Hello friends! It was my joy recently to spend time with an Episcopal priest here in New York named Susannah Fleischmann. Mother Susannah is the Rector of Saint Euthanasia parish in downtown Manhattan. St Euthanasia’s has a vibrant, diverse community that sets an example of a warm welcome to all.
The men’s group at St Euthanasia is called Stonewall. I’ve been told this is because their meeting room is in the crypt level of the church where the plaster has been removed from the old walls revealing the rustic fieldstone beneath. The men’s group is a special place where men can feel safe and welcomed. Another welcoming outreach at St Euthanasia’s is the immigrant center where our Hispanic friends who have been bussed to New York by the racist authorities in Texas can be welcomed. It is such a joy to see how these poor brown people can be given food, shelter and an education! Many of them are unable to learn very much, but the folks at St Euthanasia’s job center work very hard to place them in rewarding jobs in the city’s sanitation and waste processing divisions. I have seen first hand how Mother Susannah has also welcomed members of the African American community. She has employed a black janitor and several young black women live with Mother Susannah in the old rectory and work as her companions and domestic assistants.
Before Mother Susannah came to the parish, St Euthanasia’s was home to a dwindling congregation of tradition-bound Episcopalians. Stuck in out of date styles of worship and with a large number of young, noisy children, most of the people were stuck in predictable suburban, middle class prejudices and bigotry. Now, after five years of her leadership, most of those hard hearted white people have decamped to the suburbs. It saddened Mother Susannah to see them go, but in her usual forthright way she quipped, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking heads. It was best that those folks left so that we could build a truly inclusive community!”
Mother Susannah has also pioneered a synodical approach to leadership at St Euthanasia’s. Representatives from all the stakeholder communities have a place at the table. What a great example of listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit being expressed in all her people! One of the most exciting things happening at St Euthanasia’s is how Mother Susannah is gathering together a family of people who are not even members of her parish or, indeed, of the Episcopal Church itself. Mother Susannah has even drawn into her synod members of other faiths and of no faith at all. She has asked me, for example, to represent the Jesuit tradition of spirituality. This is truly inclusive and diverse, and through them the Holy Spirit is leading all of us to a new way of being Church–a church that listens to God’s voice even among those who (at least outwardly) deny that God even exists!
I have explained to Mother Susannah that her approach is truly ecumenical in the best sense, and that her work should set the standard for our own work in the Roman Catholic Church. I hope you’ll visit again as I share some of the cutting edge work we’re doing in the Roman Catholic Church in these exciting times!