Monday, January 21, 2013

This Grand Experiment in the Gospel

Remarks at the Dinner celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the merger that created the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene.

Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus, the Son of the God who shows no partiality, it is good for us to be here.  Amen.

Let me share with you some words from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, chapter two, verses 13-20, paraphrased:

We were once very far from one another, but Jesus’ death has changed that.  For Jesus became our peace; in his body he has made division into unity, by breaking down the dividing wall. All the hostility between us is gone.  We were taught that the law with all its many commandments and rules made us different, kept us apart, made some of better than others.  But Jesus has abolished that.  He created in his own body one new humanity in place of any two that you can come up with, thus making peace. Now all groups are reconciled to God in one body through the cross. Any hostility between us was put to death on the cross.

So our story is now this: Jesus came among us and he proclaimed peace to those who were far off and peace to those who were near, and he gave all of us access in one Spirit to God. So here is what’s real now:  there are no longer any strangers or aliens, but all of us are called saints.  Whoever you are, you are member of the household of God, a house built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

It is easy for people to miss the point of Two Saints.  It can seem that the point is integration, a community that is as a Christian community should be, black and white together with little or no difference at all.  But that is not the point at all.

Identity is a precious gift.  The uniqueness of each one of us is part of what it means to be created in the image of God.  Diversity is not only a gift of creation. It is necessary for creative existence itself.

Culture too is a precious gift.  Shared customs and values and expressions of joy and sadness, love and hate, passion and indifference are a large part of humanity’s richness and vitality.  Racial and ethnic diversity all help creation sing an ever new song to the Lord.

The Gospel can never be about making people the same.  This is the point of Two Saints.  The purpose of the church is not to create spiritual clones, to mold anyone into anyone else’s image, except, of course, the unknown and mysterious image of God.

The question before Two Saints in 1988 was not simply, “Can we be one in Christ?”  It was, “Can we allow one another to be who we are?  Can we allow uniqueness and diversity to flourish?  And given that flourishing, can we discover our oneness in Christ?”

On our best days it is my experience that we can and we do.  And it is a precious gift that brings forth a flourishing people.

Our friends and neighbors who are not active in a faith community—and their numbers are growing by leaps and bounds—believe that the church exists to build walls between people rather than tear them down, and to use “the rules” of religion to hammer out cookie-cutter versions of human beings acceptable to its narrow vision of humanity.  Especially younger people believe that.  They believe it, of course, because they see it.  It is what they see the church doing.

It is not what we are doing.  We are in the midst of a grand experiment of tearing down walls brick by brick, not for the purpose of making everyone the same, but for the purpose of allowing everyone in their delicious uniqueness to run free and discover in the midst of such glorious difference, we are one.

One of the first things a Two Sainter every said to me was, “Two Saints is the best kept secret in Rochester.”  I long ago lost count of how many times I have heard someone say that.  It’s worse than that, actually.  This Gospel that we know, this life-changing acceptance and the offer of reconciliation not only with God but with the uniqueness of the whole world—that to, seems to be the best kept secret in Rochester (and beyond).

It begs the question, my sisters and brothers in Christ, “Who is keeping the secret?”  Secrets do not just happen, they are choices we make.

What God is up to at Two Saints needs to be told in a world where dividing walls exist all over the place and the world around us spends an enormous amount of time and energy building, rebuilding and strengthening them.  And they are not just inconvenient and sad; they are death dealing, injustice making, peace destroying enemies of the dignity of every human being that each one of us is sworn by our baptism to uphold.

Let us celebrate tonight the gift of this grand experiment we call Two Saints. Let our differences and uniquenesses abound so that we discover ourselves more and more to be a people forgiven, loved, and free, and, yes, one.  Let us not keep secrets anymore. Let us tell the world what amazing things happen when we let Jesus tear the walls down. Let us love one another not in spite of our differences, but because of them.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

D&C | Gala celebrates a harmony of race and faith

Mary Rogan, left, and Delores Banks, members of the Episcopal Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene, celebrate the church's 25th anniversary. / Donyelle Davis//staff photographer

Twenty-five years after shedding racial divisions to become one harmonious congregation, members of the Episcopal Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene held a gala Saturday night to celebrate the milestone.

In 1988, St. Luke’s Church, a historically white Episcopal church founded by Col. Nathaniel Rochester, merged with St. Simon of Cyrene, a historically black Episcopal church, to form the new church.

The church, commonly called Two Saints, is hosting a series of events in January and February to mark the anniversary. The celebration’s theme is “Siyahamba,” which is Zulu for “We are marching.”

Madeline Gamble of Chili was a member of St. Simon of Cyrene before the integration, and said even though there were challenges and opposition in the beginning, the outcome was worth it.

“It worked out beautifully,” she said. “We came to be a diverse church family.”

Bruce Colburn, who joined St. Luke’s in 1980, said he appreciates how the cultural exchange between the groups has positively shaped how they worship together.

“It’s an example of what every church should be, if possible,” he said. “Every church should have that representation on a Sunday.”

The Rt. Rev. Prince Singh, Eighth Episcopal Bishop of Rochester, said he admires the dedication it took for the church members and leaders to recognize how contradictory segregating the churches was. .

“Integration doesn’t happen without a lot of commitment and a lot of love and a willingness to learn and unlearn,” he said.

Singh said Two Saints is proof that people are able to reconcile historical differences genuinely.

“We are still on a journey with race relations in this country, we are still on a journey with gender equality,” Singh said. “ But it is encouraging to know we are making progress.”

YNN | Two Churches Celebrate 25 Years of Merged Service

Bishop Singh

A celebration was held on Saturday to commemorate the merger of two churches 25 years ago.

The oldest church in Rochester, the downtown St. Lukes Parish, came together with the historically African American Episcopal church of St. Simon a quarter century ago to form Two Saints.

The two places of worship aimed to hold true to each religion's traditions while still becoming unified.

"For two communities to have a lived experience of engaging in ministry and mission in the City of Rochester for 25 years, and having an opportunity to celebrate this is just incredibly inspiring," said Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Rochester Prince Singh.

A celebratory church service will be held at St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene on Sunday at 10 a.m.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Downtown “Two Saints” celebrates 25 years as merged, integrated church

By Diocesan Staff
Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, Rochester

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Rochesterians will soon celebrate the 25th anniversary of an experiment in integration that gave birth to The Episcopal Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene.

In 1987, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, an historically white church founded by Col. Nathaniel Rochester in 1824, merged with the Episcopal Church of St. Simon of Cyrene, a church founded in 1912 as a home for the city’s African-American Episcopalians. Their congregations combined and have since served downtown Rochester as one diverse and harmonious church.

St. Luke & Simon Cyrene, commonly called Two Saints, will hold four events in January and February to mark the merger’s anniversary:
  • On Sunday, Jan. 13 at 10. a.m., a celebratory church service will be held at St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene. The sermon will be delivered by the Rt. Rev. William G. Burrill, Sixth Episcopal Bishop of Rochester. The parishes merged under the leadership of Burrill, who served as bishop until 1999. The church is located at 17 Fitzhugh St. S., Rochester, and free parking is in the lots south and west of the church.
  • A gala event will be held at the Radisson, 120 E. Main St., Rochester, on Jan. 19 at 6 p.m. The cost is $35 per person. Tickets can be purchased online at Pay parking is available at the Radisson.
  • On Sunday, Feb. 10, the Rt. Rev. Prince Singh, Eighth Episcopal Bishop of Rochester, will celebrate and preach at St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene at the 10 a.m. service. Singh, who currently serves as the diocese’s bishop, will remain after the service for conversation and fellowship.
  • The Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, will preach at the church’s 10 a.m. service on Sunday, Feb. 24.

The Very Rev. Michael W. Hopkins, rector at St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene, said these events celebrate a grand but risky experiment that has borne much fruit in the last 25 years.

“Black and white have not only lived together but thrived together,” Hopkins said. “Although the merger was not the first choice of many 25 years ago, primarily because it was believed that important differences and unique identities would be damaged beyond recognition, quite the opposite has proven true.

“The diversity here hums and is a light in this city, which has a bright, liberal image - but which is still deeply segregated, especially on the level of the church,” the priest explained.

The theme of the month-long celebration is Siyahamba – a Zulu word that translates as "we are marching." It is also a phrase in hymn "We are Marching in the Light of God." The theme emphasizes that the celebrations at St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene are not about the past. Rather, the events celebrate God’s grace and faithfulness in bringing people together now and in the future.

Part of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, the Episcopal Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene’s mission is to be a healing place for souls, a school for justice and a welcome table for all. For more information about the church, visit