Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator
“You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus
but in almost the whole of Asia
this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods make with hands are not gods.”
Acts 19 has Paul in controversy again. Often those who contested Paul were from the Jewish community, but here he gets in trouble with the Gentile community in Ephesus. The city had a temple of Artemis, a mother goddess widely worshiped in that area. The silversmiths, who made their living by making miniature silver shrines of Artemis, saw their profits fading away because of Paul’s preaching. They incited a mob and hauled some of Paul’s companions into the theater. Eventually, calmer voices prevailed, and the assembly was dismissed.
The relationship of Christians to the culture around them has a long and varied history. A number of our churches are named for saints whose clash with the prevailing religious and social institutions cost them their lives. Many of the first disciples, including Peter and Andrew, were martyred. Other early saints, like Clement of Alexandria, grew up as pagans but rejected those gods and proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord.
Today, many of the gods that people worship do not have shrines or anthropomorphic images made with human hands. They are more likely to be gods like money, fame, drugs or alcohol, or self-interest. The Christian witness to the culture around us is often to model a different way; showing compassion, generosity, healing, inclusion, and self-sacrifice. Like the early Christian movement, which was known as “The Way”, we seek to reach out in love and proclaim life in Jesus Christ as a better way.
Two of our smaller churches, who are named for early martyrs and saints, embody this kind of approach to the community around them.
St. Andrew’s, Alden, was started by lay missionaries from St. Stephen’s Church, Wilkes-Barre, in 1883, and a church was built in 1885. In the 1890’s a free kindergarten, a cooking school, and an industrial school were started by the church. The church continues to be known for their cooking. They have a spring fling and fall festival for the community. Once a month, they partner with the Tractor Supply, when they provide low cost examinations for pets. St. Andrew’s members make hot dogs for the event and twice a year do a blessing of the animals there. St. Andrew’s reaches out to returning veterans and their families, responding to their needs. Recently, they helped a family of a veteran who returned home and then died, becoming their pastoral community. The church also has services honoring first responders and Boy Scouts.
St. Clement and St. Peter’s Church, Wilkes-Barre, began as two churches. St. Peter’s was the earlier church, organized in Plymouth, in 1856, while St. Clement laid the cornerstone for its church in 1869. When the Agnes flood, in 1972, damaged both churches, they decided to merge and use St. Clement’s building. If the congregation hears of a need in the community, they try to help; having a drive to raise money, or helping in other ways. They have reached out to an individual who became paralyzed, a food pantry that needed food, and another church that needed help. They host two AA meetings and work together with the pre-school that uses their church. Once a year, they go on a Prayer Walk through their neighborhood, praying for the community and engaging people they meet in conversation and prayer. Last year they had community events, one with hot dogs and the other with free soup, to raise awareness of EpiscopalReliefnepa.
In what ways are you and your church counter-cultural or culture-embracing?