Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator, Allentown
“I urge you now to keep up your courage,
for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.”
Water is a major player in Acts 27. Paul and his companions are taken on a ship to sail toward Rome. They get to the island of Crete, in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean, in the fall, when conditions are not good to keep sailing. But the captain refuses to listen to the warnings of the prisoner Paul, and sets sail. The rough sea and a large storm push the boat off course. They think they are going to die, but Paul tells them to take courage, that God has told him that they will not die, but will have to run aground on an island. After many days without food, Paul takes bread, gives thanks to God, breaks it and begins to eat. All the men take food, encouraged by Paul. In the morning, they are shipwrecked as they try to run aground on an unknown beach but all of them, jumping into the water, make it safely to land.
Water was a major player in Athens and Sayre, the boroughs in which two of our northwestern-most churches are located. Built in a narrow triangle between the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers, on the edge of the New York border, these towns were strategic for transporting coal, from western New York to New York City. In the 1850’s a junction canal from Elmira, NY, ended in Athens. When Trinity Church, Athens, built their English Gothic church in 1860, things were looking up for the canal.
But by 1877, when Church of the Redeemer, Sayre, was being organized, a little over two miles north of Trinity, the canal had been abandoned and the Lehigh Valley Railroad had bought the rail line that ran through the area, and wound along the Susquehanna River. Asa Packer was the president of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and the town was named for Robert Sayre, vice president and chief engineer. The Gothic-style church, with an altar made with Italian marble, was made possible by a gift of Asa Packer’s daughter, Mary Packer Cummings. It was consecrated in 1889. By 1909, when the Diocese of Bethlehem was officially named, the bishop could get to most of the churches, including Redeemer and Trinity, by train.
Water again played a major role in these communities in 2011, when Athens was flooded by Hurricane Irene, followed by Tropical Storm Lee. Church of the Redeemer, and their Boy Scout Troop joined forces to provide 800 pounds of dog food for pet owners and animal shelters. Trinity Church moved up their semi-annual clothing give-away; helping to clothe people who were affected by the flood.
Though things have changed a lot since their foundings, these churches keep up their courage through prayer and responding to the communities around them. Both congregations support The Bridge, an ecumenical ministry providing financial assistance to people in need. They also buy gifts for families in the community at Christmas time.
Trinity has “adopted” the Abuse and Rape Crisis Center as their main outreach ministry, donating baskets for personal use or kitchen items, and helping with fundraisers. They also provide supplies for a local senior center. Their clothing give-aways replaced their annual bazaar, as they felt called to care for people rather than to raise money.
Redeemer hosts a free monthly community dinner, done in partnership with other congregations. They collect for a local food bank and their Sunday School supports Heifer International. They have a yearly Street Fair for the community, led, in part by their youth group (pictured above).
The water of baptism plays a major role in their lives, as they face their future with courage and encourage the communities around them.
Where your life and in the life of your congregation do you need to keep up your courage?