By Greta Brueck and Monty Howard
It’s not every day that you find a house of worship that describes itself as both “radically welcoming” and “diverse” — unless you live in Bolton Hill. Established in 1860, long before anything too radical or diverse was celebrated, Memorial Episcopal Church has evolved from a traditional neighborhood church that, sadly, discriminated in both senses of the word, into a passionately openminded parish that considers itself a force for constructive change within the Diocese of Maryland.
The main catalyst for Memorial’s evolution over the past century was Father Barney Farnham, who took over the church in the late 1960s in the midst of an extremely racially divided city. Farnham was a true leader in urban ministry, initiating outreach programs, free community meals, and support groups. He eagerly brought people together while also attracting those outside of what he dubbed the “white island.” Under his care, Memorial underwent a phoenix-like transformation.
Through continued devotion to social justice (one of its Core Vocations), the parish was one of the first in Maryland to hire a female priest, and it was also the first congregation to marry a same-sex couple.
So many of the roots planted by Father Farnham have grown into a garden now tended loyally by its current Rector, Reverend Grey Maggiano. Maggiano has been ardent and fearless in challenging his congregation and his community “to reach out in love — not judgement — and form real relationships.” You can read more of his ideas on his blog.
Rev. Maggiano also recognizes that along the road to tolerance, it is important not to forget the past. On Good Friday, he led his parish in the “Repenting for Racism: Stations of the Cross Walk.” in which 37 parishioners, neighbors and friends toured sites in the neighborhood where racism manifested itself through 1960s.
Selections from a recent student art exhibit at the church
Today, Memorial’s beautiful old stone structure stands mighty on the grounds of a loving new norm, celebrating differences both theological and human. In addition to worship services, neighbors enjoy a variety of events and opportunities hosted in the space: monthly neighborhood association meetings, galas, yoga, student art exhibits, the Samaritan Community— they even let one of the Bulletin’s co-editors teach his Sheng Zhen Gong classes there!
Forget age, race, marital status, sexual orientation—the more diversified the voices, the merrier the worship. And speaking of merry voices, don’t miss a chance to experience Memorial’s theater arts program, which hosts a Fall Drama and a Spring Musical every year.
All are welcome, always. A schedule of services and more can be found at Memorial Episcopal online.