Getting Acquainted with the Mackeys

Getting to Know Kyle and Mary Rose Mackey

By Joan Doggrell

The Reverend Kyle Mackey has been our Curate for about 18 months now.  He’s been busy: he conducts the Education for Ministry classes every Thursday evening. He meets with the St. Paul’s youth every week and has taken them on numerous outings. He shares worship services with Mother Hazel as they take turns officiating and preaching. He is also a pretty recent bridegroom.

Mary Rose and Kyle were married at St. Paul’s just a few months ago, on November 17th, 2018. We are delighted to claim this young couple as our own, and it is high time we got to know them better.

Let’s begin with Mary Rose.

Mary Rose was raised in Atlanta in the northwestern section, around Chastain Park. “it’s kind of my old stomping grounds,” she said. “I learned to swim at that pool, and I had my sixth birthday party there,”

She grew up with a younger brother and sister, two dogs, and three cats. “I didn’t realize until my teenage years that I was allergic to them!”

Ironically, she calls herself the black sheep of the family because “I became the church-goer. As I was growing up, our family were the Christmas and Easter attendees. I remember hopping between Episcopal and Methodist churches.”

After high school she attended the University of Georgia in Athens. “I only lasted a year. It turns out that college is much more difficult than I had expected. I spent a little too much time investing in friendships and not so much on homework,” she admits.

Considering that she took online classes for her last two years of high school, it’s understandable that she was ready for friendships. One of those friends was Kyle. So obviously her time there was not wasted!

Mary Rose studied landscape architecture at UGA, and then architecture alone at the Southern Polytechnique Institute (later Kennesaw). “I will never look at shadows the same way again. I am still fascinated by them. It’s really interesting to see how different directions and colors of light affect what you see on the ground or on a wall.“

“In my search for friends, the Episcopal Student Center was one of the groups I strongly considered because I was already going to Episcopal churches,” she said. “I went there one day. The door to the house part, not the chapel, was just a plate of glass. It was sunny outside and dark inside. I was reaching out with my hands – I couldn’t see in, but the people inside could see me, and someone let me in.”

She was reaching out for something she couldn’t see. Hmmmm…

“I think the first few weeks were a little rocky as I was getting to know people because before coming to UGA I didn’t really know anybody. However, I liked the people I was with, and I really liked the feel of the hangout spot, the dilapidated house, even though It was in serious need of TLC. There were two circles of couches and a kitchen, and people just hung out there after work and made meals,”

“It was a community,” added Kyle. “I was heavily involved at that point. I spent an inordinate amount of time at the Episcopal Center between 2009 and 2013. I had gotten involved in leadership — I was just around.  I was one of the numbers on the board – in case of emergency, call in this order.”

Kyle and Mary Rose met in her freshman year, which was the year Kyle graduated, in the fall of 2013. “If it weren’t for the Church’s campus ministry presence, we wouldn’t be sitting here,” he said.

“Kyle and I started dating in the spring of 2014,” added Mary Rose. “We’ve been together coming up on six years. Other than the first two or three weeks, we were in a long-distance relationship. I was living in Atlanta while he was still living in Athens.”

Two years later, Mary Rose’s relationship with her parents reached a crisis point while she was attending Southern Poly.

“I was living at home and commuting to and from college. In 2016 I moved out and crashed on a friend’s couch while I figured out my next move. When my friend had a medical mishap and moved back in with her parents. I took her slot in the apartment one of our mutual friends. I joined the working class, becoming a Waffle House server to pay the bills.”

“My parents and I haven’t had the greatest of relationships. So, when I moved out, there was more of a separation. It was my time to be out in the world by myself. I was twenty-one. But for all that experience, I think I can say now that my parents and I have kind of made peace. We’re okay now with being different families. They have their life and I have mine.”

“I’ve always liked cooking. I like to eat! When I was living in the apartment, I had to provide my own food, buy my own groceries, etc. outside of work, because I was able to eat on the clock, which was nice. Kyle also was kind of nudging me to further my cooking skills, so I decided to try. I soon found out that I liked cooking.”

Today, Mary Rose works as a cook at Meat and Greet in downtown Newnan. She sings soprano in St. Paul’s Parish Choir. And she supports her new husband in his first ordained position.

Now that we know something about Mary Rose, let’s hear from Kyle. The following is mainly in Kyle’s own words.

Kyle’s story

I am from a little town called Dudley, Georgia. I didn’t grow up there – that’s the nearest city. I‘m a son of Laurens County, through and through. From home, the drive to anything meant being in the truck for at least 20 minutes and passing by more cows than people.

I’m a convert to the Episcopal tradition. My family were staunch members of the Baptist Church in Dudley. That was my initial introduction to the Christian faith.

I can remember being ‘incentivized’ (or bribed) to memorize all the books in the Bible in order and to recite them. I was in the third grade. And the prize was – get this – three dollars, paid out completely in dimes. Exactly thirty pieces of silver. I don’t know what to make of that. I think about spiritual things – I think about the Bible a lot, and I blame it on that experience.

Our family attended this church every time the doors were open – it was very moderate, middle-of-the-road for a Baptist church. Our pastor, The Rev. Bill Weeks, was a very kind, sweet sort of guy, a wonderful man. He passed suddenly from cancer when I was eleven or twelve.

It was the new pastor that got me going. This was after the big change of guard in the Baptist convention in the 1980s. The fundamentalists took the fire and brimstone to the next level. There is Jonathan Edwards “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and then there’s the stuff I grew up with!

The new Baptist message was not Old Testament based – I’m a huge fan of the OT. They were doing a very poor reading of the Book of Revelation, and cherry-picking passages of Paul. We rarely heard from the gospels. When I was in high school, there was a huge focus on eschatology, the study of the End Times. Their version was heavily influenced by sources like the Left Behind* series. There was a lot of that Rapture kind of focus. For instance, ‘if you died right this second where would you go?’ was a constant question we were asked. I was about fourteen when that trend was huge. It was a very not-okay place to be. My initial problems with how I was raised started in that time frame.

I was a bit of a clever kid – I liked to read – I liked to figure things out. So, I recognized that there was a logical inconsistency in the Rapture belief. If God’s ultimate goal is to save as many people as he can, then snatching all the true believers out of the world before he destroys it definitely doesn’t mesh with the Jesus of the John who came not to condemn, or the Jesus of Matthew who is here to fulfill the Law and make everyone righteous.

I brought that concern to my Youth Pastor. He told me, wisely, to read the Bible. If you’re having doubts, just read some more scripture, and you’ll understand. So, I did. I’m probably one of the few who hear that advice and actually heed it. Over a year and a half, between weeding and watering the garden, I just read. It took me the better part of a couple of years, and I had to put J.R. Tolkein’s The Two Towers on hold. But all that reading didn’t help – it made my confusion worse.

The Bible is a library; it’s not a unified text, and even some books are built from different authors writings. It is a collection put together over thousands of years, so I didn’t find what I was being taught in any one place. it finally dawned on me: this tale of the Rapture has been constructed from a snippet here and a snippet there. What they’re predicting is not anywhere to be found.

That was the beginning of the deconstruction of my faith. When I was at UGA, several years later, I ran into a good friend from home, who ended up hanging around the Episcopal Center because I was there. He figured it must be legit because I had gained a reputation back home as a fire-breathing atheist. ‘Don’t go near him. He will destroy any understanding of God you have.’ I was pulling apart the faith that had been given to me. It was inadequate. It didn’t speak to me in a way that was helpful. So, by the time I went off to college, I called myself agnostic. I was a functional atheist.

I will credit my first visit to the Episcopal Center to a friend I had as a freshman. She, the art major, took pity on the chem major that had grown up in a faith that was not working for him. I was railing pretty hard at organized religion as a whole. She wanted to show me something different. So, I went begrudgingly to the Episcopal Center for Evensong. It was gorgeous. but I wasn’t there yet. I wandered off to “da woods,” metaphorically speaking.

About a year later, I became an RA (Resident Assistant). I was in charge of a floor of fifty or so residents. Mostly freshmen. Good people. I loved my second year as an RA, when I got to know everybody and became close to their lives, struggles, hopes, and dreams.

What set me over the edge, however, was an experience I had one night. I was off duty, trying to get some sleep, when I heard a knock at the door. It was maybe two or three in the morning. If you’re an RA and someone knocks at your door at two in the morning, you know it’s not good!

I hopped up, slapped on my shorts, opened the door, and standing before me was one of my residents. He had his arms crossed over himself and a cellphone up to his ear. He handed me his cellphone.

“Hello.”

“Hi, is this Kyle Mackey? And you’re the resident assistant at Payne Hall on the first floor? “

“Yes.”

“OK. (name omitted) is one of my patients. I’m with the Mental Health Services on campus. I’m concerned that this student will harm himself. I need you to sit with him until the police arrive to take him into protective custody.”

“OK – I can do that.”

“If you need me, my number is —.”

I hung up the phone, and we went outside to sit on the steps. I don’t think I said much. I just remember sitting with him on what must have been one of the worst nights of his life. I had nothing to go on, nothing to go to. We just sat there quietly. Eventually the police showed up and took him away. He’s fine. I keep up with him on Facebook. He made it through that night.

But what that night triggered in me was different. It started a spiral. That same semester, my parents got divorced, my grandfather developed lung cancer, and I took quantum mechanics for the third time. What I was trying to do was not working. Toward the end of that semester – and you have to maintain a certain GPA to be an RA – I was getting really tired of the paperwork – long nights – having to be everyone’s best friend and worst enemy at the same time – and so as that stress built up in me, the first thing I did was signal to my friends that I was getting out of this business. My supervisor – my go-to person – did not give a rip. She was useless.

One night sometime in the spring, the floodgates broke, and God and I had a very long, very one-sided conversation, very laced in profanity and accusatory in tone. For example,

“Why, dude, why would you do this to my friends, my family, the people I watch out for? Why would you create a world that is so broken? And then do nothing about it?”

I raged at God all night. But the strangest thing was, the window in my room faced east. I stayed up talking to God so late that I noticed the colors in my window starting to shift. I thought, I’ve never just sat and watched the sun rise. So, I went outside, sat down, and watched the sun come up. As that top band of the sun broke the horizon — I hesitate to say I heard a voice — but I did. It said, “I am as steady as the sunrise. I have been with you, in this, the whole time. You are the one who turned your back. You are the one that chose not to see me.”

I was no longer agnostic.

A week later, a friend of mine called me up.

“I remember you saying something about trying to get out of the RA business. You still looking for a place to live?”

“Yep, you got it.”

“Cool. You want to room with me? You care where?”

“Not really.”

“I’ll bring you the lease tomorrow.”

I signed it without looking.

He took me around to show me the place. The Presbyterian Student Center. They had rented out a house in the back to generate income for the ministry.

I’ve never been one for the Presbyterian approach, but the guy they had interning for the campus ministry – I’ll never forget him – was Episcopalian, but I didn’t know that. We got to talking one day and he said, “I think I’ve got a place you might like, and I’ve got some people you should meet, by the way, there’s free dinner on Wednesday.”

My faith had been deconstructed, and this was the beginning of its reconstruction.

We take a walk down Lumpkin Street to the Episcopal Center at UGA where I had been three or four years before. I go in – it’s a Wednesday and a Eucharistic night – it was dinner before and service afterward. We had dinner – I recognized a few people – and the priest, Fr. Dann Brown, – he’s still active in the Diocese – walks up and says,

“Hey Kyle, it’s been a long time. How have you been?”

This guy remembered me from three years prior. The light bulb lit up – something is going on here.

We went through a Rite II Eucharist, and the liturgy just came alive. It feed some part of me I didn’t realize existed. That night I found a home, a place I had been without for years. So that’s how I wound up in the Episcopal Church. And that’s where, a couple of years later, I met Mary Rose.

How Kyle became a priest.

Back about 2011, there was still a program running in the diocese called Vocare, which is based on Cursillo …but since it was aimed at college students it was about vocation – what is God calling you to do?

I had never considered any ordained vocation, much less the priesthood. However, looking back, there were signs. The first one occurred the night I got baptized. It was weird, because I was sitting in a Sunday night service by myself. Mom was leading the Children’s Choir, and Dad was an usher. I was eleven. In the middle of the last hymn of the evening, I just got an inkling, a nudge. “Hey, go up there and get baptized because I’ve got plans for you.”

For some reason, I stood up and went through the baptismal ceremony. Both my parents told me later it was quite a shock. They were proud and happy but did not see that coming. That was the last I thought about my “calling” for a long time.

The second “call” came when I was attending Vocare (from the Latin, ‘to call’). I hadn’t fully joined the Church. I would be received a month or two later.

I arrived Friday night. There had been a worship, a couple of talks, and then a night of silence. We said Compline and went to bed. I didn’t know what I was getting into. That’s when I got my first rosary, Anglican style, with instructions, thank God! I sat outside, played with it for a bit, then went to bed.

I had a dream. I’m not one who remembers his dreams, so when I do it’s usually significant. I was in some church – I’ve yet to match it up to a real one. I was in a procession. There were people in the pews. Way out in front of me was a cross with torches. Then a couple other people, then someone bearing the Gospel. I woke up that morning and didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t think about the fact that if you’re processing behind the Gospel, that’s an ordained position. I just pushed it off and ate my breakfast.

The second day of Vocare is a series of talks. The main question of Vocare is, what am I being called to do with my life? One of the speakers was a young priest who said he had asked God for a clear sign. That night he had a dream.

“I was cruising along, and there were all these diners, and they had different jobs pinned to them. I found myself in front of one that said ‘Priesthood.’ Maybe I should explore that.”

I thought, ‘You’re kidding!’ He talked about being called to the priesthood through a dream literally on the day I had dreamed about being ordained. Then in our small group discussion he turned to me and said, “Hey Kyle, ever thought of becoming a priest?” Literally. I believe I said something like, “I’ll get back to you on that.” That kind of got me started.

The diocese at that time had a “Young Priests” program that I went through in the last year of college. I went to monthly meetings at the Cathedral, meeting with people from the Diocese such as Zackery Thompson, Kim Jackson, and the Bishop right after he was elected. I watched the ordination of the new Bishop. We did a series of experiences including spending time with the homeless and writing reflections about it. I got a positive recommendation at the end of it and was told that my next step was an application letter. This was in 2012. I had a year to work and get my life together.

Mary Rose and I had met. In 2013 I decided to begin the process. It took me until the spring of 2014 to get the paperwork done, meet with the Commission of Ministry, etc. The Bishop told me, “You can go to EDS (Episcopal Divinity School, since closed); GTS (General Theology Seminary in NYC); or Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, VA which is where I ended up going. That year, all the GTS faculty resigned. Virginia said, “If your net worth is under $15,000, we will pay for you to go here.” We Have A Winner!

This was after the discernment in the young priest program, a year-long process. Then the next year was a parish process, and then came the Diocesan process. I got a positive recommendation from all the right people. Meanwhile I worked for Jimmy John’s making sandwiches. So, with VTS offering to pay me to go, I went to Alexandria. That was hard for Mary Rose and I because if we had gotten married before I went, it would have cost us over $100,000 between housing, moving, and fees. Or, if we could squeeze out three years of a long-distance relationship, it would be nearly free.

“I’m sorry for all I put you through, Mary Rose.” Kyle said as he turned to look as his bride. “We had started seeing each other starting in the spring of 2014. We been dating for less than a year when we had to make this choice.”

“We were dating through most of his discernment process,” said Mary Rose.

“I warned her up front that this was a real possibility. But still – really sorry about that. I’ve gotta give her credit,” he said.

“Well, I’m still here,” she replied.

Many of Kyle’s new congregation attended his ordination at the Cathedral, and we were delighted to be guests at their wedding.

“You know they split us up before the wedding. Me and the boys were down in the office. Hazel lays the marriage license on the desk and tells me to sign it and sign the marriage register. I do those things, people take my picture, and I take my phone out and put a reminder on the day, with a month’s notice. I programmed it that day. I didn’t want to be that stereotypical guy that forgets his anniversary. Then the reverse happened! We are so atypical.”

Mary Rose ordered her dress from Amazon. Kyle read the directions for taking the measurements from Goggle!

She walked down the aisle on Kyle’s arm. She looked stunning.

*According to Wikipedia, “Left Behind is a series of 16 best-selling religious novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins dealing with the Christian Dispensationalist End Times interpretation of the Biblical Apocalypse.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left_Behind

Several books in this series were best sellers. I read most of them because I was intrigued that a writer could take a fantastical Biblical account and turn it into a cheap but engaging thriller. I didn’t take the books seriously – they were just entertainment. I didn’t realize that this saga had become the basis for a whole religious movement!

 

 

 

 

What Do You Know About St. Paul’s Outreach?

What do You Know About St. Paul’s Outreach?

By Joan Doggrell

Before talking to Crystal McCollough, I knew very little about St. Paul’s Outreach program. I knew that Outreach was responsible for disbursing funds to deserving recipients. But I thought the Outreach committee was a single entity headed by a Chair and the usual officers. How wrong I was. That may have been its previous structure, but not anymore.

And why was I talking to Crystal? Because she is Chair for the Community Grants Ministry. More about that shortly. But first, a bit about Crystal. She runs a small business from home, Beautycounter, “a clean beauty brand for men, women, & children.” She is married to Micah McCollough, and they have five children: Ariel, thirteen; Micah Jr, eleven; Eli, nine; Aaron, seven; and Samuel, two.

“And Joey (the Golden Doodle puppy) makes six!” said Crystal. “It’s like having toddler twins when Sammy and Joey are in the house together. One’s running this way, the other’s running that way… It would be easier if they were one species – they would both either sit and color or they’d both play Fetch!”

It’s easy to see she has her hands full. Nevertheless, “I’ve always enjoyed being a servant,” she said. “Father Allan pulled me out of the pew with my newborn Aaron and told me I needed to join the Committee. And I’ve been here ever since.”

Today, Outreach consists of four permanent ministries: Community Grants, The Work of our Hands. Stories of Grace, and Monthly Mission Market. As Christmas approaches, a fifth ministry, Angel Tree, goes to work.

And who is in charge of all these ministries? Why, our own Hazel, of course.

The Community Grants ministry is “tasked with receiving grant applications and voting on whether or not to grant those funds,” said Crystal.

According to St. Paul’s website:

“St. Paul’s makes grants to nonprofit programs that provide basic needs to the most vulnerable of our neighbors. In addition to small grants (typically $2,500 or less), the Community Grants Ministry provides funds to organizations with local or regional affiliation, especially organizations with an Episcopal affiliation, organizations founded by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church or organizations impacted by significant parishioner participation.”

This ministry has been busy this year. Here are the organizations who have received grants to date.

CORRAL, $2,500, to the equine therapy folks. According to their website, “We collaborate with local, referral community partners who identify our at-risk girls and then we pair them with rescued horses.” Check out their website at https://corralriding.org/. They have inspiring stories to tell.

I-58 Mission. “This organization is in Senoia,” said Crystal. “We gave them a grant of $7500. They are like One Roof and Bridging the Gap, only on the other side of the Interstate. That’s a whole community that is part of Coweta County, that we have never touched. They were new the first time we heard about them. We have kept an eye on them, and they’ve grown exponentially. They are doing some wonderful things in their community. We’re really excited to help them out this year.”  https://thei58mission.org/

Kairos, $750, the St. Paul’s prison ministry led by Bill Harrison. The Kairos website says, “By sharing the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, Kairos hopes to change hearts, transform lives and impact the world.” http://www.kairosprisonministry.org

“…I was in prison, and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:36)

Coweta Samaritan Clinic, $2,500. Our own Lou Graner played a major role in getting this health care facility started and served as its Executive Director for almost eight years. The clinic serves uninsured Coweta County residents with limited incomes. https://www.cowetasamaritanclinic.org/

One Roof. “We have a special relationship with them,” said Crystal. “St. Paul’s started the Food Pantry right here in our building. So we have always had a vested interest in One Roof’s success. We do a quarterly grant to them of $2000.”  https://oneroofoutreach.org/

“One Roof recently opened a new facility they call The Lodge. When asked to help with that project, we said we would see how we could get other congregations involved to help sustain this. Luckily, they got a large amount of support from some of the downtown churches, so now they are open. We helped support them with a grant of $6,000.”

“The Lodge will house two families at a time for thirty days –  women and children coming from homeless  situations. The Lodge is a sub-program under the One Roof umbrella, headed by Frankie Hardin. One Roof covers the food pantry, the thrift store, and now The Lodge.”

“So that is how we dispersed our money for this year,” added Crystal. “We still have a good bit yet. We are waiting to see what Angel Tree comes out at. And we may have more grant applications.”

The Work of our Hands ministry, chaired by Joshua Wieda, identifies ways parishioners can go beyond writing a check. The ministry encourages hands-on participation.

According to Crystal, St. Paul’s participated in Bridging the Gap earlier this year, and Backpack Buddies is happening in October. A couple days of the week, Bridging the Gap provides a hot meal and food distribution. St. Paul’s volunteers provided a hot breakfast on March 9 of this year, during Lent.

“We had over thirty show up to help serve breakfast, with casseroles in hand, some gluten free – we were very conscious of that. There was also a set of volunteers in the warehouse who were dispersing the food. But we were there to give that touch, Hazel was on hand to give a sermon, and the Children’s Choir was there. I was really pleased to see that turnout,” said Crystal.

Their next project will be Backpack Buddies. “This is an organization that sends underprivileged children home with easy-to-heat and eat food,” said Crystal. “We have a large population of children who are on free or reduced-cost lunch. Backpack Buddies discreetly packs bags with canned ravioli, Ramen noodles, peanut butter crackers, anything children and their families can easily heat so they can have a nice meal over the weekend. The only place these children get a hot meal is at school.”

The school identifies the children who need food, typically from the list of those getting free or reduced-cost lunches or whom teachers recognize because they’re hungry.

I had to ask: “Don’t their families get welfare and Food Stamps? Why are so many children hungry?”

Crystal did not attempt to explain. Wisely, she simply helps to supply an obvious need. “It’s just the way things are,” she said. “A lot of hungry children are in Coweta County, and the only way they eat is when they are at school. So Backpack Buddies exists to meet that need. This ministry also provides food over school breaks. For example, for Thanksgiving break, they get a larger bag of food. Parents are encouraged to come to the school to pick up these bags.”

St. Paul’s volunteers will be packing bags on Tuesday evening, October 15. On Thursday and Friday, volunteers will take them to the schools for distribution.

“I toted bags for awhile,” said Crystal. “But then when I had Samuel, I couldn’t carry the bags and him too!”

“Arranging for people to come out for those bags is really big,” said Crystal. “Backpack Buddies gets a lot of donations. People just go to BJs and get big pallets of ravioli, chili, and things of that nature to be able to send the babies home with something.”

“I really love Backpack Buddies,” she adds. “The woman who started it has this big, beautiful heart – she’s the owner of the Senoia Coffee Shop. She just saw a need, and went for it, and by the Grace of God, she has had people constantly donating food and money and a constant stream of volunteers to pack up these bags.”

The Monthly Mission Market ministry (MMM) offers opportunities for all parishioners to “assist local nonprofit programs with in-kind gifts by bringing in needed items and placing them in MMM’s shopping cart.”

“We decided on our Monthly Mission Market activities at our first meeting of the year,” said Crystal.

These are the organizations St. Paul’s MMM currently supports with parishioner-donated supplies:

  • The Coweta County Food Pantry. Several times throughout the year we request parishioner donations. “I think with the surplus of food we have in this country there is no reason for people to be hungry,” said Crystal.
  • Meals on Wheels. Foods such as fruit cups and juices are requested.
  • Animal shelter supplies.

  • Drive for Backpack Buddies. None was conducted this year.
  • The Boys and Girls Club. This year, after-school supplies were donated to Ruth Hill.
  • Ansley House. According to their website, it’s “a school for children of families who have experienced homelessness in Atlanta.” “It’s a safe place for them to go and get some education,” explained Crystal. “It’s part of the Episcopal church – St. Luke’s donates the space. Hazel and Jane Murdock learned about it at Diocesan Convention. The school doesn’t have a lot of space to store collections, so we ended up giving them a $500 donation.”
  • The I-58 mission or One Roof in December “depending on who has the greatest need for cold weather gear,” said Crystal. “We were able to split those donations last year so both would have coats to hand out, for free, to those who needed them.”

  • School Necessities in January, which is “geared more towards teachers because by that time of year they’ve run out of their tissues, hand sanitizer, etc. The plan is to be able to replenish those supplies.”

The Stories of Grace ministry, chaired by Mark Bulford, is tasked with telling “the stories of how St. Paul’s is serving Jesus in our community and will broadcast the stories as appropriate via news media, social media, the blog, and The Lamp.”

According to Crystal, “This ministry is supposed to be a way of sharing what Outreach is up to. But we’re having trouble with that.”

Anyone want to volunteer to make sure such information gets in The Lamp, on St. Paul’s website, and in the Blog?  Just raise your hand.

The Angel Tree ministry, chaired by Carrie Wendelburg, functions seasonally. During Advent, the Angel Tree is placed in the Narthex and covered in tags describing Christmas list items for needy individuals and families. Parishioners are invited to take a tag and return the unwrapped item to the collection basket in the Parish Hall. The Angel Tree team uses the items to create a display of generosity in the Parish Hall until the items are distributed.

“Names of deserving persons those who would have a barren Christmas otherwise come from DFCS,” explained Crystal. “Then it’s a matter of making sure each child and needy adult has a slip, then sorting through and making sure nothing was left off.”

“Last year we did pick up several bicycles,” added Crystal. “We weren’t given as many bikes as were requested, so we picked some up with Outreach funds. We signed up to provide these gifts, so we need to take care to do so.”

“Carrie Wendelburg is getting ready to start the Angel Tree project this year, so she will need volunteers to help with that. It’s a lot of work, and Alise, her daughter, is off to college now, so Carrie will need some extra hands.  Hopefully she will be asking for committee members soon to get Angel Tree up and running.”

Outreach Needs Help!

Crystal’s concluding remarks:

“Volunteering to serve in each of these outreach ministries gives meaning to why we do what we do outside the walls of our church. Now that our committee is split into subcommittees, we don’t have as much participation as we did previously. We are looking for new members. We would like more people for Work of Our Hands and Stories of Grace. Stories of Grace is supposed to be a committee to highlight the goings-on at Outreach as well as let the Church know about other volunteer and service opportunities that they don’t necessarily need to do through the Church.

“Last year we did the agricultural initiative in Haiti. We talked about it a bit, but I feel there was so much more we could have done. I think people would want to know that in Haiti we helped plant a crop of trees so recipients could be sustainable farmers and grow and sell their own crops and make a better life for their families. We have a relationship with these families, but we don’t talk about it.”

The following write-up appeared a newsletter from Bethlehem Ministries, the organization working with Father Bruno in Haiti.

One of the lucky families high in the mountains got help from some Bethlehem Ministry families to plant trees and crops on their steep land.

A year and a half ago some families at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Newnan, Georgia and at First Presbyterian in Athens changed the life trajectory of some Haitian families by giving them the resources to plant their steep land with agro-forests. With that jump start, those families scored. Tree and crop cover are up, erosion is down, and optimism for their kids’ future is growing, all of which has given us the confidence to expand the idea to other communities – four of them in fact. The goals remain the same – help the land produce more, protect it for the future, and build household income using new cropping techniques and equipment to make value-added commodities. Juice from guava fruit, roof rafters from eucalyptus trees, bread from manioc roots, soap from Jatrofa seeds – there are so many plant-based possibilities because Haiti is in the tropics. When farm communities can tap those possibilities, their economy improves. Bethlehem Ministry is helping them do that. Thank you all. JP’s new project, called Land and Livelihood Transformation on Steep Land, is a three-year project focused on 500 participants and beneficiaries with economic benefits reaching many more. It is ambitious, but on the strength of the St. Paul’s /First Presbyterian trial balloons, we know we can pull it off. One of the lessons I learned watching Pere Bruno build St. Barthélémy from a dream and an empty lot is, stick with it even if you don’t have everything in hand.

Rob Fisher

Director, Partner for People and Place

“I feel we have a lot of people who want to do good things but don’t know where to get started. I think it’s the job of the Outreach committee to let people know what’s available,” said Crystal. “I’m not going to be the Chair next year, so I’m looking for some more people to help out.

“People see our budget come up on the Annual Report. But how are we spending the money? I think we ought to be held accountable by sharing that information. And I want to brag on the goodness of St. Paul’s.

“My grand vision is to see forty or fifty parishioners out there with “Work of Our Hands” on the back of their shirts. Just out there doing good things.”

 

 

 

Kathy Brown: Helping to Keep Food Production Safe and Legal

Kathy Brown: Helping to Keep Food Production Safe and Legal

By Joan Doggrell

Kathy met our former governor, Sonny Perdue, at an expo in Savannah

Have you ever wondered how those beautiful fresh vegetables and fruits get from the farms to your grocery store? Well, it’s a multi-stage journey. St. Paul’s Kathy Brown is familiar with the early stages of that journey. She plays a role in bringing documented workers into the United States to harvest crops. She is an H2A consultant who works for farm labor contractors and farmers throughout the United States. An H2A visa allows a farmer or a farm labor contractor (FLC) to bring workers into the US legally for a limited period ranging from two months to a maximum of 10 months.

Her focus is vegetable and fruit farms. She is quick to state that she does not work with livestock farmers. Her job takes her as far north as Michigan, as far west as Texas, and south into Florida.

Kathy helps farmers and farm labor contractors ensure that they are in compliance with the US Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. She also assists them with Workers Compensation, general liability, insurance, and housing. In addition, her job includes follow-up visits to the farms to make sure the workers are being treated with compassion and that the workers themselves are meeting their obligations to the farmer.

“It’s a two-way street,” said Kathy. “I make sure the workers are doing what they promised to do and that the farmer or the farm labor contractor (FLC) is fulfilling his promise to the worker.”

“I’m there when they get off the bus,” she adds. “Somebody has to sign the paperwork that makes them employees of the farmer.”

Celery farm workers in southwest Florida

The H2A program

The US government started the H2A program during World War II when a lot of the men who worked on the farms or owned the farms signed up for the war. There was a shortage of pickers to harvest the fruit and vegetables, so the government started bringing foreign workers into the US to help with the harvest. This was called the bracero program. That’s where migration began generations ago. Then after the war, the government started the H2A-B visa program for migrant workers. H2A visas are agricultural, H2Bs are non-agricultural, and then there are student visas. All carry different conditions for the employer.

“My maternal grandmother’s family owned a blueberry farm in Michigan. This was her with the fruit harvesters.” Kathy

A contract is signed between the worker and whoever is offering the job, the farmer or the FLC. The contract specifies what is going to be harvested and how much the worker is going to be paid. Every state has a different hourly rate. Florida’s is $11.24 an hour. North Carolina’s is $12.25 an hour. Workers must supply the government with the address of every farm where they are going to pick, what type of produce, and what they are willing to minimal pay the worker, sometimes it is a piece rate that makes it more profitable for the farmer and the worker. They will have to be paid the minimal H2A hourly rate, which changes from state to state.

“I would estimate that around 15% of the agriculture workers are here with H2A visas,” said Kathy. “The rest of the workers are undocumented or unemployable in other business sectors. However, the H2A program is growing, especially in Georgia right now, which is the top state for H2A applications. Ten years ago, the program brought in over 95,000. I think last year it brought in more than 170,000 people.”

Many of these people have been college educated in Mexico and are paying off student loans. Most are young, usually under 25. They are here to work.

To bring somebody here legally in the H2A program costs $1500.00, which is paid by either the contractor or the farmer. “A lot of the contractors don’t like bringing the same persons after three or four years,” said Kathy. “They get so Americanized that their productivity does not keep up. They don’t make money either if the men or the women don’t pick enough. Everyone has to work together.”

Farmers’ obligations to workers

The workers’ housing is regularly inspected by the Federal Housing Authority. Farmers who don’t own homes for the workers rent hotels. The rules are very nitty-gritty. Trash cans must have lids, there must be sufficient rolls of toilet paper for every worker, etc. Farmers are fined if any of these areas is deficient.

Furthermore, the Department of Labor (DOL) can show up at any time of the day for an inspection. So if a worker didn’t put the lid on a trash can, that means a fine for the farmer of $250.00.

“The workers come from a third world country,” said Kathy.  “Many of them don’t like certain living conditions such as the screens on the windows. They will take them off. So when the DOL comes in and inspects the housing, the farmer gets in trouble”

“But I like the program,” Kathy added. “I think it benefits everybody, although It’s very expensive. The farmer has to have a serious labor shortage to want to do this.”

How Kathy became an independent contractor

Kathy first got into the migrant worker business when she lived in central Florida, the citrus capital of the world. She started out working for a company that verified paperwork for domestic workers. As the company grew, she added more skills, including unemployment processing, accounts payable, and finally Workers Compensation.

“My dad had a Workers Comp claim when I was growing up, so I felt I was doing something good this time. I understood what a family should receive,” said Kathy.

Kathy worked with Workers Compensation for fourteen years.

“During that time, I learned about compliance, risk management, and OSHA,” said Kathy.

Then 9/11 hit, and everything changed.

“Before 9/11, my boss worked with H2B workers. He had maids in hotels and people in manufacturing. In the wake of 9/II he had to send all these people home. Several apartments for them were rented in his name, and he couldn’t break the leases. He had to keep paying. It was bad, but we struggled on.”

Then in 2004, four hurricanes went through central Florida. The crop was almost wiped out.

“We struggled. We all cut back on our hours. But the company never recovered. My boss lasted another eight years,” said Kathy. “But In 2012 he closed up shop. I really thought I was done with agriculture; maybe it was my time to do something different.”

But within three or four months, she had clients coming to her asking for help.

That was when Kathy first became an independent consultant. Within six months, she had fifteen clients. But then Harbor America offered her a job doing what she loved: Workers Compensation. That job lasted until disaster struck again; the company was bought by venture capitalists. They structured things differently in the company, and the clients missed the service that they had come accustomed to. So Kathy decided it was her time to move on.

“I had run the agricultural segment of the business for five years,” said Kathy. “I’d doubled it. Our Workers Compensation claims, which were at a 130% loss ratio, went down to 30%. But after the venture capitalists took over, I’d be on the phone from Thursday night until Sunday trying to correct mistakes they had made. The workers live check to check. If they earn $500, $400 goes home to their families. That money has to be there. Also, part of the DOL regulations state that workers are always paid on the same day of the week. If they don’t get paid on time, the farmer is not in compliance, and I have just cost him a fine.”

“I no longer loved my job. So I told my boss I quit.”

But she wasn’t idle for long. She soon had clients again, calling her and requesting her services. There was plenty to do.

“The hardest thing for the FLCs and the farmers to obtain is Workers Compensation,” said Kathy. “Nobody wants to insure these workers because every day they’re in a school bus with forty-five people or a van carrying fifteen, and that’s a huge liability.”

When they harvest, they get up at 6:00 am. They can be driven up to fifty miles a day without being paid an hourly rate for their travel time.

“When we bring a group of workers onto the program, we inspect the buses, making sure the tires are good. They don’t have to have seatbelts because school buses don’t have them. But the tires are a big thing. A lot of times, the buses are driven so much that their tires will be showing metal. And they’re transporting lives every day. So we’ll go in and make sure the school buses are up to standard. The good thing with the H2A program is that before the FLCs bring people over, they have to get their vehicles inspected. That’s what I like about the program. There are so many safety standards that the farmer and the FLC have to meet.”

But undocumented workers are not so fortunate.

“There’s a whole other side to the business which we try to avoid,” said Kathy. “Sometimes people actually pay to get these jobs. They will go borrow money from family – they have this idea of the American Dream, and they want to come here. It’s illegal, and a horrible scam where these people are taken advantage of, but the practice goes on all the time.”

“On a farm in South Georgia that was next to one of the farms I was working with, they had fifty women working out in the heat and living in a two-bedroom trailer. These women were sleeping on the floor. That was in 2018. It still goes on.”

She also sees the consequences of illegal transportation practices.

“You don’t see it so much where we live because there’s no farming here – we’re in a metropolitan area. But in Florida there are orange trees everywhere. In South Georgia you see the school buses where they are harvesting watermelons. They overload the buses because if they can put four or five extra workers in the bus, they don’t have to pay for another driver or fuel.”

“In the mid-2000s, a fifteen-passenger van with twenty-three illegal domestic people flipped on a major interstate. All of them either died or became wheelchair-bound.”

Kathy is in a position to observe first-hand what the rest of us only hear about through the news media.

“We’re going on a third generation of Hispanic people born in the United States,” she said. “They are not picking anymore. They are doing landscaping or construction, where they can make more money and work in a safer environment. A lot of the women are employed in the fast food industry. Although these jobs usually pay only minimum wages, the workers are not out in the heat, and they have benefits such as health insurance.”

“False documentation is easy for undocumented workers to come by. They will get a fake Social Security card and a driver’s license. The scary thing is, you can go into these mom and pop gas stations in rural areas and buy IDs for ten dollars. They’ll get their ID and take a job just harvesting. When they fill out their W2 and W4, they will put in ‘married, 8 children’ to minimize the amount held back by the employer. But they are still taxed for Social Security, and they don’t get to claim it. They never get their contribution back. It’s a side of the taxes most people do not talk about.”

Do migrant workers take jobs away from Americans?

This is Kathy’s answer to that question.

“People ask, why do we bring these people here to work when Americans need jobs? It’s not true that they’re taking Americans’ jobs. These are hard-working people who do jobs that Americans won’t take, such as butchering animals. That is an emotionally draining thing to do. The H2A workers are no different from you and me. But they take these jobs because they need to earn money for their families back home.”

“Oranges are picked in huge sacks. Full, they can weigh up to 90 pounds. Carrying a 90-pound sack around your neck and up a 20-foot ladder is hard labor. I don’t know anyone that wants to do that or to sit in the sun and pick fruit or vegetables.

“Alabama passed a law about ten years ago that enforced the use of E-Verify. Crops were left out in the field. Of course, it was illegals that were picking the product. Because the state made the farmers use E-Verify, I don’t know how many hundreds of acres of crops were lost.

“If you had American workers picking fruit, there would be Workers Compensation claims, unemployment claims. And you’d probably be paying eight dollars for those two tomatoes you paid three dollars for.”

Those Pesky Food Safety Regulations

We hear a lot of complaints about regulations that hamper business. Kathy has first-hand experience to share on that subject as well.

“The food standards of safety in the US are ten times better than those of any other country. I’ve never been to the farms of Mexico and South America, but I’ve seen pictures. Believe me, you don’t want to think about that stuff.

“Through my position on the agricultural side, I got invited to one of Publix’s food safety class. Publix periodically goes into farms in the US, and they swab everything. They look for listeria, e-coli, just as an extra safety concern. That is why the shelf life for their products isn’t as long because they take that extra step. We should be grateful for the US food safety standards, because for the amount of food that is picked and harvested here in the States, there should be a lot more illness. But our government has almost perfected keeping us safe”

So the next time you buy fresh produce, remember Kathy. She works in an imperfect system, but she does her best to protect the people who harvest our food – and indirectly, she is protecting you.

 

A Conversation with Joshua and Sara Wieda: Their Winding Trails to St. Paul’s

A Conversation with Joshua and Sara Wieda: Their Winding Trails to St. Paul’s

By Joan Doggrell

Josh, Sara, Gwen and Tallis Wieda joined Don and me for pizza one evening. We had a wonderful conversation about religion in general, their previous experiences, and St. Paul’s.

Josh and Sara love St. Paul’s and are strongly committed to this parish. But why they love it, and how they came to feel that they were home at last, are two different tales.

Josh arrived having had little experience with organized religion and church in general. Sara had attended the Methodist church as a child, and then as an adult, accompanied her mother on a quest for the “right” church.

Josh likes to say that Sam Kinison was his first confessor. “That was simply the way I was raised,” he said. “Everyone who knows who he is will already be in on the joke.”

Well, I vaguely remember Sam Kinison, but I didn’t get the joke. So I looked him up.

According to Wikipedia, “Kinison played on his former role as a Bible-preaching evangelist, taking satirical and sacrilegious shots at the BibleChristianity and famous Christian evangelist scandals of his day. Kinison’s daring comedy helped shoot him to stardom . . . On several videos of his stand-up routines, a shot of his personalized license plate reveals the words ‘EX REV.’”

Kinison died in an automobile accident on April 10, 1992. His epitaph reads “In another time and place he would have been called prophet.”

OK, I think I get it now.

When you see him in church with his beautiful family, it’s hard to associate Josh with a raunchy comedian. But St. Paul’s does things to people….

Over pizza, with their girls exploring our house and yard, Josh and Sara told their stories. What follows is an almost word-for-word rendition of what they had to say.

Josh: We knew about St. Paul’s when I was going with the Girl Scout troop that meets there. I’ve got pictures going back several years of our daughter Gwen playing on the playground. Even then, I was moved enough by the sanctuary that I took pictures. I’d never seen anything like it. It’s such an unusual space – it has such a life to it. Most of the churches I’ve been to have this clinical sterility to them..

Sara: That applies to the Methodist church that I left, probably when I was twelve. I was confirmed in the Methodist church. And then after my parents split, my mother started taking me to Baptist churches, which led me to not going to churches at all for many years.

Joan: Why was that?

Sara: She thought it would be fun to bring me to a “cool” church, that I would buy into it more, because I didn’t really like the Baptist thing. The purity movement was the thing in the nineties. I thought it was creepy, bizarre and weird, and I hated it. So the church Mom brought me to had a skateboard park behind it. The Youth Minister referred to the crucifixion of our Lord as “Jesus’s big wipeout.”

Years pass and we have the girls – my mother has bugged us forever. She told us we were setting a bad example. I would go to her churches for just Easter and Christmas. But she finally wore me down. She said I could pick any church I wanted to go to – as long as it wasn’t a cult.

Josh: So the first thing we did was go on line and look up churches that were cults. We found the only church in the region that didn’t have a support group for its own survival – and that was us poor Episcopalians. Though I guess there is coffee hour!

Sara: Kidding aside, I did a lot of research – she was not going to let up. She had a point. I was worried that if the girls didn’t get enough exposure to something, then the first bozo who walked up could just tell them anything. I wanted the narrative to come from us. I wanted to find churches that were more liturgy-based. That was important to me. The Methodist church was liturgy-based, but at the Baptist churches my Mom tried to drag me to, members of the congregation would eat Kentucky Fried Chicken in church, and bags of chips – to me it was really bizarre – I hated it. I wanted to find something more closely aligned with “out-of-church morals,” like affirming to people in general.

Josh: They don’t talk about there being a “religious left.” That’s a compliment, as opposed to the religious right. I’m kind of tickled by how much my experience is so different but so much like Sara’s. Both my parents came from Catholic families – traditionally Catholic – immigrant families both – Polish and Hungarian and Catholic-German. But I never had any exposure to the Catholic Church – never saw the liturgy, no one ever talked about it. I think my father left the church at a very early age. He was pretty cynical about all religion. And I think all the children in our family inherited that.

My mother did the window-shopping Protestant thing. She would hop from church to church – I was young, so I didn’t know what she was looking for. But it was so strange going to St. Paul’s not knowing what to expect. I know enough about the people – we have a lot of cradle Episcopalians, but we also have a lot of refugees from the Baptists, the Catholics, the odd Methodist or Presbyterian. But to be somebody completely unchurched is kind of a treat. And there was something about walking into St. Paul’s and experiencing – the only analogy I can think of to use is what my father used to tell me about. Aunt Janice’s smoking habit. She started smoking when she was 17 years old. She said after her first drag, “This is what I’ve been missing all my life.” I wish I had a better analogy. It’s almost like 1500 years of Catholic generations going back to Clovis – it’s in the blood. The liturgy spoke to me. I’d never experienced anything like it in my life.

And the Communion – I’d seen it done in churches before. They have the little blister packs, a tiny cup, a little piece of bread in a zip-lock bag – that is so sanitary it has no meaning whatsoever. It’s the ritual of it that is just so powerful. You use your imagination – you can participate in what people have been doing all this time. Two thousand years of people breaking bread and sharing wine together goes back to the first table. And I’ve been hooked ever since.

I’ve had the occasion to talk to Hazel about it several times. The feeling I explained to her that it was a feeling of coming home, of recognizing a place you’ve never been before.

There are people who are hungry for something substantive, and they’re not finding it.

I fell in love with the people at St. Paul’s first. Our person was Wendy Llosa. I don’t think we were there ninety minutes before we heard, “Welcome! Want a job?” I think that’s important – not merely the welcoming – and I’ve heard the horror stories – but if you invite someone to be a part of something – to do the work.  That is what the difference is between church and family – in family you do the dishes.

It’s authenticity – that’s the buzz word. I think the secret ingredient is authenticity.

Joan: People who are living out their faith. That’s what we found. Especially when Don got so sick. They were right there. Bill Tudor and Lee Daniel…

Josh: We’ve only been at St. Paul’s a couple of years now, and Sara has her story about people showing up and offering themselves – when your car broke down . . .

Sara: Oh yeah.

Josh: Inside of 15 minutes after she posted the picture on Facebook – so from breakdown to post, three parishioners asked her if she needed help, and said they were on their way.

Sara: Sarah Crow came to rescue me. The tow truck beat her. Jane Huskison called me – I feel there were others – they said, I hear you broke down – I’ll come and get you.  It was not a “Please come and rescue me” post. It was several cuss words long. They called me right away when they saw it. Can I help you? Sarah Crow got about halfway there when the tow truck arrived.

Josh: And the critical thing – you can get that other places – but no one told them to do it. It wasn’t, “The pastor called me and now I’m on my way.” It was so sincere.

Joan: The church is supposed to do something for you? But wait a minute. We are the church.

Sara: Sure, that kind of caring is in other places. I’ve just never felt it. I think in all the other churches I went to – some of it was probably my own bad attitude – including Mom’s cool surfer church – but those people never had a reason to make a connection to me because I thought they were all weird. I wasn’t about to pop open a bag of chips in church. That wasn’t my place, and for some people, that makes them happy. It didn’t make me happy.

Josh: We are called to be all things to all people – I just don’t feel called to be the person who eats KFC in church!

Josh: My mother’s family all converted to Jehovah Witnesses – but she was the only one who didn’t go for it. She was a very talented debater. She would get a visit from the Jehovah Witnesses and invite them into the house and ambush them. Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that if you’re talking to someone that you can’t win an argument with, you are talking with the Devil. It’s a side of her that I wish I had gotten to see more of.

Josh: I am in my first year of education for the ministry, the EFM curriculum. It’s my first church experience getting to know the scripture without treating it as literal and unassailable – just this thing you have to handle with kid gloves. I never knew what I found so off-putting – it’s idol worship. You have people almost literally rubbing the doorpost of their houses with the Bible. It anyone invokes the Bible in this way, it’s always a closed Bible, as if the book itself has magical power. I think Kyle articulated it very well when he said it is the story of an experience. And the thing I find most critically important about the Bible is – the Israelites didn’t have one. There is logic trapped.

Joan: They did have the Torah.

Josh: Some were writing it, and some were living it. In Jesus’s case, I like to think he was breaking it open. One of the things we are discussing in EFM – you have the Law that was for the people of Israel. And if you are of and in Israel, it’s a wonderful way to live. But maybe you can open this up and give it to the whole world.

It seems to me that good people and bad people can never identify each other because good and evil both want the same thing, but evil only wants it for itself. Good people want it for everyone. I think that’s really the message of the Gospel, that whatever it is that affirms life has to do so for everyone. Not just your own, not just for yours. I think is especially true these days, while we’re learning that the hard way, where I see so many people digging their heels in, very clearly separating us from them. The Episcopal church is the only place I’ve seen a Jesus that actually walked his talk. Because I could never follow how so many of the other people I met had arrived at the conclusions they did based on the same narrative, the same record, For example, I don’t understand the politics of a lot of evangelicals. But I think the critical thing is, I don’t think it matters as much what we do as why. If you get to the point where you understand that somebody is acting out of love, love for their neighbor or family, the conversation becomes how best to live that love. The conversation breaks down when you decide who you have to love. Who is my neighbor?

Joan: That question is central, I think, to the whole Christian belief.

Josh: There is a wrong reason to build a bridge and a right reason to build a wall. You can tell who is on the right side of that issue by who is doing it for everyone.

Speaking truth to power is a concept I was acquainted with. I have a persistent experience of discovering the divine in things that are mundane or even profane. I have a theory that prophets, philosophers, and stand-up comedians occupy the same ecological niche in history. I think they are all, in their given time and place, people who speak truth to power. What is the 20th century equivalent of running alongside of the chariot? Maybe Lennie Bruce was on to something. Who knows?  So I am trying to find these things in this interesting upbringing of mine where maybe there’s a wrong way to say the right thing.

That’s another thing. I was used to thinking of the church as almost a cult of personality, like a house where a pastor delivers a message and people come to hear it and then they go. I don’t know if “empowerment” is the right word. The word they use is “commission.” I think it’s the best word to use. We have a call, a commission to actually go out and do the things we’re told, that we are shown how to love other people.

Of all the places to hear somebody articulating what the problem in our society is … I got to see Eddie Izard recently, another stand-up comedian, speaking of the state of the world. Take an event like World War Two. Sixty million people showed up to fight that war. How many gods showed up? I’m listening to this, and I finally get it. God did show up – 60 million times. Every time somebody stepped in front of a bullet, every time somebody went out there and did what was called for, put themselves out there in the name of love. And of course the Devil showed up too because there were people out there for that also. The way it becomes real – this isn’t just lip service, just a Sunday morning mood. This is something you’re supposed to . . .

Joan: Live out. I think you have discovered something profound.

Josh: For somebody who took the nonexistence of God for granted for most of his adult life, it’s almost – there’s really no way to articulate it. It’s a deep sense of being ready. It’s the willingness to acknowledge the unknowable. Most of the atheists I’ve known were so certain of everything. That was the basis of their unwillingness to depart from what they could see and hear and touch. You don’t have to deny your senses. You need to be prepared to acknowledge that maybe there’s something behind them, deeper. The way I heard it put, that I thought was the best, is that other places have unquestioning answers, and we have unanswered questions. I think that’s going to be the door that lets people experience this again. So many people are sick of being told what to think and how they’re supposed to live, and they’re judged and stepped on. They’re told, “Get the hell out of here if you don’t want to do it our way” But I think you have to look for God everywhere because it’s the only place big enough to find her.

It would definitely be a hard thing to leave now.

Joan: Sara? Do you have anything to add?

Sara: Sounds like Josh went over both our feelings about the church.

Josh: Well it’s an interview . . . she can do the follow-up.

Sara: The liturgy, the serious approach. The worship is important to me, but not to take yourself so seriously. It seems like it was the reverse in my previous experience. Don’t take yourself seriously in church – we’re going to Six Flags over Jesus. When you go out, God forbid you drink beer. I just didn’t enjoy it. I had several reasons why I didn’t go to church for several years. Before I came to St. Paul’s, the last time I remember enjoying church was at my dad’s church — the big Methodist church in Opelika – this big castle-like church. It has this big belfry. In the back of the church was an old unused choir loft. My favorite thing to do was go up there after Sunday School and throw grapes at the ladies. I tried to get them in the hats. I was probably six. That’s the only time I remember enjoying church.

Josh: That’s why Tallis isn’t allowed in the choir loft!

Joan: Grape-throwing might be hereditary!

Sara: Church wasn’t my thing. But now I’ve found something I can participate in because everyone participates in the liturgy. You’re not just sitting there with someone speaking at you, which was important to me.

It’s also important to me that the girls have Hazel as a role model. It’s amazing to me, because my mom comes from a long line of Baptists where women couldn’t speak in church. They could only hold women’s Sunday Schools.

Josh: I was privileged to overhear the kids arguing – usually it’s over something silly – but Gwen was explaining heatedly, “Tallis, don’t be dumb! Boys can’t be priests!”

Sara: It’s so wonderful they get to have that experience.

Sara: There are so many things people do that you don’t have to do. For instance, not everybody makes the sign of the cross or genuflects. You can make God gender neutral. Even in the service, there are shades of gray, what people feel comfortable participating in. I swear, if I ever saw my Mom make the sign of the cross, I might fall over dead.

Josh: Sara has adopted a head covering.

Sara: Well, Mary Rose was doing it, and I read a book by a woman who was raised evangelical and converted to Episcopalianism later. But she had written a book about how she wanted to try to live a year based on literal Biblical principles. She wanted to see what experiences changed her for the better and what didn’t. A lot of the time, she wrote, this is just crap! But two things stuck out: she started covering her hair all the time because they mention it in the Bible. She said the thing she liked about it was almost a tangible, visible reminder to her while she was out, just to be respectful and gracious. She said it changed her mindset. She became less coarse in her interactions with other people. So I said, I’m going to try it too. I do feel it works for me. I feel people are seeing me differently, and it makes me more mindful when I’m out. It’s kind of a tangible reminder for me.

Joan: I guess my Daughters of the King cross serves that function for me.

Sara: I don’t wear the head covering at home. But I’ve really enjoyed wearing it while I’m out. I started at the beginning of summer, and I’ve done it since. They haven’t really asked me about it at school yet. Mary Rose pointed me in some directions. It’s more to be gracious to other people.

And then it was time to say goodbye – to a wonderful evening and inspiring people!

Lou Graner: Good Samaritan

By Joan Doggrell

He retired in March of 2019, but for almost eight years, Lou Graner was the Executive Director of Coweta County’s Samaritan Clinic. Moreover, he played an essential role in the planning and financing of this life-saving facility. The Coweta Samaritan Clinic offers free primary medical care to uninsured Coweta County residents with limited incomes.

“Just in the time I was there, we treated about 1,600 people and had crossed the 20,000-patient visit level,” said Lou. “A tremendous amount of good is being done.”

I wanted to know more about this modest man who had played a vital role in launching and operating the Samaritan Clinic.

Joan: Lou, what led you to be one of the movers and shakers who started the Samaritan Clinic?

Lou: My involvement comes right back here to St. Paul’s. One day ten or so years ago, I was meeting with Bill Harrison. We were just chatting about poverty and different things. Sharon Gruber was the volunteer at the desk. She was good friends with Kay Crosby and the others who were thinking about starting the clinic. She heard us talking and just ducked her head in and asked, “Do you have any interest in coming to a meeting and looking at what we are thinking about?” I said, “Sure.” So it really started right here in St. Paul’s, or I might not have known about it.

Joan: Something inside you must have felt drawn to this meeting. Can you express what that was?

Lou: When this opportunity presented itself, I was between jobs. I had been in the non-profit world for about fifteen years. The one thing I had never done was anything in this community, and this was something I really wanted to do. I’ve always been interested in dealing with poverty and the people who truly don’t have any breaks.

I had done fund-raising for the Scottish Rite Children’s Medical Center, which is part of Children’s Health Care now. I had also worked at the Atlanta Union Mission, which is an emergency shelter and addiction recovery center for men and women. That was the area of non-profit work that really spoke to me, which I found most fulfilling.

So obviously what was being contemplated here was very interesting. I just rode the coattails of an awful lot of people. People of this community are extraordinarily generous with their time and with their resources: Dr. Kay Crosby, for example, who volunteers her services, had been an internist for twenty years at PAPP Clinic, and so she was very well known and respected. I think to this day that she continues to drive that support. She is still there.

Joan: Tell me more about your role.

Lou: I had some small role in it, but it’s really the generosity of the community and the way things have come together. I’ve never been in a place where the hand of God was so evident. Just for the facility itself – some of the places we were looking at would have been much more expensive and would have proven to be too small almost immediately. When the Health Department moved from the building where the clinic is to Hospital Road, the County took over the building, did a little rehabilitation work on the HVAC system, and leased 9000 square feet to us for a dollar a year.

Joan: Are there other examples of the hand of God at work?

Lou: There were many. For instance, one day Peggie (our nurse/administrator) commented, “You know, we could really use another blood pressure machine.” It wasn’t two days later when somebody from Welch-Allyn knocked on the front door. This guy is holding a stand with a blood pressure machine. He says, “We have an extra one. It’s from one of our clients. Could you use it here?” That’s not an exception. It was more the rule.

We like to say the Samaritan Clinic is Coweta County citizens caring for their neighbors. All the doctors volunteer their time. None of them are getting paid; only some of the medical staff, such as nurses and physician’s assistants.

I feel really good about what’s been accomplished. It was such a rewarding experience to be part of it.

Joan: What made it so rewarding?

Lou: Instead of fund-raising and writing checks as a donor, it’s kind of like – well, how do I get my hands dirty on the front line? So that was my evolution – to move into the direct provision of service and to use my accounting and financial background to benefit that organization. Anybody who has done service comes to realize you get so much more out of it than you put in. That was true for me.

Every employee, at least during the time I was there, started as a volunteer. We always thought that was really cool. We would say, what are the most important qualities, and who has passion for the mission? Everybody at the clinic had chosen to be there as a volunteer, so ultimately when the position was needed, these were the people best qualified for it.

Joan: What exactly was your position?

Lou: Executive Director. I was in charge of all the fund raising, community relations, accounting, and budgeting. There were nine employees when I left: three full time and six part time.

Joan: Your pride and satisfaction in your contribution come through loud and clear. Not everybody with a CPA, folks involved in the world of money-making, would feel this way. What is in your background that leads you to this passion for helping the  less fortunate?

Lou: My family was not heavy church. But my parents modeled service. My Dad did a lot of stuff free for people. He was a sports announcer in Cleveland, so when he made speeches for Boy Scouts, for instance, he never charged. My parents sponsored a child through the Christian Children’s Fund. Because of their example, I started sponsoring kids when I got out of college. I was writing checks, and that was a good step for someone that age to be giving back.

I was working for profit at that point for a company that did real estate and construction. Wonderful folks.  But one day I looked in the mirror and asked myself, do I want to keep helping rich people get richer? That’s not enough. I decided I wanted to move into non-profit and try to help. I ended up in Children’s Health Care of Atlanta, not your typical non-profit in the sense that it’s been incredibly successful. They’re saving lives right and left, and they do it with unbelievable quality.

The Christian Children’s Fund serves kids in poverty around the world. At one point, Anne and I were sponsoring eight. We’d pray for each one. Every night at dinner the kids would rattle off their names. But finally I realized that if everybody’s writing checks and nobody is doing the work, nothing’s going to get done. So what can I do?

The Samaritan Clinic provided the opportunity to do something in Newnan and give back to this community, which I really am thrilled that I did.

Joan: You must have met a lot of wonderful people in your quest for donations.

Lou: One of the donors at the clinic told me about a man she met in an airport in Florida. Somehow they got onto the subject of philanthropy. He shared with her that he has decided he wants to give his money where he casts his shadow. She took that to heart. She said to herself, “I’m here in Newnan. I’m not casting my shadow in India or other places.”  So she changed her philanthropy dramatically to the benefit of the clinic, the Humane Society, and a number of other local charities. She is now giving where she casts her shadow.

Joan: Do you have other passions? What do you want to do next?

Lou: For some reason, seasons came to mind. Having just finished up my time at the clinic, to some extent, passion-wise, I’m in winter. I had the summer and the bloom when the clinic opened, and all the great things it did, then kind of found myself a little worn out and questioning myself as to whether I was the best person to take the clinic to the next step. Now the leaves have fallen off, and I’ve chosen to step back.

I’ll always be passionate about poverty and the less fortunate, but I don’t know what the next step will be. Bur the beauty of the seasons is, I may be in winter, but spring is coming. The blooms are going to come out. I’m totally confident my next step will be shown to me.

Anne and I, on our own paths and somewhat in a shared way, have always been interested in spiritual growth, so that’s always going to be a passion.

The whole concept of simplicity just speaks to me, and I don’t mean in the narrow, clean-out-your-closets, keep-it-simple kind of way. I mean it much more broadly, where simplicity is the hub of your relationships. I’m also reflecting on spirituality. There are three or four things that define how I want to give my time. But within each of those, undergirding it, are simplicity and spirituality,

Joan: What do you mean by simplicity?

Lou: Well, everything from not being complicated to whittling down to what’s really essential. In fact, Anne had a book on her Kindle called Essentialism. The premise is, there are so few things that are truly essential. There are thousands of things that just aren’t important yet we manage to clutter up our lives with nonessentials if we are not intentional about our choices.

That leads me to my relationship with Jesus. All that we have to learn to understand and to grow is a quest toward greater unity and oneness with Christ. Just realizing that He is not just out there, He’s in here, in everybody and everything you’re encountering. And that leads to gratitude and appreciation. I can’t tell you how excited I am that I planted seven little gardenia bushes, and they’re all blooming. It’s their first year and they’re not even that fragrant yet, but the excitement! God is in those little white blossoms, and in the yellow leaf that fell off, too.

Anne Graner’s Story

By Joan Doggrell

I’d heard that the Launch Pad Library at Ruth Hill Elementary School is an awesome place, and when I visited it, I wanted to be a kid again. The large, colorfully decorated room is organized so that books, STEAM activities, and community connections are grouped together by common themes. They are organized in six learning portals: Travel the World & Beyond; Learn from the Past; Stay Fit & Healthy; Investigate Nature; Express Yourself; and Discover a Solution. And it all looks attractive and inviting.

Kids can experiment with a sewing machine, a 3-D printer, and musical instruments. They can also make movies and audio recordings in the recording studio.  They are involved with career exploration, are taught soft skills focused on professionalism, and are encouraged to create projects that impact others.

The learning portals are sponsored by community partners who supply materials and expertise. If students have a project calling for outside help, the partners are ready to supply it. For example, the Newnan Times Herald carried a story on June 9 about students making weighted lap pads that are used to help autistic children focus on learning.  The Coweta Community Foundation stepped in to help them purchase useful, quality products.

Obviously, the Launch Pad Library is a far cry from traditional school libraries. Its conception and creation are the work of St. Paul’s own Anne Graner. Anne is on a mission to empower the Ruth Hill students, 85% of which are on free and reduced lunch.  She believes that every child has the potential to succeed. With the collaboration of other teachers and community partners, the Launch Pad Library constantly strives to improve its offerings to close the opportunity gap so many of the students have.

“We don’t stop when the school year ends,” said Anne.  “For three summers, we’ve had a weekly bookmobile that reaches some of our neediest students so they can have free books over the summer.”

I met Anne at a St. Paul’s women’s retreat at Banning Mills a few years back. She took us on a “prayer hike” where we stopped and prayed at inspiring natural sights, and then she led a free-form dance that encouraged us to worship with our bodies. I knew then that this woman had a creative gift, one that could inspire others.

My own involvement with the Launch Pad Library occurred every Tuesday afternoon while students Christian and De’ Angelo filmed and interviewed me about my prosthesis. This video project ended up winning first place at the Coweta County Technology Competition.

I usually arrived just before dismissal. I watched Mrs. Graner bring her busy fifth graders, who were working on various projects throughout the library, to a halt with very few words – spoken softly. They all stopped in their tracks. They sat down together to debrief about their activities, and then were quietly dismissed. I was speechless in admiration.

How does a person become an Anne Graner? Where does that creative leadership come from?

I had a chance to ask her on June 13, when she and husband Lou Graner (more about Lou in another post) agreed to be interviewed. We began with a question:

Joan: What is in your background, or what inspired you, to develop that wonderful Launch Pad Library at Ruth Hill?

Anne: I have to go back to my parents. They were creative educators and missionaries. My mom started out teaching kindergarten and later became an elementary school principal. My dad was an Episcopal priest. Soon after they married, they went to Liberia, West Africa, as missionaries for the Episcopal Church. Mom co-founded a school there. Along with leading worship services, Dad taught courses at Cuttington College –the oldest private and coeducation university in Africa — and also served as its interim president.  I was born into this way of being: following a call, serving God and others with the gifts you’ve been given, finding creative ways to solve problems, and making the most out of being alive.

Later in life, I became a classroom teacher and noticed how much my parents’ philosophy of education and living fully influenced the type of teacher I became. That early childhood influence was a key foundation to leading me to create the Launch Pad Library.  I have found that when you observe kids and listen to them, you can get a better sense of what excites them, what they are curious about. Then you build a space and bring in resources to help them explore and become.

Mom and Dad passed away before the creation of the Launch Pad Library, but their essence permeates so much of what occurs there. I am also blessed to have the support of my husband Lou who has scrubbed floors, worked the book fair, moved bookcases and has been a sounding board for ideas and an extra hand when needed.  Our two daughters, Jessica and Lindsay, have witnessed the birth and development of the Launch Pad Library, and are excited to see how the legacy of their grandparents lives on.

Joan: Anne, any other passions that drive you?

Anne:  Yes!  I have a passion for story- for discovering other people’s stories, for documenting others’ stories with video, and for expressing my story through free-form dancing.  And I’ve always had this desire for deeper spirituality. I’ve been to the Kripalu Holistic Health Center in Massachusetts where I’ve taken workshops and trained as a yoga dance teacher. All of it was about how to access and bring alive deeper, sacred parts of me, and to learn how to invite and lead others in spiritual experiences.  It’s been a blessing to lead workshops, sacred dance experiences, and now currently, to be a healing intercessor at our church.

My passion for story led me to explore documentary filmmaking.  The training I received was very hands-on and entrenched me in the life of another. What an experience!  For someone to allow you to film them in their ordinariness and in their self-discovery was so sacred.

After the training, I was able to film other videos and created a website for these videos: http://snowpicnicfilms.com/  One of the videos features church member Billy Newman and his creative photography.  The website’s name, Snow Picnic Films, is in honor of my dad because he used to take us on picnics in the snow when we were living in New York state.

What it all boils down to is I just want to be true to my callings, to use the gifts I’ve been given, to embrace different kinds of people, and to live life fully.  Life has not always been easy.  I’ve experienced a lot of heartache.  But I continue to try to navigate all of this alongside taking time to listen, to pray, to be in nature, to create, and to just be.