Why "The Gander"?

Why "The Gander"?

Most people are familiar with the mythology of St. Martin's cloak. Less familiar may be the myth of St. Martin's goose. It is told that Martin the priest was wanted as bishop. He didn't want the job, and so hid (here the accounts are fuzzy) in a goose pen, barn, or bush and was revealed by the honking of the goose.

A gander is a male goose - much like a drake is a male duck. To "take a gander" means to take a peek, a look. We hope to use this blog to "take a look" behind the scenes at St. Martin's and reveal the otherwise hidden from view.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Another Ramp

Nellie Greene has a front row seat at the dedication.
On Sunday, March 22 we dedicated the new ramp and Hopkins Terrace outside the Willow Grove Avenue entrance to the church. That morning, the following story was read about one of our long-time members, Nellie Greene. We are grateful to this community for its support of our Next Level Accessibility campaign and proud to have completed this next stage in St. Martin's Welcome to All.  

At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Denver, Colorado, on July 10, 2000, a deacon of the church, the Rev. Nellie Greene, read the Gospel lesson at the opening daily service of worship. She did this using her electronic voice.

Not surprising, this irregular idea was Nellie’s. Living out her ministry of inclusion, Nellie had become a very strong advocate for those who have gifts, but limited abilities. She understood fully the loss of abilities. Over the years, she has shared her story with others in this way,
“I am a severely disabled, ordained deacon of the church. My disability is brain damage which my body received in a severe car accident on my way to college in 1970. ...My body has been left crippled with rigidity, and I am legally blind, unable to write or speak. I am totally dependent on a wheelchair for mobility. But I communicate with a talking lap-top; a desk top PC and in social settings, I use a “letter board, made especially for me, with alphabet letters, familiar phrases and responses, to which I can point. I also talk with my face, my smile and my eyes.” 
Early in 1999, Nellie made known to the national church leaders her desire to read the Gospel at General Convention, using her electronic voice. This was received with understandable concern. Doubts were expressed, and issues began to be addressed. Nellie cooperated fully, but did not give ground as an advocate for the disabled. Yes, it was asking to do something not done before. Yes, it would be hearing a reading of the Gospels in a new key.

As the convention neared, two issues remained. First, how would the deacon in a wheelchair reach the altar? The general convention altar is highly elevated for all to see and relate to the liturgy of worship.  Secondly, how would the use of an electronic voice be managed through a complicated sound system?  

For the first issue, possibly two very strong fellow deacons could lift Nellie in her chair and carry her up the many steps of the highly raised dais, where she could take her place as deacon near the altar. As for the electronic voice device, sound engineers could link it into the system.

There was a measure of real anxiety for everyone about these plans as Nellie and her family prepared to leave Philadelphia for Denver.

At the convention center she was met by the chair of the worship committee who began to explain how the electronic voice would function. Nellie’s strength came forth again. “No”, she said. “The device will be on my lap. The batteries are new, and my rector, Bob Tate, is prepared to come forward with a hand mike to pick up the reading. Nothing else need be done. It will work.” 

Next, the question about how, in her wheelchair, she could become part of the group at the altar. It was then shown to her that a very fine ramp of accessibility to the altar had been built especially for this event...the first ever at general convention. That was impressive.

The next morning for the first daily Eucharist of Convention, the altar party gathered with the presiding bishop to begin the procession. As the music soared, and the voices sang, the procession moved gracefully around to the left of the dais, and then together everyone up the ramp of accessibility. Bob Tate carefully maneuvered the chair in which sat the deacon.

When it was time for the Gospel to be read, Nellie was moved forward in her chair. She flipped the switch to her electronic voice, and the Gospel of Matthew filled the hall with clear words.

Much later in the day, as she was moved through the vast exhibit hall of resources for ministry, Nellie was stopped countless times by those wanting to express their thoughts to her. One was unforgetable:  The leader of the Deacons in the Diocese of Denver came and bent low to speak directly to Nellie in the chair. He took off his handsome deacon cap made especially for this convention and placed it on her head. “Nellie,” he said loud enough for all to hear, “thank you for lifting our sights and stretching us. If you can do what you do, there is nothing that the rest of us cannot do!”

Nellie continues to live out her personal mission statement:
“My mission is to encourage, enlighten, and inspire with humor and compassion, all whom I meet, especially children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. I urge them to be responsible to each other, the earth, and all sentient beings so they will know their value as children of God.”
Please join us again at Easter Vigil on Saturday, April 4 at 8:00 p.m. as we once again gather on Hopkins Terrace and then process up the ramp into the church for worship, as was done at General Convention in the story, at our ramp dedication, Palm Sunday, and will continue to be our new tradition of accessible access in honor of Nellie, Chris, and all those who have and will yet bless us with their presence and teaching.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

OHC and Me

Holy Cross Monastery in spring
As we approach our annual Lenten Retreat to Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York, I would like to share my feelings about this special place with the congregation. Holy Cross, for me, is what the Celts call a “thin place,” that is a place where God is especially accessible.

Here is my story…

In 1988, as a depressed and strung-out college junior I had a dream one night about Holy Cross Monastery based on a vague memory from a childhood visit. Though I was studying religion at the time I had abandoned the church and scoffed at faith. The day after this vivid dream, I called my mother and described the dream to her. She identified it immediately as Holy Cross. I asked her to book me a room for spring break that year leaving her completely baffled. 

I flew home to New Jersey between terms, took New Jersey Transit to New York and Metro North to Poughkeepsie, where a monk met me at the train station. Armed with a stack of books to defend myself against religion I set up camp in a room on the third floor. For some reason, however, I attended every worship service.  

Whether it was Matins, Vespers, Prime, or Compline, I always sat in the back row of the chapel, body turned resolutely away from the brothers, chagrined by all the religiousness and feeling self-righteous and "too smart for all this."  

To the surprise of the monks and myself, on my last day, I went up for the Eucharistic around the altar. Like St. Martin's, the community gathers around the table for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. At the passing of the peace I was overcome by God's loving presence and the divine desire to receive me. I sobbed through the Eucharistic Prayer as every word rang clear as a bell in my heart and mind. The mental image of a sharp, clean, silver needle passing a slender thread through the words and through my heart carried me through the emotionally wrenching moment. With God’s gentle, nurturing love overwhelming my resistance, my healing had begun.

After the dismissal, I bolted down to the Hudson and cried for an hour or so before a brother found me and got me to my train on time.

Holy Cross will forever be for me the place where God began to knit me back together again. I return there as often as I can because the grace I receive there helps me to grow deeper into the mystery of God. It is a place where God can polish my soul so it can glow with God’s light.

I hope you will consider attending our retreat in March. Perhaps you can give this retreat as a gift to your spouse. Take the kids for the weekend and give your beloved the chance for some renewal. Ask your teenage son or daughter – or college-aged child – if they would like to attend. They are most welcome. Find more information on the Wellspring page of StMartinEC.org.

- The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel

Friday, December 19, 2014

Staff Picks for Giving Back this Christmas

It's nearly Christmas and you haven't finished your gift-giving purchases? That's okay, neither have we. With less than a week to go, we thought we'd offer you some ideas for those hard-to-buy for people, or for how you can spend your money in a way that cuts against our consumer culture.

Here are some staff picks for ways to give AND give back this Christmas time.


This year St. Martin's Christmas plate offering will be going to Imara International, a safe house that also provides education for teen mothers and their babies in Kenya. This organization was founded by an Episcopalian and our own Barbara Dundon visited this past year to record some of their stories. Jarrett looks forward to visiting himself in 2015. 

Jarrett also encourages support of St. James School right here in Philadelphia. St. James School is a faith-based Philadelphia middle school in the Episcopal tradition, committed to educating traditionally underresourced students in a nurturing environment. The school is a community that provides a challenging academic program and encourages the development of the moral, spiritual, intellectual, physical and creative gifts in its students. Our own Erik Meyer continues to assist with music there at Eucharist on Wednesday afternoons.


Alternative Gift-Giving Ideas:

Episcopal Relief & Development (800.334.7626 x5129): purchase Bishops Blend Fair Trade Coffee and Tea; donate a gift of global aid in someone’s name.

Heifer International (800.422.0474): donate an animal in someone’s name; this animal will go to a family in need to help them be self-sufficient.

Kiva (415.358.7512): make microloans to small business owners worldwide; you select which entrepreneur to support and get your money back to keep or reinvest.

Thistle Farms (615.298.1140): natural bath and body products made by women in Nashville’s Magdalene community, a 2-year residential community for women with a history of prostitution and drug addiction (founded by an Episcopal priest!)

SERRV (800.422.5915): organization working to eradicate poverty through direct connections with low-income artisans and farmers; sells crafts and foods

Global Girlfriend (888.355.4321): fairly-traded apparel and accessories hand-made by women and communities in need around the world

Global Exchange (415.255.7296): offers a wide range of socially conscious gifts from around the world

Ways to Serve & Provide Warmth this Christmas:

The Greater Philadelphia Cares Winter Coat Drive - bring new or “gently used” winter coats to: Philadelphia Federal Credit Union at 6707 Germantown Avenue or Trolley Car Diner at 7619 Germantown Avenue (for other drop-off locations, call 215.564.4544 or visit )

Holiday Food Drives - taking place around the city (contact Philabundance for more information).


I bought socks this year from Mitscoots which will donate a pair of socks to the homeless for every pair you buy.

Also I ordered some paper products from the Peoples Paper Coop in Germantown which provides legal assistance for ex-offenders to get their criminal records expunged, then turns their paperwork into beautiful hand-made paper.

Another practice is to make some time to shop locally, rather than ordering everything on-line or from big box stores. Go to 10,000 Villages on Germantown, and patronize other local shops on the avenue. Looking for books? Order them through a local book store such as Big Blue Marble, rather than Amazon. Buy art and food from local artisans near work or home. Gift people with tickets to local theater productions and patronize local musicians.

For my five year old, Liam, this year we'll be donating to World Wildlife Fund Adopt a Tiger. It comes with a plush tiger, a photo of a tiger, and an adoption certificate. The plush and photo help make it real for a little kid. If you're buying for an adult you may want to skip the gift-with-donation and make every dollar go towards conservation. Other animals are available to support.

My husband Nate wanted to help support small business owners around the world through micro funding or providing something necessary to help start a business. Heifer International Honeybees or a Kiva gift card for microfinancing are just the right thing.

We'll also be making a donation to help build a pediatric unit at the Mpassa Medical Unit in the Congo. This is an effort being supported by the Southeast District of the Eastern PA Conference of the United Methodist Church - my denomination. I'll be making a donation here in honor of my new baby boy, Ezra.

Another favorite is Appalachia Service Project, a home repair ministry in central Appalachia which Nate and I led youth on for years and holds a special place in our hearts.

This year the Haggards will give to Beyond Borders and Partners in Health, both vital organizations in Haiti, and to DEC in honor of Chris' 19 years at that wonderful workshop where everyone, no matter what disability, is family.

This Christmas the Wolfords are contributing to our local SPCA and we're purchasing a bike through Compassion International to enable a child in a third world country to ride to school, etc. And as all of you've heard me drone on & on about MS bike rides, the National MS Society is an organization I'm regularly rooting for.

Merry Christmas and Happy (Alternative) Giving this season!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Advent Power of the Christmas Tree

We decorated the Christmas tree the Sunday after Thanksgiving this year.

“It seems too early,” my husband complained.

“Christmas decorations are up everywhere else, and we’re behind, ” my 14-year-old countered.

“This is the only day that the whole family will be here until Christmas,” I said, as I realized that in a few hours my son would be heading back to college after his brief Thanksgiving break. “It’s going up today.”


I don’t know how others decorate their Christmas trees. We are great collectors of ornaments, both humble and grand. Nearly each one prompts a story that is retold every year, with titles like “The Origin of the Enormous Fake Dragonflies” or “Why We Won’t Toss the ‘Sputnik’ Ornaments Dad Made in Third Grade”.

My son and daughter aren’t little any more. They space the ornaments nicely instead of clumping them all in one place, a foot from the bottom branches. Every year their questions are more sophisticated, and they hear the stories in new ways. And so do I.

Don’t tell my kids, but putting up the Christmas tree is a rich, spiritual, and deeply powerful Advent ritual in my family. We connect ourselves to a long, complex narrative that blends family story and esoteric symbol; we construct a place where past meets future. As we navigate this overcrowded tree, we reluctantly separate out some things that are too damaged to keep or that have lost their meaning. And we keep some things for inexplicable reasons best called “mystery”. For example, the beakless, blue chicken made the cut again this year. “I like it, don’t throw it out,” someone declares. And it stays.

The lights go on, and we thrill at it. Over the next four weeks this tree will draw me. I will play with the arrangement, regularly moving ornaments around to fill empty spaces. I will sit in a tree-lit room and contemplate. I will remember. I will think ahead.

To be sure, our family has other rituals that are more specific to this pre-Christmas season. Each night we put symbols on a little Jesse tree -- origami decorations that tell the story of Salvation History and count down the days till the Christ arrives. On Sundays we light our Advent wreath and sing O Come O Come Emmanuel.

But the Christmas Tree itself does the holiday on its own terms. With its pagan past and decorations that are more reminiscent of family vacations than of the Holy Family, my tree doesn’t exactly foretell a baby born in a manger stall. In its glorious ambiguity it layers the many narratives of this time of year. It makes room for all of it in its bendy, manufactured branches. And each year there is still space for more.

In his book, The Legend of the Bells and other Tales, John Shea retells a Cherokee story, “Why Some Trees are Evergreen.” After the Great Mystery makes the plants and trees, he wants to give a gift to each according to its ability. So he set up a test, challenging them to stay awake and keep watch over the whole earth for a week. Most of the trees nod off by day three, but the cedar, pine, spruce, and fir and their kin are still vigilant when the Great Mystery returns at week’s end. Their reward is to remain green forever, so that even in the deadness of winter, animals could find warmth and sustenance in their branches.

Tell stories. Ask questions of the symbols. Hold the past in your hands. Find time. Make room. Stay awake until the Great Mystery returns. These are the subtle, Advent invitations of the Christmas tree. I’m not sure I’d be ready for Christmas Day without them.

- Barb Ballenger

Your turn! What stories does your Christmas tree tell? Let us know in the comments.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

With You Every Step of the Way

“You are always there when I need you.” That is the highest praise. 

When I was a Youth Minister in Chicago, the young people at our retreats would repeat this phrase over and over when they described people who loved them. When someone is “always there for us” we feel  remembered, valued, assured, and safe in our overwhelming and confusing world. 

One day last week, I sat beside the bedside of a member who was in the hospital. His phone rang and when he answered it was a member of St. Martin's on the phone checking up on him. Recognizing her voice, I smiled and then remembered that the day before two Eucharistic Visitors had come from St. Martin's to bring Holy Communion to this same man. He was literally surrounded by caregivers from our church. 

I could say to him, “The church will be with you every step of the way,” and I would be telling truth.

Our second Core Value as a church community is: “In giving and receiving care we encounter Christ.” One reason we know this is an authentic value of the church is illustrated by my bedside pastoral visit described above. At St. Martin's we have a deep and virtuous habit of caregiving. Because of this strength in our ministry it makes me so happy to say that our pastoral care commitment at St. Martin's is to be with our members every step of the way.

We are here to be a resource to you from birth to death and everything in between. We will celebrate the birth of your children, baptize, teach them in church school, confirm, and then marry them. We will be with you when you are sick, troubled, guilty, depressed, angry, struggling financially, or going through a divorce. We will be with you by your bedside for surgeries and medical appointments – celebrating your healing and recovery and mourning the losses and struggles. Finally, we will be with you in your final hours with the soothing comfort of prayer and anointing to see you through that last transition into our ultimate healing. 

My first Rector taught me never to leave the graveside until the casket was safely lowered and everyone else had left. This simple action symbolizes our commitment to be a faithful pastor every step of the way whether people are there to notice or not. 

Every step of the way includes – indeed is mostly practiced by – our amazing lay ministers at St. Martin's. Stephen Ministers, Lay Eucharistic Visitors, the women of Women Connecting, the leaders of Wellspring, the tables of learners at Biblical Studies, the Parenting in Faith circle, and just from friend to friend and neighbor to neighbor throughout the church community. 

I am so proud of our community and our caregiving. We will be looking for ways to advance this work in the parish in the next years. 

- Jarrett Kerbel

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Offertory - A Sermon Response

The following poem was sent to us by a parishioner in response to The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel's sermon from Sunday morning (November 16). You may read Jarrett's sermon St. Martin Under Arrest here, and then read the poem below.


A homeless person suddenly appeared
before me, chanting in a cloud of steam.
His fervent mumble echoed like a weird
confession; one last effort to redeem
a tattered soul.  He rose up, offered me
his cup, a Styrofoam collection plate,
and pleaded, in a worn-out litany,
for change.  But I was spent and running late;
I turned my head and shunned his outstretched hand.
He nodded slowly, smiled, and backed away—
Would he have used my gift for contraband
or was I witness to a Passion Play?
Such Sacraments can never be complete
When charity and vanity compete

John Tuton

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Practice of Self-Vulnerability

This month is National Blog Posting Month (colloquially referred to as NaBloPoMo) which is a community sustained challenge for professional and personal bloggers to publish one post every day of the month. I've committed to NaBloPoMo on my personal blog for the second year in a row in hopes of tapping into a new level of writing inspiration and motivation. Less than a week into the challenge, I feel like I have instead tapped into new levels of incredulity because I have subjected myself to this challenge again despite the struggles I had last year.

When I first attempted the challenge last year, I assumed that the hardest part would be carving out time every day to devote to writing a blog that I felt was worthy of publishing. While that has certainly been part of my struggle, this year I'm realizing that the actual hardest part is listening. In order to blog successfully and authentically every day, I have to more deliberately listen to what I'm thinking, feeling, and experiencing throughout the day which requires a level of self-vulnerability I didn't anticipate when I decided to take on this challenge.

This unexpected experience is much like what I went through during the Enneagram sessions that Wellspring offered the past two weeks. While I recognized that a certain level of self-work would be necessary to discuss personality types, I didn't expect to have to look that deeply at what motivates some of my most deeply entrenched ways of being. I had mentally prepared myself to be extra attentive to the presenter and to other people in the session but not to myself.

The strange thing that I am learning from the NaBloPoMo challenge along with the Enneagram sessions is that in order to be attentive and even vulnerable with other people I have to be willing to be vulnerable with and attentive to myself. In order to be honest and present with others, I have to practice being fully present with myself.

For me, that means giving myself time to breathe and center myself. It means quietly acknowledging feelings when they arise, even if I’d rather gloss over them. It means praying daily for the patience to be still and listen.

What about you? What does it look like for you to be present with yourself? How do you practice self-vulnerability?

- Angelique Gravely