What follows is a (fictional) transcript between the Rev. Cindy Pendleton-Hokemeier, rector of St. Blasé’s Episcopal Church in General Oaks, KS (a suburb of Kansas City), and Tom Griffith, a writer for the General Oaks Herald. Any resemblance between actual persons and events is entirely coincidental.
Tom Griffith: Rev. Pendleton-Hokemeier, thanks for meeting with me, and congratulations on St. Blasé’s semicentennial celebration. The Herald sent me here to gather some information for the article we’re going to run in a few days.
Cindy Pendleton-Hokemeier: Thank you! We’re very excited about what God is doing in our community.
TG: So, tell me a little bit about your church.
CPH: Well, we’re a diverse, inclusive, and dynamic congregation in the heart of the suburbs. Our mission is to “care for all God’s children through service, justice, and intentional community-building.”
TG: That’s catchy. I’m curious, to whom does “all God’s children” refer?
CPH: Oh, everyone! Everyone is a child of God.
CPH: You sound surprised by that.
TG: Well, it’s just that, I thought maybe you were designating Christians with that language.
CPH: Oh, no. That would be too exclusive. We’re no more children of God than our Buddhist neighbors down the street.
TG: Oh, is there a Buddhist congregation in General Oaks? I didn’t even realize that.
CPH: I was speaking hypothetically.
TG: I see. But, anyway, don’t you have certain rituals, like baptism, that are meant to set Christians apart from the world?
CPH: I hear what you’re saying, Tom. Baptism is an important marker in our spiritual journeys. It means different things to different people. For most of us, the Baptismal Covenant™ is a powerful expression of our commitment to God and to each other. But none of that is meant to exclude other people.
TG: I understand. But I have a cousin who’s an atheist, and he would reject the label “God’s child.”
CPH: Well, of course we don’t mean to offend anyone.
TG: No, of course not. Let’s move on. What would you say makes your church distinctive?
CPH: I think what we do best is “community.” Everyone is welcome at every event we host. It doesn’t matter who you are, we want you to be a part of what God is doing here.
TG: Okay, but if I could press that point just a little … isn’t that the case at almost any church? I’ve never seen a Christian church that had a “members only” policy.
CPH: I suppose that’s true. I would point out, though, that many people don’t feel welcome in traditional church environments. Jesus said, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” We take that very seriously. On that note, I would add that as another distinctive of our church: we take the Bible seriously, but not literally.
TG: Interesting. What does that mean, exactly?
CPH: In short, it means that when you come to a worship service or a Bible study here, you don’t have to check your brain at the door. We recognize that the Bible is just one of the many ways that God speaks to us, but we also have to maintain that critical distance.
TG: Hmm. That’s starting to sound kind of complicated. Moving on, why don’t you tell me about some exciting things going on in your church right now?
CPH: Sure! A few weeks ago we started offering a Celtic service on Sunday evenings, and it’s been a big hit.
TG: Oh, has it drawn some new people to your church?
CPH: Well, we’re still in the early stages right now. We’ve had a few of our Sunday morning parishioners come check things out, and we did have a couple of college students visit for the first time.
TG: Interesting. I wanted to ask you about that.
CPH: About what?
TG: About young people and the Episcopal Church. From what I’ve read, it sounds like there’s been a resurgence of interest in traditional, more “formal” worship styles.
CPH: Yes, I’ve heard about that, too. That girl … that Rachel … Rachel Held…
TG: Rachel Held Evans?
CPH: Yes! She’s case in point. She comes from a very fundamentalist background, but she’s finally “seen the light.”
TG: So, would you say that this new Celtic service offers the kinds of things young people are looking for?
CPH: Oh, definitely. I mean, it’s very contemplative. We set up lots of candles, and we leave plenty of time for silence. Our guitarist is even learning how to play the bouzouki for that service.
TG: A bouzouki? I thought that was a Greek instrument?
CPH: Oh, is it? I’m not sure. Anyway, it’s been a great way to tap into ancient forms of spirituality. We’re hoping to install a labyrinth in the narthex at some point.
TG: What’s a narthex?
CPH: Oh, it’s that entryway area before you walk into the main part of the church.
TG: Oh, sure. Okay. So, what are some other popular programs or events?
CPH: Well, the most well attended service at St. Blasé’s each year (besides Christmas and Easter!) is the Blessing of Pets for the feast of St. Francis in October. My partner, Bobbie, has pet iguanas, and the kids always love to see them.
TG: Your partner? Is that your assistant minister?
CPH: No. (laughs) Bobbie is my spouse.
TG: Oh. Is she …
CPH: He. He’s my husband.
TG: Oh, I’m sorry. I just didn’t quite follow.
CPH: That’s alright.
TG: Speaking of animals, what is it with Anglicans and their pets?
CPH: What do you mean?
TG: I heard a story a while back about a priest who gave Communion to someone’s pet dog.
CPH: Oh my. I hadn’t heard about that one. Well, I suppose dogs are God’s creatures, too.
TG: Right …. So, do you all have any Bible studies or anything like that?
CPH: Of course! We have a series called “The Bible and the New York Times,” where we talk about current events and how certain themes from the Bible intersect with them.
TG: That sounds really interesting. I might try to come to the next one. When does it meet?
CPH: Well, we’d love to have you, but sadly it won’t be for a little while. We just had our last meeting on Wednesday, and then we break for the summer.
TG: Oh. Do people not want to talk about the Bible during the summer?
CPH: It’s just that there aren’t enough people around. Most of our parishioners are on vacation this time of year.
TG: I see. Well, thanks so much for meeting with me, Rev. Pendleton-Hokemeier. I wish you and your church all the best.
CPH: Thanks, Tom. God bless.