[Episcopal News Service] St. Mark’s Episcopal Church within the New York Metropolis borough of Queens has had greater than its justifiable share of demise and struggling over the previous yr. The prospect of one other penitential, somber Lent appeared like an excessive amount of to bear.
“2020 has been one lengthy Lent, so I didn’t wish to encourage extra deprivation,” stated the Rev. Spencer Reece, priest-in-charge, who’s attempting to dispel that darkness by participating parishioners and neighbors with poetry and artwork. Reece, a well-regarded poet himself, has used artistic programming to revive the full of life spirit of this Diocese of Lengthy Island parish, after a dispiriting yr.
The church’s neighborhood, Jackson Heights, was the “epicenter within the epicenter” of the preliminary outbreak of COVID-19 in america final spring. The world has been acutely affected by the virus for a confluence of reasons: overcrowded housing and excessive percentages of employees within the high-risk well being care and hospitality industries, folks with out medical insurance and folks of coloration, who’ve been disproportionately affected by the virus.
Tragedy struck the multicultural, bilingual parish on April 1, when its beloved rector, the Very Rev. Antonio Checo, died of COVID-19 at age 67. Checo, whose ministry centered closely on serving the wants of the neighborhood, died in the identical hospital wherein he had as soon as labored as a psychological well being clinician.
When Reece arrived as priest-in-charge in October 2020, the church had been closed for seven months. Seeing the flourishing creativity within the neighborhood, Reece noticed a chance for St. Mark’s to reengage with the group by turning into a spot for parishioners and locals to share and expertise artwork – significantly Reece’s specialty, poetry. He’s the creator of two poetry collections and a forthcoming memoir. Beforehand, whereas serving within the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church in Madrid, Reece organized an international visiting poets reading series.
He used the studying sequence expertise to create one thing related, on a smaller scale, at St. Mark’s: the Red Door Series – named for the church’s doorways, emblematic of Episcopal church buildings – wherein a poet involves the church each Wednesday and reads a poem, adopted by 10-Quarter-hour of silence, after which reads the poem a second time.
“It’s very meditative and quiet,” Reece instructed Episcopal Information Service.
A small variety of folks come to the readings in individual, socially distanced, however a a lot bigger viewers watches through Fb Stay. Which may be as a result of Reece has recruited some literary superstars to learn alongside neighborhood poets. Richard Blanco, who carried out a poem at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, Pulitzer Prize winner Gregory Pardlo, memoirist Nick Flynn and former New York State Poet Laureate Marie Howe are among the many readers, together with native abilities.
The sequence has expanded St. Mark’s attain into the neighborhood and past. It has devoted followers like 92-year-old parishioner Dorothy Moran, who instructed Reece she had by no means learn a lot poetry earlier than however comes each week.
“She simply loves it,” Reece instructed ENS. “She’s like, ‘Who’s approaching Wednesday?’”
It’s additionally introduced in individuals who had by no means set foot within the church, like Sahar Romani, a Muslim lesbian poet and professor who lives within the neighborhood and read for the series on Feb. 10.
“One of many magical issues about it’s that most of the those that come are like, ‘Wow, I’ve by no means been in right here earlier than,’” Reece stated. “It’s bringing lots of people into the constructing. … [Normally] lots of people simply don’t go in as a result of they really feel like they’ll’t be a part of it. However the sequence is open to anyone of any perception [or none at all].”
The sequence has now expanded to incorporate a podcast hosted by local people activist Alfonso Quiroz, who interviews the poet of the week. And Reece factors out that as a result of it’s a volunteer effort and requires no specialised technological tools, it doesn’t value the church a greenback.
“This [the series and podcast] has value nothing, and it’s capable of generate pleasure and curiosity throughout the neighborhood, throughout the church, throughout the nation, internationally – as a result of you may take heed to Fb Stay in Athens, Greece. Folks have listened to it there,” Reece stated. “And so if we will try this – and this can be a humble church with no endowment – if we will try this, what can all people else do in these instances?”
Given the success of the sequence, Reece has determined to make creative expression a theme for the church throughout Lent. Talking to ENS on Ash Wednesday, Reece stated he couldn’t convey himself to speak to his parishioners about giving up issues for Lent. As an alternative, he’s encouraging parishioners to double down on no matter artistic initiatives they really feel drawn to, and he’s planning a small-scale, socially distanced arts competition within the church backyard for Holy Saturday.
“All people will come to the sacred backyard, connect with the church and share what they did during the last six weeks,” Reece instructed ENS. “If it’s, you realize, constructing fashions, stitching quilts, singing a track, portray a portray, writing a poem, doing a video, making a meal – no matter it’s every individual has in them to create. And by creating, I imagine we get nearer to the Holy Spirit, and it faucets into this constructive vitality.”
That constructive vitality, he stated, abounds within the neighborhood. Generally, it simply takes a venue and somewhat group to convey it out.
“There’s a variety of prospects right here in Jackson Heights,” Reece stated. “Given our limitations, we will notice their prospects. It doesn’t matter what the constraints are, there are prospects. And this sequence has simply grown and mushroomed and been very constructive for folks.”
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal Information Service. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.