Altar Cloth of Ribbons

Rector’s Report – January 22, 2023

2022 –The Year of Extending Community

We called 2022 The Year of Extending Community, drawing our scriptural inspiration from the Prophet Jeremiah:  Blessed are those who trust in the Lord …  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.

So what does it look like — to us here at Emmanuel, and to others in the wider community — when we grow in faith and trust and send out our roots by the living stream?  When we say that, I think we mean that we’re drawing deep on our faith and living fully into our baptismal covenant.  We all know the beautiful and powerful words of the covenant — to continue in the apostlesteaching and fellowship, persevere in resisting evil, seek and serve Christ in all persons, and respect the dignity of every human being.  The plain meaning of those words is that we do our best to stay in relationship, say sorry when were wrong, work hard to do better next time, love our neighbor, and remember God loves every single one of us.

We began 2022 with only 50% of our organ pipes working, and the remaining pipes had given us fair warning.  We had significant leaks in the church roof.  Our two main furnaces had reached the end of their useful lives, and the chapel windows were visibly buckling, bending in and out in the winds, and popping out pains of stained glass on the chapel floor.

These were daunting beginnings, but our community at Emmanuel was like Jeremiah’s tree planted by water.  We sent out our roots by the living stream of the community and worked together to find solutions that were achievable for us in our context.  Randy had only been with us several weeks when, through his own expertise and his relationships with organ builders, he helped us find a fantastic organ at an affordable price, fully paid for from our Parker Organ Fund — with money left over for unexpected repairs.

We deepened our relationships with the Alletta Morris McBean Foundation and the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, submitting grant applications that described our hopes for Emmanuel’s flourishing as a community center open to all people at all times in all seasons, and asked specifically for their assistance in the re-sealing of the rubber membrane roof over the nave, the repair of the chapel windows, and the rebuilding of our heating and ventilation systems.

Altar Cloth of RibbonsWe prayed our way through Lent thinking about our halos, those clouds of good intentions we have for ourselves and our community, asking ourselves how we can show our halos to each other and our wider community — by smiling, welcoming others, inviting people to join us in worship and fellowship, expanding our service through Soup’s On and Newport Classical’s chamber concerts.  Each Sunday during Lent, we wrote our halo prayers on satin ribbons and tied them on the churchyard fence, gathering them in during Holy Week to weave into an altar cloth to use through Eastertide.  The ribbons were all different colors, lengths, textures, and widths — a lot like us at Emmanuel — yet we are all into the fabric of our extended community.

During Eastertide, we received the good news that van Beuren and McBean would fund our urgent repairs to the church roof, the chapel stained glass windows, and the heating and ventilation systems in the church.  McBean also urged us to get bids for air conditioning for the large public spaces in the Recital Hall, the Library, and the Nave to better support our vision of welcoming all people at all times in all seasons.

We expanded our community here at home and also reached out into the wider community to form new relationships.  We completed the first full year of our space collaboration with Newport Classical, which is not a rental or a tenancy, but a shared future in our community.  Now settled into a space that allows storage, offices, and acoustically rich year-round concert space, Newport Classical held its first full year of chamber concerts in the Recital Hall at Emmanuel Church, and its first full festival season this past summer, allowing them to share almost $35,000 towards our operating expenses at Emmanuel and becoming an essential part of our community here.

Together we agreed to be the major rehearsal site for Newport Folk Festival, and we had a glorious week of seeing the Recital Hall and the Library alive with music.  ALSO, there’s no written proof anywhere that Joni Mitchell herself — the surprise special guest — didn’t rehearse here at Emmanuel prior to her first public performance in 20 years!  That’s what I told everyone I saw at the Lambeth Conference in England just days later anyway, as the whole world was still abuzz with the news of Joni Mitchell’s comeback appearance.  I was a minor celebrity among all the assembled bishops of the Anglican Communion in Canterbury — or at least the Western ones — as the news spread.  Did you see her?  they’d ask, with faraway looks recalling their college days in the 1970s.  No, but I wasn’t there late at night.  That must have been when they rehearsed, I’d say.  There are improvements that Newport Classical and we will make this summer in communications, cleanup, and supervision, but expanding our community by having Newport Folk rehearse at Emmanuel is just too marvelous an opportunity for us to miss.

We also shared Emmanuel’s amazing acoustic spaces with other local music groups for rehearsal and recital, fulfilling our 2022 plan to collaborate with social service organizations, music and arts nonprofits, and other ecumenical and interfaith communities.  With these relationships, we root ourselves deeply by the living water of our faith, so that, as the Prophet Jeremiah writes, our leaves stay green and we continue to grow and thrive.

We extended our community with relationships throughout the global Anglican Communion through relationships renewed and strengthened at the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in Canterbury last summer.  In October we welcomed The Rev. Canon Sarah Snyder, reconciliation advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury and founding director of Rose Castle, an international center for reconciliation, for a Habits of a Reconciler conversation over a beautiful shared charcuterie board and hot cider prepared by our own Annie Guinan, and Bishop Mark Edington of the European Convocation of Episcopal Churches joined us in November to preach while he was Stateside.

As another step in extending our community, we completed our fundraising for our copper hearing loop sound and video streaming system through a grant from the Diocese of Rhode Island and the incredibly generous support of our Emmanuel and Newport Classical community.  The new system, which will begin installation in February, will be a game changer, not only for those with hearing aids (sound connects directly to hearing aids via the “T” setting), but for all those sitting in the pews and listening and watching at home.  In order to gather sound for the copper loop, we will install suspended microphones over the nave and over the chancel, as well as much better speakers throughout the church, and three interchangeable cameras for live streaming.  The improved microphones and speakers — the gathering system for the copper loop — will improve everyone’s listening experience, whether in person at church or tuning in from home.  We can also offer the church as a first-choice affordable recording studio for local performance groups, further extending our relationships with the community in our core area of music performance.  We held a “Can You Hear Me Now” dinner in the library prepared by our resident chefs Annie Guinan and Emily Wigutow, celebrating our extended community, raising funds for the copper hearing loop sound project, and testing out a pet idea of mine — a pop up restaurant or cafe.

On a personal note, 2022 has specifically been a year of extending community for Jere and me as both of our adult children married, and we gained two full additional families in the process.  And we have leaned hard on our extended community — all of us together — as we addressed my breast cancer diagnosis in the Fall, and I began treatment.  This community has been amazing.  We have been carried by your prayers, your care, your notes, your cards, your smiles, your gifts, and your calls.  The Bishop’s and my care team’s support enabled my full medical disability insurance, which has allowed us to increase Randy’s hours to cover my administrative absence, and to pay supply priests to enable me to rest and care for my immune system while it’s suppressed from the chemotherapy.

On New Year’s Day, I was surprised by the prayers of this whole congregation, as Fay Gosling presented me with a beautiful prayer shawl knitted by so many of you — Emmanuelites and friends from our wider community.  Fay sat with new knitters and old pros, as they stitched row after row of squares, knitting our community together in encouragement, solidarity, and love just as surely as we’re all woven into the fabric of our halo altar cloth, every stitch their prayer.  I’ve often imagined your healing prayers as a mantle around my shoulders.  My prayer shawl — dreamed, knitted, prayed, and blessed by this community — will hold me through my healing, a warm and tangible manifestation of God’s love in our community.

On this Third Sunday after Epiphany, and thinking of my prayer shawl, it’s a good time to ask ourselves what Epiphany — or God’s manifestation — means to us.  We know the Feast of the Epiphany as that moment when God is manifest among us in the person of the new baby king.  In a more common sense, an epiphany is a moment, usually sudden, when we all at once understand the essential nature or meaning of something.  It’s that moment when the lightbulb goes on, and we see something we haven’t noticed before.  I point to my prayer shawl as such a manifestation — a visible, tangible, warm, enveloping manifestation of God’s love at Emmanuel.  We will look forward to 2023 as the Year of Manifesting Community as we celebrate and share all the ways God’s love shines out among us.