Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator, Allentown
But Barnabas took [Saul], and brought him to the apostles….
[Tabitha/Dorcas] was devoted to good works and acts of charity.
Acts 9:27, 36b
“He was a real Barnabas.” That’s what a colleague of one of my parishioners said of him after he died. I had never heard that phrase before, even though I knew that Barnabas means “son of encouragement.” In Acts 9:26-31, we see Barnabas acting in character. When the other apostles are afraid of Saul, not convinced that he is a disciple, Barnabas is the one who brings Saul to them and tells them the story of Saul’s conversion. Barnabas encourages both Saul and the apostles, and they accept one another.
The story then shifts to Peter (Acts 9:32-43). He goes to Tabitha, also called Dorcas, a disciple who has died. She also was an encourager and made clothing for others. Peter is called by the community to come to her and he raises her from the dead, showing her alive to the saints and widows.
St. Barnabas, Kutztown, a small congregation formed in 1957 by a group of mostly faculty and administrators at what was then called Kutztown State College, has a long history of encouraging lay ministry. They have also received the encouragement of the diocese at different periods, with grants to support their ministry. Having worshiped in a variety of places, they purchased and remodeled a former Roman Catholic church, which was dedicated on the Feast of St. Barnabas, June 11, 1995. They encourage others in the community in creative ways. They have hosted a farmers market on Sunday mornings, put on events around issues of clean air and water, and help provide food for Kutztown students through a local outreach organization. They encourage one another through dialogue, worship, good food and fellowship.
St. Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral, Wilkes-Barre pre-dates St. Barnabas by 140 years, having incorporated as a parish in 1817. The 1909 book about the diocese, in its section on St. Stephen’s, mentions that, “During the Conventional year 1877-8 the Ladies’ Dorcas Society distributed between six and seven hundred garments among the worthy poor of Wilkes-Barre.” It is clear that the spirit of Dorcas was alive and well then, as it is now in the parish. A group of knitters meets monthly to make hats and scarves for those in need of comfort and care. REACH @ St. Stephen’s Food Pantry and Clothing Closet serves 200 families a month. They also have a free medical and dental clinic, and serve monthly as a part of the Mother Theresa shelter for homeless men. In the 1880’s their outreach extended as far as Mexico and China through scholarships maintained by their Sunday Schools. Today, through the New Hope campaign, they help support schools in Kajo Keji, South Sudan.
Music has always been an important part of St. Stephen’s ministry, and the 1909 book has two pictures that include their choir. If you can’t make it to St. Stephen’s for their many organ, orchestral, and choral concerts, with outstanding musicians from around the country, you can hear them on “Music from St. Stephen’s” on Sundays at 4 on WVIA. It is one of the ways that our pro-cathedral extends its ministry beyond its walls.
Who has been (or is) a Barnabas or Dorcas in your life and in your parish?