Posts Tagged ‘ Episcopal ’

Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Part II – Visited on 6/18/12

Churchspotting met with Rector Janice Chalaron at her office on the second floor of the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, covered previously, in Rock Hill, SC.  Ms. Chalaron is the third female pastor encountered by Churchspotting, and the first whose husband has not held a visible role in her church’s hierarchy.

Janice Chalaron was born in 1953 in Tehran, Iran, where were father worked as a diplomat for the US State Department.  Though her earliest years were spent overseas, at her father’s assignments, by the time she entered middle school her family was settled in Arlington, VA.  During this period her family attended churches of the Methodist denomination.

Ms. Chalaron described herself as a “seeker” during her high school years, during which she attended the worship services of many different religious denominations.  This curiosity continued into her college years at UNC, where she studied religion and history.  After college she married her first husband, with whom she had three children.

During the early 1980s she and her first husband divorced, and she began studying recreation therapy at Duke Medical Center.  During this time she attended a Methodist church, but, by her description, “only at Easter and Christmas.”

In 1983 Ms. Chalaron met the man who’d be her second husband and began studying at Duke Divinity School.  During this time she also took an active interest in the Episcopal Church, which “felt like home” to her during that time of significant personal transition.  By 1984 she was committed to pursuing an ordination within the Episcopal Church, which began ordaining female priests in 1976.  Having received her Master’s in Divinity from Duke Divinity, she pursued further study at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, where she earned another Master’s in Theological Study.

Ms. Chalaron’s first ecclesiastic position was as an associate rector at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Burlington, NC, which she assumed in 1990 and held for the next five years.  In 1995 she transferred to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Rocky Mount, NC, where she served as rector until 2003.  Next, and in her last role previous to assuming the rectorship of Our Saviour, she served at St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, a church of 600 and her first multi-staff parish.  She arrived in Rock Hill in March of 2012, where she attends to a membership of roughly the same size.

Given the general rarity of female religious leaders in York County, Churchspotting asked Ms. Chalaron for her thoughts on the doctrine of the Churches of Christ who hold that, based on their reading of Timothy 2:8, women should not be allowed any role in church organization that might “put them in a position of authority over men.”  Her response was that she did not feel she could judge them for their interpretation of scripture.

On the subject of homosexuality, Ms. Chalaron said that gay men and women may be “accepted as full members of the body of Christ.”  Homosexuals may be ordained in the Episcopal Church as priests; however, as the church does not accept same-sex marriage or sexual relations outside outside of marriage, homosexual Episcopal priests are obliged to practice abstinence.  The church is considering liturgies over the summer for use in sanctifying same-sex unions, but such would definitely be termed as ‘unions,’ rather than marriages.  By her own admission, Ms. Chalaron has never served under an Episcopal bishop who would allow such unions to take place within their territory.  When asked whether she would perform them under a bishop who was so inclined, Ms. Chalaron said that she did not know.

Though Ms. Chalaron said she had never encountered what she would describe as divine visions or miracles outside of worship, she did hold with the Episcopal belief that their weekly Eucharist invokes what they call the “real presence” of Christ, which she described as a miracle in itself.

On the subject of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,  Ms. Chalaron was unsure of the Episcopal Church’s stance, save that her organization recognizes theirs as a faith.  On the Catholic Church she was better apprised, saying that her church maintained “cordial” contact with theirs, though there is no intercommunion between them.  She was worried by what she described as an increasingly conservative bent in Catholic leadership over the last several decades.  Regarding Islam, she said the Episcopal Church recognizes that faith, and works for tolerance thereof.

On the Southern Baptist Convention, Ms. Chalaron said that though the Episcopal Church recognizes that group as fellow Christians, significant theological disagreements lie between them.  Specifically, where Baptists hold the Bible to be the literal word of God, Episcopals believe that it is an inspired text.  “God is present in the word,” she said, but stressed that the book itself is not to be worshipped.

Unlike many pastors and priests interviewed by Churchspotting, Ms. Chalaron does not believe that we currently live in the End Times described in the New Testament Book of Revelation.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, wars and other calamities have always been a part of human life, she said, and as such she did not feel that their presence today should be taken as a sign of the End.  She pointed out that Medieval Christians enduring the Black Death must have thought the End was come, and described the massive cathedrals of that era as a kind of divine fallout shelter, where people hoped to gather for sanctuary when the apocalypse drew nigh.

Ms. Chalaron’s thoughts on the relationship between Church and State were simple and forthright.  The two should, in her view, be “completely separate.”  As an example, she said that ministers should not act as agents of the state even when they perform marriage ceremonies.  The role of the minister in such occasions, in her view, was to sanctify the marriage in accordance with the new spouses’ beliefs, and that a notary should be present to furnish its legal elements.


Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Part I – Visited on 6/3/12

Downtown Rock Hill, SC, is packed with churches.  The same could be said of the rest of York County, from country roads to main streets, but in the heart of Rock Hill this sheer density of worship houses is augmented by the age and size of local institutions.  Some of the churches there were raised at the town’s founding in the 19th Century, accreting worshippers and out-buildings over the course of generations.  Though of widely differing denominations the old downtown churches share a tendency towards facades of red brick and lofty belltowers.

Among these venerable institutions is the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour.  The church is distinctive for the high, sheer crest of its sanctuary roof, but otherwise it melds seemlessly with the brick and mortar of downtown Rock Hill.  From inside the sanctuary’s ceiling is no less high than its outer appearance suggests, but metal cables strung across the empty air and wooden vambraces protruding from either side of its sharp ascent give the long hall a low, close feeling.  Light comes from ornate electric lamps of metal and glass.

The walls, ceilings and roof are panelled wood.  A double row of pews march towards the altar at the sanctuary’s end, austere wooden benches without cushions or coverings.  A huge, arched stained glass window rises behind an altar draped in gold-trimmed white cloth, while to either hand the walls are punctuated by smaller windows glowing in florid blues and greens.  Pipes of the church’s authentic organ rise in columns along the walls before the altar.  Twelve candles decked the altar, upon which lay holy books sheathed in precious metals.

The Church of Our Saviour is significantly more formal, and its Sunday rituals rather more elaborate, than the general run of York County churches.  The congregation’s dress is formal, with men in collared shirts and women in dresses, but neither suffices for members of the congregation directly involved in officiating the worship service.  These dressed in hooded white robes for the occasion, while the church’s priest wore a more elaborate version trimmed with gold.

The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour holds two services on Sundays, one at 8 AM and another at 10:30 AM.  Churchspotting attended the latter of the two.  Before the service began, as worshippers filed into the sanctuary and settled the pews, the church’s music director played the pipe organ over the sound of footsteps and soft greetings.

The formal worship began with tolling bells, at which the congregation stood as one.  A procession of white-robed lay worshippers entered the sanctuary from the rear bearing lit candles and a silver cross on a long pole.  As the light-bearers kindled the candles about the altar, the congregation began a hymn guided by the pipe organ’s music.  Unlike many other groups visited by Churchspotting, at the Church of Our Saviour the congregation’s voices were clearly audible over the instruments.

What followed was a succession of scripture readings interspersed with hymns and prayers.  Prayer was conducted as a form of call and response: one speaker would voice a line, and the congregation replied with its prescribed answer.  The text of all prayers was printed in the church’s bulletin, as was the full text of each reading.

This pattern broke only for the priest’s sermon.  The chief minister at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour was Rev. Janice Melbourne Chalaron, an older woman with long, silver-white hair worn free for the service.  She was the third female pastor encountered by Churchspotting, and the first such whose husband did not occupy a prominent role in the worship service.

Ms. Chalaron’s sermon took the form of a story that she described as coming from the Russian Orthodox Church.  It was the tale of a Russian bishop who, in the midst of a long sea voyage, happened across an island community of three holy hermits.  After spending a day teaching the men–whom he treated kindly but patronizingly–his church’s prayers, he was humbled  to wake in the night and find the hermits pursuing his ship by running barefoot over the waves, only to ask the bishop to help remember some of the prayer’s words.  The bishop knelt before them asks to learn their prayer instead.

After the sermon the congregation recited the Nicene Creed, then voiced a succession of prayers that gave special mention to the Irish church and named all those affiliated with the congregation who had died in the wars of the last decade.  Then, after some announcements and an interlude called ‘The Peace’ in which the congregation shook hands and greeted each other with the words “The peace of the Lord be with you,” the church began a ritual called the Holy Eucharist.

Behind the altar, Rev. Chalaron described the Christian tradition of the Last Supper with prescribed words and carefully stylized gestures.  She broke a wafer of bread in half above her head, and raised a goblet for the congregation to see.  Then the congregation rose in sections to file towards the front and take their portion of sacral bread and wine.

Following the Holy Eucharist, also called Communion, the congregation sang a closing hymn before the priest dismissed them, and the church’s members filed out of the relatively dim sanctuary into a bright June afternoon.