John Talty, President of Episcopal Charities’ Board of Directors, tells a story about how our commitment to caring changed one boy’s life. This article was originally published in the Episcopal New Yorker Summer 2014 Issue, “Ministry and Vocations.”
My wife Adèle and I had our four children baptized in the Episcopal Church because we wanted them to become members of a family where somebody will always be looking out for them. From the time they were babies, our kids knew God’s care through the ministry of their Christian family. And watching that happen, I felt so strongly that every human being deserves to grow up and grow old in the embrace of a caring community. The promises made in baptism speak to that. Baptism marks us not only as humans who deserve care, but as ministers who are responsible to extend compassionate care to others.
Nowhere is such care more evident than in the lay-led outreach ministries of our parishes. As the president of Episcopal Charities, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many of the 99 parish-based outreach programs we support. In every corner of our diocese, I’ve been privileged to witness profound acts of caring, and the glow of human connection. Lives change when we live up to our baptismal commitment to one another, our promise to love our neighbors as ourselves. One very recent story comes particularly to mind:
Jey is a third grader who has been a student at the Washington Heights Choir School (WHCS), a free afterschool music enrichment program offered at Holyrood Church in Upper Manhattan. Born to a homeless, crack-addicted mother, he’s been raised by his grandmother. She has worked hard to give him a good life. Incidentally, she’s been helped in this not only by WHCS at Holyrood, but by emergency feeding programs like the food pantry at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Midtown Manhattan, where she regularly selects nutritious food for herself and her boy.
Soon after Jey first enrolled at WHCS, his tutors noticed that he was struggling with homework. Investigation by program director Loraine Enlow revealed that his teacher’s concerned letters home were going unread, because Jey’s grandmother is functionally illiterate. WHCS volunteers worked with Jey’s school to have him transferred to a new classroom where he’d be better supported, and doubled up on his homework help sessions. With a little extra encouragement, he was an eager student.
Jey’s big opportunity came when the prestigious St. Thomas Choir School at St. Thomas’ Church, Fifth Avenue offered WHCS students an opportunity to audition. But Jey had been spending so much time catching up on basic homework that his musical training had lagged behind. So Loraine and a few volunteers asked Jey if he’d be willing to do some extra vocal rehearsal sessions every week. He agreed, and in the time leading up to the audition, Jey and his teachers stayed late and came in on extra days to prepare. Their hard work paid off. This fall, Jey will enroll in the St. Thomas’ Choir School with a full tuition scholarship, and the school has arranged to cover the cost of his housing, food and clothing. Jey’s grandmother couldn’t be more proud.
Sometimes as a layperson in the Episcopal Church, I can forget – or be a bit abashed – to call my volunteer work ministry. But a story like this reminds me that the responsibilities and privileges of ministry aren’t confined to ordained clergy. I’m awed by the network of ministers who made Jey’s big opportunity possible – and change lives in ways big and small every day. In our ministry we truly depend on each other, coming together to act as the Body of Christ. This is what Episcopal Charities is all about, for me. Jey’s story is possible because of not one, but a community of uniquely gifted parishes and individuals. To change a life, it takes a food pantry in Midtown that helps a grandmother feed her family, a music program that honors her grandson’s gifts, and a world-class music school providing scholarships that open doors. Jey’s community is expansive. It includes the staff and volunteers of these extraordinary programs and the staff and leadership of Episcopal Charities, which provides funding and expert support to these programs. It includes everyone in this Diocese and beyond who supports WHCS, and programs like it, through Episcopal Charities. All of us are ministers; all of are honoring our baptismal vows and our commitment to our fellow human beings. A community of caring helped Jey on the path to realizing his full potential as a child of God. This is what I want for every child and adult in our Diocese, just as I wanted it for my children.