Inter Faith Vespers Service - May 15th, 2016

05.19.16 | News | by The Rev. Ted Foley , Deacon

Inter Faith Vespers Service - May 15th, 2016

    A Recap of the Inter-Faith Service held on Pentecost , may 15th, 2016

    bishop stopesInterdenominational Vespers Service


    On Pentecost Sunday, an interdenominational Vespers service was held at Wells Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in South Toms River, NJ. This service capped off almost one year of prayers, fellowship, and establishment of trust between the two congregations. As we look back at this past year, we can see God’s hand at work.


    It all started on June 17 last year. A tragedy occurred in Charleston, South Carolina, when a group of 12 people were engaged in Bible study at the downtown Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and a stranger, a young white male, asked to join them. He was welcomed and listened in as the group studied scripture.


    After about an hour, the stranger became agitated and began arguing with their interpretation of the scripture. When the group started to pray, the stranger stood up, pulled a handgun out of his knapsack, and began shooting the participants, eventually killing nine people. The suspect in the shooting was identified as Dylan Roof who confessed to the shootings in hopes of “igniting a race war.”


    The act of killing nine people was an act of pure evil. However, what this stranger intended as evil, God turned into something good.


    News of the shootings spread quickly and congregations in the Diocese of NJ were shocked. The next day Bishop Stokes issued a letter saying that the shootings were an “abomination – an offense against humanity and God.” Bishop Stokes also phoned Bishop Gregory G.M. Ingram, local AME Bishop, to offer him and his church our deepest condolences, to assure him of our prayers as well as our commitment to strive for justice and peace among all people.


    At Christ Church, we held an impromptu community prayer service that included the ringing of a bell 50 times for each of the nine victims. That Sunday we also sent a delegation of five people to Wells Chapel, a nearby AME church, with flowers, condolences, and assurances of prayers. Although located only one mile apart, this was the first contact that the two congregations had in recent memory. Our expression of sympathy was received with deep gratitude. Their deacon, the Rev. Robin Barrow, turned to the Sunday School class and said, “See, I told you. We’re not alone.”


    The Rev. Kemperal Hinsley, pastor of the Wells Chapel congregation, was deeply moved. He said that we should continue to stay in touch – and that is what we did.


    Over the summer and fall, the clergy from both congregations met regularly. We shared prayers, meals, and conversations. We talked about our challenges and our hopes and dreams. We looked back at the history of our denominations and realized that we both sprang out of the Anglican tradition. We appreciated how, each year on March 26, The Episcopal Church remembers Richard Allen, founder of the AME Church.


    As our fellowship continued to grow, we decided to invite our congregations to participate together in the Lenten program. Each week, Wells Chapel congregants joined Christ Church for a simple soup supper and Bible study. The people of both congregations grew in knowledge and love of one another. The clergy of both congregations then felt that it was time to worship together and decided to co-sponsor a Vespers service on Pentecost.


    It was a wonderful Vespers service. The theme of the service was, “That we all may be one” (John 17:21). We worshipped and honored God with a service that blended traditions from both the Book of Common Prayer and the AME Church. Accompanied by Christ Church organist Andrew Van Buskirk, we sang hymns that are treasured in both traditions. In addition to the two Toms River area congregations, we were joined by people from St. Stephen’s, Waretown, and from the Quaker meeting in Barnegat. The Rev. Canon Brian Jemmott, the diocesan Canon Missioner for Black Ministries, also joined us. Based on the Pentecost reading from Acts, Bishop Stokes preached on how we all become one together in Christ.


    Following the service, the Wells Chapel congregation invited everyone for a meal they had prepared and fellowship. It was a wonderful gathering where all of God’s people came together as one.


    As the festivities were winding down and I was preparing to leave, a member from Wells Chapel came to me fighting back emotions. She told me how much it meant to her when the Bishop said in his sermon that we are all ‘icons’ – made in the image of God. She said that sometimes all she hears is the bad stuff people say. She was brought to the verge of tears when she heard these words from our Bishop.


    The clergy and people of Christ Church and Wells Chapel look forward to continuing to have a relationship that grows together in Christ. While each congregation has values and traditions that it holds dear and will continue, each also wants to remember that, in Christ, “That we all may be one.”


    As a deacon in the Diocese of NJ, it is my privilege to continue to support you and Mother Joan as we all continue on this journey.


    Deacon Ted

    rev ame

    the peace