deacon.

She would serve other churches in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire before returning to Rhode Island in 1993 as rector of Church of the Redeemer in Providence. Looking back on her journey, which began in a time of great uncertainty, she said recently that she “wouldn’t change a minute of it.”

Drake’s path to the priesthood began as the Episcopal Church’s sometimes fractious discernment of whether women should be ordained to the priesthood was reaching its climax. Such ordinations were not permitted when she entered Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in the fall of 1974, yet weeks earlier in Philadelphia, three bishops had ordained 11 women in defiance of the church’s prohibition.

By the time she graduated from EDS, not only had the church’s General Convention authorized women’s ordination to the priesthood, but two of the Philadelphia 11—the Revs. Carter Hayward, Ph.D and Suzanne Hiatt—were members of the seminary’s faculty.

As the church’s discernment progressed, Drake’s did, too. She had originally felt called to teach, but her interest in ordained ministry intensified, and Belden encouraged her. “I cannot say one bad word about him,” Drake said. “He was so kind and gracious and wanted to ordain a woman in Rhode Island.”

Her path “didn’t really cross,” with Hayward and Hiatt’s, Drake said, but she appreciated their example. “I admire their courage and believe they honestly were following God’s call,” she said. “What they did was grace-filled and holy; a spiritual outpouring of God’s will and God’s love.”

While a number of her classmates were involved in women’s groups and other activities, Drake said that wasn’t for her. “I’m a bookworm and a geek,” she said. “I loved having my nose stuck in a book.”

“A lot” has changed over the course of her ministry, Drake said, particularly in the acceptance of female clergy. While Drake attended chapel regularly at EDS, several of her fellow students and the faculty chose not to attend if Heyward or Hyatt were celebrating. Some bishops would not allow their seminarians to attend.

There have also been significant changes in seminary curriculum, especially around liberation theology, which was just beginning to be studied during her years, she said.

Drake is now retired and associated with St Paul’s, Pawtucket where “I do as much for them as I can,” running the website, contributing to workshops, programs, and quiet days online, and celebrating the Eucharist on occasion. She does interim and supply work, telling the congregations she visits: “I’m here to share the love of God with you. Let’s go.” and “When someone hungry in front of you, give them a sandwich, someone lonely in front of you, spend a few minutes.”

Guests at the ECW luncheon included the Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, the diocese’s former bishop, who was a classmate of Drake’s at EDS, and the Rev. Elizabeth Habecker, a member of the Rhode Island Standing Committee, who was the first woman ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Maine. Wolf, the first woman to be elected bishop of the diocese, presided at the Eucharist preceding the luncheon, and Habecker was among those who offered reflections on their ministry.

Asked what she would say to women considering seminary and ordination today, Drake responded that she would say the same thing to a woman as to a man: “follow where you believe God is calling your heart. If it’s right, God will open the doors. … Happiness in life is in finding what you discern and believe. Follow what you discern is the best for us – what God wants for us. Pray for that – trust that God is going to bring you there.” She concluded by noting, “It’s all about the journey. It’s nice to celebrate the goals, but it’s the whole journey.”


2023 Convention Round-Up

The diocesan convention passed a $4.8 million operating budget that reflects a strong commitment to camp ministry and includes a 15 percent assessment of congregational operating income at its annual meeting on October 28, over Zoom.

In presenting the budget, Jim Segovis, chair of the finance committee, said that diocesan funds and congregational contributions made it possible for the diocese to support “life-saving, life-changing diocesan ministries, including a vibrant camp and conference center; college and young adult ministry; Hispanic ministry; responses to climate change; and ministry to unhoused people.”

The budget also includes funds to compensate the diocesan staff, furnish grants and loans to congregations, maintain diocesan property, and support “the churchwide and global ministries of the wider Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion,” he said. (Read a budget narrative.)

In his annual address, Bishop Nicholas Knisely urged the convention to consider the word “parish” in the context of the Episcopal Church’s Anglican heritage.

Churches founded by the Church of England “understand their congregation as the people who worship in the building and the parish as the people who live near the building,” he said. “The people who worship are gathered and sent to care for their neighbors, who are part of their parish whether they worship with them or not.

“We serve the community in which we are planted,” he said. “We serve the people who worship in the building, but not because they’re our loyal customers, though we fall into the trap often enough. We serve the people who worship in the building so that they are equipped and consecrated by virtue of their baptism to serve the parish in which we live.”

The budget is informed by an Anglican understanding of what it means to be a parish, Bishop Knisely said, using the $141,000 contribution from the operating budget to Episcopal Camp and Conference Center as an example.

“[T]he ECC subsidy is the largest part of our common work funded by parish assessments,” Bishop Knisely said. “That speaks to our commitment to this work and reflects its impact on the people who attend.”

Sixty percent of those who attend ECC camps are not Episcopalians, he said. “They are the people in our neighborhoods, not the people in our buildings.”

ECC’s camping programs survived difficult years at the depths of the pandemic, Bishop Knisely said, but they rebounded this summer. “This … tells me that ECC is a sustainable, life-changing program and ministry which we have made significant investments in over the past decade, and which I believe will continue to have an impact across the state and around the wider church.”

The diocesan budget also devotes $56,700 to campus ministry.

“I’m grateful that together we’re able to continue to engage young adults on a number of our college and university campuses in Rhode Island—not just in having identified chaplains on campus, but by having entire congregations recognize that it’s an important part of their local ministry,” Bishop Knisely said. “I’m hoping that in coming years we’ll be able to do more and coordinate the various programs more effectively.”

The bishop said he is also eager to find ways to relieve parishes and parish clergy of administrative burdens, perhaps through assistance with bookkeeping, payroll services and assistance in fulfilling legal and canonical responsibilities.

“I want to try to find ways to put you back in the mission field that we ordained you to serve, that we trained you to serve, and that you want to serve,” he told clergy.

“I want you to cultivate that community so that community can cooperate to solve the larger problems we are facing. And if you convert a few people, that would not be such a terrible thing.”

In other business, the diocese elected members to a variety of offices and confirmed appointments made by the bishop.

Delegates also approved the first reading of a constitutional amendment that would give the opportunity to speak, but not vote, at convention to officers of the diocese, members of diocesan commissions and other individuals selected by the bishop and approved by the convention.

A resolution that would have modified the nominating process for diocesan elections—in part by eliminating the requirement that nominees receive the endorsement of three members of the convention—was narrowly defeated.

The Rev. Dr. Andrew McGowan, dean of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, preached at the convention Eucharist on the evening October 27 at St. Luke’s Church, East Greenwich. Earlier in the day he gave a presentation on “True Bread: The meals of Jesus and the life of the Church” at St. Luke’s.

On the conflict in Gaza and Israel

On Tuesday, an airstrike at Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City reportedly killed hundreds of patients, healthcare workers and civilians seeking shelter. The hospital is operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, released a statement today on the “atrocious attack” for which each side in the conflict is blaming the other.

This atrocity violates the sanctity and dignity of human life. It is a violation of humanitarian law, which is clear that hospitals, doctors and patients must be protected. For this reason, it’s essential that we exercise restraint in apportioning responsibility before all the facts are clear.

The evil and heinous terror attacks by Hamas on people in Israel were crimes against God and humanity. Israel has a legitimate right and duty to defend itself, and to pursue a proportionate and discriminate response to establish its security. The rules of war are there to safeguard civilians and the value of every human life. They must be upheld to the highest degree possible amidst the chaos of conflict, otherwise the cycle of violence will continue for generations to come.

Israel’s bombing campaign on the heavily populated Gaza Strip is causing massive civilian casualties and suffering. The people of Gaza are running out of water, food, medical supplies and places of refuge. Families in Israel and around the world still wait for news of their loved ones. It is unconscionable that aid is being prevented from reaching children and adults who are not combatants in this war. It is indefensible that hospitals, schools and refugee camps are being struck. It is an outrage that hostages are being held by Hamas. The bloodshed, slaughter and suffering of innocent people on all sides must stop.

Welby called for hostages to be released, civilians protected and a corridor for humanitarian aid to be opened in Gaza. (Read more.)

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry released a statement yesterday, calling the church to prayer for “for the birthplace of the Abrahamic faiths and for all its people.”

Pray this week for President Biden, that he may be an advocate for immediate humanitarian access for those who desperately need food, water, and medicine—and for comfort and consolation for those who have been displaced and those who are grieving loved ones.

Bishop Knisely offers this prayer for use in our diocese:

Holy One, we are in anguish witnessing the violence and suffering happening in the Holy Land. The scenes and the accounts are heart wrenching. Today we implore you to soften, to heal, the hearts of those consumed with anger and revenge. We pray for a cease-fire, we pray a for humanitarian response, and we pray for the diplomats working night and day to make both happen. We pray for our friends, and we pray for our enemies. We pray in the hope that by your grace, a new path might be possible. We pray this in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations is asking Episcopalians to urge their members of Congress to:

  1. Publicly call for a ceasefire, de-escalation, and restraint by all sides.
  2. Call on all parties to abide by the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions and customary international law.
  3. Prioritize steps to secure the immediate release of hostages and ensure international protection for civilians

Take action via the Office of Government Relations website.

In a statement yesterday, the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem condemned the “brutal attack on the hospital. “As we grieve the loss of countless souls who perished on our premises, we declare a day of mourning in all our churches and institutions. We beseech our friends, partners, and individuals of goodwill to stand in solidarity, mourning with us the heinous assault on our dedicated staff and vulnerable patients.”

This morning, Archbishop Hosam Naoum gave a press conference regarding the bombing. It is available on Facebook. He disclosed that the hospital received warnings from the Israeli government to evacuate for three days before the strike but said he did not know who was responsible for the attack. (27 minutes)

Church for Middle East Peace, of which the Episcopal Church is a founding member, has released a statement on the bombing.

The Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem have also released a statement. “We unequivocally declare this atrocity an egregious crime one demanding the severest censure and international accountability,” they wrote, calling on the global community “to embrace its sacred duty to shield civilians and to ensure that such heinous transgressions are never again permitted.”

What else can I do to give back?

At 68 years of age, Rhode Islander Peter Bak found himself wondering what would come next. Retired after a successful career in business, he had spent three years making visits to nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, scout troops and more with Lucy, the first therapy-certified pit bull in the state. Still, Bak found himself looking for more.

“What else can I do to give back? So many people have given so much to me: what else can I do?” he remembers asking himself.

When he expressed his quandary to the bishop’s staff, Bak was introduced to the Episcopal Volunteers in Mission program, part of the Mission Personnel Office of The Episcopal Church. He visited the church’s headquarters in New York while Elizabeth Boe, the Episcopal Church’s staff officer for global mission engagement, was in Tanzania, where the Rev. John Madinda, the principal of St. Philip’s Theological College expressed a need for someone to help people training for the priesthood learn more about how to maintain their churches. He also, he said, needed help maintaining the college’s building in Kongwa.

Bak didn’t need to be asked twice.

He began his ministry in Tanzania in 2018, making regular trips of two to three months each. Today his work still includes training future priests and work on the college’s building. But, he said with a laugh, he has learned that the most important skill is the ability to “always stay flexible,” since every day can include last minute surprises.

Bak’s work has expanded to connecting priests-in-training to the Bethesda Disability Program and teaching the school’s students how to use tools. Last year, he made a dozen cornhole games in Rhode Island and took them to Tanzania for the students in the Disability Program to paint.

His work in Tanzania is characterized by respect and love for the people he serves. “We mzungus (a term for white people in the Swahili language) are in their homeland and should be doing what they want,” Bak said. “I learned that the men especially liked my complimenting their work by calling it ‘supa.’ It caught on: ‘Supa work!’ Now, you can see groups of fifteen or twenty Tanzanian young men chanting ‘supa, supa, supa’ with a Boston accent.”

“Peter throws himself wholeheartedly into every experience,” Boe said. “He has built a great team at the theological college using his gifts of listening and responding to the situation at hand. He embodies what being a missionary in the 21st century is all about – building relationships, listening, learning, offering God-given skills.”

Bak is grateful to the Diocese of Rhode Island for support that has provided a new computer for the College’s top student and a new pump for the drip irrigation project. “Increasing the pump size has allowed us to grow more food.”

He encourages other Episcopalians to consider Episcopal Volunteers in Mission, a program for adults who are interested in living and serving in communities around the Anglican Communion.

“Don’t be afraid to do something new,” he said. “You may not have ever done it before, but that doesn’t matter – just be willing to learn. Before going to Tanzania, I hadn’t been out of the country except for trips to Canada. Going to Tanzania and learning to keep an open mind is a biggie. Just ask God for help to understand and work with the people there.”

Bak returned to Tanzania on October 3 and invites members of the diocese to follow his ministry on his blog. To learn more about Episcopal Volunteers in Mission, email Elizabeth Boe or fill out an online application. 

Winter Shelter

The Diocese of Rhode Island is joining an interfaith effort, coordinated by the state’s Department of Housing, to significantly increase the number of beds available to people living without shelter this winter.  

Bishop Nicholas Knisely attended a press conference last Friday at which Governor Dan McKee and Secretary of Housing Stefan Pryor outlined efforts to increase the number of beds available to Rhode Island residents who lack housing to 1,370 from last winter’s total of 789.  

“I’m delighted to be involved in this initiative, not just because it’s helping the homeless, but because it’s a new model of collaboration between government and faith organizations,” Bishop Knisely said. “Homelessness is a complicated and multifaceted challenge. Responding to it and making a real impact is going to require creative and collaborative initiatives — like this.” 

The state’s efforts include adding 318 beds to its shelter system, deploying rapidly deployable, temporary shelters of 30-45 beds known as pallet shelters, and developing a network of emergency hubs that can be opened when weather conditions dictate. These shelters would be available overnight to Rhode Island residents who lacked shelter or those whose homes had lost heat or power.  

At the press conference, Pryor thanked Bishop Knisely “for already working with possibilities within the bishop’s constellation of Episcopal churches,” to develop the emergency network. 

“These sites are expected to be a partnership between local government, churches and social service agencies,” the bishop said. “The congregations will be helping to fill gaps around the state where there isn’t sufficient shelter right now.”  

 A recent report by the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness estimated that more than 1,660 people will be without shelter in Rhode Island this winter.  

Other faiths and denominations are also active in the effort to provide shelter for those facing a winter living outdoors. Joining Bishop Knisely at the press conference were Monsignor Albert Kenney of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, Iman Abdul-latif Sackor of the Islamic Center of Rhode Island, Imam Mufti Ikram Haq of Masjid al-Islam and Rabbi Sarah Mack of Temple Beth-El.  

“I’m glad to that there has been such a broad response across denominations and faiths here in the state,” Knisely said. “Rhode Island is small enough that many of us know each other and when we were invited to be part of this initiative, we could build on those existing relationships to coordinate our plans effectively.” 


A Statement from Bishop Knisely

Earlier this week, I stood with members of the Rhode Island community at the Jewish Community Center in Providence and joined with our Jewish neighbors lamenting the horrific attacks on civilians in Israel and praying for peace. Since that evening, the news has grown increasingly dire and I am fearful, as are many, that this conflict will continue to escalate and spread across the Middle East.

Israel has a fundamental right to exist and to protect itself. And all life is sacred and must be preserved. I ask your prayers for de-escalation, for a humanitarian response, and for an end to the violence and unimaginable suffering in the Holy Land in this hour.

I ask you also to be careful to avoid any attempts to turn this horrible and complex situation into a simple binary us versus them narrative. Our Jewish neighbors are in danger, in deep grief and shock. One synagogue in Providence has been threatened. That sense of fear may spread in the coming weeks to our Muslim neighbors and their friends as well.

I also want to urge you to be aware that an increasing amount of disinformation is being posted to Social Media. When you are seeking understanding, please turn to professional journalists who have checked facts rather than initial reports from unknown observers. Be careful not to spread disinformation unintentionally.

The Bishops of the Episcopal Church have heard from Archbishop Hosam Naoum, Primate of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East. He has asked us to pray urgently for the opening of a humanitarian corridor into Gaza. He has also asked us to support the Gaza Appeal of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which is providing critical support to Ahli Hospital in Gaza. (

I invite Episcopalians across the state to join with me in prayer this weekend. Archbishop Hosam has written a prayer that we can use.

O God of all justice and peace we cry out to you in the midst of the pain and trauma of violence and fear which prevails in the Holy Land.

Be with those who need you in these days of suffering; we pray for people of all faiths – Jews, Muslims and Christians and for all people of the land.

While we pray to you, O Lord, for an end to violence and the establishment of peace, we also call for you to bring justice and equity to the peoples. Guide us into your kingdom where all people are treated with dignity and honour as your children for, to all of us, you are our Heavenly Father.

In Jesus’ name we pray.


Convention 2023

Registration is Open!

This year, our Diocesan Convention will take place via Zoom on Saturday, October 28. The Convention Eucharist will be held Friday, October 27 at St. Luke’s, East Greenwich.

On the afternoon of October 27 the Rev. Dr. Andrew McGowan, Dean of Berkeley Seminary at Yale, will give a presentation, which will be followed by an informal dinner and a Ministry fair. All are welcome to the presentation, dinner, the Eucharist, and the following reception. Please register at this link to help us prepare.

Registration information regarding the business meeting of Convention has been sent to all persons eligible to participate. If you believe that you are eligible, but have not received a registration email, please contact

The meeting will be available to view here on our site on the Convention page.

How EfM has informed my ministry

Recent Sunday readings from the Old Testament have focused on stories from Genesis. Pre-EfM, Genesis was, for me, simply the book that started off with day 1, day 2, day 3, etc… of the Creation story. I wouldn’t get much farther in reading before nodding off or wanting to find something else to do. EfM changed that. Perhaps it was spending the money and/or committing the time but reading the
Bible became something I looked forward to. The textbooks, which weren’t always riveting, and working with the other participants made the Scriptures come alive. Class discussions, prayer, and reflections energized the familiar words. They became real, meaningful, and full of life. I came to realize that they speak to us today. I found stories that were filled with humor, drama, love, and conflict. These stories that are thousands of years old and from a land far different than 21st Century Rhode Island offer insights, clarity, wisdom, and inspiration to my life today. The ancient stories help me to better understand events in my life and the world. I see God’s continuing role in guiding and directing Creation.

The EfM course weaves together study of the Old Testament, New Testament, church history, and theology in weekly sessions where the participants engage in stirring conversation, creative prayer, and deep reflection. A recent Sunday reading told the story of Jacob wrestling with God. The story ends with Jacob limping and receiving God’s blessing. I read a commentary recently that suggested that Jacob was wrestling with his faith. Thought of in that way, the story resonates for us today. For the Christian, isn’t life a constant wrestling match with faith? We struggle with our faith and we may even be bruised at times, but ultimately we receive God’s blessing. EfM has taught me to look at life in this way. We are in constant interaction with our Creator. It isn’t always easy and at times there may even be some difficulties. Being a member and a mentor in EfM has enriched my life in many ways and opened a whole new dimension of faith. Daily I see God’s hand in the world around me and I realize that God engages with each of us through prayer, the Scriptures, the Church, the people we encounter, and the world at large. EfM has helped me to see those many interactions, to understand them, and to value them.

John Lord, a former EfM participant and mentor

If you are interested in learning more about EfM, please contact The Rev. Susan Wrathall, or Jane Jellison. A group is in progress at St Mark’s in Warwick, and another group is planning a fall start at Trinity North Scituate.

Episcopal Church Creation Care Supports Climate Resistance on Aquidneck Island

by Nancy Bryan

Six congregations in Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport will partner with the diocese’s creation care ministry in a climate resistance pilot project that has won $18,000 in grant funding from The Episcopal Church’s Task Force on the Care of Creation and Environmental Racism.

“One of the central focuses of our work will be on the well-being of environmental justice communities on Aquidneck Island, what kinds of impacts climate change is going to have on these communities, and how Episcopal churches can help,” said Emily Eggington Skeehan, a member of St. Mary’s, Portsmouth, and project manager of the Aquidneck Island Parish Resilience Pilot Project.

The grant funds were allocated by the 2022 General Convention. The task force selected twelve grantees, including the Diocese of Rhode Island, based on applications submitted in the spring, and the grant awards were approved by the church’s Executive Council at its meeting in Providence in June.

In the next year, the diocese’s creation care ministry team will use the grant funds to help the six participating congregations be prepared for climate emergencies and ready to address the needs of their most vulnerable neighbors during extreme weather events.

“For example, churches could stock cots, sheets, toiletries, and non-perishable food, consider installing showers in a bathroom, and work with local emergency management so that people know that they can come to that particular church,” the grant proposal reads, noting that due to environmental racism, “low-income communities … have less capacity to bounce back from severe weather events than more affluent areas.”

Other grant-funded activities will include parish formation programs and creation-centered liturgical events, including two water-focused pilgrimages. One, planned for this fall, will visit Aquidneck Island watersheds. Next spring, the second will explore the Atlantic Ocean and the arms of Narragansett Bay surrounding the island.

The creation care ministry team also plans to hold its third annual Conference for Creation Care in the autumn of 2024, at which it will present the results of its Aquidneck Island project.

The team’s second conference will take place on September 23 at All Saints, Providence. Learn more and register online.

ECC’s City Camp Enriches Summer

For nearly 40 years, children from the Olneyville section of Providence have had the opportunity to spend part of their summer at ECC’s City Camp, a free day camp for children ages 6 to 12 that includes both field trips and the games, fun, and relationship-building of more traditional summer camps.

Marisa Rainey first came to City Camp in 2011 as a counselor. “City Camp made me want to be a teacher,” she says. After several years of serving as the program’s director in the summertime as director of City Camp and teaching middle school math in Roxbury, Massachusetts during the school year, Rainey is now ECC’s full-time summer camp and program director.

“I knew I wanted to work with kids, but I didn’t know how,” she says. “That summer, I was the only female counselor, so I had all the girls. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the 11- and 12-year-olds talking about their lives and families and school, but disheartened by how little they liked math. I wrote my college admissions essay about that and became a middle school math teacher. Except for the summer after college when I worked for Teach for America, I’ve been at City Camp ever since.”

“Service to the community is a pillar of ECC, as is the belief that every child deserves chance to go to camp,” Rainey says. “As an educator, I know that kids fall behind without camp and the activities and connections it offers.” City Camp, she has been delighted to find, runs in families, and she now meets younger siblings and family members of previous generations of campers participating in the program.

While City Camp offers children exposure to activities they might not otherwise experience, Rainey says that counselors benefit as much as campers. City Camp “is not about us giving an experience to others. It’s about all of us having an experience together.”

Although City Camp 2023 lasted just two weeks due to a staffing shortage, Rainey hopes to return soon to the camp’s typical six-week program. To support the program, ECC accepts donations of water bottles, healthy snacks, and other items on their wish list. Granola bars and other breakfast items are particularly helpful, because while Rhode Island’s Summer Food Service Program covers lunch for each camper, its hours of operation do not qualify it to receive breakfast funds.

Congregations interested in supporting the program or hosting a lunch in 2024 can email Rainey at