Of Meat Cleavers and Murder and Mental Health.

St.John’s Norristown is right in the middle of our town. We are across the street from the courthouse; many of our neighbors are those that are employed there. We don’t get to know too many of those neighbors.

We are closely aligned with many of our other neighbors, those who come to our church for lunch and those that we sit with and minister to at The Hospitality Center next door. We are committed to serving our neighbors, all of them.

Donnas service

Memorial Service for Donna at Norristown Hospitality Center


A few days ago, we led a memorial service for our friend Donna. Donna was a good egg and a good friend to me. I got to know her on the day that she came to Norristown, last summer. She worshipped with us, along with her “boyfriend” Jimmy at St. John’s.

You may have read about how Jimmy murdered Donna on the bridge, apparently incensed because Donna had another friend, and was no longer interested in Jimmy’s attention. They argued, he stalked her and stabbed her. For most of us, we deal with break-ups with sadness and some anger, but not violence.

On the day following Donna’s service, I spoke with another friend as we sat at the Hospitality Center. He is a handsome and bright young man that has been left behind by his family. Most nights he sleeps at the Transportation Center. The Transportation Center is a favored place for many to bunk. It is dry and somewhat warm. I asked him about the lump on his forehead and the eight or so stitches that tractored through it.

“What happened?”I asked. In a matter of fact way, he replied that (name omitted) had attacked him with a meat cleaver. “You know how he gets, he’s kinda crazy.” “Crazy” may be an accurate observation, but it is not a diagnosis.  

If I have told this story correctly, you should understand two things. First, we came far too close to having another memorial service. Also, there is a fair amount of mental health issues in our neighborhood.

From the outside, most people would define our neighbors at the daily lunch program and at the Hospitality Center as either poor or homeless. Although that may be true, that is not the true defining factor.

Some years ago, I was asked this question. “How do people become homeless?” After offering some hollow and hypothetical answers, I decided to get the truth. I asked that question of many people. “How did you become homeless?” Here is their answer.

You get homeless when you run out of friends and family to help you out.

That is what defines our neighbors and our work and our ministry at St. John’s. Many, but certainly not all, of our neighbors struggle with mental issues.

As they become family to us, we work hard to gain a more compassionate understanding, a fuller knowledge.

Why do I offer this story? Because so many have come to the conclusion that anyone that is in need of a meal, or a place to stay is either lazy or addicted.

That’s not always true. So often these are simply folks that have trouble managing their thoughts and emotions. So much so that they become unmanageable.They have been given up on by their friends and family.

See How They Love One Another!

I have recently heard this little phrase quoted, and misquoted. I have been bothered by it; perhaps by guilt but more likely by disappointment. As I write about it now, I know that it is for encouragement, but is it for myself, or for all of us?

“See how they love one another,” is sometimes stated as a quote made by the amazed pagans (Greeks) as they observed the Christians at the end of the first century. They were amazed, it was said, by the love-your-enemy-and your-neighbor-mentality. They were amazed that there were no poor in the community, because of all of the sharing out of love. It’s all wonderfully idyllic and beautiful and I want to believe it. I know that this persecuted group of believers were enjoying a time of tremendous growth, just as Jesus said they would if they would just love each other. the-exhortation-to-the-apostles-by-james-tissot-detail-featured-w740x493

What seems to be a little more accurate is that Tertullian, writing one hundred years later said that this is what others should say about us. That we should live our lives in a community so that we reflect the love of Jesus through kindness, forgiveness, and generosity.

Consider this axiom, stated in a variety of ways by many. “A civilization is known by how it treats its weakest members.”

How would an outsider judge this civilization of this country, or your town or neighborhood.? How do I judge myself?

I work at a church in the center of town that is amazing in its beautiful architecture and detail. A church in the middle of town that works hard to provide meals for those in need, but is so dreadfully lacking in providing wholesome shelter that the whole city seems to groan under an air of indifference. Several area pastors talk about having just a handful of people in church on Sunday where there once were hundreds.

There is an obvious conclusion that can be drawn. The greater the indifference toward the poor, and the smaller the Christian community gets, the larger the population will be for those sleeping under bridges.

We all hear the same things, comments like “they should get jobs,” “it’s not my fault or problem,” “I didn’t turn them into addicts,” and “what am I supposed to do about it?”

I am challenging my town, Norristown, my church, St. John’s, and myself to trumpet the message of love and care. To fill the church with a community of believers that knows the care for the weakest among us is a reflection not of them, but of us.

See how we love each other.

homeless woman


A Month of Sundays

It’s been a month of Sundays for the re-opened, re-imagined, old-and-yet-new and renewing  St. John’s Norristown.

Prayers have been raised, the Eucharist shared, the Gospel preached. A wonderfully diverse group have come for worship, some have just come to peek in, to see what it is, as though they are able to see what it will become.

In the space between Sundays, folks have come to pray, some to sleep in a pew, some to marvel in the physical beauty of the sanctuary, some to get a few dollars.

One came on a Sunday at four in the afternoon, in need of a pastor. He found one. One was “sleeping one off” by the front door before coming in and mildly disturbing the worship.

St. John’s is a downtown church, flanked by a post office, the county courthouse, an adult probation center and a hospitality center for the needy. The kitchen space in the downstairs provides a meal for 120-160 nearly every day. There are a few nearby restaurants and the kind of stores that are intended to serve those that are at or near poverty. There are many lawyers offices on our street, but not many private homes.There is a cacophony of street sounds drifting through open doors and windows; it’s the usual mix, people laughing and arguing, car horns, loud buses, and sirens.

Folks have come and gone from the church both in disappointment for not getting the help the need for the light bill and with gratitude for the blessing of a bit of time and a prayer with Fr. Andy Kline.

Fr. Andy and I talked recently about the many and diverse people that have seemed to find their way to St. John’s in this month of Sundays. Some have come in hardship, some with a generous spirit. Some have come needing reconciliation; some have come and provided a blessing. 


St. John’s joins with Healing Word Church for a Sunday evening healing service.


“I guess that’s the kind of Church we’re going to be,” was the wondering statement that he made.

I guess so. I hope so.

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Romans 15:7


Meet Fr. Andy Kline

We come to church to worship God and Jesus. That, of course, is primary. Often we decide to stay because of the Pastor. I invite you to come to St.John’s Norristown for the primary reason, I recommend that you get to know Fr. Andy Kline.

Today Father Andy is fussing about how to create some proper signage to let folks know that the church is open. It may not be near the top of the list for his skill set, but nonetheless, it is his to do, along with the thousand other details that he has needed to see to, to re-open St.John’s Norristown.

Fr. Kline is not new to Norristown. The people, their needs and all of the local clergy are well known to him as he has spent the last seven years shepherding the good folks at St.Augustine’s. I have worshipped there with him, he is well loved and will be missed.

Andy is a father to four and husband to Kathy, whom he cares for deeply. He depends on her in ways that only a devoted spouse can. He is terribly bright and sincerely humble. The diplomas from Dartmouth and Yale in his office are a testament to his acumen, yet he carries no Ivy League airs about himself. He is a down-to-earth man with a laugh so raucous that he can shake the glass in the windows.

He is grateful for being raised in privilege, giving all credit and thanks to his parents.

All of these things about Fr. Andy Kline are true, but none of them are the reason you would choose him as your pastor.

If you come to St. John’s you will hear his energetic and deeply thoughtful sermons, but moreover, you will be drawn into his great compassion and love for others.

You will experience his great faith in the way that he prays for us all. Deeply moving prayers, prayers from his soul.

Most of all you will meet a man that begins and ends his day with Jesus Christ, and wants the same for you.


Come and see.


Can St. John’s Norristown succeed?

That’s the question that I was asked recently, and it bugged me. Perhaps it was because I didn’t know how to answer, perhaps it was the way that it was asked.

It sounded more to me like “St.John’s Norristown can’t really succeed can it?” Although I didn’t appreciate the attitude…I understood. Perhaps what really bugged me is that at  that moment, the most honest answer that I had was, “I don’t know.” What would success look like? What would failure be?

Just because I can’t answer it, doesn’t mean I can’t speak to it, so here goes. stjohnsopeningad

There is no expectation for St. John’s to be restored to some point that was glorious in its history. Bishop Gutierrez said to open the church, and that’s where it had to begin, with that simple statement. Everyone involved has aligned themselves with the belief that churches cannot stay closed. An abandoned church is just too ugly to endure.

To the person that asked the question, if you are asking if I can make St. John’s succeed, then please know that I cannot.

Fr. Andy Kline has poured a great deal of time and prayer and energy into re-opening for worship on September 24th. He will preach well and welcome all and I know that he will be joyful, but he cannot make St. John’s succeed. It is too great a task for even such a devoted priest.

Can success be measured by hitting someone’s guess at how many people in attendance would be good enough? Should we measure by how many dollars go into the plate?

St. John’s is already succeeding. People are gathering on Wednesdays for prayer. Dean Koshy Mathews has reminded the Valley Forge Deanery that they all have a stake in this venture. Rob White, from St. Davids Radnor, along with their Rector Frank Allen, are organizing the support positions for the liturgy and spreading the word. Prayers will be lifted up, there will be singing and the Eucharist will be shared. The Holy Spirit will be present.

The Word will spread. People will come because someone was blessed by being there and they will share it with others.

Before long there will be that symbol that makes God’s presence undeniable. Diversity. Worship will occur and all will know that St.John’s Norristown is truly inclusive. We will look across the pews and see people of all ages, ethnic groups, genders, and sexual orientation. In short, we will see a family and a neighborhood.

People will return to church knowing that everyone at St.John’s is a newcomer, there will be no talk of “we didn’t use to do it that way.” There are no cliques to enter or avoid, it will be impossible to sit in someone else’s seat. We are all on the ground floor.

Will St. John’s succeed? Of course, it will.

How do I know? I’m not so foolish as to think that I am the only person that Jesus has called to this place.

I am anxious to join with others, for His glory.

Making Church

Some years ago while teaching confirmation class, I asked the students to name some parts of the church. Predictably, they said things like altar, pew, cross, and organ. Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong, I said.


After a bit, they caught on and began naming church members, including themselves. People, a community, make a church.IMG_0034

St.Johns church building is a magnificent structure. It hasn’t changed much in the last two hundred years. It hasn’t changed at all in the last one hundred. But inside, in the living part, where the people are, it has changed indeed. Like all living things it has been transformed, and it will continue to be transformed.

Bishop Gutierrez would not allow the transformation to end. He believes that people will come and worship in that space, and in the last year, a small group has begun to come together, first monthly, and then weekly to say Noonday Prayers together.

Father Andy Kline would come and stand inside the glorious but empty structure and his part in the transformation began. As the new Vicar, his first act was to call together our bishop and local clergy and friends to hold up a symbol of transformation as twenty-five people, led by our Bishop Gutierrez, processed, sang, blessed and prayed in every corner of St.John’s building and grounds. Holy transformation.Holy presence.

Can St.John’s be transformed into a vibrant worshipping community? How will the Holy Spirit lead us? Who will the Holy Spirit call? Here are two transforming examples, just from the past week.

-The Reverend G. Warren Weleck wrote to tell us that his church, Augustus Lutheran, is making a significant (really, really generous) contribution toward our discretionary fund and to support the lunch program. A group of good folks from Augustus Lutheran has for some time participated in the luncheon program where on many days we have been serving one hundred sixty folks.

-The Bishop has decided that St.John’s will begin regular Sunday worship on September 24th. Father Andy will be prepared to share the Eucharist and a sermon. The candles will be lit and the doors will be open. But who will join us? Who will perform all of those duties that go on every Sunday at every church? Who will greet and usher? Who will lead the prayers and read the scriptures? Who will make the coffee?

For that first Sunday, Father Frank Allen has pledged that some good folks from St.David’s in Radnor will see that all of those things are attended to. Furthermore, Fr. Allen says that they will continue to walk alongside us in this way until we can walk alone. Of course, St. David’s cannot do this every Sunday, so who will?

-Rob White, a fine man, churchmen, and a member of St.David’s has felt called to step into the challenging role of reaching out to other parishes join us when they can to participate in the same way. He will take care of all of these details every week until he “works himself out of a job.”

-Fr. Koshy Mathews, the Dean of the Valley Forge Deanery has encouraged every church and every church member to know that “We all have a big stake In the success of this mission.”

This is an awful lot of love and transformation in one week, dontcha think?

I know that I am being changed, willingly walking into an unknown personal transformation, being guided and lifted up the Holy Spirit. Can we all consider how we can support St. John’s with our own gifts, for a day, or a season?

How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!

It’s like costly anointing oil flowing down head and beard, Flowing down Aaron’s beard, flowing down the collar of his priestly robes.

It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon flowing down the slopes of Zion. Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing, ordains eternal life. Psalm 133

stjohnsoutsidePhoto courtesy of Bp.Daniel Gutierrez

St. John’s is not closed.


By some peoples definition, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Norristown was “closed” for a while. I never quite saw it that way. After all, if one hundred and thirty plus people gather four days per week, for a meal staffed by an additional dozen people, I would call that open. If on those days people sit down as a family to share a common meal and pray together, I would call that church.

Still, it is true that some folks had decided to discontinue regular worship for a while. These are good folks, doing what they believed to be right. Bishop Gutierrez, however, wanted worship to continue, in some manner. For the last year, I have had the honor of leading a weekly time of prayer. I have been changed by this, in small and large ways, all of them good.

I plan to write regularly here about the life of St. Johns but for now, I have just this simple message:

St. Johns is not closed.

Soon I will tell you of the big changes coming, and about the Vicar, Fr. Andy Kline. I hope to be telling you very soon about how St. Johns is living the Beatitudes and looking like Jesus.

For now, St. Johns is open. It is open to all and particularly to those who want to be in on the ground floor for a chance to make, and build, and be church. Come and see us on Sunday. September 24th at 10:30 A.M.

As He said…come and see.