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.”


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.” 


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.

Creation Care – Summer 2023

Meet Reverend Dante A. Tavolaro, Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Greenville, RI. Dante joined St. Thomas Church in June  2020, just as COVID became a factor in all of our lives. Nevertheless, as a “first time” Rector, he has found his role in this great parish to be fun, sometimes challenging, and often surprising…especially with the start of COVID.

Fortunately, Parish Life has returned to more normalcy and he’s thrilled to see that parishioners are again active and even more involved in their church. One surprising outcome from COVID is the development of a new project, now a permanent fixtures in parish life, that might not have been anticipated or recognized for its potential reach. Although many parishioners continued to send their annual or monthly contributions, “Zoom Worship” minimized the regular Sunday collections. Consequently, the Parish was struggling to pay bills.

However, a group of parish leaders concerned about the future of the community came up with a wild idea and approached Dante with their plan to open a Thrift Shop. After a good deal of discernment, the Vestry gave the approval to launch this new ministry to raise funds for the parish, help many in the community, and encourage the reuse of goods. Not only has it become a successful fundraiser for St. Thomas, it has also been a driving force in reuniting St. Thomas parishioners and the community of Greenville. The Thrift Shop and its outgrowth of projects has led to a refugee ministry, a partnership with other community outreach organizations while providing a sense of community for people looking for connection with others, and a (hopefully) emerging program with the local high school honor society.

But, you might ask, what does this have to do with Creation Care beyond reusing older goods and helping teenagers get their service points? Through what began as a small project has led to greater connections in the Greenville community, a greater awareness of how our use of goods affects our environment as well as how our individual use of earth’s resources affect everyone. The thrift store project has also brought the community to see how some locations—even within this village—suffer more environmentally than other areas due to environmental mistreatment.

Dante serves on the Board of the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association (RIEEA), an organization committed to developing Environmental Awareness through a variety of formal and informal Education Programs such as working with teachers and community organizations to provide environmental literacy for their communities, support organizations in making connections with others doing the same work, working with state legislators to pass legislation that supports Environmental Education in RI, and provide opportunities for individuals to get involved in meaningful projects of Environmental stewardship. In this role he hopes to encourage more Communities of Faith become deeply involved in finding ways to protect our environment.

Dante’s work is not a new effort on his part, however. He has always been a strong supporter and investigator of environmental concerns. While in Junior High School, he explored our relationship with watersheds and ecology and developed projects to better understand the health of the Blackstone Valley River. More recently he has partnered with Shareen Knowlton, Director of Education at Roger Williams Park Zoo to create projects around environmental concerns as an avenue to encourage Creation Care. His concern for the environment leads him to speak regularly about this fragile earth, our island home, identifying steps to reduce our individual footprints while encouraging others to care for “Our Earth” on systematic levels as well. He believes in the church’s untapped potential for awareness of environmental concerns making strong connections between the Cross and the need for faithful people to make sacrifices in their own life out of our responsibility as stewards of the earth. During the COVID shut down we witnessed how quickly creation could begin to heal. The Church could encourage her members to make the difficult sacrifices to give creation room to heal again. He also believes that there are opportunities to work with local elected officials to enact public policy which privileges care of creation.

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. 

Obituary for Bishop Hunt

The Rt. Rev. George N. Hunt III, the Eleventh Bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island, died on October 23 in Santa Rosa, California after a long illness. He was 90.

Hunt served as bishop of Rhode Island from 1980 to 1994, immersing himself in challenging issues roiling the state and the church, and urging parishes in the diocese to intensify their outreach to people in need.

“I think he will be most remembered for his commitment to issues around social justice and his support for Abrahamic dialog among Jews, Christians and Muslims,” said the Rev. David Ames, the longtime Episcopal chaplain at Brown University who is now retired. “He was compassionate. He was very interested in planning, so he developed his ministry with a clear sense of direction.”

During his episcopacy Hunt campaigned against corruption in state government and against organized crime and gambling. Within the diocese, he removed barriers to the ordination of lesbian and gay candidates to the priesthood.

Elizabeth Fornal, director of Episcopal Charities for the diocese, said Hunt was an informal man who wore his purple bishop’s clergy shirt mostly on days when he was headed to the state house. “He had the ability to speak the truth to power and be consistent and not get angry,” said Fornal, who served on Hunt’s staff for four years. “But the governor and the people at the statehouse knew they had made a wrong move when they saw him coming.”

In the wider church, Hunt was known primarily as the leader of the so-called Hunt Commission, which recommended to the 1991 General Convention that the ordination of gay and lesbian candidates to the priesthood be left to the discretion of local bishops. The commission also recommended that the church continue to support marriages between a man and a woman “without withholding support and blessing from persons of the same sex who are in faithful, committed relationships, seeking in them the characteristics of sacrificial love and abiding care for the other.”

The report formed the basis of a compromise resolution at General Convention in 1991, and moved the church toward prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, a step it took in 1994. In 2015, after more than two decades of debate, the church amended its canons to permit same-sex couples the rite of Holy Matrimony.

Hunt’s approach to diocesan ministry was perhaps best captured in his final address to the diocese’s annual convention in 1994. “Can we dare dream that our congregational/diocesan possessiveness of ‘our things’, our prerogatives, our buildings, our own individual ways of worship, will be put aside in favor of a wider accountability to the whole mission of Christ’s Church?” he asked.

The answer, as he acknowledged in the same speech, was that the diocese was already responding to the question affirmatively. Most congregations in Rhode Island had food pantries, half served free meals, and Episcopal Charities, clothes closets, and diaconal ministries were flourishing.

“He was humble, yet strong at the same time,” Fornal said. “When he asked you to do something it wasn’t just because he needed a hole filled, it was because he thought you had some gift to give. He was very affirming of lay people.”

Hunt was a son of the south, whose early ministry took place in the west. He was born in Louisville in 1931, graduated from the University of the South in 1953, and received his Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1956, the same year he was ordained to the priesthood. He served numerous churches in Wyoming and California before being elected as bishop of Rhode Island. After his retirement, he served from 1995 to 1996 as interim bishop of Hawaii.

He married Barbara Noel Plamp in 1955, and the couple had three children: Susan, David, and Paul. A memorial service has been scheduled for 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 12, 2022, at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church – 9000 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, CA 95452. (  In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to any of the following —