The Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 18, 2014
Dear People of Saint John the Evangelist, known and unknown,
After a long discernment of four and a half months, your persuasive Vicar and inspiring Bishop have succeeded in wresting me from another St. John’s Episcopal Church (West Hartford, Conn.) to do God’s bidding in Newport. I look forward with great joy to being in your midst, serving as your new full-time Organist and Choirmaster and, concurrently, as founding Executive Director of The Choir School of Newport, which initially will take the form of an after-school program for girls and boys, in a joint venture with our sister churches Trinity and Emmanuel. I look forward to joining forces with Stephan Griffin at Trinity and Waylon Whitley at Emmanuel. I look forward, as well, to forging partnerships with other area organists, just as Fr. Humphrey has with his colleagues Anne Marie Richards, Anita Schell, Erik Larsen, Jeff Lewis at St. George’s School, and other area clergy. In time, it is our hope that the beams from this program will reach far past the little green light off the Point and beyond our horizon, as a beacon illuminating lives of character and service.
I am under no false impressions of the challenges ahead, financially and otherwise. I had a long lunch with your former organist Jono Babbitt, consulted with Emmanuel’s former music director Allen Hill, and have received countless bits of professional and personal advice. As a result, I can write without hesitation that I feel positively called by God to be with you. As I know from experience, when I have answered God’s call it has made all the difference. Most notably, I did so at All Saints Church, Worcester, Mass., where after four years of very hard work (2004-2007) I built a program of sixty boys, girls, and adults under similar circumstances, and stayed three years more. We traveled to England, made fine recordings, changed hearts and minds and became the toast of the town. After the rector of All Saints was elected bishop of another diocese, I was called to West Hartford, where I have served through an interim period as they prepare to welcome a new rector. I am looking forward to settling for the long term in Newport, hoping that Fr. Humphrey will stay put longer than my two previous rectors! After all, no lasting program is built overnight; but the resources in Newport, synergy of colleagues and uniqueness of what we will offer at St. John’s all suggest a sustainable rate of growth. Our aim is to build something that will endure.
On Low Sunday, one of three occasions worshiping with you in as many months, Ed Carnes approached with the offering plate, and I placed the entire cash contents of my wallet into it. While that amounted to nineteen dollars in small bills, which must have made Ed smile, my “widow’s mite” was a tangible sign of my complete dedication to this exciting new venture. I look forward to joining your Vicar, Deacon, and strong lay leadership, who all are working faithfully to uphold the living tradition of your Anglo-catholic heritage, while at the same time discovering, with God’s help, dynamic new directions for building Christian community. One literally tangible sign is the restored one out front, and I look forward to finding more signs that God is powerfully at work, restoring us in ways we cannot yet see, though perhaps glimpse as through a glass, darkly.
My wife of ten years, Jenn, will move with me to Grafton House this summer after the school year ends. Our daughters Sophie (7) and Lily (2), look forward to their new home, which will be filled as well with two sibling cats and an array of O-gauge model trains. (The Vicar has already promised that he will set up a “play date” with another parishioner with model trains!) For now, I will be working part-time over the next two weeks and join you full-time on June 1st. Other than a previous engagement in Milwaukee on Trinity Sunday, I expect to be with you every Sunday of the summer and to hang out a bold sign as rapidly (yet carefully) as possible. I look forward to meeting you all, learning your stories and plans and grumblings and triumphs, and journeying forward together as the Body of Christ, risen and real in the world.
In about a year, on Pentecost, May 24, 2015 at 4 pm, please join me and our choir members for the conclusion of a “Stations of the Cross” pilgrimage described on the back of this letter, which includes a website to learn more about me. (Besides trains and family picnics, my hobbies are composition, digital audio and lighting, graphic design, and rowing.) The press deadline for this tour was January 15th; God was already at work. Alleluia, Amen.
Peter Stoltzfus Berton