You may have heard of “Humans of New York,” a photoblog by photographer Brandon Stanton which has let us glimpse into the stories of ordinary New Yorkers.
At Saint James’, we believe that community is one of the most important functions of the church, and that by this we help promote and “respect the dignity of every human being” in the words of our baptismal covenant.
And thus follows this first post in our new series: Humans of Saint James’.
While it may not match the scope or sophistication of Stanton’s work, it is no less important – as we hear the stories of fellow parishioners, we are allowed to glimpse another piece of the story of Christ in the world, in Warrenton, in Saint James’, and in each of us.
Our first subject is John Knouse, the new director of Family Ministries at Saint James’. He comes to us from Trinity, Upperville, where he served for three years as families ministries director.
I sat down with John at his home in Front Royal, where he lives with his wife, Amanda, and their two children, Ruth and Caleb. (Amanda has served as rector of Emmanuel, Delaplane since 2012.)
John was born and raised in a Lutheran family in a small town in central Pennsylvania. His story in the Episcopal Church starts with the things he is still so passionate about today: family ministries, summer camp, ecumenicism, and, of course, his wife Amanda.
“I found the Episcopal Church my fourth summer on staff at a Lutheran summer church camp – I met this beautiful woman that was sent as part of an ecumenical program – the Lutheran camp was doing a partnership with the Episcopal Church. We had not-enough kids and a big camp and they had a lot of kids and no camp so we combined the two. I was the program director on the Lutheran side she was the program director on their side, and that’s when I became an Episcopalian.” (John was officially received into the Episcopal Church three years ago by Bishop Ted Gulick)
John is strongly grounded in the belief that the church’s ministry to families is the foundation of much of our mission. I asked him whether he missed the Lutheran Church of his youth, and his answer dealt less with any theological or historical differences between the two traditions than with how the church, no matter the denomination, needs to create a strong moral foundation for families and community.
“I love the similarities [between the Lutheran and Episcopal churches] … but maybe I just miss some of the people from my congregation growing up, the values and the different things … I think values have changed .. maybe i miss the old school values a l ittle bit – the very morally centered kind of religion we used to teach people at home – your morals affect other people and kind of centering your beliefs around that.”
“If we stopped labeling people and start loving people,” he said later, that would remove many of the obstacles in the church’s ministry.
And that’s the story he wants to continue to tell at Saint James.’ He sees his new role at Saint James’ as a continuation of his life’s work: “Just loving on kids, spreading the fact that each person – no matter if you’re eighty years old or eight years old – that you have a value to God … that nobody can tell you that you’re not anything. I hope that I never crush my child’s hopes at some point in [Ruth’s] life – and I’m sure I will, and I’m sure I will with Caleb – but I want to let them … know that you really can be anything that you want to be. And it does start at a young age, but really – if you believe in yourself , if you believe in God, and [so does] the community and especially the church that surrounds you – you really can be anything.”
John is confident in the Episcopal Church’s ability to fulfill this mission. “[The Episcopal Church is] start a great mix because we are a destination church – because we have gathered Roman Catholics, because we have gathered people from the Evangelical church and people from the Lutheran church. because it’s such a great destination church it’s kind of gotten some of the most interesting, well-educated, very emotional and exciting people … that’s a great gift we’ve been given in the Episcopal Church, and moving forward that is something that we can really utilize to grow and to reach out to a very diverse group.”
I asked him what he’s experienced in his short time at Saint James.’ “It’s been great!” he said, “…we have a really interesting, diverse group of people … We’ve have people who’ve had maybe really high-end corporate jobs and we have folks like … Chris Giglio … who’s a huge airline pilot who flies all over the world … and then you have people like … Norma Thatcher who has dedicated 25 years to teaching sunday school at Saint James’, who is absolutely in love with godly play … who tragically lost a child … they have so much to offer our church community through their stories. the fact that we have such an eclectic group of people plays into the whole diversity of the Episcopal Church.”
“I know the school’s hoping to expand and potentially build an addition and grow a little bit which will hopefully – along with expanding the school and growing the school, which will be incredible – will also give [the church] the space back to increase their Sunday school programs and utilize the space that was used by the church [in previous years] …If [in] the next five years, the school was able to expand, the church would be able to expand as well”
“[My time here has been] refreshing to me – I spent three years in a church and I loved my time there, but this has been – in a short period of time I’ve been here – very exciting. There’s a lot going on and I’m just really excited to be a part of it …. Now people are walking up to me and introducing themselves to me on Sunday morning saying ‘I’ve never volunteered’ or ‘I used to volunteer and i want todo it again’ … it’s been really good and I’ve been excited about it”
John can be reached at email@example.com.