Last weekend, the combined vestries of St. Thomas’ and Epiphany came together Friday and Saturday night at the facility owned by Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart on W. Joppa Road. Friday evening, we had dinner and an evening worship service. Afterward, the two Vestries voted unanimously to become one church. We are now St. Thomas-Epiphany Episcopal Parish. We are changing the language we use to reflect this: St. Thomas’ is now the Providence Road campus; Epiphany is now the Pot Spring campus – two locations, currently, for one new church.
We, like many churches all over the country, are facing a very different future than was expected during the membership surge of the 90’s. Right now, the Bishop and staff are working with eight African American churches downtown that have buildings they can’t fill. So far, they have not been able to come to a place where merging with one another seems likely, yet none of these churches are self-sustaining.
The work we have done in this Partnership will become a resource for all the churches in the Diocese. Jan Bahner and Jay Boggs have done amazing work to make this merger happen. Without their leadership, I’m not sure we could have done this. We are doing this, however; we are becoming ONE with Epiphany. We have worked hard to preserve the traditions and identities of each congregation as we, together, create new, blended traditions moving into the future. This is transformation at work.
And yet… while this is transformative work, it is not easy work. The things that cause the greatest stress in life are loss, change of jobs, and moving. We will be both moving and going through the loss of a building and location that was hoped to be the permanent home of St. Thomas’. Many of you raised your children here and saw them baptized and confirmed. It is hard to leave such a place. We will be leaving a neighborhood that we have become part of in a greater way, over the last five years. Many of our parishioners are from this neighborhood and will now be going a bit farther to go to church. Those who live in Parkville have farther to go. We must move our columbarium, and decisions must be made about things that are important to us, like our windows that are memorials to people we love, and the statue of the Risen Christ.
Our first joint service on the Pot Spring Campus will be January 19. The week prior to that, we will have a service of farewell to our beloved church. We’ll invite former members to take part in this service. We’ll tell stories, sing songs and hymns, and afterward, break bread (and cake) in a reception in the Fellowship Hall.
And beginning on November 17, our Stewardship Season begins. Yes, it is very late this year. Both campuses are doing this as one church, beginning on the 17th and ending on December 10th with a combined service here on Providence Road. The service will include music from both campuses.
I ask you prayerfully to stay the course that has been set by the Vestry. We are a community. As difficult as this is, it becomes more difficult when we lose people we love from the community. A friend who recently moved, said to me, “I miss the church. I didn’t realize how much I would miss the people there.” You are an important part of this community. Share the joys and sorrows of St. Thomas as it was, and St. Thomas-Epiphany, as it is, with all of us in this community.