Two churches share bulletins & website

Collaborative communications creates efficiency
and builds confidence for two small churches

by Dave Seifert

Worship bulletins, websites, newsletters and formation classes are all important ways that churches communicate with members and prospective members. And they all consume limited resources. Two Rhode Island congregations — Church of the Ascension in Wakefield and the Chapel of St. John the Divine in Saunderstown — are maximizing those limited resources through innovative collaborations.

Here are five things to know about what’s going on at Ascension and St. John’s.

  1. Two churches, one bulletin — almost. When a church administrator works three hours a week and also serves as bookkeeper, it’s difficult to find time to produce a weekly worship bulletin.

With that in mind, Rev. Rob Travis, head pastor for the two congregations, asked Ascension’s volunteer administrator, Arlene Arnold, if she and other volunteers might be able to produce a joint bulletin. The answer was “yes,” and in the first phase, the bulletin included everything except hymns, which are not the same at both churches. Instead, readers were prompted to “check the hymn boards.”

“That worked OK, but there was still a desire to see the hymn numbers in the bulletin,” Travis noted, “so I asked about producing slightly different versions that included hymns.”

Arnold agreed, and says “it’s a little more work, but not that big a deal.”

She created a template for the churches to have what’s essentially a shared bulletin for their primary Sunday services, differing only in the hymn listings and announcement sheets produced separately by each congregation. Over time, the content has been modified to add mission statements and vestry rosters on the back cover.

A big change? Maybe, but Arnold said change can be beneficial: “I think change is good,” she said. “It keeps people aware.”

  1. Well-organized process. The bulletins are produced at Ascension. Arnold develops the templates and coordinates printing. Other volunteers fold and stuff, then put the bulletins for St. John’s in a large plastic bag and pin that bag outside near the church mailbox. A St. John’s member who works in Wakefield picks up the bag for delivery to Saunderstown.
  2. New shared website. The churches have also collaborated on an innovative new shared website. Travis asked two leaders who had been working on the sites to design the single new site. Ascension parishioner Paul Jordan from Ascension donated time to design the site and paid the initial fees for registering it.

“It’s still work in progress,” Travis noted, “but it has worked out well and given us a place to post everything we want to.” That includes text of sermons preached by Travis and part-time assisting priest the Rev. Noel Bailey.

  1. Increased confidence through collaboration. Travis said the collaborations have “helped us work together and built a sense of confidence that we can do projects together and that there are benefits to sharing some of the workload.

“Whenever you’re a small church and working with another, you have to be creative,” he added. “And any church can benefit from the knowledge that you don’t need to be afraid of trying new things.”

  1. One good idea leads to another … and another. The shared bulletin is actually just the most recent good idea. The original change was creating a shared e-newsletter, developed in response to requests from Ascension parishioners to bring back a former print newsletter. Instead, they created the shared e-news, which saves money, Travis said, and allows an efficient way to share key information.

Most recently, the two churches collaborated during a post-Easter class on the resurrection. St. John’s hosted the class with one exception. Leaders decided to hold the final session at Ascension — because it would occur on Ascension Day.

Do you know of other “good ideas” happening at Rhode Island Episcopal churches? Other churches might pick up those ideas and apply them. Send your “good idea stories” to


Rhode Islander recalls 1987 coast-to-coast pilgrimage

by Dave Seifert

Thirty years ago this year, two Rhode Island Episcopalians set out on a walk in Seattle, Washington. Nearly four months later, they finished their walk — at the Cathedral of St. John in Providence.

Jack Kirkconnell, senior warden at Church of the Ascension, Cranston at that time, and his friend, Dan Whipple (who was senior warden at St. David’s-on-the-Hill and died in 2014), did the walk to raise awareness about hunger and the homeless. They had been commissioned as “missionaries for hunger” by the Rt. Rev. George N. Hunt III, bishop of Rhode Island.

It’s a story of good works. And a story of community. But most importantly, it’s a story of faith.

Kirkconnell, now 82, firmly believes one thing helped him and Whipple make it from coast to coast: ““Prayer,” he said, “is the only reason we made it. I remember places where all you could see was waves of grain. When the wind blew, it looked like the waves at Narragansett. All the prayers kept us going.”

They raised nearly $1 million in contributions to the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief (now known as Episcopal Relief and Development). All along the way, people and churches collected the money in envelopes they carried, and then they mailed the envelopes back to Rhode Island.

The walk, which began at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, took them through 16 dioceses. On Sundays, Kirkconnell and Whipple would tell their faith stories in Episcopal missions, churches and cathedrals — delivering lectures and even some sermons.

“People came out all along the way from Episcopal dioceses,” Kirkconnell recalled, “and we would tell them our story.”

A motor home driven by two parishioners from St. David’s — Michael Reeves and Tom Blackinton — accompanied the two trekkers and gave them a place to eat and rest each night. But Episcopalians from the dioceses along the way helped with that, too.

Kirkconnell recalls being invited to a cookout on a ranch in Montana. The hosts invited their next-door-neighbor — who lived 90 miles away.

In Omaha, Nebraska, which was about halfway to Providence, they spent a long weekend staying in the bishop’s retreat house. Their wives flew to Omaha and joined them for that interlude.

And their home rectors even met them in Syracuse, New York, and walked part of the way with them.

The connections they made during the walk didn’t end when the walk was finished. Kirkconnell said he and Whipple were still getting letters and newspaper articles from priests and parishioners a few years later.

“We planted the seeds with other people,” he said. “Others could do that today.”

Jack Kirkconnell with press clippings from his 1987 pilgrimage



St. David’s volunteers bringing ‘hope and change’ to Haiti

by Dave Seifert

There’s an old saying that if you give a person a fish, you feed them for a day. But if you teach them to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.

A ministry at St. David’s-on-the-Hill in Cranston which focuses on Haiti is trying to do that just. Right after Hurricane Matthew struck the southern part of Haiti in October 2016, leaving thousands of homeless, Dr. Norly Germain — a native of the region — supported by the parishioners of St. David’s, started a mission called “Hope and Change for Haiti.” The Cranston volunteers not only work alongside people in Haiti to build sustainable and secure houses and cisterns, but they also work closely with communities there to identify and train leaders. Germain works as an adjunct professor at the University of Rhode Island (URI), the Community College of Rhode Island, and Johnson & Wales University, and the first training occurred this summer at the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at URI. “Hope and Change for Haiti” is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is bringing hope and support to victims of natural disasters in Haiti, particularly to people in the community of Paillant.

Contributions, especially from St. David’s members, allowed the start of construction of a three-room house there last spring. The goal is for volunteer workers to build sturdy and earthquake- and hurricane-resilient homes alongside a 15,000-gallon cistern to collect rainwater for the most impoverished families and victims of Hurricane Matthew.

Hope and Change for Haiti volunteers work to rebuild a house in Paillant, one of the areas devastated by Hurricane Matthew.

That storm alone resulted in the deaths of more than 10,000 people, destroyed 250,000 homes and caused $1 billion in damage. And that was on top of damage from a 2010 earthquake, much of which has not yet been rebuilt.

Germain, co-founder and executive director of the organization and a St. David’s vestry member, said “Our objective is not to provide everything to the population, but to work with them to identify and to implement sustainable solutions. In discussions with

them, we learned that housing and water are the first two problems to solve to target other problems such as education and healthcare.

“So we began by focusing on building homes and a cistern — for families who either lost everything during the natural disaster or had nothing at all,” he added. “We plan to create wealth by providing a goat per child in the community to raise, so that in the near future a baby goat can be sold to pay for school tuition.”

Additionally, the group has started training potential Haitian leaders to further strengthen the communities there. In early June, three Haitians spent two weeks at URI, completing a course in leadership development and conflict resolution. Now they’ve returned home and started to work.

Germain said one of the visitors was a veterinarian who will assist with the goat project. “We identify leaders who come to the United States to receive training and return home to take the lead in organizing and running our projects,” he explained. “They need to feel responsible for their change. We believe that is the only way to create real social change — by giving them guidance but let them do it.”

Three Haitian volunteers of Hope and Change for Haiti who came for the Leadership Development and Conflicts Reconciliation at the University of Rhode Island: (left to right) Acenel Laurent, Franck Toussaint and Arol Ilerand.

Hope and Change for Haiti works with a respected local organization in Haiti, sending funding to purchase building materials. All construction work is completed by volunteers, which Germain said means the cost of those homes is only 25 percent of the cost of homes built by other nongovernmental organizations or the Haitian government.

The group is looking for additional partners and donors beyond St. David’s. If you’re interested in being involved, making a contribution or learning more about the group’s work, contact them at: or visit the Hope and Change for Haiti website or Facebook page.


Harry Potter and the church pledge drive

Good idea:

Harry Potter and the church pledge drive [in HarryPotter font]

by Dave Seifert

Harry Potter is coming to church in Cumberland.

The popular books and movies, celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, will be used as the theme for this year’s pledge drive at Emmanuel Church. The special campaign will feature celebration, competition and creativity.

Here are five things to know about what Emmanuel is doing.

1. Separating the focus on pledge drive and stewardship. Emmanuel has stopped using the term “stewardship” in direct connection with financial pledges. “We’re having a ministry fair in early September where members can tell us how they will spend their time and talents,” explained the Rev. Joan Testin, rector. “The pledge campaign is about funds to operate the church and how we as Christians think about and decide how to spend our money.

“We separate out ‘treasure’ from ‘time and talent’ because it gives all of us time to consider how we use our discretionary money,” she added. “When we give appropriately for the work of the church and to help serve others, we are free to enjoy the rest of what we have been able to earn and accumulate through God’s good gifts to us.”

2. Having fun and celebrating. The campaign will begin with a celebratory dinner to announce the theme and prizes. Parishioners will be divided into four groups, to represent the four houses at the Hogwarts School of the books and movies. Testin and a church member who normally tracks pledges are creating the teams to have a balance of current pledgers and nonpledgers.

“We’re planning to serve some of the foods talked about in the books — such as treacle tarts and knickerbocker glories (traditional British desserts),” she noted. “One of our members also is researching a way for us to play Quidditch (magical competitive sport involving flying contestants).”

3. Building involvement/engagement. The campaign will use competition to build involvement. The team with the most pledging members will win “the house cup” (given at Hogwarts at the end of the school year to the house with the most points), which will be awarded at a mid-November celebration.

4. Using visual stimulation. As the campaign goes on, progress will be tracked using big charts on the back of the wall in Emmanuel’s worship space. Big sequins will be used to add jewels to a cup each time someone pledges.

House Cup marbles at Hogwarts Castle.
The actual House Cup scorekeeping marbles at Hogwarts Castle


5. Continuing to emphasize the “why” of pledging vs. giving. Even with all the creativity, though, the campaign isn’t without its traditional moments. “We’re planning our usual Sunday morning conversations about why we pledge vs. why we give,” Testin said. “But we’re building everything around the Potter theme. We’ll see how it goes!”


Do you know of other “good ideas” happening at Rhode Island Episcopal churches? Other churches might pick up those ideas and apply them. Send your “good idea stories” to

Emmanuel Newport wins national grant to grow gardens and spirituality

by Dave Seifert

Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Episcopal Church, some formerly unusable space at Emmanuel Church in Newport will become home to hydroponic crops.

Emmanuel is one of 16 churches and related organizations receiving Stewardship of Creation grants  in the latest awards from the Advisory Council for the Stewardship of Creation.

The initiative will combine hands-on gardening with prayer and meditation that’s intended to develop the spirituality of students at the Emmanuel Day School. The focus comes from a passage in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

Students from Salve Regina University, also in Newport, will play a key role in the project, guiding the setup of the hydroponic planting beds — as they’ve done at other area sites — and training Emmanuel parishioners in how to take care of the gardens.

“It’s one thing to use available space and to use it for a good cause,” noted the Rev. Anita Louise Schell, rector. “But this is a partnership with our school and with Salve. And, we will be creating food that can be used in our soup kitchen.”

The day school students will participate in meditations based on themes of earth, air, fire and water, with suitable prayers for each as well as information about how each of these is necessary for growth to occur.

The students also will learn to take care of existing raised-bed gardens on the grounds of the parish (supervised by Emmanuel gardener Courtney Crimi), and will work with the Salve students to take care of the hydroponic plants.

“Each step of the process will include prayers and meditations we develop specifically for them,” Schell explained. “It’s important to reflect on what you’re doing, and the gardens can be a formative piece.”

The students will start the seeds in organic starter cubes, monitor growth and provide necessary maintenance under the supervision of the gardeners.  When ready, the plants will be harvested.

Schell emphasized that some of the food will be shared with the day school students “because it’s never too early to develop a taste for fresh vegetables.” Additionally, some will go to the Emmanuel Soup Kitchen and still more will likely be taken home by parishioners.”

“Sometimes community gardens give away all their food, which can create a dynamic of ‘us vs. them’,” she said. “We’re all in this project together. We want everything we do to be shared with the community and shared in different ways.”

The project is a natural extension of the existing deeply rooted commitment to environmental stewardship Emmanuel has lived out for the past several years.

The Advisory Council was created by General Convention 2015, enabled by approval of a resolution, and charged with the responsibility to develop a grant process to support local ecologically responsible stewardship of church-related properties and buildings.

“I think it’s important for all of us to think creatively about how to use our beautiful, old buildings, not be discouraged by how much work it takes to make programs happen,” Schell said. “The really great joys are celebrating our opportunity to in all places be environmental stewards, and what increases that joy is by doing it with other organizations — doubling the fun.”

Jamestown parishioner gives new life to windows from movable chapel

by Dave Seifert

In the spring of 1899 the Rev. Charles E. Preston literally took the Chapel of the Transfiguration to people on Jamestown Island. Now, more than 100 years later, several stained-glass windows in that movable chapel are getting new life, thanks to a parishioner from St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.

The artist, Jennifer Weeden-Black, was commissioned to restore the windows by the chapel’s current owners, George and Julie Lynch, who bought the building as their home. And the project, which began as a simple business transaction, is turning out to be transformational for Weeden-Black and even other parishioners at St. Matthew’s.

According to a 2013 Jamestown Press article, Preston’s idea was to take church to island-dwellers who found it difficult to get to St. Matthew’s — after all, automobiles were still rare in 1899. His idea was that for 10 months of the year, “it would sit about 3 miles north of the village and serve the year-round farm community,” states the article. “In the summer, it would be moved to the northernmost part of the island to serve the summer residents at Conanicut Park.”

It took 10 oxen to haul the structure, 18 feet tall and large enough to seat 100 people. It never actually reached the park but was used as a chapel for 10 years at a spot on East Shore Road. In 1933, it was purchased, moved to Harbor Street — by a tractor this time — and converted to a private home.

Now Weeden-Black is spending 20-30 hours total restoring each window taken apart, piece by piece (, fixing breaks, replacing aging lead and repairing weather damage.

“This project challenged me, inspired me and introduced me to aspects of stained-glass I had not previously considered,” she said.

Her family’s roots go back to the founders of Jamestown, and she had lived there as a young girl with her mother and brother before leaving for college. She returned in 2001 with her husband, Jason, and they joined St. Matthew’s in 2003. Now they’re committed parishioners who both have served in a variety of parish ministries.

Although being part of St. Matthew’s didn’t figure into her decision to accept the project, it has turned out to be an important part of the experience.

“To be offered a chance to preserve part of the St. Matthew’s story, even one that is part of a private collection, has truly been an honor,” she explained. “In completing the first series of windows, I have also increased my confidence and commitment as a glass artist, a resident and a parishioner.

“I can’t count how many of the senior members of our parish have come to me to share their memories of the stories he or she recalls of the chapel,” she continued. “While the chapel has not been an active part of the church for years, they seemed to know about it! After I started talking about the project, I encountered residents with copies of a book Preston published documenting the chapel’s construction and opening.”

She delivered and oversaw the installation of the first window in April, completed another in May and hopes to continues on with the work later in the fall. She believes what’s most significant about the chapel is what it represents about the time when it existed.

“Although Preston’s idea to bring the church to those unable to access it easily is not a new idea, even as it was at the turn of the 20th century, the way the still-growing Jamestown community came together to support one another in constructing and transporting the chapel is a testament of sorts on the importance of relationships,” Weeden-Black said.


“For me, in my 21st century world, after being diagnosed with breast cancer and finding myself with my family struggling to seek out relationships during the weakest months, our St. Matthew’s community came to us offering support in the form of prayer, meals, and much more.

“So, in working on this project to help preserve the chapel windows for the current owners I felt as if in some small way I was also preserving the idea of the chapel for future Jamestowners and the members of our parish,” she added. “It is part of the island history, our church’s history, and now part of my family’s history.


Rhode Island youth make “Happening” a reality in Connecticut

Thanks in part to a group of youths and young adults from Rhode Island, the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut now has its own Happening ministry.  Happening is a retreat weekend planned by teens to give other teenagers the chance to encounter Christ, explore their faith, and strengthen their relationship with God. The Rhode Island Happeners provided expertise as part of the staff for the first Connecticut Happening weekend, March 24 – 26 at Camp Washington, Connecticut’s version of Rhode Island’s Episcopal Conference Center (ECC).

All staff and candidate participants from the first Diocese of Connecticut Happening weekend,

by Dave Seifert

Twelve youths from Connecticut experienced the weekend. The staff consisted of nine youths and young adults from Rhode Island as well as 13 from Connecticut — who all had participated in Rhode Island Happening weekends to help them prepare to launch their own.

“The Rhode Island staff members provided significant help in the planning and execution of the weekend,” said Patrick Ryan, a Connecticut high school senior who served as “rector” (teen leader) for the weekend.

“They understood the program well and the commitment needed to keep everything running smoothly,” he added. “They wrote notes to participants, offered to help however needed, and endlessly served to ensure Happening’s atmosphere remained accepting and full of love. Without them, we surely would have been lost in this experience.”

He particularly complimented Faith Bessette, who attends Church of the Beloved, Pascoag, and is a former ECC counselor and part of the RI Happening leadership team.

“Faith helped create a binder for the weekend’s leadership team with all necessary information, provided input on my draft schedule and inventory and used her own personal checklists to make sure everything was ready to go,” Ryan said. “More than that, Faith was always ready during the weekend, checking to make sure we had everything for the next activity, answering questions, and serving with such grace and appreciation for what we were doing there.”

The Rhode Island Happening partnership with Connecticut had its genesis with three active ECC alumni who now live in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and attend St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ridgefield. They sent their kids to camp in Rhode Island for several years, those kids brought friends and eventually it led to the creation of Happening in Connecticut.

The Rev. Whitney Altopp, rector of St. Stephen’s, and the Rev. Adam Thomas, rector of St. Mark’s, Mystic, worked closely with a team of adults to plan the weekend, including Matt Cornish, Camp Washington camp director; the Rev. George Roberts, rector, St. James, Farmington; and Bart Gessinger, Camp Washington executive director.

“This was a great way for the Connecticut youths who have been attending our camp and Happening to plug into youth ministry in Connecticut, and it gave our kids a chance to see what’s happening there,” said the Rev. Meaghan Brower, director, ECC. “A year ago, we started incorporating Connecticut adults and youths in our Happening weekends so they could learn the ropes and bring it to their diocese.”

Laying the groundwork for this new ministry was in large part successful because of the willingness of Rhode Island youths to share their time and experience with their peers in Connecticut. When Brower asked if Rhode Island Happeners would be willing to help, they responded enthusiastically. Ryan, then attending his fourth Happening in Rhode Island, realized he met the requirements to apply to be a rector (senior in high school and previous staff experience).

“I knew I had to apply,” Ryan said. “My schedule was busy, but all of that ceased to matter. It was an opportunity to share a ministry that was based completely on love and acceptance, and that was enough for me.”

Altopp noted that “Happening, by its design, builds upon past transformational experiences. The spiritual transformation that has taken place in the lives of young people in the Diocese of Rhode Island through this weekend retreat was like yeast in dough. They were essential to growing the spiritual transformation of young people in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. And grow they did! It was glorious to witness the consistency with which Happening conveys the abundant love that God has for all of us.”

Ryan had a transformation of his own during the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, the group spends some time having fun and getting to know one another better. “When we arrived in Kenyon Hall, light seemed to shine from everyone’s faces. People were dancing, talking to strangers and we all appeared as if little parts of one body. It was at this moment I realized Happening is not dependent on a specific location. It is a feeling that you can carry with you wherever you go. People had so smoothly created a community in only less than a day.”

Rhode Island Happening hosts two weekends of its own each year. Next up is the spring Happening weekend May 5 – 7; the fall Happening is October 13 – 15.

Happening participants from separate camps and dioceses coming together to have fun at Camp Washington

First-ever community chaplains ready for work in Providence

by Dave Seifert

Nearly three years of community work culminated May 2, when the first-ever Rhode Island Community Chaplain Corps (CCC) graduated from initial training, ready to begin work.

In 2015 and 2016, a team of top law enforcement officials and a multiracial group of pastors and ministers planned and hosted a series of training classes in faith centers around Providence to build trust and communication across any divides, and to train faith leaders to be ambassadors for their faith groups and surrounding community.

The Rev. Dr. Joyce Penfield, priest-in-charge at St. Peter’s and St. Andrew’s, Providence, is the group’s convener. She initiated the work that led to this pilot after the 2014 unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Her goal has been to bring together Providence residents, and faith-based and community leaders to identify ways to enhance communications and prevent similar problems in Providence.

“We are building something in Providence together across racial and ethnic lines: faith leaders, cops, law enforcement officials, and families,” Penfield said. “The graduation was actually a time for us to celebrate our new friendships and commitment of community chaplains to be a prayerful, nonviolent presence in our neighborhoods in times of crisis or stress.”

Each member of the multiracial team of about a dozen pastors and faith leaders received an identification card and a CCC vest at the ceremony to further identify them as official resources. The Rt. Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely, bishop of Rhode Island, blessed the graduates.

“I am proud of the work Joyce has led to help the Providence community,” Knisely said. “The police have indicated interest in working with communities of faith, and I have encouraged Episcopalians around the state to reach out. Joyce has been an early leader in that kind of effort.”

Each CCC graduate participated in three intensive training sessions and a ride-along with the police department. Their role is to be a calm, neutral buffer and nonviolent support for the community. The project will be evaluated at the end of 2017 with the hope of offering suggestions for improvement and expansion to others in the community.

Read more about the evolution of this pilot program in the 2017 issue of RISEN, the magazine of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island.

Lenten book discussions prompt ministry actions by members of Redeemer

by Dave Seifert

A Lenten program at The Church of the Redeemer, Providence, is turning out to be a lot more than a class—it’s also been a springboard to discipleship.

About a dozen members spent Lent—and a few weeks more—reading and talking about “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” by James H. Cone. The book explores the connections between the universal symbol of Christian faith and the quintessential symbol of black oppression in America.

Now that book and a study guide developed by the Center for Reconciliation (CFR), have prompted new commitments to discipleship and community-building by some Redeemer members. Note: Learn more about the study guide and how to use it — including training for group leaders — below.

“It began as a regular Lenten program,” explains the Rev. Patrick Campbell, rector. “But some folks have had a real experience of transformation.”

Campbell decided to use the CFR curriculum to start answering questions about “What can we do?” as part of ongoing efforts to connect the church more closely with its surrounding neighborhood, which spans multiple races and economic levels. Those efforts had intensified after the racial unrest that emerged in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

“The mission of the church is to reconcile all people to God in Christ,” he noted. “So the church can do real work. But those of us who are white need to do our own work first.”

Some of the discussion participants have taken that challenge especially seriously.

For Robert Howe, who teaches American history at local colleges, the experience changed the way he thinks about race in America and, ultimately, the way he chose to structure a United States history class he’s teaching this fall.

“Reading the book, coupled with my growing awareness of continuing racism at work in American life, made me want to address the African-American experience and white society’s history specifically related to that experience,” he said. “I decided the class needed to have the conversation about race that is periodically called for in public discourse but rarely achieved.”

Howe was surprised by how deeply the book affected him “and at how much of black experience can be seen as living under, or being close to slipping into a world of, terrorism. I guess this had been building up in my awareness with the news of the last few years, but the reading and discussion really put things into an emerging picture that I’m still developing in both mind and heart. I felt God speaking through James Cone, and through our discussion, and animating me to plunge into a world of awareness and discourse that promises to be useful.”

Another Redeemer member, Toni Harrison, said the book “opened my mind and raised many questions — it made me want to know more, so I read several other books related to racism. I learned things I’d never known before.”

Harrison grew up in the 1950s having virtually no contact with black people, she said. “There was no one of a different skin color in my school at least through eighth grade, and I believe through high school,” she explained. “In college in the early 1960s, I remember just one black, and she was ‘just one of us’. So I simply had not been aware of racial repression until when my husband and I were at the Cathedral of St. John for several years prior to its closing.”

Harrison said the book worked well: “We need to be talking with each other in this sort of discourse.”

Elon Cook, CFR program manager, was happily surprised by the reaction to the book.

“In the work I do, I’m so used to seeing small, incremental changes in people that what I’m seeing at Redeemer is exciting,” she said. “I’d been studying the history of slavery and racialized violence for several years and initially didn’t think the book would impact me. It did, and now I’m happy to see I wasn’t the only one.”

Cook’s hope in developing the study guide was to help create conversations in communities around Rhode Island that “were having a difficult time connecting to black pain and black frustration about where our country is. Through the book, it felt like there was an avenue to understanding your neighbor through the suffering of Jesus — and maybe Jesus’s narrative was one that white Rhode Islanders could connect to.

“Lots of white Rhode Islanders don’t have black people in their neighborhoods or offices or schools, so maybe a different aspect of Jesus’s life would lead them in a roundabout way to connecting with people of color.”

Campbell, Howe and Harrison share Cook’s hope for broadened understanding and awareness — as well as hoping that people at other Rhode Island churches will read and discuss the book.

“I would absolutely recommend it to other churches,” Campbell said. “It’s a starting place about something we’ve been removed from. We can learn about racial oppression and have an invitation into connecting with the story.”

“I hope more minds get opened,” Harrison said. ”It offers a chance to learn the basics of talking about racism and learning some of the history many of us may not have known.”

Howe said “We need to know this. If we don’t, we don’t know our country or ourselves.”

Bring ‘The Cross and the Lynching Tree’ study program to your church
Churches and individuals throughout the diocese can download a free study guide to “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” and participate in a November event to learn more about the book and how to use it.

In addition to Redeemer, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Tiverton used the book to increase members’ awareness about racial issues. About 25 people at Holy Trinity read the book and participated in discussions during Lent 2016. Those conversations built on a presentation from James DeWolf Perry and a viewing of the film “Traces of the Trade.”

“The biggest impact in our church was with the people who took the course,” said the Rev. John Higginbotham, rector. “There was a great deal of surprise that slavery was not ‘just a Southern thing’ but involved people all over the country, including right down the road from our church.”

The study guide includes quotes from the book, conversation-starting questions, suggested prayers, links to thought-provoking songs and videos, engaging activities and a variety of resources to help participants continue to deepen their knowledge beyond the five book study sessions.

Anyone interested in learning more about being a study leader is invited to a conversation at 6:45 p.m. Nov. 16 at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 40 Dearborn Street, Newport, or at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 at Beneficent Church, 300 Weybosset Street, Providence.

Training for facilitators is scheduled for Jan. 18 at a location still to be determined.

These events are timed to allow churches to study the book during Lent 2017, a time of the year particularly appropriate because of the focus on Christ’s death on the cross. Contact Elon Cook, Center for Reconciliation program manager, with any questions.