While Gareth enjoys an August vacation, this letter is being written by guest columnists from our parish.
In these “dog days” of summer when many of our fellow parishioners are elsewhere or perhaps disinclined, in light of the Delta variant, to attend any indoor event, the pews of St. Barnabas are more empty than usual. With Gareth and Donald away as well this month, the handful of worshippers can sometimes feel like the last of guests at a party.
Though she compellingly framed it as an opportunity, Pam Middleton’s observation in last week’s InCommon that church membership is declining nationally can feed a sense that we are increasingly isolated. One can only hope that we are able to follow through on plans to return to full services and church school in September.
Until then, I take some solace in glimpses of a larger church world that come into view now and again. One such glimpse came this past Sunday in meeting the Reverend Ryan Bennett, who stood in for Gareth while he, Fran and their kids are off on vacation. As Father Bennett is an assistant at New York’s St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, where my sister worships, I introduced myself after service.
“What a small world!” he exclaimed. And indeed it is. The coincidence of that connection is not in and of itself surprising, but it is just one strand in a larger web of connections that is the larger Episcopal world of which we are a part. Father Bennett described himself as a good friend of Gareth’s and Fran’s -a friendship that grew out of their participation in anti-racism training as newcomers to the Diocese of New York. So here is a priest from Australia befriending a priest from the northwest of England via Massachusetts in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Those of us who have served on a Rector search committee can recall the experience of visiting other Episcopal churches to evaluate a candidate in action, as it were. Though in different towns in different states, perhaps with different demographics, the familiar liturgy washes over you, like the company of an old friend.
Surely every August, at least in the northern hemisphere, church attendance thins before it springs back as summer gives way to fall. In the meantime, it is a help to think of all those other parishes all around the greater Anglican Communion that are saying the same prayers in diverse settings: St. John’s of Lattingtown on Long Island, the church I grew up in; St. Sacrement, the Little Church on the Rock in Bolton Landing on Lake George that’s no bigger than a Legend Hollow living room; St. John’s Church, Harbour Island in the Bahamas, built in 1768 and still thriving with a largely native congregation that gives over 20 to 30 minutes to The Peace in order to greet everyone present. They are all part of the “small world” that also includes the churches where our former assistants have gone on as Rectors themselves. They are all part of the larger family of faith to which we belong, and their spirit fills St. Barnabas no matter what the time of year. It is indeed, Reverend Bennett, a small world.
Gareth Evans serves as the rector of St. Barnabas. He is an inspirational leader who brings significant pastoral experience, a depth of reverence in worship, and a relatable preaching style.