Finding and reclaiming our common purpose in Terre Haute
a Homily for a special evensong | Text: 1 Peter 2:1-9
[Last night St. Stephen’s gathered for evensong with our neighbors from St. George’s in West Terre Haute. It was a wonderful gathering of mutual celebration and commitment that marks a big anniversary for the Episcopal Church’s ongoing presence in Terre Haute for 175 years.]
What’s in a name?
When Rose and I were expecting our first child, we came up with the boy’s name pretty easily. We both liked the same one right away. A girl’s name was a bit more difficult. The name didn’t have to be perfect, but it had to make sense to us in several ways:
- It had to sound good. With the last name “Downs,” a first name needs a cadence or it’ll get swallowed up by the vortex of a last name. [Downs sucks everything in]
- It couldn’t have any bad associations. No ex-girlfriends, crazy neighbors, cousins, or serial killers.
- It had to mean something. Literally. No made up names or locations or anything. It had to have an etymology. And its meaning had to be worth something. It couldn’t just mean something lame. It had to be good.
For our kids, I think we nailed it.
But names mean something. Don’t we get funny about names? I think we do. But they are important because they inform who we are. My name, Andrew, means “strong” and personal strength has been a big part of my life.
Church names are no different, though many of the reasons for why we chose them have been lost to history.
What Rose and I were trying to do, like most of us have tried to do with children or pets or even stuffed animals is to describe existing meaning: who this person or animal (real or stuffed) really is.
It is, I think, a search for meaning and purpose.
Looking back, 175 years ago tomorrow, the first Episcopal clergyperson was called to Terre Haute to serve this community. Which is a pretty awesome thing.
The Rev. Charles Prindle came as a missionary of the new Diocese of Missouri and Indiana. That was a big diocese. And you think driving to Indy can be annoying!
Over the next six months, a group was gathered and formed as St. Stephen’s on April 15, 1840. Over the next century three mission churches would be founded: St. Paul’s and St. Luke’s in the 1880s and St. George’s in 1923. Like many church starts, St. Paul’s and St. Luke’s didn’t make it very long, folding shortly after the turn of the century. St. George’s, who I am so grateful we are partnering with tonight, is now a mission of our current diocese, covering central and southern Indiana.
We might take a quaint view of this shared history, as we are far from the frontier and our own experience of Terre Haute is that we are not suffering with too few churches.
We might also dig through our historical documents and discover that, of all that is recorded, from the building of our church buildings to a bishop being bitten by a dog, we possess many facts and experiences of our shared ministry to Terre Haute, but something deep may be missing.
What possessed Bishop Kemper and those first people who partnered with Charles Prindle to do this? To gather in a way, not unlike our gathering tonight, that is our Anglican heritage. In other words, like our pursuit of the perfect name, we are so called to pursue something else, aren’t we? Something with meaning and consequence.
We don’t always articulate this need very well. We let our traditions and perhaps worse, our clergy speak for us. We can’t easily find this need in our vestry minutes or written histories. We can’t easily find this need when our altar guilds are dealing with wrinkly linens and our musicians hear yet again how much we love that old time music. But if we look, we might find it peeking out.
We can find GOD in other churches. I think that’s probably safe to say about most of our neighbors. We can also find good pot lucks and programs and holy worship in other churches. And we love our bishop for sure, but there are other bishops. Why, then The Episcopal Church?
The reason they got together 175 years ago in the midst of new frontier is, I believe, the exact same reason we get together now. And why we here, are getting together tonight:
To love and serve GOD in a new frontier.
Our ancestors caught the Spirit! There was something that Jackson Kemper saw in this community and something that he said that drew people to do something pretty crazy: to start a church together. Even though Saints Stephen’s and George’s have 265 years of combined service to the community, we can see in this time a new frontier and a new mission. We can see new devotion and new ministry to and with Terre Haute.
For we are, as the author of 1 Peter reminds us, “God’s own people” and we are “chosen…that [we] may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” May we gather in this very light tonight, not only to remember our history, but ignite our future with renewed hope and perpetual gratitude.
And may GOD’s glory be spoken of constantly, not only in this place, or that place, but throughout our wider community.