Messages From the Clergy

A Confession

I was recently shamed into a sheepish confession: I’ve never read the Harry Potter books. Not a single word.

Nor have I seen the movies. It’s not that I was opposed, I just never got around to it—too many dense theological tomes to read at the time. But, with the annual international Harry Potter Festival in Chestnut Hill, now I feel like I really can’t serve in this parish or community without finally diving in (perhaps trading off between the printed text in my downtime at home and the lauded audiobooks on my commute to Princeton). I’ll put it on the calendar as “pastoral research.”

(Continue Reading…) It is a sign of this parish’s vitality that our fellowship hall was transformed into a Hogwarts-esque Great Hall, not least because the event raises thousands of dollars each year for the hungry and homeless in Philadelphia.

Many undoubtedly recall the cultural kerfuffle over the books, with certain Christians worried about the fantastical wizardry and witchcraft therein. Talking heads littered the media with wild warnings and embarrassing religious fanaticism, complete with Fahrenheit 451-like book burnings at some churches. Apparently the author of the series, JK Rowling, was even denied a Medal of Honor by the Bush administration because the books “encouraged witchcraft.” Even the future Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger and serving as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, decried the books’ “subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and, by this, deeply distort Christianity in the soul.” Ouch.

Never mind that Rowling was raised an Anglican, is now a member of the Church of Scotland, and credits her faith as a singular inspiration for the books, suggesting “the religious parallels have always been obvious.” And forget the wizardry and witchcraft in other fantasy literature that Christians generally embrace and celebrate like, C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. I digress.

While, again, I must shamefacedly admit that I am among 27 other people in the entire United States that has hitherto missed out on the sweeping cultural phenomenon altogether, I am happy to be a part of a community of faith that isn’t, well, so uptight. I’m happy to be a part of this family, which welcomes and engages our community without reserve and has some fun while doing some good along the way. That, in my humble estimation, is what Christian community ought to look like. Not fearmongering, but joyful welcome.

As Sirius Black, a character in the series (and member of the Gryffindor House), put it: “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

For more, see:

  • Patricia M. Lyons, Teaching Faith with Harry Potter: A Guidebook for Parents and Educators for Multigenerational Faith Formation (Church Publishing, 2017)
  • Connie Neal, The Gospel According to Harry Potter: The Spiritual Journey of the World’s Greatest Seeker (WJK, 2008)


~ Joseph

Disciple of Jesus

The word “discipleship” may seem foreign to Episcopalians; it’s not really a part of our cultural lexicon. But it seems we are in a moment where we are beginning to reclaim words that have seasoned the speech of Christians for millennia—and discipleship is one of those words.

Deriving from the Latin discipulus or “learner,” the word “disciple” implies that we seek the instruction of a teacher. And this, of course, is what Jesus’s first disciples most often called him: “rabbi,” or teacher. It is to Jesus that we look for our instruction… instruction about what truly matters in life, how we are to live, what we are to do. It is to Jesus that we look for the answers. It is to Jesus we look as our answer.

In his stirring homily at the opening Eucharist, Bishop Daniel Gutierrez stressed the irreplaceable centrality of Jesus: “Everything we do, everything we are… begins and ends in Jesus Christ.”

We can come sometimes become so preoccupied by the business of the church—as Bp Gutierrez put it, “budgets, buildings, and possessions”—that we can forget what the “stuff” of church is for; that the institution of the church is not an end in itself but merely a means by which we proclaim Christ. It is the life and love of Jesus that, in all things, we are called to share.

Being followers of Jesus and bearers of his message, being his disciples, is the only thing that makes the church the church. As the bishop provocatively challenged us: “If we do not offer the message of Jesus Christ to the world, there is no reason for the church to exist. You have no other message that matters.”

Yet being a follower of Jesus and bearer of his message is not just a matter of words. Bp Gutierrez asked us: “What are we going to do?” Believing requires, entails, doing. Our witness to the reality of Jesus’s resurrected reign is best exemplified, not merely explained. Being a disciple, one who learns from Jesus, entails we also live like him—living lives of radical love, service to others, inclusion of the marginalized, solidarity with the poor.

May we take these gentle reminders to heart this week as we seek to live our day-in, day-out lives a disciples of Jesus Christ. As people who, in small but significant ways, do as our bishop commended us: “Show the world Jesus Christ.”


“Dear Saint Paul’s Family” – a note from Joseph

I am overjoyed to join you as an assisting priest and look forward to all the ways we will encourage one another on the journey of life and faith over the years to come — endeavoring in all things to grow evermore fully into ‘the image and likeness of Christ’.

From the moment I stepped onto the parish grounds on my first clandestine visit a few weeks back, I felt a distinct sense of calm and call. You were warm and friendly in your welcome of me and my toddler daughter, even as we slinked in and out of the service — *repeatedly* (per usual these days). And you undoubtedly know what a gift you have in Cliff as your rector. I’m eager to work with and learn from him, aspiring to at least emulate his infectious joy if I can’t match his laugh.

(Continue Reading…) Even though my capacity will be somewhat limited, given my primary commitment to the Princeton chaplaincy, I do hope you won’t hesitate to reach out. Most of my time with you will be devoted to the Sunday morning services, but I will have a bit of time over the course of the week to connect and chat.

And you’ll hopefully get to meet my wife, The Rev’d Liz Costello, before too long. She serves as the associate rector at St Thomas Whitemarsh, just down the road. We’ve recently moved with our aforementioned ever-active daughter to a farm in Blue Bell, so we’ll probably run into you at some point in and around Chestnut Hill.

Again, really looking forward to serving among you. Do be in touch via email ( or or phone (mobile is probably best: 203-850-2056, text/call). And keep me and my family in your prayers as you are in mine.

With wishes of ‘peace and all good things’,


Welcome The Rev. Joseph Wolyniak!

The Rev. Joseph Wolyniak, Chaplain at Princeton University will join the Staff at Saint Paul’s to assist the Rector on Sundays. He will be working quarter-time.

In his full-time work, he serves the Episcopal Church at Princeton University, Westminster Choir College, and Princeton Theological Seminary. Joe received his Doctor of Philosophy degree (DPhil) in Theology from University of Oxford (Harris Manchester College).

Dr. Wolyniak will preach, celebrate the Eucharist, work with the Adult Christian Education Committee. He has expertise in communications and social media. Prior to coming to Princeton Joe was on the staff of the Diocese of Colorado where he promoted lifelong faith formation among children, youth, and young adults.

Please help us welcome Joseph to Saint Paul’s. His wife, the Rev. Elizabeth Costello, is Associate Rector at St. Thomas’, Whitemarsh.


I woke up this morning to the news of mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada. My first question was why do we allow assault weapons which are military equipment to be in the hands of the general public? My second question, with the world in such disarray, is why do people choose not to go to church, or temple, or mosque? I suppose we all have to worship something. (Continue Reading…) If it is not God, there are plenty of frightening alternatives to choose from. Actually, church confronts us with our idol-worship of people, places, and things that are other than God.

Going to church is not about the institution. Institutions won’t save anybody. But the church is designed to connect you to God. The worship is God-directed from the very start. We say “Blessed be God… and his kingdom” (which is a mended creation). We offer a “cleansing” prayer, and then a song praising God. We pray a collect specifically for that week. We hear God’s Word in Scripture from each part of the Bible. We affirm our faith, and we are aware of our shortcomings and needs, so we pray. Then we confess. The standards of love in Bible and Creed bring us to our knees, literally or metaphorically. Then we are forgiven and can stand before God. We can stand to be with God, and for God to be with us. We participate mutually in communion where God abides in us and we in him. We are infused with compassion for ourselves and others. Then we are sent into the world with gladness and singleness of heart.

Now some people go to the institution but don’t go to God. But there is no other purpose to church than to get you to God. If that is not our destination then we are missing the point. That’s the whole “why” of it.