Finding a Way Forward Together
By: Gail Coon, Sr. Warden and Kathy Hall, Jr. Warden
Dear Members & Friends of the former churches of St. John’s, Eveleth & St. Paul’s, Virginia:
There has been a lot going on in the last few years with the East Range Episcopal Churches! Here is a little recap…as well as we can remember.
Quite a few years ago, a few pop-up conversations began about the possibility of becoming one worshiping community. There were conversations about what we did together already (youth, choir, confirmation, ham dinner), but was that reason enough to merge? There were also meetings - so many meetings - to see what people thought about the prospect. At one meeting with a Missioner from the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, he suggested that our two congregations had been in a “dating” relationship for a number of years, and, perhaps it was time to become “engaged” and seriously explore our path to a “marriage”. That began one of the longest engagement periods we have been aware of! More meetings. We knew we had options:
1. Both congregations had shrinking numbers of regular worshipers and regular pledgers, and we could just keep going until one or the other ran out, and close whichever church floundered first. We’d be down to one Episcopal congregation, but one also in a fragile state.
2. We could become Mission churches, and the Episcopal Church in Minnesota would be in charge of the decision making, and we would just roll with the punches.
3. We could try to find a way to support each other, while making the best decisions we could to create a new life together, rather than waiting to die individually.
All of these choices seemed hard, but a tenuous consensus began to form about not wanting to give up!
We started worshiping at both churches, learning about each other’s traditions and “style” of services. We began holding joint vestry meetings. We began meeting intentionally for planning and discussion of a merger process. Some of this was very difficult and painful, while some was hopeful and fun. (like a Sunday morning joint pot luck and worship at the pavilion at Ely Lake Park.) During all these years, there were different configurations of clergy, with a Priest in Charge here, and supply clergy there. On Easter Sunday of 2015 Rev. Rick Swenson began
serving as Supply Priest & Mission Developer to both congregations with our alternating Sundays schedule.
As our journey together progressed, both the Episcopal Church in Minnesota (the Diocese for us “old-timers”) and the National Episcopal Church supported us as we sought to make this new congregation happen, so they made an agreement to help support Fr. Rick (who, fortunately for us, is also a lawyer living in Ely) and his efforts to help us with the legal and canonical logistics and paperwork required, as well as shepherding us through a difficult and complicated time in our 2 faith communities. The MN and national churches believed in trying to keep an Episcopal presence on the East Range, so much so that they were willing to put their funds toward helping to compensate Fr. Rick for his expertise, both legal and clerical, in walking with us through the maze that is church formation.
That left us to begin sorting through our relationships with each other as individuals and as congregations with the support of our supply priest, and work toward trying to think of us as one.
None of this is easy stuff. We did keep working, trying not to rush, but knowing we had to reach a resolution by the end of 2017. A joint resolution approving the application for merger was passed by both vestries on 12/10/2017 and submitted to the Standing Committee and Bishop of The Episcopal Church in Minnesota. The merger was approved. New Articles of Incorporation and by-laws were created and presented for approval at the organizational meeting of the new parish of Saints John & Paul Episcopal Church on February 25th of 2018 - our first Annual Meeting. Vestry and Wardens were elected, and other preliminary budget and financial organization resolutions were also discussed and voted upon. Some of the planning and dreaming of what our congregation could be began at that meeting also.
There was and still is so much to do!
The vestry meets monthly, still after church so anyone can attend. The dates are published in the Epistle newsletter each month. Also, the Priest, Wardens, Treasurer, and Clerk/Secretary meet every week or two to keep sorting out the logistics, and any extra planning for communications, events, or whatever pops up.
The most difficult decisions, by far, have involved figuring out where to worship. At some point it was decided to continue worshiping on our alternating Sunday schedule between Eveleth and Virginia until Easter. Easter Sunday fell on the calendar for Eveleth, and that was determined to be the last regular Sunday worship there. Young blooming plants decorated by our 2 youth
acolytes, and donated Easter Lilies made the church feel especially beautiful, and even though it was blustery and cold outside, there was much, much love in that holy space on that sacred Easter morning. There may be services there for other occasions, but now we are celebrating the Eucharist at 9:30 Sunday mornings at the church at 231 3rd Street South, Virginia.
The memories of baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and burials fill every bit of space in both buildings, as well as all our hearts. (And, of course, we couldn’t forget the madness and wonder of the Christmas Pageants! Yikes!) What these memories mainly hold for us is love. The unconditional love of God, the sharing of our humanness in the love of Christ, and our own love for the people with whom we share those precious recollections. What would either of these buildings matter without the people we have shared them with? For all of us, one or both of these churches have been a part of our lives, and we look forward to carrying forward those memories and relationships.
Recently some of us heard a young girl talking about what is holy. She spoke of holiness like rain. It falls everywhere and surrounds us, but as it falls, some of it pools. These pools signify places where we each feel most connected to holiness. Perhaps the fire pit at the cabin, a place in the woods, a place in your home for peace, or any other significant places. We hope you will be able to sense a pooling of holiness here at Saints John & Paul…if not now, in the future. The pool will only form if the rain that falls is full of love, the unconditional love of God, the sacrificial love of Christ, and our covenantal love of every human through baptism.
Gail Coon, Sr. Warden
Kathy Hall, Jr. Warden