2014: The Year of Transplanting. The Vicar’s Report

IMG_0371Annual Meeting 2014

The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, Vicar

2014: The Year of Transplanting


I’ve never called myself a church planter.

Rather, I claimed the descriptor of “Gathering Priest” back in 2002. Gathering a congregation of people who wanting to make church in the 21st century. We’ve never really talked about planting the Church of the Advocate, either. Saying instead that the Church was launched in 2003.

Launching seems much more lively and spirit-filled and interesting than planting…

So the planting metaphor hasn’t been a favorite of mine.



Yet in many ways, 2014 was the year in which the Advocate was planted, or really transplanted.. It’s as though we had been a little shrub. A little shrub in a plastic container. Or maybe even a terra cotta container. Carried from place to place, getting heavier and a bit more cumbersome from year to year.


If 2013 was the Year of the Mud, (which is certainly was here), then I’ve got to say that 2014 was the Year of transplanting.  2014 was the year in which the Advocate was transplanted  from its temporary, migratory pot into the ground here on 8410 Merin Road, off Homestead Road in north Chapel Hill.


One of the reasons I am now ready to embrace the planting or transplanting metaphor is that in the past few months I learned that if you want to plant or transplanted bushes, shrubs or trees, you do it in the cold months of late autumn and early winter.

Why? Because in those seasons, the energy and biological systems that go into branches and leaves go dormant, and the plant instead puts its energy into extending its roots more deeply into the ground. So while it seems as though the tree is taking a rest, hibernating like a bear, it is really using its energy in a different way. A tree or bush planted or transplanted in the chilly months can better get its roots established before it gets all distracted with branches and leaves.


IMG_9596Well, for the sake of this illustration, the Advocate Chapel was transplanted over many months, reconstruction and adaptation took a while…. but the soil was patted down and the metaphorical mulch added right around Eastertide.


We celebrated our first full liturgy in the Chapel with Town approval, The Great Vigil of Easter,

on April 19. Not enough thanks can ever be given to Pete Barber for taking on the building and certification process in its final months.


And in the months since Easter, (It hasn’t even been a year yet) we have been rooting ourselves here on this site, experiencing one “first” after another –

first Easter, first Christmas….

first baptism

first wedding

first funeral

first burial of ashes in the church yard….


We have tried things on – chairs set-up “Choir style”, slightly different processions, incense, a kids area (still needs thought…), and lunch instead of dinner (continued thanks to Martha Wheeler and Ernie Bowen for their gift of making it happen!)

We also tried on a contemplative Eucharist on Sunday afternoons, daily evening prayer  (which is now weekly evening prayer…), Adult Christian education conversations on Sunday after lunch (it’s going well)

We started a Conscientious Projector series and have a bold vision for its expansion. we moved Indulgences from the bar to the chapel.


We have also rooted ourselves in prayer, thanks to the spirit-filled leadership of Char Sullivan

who anchors our Wednesdays, which in turn anchor us. (they certainly anchor me!)


Some of our ministries are such a part of the Advocate, if we want to continue the transplanting the tree metaphor, that they are neither roots nor branches. Maybe the trunk of our tree? (maybe time to let the metaphor go here….)

Anyway, one is our ongoing engagement in the community and world around us. Many of the people of the Advocate are involved in ministries of justice and restoration. Collectively, we support numerous ministries through our Advocate Tithe (a list of 2014 Tithe Distributions will is now posted on our website). In 2014 we also participated in the ongoing work of the InterFaith Council, Orange Justice United, and the Moral Monday Movement.


Another ministry of this congregation is our “incubation” of individuals for ministry in the wider church. In 2014, we celebrated the ordination to the priesthood of Joslyn Schafer, now serving as a priest at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte. We continued our support and sponsorship of Elaine Tola, who will be ordained a Vocational Deacon later this month and Molly McGee Short, who will be ordained a Transitional Deacon in June. We also sent David Wantland to the Bishop with our blessing and he continues his discernment of a call to the priesthood in the diocese. Johnny Tuttle is not sponsored by the Advocate, but he is certainly one of our own, and has been serving his Divinity School internship here since September.

And then there are the remarkable ministries of Nathan Kirkpatrick and Sam Laurent. Both of whom give of their time and talent here freely. How does a church this small get preaching this great?!?!!!


In addition to preaching monthly, Sam serves as our Theologian-in-Residence, and has been leading our Indulgences twice monthly. He now is ready to head down the road to serve as interim Episcopal chaplain at Duke.

In addition to his preaching once a month, Nathan serves as our Pastor-in-Residence while he continues his process of transitioning from Methodist minister to Episcopal priest. We expect him to be ordained as a transitional Deacon in June as well.


In 2014, we sent out a few shoots of growth, to make clear that from the beginning this chapel is to be, not just a place of refuge and strength for us, but also a resource for the community and world around us. We have hosted dances and drum circles art exhibits and yoga classes. We’ve learned from these acts of hospitality  about inconvenience, about increased heating bills and toilet paper rolls that seem to vanish, because they get used up so quickly.

We’ve also learned more about what it is like to pitch your tent on the door sill, where the two worlds touch. Our lives are enriched and our worldview made more vital.


On the grounds around the chapel, Martha Wheeler continued to take the lead on tending the roadside garden while Kathleen Herr and others created the Chapel garden out front.

We added two lithic “furnishings.” A stone altar on the south end the pond for use in our outdoor liturgies was funded with gifts given in memory of those people of the Advocate who have gone before us. And what I call “The Rock of David” on the north end of the pond, was funded with gifts given in memory of our brother David Buchanan, who regularly found rest and solace overlooking the pond.


Getting rooted more deeply has included becoming more reasonable about what tasks can be expected to be done by volunteers and what tasks need to be paid for. This is an ongoing discernment process for any church, and very much for us. As the Vestry and Vicar realized fully that we had been given to unrealistic expectations in prior years, we set out to re-define the expectations of the resident and the administrative assistant. Thanks, too, to Barbara Rowan and Linda Snow for their help with this. Resident, Anna Shine, and Administrative Assistant, Charles Rousseau,

are now welcomed in those positions.


We also realized a need to hire someone to mow and tend to the grounds south of the pond twice a month. Similarly, we have hired someone to clean the chapel twice a month. We offer thanks for the work of Don Hayes for the former   and Guadeloupe Collazo for the latter!


Notably, the people of the Advocate really came together on two occasions in 2014, in ways that deepened our roots significantly. First, on August 24, we hosted the Diocesan celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church. Both bishops of our Diocese were here, as well as two of the original “Philadelphia Eleven.” The Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward preached and the Rev. Alison Cheek con-celebrated. We gathered under a tent over the parking lot, with huge fans circulating the August air. The hospitality, music and spirit that the Advocate provided was glorious.

And greatly appreciated by all.


More poignantly, the people of the Advocate gathered round  our brother David Buchanan as he was diagnosed with liver cancer in the summer and declined rapidly to death in October. We had just cheered his baptism at Pentecost…. By September, dozens of us provided twice-daily visits to him.

When he died, we mourned.  We gathered on the night of his death for a vigil and memory-sharing in the Chapel, And on October 12, we incorporated the Burial Office into our Sunday morning liturgy.

Rarely has one human being touched the hearts of so many in a congregation in such a short period of time.


In all of this, I have been grateful for the steady leadership of our Vestry: Sallie Moore, David Moore, Celisa Steele, Elaine Tola, and David Pass, our Treasurer, Kerry Bullock-Ozkan, and our Clerk, Anne Henrich (who also most notably chairs our altar guild).

I am hugely grateful for the wise and diplomatic leadership of our Senior Warden, Tom Fisher.

Tom was the launching Senior Warden of the Advocate Vestry from 2004 – 2006. He returned to the vestry to fill out the term of someone who had left in 2011, Then agreed to a full three-year term, 2012 – 2014. Two of those years he has been Senior Warden, seeing us through the move, the transplant, and a few note-worthy bumps in the road. And I think he has served on the Finance Committee from the start.

Oh. my. goodness.

Thank you, Tom Fisher.



Now, I know that, being in a largely academic community, we are used to starting things afresh with a new school year in late August or early September. And I know that the liturgical new year starts with Advent One, four weeks before Christmas,


But there is something about early January and a new calendar year, something about Epiphany,

something about the baptism of Jesus launching him into his earthly ministry, that gets us feeling like we are on the verge of something new. And we are!


In 2015 we will likely continue to deepen our roots. But soon and very soon, we are going to start to shoot out some branches and leaves. Nathan is going to help us sort through just what that might look like during lunch. But I want to take a minute to offer three possibilities.

(very Trinitarian, that!)


First, I hope that we will be intentional about being good neighbors in this part of Chapel Hill.

That will include connecting with the historic Rogers Road community. One part of that will likely include the restoration and restocking of our pond so that it can become a local fishing destination once again. Our Rogers Road connection will also include advocating on behalf of that neighborhood for more affordable housing and access to utilities.


Our being good neighbors will also include welcoming the Community House, a transitional housing program for men, when it opens later this year,  and helping some of our more reluctant neighbors to welcome them too.


And there will be neighbors who move in to one new development of another, (and there are several going in around here). We need to be good neighbors to them as well.


Second, n the year ahead, I also hope we can find new ways for the people of the Advocate to support one another in our several vocations and ministries in the world. We will begin with our Epiphany Commissions in the weeks ahead.


Third, I want us to become a community that welcomes children more fully and safely, teaching them the Christian story, giving them a place where they know that they are loved and cared for

and where they can begin to connect that love to God.


Being a good neighbor,

Supporting one another in the world,

welcoming children.

If we can do these three, we will be blooming!


As a way to wind up this report of the year gone by and to get us thinking and feeling about the year ahead, and to give everyone a chance to stretch, I asked Elaine and the Blue Grass Band to getting us going again with that classic rally-up song: This little light of mine.

So if you would, and as you are able, please take a stand and get ready to sing!