A New Chaplain for St. Francis House!

The Rt. Rev. Steven Miller, Bishop of the Diocese of Milwaukee, and the Board of St. Francis House are pleased to announce that The Rev. Jonathan Melton has accepted the call to be Chaplain of St. Francis House Episcopal Student Center on the UW-Madison campus. In late July he and his wife and their two young children will be moving to Madison from Texas.

Jonathan has been rector of St. Christopher’s by the Sea, Portland, Texas, since October, 2009. He previously served as Assistant at St. Helena’s Episcopal Church, Boerne, also in the Diocese of West Texas. Jonathan is a graduate of Wheaton College, BA (2003) and of the Duke University Divinity School, M. Div. (2007). He was ordained to the priesthood on September 18, 2007. Jonathan’s interests include his family, hiking, reading, knitting, and blogging.

From Jonathan’s blog, Chasing Yoder: “I am very excited for the opportunity to work on a daily basis with university students at a uniquely formative time in their lives; I believe college ministry holds tremendous potential for the development of young, missional leaders committed to following the cross-shaped way of Jesus. My move to St Francis House comes in response to nudges of the Spirit toward campus ministry that Rebekah and I have been sensing in various ways for going on six years now. It’s an exciting, unknown step for us.”

The St. Francis House Board and staff are excited about working with Jonathan.  Weekly St. Francis House services will resume at Grace Church at 5 pm on Sunday, August 26. The meet-the-new-chaplain semester kickoff will be on Sunday, September 9. We can hardly wait!

I would like to say that I am looking forward to working closely with Jonathan in the coming year. Grace is hosting St. Francis House during the development of the property on University Ave. We already have been enriched by the presence of the students and are excited to welcome a new chaplain!

More on “Leaving Church:” the “nones,” young adults and the future of Christianity

Skye Jethani weighs in, building on Berger’s essay.

So, we are left with a narrow path. Veer too far to the cultural right and the young will dismiss the church as a puppet of Republican politics. Veer too far to the theological left and the power of the Gospel is lost amid cultural accommodation.

The younger generations, and our culture as a whole, needs evidence of a third way to be Christian. It will require more than individual voices, but an organized and identifiable community of believers that reject Christianism and stands for Christ’s Good News, manifested in good lives, and evident in good works.

So does Jonathan Fitzgerald:

Now, after spending much of my adulthood trying to find a place to belong, I’ve turned into the opposite of a None — I’ve become a proud Joiner. Since college, my own search has found me desperate to join. I have considered Roman Catholic confirmation, Presbyterian church membership and, most recently, Episcopalian identification. To that end, I have been attending confirmation classes at my local Episcopal parish since last month.

As I look around at my fellow Joiners, I see that it is specifically those who have lived the life of the unaffiliated who have decided, Sunday after Sunday, for several hours following Mass, to gather and discuss the rhythm of the liturgical calendar, the purpose of baptism, the history of the church and the beauty of the Book of Common Prayer. I’m not sure whether I’ll be confirmed when the class ends in eight weeks, but there is certainly something attractive about the prospect.

It would be foolish to think God requires affiliation as a means of access. We humans however tend to corral into formal groupings, whether it’s organized religion or political parties. In the absence of tried-and-true tradition, we begin to create our own. My guess is that, as the numbers of Nones continue to increase, they will begin to develop traditions, create rules and define their orthodoxy until, ultimately, something like a new denomination will arise. Perhaps in 2022 someone will declare “The Rise of the Joiners” as one of the life-changing ideas of the moment.

He wasn’t really ever a none. He was a Christian, grew up a Christian, but outside of Christian community.

Yesterday was one of those days of grace at Grace, surrounded by the ministry and faith of young (and older) adults. A fine sermon by Lauren Cochran (young adult herself); a presentation on our companion diocese relationship with the Diocese of Newala, in Tanzania.

The first session of a spontaneous confirmation class which bears out some of the discussion I’ve been linking to here. Four of the five who attended are young adults who have come from more conservative religious backgrounds; the fifth an older adult who was baptized and confirmed Roman Catholic. During our conversation, I pointed out that these demographics were pretty typical for Episcopal gatherings in that a majority (in our case all, including the two clergy in attendance) were not “cradle” Episcopalian.

Later in the day, I celebrated the Eucharist and shared dinner with the Episcopal Campus Ministry. We had planned on getting home by 7, but lively conversation and fellowship kept us lingering until almost 8. As we chatted, I noted to myself the rather different dynamics: of the six or eight who stayed till the end to help with cleanup, it was half and half–half had grown up Episcopalian, the other half not. The importance of that community to those who were there was palpable. Gathered together around the altar, gathered together to share a meal and working together to clean up; all the while talking to one another, asking questions about matters Episcopalian and theological, and checking in on how each other was doing.

That’s the work of Christian community, important work, and evangelistic work, as among those in attendance were people who had been coming every week, and some who had come for the first time; experiencing hospitality, welcome, and the love of Christ. When we do that, and do it well, we don’t have to worry about the future–and our work this semester is building a solid foundation for the chaplain we will call to that ministry.

Quick update on the Porchlight fire

We’re still working to put everything in place; but it looks like things are coming together. According to last reports, four women were supposed to spend last night at St. Francis House; eight more will move in today.

For info on how to donate to help these women who lost everything in the fire, go to http://www.porchlightinc.org

Thanks again to Steve Silverberg and LZ Ventures, Jim Stopple of Madison Property Management, and St. Francis Administrator Beth Wroblewski who have been working hard to make this happen

Update on the Porchlight fire and the response from St. Francis House

Here’s today’s article from the Wisconsin State Journal.

Here’s the letter my colleague Andy Jones wrote to Madison’s Common Council yesterday.

In fact, it looks like we will be welcoming the Porchlight residents tomorrow. Porchlight, Madison Property Management, and our staff scrambled today to get the space ready and deal with security issues. The WSJ has info on how to donate money and items to those in need.

Whew! Another day in the life of a (well, two) priests

I woke up this morning looking forward to a leisure-filled day. I don’t have to prepare a sermon for tomorrow so I thought I might work on a couple of projects around the house, do some reading, and maybe watch some football or a movie.

Then I read about the fire at Porchlight’s facility on Brooks St. last night. I thought about calling Steve Schooler to see if there was anything I could do, but I figured he would be inundated with phone calls of all sorts and having to deal with the crisis. I thought of the woman who I had just written a check for downpayment for an apartment in one of Porchlight’s facilities, and wondered if she was affected. I thought about St. Francis House, the immediate neighbor to the north of the Brooks St. building and whether we could do anything. Then my attention turned elsewhere.

Around 11:00, I got a call from my colleague, Andy Jones. He had just received a call from Steve Silverberg of LZ Ventures who were scheduled to take over St. Francis House for the redevelopment project that I’ve mentioned before on this blog. They volunteered to delay the handover so that Porchlight could use St. Francis House to house residents displaced by the fire. Bishop Miller approved the offer, and the board was polled via email.

Meanwhile, I was deputized to contact Porchlight because of my working relationship with them. I phoned Steve Schooler and drove over to St. Francis to show them the building. We discussed logistics and what not. They have found space for six of the residents in Porchlight facilities, but ten were still homeless. All sixteen have lost all of their possessions. We’ve been working on vacating St. Francis House for the redevelopment and the move, so much of the lower level of the building is in a mess, to put it mildly. I also made a call to the pastor of Luther Memorial Church, another neighbor of ours, to let us know what we had in mind.

I went home, began planning those projects, and drove off to Home Depot to buy some things I needed. In the parking lot, I got another call from Andy, letting me know that Madison Property Management has volunteered to help in any way with getting the space ready for occupancy, including staff to clean, and furniture.

Now that’s ministry. I don’t get those projects done today, however.

The latest on St. Francis House

It has been a month since the Common Council approved the development proposal for the St. Francis House property at 1001 University Ave. The deadline for appealing the council’s decision ran out today.

After taking a little time to catch our breath (and for me to catch up on my sleep—I doubt I had been up that late two consecutive nights since my 20s) the developers have begun moving quickly to begin demolition and site preparation. They hope to begin work on January 1. What that means for the Board of St. Francis House and campus ministry at the University of Wisconsin is that we have a lot of work to do, from vacating the premises to planning for ministry during the year and half of construction.

The students who had contracted to live in the house during the 2011-2012 academic year were provided alternative accommodations in a rental property, but there are offices and furnishings to move, among many other things. The board also had to consider what the ministry would look like during the interim.  At our meeting in early October, we decided to move forward in seeking to hire a full-time chaplain who would begin work at the first of the year and would shepherd the community and the development through this period. Having a chaplain on staff now will also provide an opportunity for careful thought and planning about the future of the ministry.

After consultation with the wardens and vestry, Grace Church will offer space to the part-time administrative assistant and the full-time chaplain beginning in the New Year. We currently have a vacant office in the office suite and other under-utilized space that could be adapted for the administrator. This is an exciting opportunity for us to build relationships with the Episcopal Campus Ministry and to explore ways in which we might reach out more effectively to the students who live in our immediate neighborhood, many of whom attend our services. While the precise shape of the St. Francis House ministry at Grace will await the arrival of a new chaplain, it is likely that it will look very much like it does now: a weekly Sunday evening service with a meal of some sort, and other offerings during the week, the latter probably on campus.

These plans are tentative and may undergo considerable change in the coming months as a new chaplain shapes the ministry in keeping with his/her vision of the future. I hope you will join me in welcoming St. Francis House to Grace in the New Year and participate in the conversations about the future of its ministry and our cooperative efforts to reach out to students and young adults in Madison.

Meanwhile, other development proposals in Madison continue to be controversial. The Edgewater returned to the news this week with a lengthy article exploring the process leading up to that development’s approval.

St. Francis House Development approved

At about 1:15 this morning, Madison’s Common Council approved by a vote of 15-4 the redevelopment proposal for the St. Francis House property. It has been a long process, with a lot of passion and energy on both sides.

Later today, the really hard work will begin of rebuilding relationships with those who opposed the project and working with them to ensure that in the process of construction and after the buildings are completed, the concerns of our neighbors are heard, and problems addressed.

This was a completely new experience for me. I had never witnessed democracy in action on quite this level. I had never participated so directly in hearings and debates, nor watched, for a total of over 14 hours, city committees and the city council at work. I don’t know how they do it. Before coming to our items on the agenda, they had to deal with issues related to employees and firefighters’ benefits. Councillors had to put up with dozens of emails from us, countless conversations. They told of spending a day exploring every nook and cranny of Luther Memorial, or checking to see what the moped situation was like outside of Grand Central. They were thoughtful, open, and are dedicated both to the concerns of their constituents and to the city as a whole. With the budget crisis facing them, they were able to laugh with each other, and with us, as well. There was incredible tension in the room at times, and there were also moments of levity. I hope not to have to go through something like this again in the near future, or ever, for that matter, but it was exciting and educational.

I think I’ll go to bed after I finish this beer.

St. Francis Update

The Plan Commission meeting began at 6:00 pm; they got to our agenda item around 9:00, but we needed to be there by 6:00 if we wanted to register to speak. At 11:30 or so, it was over. The Plan Commission approved the redesign of the project by a 4-3 vote. Now we have another meeting. Tomorrow night, it’s the Common Council.

And I thought faculty meetings or diocesan convention were interminable; this evening’s meeting made both of those experiences seem action-packed and entertaining.

Previous entries on St. Francis House are here and here.