I began my second week pretty much as I had ended the first – meeting one-on-one with members of the diocesan staff. This group of talented people know a great deal about The Diocese of New Jersey and how it works. Their thoughts and insights are invaluable to me. They love the clergy and people of the diocese and are dedicated to our being the best diocese of the Episcopal Church! A strong message I heard from many of them is, “continue to be yourself, the person God called to lead this diocese.” It is good advice that I will strive to follow.
Beyond these one-on-one staff meetings, I sat in on a meeting of the Investment Committee of the Diocese and participated in a meeting of the Transition Committee which is charged both with responsibility for caring for Susan and me as we enter into life in the diocese and for Bishop Councell and his wife Ruth as Bishop Councell moves toward his retirement. There will be a special service of recognition and thanksgiving for Bishop Councell and Ruth on October 13 at Trinity Cathedral. Details will soon be going out to the diocese about this special service and about the Consecration.
Most exciting for me in this second week were two trips to parts of the Diocese beyond Trenton. On Thursday, August 15, I went up to New Brunswick and had lunch with Greg Bezilla, Chaplain of Campus Ministries at Rutgers. I have to confess, I was surprised at how large a city New Brunswick is and also, to learn from Greg, how massive Rutgers is.
|The Rev. Greg Bezilla|
Greg showed me around Canterbury House, which is the center for Campus Ministries at Rutgers. Once a home, it is a now a warm and inviting place for Rutgers students to meet and share in meals, discussion and fellowship. Needless to say, it being summer, things were pretty quiet. I look forward to visiting again when students are back and activities resume. This, it seems to me, is a vital opportunity and I’m grateful for Greg’s leadership and also for the Procter Foundation of the Diocese which makes this ministry possible.
The New Brunswick campus of Rutgers is the main campus, but is only one of four in this State University system. I can’t wait to see the rest! Greg and I had lunch outdoors at Au Bon Pain on College Avenue. It was a beautiful day. We engaged in a wide ranging discussion about how to reach out to young people and young families in today’s very changed and challenging culture in which church participation is in precipitous decline. Greg is the Chair-Person of The Committee on Lifelong Formation. I am very interested in that committee’s work. Greg and I both agree that more and better use of technology – videos, webinars, social media -- is a top priority for the church and the diocese as we strive to get our story and message out in new and creative ways. We also recognize that today’s young people are bombarded by noise and technology and that we as a church can offer them places of sanctuary and quiet which are vitally important for spiritual health and well-being. It will require an interesting balance of priorities.
On Thursday, I also participated with Bishop Councell in my first meeting of The Standing Committee of the Diocese. The Standing Committee is a critically important body in the life of the Church, the Diocese and its Bishop as a trusted council of advice. Although I have served on many diocesan and denominational boards and committees, I have never served on a Standing Committee, so this is one more learning experience for me. It has a personal meaning for me. I have been told that my grandfather, Frederick Stokes, an Estates Attorney, was the first lay person ever to serve as a member of The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Long Island. Sitting in that Standing Committee meeting allowed me to touch base with that part of my story. In this meeting both Bishop Councell and I reported on our activities and anticipated what is to come. I stayed to hear various presentations about matters concerning church properties in the diocese including an interesting proposal enthusiastically presented by representatives of St. Elizabeths’ Chapel in Ortley Beach, whose sanctuary was washed into the sea during Hurricane Sandy. It is great to see that community working on rebuilding their church and its ministries!
On Friday, Susan joined me and we left early for Bernardsville, about an hour’s drive from our home. The Garmin took us along a beautiful route through stunning countryside. Our first stop was at St. Bernard’s which was hosting Splash! An Interfaith Kids Camp. This creative idea was the brainchild of Betsy LeVela, a talented Christian educator who worked with St. Bernard’s in bringing this camp about. She facilitated a partnership with a local Jewish congregation, Adath Shalom and The Islamic Center of Basking Ridge who devised a program centering on care of the Creation and especially understanding God’s gift of water through story-telling from all three faith traditions. There were games and science experiments and a lot of fun. This was part of St. Bernard’s participation in the certification program sponsored by Green faith an interfaith organization that supports churches and other faith-based organizations to be better stewards of the environment. Green Faith is New Jersey-based. Its director is The Reverend Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest. You can find out more about Green Faith at www.Greenfaith.org. I encourage churches in the Diocese of New Jersey to check them out.
|Betsy LeVela and Splash! Interfaith Kids Camp|
We enjoyed getting a tour of St. Bernard’s from Ali Dockery, who is on staff at the church and whose enthusiasm is infectious. What a great ambassador for the parish. We also enjoyed meeting Junior Warden, Stephen Galpin who has a long family history at St. Bernard’s.
As we were going to be in the area, we had made arrangements to visit Susan Ironside and to have her show us around St. John’s on-the-Mountain, Bernardsville. We really appreciated Susan’s positive, high energy and appreciated hearing of the good things happening at St. John’s. Susan has scored a major coup! She and Dr. Patrick Malloy of General Theological Seminary have agreed that Dr. Malloy will lead the efforts in adult formation at St. John’s this year. That will be exciting for the people of the parish. It was exhilarating to visit two beautiful churches in the Diocese and even more exhilarating to witness and hear about the good things going on in each!
|With Susan Ironside at St. John's on the Mountain|
On Friday evening, we joined the staff of the Diocese for a “staff recreational day.” To honor Bishiop Councell and his love of baseball, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, we all went to see the Phillies take on the Dodgers in Philadelphia. It was a well-played game and the result was good news for Bishop Councell and part of the continuing disappointment for Phillies fans. While I am on the subject, I will declare my team allegiances: Baseball: NY Mets and Miami Marlins (which shouldn’t threaten anyone too much!); Football: NY Giants and the Jets; Hockey; The NY Rangers (can’t root for a team called The Devils even if they have a terrific goalie, sorry!) and basketball, The Heat and the Knicks.
On Sunday, Susan and I worshiped at Trinity Cathedral for the first time and were warmly welcomed by the Dean and the Cathedral community. It was Megan Thomas’s last Sunday before she begins her new ministry at All Saints in Princeton. She preached a terrific sermon on a very difficult text using Robert McCloskey’s book Time of Wonder for her departure point and exploring the challenges of what we anticipate and what we ought to anticipate as we consider Christ’s coming.
We spent a leisurely afternoon with Dean Rene John and his wife Andrea, and met their son Akeem. The Dean grilled terrific barbecue, served Red Stripe Beer ( favorite of mine!). Andrea prepared spectacular cod cakes and we enjoyed wonderful company.
|With Trinity Cathedral parishioners Judith Miller and Gwendolyn Pearson|