Challenge for Churches

Challenge for ChurchesWhy This Series?

The number of people who attend or associate with Christian denominations has been falling steadily in the U.S. for decades. As a result, many churches have closed or merged or are struggling financially, including in the Highlands. The pandemic shutdown did not help, although churches quickly adapted by broadcasting services online.

Repeated social surveys have found that, as the churchgoing population ages, younger generations are not replacing them in the pews. A growing segment of the population has been labeled “nones” — they are not atheists or even agnostics. They just don’t have religion in their lives. Sundays are the second day of the weekend.

This series will examine how this trend is affecting churches in Philipstown and Beacon, and how their leaders are attempting to grow their flocks. When Beacon, Cold Spring, Nelsonville and Garrison were founded, community life centered on the churches. What changed? What should change? What must change? If it survives, what will the church of the future look like?

Your thoughts and reactions are welcome. Email me at [email protected] or post a comment below.

Chip Rowe, Editor

The Rev. Amanda Eiman was not looking for a new church. She was firmly ensconced as an associate rector at St. David’s Episcopal Church in an affluent suburb of Philadelphia. In a time at which many churches are losing parishioners and funds, this one boasted a large, steady congregation with several other priests and paid staff members. Her husband, the Rev. Chris Bishop, was serving as a rector at another Episcopal church nearby. And she was four-and-a-half months pregnant with twins.

So there was no logical reason to consider it when one of her fellow priests mentioned that a friend of his attended a church 150 miles away, in the hamlet of Garrison, New York, that was on the lookout for a successor to its pastor, who had retired. Was she interested in applying?

She was not. “I said, ‘No way, we’re not moving anywhere,’ ” she recalled.

And yet: She felt an urge to learn more, an urge she now views as “God’s nudge.”

The Garrison church had a lot going for it. Founded in 1771, it was almost burned down during the Revolutionary War by colonials who considered it excessively loyal to the king of England. As the story goes, when the mob approached the building, they were turned away by Gen. George Washington himself, who admonished the crowd by yelling, “That, sir, is my church!”

Amanda Eiman
The Rev. Amanda Eiman of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church offered “ashes to go” at the Garrison train station on Ash Wednesday (March 2). (Photo by Daniel Bentley)

In the past 60 years the church had only had two pastors, a sign of stability spanning generations. And the congregation was growing, with families with young children flocking there even though it was in a transitional phase.

“That’s not usually the case,” she said. “When a priest who’s been at a church for a long time leaves, usually it’s a time of sadness, of trying to regroup.”

Eiman told herself she wasn’t going to leave St. David’s unless she ended up somewhere where, as she put it, “God was doing something special.” As she visited and spoke to members, she felt that was the case. What’s more, she felt that God wanted her to be there, as well.

And so, in January 2020, Eiman became the 28th pastor — and the first female one — in the 251-year history of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church.

The global pandemic shutdown was two months away.

God may be doing something special at St. Philip’s, but Eiman found that many of the reasons that it was attracting new congregants were quite down-to-earth. Like her previous church, St. Philip’s has an ample staff who could take care of basic necessities like updating the website, answering the phone and greeting any unfamiliar worshippers who walked in on a Sunday morning.

Why Do You Go“Sometimes drawing people in or growing your church isn’t rocket science,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard stories like: ‘Well, I tried to go to this church, so I left a voicemail on their parish administrator’s voicemail, and I never heard back.’ Or: ‘I couldn’t find their worship times on their website,’ or ‘I went to the church, and nobody said hello to me.’ How awful is that?”

When the pandemic struck, St. Philip’s secured video cameras and personnel to livestream empty-chapel services. Even after in-person services resumed, it continued livestreaming and added video messages in its weekly email newsletters. It found that the livestreams and videos were a way for those who had moved away to feel connected to the parish, for homebound members to take part, and as an introduction for the curious, some of whom later took a seat in the pews.

Eiman said there’s a dispiriting Catch-22 at the heart of this. In order for a church to increase its congregants and revenues, it first has to have enough congregants and revenue. Churches that could afford, in equipment and labor, to smoothly livestream services during the pandemic were able to entice new members. Those that couldn’t, didn’t. Big churches get bigger, and small churches disappear.

On one hand, everything is working at St. Philip’s. In the past two years, Eiman estimates that the church has attracted about 50 new people.

But the numbers are about the same as they were when she arrived once you factor in the people who, since she began, have left.

A church in the wild

Many churches in the Highlands struggle with filling pews, raising money, patching walls, figuring out the spiritual and logistical needs of their congregation, and discovering the role of religion during a time of polarization and pandemics. If fewer Americans are defining themselves as Christians — or religious at all — what does that mean for the church in general?

When we conceived this series before the pandemic, the working titles were Are Churches Dying? or The Church in Crisis. But in the process of reporting, it became clear that neither title was accurate. Churches do close. Congregations disperse. But on the whole, many churches are dealing with their challenges by changing what it means to be part of a church.

Last week we looked at the struggles of the Reformed Church in Beacon, which closed last year because of a lack of congregants, and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Cold Spring, which nearly closed. This week we examine two cases in which Highlands residents are deciding how much religion they want in their religion.

When Friedrike Merck first came to Garrison six years ago, her friend Anne Osborn invited her to sing in the St. Philip’s choir. There was one problem.

“I said to her, ‘Annie, I’m a Buddhist agnostic,’ ” she recalled. “Annie said, ‘Oh, we don’t care. Many of us are any number of things. We are here in fellowship, and we’re here to be together.’ That’s who welcomed me. And I’ve never been so welcomed in a community in my life.”

Things changed when the new rector arrived. Merck said that for her and the majority of the choir at St. Philip’s, it didn’t feel like home anymore.

In a way, Eiman isn’t surprised. The St. Philip’s congregation was growing, but it was still a traumatic time with the previous, beloved rector retiring after 30 years and then the pandemic closing off in-person services for six months.

“There was a lot of trauma there, especially when you then throw in this new person who is basically unlike the old pastor in every way, shape and form,” Eiman said. “But how I really differed from the former rector is that I talk about Jesus and I talk about the Trinity and my sermons are very scripturally based.”

Christians in New York

Eiman didn’t feel that by reintroducing Jesus and scripture into the worship services that she wasn’t being inclusive.

“I believe that Christianity and Christian communities are very inclusive and very loving,” she said. “Jesus was one of the most inclusive beings who has ever lived.”

But a portion of the congregation felt that the services were becoming too doctrinal. Tensions grew, and in late 2020, the longtime music director resigned and nearly the entire choir, including Merck, left with him.

Merck said that the people who left wanted to stay together, and that they wanted to continue singing together. It was, in singing together, that they felt a connection to the divine.

“Sacred music isn’t just a bunch of people getting together, strumming a guitar and feeling groovy,” she said. “Sacred music is an extraordinary thing. One of the reasons Bach is one of the greatest composers who ever lived is because his compositions, which were mostly sacred music, really reflect the complexity of the heavens, and the beauty of the heavens. And when people sing beautiful music, it’s connected to something bigger than us.”

Friedrike Merck
Friedrike Merck, president of the Highlands Choral Society, which rents the former South Highland United Methodist Church in Garrison (Photo by Ross Corsair)

With the recent merging of two Methodist congregations in Philipstown — United Methodist in Cold Spring and South Highland United Methodist in Garrison — the latter church was not being used. Redubbed The Highlands Chapel, it is now filled every Sunday with the Highlands Choral Society, a group that is mostly made up of St. Philip’s former music director and its former choir.

Merck serves as president. “What we have is an opportunity, and a safe place for people of various faiths and philosophies to come together, in fellowship, in song, in prayer and in meditation,” she said.

The services may have a basic Christian structure, but there is no priest. Readings from the Bible are sometimes given, but so are the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

Church Membership“It’s about how people can come together to do good, to worship, to have a spiritual life without demanding that they either be baptized, or that they believe in certain things or not,” Merck said.

Merck thinks that the Highlands Choral Society’s members are indicative of a religious — or non-religious — trend. Many people, she thinks, want a more spiritual life but are turned off by organized religion. She points to Harvard University, where the chaplains at the Ivy League school unanimously elected Greg Epstein, an atheist and author of Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, to serve as the president of their society.

“I’m sick of ‘othering,’ ” said Merck. “Instead, we are about gathering.”

While the split may have been painful, both sides claim to be turning the other cheek. “We consider St. Philip’s and the Highlands Choral Society to be mutually respectful entities,” said Merck. “But we’re freestanding from each other. We just have different paths.”

Eiman said that since many of the people who left the church don’t consider themselves to be Christian, it’s understandable that they would seek a different experience. “I know that they just want to gather and sing and do something a little bit different,” she said. “God bless you if that’s what you want to do. But that’s not really Episcopalian, and we’re an Episcopal church.”

She cautions against organized churches who might follow a similar path. Many churches, she said, in the 1990s downplayed Jesus and the Scriptures in a bid to bring more people to the pews. It worked at first, she said, but then attendance began to decline. People who had come to the church for a spiritual experience weren’t getting it. For them, there was no difference between church and any other gathering of people.

This is one of the main questions Eiman said church leaders are asking themselves: What is their Christian mission?

“If you lose your mission, you just become a social club,” she said.

A forgotten language

Mary Ann Kronk, who lives in Cold Spring, is a lifelong Catholic who has felt her own challenges in determining what she wants from worship — and found herself going in a different direction, to a far more ritualized, traditional service that the Catholic church has mostly abandoned.

She had grown up being taught that you don’t shop around. If you thought the priest was not such a great speaker, or that his homilies were uninspiring, you still came every Sunday.

“You’re not there for the priest, you’re there for the Mass,” she said. “And the Mass is the Mass.”

But three years ago, Kronk found that, for her, the Mass was not just the Mass. She was invited to hear a Mass in High Latin at a Catholic church just outside the Highlands.

The 1960s were a period of radical change in the Catholic church. After hundreds of years of the Mass being in Latin, the Vatican declared that parishes should now use local, vernacular languages. As a result, the majority of U.S. churches began celebrating the Mass in English.

Further reforms quickly followed, including simplifying the rituals and turning the priest to face the congregation, as opposed to standing with his back to the pews.

Many Catholics welcomed these changes, feeling that they made the Mass more inclusive. But some felt that Mass became less spiritual, and that the aesthetics were altered in a way that made it less effective as a religious experience.

What We BelieveToday, High Latin Masses are unusual because few Catholic priests know Latin. The pontifical universities in Rome largely stopped teaching it more than 50 years ago.

So it was mostly historical curiosity that drove Kronk to forgo Our Lady of Loretto in Cold Spring for a week to check out the High Latin mass. The priest that would be presiding promised Kronk that it would change her life. “Oh Father, you are being so dramatic,” she said.

But he was right. “If you just go to regular Mass, you can sit through it for 45 minutes, and you don’t even have to think about it very much,” she said. “You’ve done your duty and you’re gone. But in the Latin Mass, you’re more committed because there’s a lot of silence. You have to engage or it’s not going to do anything for you.”

The experience was so powerful that when she walked out of the church, she found herself angry. “I thought, ‘Why did they take this away from us?’ This was the missing piece of the puzzle. This is what I’d been looking for.”

She told the priest how she felt, and he offered an explanation. Traditionally, Mass is a “vertical experience,” with prayers from the priest and the congregation going up to God, and “God coming down into our hearts.” But over time, the Catholic liturgy had become a “horizontal experience” from the priest to the congregation. At the Latin Mass, Kronk didn’t feel like a spectator; she was praying with the priest, both of them speaking to God.

She is not doctrinal. But she said she now understands why some people who return to the church in times of crisis, thinking it will help, come away empty. She understands why they feel that the experience was silly, awkward or ineffective.

“We’ve lost our ability to pray,” she said. “We haven’t grown up watching our parents deep in prayer, our grandparents deep in prayer. So it’s very foreign to us.”

Her advice to those who feel adrift is to find someone who will teach you how to pray. But, she also thinks that prayer doesn’t have to look the way it does in a traditional church.

Even yoga, or meditation, can be form of prayer, she said, because they are a means of focusing our attention, of addressing someone or something outside of the realm of our daily existence, a way of touching something eternal. “As long as you’re doing something like that, you can find peace,” she said. “And everybody wants peace.”

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4

Behind The Story

Type: Investigative / Enterprise

Investigative / Enterprise: In-depth examination of a single subject requiring extensive research and resources.


An earlier version of this story misspelled the surname of Anne Osborn.

The Skidmore College graduate has reported for The Current since 2014 and writes the "Out There" column. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Areas of Expertise: Environment, outdoors

14 replies on “The Challenge for Churches”

  1. As a parishioner for some 15 years at St Philip’s Church in the Highlands, I noticed that The Current’s recent coverage of St Philip’s has not included the voice of anyone who chose to stay at the church when the new rector arrived.

    Speaking for myself, this statement by the leader of the Choral Society does not ring true with what I’ve observed: “We consider St. Philip’s and the Highlands Choral Society to be mutually respectful entities,” she said. “But we’re freestanding from each other. We just have different paths.”

    For two years, members of the Choral Society have actively engaged in trying to pressure church leadership to oust the new rector — first openly harassing her during the pandemic, when the church needed to be focused on outward opportunities to help others instead of spending energy and time navel-gazing and handwringing over internal perceived personal slights. This continued with threats to starve the church of funds until the rector was removed. Just this week they stacked the church leadership and vestry ballot with their members who haven’t been participating in the life of the church. None of these activities suggest that the Choral Society is being respectful of the current parishioners at St Philip’s.

  2. I take exception to Rev. Eiman’s statement that people who left St. Philip’s for the Highlands Chapel do not consider themselves to be Christian. This is far from the truth. Most people who left St. Philip’s very definitely consider themselves to be Christian, and attempt to live their lives dedicated to their beliefs. One does not need to worship under a strict doctrinal interpretation of what it means to be Christian in order to be one.

  3. I agree with Fredrike: Music fills and lifts my soul and spirit. I crave sacred music the way I crave food. When I am working abroad, I always make time to attend Evensong and or vespers on Sunday evening. When the choir left St. Philip’s, in addition to missing friends, I have missed the music.

    When it was first announced that the Highlands Choral Society would be having their service at 10:30 a.m., I called the vice president and asked if they would consider a different time, using the example of Evensong services in England. I know many people desire a liturgical church service and would also appreciate a service driven by music. I asked if they would consider moving the time to 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. so that people could do both if they felt the need to or the desire to attend both services. I was told absolutely not, we want our service at 10:30 a.m. Therein lies the divisive issue.

    It is still my desire that we could find away in our small community to not exclude each other from the heart of the things that we love about worshiping. Since the Choral Society was brought together by music, I would still love to suggest that they have their service on Sunday evening. When we talk about building bridges, that would be a bridge I would love to cross.

  4. I take personal exception to Rev. Eiman’s characterization of the reason that members of St. Philip’s Church because we, or any of us, disliked discussions of, or sermons on, the Episcopal church specifically or Christianity generally.

    As a lifelong Episcopalian, and an active St. Philip’s parishioner and chorister for more than 40 years, I greatly enjoyed the growth and and growing vitality of the parish during the rectorship of Frank Geer. I believe he, by example, made all of us better Christians. His thrust as I saw it was always to the effect that we are the kingdom of God. There were and are people who may have wished for a “higher” form of liturgy, or an adhesion to strict guidance from the rector, and Frank was willing and qualified to discuss these with anyone.

    It is always difficult for any congregation to adjust to new pastoral ministry, and the pandemic, just as Amanda came, only exacerbated the process of change. I and almost everyone tried to welcome Amanda and her family. We here happy to let her define her perception of the rector’s role and make those adaptations as she saw fit. We were excited, looking forward to continued growth under our first female rector. I would have expected her to seek, not necessarily agree with, major changes in staffing. She did not. Of great concern to me was her treatment of the music director, which had to have been vicious to drive him to resign. I should note that he never uttered a negative word about Amanda, or at least not in my hearing.

    Subsequently, over the next several months, it became clear that, as between Woody and Amanda, Woody was the more Christian in thought, word and deed. Amanda’s unwillingness to discuss this, and other major decisions, honestly with anyone led to me leaving the Eiman church. Subsequently, most of the choir sought a way to continue our worship in music; after much thought and prayer, we found a place to continue our worship in song, with the help of Woody, Janet and Durward.

    We are not just a singing group. People from the community are worshipping with us, some from St. Philip’s, most not. We welcome all. Our services of prayer and reflection are a source of joy to all who join us.

  5. You must have realized it would be tricky to take on church issues in our town. I would think, to be on the safe side, you would interview a lot of people as you sought to piece together the story. And then you would be sure to check your facts.

    But you did neither.

    There is a story – both at St. Mary’s and at St. Philip’s – but in both cases you missed it. You told a different story, and in the process, you insulted a lot of people. On top of that, you made factual errors. And so your piece seemed sloppy and glib. I wondered why you ran it.

    1. We asked Rauch to detail the factual errors in our stories, what stories we missed or what specifically made the piece “sloppy and glib” so we could respond but she declined to do so on the record.

      1. What is a church? A beautiful building? The pastor? The congregation? You can have a church without a beautiful building, without a pastor, but can you really have a church without a congregation? What did all the churchgoers who were happy and fulfilled in the three installments of your story have in common? Inclusion. That is what you missed with the story of the two Episcopal churches in Philipstown. Both have clergy who came here just recently. Both have set a tone that is anything but inclusive. One of the two even uses the word “inclusive” as a catchphrase, but that person’s reality is “my way or the highway.” So has the other from what I understand. That is why a big percentage of both congregations have gone elsewhere.

  6. Tis ALWAYS the season to celebrate the good values of Kwanzaa, Judaism, Chinese Folk, Islam, Buddhisim, Hinduism, Christianity and ….

  7. A few things: St. Philip’s does not have an “ample staff”; all the tasks listed were and are done by volunteers. Many more people have left St. Philip’s than just the choir, and the Highlands Chapel is also attended by some former St. Mary’s parishioners. Every Sunday, the Highlands Chapel uses the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer for services, there are readings from scripture, and there are often visiting clergy who preach.

  8. As a lifelong Episcopalian (St. Luke’s, Darien, Connecticut; St. Thomas’, Baltimore, Maryland; Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvnia; St. Philip’s-in-the-Highlands, Garrison), I have to object to the way in which the Rev. Amanda Eiman characterized St. Philip’s before her arrival. The former rector, Francis H. Geer, was a strong, inclusive, empathetic spiritual leader whose sermons were based in scripture and he absolutely talked about Jesus. When he asked me to take on the leadership of St. Philip’s Nursery School in 2003, he quoted to me from John 21:15-17.

    St. Philip’s long-time music director and organist, Dr. Durward Entrekin — his doctorate is from Yale University and he is a professor at Mount St. Mary’s — is also one of the most spiritual people I have known and with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Episcopal hymnal as well as classical music. With the Rev. Geer he counseled our family on the appropriate music for our family’s funerals, weddings and baptisms. During the year between the Rev. Geer and the Rev. Eiman, his music provided a strong spiritual foundation for church services. At the time the pandemic struck, we were planning a concert to inaugurate the church’s new organ with sacred music played by an internationally renowned musician. Dr. Entrekin did not leave St. Philip’s on a whim or because he did not want to hear about Jesus. No one did.

  9. I’m writing with a clarification regarding the recent article entitled “The Challenge for Churches” in The Highlands Current on March 4. These views are my own and may differ from others.

    During the 12 years I attended St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, until March 2020 when COVID hit, I came to understand why the special group of people who gathered there considered it beloved. In my experience, the congregation was more than well-educated, well-read, multilingual and successful; it was also open-hearted, warm, compassionate, caring and kind. At St. Philip’s, the rector and congregants facilitated myriad religious spiritual, and social experiences that promoted significant fellowship, good works and community. I came to understand that this historic church earned its regard as “beloved” and “esteemed” because it had long been an important nexus for goodwill regionally.

    It’s important to clarify that the congregation was not traumatized by Rev. Frank Geer’s retirement, nor was it traumatized when Rev. Amanda Eiman came a year later. The Current states that when she arrived, “The St. Philip’s congregation was growing, but it was still a traumatic time with the previous, beloved rector retiring after 30 years.” The Rev. Eiman is quoted in the article saying: “There was a lot of trauma there, especially when you then throw in this new person who is basically unlike the old pastor in every way, shape and form.”

    I believe the opposite is true. The congregation integrated and honored Rev. Geer’s deeply cherished legacy by pulling together the year following his departure, during which time it welcomed a series of guest ministers, and simultaneously undertook and achieved extensive property renovation, including to the church and rectory. The lengthy renovations required enormous attention to historic details and modern technology, and fostered a herculean process of individuals and committees working together. As the congregation rose to these many challenges by engendering participatory leadership, it was at peak health and well-being a year after Rev. Geer’s departure when Rev. Eiman arrived.

    In mid-2121, I was shocked to learn that notwithstanding the extraordinary people and exceptional sense of shared community, there had been a severe fracture at this parish. When I first heard this, it seemed inconceivable. In my opinion, solutions can often be found. It was deeply disturbing to me that no satisfactory solutions came forth to put St. Philip’s back on its historically inclusive, compassionate path of promoting goodwill and community.

    In my view, this schism caused deep pain to many in its congregation. Fracturing this remarkable congregation is a huge loss to me, and I think, to many. I understand that this split was so dramatic that between one-half to two-thirds of the congregation left and now attend the Highlands Chapel. I’m told that many of the congregation who continue to attend St. Philip’s, as well as many who now attend the Highlands Chapel, desire healing the rift.

    Please note that as I am not attending either church, I write not from the perspective of one group or the other. I feel that the original St. Philip’s congregation has suffered a deep wound. The trauma mentioned in the article was not caused by Rev. Geer’s leaving. For me, it is very sad that such an extraordinary community has been ruptured.

  10. I’ve been reading the series about trends and reductions affecting churchgoing populations in our region with great interest, especially the observation that younger generations are not replacing older generations in the pews.

    For several years in Plains, Georgia, I’ve had the opportunity to attend former president Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school. These were at the Maranatha Baptist Church. Each Sunday, Mr. Carter would read from the Bible. While some might think this was boring to the younger generation, it wasn’t. He packed the house not just with Christians of all ages, but with people of all faiths, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and others, and even people not identifying with a particular religion, but bringing an open heart. I got to meet and speak with many of them, and I learned that they came not because this was a former U.S. president but for his heart-centered ability to connect the verses of the Bible to our lives and experiences today. He brought those words to life. No matter our background, he had a way to make those words relevant and inclusive for everyone. It was like oxygen.

    I joined the people who left in droves from St. Philip’s Church a year ago after Rev. Frank Geer, our liberal and inclusive rector, retired. This exodus of people, mostly Christian, formed a new spiritual home called the Highlands Chapel. Today when I talk to people in their teens, 20s and 30s, about my experience with the Highlands Chapel, with its congregation of over 100 people and growing, they are most intrigued by two things.

    First, we do not have a pastor or priest. We don’t need one. For me, regardless of what roof covers our heads, we, the people, are the church. A pastor may be a fine guide and facilitator, or as many today have sadly experienced, a pastor can be bossy, closed-minded and dogmatic. That’s a turn-off. They can also put parishioners to sleep, like the monotonous mumbling “teacher talk” in Charlie Brown cartoons: “Wah, wah, wah.” Life is too short; why settle for a tiresome snoozefest?

    It is natural for humans to be in awe of creation and seek to find our place and meaning in the greater cosmos. The younger generation longs for connection with the Divine, but not in a calcified “my way or the highway” tail wagging the dog style that many churches, ministers and bishops still try to force people to accept. The younger generation has little patience for inauthentic and irrelevant voices. It’s why they don’t go to church. But pastors who connect from their hearts, directly and individually, not hiding behind arid readings, robes and rules, are those who continue to inspire both old and young. Such pastors are rare indeed.

    Secondly, the young generation I’ve spoken with is excited to learn about the weekly reflections at the Highland Chapel. This is a new way of doing things. Imagine having a voice in your own church! Each week, one of our parishioners speaks from the heart to our congregation about whatever they most want to share of their spiritual and daily life journey. I talked about St. Francis and inclusiveness, and about our all being God’s children, regardless of divisive and cliquish religions. Another member movingly spoke about her life as a nurse during the Vietnam war. Yet another spoke about her life serving in the Peace Corps. Being a highly music-loving group, we talk about how classical composers and the wonderful Methodist and Episcopalian hymns continue to lift our hearts today. Many speak about how refreshing it is to enjoy a deeply loving, family-like community where we genuinely want to know each other and in whose presence we sense the light of God shining through. As God’s children, we celebrate learning more about each other on a sincere and meaningful level. We feel more lifted and inspired through our shared services than many a year’s worth of bottled sermons could ever provide. It’s remarkable. Each person speaks from the heart, and we are rapt in our attention as we witness the humanity and love being shared among us. Our coffee hours extend to two hours because no one wants to leave!

    Someone implied that we’re just a “social club.” In truth, we’re cutting edge, and that scares those who prefer to regress to organized rote-religion of decades, or even centuries, past. Our hearts come alive with God’s word in song and action each Sunday. We are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and more. At the Highlands Chapel, everyone has a place at the table. We feel it in our core, and we welcome this heart connection. Ours is a living and spiritual body. In our own humanly imperfect ways, we each may become God’s hands on Earth.

    1. Thank you for your deeply thoughtful, articulate, and heart-felt letter, Christopher! I appreciate your illuminating clarity, and agree with and applaud your comments.

  11. As a newcomer to the area, and the church, what led me and keeps me coming to St. Philips since mid-2021 is that it is a Christian church, Bible-based, with a spiritual leader (educated in divinity, which I am not) who preaches to me every week about Christ’s works and God’s love, as evidenced in the Bible. That is what I seek from a church and what keeps me there. I personally (being new) have not only been welcomed by the Rev. Eiman, but also feel spiritually guided every Sunday. Somehow, her sermons and references to Christ’s journey truly speak to me and remind me of why I worship together with others in church (instead of just praying at home). I pray for healing and that all can come together to worship Christ in this newly flourishing Christian community.

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