04/18/11 — Episcopal bishop holds services in Newton Grove

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Episcopal bishop holds services in Newton Grove

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on April 18, 2011 1:46 PM

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Jorgei Reyes, 5, of Newton Grove, receives communion from Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Ms. Schori toured the Diocese of East Carolina over the weekend, making stops in New Bern, Jacksonville, Salter Path, and at La Iglesia de La Sagrada Familia in northern Sampson County.

The Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori was in the most humble of venues yesterday as she presided over a Palm Sunday Service at Iglesia Episcopal La Sagrada Familia outside Newton Grove.

Ms. Schori's visit to the congregation, whose sanctuary could best be described as a covered picnic shelter, was part of her weekend tour of the eastern North Carolina diocese. She was in New Bern Friday and spent time with military families in Jacksonville Saturday.

The scene at La Sagrada Familia, a congregation born from one priest's ministry to migrant workers in the area, was full of contrast Sunday morning as the bishops entered to begin the service in their ceremonial robes, while the congregation of migrant workers looked on dressed in outfits ranging from black-tie formal to fresh off-the-farm.

A black labrador retriever patrolled the crowd of about 600 as Ms. Schori delivered, in Spanish, her Palm Sunday message. Father Tony Rojas said Saturday's storms had kept most of the congregation, which can number in the thousands, away.

It was Rojas who first took an interest in the area, bringing clothing and food to the migrant workers. His generosity grew into a ministry, and in 2002, into a congregation formally recognized by the Episcopal Church.

It was the congregation's interesting roots and far-reaching inclusivity that brought Ms. Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, to La Sagrada Familia.

"When I make a visit to a diocese, I encourage the bishop to send me to a congregation that might not get a lot of attention, or a congregation that's doing something creative or innovative that the rest of the church needs to know about," she said. "That's one of the things I can do. I can tell the story. I think this qualifies on all fronts. It's really exciting to see what's happening here."

Ms. Schori said the church, which is the second largest by Sunday attendance in the diocese, was likely the largest Latino congregation she had visited.

She also visited the Diocese of East Carolina's Trinity Center in Salter Path where she spoke of the Episcopal faith's views on sustainable living.

"We understand that our task as Christians is to live in right relations with God and our neighbors," she said, adding that neighbors aren't limited to humans. "Our neighbors are also the rest of creation."

The daughter of a Navy reserve pilot who was deployed when she was young, Ms. Schori said she also understood the role the church plays in military families and how closely tied to the military eastern North Carolina is.

"When service members are deployed their families have burdens that ordinary citizens don't know about or don't experience themselves," she said.

She said she was pleased with what she had seen from the Diocese of East Carolina, and that it was healthy, boasting excellent leadership.

"It's just an amazing joy to see on the ground the fruits of great leadership and faithful leadership," she said, noting both her earlier visits, as well as La Sagrada Familia.

And to the priest of La Sagrada Familia, that was his intention when he learned of her visit.

"It's a way to show the presiding bishop how the Episcopal church is growing through the Latino community," Rojas said.

And it was also cause for a bit of fanfare and celebration, Rebecca Rodriguez, a member of the congregation since 2002, said.

"It's like if it was the President of the United State coming," she said of the bishop's visit. "It's something out of the ordinary and it's a one-time thing. We don't know when she'll ever be back."