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Hello, St. Bart’s!

by The Reverend Peter Thompson on August 16, 2023

Hello, St. Bart’s! Thank you for all of your well-wishes and the generous sendoff you gave me a few weeks ago—I’m glad I provided a great excuse for the rest of the parish to have some ice cream at the height of summer!

I’m now in the third week of my sabbatical and am taking a brief break at home before heading to Europe this weekend.

I spent the last two weeks on Fishers Island serving as a visiting priest at the beautiful St. John’s Church. The Rector of St. John’s, The Reverend Michael Spencer, is an independent school educator who is himself on sabbatical as he moves across the country to become Head of Oregon Episcopal School. I agreed to fill in for him for two Sundays during his time away.

Fishers is a unique place that, while technically a part of New York State, is only publicly accessible by ferry from New London, Connecticut. Since just a few hundred live on Fishers year-round (and just a few thousand reside there in the summer), the nine-mile island does not contain a whole lot of infrastructure. It features only two cafes, one bar/restaurant, and one meager market—fewer amenities than New Yorkers are accustomed to finding on a single city block!

Church on Fishers feels like a throwback to a different era. At each service, congregants sing directly from the hymnal and read directly from the prayer book, engaging in practices that have become increasingly rare in Episcopal settings. Impressively, folks actually show up for church—and dress up to boot! The early service attracts a healthy one or two dozen, and the building is relatively full at the second, later service. I found it interesting that, though many members of St. John’s attend another parish during the fall, winter, and spring months, several members of St. John’s are not members of other congregations at all. They attend church only during the summer.

I may be currently on sabbatical from St. Bart’s, but St. Bart’s did an awfully good job of following me out to Fishers. Several members of St. John’s know St. Bart’s and have visited over the years. Our own the Reverend Deacon Molly O’Neil Frank grew up spending summers on Fishers Island and is presently the Junior Warden of St. John’s. She first connected me to the parish and joined me in leading worship on the two Sundays I was there. (Molly will be ordained a priest next month at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.)

While on the island, I also had a chance to catch up with artist Sukey Bryan, whose work Wellspring was installed shortly after I arrived at St. Bart’s in 2019 and launched our Resurrecting Earth series on climate change. Sukey’s parents were members of St. Bart’s when they lived in New York during the Rectorships of Bill Tully and Buddy Stallings. My family and I enjoyed a delightful dinner with Sukey, her husband Jim, and her father Barry.

My first Sunday with St. John’s was August 6th, the Feast of the Transfiguration. Since I was on Fishers Island that Sunday, I wasn’t able to hear Bishop Bill Swing back at St. Bart’s, but I had participated in planning for his visit and had seen the Oppenheimer movie right before leaving the city, so the connections between Hiroshima and the Transfiguration were at the forefront of my mind. My sermon that morning explored those connections and, in passing, mentioned Bishop Swing’s visit to St. Bart’s. I learned afterwards that Bishop Swing had officiated the marriage of one of the couples in attendance.

I woke up very early on the morning of August 13th to a massive thunderstorm, featuring some terrifyingly loud thunder and incredibly bright lightening. The storm, which cleared up quickly, appropriately coincided with the assigned reading from the Gospel according to Matthew about Jesus and Peter walking on the water amidst a strong wind. Later that day, Molly preached a lovely sermon that showed sympathy with Peter in his anxiety and fear and incorporated references to her work as a chaplain at Memorial Sloan Kettering as well as to the writings of Kate Bowler and Brené Brown.

When I was not in church, I went running, lounged on the beach, and spent time with my sister Jamie, my partner Matthew, and my mother Carol—each of whom visited for a few days during my stint. I’m still adjusting to the slower pace of these three months, but I’ve appreciated the opportunity I’ve been given to step back and take a few deep breaths. For the first time in a long time, I’ve had the chance to read novels, and it’s been wonderful to stretch my imagination outside of the rigid confines of day-to-day priestly work.

Still, I miss you all, and, even as I look forward to a dreamy list of destinations to come, I also look forward to being reunited with you in November.

Until then, stay well!


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