Celebrating Pauli Murray

In cooperation with Province I, we hosted an evening with Rosita Stevens-Holsey, neice of the late Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray. If you were unable to make it, a recording is available here: https://vimeo.com/949955953?share=copy

There are two book studies on offer if you are interested in taking a deeper dive:

  • Emily Keniston plans to offer a two-part book study for young people (book ages recommended are 10-14): one on June 12th and the other on June 19th both from 7-8 PM on Zoom. The sign up form is here. Another youth minister (and high school English teacher!) has agreed to work jointly to share this offering. We will break the book into roughly two parts, and participants will do their honest best to read the assigned pages prior to the discussion. Let Emily know if you have any questions! ekeniston@episcopalmaine.net


  • Song in A Weary Throat: Writing & Reading with the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray

Join Canon D Littlepage and Canon Sarah Woodford of ECCT for a creative writing book study of Song in A Weary Throat. Every second Thursday from August to December 2024, we will gather over Zoom from 7-8 PM ET and discuss 90 pages of this Pauli Murray classic. Canon Sarah will also provide you with creative writing prompts before each session to help you more deeply engage with the material. Feel free to share the writing that comes from these prompts during our session, or create a larger essay from them, or just keep them to yourself! For more information, please contact swoodford@episcopalct.org.

To keep up with Rosita Stevens-Holsey and activities surrounding the memory of Rev. Murray, follow @preservingpaulimurray on Instagram, go to her website at www.preservingpaulimurray.com, and to https://paulimurraycenter.networkforgood.com/. You may purchase Rosita’s book at https://a.co/d/hIYRGl4, or stream the film “My Name is Pauli Murray” at https://www.amazon.com/My-Name-Pauli-Murray/dp/B09DMPMWCP.

A Message from our CFO

Dear Friends, 

As we approach July 1, the second anniversary of my full-time work as CFO of the diocese, I would like to thank all of you for your support, and for sharing your thoughtful ideas of how we can be of greatest service to you. 

I would particularly like to thank Dennis Burton for making my transition to this new role as seamless as possible. 

Many of you have commented on the work of the Commission on Finance, and its new narrative budget format that was approved at Convention in October for fiscal year 2024. Our objective is to build on that foundation to make our finances more transparent, and in so doing, to make our spending priorities more intentional and impactful. 

You will find many similarities between your congregation’s budgets and our own, particularly in the opportunities and challenges of expanding our sources of revenue beyond standard forms of traditional support.  We can all become stronger if we adjust our models to reflect changing patterns of giving due to demographic shifts.  At the diocese, we remain firmly supportive of your many and vibrant ministries. 

Succession planning is one of the most critical dimensions of institutional well-being, and we are pleased to be able to announce that effective this month Joan DeCelles, our long-serving finance director, will be joined by Mark Hartonchik, CPA, as controller (pictured).  While Joan initially indicated that she would be retiring mid-year, she has agreed to serve on a half-time basis beginning July 1. Barbara Stevenson will continue to serve as part-time bookkeeper.

On the property side, Diocesan Council has mandated that a Diocesan Property Working Group (DPWG) “investigate, study, recommend action for and manage the process of the development of the Diocesan block on behalf of the Diocese.” Given the creation of a City of Providence Master Plan, this work is both timely and critical to our stewardship of this important property.  As previously reported, Lance Roberts now serves as director of diocesan property operations, and has been particularly helpful with the use of Hallworth House as a medical respite facility, the many capital projects at our camp — the Episcopal Conference Center (ECC) — and planning our renovation of 62 Benefit Street. Going forward, he will serve with me on the DPWG, and will also be engaged on the construction side of our solar farm at ECC, scheduled to be operational in 2025. 

In my role, I am particularly grateful to work with such a talented group of volunteers, from our chairs of, and members of commissions, to our Diocesan Treasurer Vicki Escalera, and to the wardens, treasurers, and vestries of our congregations. On the property planning side, Scott Avedisian has agreed to serve in the volunteer role of adjunct professor to me and to those others of us who are new to Rhode Island as we begin that important journey.  We look forward to welcoming Scott to Diocesan House.   

Lastly, if you are not yet volunteering in a leadership role within your congregation, I would ask that you consider serving.  For me, that was the door that led to the stairway to this opportunity to serve alongside all of you. 

In Faith, 


Public Safety Advocacy

The state senate last night approved a new safe-storage bill that would require that all guns be stored in a locked container or secured with gun locks unless they are in an owner’s possession.

“I am delighted to see the bill requiring safe gun storage pass the senate and am grateful for the work that we, as people of faith, have done to encourage our elected leaders to enact legislation that addresses specific vulnerable areas in preventing gun violence while respecting the rights of responsible gun owners,” said the Rev. Dr. Dena Cleaver-Bartholomew, canon to the ordinary, who joined other faith leaders earlier this month in supporting both the safe-storage legislation and a ban on assault weapons that did not make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The work we do together—the crucial investment in gun violence prevention, education, legislation, and community conversations—is a tangible expression of God’s call for us to love and care for one another,” Cleaver-Bartholomew said.

Bishop Nicholas Knisely, a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network of more than 100 Episcopal bishops, has also lobbied state and federal leaders on behalf of gun violence prevention legislation.

The bill, which passed 28-7, now moves to the house, where a companion bill has been introduced. Its chances of passage are considered to be good.

Maggi Dawn to Lead Clergy Retreat, Become Episcopal Church Priest on March 16

On March 16 from 9 a.m. to noon, the Rev. Maggi Dawn — an English theologian, professor, and author — will lead a retreat for clergy at St. Columba’s, Middletown. Through small groups, worship installations, and quiet time, participants will explore biblical stories of wilderness, including Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and stories about Elijah, Noah and Moses. Clergy can register online.

“Marcel Proust wrote that when we read someone else’s story, we are really reading about ourselves,” Dawn writes. “And all of these biblical wilderness stories act as a lens to read our own lives—our encounter with God, discerning and developing our vocations, how to deal with doubts and regrets, and how to handle life and ministry when God seems far away.”

The retreat will also mark a milestone for Dawn, who has been a Church of England priest for 24 years. During the day in Middletown, she will sign the Oath of Conformity required by Article VIII of the Episcopal Church’s Constitution and become a priest of the Diocese of Rhode Island. Bishop Knisely has named her diocesan theologian of the diocese.

Dawn’s relationship with the Diocese of Rhode Island began when she was associate professor of theology and literature and associate dean of Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School from 2011 to 2019. During the pandemic, former students invited her to preach, lead bible studies, and even attend online coffee hours.

“Parishes here were trying out creative ways to keep their worship lively during the pandemic, and although online worship had its limits, one of the unique features was the way it linked people up across the miles,” she said. Once lockdown restrictions eased, Dawn served as resident theologian at Emmanuel Church, Newport.

Having served both at Yale and as principal of St Mary’s College at the University of Durham, England, where she remains a professor in the Department of Theology and Religion, Dawn recognizes distinct strengths in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church.

“The Church of England does certain things beautifully — they are renowned for tradition and ritual, and the choral tradition, for instance,” she says. “One of the most fascinating posts I held was as the chaplain of King’s College, Cambridge, where I learned more about Christmas than I knew possible!

“On the other hand, the Episcopal Church has far more readily found its way to making substantial changes that the Church of England still struggles to reconcile. It’s far easier, for instance, for a woman to have a priestly ministry in the United States. The Church of England ordained women 30 years ago this year, but there are still various provisos in place to ensure that there are parishes that can refuse a woman in Holy Orders. One of the things I enjoy in the States is that I never have to waste any energy justifying my existence, and I can simply get on with the work God has called me to do.”

As diocesan theologian, Dawn will teach, preach and lead occasional programs for laypeople and clergy. “I am so delighted to have been welcomed by the Diocese of Rhode Island into a whole new chapter of ministry!” she says. “It is such a pleasure to have begun working with the clergy, staff, and congregations of the diocese. So far it has been a journey of relationship-building, and I am looking forward to developing this further.”

Bishop Knisely, Rhode Island Deputies Prepare for General Convention 

From June 23 to 28, Bishop Knisely, together with Rhode Island deputies and alternates elected by diocesan convention, will attend the 81st General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Louisville, Kentucky. While General Convention is usually held once every three years, the previous General Convention was held just two years ago, postponed by one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s meeting returns the church to its usual calendar. 

General Convention functions through legislative committees, and for this convention, Bishop Knisely has been appointed secretary of the House of Bishops Committee on the Title IV Disciplinary Canons. Several Rhode Island deputies have also been named to legislative committees: 

Legislative committees will consider a variety of resolutions about the Episcopal Church’s polity, positions on social justice issues, and Constitution and Canons. Many of those resolutions have been submitted by commissions, task forces, and other interim bodies that have worked in the last two years to consider issues of importance to the church. Read their reports, find a list of upcoming online legislative committee meetings, and register to attend. 

General Convention will also adopt a churchwide budget for 2025-2027 and elect leaders to several churchwide board, agencies, and other bodies. One highlight of this summer’s convention will be the election and confirmation of the 28th presiding bishop, which is scheduled to take place on June 26. Learn more. 

To receive regular updates about General Convention, register for the General Convention Office newsletter. 

Sophie Kitch-Peck, Canticle Communications

The Rev. Della Wager Wells Reflects on the “Come and See” Ministry of the Compass Rose Society

Recently the Rev. Della Wager Wells, rector of Emmanuel, Newport, talked with Nancy Bryan of Canticle Communications about her fifteen years of ministry with the Compass Rose Society, an organization founded in 1997 that supports the programs and ministries of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), the organization that sets the goals and direction for the Communion. 

photo of The Rev. Della Wager Wells
The Rev. Della Wager Wells

I would love to hear a bit about your background and particularly about how you became involved in Compass Rose. How did you learn about the organization, how far back does it go in your life?

Della Wager Wells:
Those two things are inextricably linked. This wasn’t my initial trajectory, unless you go way back to my childhood when at the age of seven I told my mother I wanted to be a Jesuit priest, and she said that was really one of the things that was off the list for me. She hadn’t told me I couldn’t do things before, so that was unusual. I’d read a children’s biography about Jesuit work and the famous Jesuits who were at work as professors and doctors and lawyers and innovators and people who really went to the intersection of God in the world. They didn’t go off and pray on behalf of others in monasteries. They were right out with the people doing the things.

At that time, I couldn’t have become an Episcopal priest, either, although weirdly and coincidentally, my great-uncle, Bishop Robert L. DeWitt, then retired bishop of Pennsylvania, was, with Bishops Daniel Corrigan and Edward Welles, censured by the House of Bishops for ordaining the first eleven women in Philadelphia in 1974.

I was 14 at the time of their ordination and the idea of priesthood still hadn’t presented itself to me. I had church on my mind and was very much an Episcopalian, so I did the next best thing and I went to law school and became a lawyer working in nonprofit finance — public projects that yielded public good — for about thirty years.

In around 2008 I was senior warden at All Saints’, Atlanta. As I was retiring, my rector, Geoffrey Hoare, invited me to go to the upcoming Compass Rose meeting in Canterbury to represent All Saints’, Atlanta. I said, yes, and besides would also go on the follow-on Compass Rose pilgrimage to the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, in the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. Everybody thought I was a little crazy to go when I didn’t know anyone, but I went to the other side of the world where everything from the temperature of the air, to the currency, to the language, to everything about the cultural context, was different. It felt like the noise level dropped and all of a sudden what was important was how we were alike instead of how we were different. And that was my epiphany.

I realized at that point that that was what I was supposed to be doing, and I started to take one seminary course every semester while still practicing law full-time. When I finally retired in 2015 and went to Yale Divinity School, I actually had a full year to my credit, although I didn’t use it because I loved divinity school. It was the Compass Rose Society that helped me see that I was made to be a missionary and that I needed to be working in the same area, but with a different client, for God.

After I graduated, I had a fellowship in Jerusalem for a year, before returning to the States to begin my work at Emmanuel, where I’ve been ever since.

And how has your work with Compass Rose continued?

Actively, in that I never am far separated from it, and it infuses everything that we do here at Emanuel. Even in the most parochial context, as I said earlier, it’s when we see ourselves in another whole context and see what is really essential about us that we understand ourselves most fully. …

The Compass Rose Society is not a fundraising entity or a relief and development entity. We have other avenues for that. We have Episcopal Relief & Development, we have the Anglican Alliance, and others. The Compass Rose Society is what removes barriers to relationship.

The origin story of Compass Rose is that then-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey visited South Sudan in 1994. When the Archbishop’s staff asked the primate’s representatives how many people would come for communion, the response was, oh, we won’t have communion. Upon further conversation, the archbishop’s staff was told that it was “because we have no bread, we have no wine.” Back at Lambeth Palace, George Carey summoned everybody into his office and just said, fix this, fix this.

And so the Compass Rose Society was formed. Our fundraising is to help the Anglican Communion Office operate in aid of the mission of connection of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the global Communion: to somehow get the bread and the wine there. And that’s essentially what we do.

I’m wondering how you’ve seen your parish and the diocese of Rhode Island benefit from these relationships that Compass Rose makes possible.

I think these relationships help us to see that we’re not alone and to connect in critical times, such as the climate crisis, to those who suffer most even while having the least impact. At Emmanuel, I’ve tried to help us see and connect to the land. For example, we started a community garden up in the churchyard.

As we harvested the garden’s produce, we brought the tomatoes forward at the offertory. I talked about how that is very East African — that produce and honey and goats and chickens, they all come forward at the offertory. People bring their offerings of their produce, and then auction them off afterwards with that income becoming an offering to the church. And so, we at Emmanuel brought the produce from our garden forward for blessing. The time, the riches, our gifts are not only the bread and the wine and the money that comes forward, but also what we’re growing together in community, which includes relationship, concern about responding in love, all of those things.

We’ve also had visitors. Bishop Emmanuel Bwatta of the Diocese of Western Tanganyika in ACT has visited us and preached here, along with others from around the Communion, particularly last year while I was on medical leave. I had friends from all over the Communion coming in to preach. I think that the parish has come to understand themselves better by seeing that our experiences are not normative of the rest of the Communion. We explore and see what our traditions mean to us by seeing them as different from others and understanding better what they are.

Even something like the use of liturgical colors. I talk a lot about how Jesus is not quoted in any of the four gospels and none of the ancient mothers and fathers of the faith wrote that you can only use green in Ordinary Time and you can only use purple during Advent. That other congregations in the Episcopal church use blue and the Church of South India uses saffron, which is absolutely lovely.

And it was amazing how that lit people up both as a difference and as a discovery of what a liturgical color could feel like, having not necessarily appreciated where it came from or why we used it before. That’s where difference helps us.

I think also difference helps us in that if we aren’t engaged with, if we’re not hungry for — not just tolerant of — and yearning for diversity, then we’re missing a little. It’s easy to become self-focused and idolatrous looking at ourselves and being self-focused.

I understand that your trip this past summer to Tanzania was the first Compass Rose Society visit there since before the pandemic. How did that span of time change the visit? How did it change the relationships, having not seen each other for so many years?

What was different this time was that this was the first time we’ve ever visited a province and not a diocese. We were very spread out! We visited the Diocese of Zanzibar, we visited the Diocese of Dar es Salaam, we visited the Diocese of Tanga and the Diocese of Dodoma, and we visited St. John’s University. So, we were all over from the middle of the country in the political capital, and back out to the financial capital on the coast, over to Zanzibar, up to Tanga. Tanga is also on the coast, so we were all over the place and that was big. I’m looking forward to developing those relationships. I had most recently seen Archbishop Maimbo Mndolwa in England in autumn of 2022.

I’ve spent time with him before several different times. This was the first time I had seen Bishop Emanuel Bwatta of the Diocese of Western Tanganyika since he was here in Newport in January of 2020. But we talk on the phone all the time and on WhatsApp; the relationships don’t go away. They don’t go away. It was wonderful to be back again. I lived there in the summer of 2016 for my internship and to be back in Tanzania and to stretch out and speak a little bad Swahili, kindergarten Swahili. It was fun.

Is there a story from Tanzania that highlights that relationship building?

I have two. First is the capacity that we have, any of us with material resources, to do good. … Church is really important and God is really important in Tanzania. … They don’t divide the world up between what is sacred and what is secular. They don’t say, okay, this is the holy pile and this is the daily pile, the mundane pile. We put food and agriculture and economic development and healthcare and education in the daily mundane pile and put Sunday worship in the holy pile, and that’s got a special gold ring around it, a halo.

They don’t do that. Hence, they have enormous integration in incarnate effectiveness every single day. Trinity Wall Street made an economic development grant to the diocese of Dodoma and built a downtown office building. Guess who the development officers are in East Africa? Typically the mamas, the Mothers’ Union, is in charge of economic development because they are in charge of the family, which is also an inverse, right? It’s different from what you’d expect. But the mamas are in charge. They do all investment and all singing. The building was opened ceremonially by the president of Tanzania the day after we left.

Although it hadn’t been it finished out yet, the building was leased up by the National Bank and by other national corporations, producing investment dollars to operate the social services and every service of the church. The church functions in a very vital way, not relegated to Sundays for an hour, but “all the time,” as they say.

And the other story is that my husband and I spent time in the Diocese of Western Tanganyika, a place where I’ve had a relationship for probably close to 20 years with the Rt. Rev. Emmanuel Bwatta. While we were there, I preached one Sunday to 1600 people. I’d never done that before. It was ecumenical and interfaith because it was in a fishing village where there were Muslim people and Christian people, Anglican people. All of the young people were there to support their friends, with 180 youth confirmed that day by Bishop Emmanuel.

… I think sometimes in the United States, we tend to think that we’ve got everything under control and that we’re going to manage this away and we’re going to manage that away. And we’re just not focused on holy things. And by the time we’ve carved God out of every area of our lives, we’ve got an hour on Sundays and it’s like, “see you next week, call you if we need you.” But there’s nothing else going on. They really integrate faith and the presence of God into their whole lives and there’s something really holy about that that’s compelling.

What have I not asked about? What would you want folks in the diocese to know about the Compass Rose Society?

Our lectionary for Sunday (John 1:43-51; this interview was conducted on January 17, 2024) was “come and see,” and I’ve always said that Compass Rose was a “come and see” ministry. I had no idea in 2008 when I went to the Compass Rose annual meeting: I didn’t know about the Anglican Communion, I didn’t know if it was a letterhead, or if it was an office building. Was it an address? I had no idea. I didn’t know what the Anglican Communion was. And when I found out, I was gobsmacked, and my life was changed forever. It’s a “come and see” ministry.

Tea Time Theology Podcast Returns with Stories of Historically Black Parishes

A cup of tea with the Episcopal shield as the teabag tagTea Time Theology, a podcast sponsored by the diocese, returns for its sixth season on February 20.  While its previous seasons have examined how we encounter theology in everyday life, pop culture, and even bumper stickers, upcoming episodes will present oral histories of three historically black churches in the diocese that have now closed: Church of the Savior, Christ Church, Eddy Street, and Church of the Epiphany, all in Providence, and a history of the The Cathedral of St. John. 

 The idea for the histories was generated when Tea Time host Ivy Swinski met with the Rev. Patrick Campbell, rector of Redeemer, Providence and board member of the Center for Reconciliation, to discuss collecting the oral history of Church of the Savior. Inspired by their conversation, Swinski presented her collaborators with the idea of discussing Church of the Savior and the other historically Black congregations on the podcast.  

 “It’s a way of honoring those who were worshiping in these communities long before us and what came of them,” Swinski says. 

 While Tea Time Theology typically interviews only clergy, this season includes the stories of laypeople—some of them lifelong members of their congregations–to tell the story of each parish. Some interviewees, Swinski says, brought artifacts from their congregations to recording sessions to help the audience visualize their stories. Images of the artifacts will be available on the Tea Time Theology Facebook page. 

 Season 6 of Tea Time Theology will be hosted by Swinski, Campbell, and Dwayne Keys. Episodes air on Tuesdays in Lent beginning February 20, and are available wherever you get your podcasts. 

City Meal Site at All Saints’ Providence Seeks Volunteers. No Bologna.

City Meal Site volunteers
Phil Graham and Carol Salvatore, City Meal Site volunteers, pass out grab-and-go meals and bottled water at Crossroads Rhode Island on Broad Street.

How do your Tuesdays look? Got a little time in the afternoon? The City Meal Site (CMS) operating at All Saints’ Memorial Church in Providence has an invitation for you. 

The volunteers who run the program are looking for help in continuing a tradition of feeding neighbors in need that began in the kitchen of a low-income apartment in the early 1980s. 

“Anyone who spent a Tuesday afternoon — or any part thereof — helping us make and distribute our meals would find a devoted core group,” says Jack Nolan, a member of both the parish and the CMS board. “It is gratifying work and there is a cheerful fellowship, something of a family feeling, among the half-dozen long-time volunteers.”  

CMS once offered sit-down meal service, but during the pandemic switched to ‘grab-and-go’ meals consisting of a sandwich of deli-quality meat and cheese, chips, a dessert and bottled water. “No bologna,” Nolan says.   

The operation serves 144 meals each Tuesday as part of a regular local rotation of meals available to those who may be unhoused or food insecure in central Providence. CMS also supplied masks and hand-sanitizer to guests during the pandemic, and gives out socks, gloves and underwear in the winter.  

Last winter, the group distributed thick wool blankets donated by the Department of Defense to guests who live on the streets. “We handed out dozens of these just before the vicious cold-snap last January and may have actually saved a life or two,” Nolan says. 

The Grab-and-Go operation requires a smaller group to prepare meals than the sit-down dinners CMS once served, and the current working group are all members of the organization’s board. Meals are prepared between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. with doors opening at 5:00 p.m. for an hour of service. The balance of the meals are delivered to Providence Rescue Mission, housing for low-income families, and other locations that count on CMS for their Tuesday dinner. 

City Meal Site is not affiliated with any religious group and offers no religious practice—”We just feed poor people,” Nolan says—but the core of the board, including Nolan, the Rev. Dr. Julie Hanavan, priest-in-charge at All Saints’, and Bob Wells, a member of the All Saints’ vestry, are Episcopalians. 

According to the oral history Nolan has heard, Episcopalians nurtured the ministry that became CMS almost from the start. In the early 1980s, a few kind women began making sandwiches for their neighbors in the kitchens of their apartments in a housing complex on Charles Street.  Their work outgrew their space, however, and they made an agreement with the Cathedral of St. John, which helped them establish a non-profit in 1987 and opened its kitchen to their use.   

In these new digs, City Meal Site began serving sit-down meals with guests served restaurant-style rather than standing in line with a tray.  

By 2012, City Meal Site had moved from the cathedral to All Saints’ Memorial, where it continues to be a tenant. The group’s fortunes were flagging, but Rev. David Ames, then All Saints’ priest-in-charge, reinvigorated their work, raising money for a new refrigerator and freezer. City Meal Site is currently funded through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, a federal program administered by the Diocese of Providence, Episcopal Charities, and by small donations from some parish outreach programs.  

On occasion, the group sends speakers to the lecterns of local congregations to thank members for their support, and to explain how their donations are spent. To arrange for a speaker from City Meal Site to visit your congregation, contact Bob Wells at robertwells104@gmail.com or 401.354.9412. 


A New Home

Photo: Cecelia Lynch

It’s no accident that the Rev. Jack Lynch and the people of San Jorge, Central Falls chose the first Sunday in Advent as the day they would become San Jorge, Pawtucket. When 92 members of the Spanish-speaking congregation gathered for their first worship service at the building they will now share with St. Luke’s, Pawtucket, they were focused not on the building they were leaving behind in Central Falls, but on new opportunities and ministry ahead. “Yo voy a empezar algo nuevo, y ya he empezado a hacerlo,” read the congregation’s Facebook page. “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

“We have more visibility in a community that is growing more diverse while continuing to serve Central Falls,” Lynch said of the move to the building at 670 Weeden Street in Pawtucket. “It is a real opportunity for evangelism.”

Last year diocesan leaders, in concert with the leaders of San Jorge, determined that the building in Central Falls where San Jorge had worshipped for decades could not adequately be repaired. Collaboration with St. Luke’s, Pawtucket, located less than a mile away, ensued, and on Sunday, the leaders of St. Luke’s welcomed the people of San Jorge warmly, with good spirits and extra signage in Spanish. The congregation includes people of 14 different nationalities, including many immigrants from Central and South America and a number of second- and third-generation Americans.

“We are excited to work with other Episcopalians in the community,” Lynch said. “Together, we can explore new ways of doing things together in a part of Rhode Island that is changing rapidly.”

Although Lynch describes response to the new location as “very, very positive,” he knows that maintaining the congregation’s longstanding holiday traditions will be even more important this year. On Saturday at 7 p.m., San Jorge will host La Fiesta de las Velitas, a traditional Colombian celebration of the Virgin Mary’s conception. The evening will include worship and a reception with hot chocolate and sweet bread, and everyone is welcome to attend.

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.”