Congregation Close-up: St. Thomas, Dallas

Congregation Close-up: St. Thomas, Dallas

In a town of roughly 15,000 people, St. Thomas is a church dependent on lay members and deeply engaged with the Dallas community. Vicar Fred Heard says, “We are a family and that is how we function. Occasionally we have family squabbles, but we come together and recognize we are Christ-centered.”

Whether it’s for their family-and-friends Thanksgiving dinner or people who came in when the church was open as a winter warming shelter, St. Thomas welcomes all who come through their doors.

In 2017 members of St. Thomas helped organize a Rally Against Hate at the Polk County Courthouse.

St. Thomas is committed to promoting community health. They were the first church in Dallas to open their doors for meetings of 12 Step programs, and currently host weekly meetings for AA, Al-Anon, and Weightwatchers. In 2018, when a local gun shop owner was raffling off AR-15 weapons, church members went to the school board and the city council to express their concern.

This dedication to family, community, and health also expresses itself in fun: this past Valentine’s Day, the congregation stepped out to spread love throughout the town by taking cookies to businesses, service personnel, and their neighbors to say “Thank you!”

Visit the St. Thomas website.

Congregation Close-up: Church of the Resurrection, Eugene

From the Rev. Brent Was

I’ve been thinking a lot about our children’s ministry lately.  What is going on there?  Why is there so much growth?  Why do those children look so happy?

If there were a single answer we could write a book and save the Church.  I want to share a few reflections on it, because we are on to something and it could really shape the future of this parish.

The starting point of everything we do here with our children is the children.  Revolutionary!  This is the great gift that Tina Heidrick brings us as the leader of this ministry.  A guiding principal of one of the major schools of home schooling is that you follow the children’s lead.  Discern their interests, needs, gifts and limitations, and put the education in that path.  If you can harness the natural learning momentum that every child has, they will pull the train themselves because they want to learn.  They want to grow.  They want to be in relationship with each other, with those teaching them, and most importantly, with God.

The COR Youth Ministry viewed the Barberini Tapestries with Professor James Harper.

Tina, with the able assistance of Hilary, Aria, and the wonderful classroom volunteers follow the children.  And where are the children leading us?  Community.  I think that the center of gravity of our children’s programs are that the children love to be together.  It is a vital and vibrant circle of friends.  And it is an open circle, meaning that our children are very good at welcoming others into that circle.  I have never seen such inclusivity amongst children (and rarely among adults).  Not perfect, but they are coming from a lot of different kinds of families with a lot of different experiences of the world and the peals of laughter as the run around the back of the church (and the absence of much tweeny drama) attests to how well it usually goes.

Families, children, are hungry for positive, wholesome community.  That has been formed by following the children’s lead, by sending monthly newsletters addressed to each child at home (always an exciting day at our post office box), by sending birthday cards, by giving parents a break and relying on non-parents as volunteers, by special seasonal programs and liturgies like the brilliant Ash Wednesday service.

If children are hungry for wholesome community, they are starving for wholesome community with a purpose.  That we offer, too.  The cloud of relationships is an end, and a means to an end.  Educationally, there are three goals we have.

  • First, is to cultivate the naturally occurring relationship that all children have with God.  Jesus is very clear about this fact.  We emphasize that God is not just found in church, but in every minute of every day of their lives.  And we work on ways to keep that in front of them: prayer, religious practice, grace before meal times, being reverent here at church.
  • Second, is to teach them the Christian story.  Scripture, the Church, seasons and the Mass, saints and songs.  Christianity is a heritage and it is being passed on.  Godly Play is especially good at this.
  • Finally, our goal is to help form moral human beings in this complicated world.  Relationship is the best teacher.  Well, truly, love is.  From our lectionary this week we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”  Our children are loved, and are asked to love each other, and love is the very perfect teacher.

Staffing a lemonade stand to raise funds for Hospitality Village.

Our children are hungry for this.  Our world is starving for this.  All of our futures depend on it.

So that is what I think we are on to.  Why is it blossoming right now?  My guess is critical mass.  No one wants to teach, be in, or leave their child in a classroom with one other student.  How gloomy is that!  But three or four, or nine or ten smiling, lively faces with smiling and lively teachers and it becomes a place that anyone would want to be, and the children do!  (And reports are that the kids are dragging their parents to church!)  I know in our family, after a late Egan night or the weeds in the garden calling on a gorgeous spring day, Windy can never skip church because the girls wouldn’t have it.

That is my take on the state of our children’s ministry.  It is very good and if we are able to direct our resources, it can grow into something simply amazing!

Visit Church of the Resurrection’s website.

Congregation Close-up: St. James, Tigard

Church life is not only about increased ASA (average Sunday attendance) and building projects. Sometimes, as David Leathers, Senior Warden of St. James acknowledges, “It takes quite a bit of energy just to keep things going.”

Prior to 2017, St. James had a four-member staff team, including a full-time rector, a music director, a secretary, and an administrator. Currently they operate with just a musician and supply priests, with parishioners stepping forward to cover everything from selecting the service hymns to making sure the bills get paid, formation classes have their curriculum, and service bulletins are printed.

Though survival may feel like the primary preoccupation, a new kind of pastoral care life emerged in the absence of a rector. David says, “We now have a weekly meeting for 10-15 minutes during Coffee Hour, where the needs of the church community are quickly reviewed and those interested in this ministry volunteer to follow up with visits, phone calls and cards with those that are in physical or spiritual need. This is an area that the congregation made clear was very important.”

As they move forward in this time of transition and look forward to calling a part-time rector, the parishioners of St. James embody the deep meaning of “the work of the people.”

Visit the St. James website.

Congregation Close-up: St. Matthias, Cave Junction

St. Matthias has served Cave Junction and the Illinois Valley for over sixty years.  It is a rather typical small town church—rather plain on the exterior, but with a rustic, wooden interior that exudes a homey, welcoming ethos.  While never a large parish by most standards, it has continued to maintain a viable and dedicated presence in the community. In recent years the parish has suffered from the lack of a full-time clergy presence, resulting in a significant decrease in the number of active parishioners.  Currently being served by a non-stipendiary, retired priest, it offers a weekly Sunday Eucharist service in the best tradition of the Book of Common Prayer.  While the congregation averages only four or five worshippers on any given Sunday, it takes seriously the prayer of St. John Chrysostom that “when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them.”

Because of the size of the parish congregation, they have limited resources and ministry opportunities.  Not to be deterred by their small size, the parish is perhaps best defined by their “Harvest Kitchen” ministry, which has been in place for over 20 years.  They serve a wholesome meal to 20-30 individuals (including some families) in their community two days a week.  It is a ministry which is controversial to some in the community, who believe it perpetuates the problem of vagrancy in Cave Junction, but very much appreciated by others.  They draw inspiration from Matthew 25:35—“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” Their intention is simply for others to see in them the face of Christ as they extend hospitality and a meal to some of the most vulnerable in their community.  It also allows St. Matthias to cultivate relationships with the forgotten and disenfranchised in their midst, which has resulted in two of their “Harvest Kitchen” patrons attending worship on a regular basis.

Though they struggle and face multiple challenges unique to a very small, rural parish church, the people of St. Matthias consider themselves privileged to serve God and play their part in the unfolding drama of salvation in this small corner of creation.


Congregation Close-up: St. Mark’s, Medford

“There is room for us all and no gift is too small, there is room at the table for everyone.” — Carrie Newcomer

As they move closer to their 130th anniversary in 2019, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is discovering what it means to live more deeply into their calling to “share Christ’s love by feeding people in body, mind, and spirit” in Southern Oregon. As their tag line says: “We feed folks!” They are conscious of the fact that the world around them is hungry – sometimes for basic needs, sometimes for wrestling with challenging questions, and often for “soul food” that can fill the God-shaped hole inside each of us. St. Mark’s has found the image of the table to be a rich one for them. They see people longing for a place at the table, whether it is a dining table, a discussion table, or even the Holy Table (altar) around which they gather each Sunday. They strive to provide such a place so that there is room at the table for everyone.

St. Mark’s identity centers around three activities: Sunday morning worship, their book and Bible studies, and their Thursday afternoon food pantry. A combined average of about 100 people gather on Sunday mornings for worship at 8 and 10 am, with a full organ and choir at 10 am. Since Rob Griswell-Lowry became their Music Minister a year ago they have resurrected the choir, explored a wide variety of musical styles in worship, and simply had a lot of fun! The Monday morning Bible study is a rich engagement of a dozen people, currently with the Gospel of Mark, and their book study involves two dozen people reading and discussing the book “iGen” and talking about how the church can address the needs of younger generations. The Thursday food pantry is eight years old and thriving as one of the few that provides fresh produce to clients. The pantry involves dozens of volunteers and serves over 1,000 people a month, providing both food and human interaction.

All of this activity has clearly demonstrated the need for more space, so St. Mark’s is in the midst of a $1.74 million “Building For the Future (BFF)” capital campaign to add a new parish hall, classrooms, food pantry, and offices to their church building. They have already raised over $1.4 million of that amount and look forward to breaking ground in July with a completion date of March 2019. They are tremendously excited about the possibilities for expanded ministry in this new space and are also actively pursuing deepening partnerships with their neighbors the Family Nurturing Center, Northwest Seasonal Workers, and an ecumenical partnership providing temporary housing to 50 people through Rogue Retreat’s Kelly Shelter program.

St. Mark’s has been a downtown church since their founding shortly after the establishment of the City of Medford. They hope and anticipate continuing and deepening our commitment to ministry with and to their neighbors. They look forward to many more gatherings around the table.

Visit St. Mark’s website.

Congregation Close-up: St. John’s, Bandon

St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bandon-by-the-Sea is a family-size mission where God leads us in healing, teaching, reaching out, and stewardship.  Our Theresa Hall serves all of Bandon as a gathering place for social activities, yoga and 12-step recovery groups.

As a “Believe Out Loud” congregation, we affirm the inherent dignity and worth of all people on their spiritual journey and welcome all — regardless of race, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation.

Recognizing that Bandon has evolved into a tourist/retirement community, we focus our outreach on food programs that aid local families and seniors living in poverty, and a medical loan closet that provides temporary use of durable medical equipment (mobility aids, bathing and toileting aids and tools) to people recovering from injury or surgery.

Our congregation strives to demonstrate the presence of Jesus by nurturing and healing through faithful worship, prayer, encouragement and fellowship.  We also teach and reaffirm our Episcopal traditions, and use our God-given gifts of time, talents and treasure for the building up of God’s people at St. John and the greater community.

Our talented Music Director has assembled an ecumenical choir that sings regularly at St. John’s and at community events.  Annual pet blessings and a Halloween open house are other popular forms of outreach to both children and adults.  We also provide backpacks full of school supplies for local students.

Bandon was part of a missionary district set up by Bishop Benjamin Wistar Morris in 1870, in one of the last frontiers in the continental United States to be settled by Anglo-Europeans.  Circuit rider missionaries held services on the beach and in private homes from 1873 until St. John’s by the Sea Memorial Church was built 20 years later.  Construction was funded primarily by Belle J. Sellwood, widow of the Rev. John W. Sellwood, Rector of St. David’s, Portland.

This September will mark the 125th anniversary of the first cornerstone being laid, and plans are underway for a gala celebration, even though the building no longer exists.  The church was moved across town, but burned in 1936, when a forest fire destroyed Bandon and forced about a third of the population to move away in search of homes and jobs.  Church records were fortunately preserved when a newly arrived priest happened to take church records home to Coquille to study after his first service at St. John just a few days before.  Until St. John’s was finally rebuilt in 1939, services were held in rented spaces at the high school and Legion Hall.

Services are currently led by lay ministers and supply clergy, but we expect to launch a search soon for a new vicar.

Visit the St. John’s website.

Congregation Close-up: St. David of Wales, Portland

At St. David of Wales in southeast Portland, worship is a unique blend of tradition and informality, a high church liturgy in a relaxed atmosphere. Many Sundays, the services close with a small dance party of children filling the central aisle as music director Ben Landsverk leads the congregation in singing anything from “Be Thou My Vision” from the 1982 Hymnal to “Purple Rain” by Prince. As the Rev. Kerlin Richter puts it, “We are a church focused on worshipping God. Especially in a liturgical church, it’s important that we’re not idolizing the way we worship.”

Senior Warden Barbara Brecht shares a recent experience of this: “For one child, the dancing has become a very authentic form of worship, where she is really moved by the Spirit. During ‘Precious Lord, take my hand,’ she slowly danced up the aisle, and then up the steps at the front, and as the song ended, she bowed to the altar. It was so dear to see this child open to the Spirit, and that this parish and our service will allow this to happen without anyone getting cranky.”

This generationally diverse but deeply committed membership is one of St. David’s primary strengths. In the pews and in leadership (vestry members range from their 20s to their 70s), people of all ages experience what it means to have their voices heard and respected. This is not always easy, but Kerlin+ observes that there is a unique beauty that blooms as the people stay engaged in the inevitable places of tension. “It is neither glorious nor awful; it’s just how we do things.”

Visit the St. David’s website.

Congregation Close-up: St. Andrew’s, Cottage Grove

St. Andrew’s is located in Cottage Grove, a city of 9,686 just off I-5, 21 miles south of Eugene.

We have 26 active members, ranging in age from 58 to 90. Eight are new or restored from inactive in the last five years.

We belong to the Chamber of Commerce, and members are active in the community as

  • Volunteers at the hospital, in the schools, and community activities including Senior Meals, Meals on Wheels, hospice, and Elder Help
  • Active in lodges, veterans’ and women’s groups, historical and cultural organizations

Last year, we gave $4,200 in outreach grants to 12 local organizations.

Since 2016, we have participated in joint services with the Methodist and Presbyterian churches three or four times a year.

In recent years, the Oregon Bach Collegium and the University of Oregon Chamber singers have given concerts at St. Andrew’s, open to the community free of charge.

Our Memorial Garden is available for the burial of ashes to any who desire, free of charge.

We provide a place of worship for people staying overnight in town as they travel on I-5, and for long-term temporary residents: a young woman from Gold Beach, working in the area for a few months; a young man from Germany, doing an internship at a local winery; a retired man from CO house-sitting for friends; a woman from AZ, escaping the summer heat; a man from TN helping his daughter relocate.

The vicar has given prayers at the annual banquet of the Chamber of Commerce (twice) and the community’s Memorial Day observance.

Congregation Close-up: St. Aidan’s, Gresham

Set amid beautiful sprawling grounds next to Nadaka Nature Park, St. Aidan’s is embracing its identity by loving God and loving neighbor, and by living into the Celtic ethos of spreading the Good News of the Gospel through compassionate outreach, generosity of spirit, beauty in nature, music and the arts. St. Aidan’s is growing into a vision for the future, taking on new ministries that hold promise in our current environment and letting go of ministries that no longer serve that vision. Among these are:

  • The Great thou Art Camp, a children’s art camp for those children whose economic circumstances would not allow them access to professional artists and a camp experience. St. Aidan’s is seeding money to ensure the success of the camp and the church has received a grant for $1,500 from the City of Gresham to support its effort to bring the arts to those less economically secure.
  • Music and Meditation is an hour of music and poetry with St. Aidan’s musicians and friends, with open-mic time for others who would like to bring their own poetry or music. Music and Meditation is held five times a year, in celebration of the changing seasons, and is open to and embraces all faith traditions, cultures, and expressions of the seasons.
  • St. Aidan’s Celtic Festival Day and Mass on the Grass. Our celebration of St. Aidan’s Day includes a Celtic Mass, home-made pies, jewelry, art, music and more.
  • The Cuthbert Community is an on-going study of The Rule of Benedict, proving that at St. Aidan’s the words contemplative and lively belong together.
  • A very small but active Youth Group who have formed their own church and play their own music: The Church of Rock (Hard C. o. R.). They are “led from behind” by adult musicians experienced with Episcopalian theology and rock bands! It is our hope that through music, and a safe place to express themselves, the Church of Rock will attract other young people to explore a relationship with God.
  • Beautification of our sanctuary and our grounds. The new Garden Design Committee is working to create a destination of beauty in our grounds. A sub-committee is working on a new labyrinth design to be installed on the campus grounds in 2018.

The congregation of St. Aidan’s is steadfast in its welcome, loyal to its past and bold in its determination to grow into the needs of the community it serves.