GUEST BLOG: A LETTER FROM MY SENIOR WARDEN(This letter is a written version of what Ms. Christine Corrigan, Sr. Warden of St. Michael & All Angels in Seaford, New York said extemporaneously during the Farewell Service last March 31, 2013. Chris at extreme left in this 2011 photo was Sr. Warden when I first became a Supply Clergy in 2009 at SMAA until 2013. The church has grown since then.)
Dear Fr. Fred,
When you first informed me of your leaving St. Michael and All Angels Church for another parish in Elmhurst, as you know, my eyes filled with tears, my heart with sorrow and I was speechless. I understood your reassignment, but none the less, the thought of you leaving us pained me.
When Fr. Dallas left, I had the task of finding supply priests. Although our parish is small, we are a very vocal group. Each Sunday I would hear some complaint regarding that Sunday’s supply, and at times was even told not to ever call this one or that one back. We virtually chewed up and spit out one supply after another. While speaking with Fr. Dallas regarding how things were going, he suggested that I contact you and that I would be pleasantly pleased, so I called.
Fr. Dallas was wrong, I wasn’t pleasantly surprised, I was absolutely thrilled! The first Sunday you were with us was the first Sunday I did not hear a complaint; you agreed to return the following Sunday. That Sunday, after listening to the parishioners and without discussing it with the Vestry, I asked if you would consider being our permanent supply priest. You advised me that you already work full time with the National Church, but you will think about it. The following Sunday, you advised me that you had prayed about returning to the roots of a parish. That working in the church wide office sometimes become like an “Ivory Tower” and you felt you were losing touch with the people you serve. You felt you would be more effective in giving counsel to the clergy working in parishes and missions, if you yourself is one, even if only as a Supply priest. You felt this was an answer to your prayers, you had consulted your supervisors, and you agreed to be our priest, in addition to your current full time employment.
Little did you know what a mess you agreed to take under your wing. We had many personalities, demands and differences. Instead of throwing up your hands and running away, you embraced us. You were always the constant mediator and peacemaker, to the point that at times I wanted to strangle you. You showed us it was hard to be arguing with a person that you are hugging. You took us on a journey of learning and many times by not saying a word, but by your example. For me personally, you included me even in your visits to the sick and dying, to help develop and expand my own ministry of service to others. I know that you have done this on a personal level with many parishioners, helping them to explore and develop their own personal talents and spiritual gifts, giving them “on-service training.”
At some point of our history, our parish stayed away for diocesan involvement because of what we perceived as lack of care for our plight. Our parish was listed as among the “delinquents” in submitting parochial and financial reports. When you came, you convinced us to revive our involvement and pleaded with us to be diligent in parish requirements. So we obeyed and we were taken off the list of delinquent parishes. In one diocesan convention, Bishop Walker was giving his keynote speech and made reference, with high praise, to a book that you had written “Mainstreaming Asians Americans in the Episcopal Church” quoting some portions on your writing. I believe it was Canon Diane Porter who whispered to the Bishop’s ear that author was in the room and introduced you.
When Bishop Provenzano took office, he took stock in all who were in his domain and took the time to know everyone and their qualities and knew what a gem he had in you being in his diocese. Quickly and without hesitation, he granted our desire for you to be our official Priest in Charge, even on a part-time basis and only on Sundays when you are not on official business with the national church. What a happy, joyous day that was for us. For so many years we as a parish tried to keep low key. We did not want to be noticed by the diocese for fear of being told what to do or had to do and more so, being afraid of being closed as many struggling parishes had been in recent past. Now we held our heads up high and no longer feared any possible threat. We have a loving priest who has united us, taught us, expanded us and empowered us.
Well, maybe we should have kept our light under a bushel a bit longer, for now you have been requested to relocate to “save” another congregation. I am aware that a few years ago there was a schism in the Episcopal Church. Unfortunately, the parish in Elmhurst was one of those affected by this division. The Diocese has regained the property and is now trying to rebuild the congregation before their doors are permanently closed. Bishop Provenzano knows the importance of choosing the right priest for the job and knows that you, Fr. Fred, are the right one. You work hard and smart. Just as what your "part time presence" has done for us, he knows your shining star will attract the people to come, and learn, and share, and stay.
In Girl Scouts we have a rule that you leave a place better than you found it. You came into our divided, disorganized but loving parish family. You became one with us and us with you. You are now leaving, but now we are a stronger, wiser, skill-filled and a united loving parish family. You are leaving us much better than you found us. You would have made a great Girl Scout!
You will always be a part of us. We love you and your wife, our beloved “Sister Angie” and thank God for bring you to us. We will try to shine the light you have shared with us as you leave now to share this light with others. But don’t forget, we have your phone number and we know where you live, so you will never truly be without us pestering you.
Lovingly, your Sr. Warden for many years,
March 31, 2013 (Easter Sunday)
Dear Chris and Family at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church:
Words cannot describe how deeply grateful we are for your friendship and love. When we first came to this church some four years ago, we hardly know anyone of you. But now, we feel that we know all of you. We are intimately connected as family. God's love transcends boundaries of culture and race.
Throughout these past years, we worshipped together, prayed together, struggled together, laughed together. We had many special moments, whether they be the auctions and “Night of the Races” in the Resurrection Hall or the Barbecue picnics in the park. Although I was away many Sundays due to my travel in connection with my full-time job in the Episcopal Church, the spiritual bond that ties us as clergy and lay was strong and steady. Agape love transcends time and space. Your prayers for "traveling mercies" kept me safe and secure. You were my illustrations whenever I speak about spiritual renewal.
We leave today to venture to a new church and take on a new challenge but we hold you close to our hearts and lift you up for God’s continued guidance and care. You are a spiritual beckon in Seaford, shining your light to the community. Priests may come and go but you need to remain constant in the mission and vision God has given you.
“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” as Shakespeare wrote. But we leave also with joy, knowing that you have become a more mature, more united and more empowered people. As we leave you, we also pray that you will embrace whoever God places to be your next priest, the way you have learned to accept me.
We may still see each other whether it be in the Diocese of Long Island, at St. James Church in Elmhurst (which is our next parish) or here in Seaford for some special events. But we wish to let you know that you remain our BFF---best friends forever.
With love and prayers,
Fr. Fred & Sis. Angie