Communion Across Difference

By Neva Rae Fox
Correspondent

St. Michael’s in Trenton and Trinity in Princeton are a mere eight miles away from each other in New Jersey. St. Michael’s, founded in 1703, and Trinity in 1833, have both made indelible marks on Episcopal, New Jersey, diocesan, and national history.

Across centuries, their differences multiplied to more than geography: today, St. Michael’s is an inner-city urban church facing issues unlike those of Trinity, located in an affluent suburb. Nonetheless, the two churches have forged a strong partnership.

Recognizing that Trenton was more affected by COVID-19 than Princeton, Trinity proposed working together on a prayer wall dedicated to pandemic victims. What Trinity discovered changed some thinking and moved the parishes to a deeper focus.

“At Trinity, we started talking about how there had not been a public memorial for COVID victims,” said the Rev. Joanne Epply-Schmidt, the church’s assistant rector. “We looked to work with St. Michael’s because Trenton was hit harder than Princeton.”

In response, St. Michael’s parishioners said gun violence was a graver issue than COVID in Trenton.

“St. Michaels has been devoted to those who have died from gun violence and racism,” said senior warden Fred Vereen Jr. “Last year there was a record of 31 homicides. All but a few were due to gun violence. St. Michael’s started having community meetings on gun violence in 2016.”

After the two churches connected, the result was a prayer wall dedicated to a “season of loss to highlight gun violence,” Vereen said. “It wasn’t just about COVID-19.”

The wall was constructed in front of St. Michael’s on busy Warren Street, not far from the State House Annex, and dedicated on October 18. Pinned to the wall are remembrances, prayers, “hopes, needs, thanksgivings, and a QR Code for [places] where you can help victims, Epply-Schmidt said. “We came together to create a place of ongoing solace,”

The prayer wall opened the door to a deeper partnership that includes sharing lay readers, a prayer vigil the day before Election Day, and Advent candle-lighting.

“For Trinity, this is real grassroots ministry,” Epply-Schmidt said. “Our first job was to listen. Mutual trust and respect developed, so we can genuinely talk to each other.”

“Going forward it is our hope to be able to worship in person together, with Trinity clergy serving at St. Michael’s,” Epply-Schmidt said. “And we of Trinity look to St. Michael’s to keep our feet on the ground … and on-task with meaningful justice ministry.”

“I’m really glad of this partnership that we have developed — we need one another. We need support in every aspect of ministry,” Vereen said.

“Our first project together was a lot of work and a real success. It brought us together as a church family and, with blessings of God, has strengthened our courage as we continue to move on. I like to see suburban churches get as comfortable coming to cities like Trenton as they do sending to countries like Haiti.”