In praise of our neighbors

One of the great joys of serving St. Paul’s during this time of transition was getting to know our neighbors and especially in the faith community. Rachel Falcove is Executive Director for the Interfaith Hospitality Network and shared two important stories with me. One was about the challenging days of “white flight” from neighborhoods across the country and the significant role the faith community played in keeping communities like Mount Airy stable, integrated and faithful to American equality. Clergy and lay leaders went door to door from the 50+ congregations that branch off Germantown Avenue, including St. Paul’s. Rachel is a member of the Germantown Jewish Center on Lincoln Avenue and she shared aonther story from their experience of a shrinking and aging congregation that decided to open a day care center for their children, including her own. This was a vital strategic move that revitalized the Temple congregation. It is still so vibrant today because of the decisions made to purposefully engage a new generation in the traditions of Judaism. As we contemplate our future and mission, I am grateful to the commitment of people of faith like Rachel Falcove and the enormous contribution she and IHN makes every day to our community. We share so much in our Jewish and Christian heritage and our values about repairing God’s world. With the rise of anti-semitism, attacks and hate crimes, it is important we deepen these relationships as we seek a common mission to repair God’s world and be good stewards of what God is giving us.

Another wonderful relationship I value is with our neighboring church, our Mother of Consolation (OMC). Fr. Bob Bazzoli has faithfully served this community for 16 years and I was fortunate to build upon the good relations Fr. Cliff Cutler had with Fr. Bob. We travelled a difficult road together these past two years, as both congregations faced the uncertainties with Covid 19. Fr. Bob shared some of the practices and experiences our neighboring Christians were going through. Faced with the challenges of having some semblance of a Christmas celebration, Fr. Bob and four other churches in Chestnut Hill worked with St. Paul’s to create the “Walk With the Holy Family” based on the tradition od “Posada”. Many of you came up from lockdown and were able to witness to the birth of “Love incarnate”. Over 150 people from our different congregations were able to witness together on Germantown Ave. and end up at our Christmas creche at St. Paul’s. It was a magical and uplifting moment I will never forget. Working with Rev. Jay from Christ Ascension, Rev. John from the local Presbyterian church and Rev. Jarrett from St Martin’s in the Field, with other colleagues, congregants, and local businesses was a special moment for me in my time with St. Paul’s.

There was a memorable comment from a confused outdoor diner that evening as the pink sunset wrapped us all into perfect December evening. He saw all these masked people with lanterns coming up the Avenue and remarked “It must be some Christian event. But they’re wearing masks?” It was a sad reminder the anti-science, anti- reality faction of the Christian community still dominates the public square and what a witness we were collectively making, not only to inclusion and co-operation, but to affirm the need for social responsibility by wearing masks and getting vaccinated. We still face enormous challenges within the American faith community and so it is essential that main-stream Christianity counter the moves to create a fundamentalist-based theocracy that distorts and weaponizes the Bible. This anti-science and anti-truth telling is a cancer in our national life. It is part of an undercurrent of an emerging fascism in this country that will need major opposition from religious people. Our collaboration together against all forms of racism and discrimination is one way these new battles will be fought. We have to stand together.

As we begin the noisy and messy work on connecting St. Paul’s with the sewer lines, we are grateful to our neighbors for putting up with this inconvenience and we made every possible adjustment to our schedule to ensure our neighboring school would not be disrupted more than already being experienced by the Covid 19 protocols. Fr. Bob and the good people of OMC have been great neighbors to us and I welcome the deepening love and affection we have for one another. We have so much more in common than that which makes us different and unique. OMC (and their school in particular) have worked hard at issues of racism and diversity, long term strategic planning and pastoral care. We can learn a lot from them. Similarly, our neighboring episcopal parishes of St. Thomas and St. Martin’s should not longer been seen as rival competition for the Episcopal membership in this area. People who threaten to leave one church for another appear to miss the point that we are all part of a larger web of mission and shared values through the work of our bishop and the diocese. I hope the past two years has not only deepened our bonds of affection, but to re-engage St Paul’s in the larger work of the diocese, (we significantly increased our Diocesan contribution at this time) and we owe a lot of thanks to the bishop and his staff for helping provide the best people possible for a successful rector search.  This collaboration must continue if St Paul’s is going to be the parish we need to become. So, let us celebrate and thank our neighbors who have in many ways have “blest us on our way.”

Albert J. Ogle