God’s “with-ness” offering November 5, 2023
Jim and Connie Aurand
We begin this sharing by remembering a time many years ago, after growing and nurturing relationships and ministries at St. Charles, when our beloved rector of 20+ years retired, and we were in the search process to call a new rector. Upon that “call”, it became evident after several months that Jim and I would not be able to remain at our then beloved St. Charles Church. Little did we realize that there were many more pilgrims within the church who felt the same way, and we all ended up in the wilderness, “wandering in the desert”, without a church to call home. This was a time when Jim and I felt very alone—no regular Sunday service with people we loved. One Sunday during Advent we attended Grace Episcopal Church on Bainbridge Island. This church had been through a similar story and had split from St. Barnabas Episcopal on Bainbridge Island. At that time in their journey, they were meeting at Bainbridge’s local high school library. We arrived and were warmly welcomed by many who were regulars at Grace and very soon learned there had been many others from St. Charles who were also visiting as part of their respective journeys. We learned very quickly that we were not alone in our wanderings. It was when the Rev. Carol Ludden, Interim priest at Grace, as part of their Christmas pageant, called to the little children dressed as barn animals … “Come little lambs, come little sheep, come little calves and cows, and horses and see the child in the manger” … that we realized we were loved and were being guided by the Holy Spirit to continue Our journey in finding our church home.
After many letters to the Office of the Bishop (Diocese of Olympia), it was evident that the Bishop’s office wanted us to be absorbed into other parishes in the diocese. It was also clear to us that we wanted to remain together as a community, focusing on staying within the Kingston/North Kitsap area. So, we continue on our ‘journey in the desert’ with our tents that would be moved periodically over subsequent years searching for our home.
Because we were small, we looked at Faith as a form of a hospital where people could come and heal. Some went on to other churches—but for many, they were called to remain steadfast and faithful at Faith Church.
Initially we met at a parishioner’s home celebrating morning prayer, and eventually moved on to meeting in many different places in Kingston including a Fire sub-station, the Kingston VFW Hall, the Fire House Theatre, a Methodist Church in Kingston, and finally, after many years, being offered our current church property in Poulsbo. Our Faith Church had made a full circle, returning to the home where it all started. These many years in-between were filled with a mix of pain, healing, and service culminating with a good dosage of faith, hope and joy. The Holy Spirit was moving within and around us always.
After we left St. Charles and were initially “wandering in the desert” we were not allowed an Episcopal priest or even recognition from the Diocese. However, Mother Carol Ludden had entered our collective lives with the simple eloquent words that we, as Christians and leaders, were called to “feed the sheep” not “starve them”. The Diocese did not know what to do with us and we really did not come onto their radar until Carol agreed with the early unofficial Bishop Committee that we would send our estimated diocesan assessment check monthly to the Office of the Bishop. It was that step that got the Diocese’s attention.
When Mother Carol Ludden was called to another parish and left the area that we learned that there were retired priests that would come to worship with us and to offer Holy Eucharist. For a time, we shared in Eucharist once a month and on the other Sundays a member of the laity led morning prayer. Every Sunday we had to transform whatever space we were using in Kingston for worship, and then take it down and store the items for use the following week. It was hard work and many hands volunteered to make it happen each Sunday.
Each year Faith was able to stand on its own and had money left at the end of the year to save and invest in the Diocese Investment Fund. Some of those funds remain in the Fund to this day. Because we had low overhead costs, funds were available for outreach and service to others, which was a big part of the early Faith community, as it is today. In the early years Faith awarded three scholarships to graduating Seniors from North Kitsap and Kingston High Schools. A member of Faith who was a retired teacher would present those scholarships to the recipients. We also prepared and donated homemade soups to the Kitsap Health Department for the patients suffering with AIDS and participated in the annual walk for Aids support. Faith was also contributing to the local foodbank, and we supported a monthly community meal along with the VFW members and later with the parishioners at Bayside Church in Kingston. Faith received financial assistance to purchase a dishwasher for the kitchen at the VFW hall from Grace Church Bainbridge. There were many opportunities for Faith members to celebrate and to serve in the community. The Spirit moved among us to help us with our Eucharist services when the VFW moved an oversized pool table into the space we used as a sanctuary on Sundays. The space was small, and the fire department had deemed to authorize only 45 people or less in the room at one time. That pool table became our altar, the largest altar in the diocese, I am sure. When later we were accepted as part of the Diocese of Olympia at our first convention, we presented a skit using the rack and the nine colored and numbered pool balls for a visual symbol of our creativity, with the belief that God had always been with us and continues to be with us. There was never a question of whether the Holy Spirit walked with Faith along our journey to find a home.
Every year on the Fourth of July, Faith had to vacate the VFW Hall. We used this time to take our faithful membership on the “road” to visit other Episcopal Churches. Sometimes on one of those weekends we couldn’t use the VFW Hall in Kingston we’d meet in a local park, known as “Tiny Tony”, and we’d offer the “blessing of the animals” on that Sunday. We felt led to convene with our greater community even when we did not have the physical space to gather. One of our gifted elder parishioners had sewn stoles to be worn by visiting priest for these “Blessing of the Animals” celebrations. There were potlucks and Octoberfest celebration put on by one of our long-time parishioner couples. There were times to celebrate our temporary and long-term clergy with a special get togethers, complete with decorations and of course lots of food.
We used large tree branches to form arches in the space at the VFW Hall for seasonal church decorations. We’d green the church in the afternoon in time for Christmas Eve worship. Two of our favorite Christmas Eve service gatherings were held at one of our member’s barn, an unheated barn that was filled with the farm’s animals including horses, sheep, and geese. Luminarias lined the pathway for people to walk up to the barn for worship. Bales of hay were used as an altar and some seating. We utilized our folding chairs and lanterns as well. Music was provided by two of our youngsters (one being our own daughter, Amanda) on portable keyboard and flute. The public was invited to “Come to the stable” for Christmas Eve services.
Other examples of Faith outreach included a Coins for Christ gathered during Advent and a presentation of those coins made at the creche on Christmas Eve. We would have in-gathering school supplies for Fishline Food Bank’s distribution to children in North Kitsap; in-gathering of Christmas gifts for residents at Martha and Mary Health and Rehab Center; and an in-gathering of about 400 small stuffed animals for a Bainbridge Island physician to take with him on his ministry abroad. Two of us on a monthly basis wrote cards to other Episcopal Churches in the Diocese letting them know their church family was being prayed for by their sisters and brothers at Faith. We would pray for them as part of our Prayers of the People. We later started an in-gathering of cans of soup on Super Bowl Sunday.
Faith’s existence does not have a destination or end. It is a journey. We have had to say goodbye to many friends and loved ones who we have loved. Yet, we have continued to be called to love others and have found ways to welcome new members and visitors serving God in the name of Jesus Christ.
Our hope as elders is to continue to be faithful, open to possibilities and work mightily towards funding a full-time priest, expanding Godly Play to all grade levels, enhancing our music in varied ways and presentation, and encouraging and growing participation in the varied ministries of the church where growth is nurtured and celebrated. May we open our hearts and arms and minds a little more so that All are made welcomed! God is with us always!
And we offer a resounding Amen!