I have been a church musician since I was 15 years old (more than fifty years), in a variety of churches ranging from full gospel to Anglo-Catholic high church; this has included service throughout south-western Ohio, northern Kentucky, greater New Orleans, and the greater New York City and northern New Jersey areas. During the 30 (very) odd years since my confirmation in the Diocese of Lexington, I have participated in a number of parishes both there and in the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Most recently, I was organist at St. Philip’s in Northside for the last seven years of its existence and, since 2007, a parishioner (and resident supply organist) at Christ Church Glendale. While at St. Philip’s, I started the feeding program that became “Phil’s Place” (named by current A&HT parishioner Carolyn Bruckner) and continues to serve the hungry in Northside, as part of an independent social service agency.
At Christ Church I have been a long-standing chorister, both a member and chair of the Worship Commission and a part of the design team for our $4.5M building program that included the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, education/IHN facilities, fellowship hall, choir room and church offices. I was part of the organ committee’s fundraising phase in acquiring the Fisk Opus 146 organ for the new chapel. I have also had the opportunity to visit a fair number of Southern Ohio parishes as a supply organist, and to serve several as a long-term interim organist/music director.
I have looked with hope toward our Presiding Bishop’s vision of Becoming Beloved Community: hope that this can be made effectual; hope that it will not be just another management slogan to help us sit more comfortably in our suburban pews. However, I have searched our Canons and found not a single word about sustaining worshipping communities except those dealing with financial self-sufficiency and absolute numbers of pledge units.
In the years following the closure of St. Philip’s Northside, I watched with dismay as individuals, adult, youth and child, and some whole families fell into despair. Added to the daily grind of drug trafficking. the commercial sex trade and occasional violence outside their doors, they had now been abandoned yet again – this time by a church that had held out the promise of ever-abiding community and care, one that had been an anchor in the neighborhood for more than a century. Some parishioners transferred to other parishes, often nearer their homes, where they could again be vital, involved members. For Northside residents without means or connections to other parishes, the outcomes were less rosy. Some of these filled the gaps in their lives with the neighborhood activities that maintained their investment in Northside: drugs, sex and crime.
No one can feel beloved at a distance. Hope cannot be helicoptered in from afar. Sustained, worshipping communities that truly emulate the abiding love of Christ are the only way to make Beloved Communities possible. Places that minister to the naked, sick, and hungry will almost never be financially self-sustaining; they will always struggle to grow leadership – juggling two or three part-time jobs just doesn’t leave much time for anything else. The Diocese of Southern Ohio is home to an abundance of these resources: we are a diocese of exceptional resources of the holy trinity of time, talent, and treasure. Yet, we have developed a habit of simply writing checks to support other churches and secular social services, often after we’ve walked away from otherwise functional congregations that fail to sustain independent financial success. We should not make this the primary, or the only, criterion for commitment to a community.
We must learn to find value in qualities that go beyond corporate America’s yardstick of financial success. We need to recognize the value of human connection across the whole of our diocese. It won’t happen if we continue to decamp to the suburbs. If we want to be a force for healing and reconciliation, we must first be present.