Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator, Allentown
That night the Lord stood near him and said,
“Keep up your courage!
For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem,
so you must bear witness also in Rome.”
Paul definitely needed to keep up his courage, as he was being challenged by those who claimed he was distorting their way of life. A band of them took an oath that they would not eat or drink until they had killed Paul. The apostle heard about this plot through his nephew, who then told the tribune. The tribune had a large company of soldiers, horsemen and spearmen set off at night to take Paul to see the governor, Felix. At the end of Acts 23, Paul is left waiting in Caesarea for his accusers to arrive.
“Keep up your courage!” These are words of encouragement that we all need at times, in our lives and the lives of our congregations. Today we think about 3 small churches (each having an average attendance of 15-20 people) that keep up their courage in the face of challenges, with shrinking populations around them and no full time clergy presence.
Christ Church, Susquehanna, was incorporated in 1898 and their current building was consecrated in 1923. It is one of the northern-most churches in the diocese. The congregation is like a close family which has found ways to navigate the social and cultural changes in the church and community. Some members received training and got Worship Leader Certification to lead Morning Prayer when they don’t have a supply priest. The parish has been open to innovation in their worship and music, and has welcomed the LGBT community. They are also proud of the amount of outreach they do in a town where there is a lot of poverty. They are a site for distribution of food twice a year and give generously to food pantries. They have a rummage sale/give away, focusing particularly on children’s clothing; as mothers without transportation rely on them. The members have a deep faith and a sense that the Holy Spirit is working in them.
Calvary Church, Tamaqua, and Holy Apostles, St. Clair, are further south, in Schuylkill County. Calvary was chartered in 1849, and Holy Apostles, the year before, 1848. Both churches’ buildings date from roughly the same period.
Twice a month Calvary has an informal Eucharist on their first floor, led by their long-term supply priest. It was begun originally to accommodate someone in a wheelchair, and now incorporates children and even dogs. The other Sundays are a somewhat more formal Eucharist in the main church. The first floor is home to a state-licensed adult daycare center during the week. This was started by a former rector and is an important ministry hosted there. Members of the congregation serve on the board. The town of Tamaqua is reinventing itself as a center for the arts, and Calvary may benefit from this renewal.
Holy Apostles prides itself in serving the community. Their annual Thanksgiving Dinner, gets support from their North Parish partner, St. John’s, Ashland, and other churches, to serve over 300 people a free meal. They have a Strawberry Festival, at Holy Apostles, and a Peach Festival, at St. John’s, which are fundraisers but also build community. They feed breakfast to the veterans who go to the firing squads at the cemetery. They collect food for the Head Start families who use their building. They give money to the school district to buy coats for children. Recently, a group of young people who were delivering Thanksgiving meals told the Senior Warden, “You’re the only church in town that does anything for the community.” The priest at the large Russian Orthodox church next door told her, “This little church does more than us big churches.”
Today, take some time to hear God saying to you, and your congregation, “Keep up your courage!”
(Featured image is from a set of windows about St. Paul at First Presbyterian Church, Wilkes Barre.)