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Christ Episcopal talks progress as it nears 180 years

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Father Kyle Murphy and the Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport will be celebrating the church's 179th anniversary this year.

The original congregation may have first come together way back in 1841, but those worshipping at Christ Episcopal Church today, at the corner of Mulberry and East Fourth streets, are definitely moving forward into the 21st century.

“I think the one thing that the whole church universally is finally coming onto is that church can’t happen within four walls anymore. God is at work in the outside world. What we have to do is join God in that work outside of the church and also invite people in to the space we’ve been gifted and given and recognize it as the place that God wants work to happen,” said the Rev. Kyle Murphy, who was ordained as a priest at the church last year.

“And not just Sunday mornings,” interjected the church’s Rector, Veronica Donohue Chappell.

“Really, what we’re doing is radical hospitality,” Murphy added.

What this means is that Christ Episcopal is opening its doors to the community to model this radical hospitality.

“We’ve refurbished a lot of the space in order to make it homier and more welcoming. The focus we’re really pushing is community — a community center,” Murphy said.

He shared how the church used to be the center of people’s lives for religious and other reasons. As people have moved away from that, Murphy stressed that the church still has an opportunity to be a community center.

“We have LGBT support groups who meet here. We have LGBT groups that hold events here, like open mike nights. We’re gearing up to do a drag queen storytime. We are doing a lot of LGBT outreach, because we as an Episcopal church are a safe place for people in the LGBT plus community,” he said.

“We’ve done a heavy metal concert. We just had an album release party here because we want people to know this is a safe place, but this is also a place where people can gather in their various groups to have community,” he added.

The church is also involved in musical outreach to the community — in fact, a Broadway mass is scheduled for December.

Jeff Johnson, church organist, spoke about a Choral Scholar Program that the church offers in conjunction with Lycoming College.

“Last season, they did a Broadway revue night. They’re all vocal performance or theater majors at the college,” Johnson said.

“It’s the community center that allows the community to gather and other groups to create community here,” Murphy said. “And we say, God blesses all of this.”

Members of the church also make an effort to go out into the community. On Ash Wednesday, Murphy and Chappell offered ashes from a street corner where people drove up in cars to receive them.

“We give them ashes on Ash Wednesday. It’s amazing how many people stop,” Chappell said. “Usually we then walk around and we usually go to the college. It’s great because, not only do we place ashes on people who ask, we answer a lot of questions about what are you doing and why are you doing it.”

The church also has a special relationship with its neighbor to the north, Lycoming College. Not just through the music program but also with students coming to the church to help with the free meals to the community.

“We’ve been talking about having an outdoor Evensong this year, where we do it out on our yard, maybe on a First Friday and process through town, so that people can see, because the Episcopal church is a very small denomination so people don’t know what we’re about,” Chappell said.

“We want them to know that it’s not old fashioned and stuffy. It’s beautiful liturgy but it’s also vital, exciting conversations — people doing all kinds of ministry,” she added.

The church also operates a 24-hour food cupboard along the Mulberry Street side of the building. People can visit the cupboard and take what they need. Chappell said that the cupboard needs to be filled at least once a day because of the volume of use.

“It’s become a huge, huge ministry that people express so much appreciation for,” she said.

The cupboard is maintained by members of the congregation, but Chappell noted that people in the community have also donated to keep the cupboard supplied ­with food items.

“I think that will just continue to grow because, unfortunately, the need continues to grow,” Chappell said.

“It’s been very empowering to the wider community,” Murphy said. “People take ownership of that.”

He shared how, on Christmas Eve, the cupboard was filled with homemade baked goods to share.

“It was beautiful to see. It’s about empowering the community and being a community together,” he added.

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