Church’s new pastor duo brings fresh ideas, community focus
ast May Christ Episcopal Church brought on not one, but two, new pastors into its community.
The church at 426 Mulberry St. had been without a rector for four years, with interim priests to keep operations going, and now it has welcomed Rector Veronica Donohue Chappell and Lay Pastor Kyle Murphy into its community as a ministry team.
Chappell grew up outside of Philadelphia but is a 30-year resident of Williamsport and was ordained in 2000.
“I served many years at Trinity Episcopal Church right down the street,” Chappell said. “Right now I am also half time at Trinity in Jersey Shore.”
He now serves as a half-time rector at both churches.
Chappell added that before being called to Christ Church “I thought I was getting ready to retire, so it’s been wonderful and invigorating to come into growing something new.”
Murphy is from Scranton and is a candidate to the priesthood in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. He is a student in the Stevenson School for Ministry and will complete his certificate in May.
“I went to Lock Haven University and I taught French at St. John Neuman’s for 9 years, all the while studying and discerning through the Stevenson School (for Ministry) to be ordained,” said Murphy, who has lived in Williamsport since graduating and proudly calls himself a local. “I have always felt called to ordained life. Church and serving God has always been a vital part of my life and the community has always raised me up in that kind of a leadership of capacity.”
What makes this duo interesting is they were brought on as a ministry team. Chappell acts as the mentor and rector and in three years Murphy will take over as rector.
“The bishop approached us about this idea and it took us a long time to get it off the ground. In the Episcopal tradition, a rector is called by the vestry, the parish leadership. The bishop doesn’t generally just appoint a rector. So, our bishop, the Right Rev. Audrey Scanlan, suggested this idea, but the people had to also discern that we were the leaders who God was calling here too, so there is almost a double call in our tradition,” Murphy said.
Chappell added that “there are certain things that a priest, as a function of his or her office, does that no lay people can do and that’s absolve sins, baptize and consecrate the Eucharist. Although Kyle is certainly theologically and intellectually able to run a church, he can’t do these things that are required in a sacramental church.
“So, we are trying this blended team concept so that Kyle has a couple of years to learn all the intricacies of what is involved in running the church, while he officiates at the services that don’t require communion, and handles pastoral care of all sorts. By the time he is ordained he will be well settled here,” Chappell said.
Murphy said the new idea has brought new growth to the church, in an age when many mainstream churches are seeing a decline in membership.
“It has invigorated the spirit here and people are excited about church and doing God’s work” said Murphy. “When you invest time to try something new it can work.”
But the pastors acknowledge that with every new stage and position there comes a learning curve. After seven months of actively working with the parish, they are working toward understanding community in their neighborhood.
The ministry’s purpose and the churches place in its community are every-present on the pastor’s minds specifically with its proximity to Lycoming College.
“I think the world has a different view of the church’s purpose and we are right here in the middle of town and right next to Lycoming College so it seems like the perfect opportunity to start that conservation” Chappell said.
Chappell and Murphy have many upcoming projects they are working on to help connect with their local community.
A partnership with Family Promise means in February the church will begin hosting homeless families to spend a night in their building.
“The response from our congregation has been incredible, and there is great energy gathering for this new adventure,” Chappell said.
She mentioned they are thinking of installing a small, outdoor food pantry where people can place non-perishable food in it for those in need and those that may need something when the local Food Pantry is not open can get a quick meal.
Currently, Christ Episcopal Church offers a monthly free dinner, and it is hoping to expand that to two. “It seems that we are called to feed people, so it would be a good idea to continue to explore that and to consider the other way God is calling us to help meet that need,” Murphy said.
As Chappell and Murphy explore the ways they can do God’s work and be an active church community they have not only learned about their own people, but about Williamsport, too.
“I think it’s made me realize that Williamsport is more active than I thought it was in general” Murphy said. “I see that it’s an active community and it’s also a community that, I think, desires what a church community can establish.”
“It’s a cool juxtaposition of being in the oldest church in the county and being one of the newest pastors in town,” Murphy said. “It’s about people doing the work of the Gospel in genuine and authentic ways and that’s the whole idea we are trying to foster here.”