By SARA ARTHURS
The Episcopal Diocese of Ohio is celebrating its 200th anniversary and the rector of the Findlay church will be attending the celebration.
The Rev. John Drymon, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Findlay, said the Episcopal church is a place where both Catholics and Protestants may feel comfortable, in essence “the bridge between” the two. The church is the American branch of the Anglican communion, the third largest Christian denomination in the world after Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox church. All these churches trace their history back to the Church of England under Henry VIII.
The Episcopal church was at its height in the 1950s and ’60s and was seen as the “de facto national church,” Drymon said. He noted that the National Cathedral is an Episcopal church, and more U.S. presidents have been Episcopalians than any other denomination.
Drymon has been rector for a year at what he calls a small but active congregation. About 75 worship at Trinity on a given Sunday, with about 200 people listed as church members. Like many mainline churches, it has seen a decline in numbers in the second half of the 20th century but is now in “a period of renewal.” The church locally is growing, Drymon said.
He said the biggest difference between the Findlay church and where he served previously, in Arkansas, is “the congregation here is much more socioeconomically and ideologically diverse.”
Politically, there are both conservative and liberal members. Theologically, they differ. But they all gather at the church “and pray to the same God together.” It’s remarkable, Drymon said, “how we live this life of prayer and fellowship” despite many differences.
Drymon said another thing he had to get used to at this church is “how raucous the passing of the peace is.” It was a “very subdued shaking of hands” at his old church. Here? “Gosh, it’s like halftime,” he said. “And I had to get used to that.”
That indicates how much these people love each other, he said, an expression he finds “charming.”
Drymon said he’s found it rewarding to build relationships, to be with people during good times and bad. He might be talking to a parishioner who just had a baby or someone who lost a loved one. It’s at these times of intense emotion, he said, that the veil between Heaven and Earth seems thinnest.
The Diocese of Ohio encompasses the 48 northernmost counties in the state, with more than 100 parishes total. The diocese will celebrate its 200th anniversary this weekend in Cleveland.
Normally, the diocesan convention is a chance for clergy and lay people to gather, make decisions, and elect people to diocesan and national church bodies. On this anniversary year there will be less legislating and more time taken up by celebration, Drymon said.
The presiding bishop of the Episcopal church has had success in “bringing back a kind of zeal and mission-mindedness,” he said.
The Findlay church has been celebrating the bicentennial in its own way, which Drymon said includes raising funds to provide 200 “Tutu desks” — lap desks named after South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu — to children in the developing world.
The Rev. Aaron Gerlach, rector at Old Trinity Episcopal Church in Tiffin, will also attend this weekend’s bicentennial celebration.
Gerlach said the “really exciting, dynamic” presiding bishop of the Episcopal church, the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, is relatively new, and he’s looking forward to interacting with Curry at the event.
He said Curry often shares about growing up during the Jim Crow era, as an African-American youth attending a mostly white Episcopal church. And, though everything in the South was segregated at that time, in the Episcopal church, when it came time for communion, everyone drank from one cup.
“I think it captures a little bit of who we are,” Gerlach said.
The Tiffin church, he said, is in use nearly every night for 12-step meetings. That’s not unusual for Episcopal churches in Ohio, he said, as an Episcopal church in Akron played a role in the very beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous. Gerlach is also among area clergy working to help those with drug and alcohol issues transition out of prison.
Both Drymon and Gerlach spoke of the church’s involvement in the community and the larger world.
“We’ve never shirked away from contemporary issues,” Drymon said. This included during the civil rights movement.
Drymon’s hope for the future is that the church will continue striving to fulfill its mission to reconcile all people to God and to each other through Jesus. In a divided society, it’s more important than ever “to be a force for reconciliation,” he said.
Gerlach said the Episcopal church in the United States started having conversations “very early on,” in the 1960s, on the role of LGBT individuals in the church, although the decisions shaping current policies weren’t made until the early 2000s. Gay and lesbian priests and transgender priests are ordained, and the church leadership strives to be “reflective of the diversity of humankind,” he said.
Gerlach said a few years ago the Episcopal church had two advertising slogans going: “Love God, love your neighbor, change the world” and “God loves you. No exceptions.” Those, to him, capture the church.
When you talk about “love” there’s the Hallmark greeting card idea of what love means, but it’s more than that, he said. God never gives up, he said, and loves you, no exceptions.
“No matter what we do, He keeps coming back. … So love has a faithfulness to it,” Gerlach said.
And when we encounter one another, we encounter something God has imprinted on the other person, he said.
“There isn’t a human being created that doesn’t bear that image of God, in some way. … We’re not going to find a human being that isn’t beloved by God,” he said.