Did you know Grace Church Van Vorst sponsored a candidate for the priesthood who many years later became one of the most beloved bishops of New York?
In 1949, Grace Church Van Vorst was only opened on Sundays and the few people who came were poor, white, mostly elderly and unable to leave the neighborhood when it became predominately African American. Into this pointedly segregated church enters Paul Moore, his wife Jenny with their baby and two friends from seminary. Paul Moore was from one of the wealthiest families in the country. Perhaps that’s why he was able to buy a television (which no one in downtown Jersey City had) and put it in the Parish Hall, inviting the whole neighborhood to come and watch. Paul Moore and his colleagues made the “All are Welcome” sign you see on so many Episcopal Churches actually true.
During his five years in Jersey City, Grace Church Van Vorst started an after school program that was so important to the children who attended it that I hear from alumni, now in their eighties, who say it changed the course of their lives. Among the “children” who came to Grace during Paul Moore’s ministry were our own Mary Aiken, Arlene Hampton and Doris Walker. Mary told me that as a young woman, whenever anyone needed food, shelter, a bus token or a place to stay, she told them “Go to Grace. They help everybody.”
After his priestly ordination at Grace Church Van Vorst Paul Moore became deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Later, when he was Bishop of New York, he fought for the ordination of women and gay people. Without his witness I would not be your priest. That’s why on Sunday mornings when I sit in the chair by the altar where he sat, elevate the silver chalice during the Eucharistic prayer that he lifted and listen to the stories from the Old and New Testaments that compelled him to the witness he made in this church and in the world, I think of Paul Moore and how the people of this church shaped his ministry.
While the call to ordained ministry is between God and a person, bishop’s and priest’s authority in the larger world comes from the communities who shape and send them.
Our Bishop, Mark Beckwith, will be the celebrant at both services this Sunday, January 22nd. Every time he plans for the future of our Diocese, speaks to the press as the Bishop of Newark or makes a public witness to the larger world, he does so in our name. So why not join Mark for worship to hear what he’s thinking and share the ways you hope we’ll bare witness as the church? He’s set aside time to listen to what you have to say at coffee hour so tell him, pray for and with him and let’s send Mark back out into the world to preach the Gospel, shaped in part by the witness of the people of 2nd in Erie Street.
After all, we’re good at shaping Bishops,
See you Sunday,