Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator, Allentown
[Saul] asked, “Who are you, Lord?”
The reply came, “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting.
But get up and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do.”
The conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19) is a pivotal moment in the pilgrimage of the followers of Jesus. God transformed a persecutor of the people “who belonged to the Way” (as the early Christians were called) into one of greatest witnesses to Jesus Christ. This transformation was symbolized in Saul’s name being changed to Paul. Although this name change is not mentioned for a few chapters, I want to highlight two churches whose names were changed; both to Grace.
In February, 1832, a group gathered in the new town of Honesdale to found St. James’ Episcopal Church. But another group, meeting at a nearby town, urged them to join together as the Dyberry Parish, with the names Truth Church and Grace Church. So the Honesdale group changed the name to Grace Church, even though the other church was never built. Throughout its history the church has been the recipient of much grace, from the original donation of land by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, through gifts of beautiful Tiffany windows, a modern parish hall added in 1949 through a generous gift, and, more recently, renovations of the fine pipe organ made possible, in part, by a donation of additional pipes from the neighboring Presbyterian church, and the donation of talents by an outstanding voicer of organs. The church shares grace generously with others, seeking to be “A house of God for all people.” It is the most active church in town, hosting all the 12-step programs, a Habitat for Humanity office, a winter emergency shelter, weekly community dinners (co-hosted with a Presbyterian church), a Cub Scout troop, and a monthly LGBT group. There are many grace notes in this parish.
In the sacristy of Grace Church, Allentown, is the certificate from the consecration of the church in 1866 . Throughout the document “The Church of the Crucifixion” is written in and then crossed out, with “Grace Church” written above it (see below). The parish embraced the emphasis of its new name. In the 1980’s, the stained glass window of the crucifixion was covered over, and a Christus rex (“Christ the king,” an image of the resurrected Christ on the cross) now hangs on the white wall above a free-standing altar. The whole opposite wall is taken up by a striking abstract window inspired by a poem, The Christ of the Universe, by the Rev. Don Knapp, the rector at the time. The church embodies grace in its extensive outreach ministries: Grace Montessori School, which grew out of the Grace Food Pantry; Grace House, a single-room occupancy residence (a partnership with New Bethany Ministries and the Lehigh Conference of Churches); and it hosts Dress for Success and Narcotics Anonymous. The church is finding grace and renewal in relationships inside and outside the parish, with a new priest-in-charge, shared in a networked relationship with Church of the Mediator.
When in your life have you experienced conversion or grace?