By Sarah Frances Ives
Special to VIRTUEONLINE
While many church leaders wonder how to attract younger members to the Anglican Communion, a vibrant parish in Washington D.C., called St. Brendan’s in the City fills its pews with many in their 20s and 30s. These young adults serve on the vestry, care for the education program, and pray about the future of the Christian faith. St. Brendan’s in the City offers a distinctive ministry close to the Capitol Building in Washington DC and could become a model for future parishes in the Anglican Communion.
What do worshippers find at St. Brendan’s? The parish uses a Capitol Hill sanctuary and worships in the evening at 5 PM. As the sun sets, worshippers of all ages, races, and cultures ascend into the dignified brick edifice to pray the ancient Anglican liturgy with heart-felt conviction. Joyful singing welcomes both the frequent visitors and long-time parishioners at the beginning of the worship service. Engaging sermons and heart-felt prayers fill the hour. The service offers a tender and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ in varied and happy ways. This parish offers the sweet flavor that the Anglican Communion rests in the hands of Christ and all is well.
The young priest, Richard Treacy, occasionally talks of his native Ireland. He humorously describes sitting in evening prayer services in drafty and chilly churches, while sensing the presence of Christ. He offers wise and courageous sermons as he interprets scriptures so he may shed the light of the gospel on the experiences of his vital congregation. He says, “We live our lives with the pursuit of faith in the center of them.” Treacy’s sermons persuasively guide the congregants into new and profound understandings. One Sunday evening, Richard preaches, “When we focus on Christ, we have our identity in him reaffirmed. We are nourished and sent weekly into the world to bring risen life, hope, and light to people.”
St. Brendan’s openly extends its arms to the city surging around it. This church, under the pastoral care of Bishop John Guernsey and a member of ACNA, has succeeded in an area where in recent years an Episcopal Church, St Monica’s, closed and sold its buildings.
Signs of authentic Christian relationships abound at St. Brendan’s. During the giving of the Eucharist, prayer teams reverently wait in the back of the sanctuary for any who wish individual prayers for specific needs. At one evening service, the prayer leaders pray openly for an extraordinarily sick parishioner. “Lord, he is suffering after this operation for a brain tumor. Heal him and surround him with your presence in his hospital bed.” And faithfully the congregation awaits Christ’s intervention to heal.
St. Brendan’s also actively assists at a well known nonprofit in Washington DC, Central Union Mission. On one Sunday Richard introduced a man from the mission who told of his spiritual regeneration after years of drug addition and incarceration. At St. Brendan’s he speaks with sparkle about his new hope of starting a bakery business making muffins.
While spiritual needs receive intense care, the financial needs of the congregation are handled lightly. During a singing of a hymn, if a worshipper wishes to offer a financial contribution, he or she walks forward and quietly places something in a waiting basket. Yet on a recent Sunday, a vestry member quietly stood up and thanked everyone again. “We have met our budget this year,” she peacefully stated.
The congregation draws mainly from 20 and 30 year olds who flood into this parish seeking a deeper and more satisfying communion with Christ. They come alone, in couples, or in family groups. Their conversations deal with careers and ministry and meaning. Some go into international ministry.
Celebrations and meals abound. Richard’s wife, Lisa Treacy, announces a Christmas meal and visitors flood into the reception area. During Epiphany, after a time of Godly Play, kids run back into the congregation, excitedly telling parents of the Three Kings Cake waiting them. Along with many young adults, families also bring their children for the education. Crowds of small children happily worship until the prayer for Godly Play calls them upstairs. The diversity among the children testify to the international concerns of this congregation. Almost half of the children attending St. Brendan’s arrive from domestic and international adoptions. At the passing of the peace, families blended together from different races hug and offer a taste of the Kingdom of heaven where all races and tribes will be joined together throughout eternity. Christ’s mercy is omnipresent at St. Brendan’s.
And all of this happens in Washington DC, a city known for conflicts and divisions. On one Sunday when I visited, Richard preaches, “St. Brendan’s is grounded in the city. We pray that we feel the need and pain and see the opportunities in this city. ”
The peacefully diverse flavor of St. Brendan’s gives to us a sweet taste of what is possible in the future Anglican Communion: a worship full of the reception of the Holy Spirit; a sermon helping us take our experiences and offer them to Christ to receive back a new infusion of wisdom; and a community that nurtures the faith for new generations.
St. Brendan’s in the City kindly and effectively offers a new model of what an Anglican parish could be like in future generations. This church practices genuine reconciliation, a quality not often present in our lives. The person next to me is indeed my brother and my sister in Christ, though our lives may differ substantially one from another.
The peace within this church community not based on similar political beliefs or way of life. Looking around, worshippers see people different yet dwelling peacefully together. Father Richard preaches, “We are all profoundly different but we need each other.” He continues, “Our congregation includes apostles, prophets, those with gifts of healing, and those who have seen miracles.” Following this, brief moment of quiet reigns. He pronounces softly, “Christ is for you all.” Some heads nodded in agreement, while others close their eyes in interior prayers. Truth accompanies his words.
What is this charism of this parish? St. Brendan’s in the City offers the consoling oil of dwelling in the kindness of Christ who has adopted us as his children; of believing that Christ yearns for a closer companionship with us; of accepting that the rigors and challenges of life are met with faith and power; of believing that Christ asks us to respond to human need of any kind; of standing openly in Christ’s presence and asking him to heal us and to bring spiritual gifts; and of accepting the flames of fire offered on the day of Pentecost. As this parish reconciles races and cultures and theologies, people dwell together under the guiding presence of Christ.
Come visit St. Brendan’s in the City when in Washington DC and experience the powerful presence of the living Christ. And while you are there, taste and see the future possibilities in our own beloved Anglican Communion.
For more information, visit StBrendansDC.org
Sarah Frances Ives is a freelance Anglican writer and author. She holds a Ph.D. in Church History