Category Archives: News

Helen Stratford writes:

Keeping Time

Sunday I was seated on a park bench, beneath the branches of an elm tree, playing the squeeze box.  I had been sitting there for quite a while.  It was that intermediary point between late afternoon and dusk.  The amber street lamps ignited almost imperceptibly. Their soft glow accentuated the golden hues of the autumn foliage.  Topaz chips of glitter.  The skies were smokey and subdued.  The November winds twisted through the yellow leaves that had collected on the pavement.

With a symmetry intelligible only from altitudes, the park consists of a  maze of  concrete walkways, footpaths trimmed with wrought iron gates on either side, lined with benches.  At various points the pathways open into small piazzas, where skateboarders can circle and cruise, fathers can play catch with their sons, lovers can stroll, and pigeons can flock amidst a spray of crumbs. There are notable varieties of elms growing amidst such asphalt expanses, their roots writhing and swirling from the exposed and hardened surface of the earth,  protectively sectored by cobblestone masonry that designate where the ground ended and the concrete began.  Squirrels habitually shimmy up and down the gray bark of the trunks.  Dogs are drawn to sniff  the scent left by the squirrels, and, in summer months, the Hari Krishnas are known to gather beneath one particular elm, the largest in the park and centrally located.  The monks sit cross legged in their orange togas and shaved heads, and chant mantras.  And so to some, it has come to be known as the Hari Krishna tree. It is reputedly the oldest in the park, and serves as a centerpiece, of sorts, the spindle of a circular shaped plaza, the compass needle of a binnacle.  This tree serves to inform many of their bearings.  It is the source, the meeting place, so to speak.  Its branches gracefully extend themselves at great length, sloping and bending, with smooth, soft curves, inclined in all directions.  Its foliage provides shade to those who sit on the partial ellipses of benches situated around the interior parameter of the piazza.  It was on one such bench that  I sat late Sunday afternoon and into the early evening, with my instrument, savoring the unseasonably warm temperatures which combined with the brooding, tempestuous skies.

Barely visible amidst  the leaves at my feet, was a small cigar box i had bought from a neighbor at a sidewalk sale enroute to the park.  A wooden cigar box that she had transformed decades ago into a receptacle for keepsakes and mementos, by cutting and affixing a detail from a well known Modigliani to the topside of its wooden exterior.   Inside too, another well known female figure by the same artist was inserted into the underside of the lid.  It had probably been refashioned in during her college years, when many drank Mateuse and used the bottles as candlestick holders afterward.  Because of the predominate golds and browns,  the box was barely distinguishable from the dry crumpled foliage.

It was growing continuously darker. The skies had gradated from lavender to a deeper shade of amethyst.  The hours advanced like a troop of soldiers marching fearlessly into the frontline of an austere enemy line that awaited ahead.  The winds were recurrent, of varying velocity, sometimes gentle and enduring, other times occurring as sudden blast that seemed to be a torn segment from a greater gale, vanishing as instantly as it arrived.  When such winds passed through, they  swirled through the bed of leaves compiled beneath the elm, air lifting them momentarily and causing them to toss and turn in their suspended state, to flip and flop.  Those that remained on the ground seemed to chase each other in circles and scuttle across the concrete.  Toddlers were often induced to run from their mother’s side, and kick through the accumulating mound, further releasing  the rich and fecund aroma notable to the Fall.

Autumn has its own ominous beauty, calling us back, letting us know another season is coming to its conclusion – and, if only as an innuendo,  preparing us for what’s ahead.

People drew nearer, compelled by the plaintive cry of the music.  From various, directions they deviated temporarily from their course, beckoned by the distant appeal of the intoned melodies.   Combined with the magisterial beauty of the foliage,  the music persuaded many to take a seat , to rest and ponder for a moment.   Slowly  the crowd continued to gather, disparate individuals, who were permitted and persuaded to pause, to observe the richness and slender of the elements occurring about them. The foliage of the trees, the turgid skies, the fragrant aroma which seemed to be intensified by the unlikely threat of rain. Still visible, beyond the parameters of the park,  the soft wash of tenements and brownstones rising above the tree tops – Emitting a certain charm and appeal probably not so different than when Henry James inhabited such an address. Sienna, Rust, and Brown Brick edifices that retained a well kept stateliness, with water towers on their roofs, and onyx fire escapes zig zagging down their facades.

Each time a breeze passed through, a shower of leaves began to flutter from the elm.  It was a majestic, mesmerizing. An umbrella of falling petals.  Butter colored, the disengaged leaves flitted and fluttered, frivolously, in no particular hurry, catching glimpses of light as they descended, to the pavement below. They seemed to flicker, as the underside and topside of the leaves alternatively wavered, revealing the subtle gradation and variation in hue.  Throughout the park, and perhaps throughout the city, all the trees participated in unison.  Munificent showers of supple amber leaves, swept by the momentary tumult and turbulence of the tempest.  There were other varieties of trees as well.  The supple fan shaped leafs of the ginkgo,  the leaflets of the honey locust, and the massive, paw shaped leafs of the Oak, all contributing to the confetti of amber, gold and topaz.  It was stunning and ritualistic.  A moment that pulled everyone out of the confines of their own mentality to behold in unified wonder. It  induced the same awesome sense in all those that beheld with steadfast gaze –  the same feeling as experienced by all who had ever watched in generations past, regardless of the particular landscape or setting.

The descent of an autumn leaf is Iconic in this sense.  And en masse, symphonic.

Old timers could not help but  observe the occurrence and wonder, how many autumns they  had left.  They inhaled the caramel flavored air, smelling of summer’s sweetness slightly toasted in ghee.  Children leapt from their mother’s side to run beneath the cascade, with outstretched arms, kicking through the accumulative mound of leaves.  Mother’s watched from the benches, strollers parked nearby.   Soon, they thought,  it would be time for mittens and sleds, for ice skating on ponds  beneath a vast prairie  the stars.  But perhaps that was their own remembered winters they were envisioning.  For this was new york,  the nostalgic interlude was occurring within an urban landscape.

Strange how the past stencils itself so readily upon our apprehension of the future.

An elderly asian woman bent over from a nearby bench, and picked up a leaf to press between the pages of a volume she held in her lap.

A student wrote copiously in the pages of a composition book.

Lovers sat beside each other hand in hand.

Onlookers, incredulated by the great spectacle,  snapped photographs with their smart phones.

Still others shuddered to think of what waited in the coming weeks.  Leafless and barren, etched against the pallid and anemic skies, the elms would appear  attenuated and arthritic,  as if scrawled and scribbled with charcoal on low grade scraps of a sketch pad. Which is what the drab and dreary skies would be comparable to – cheap rag paper.  Even if propped on an easel, each day could be torn off from the tablet and discarded. Crumpled up and tossed on Avenue B. Temperatures would plummet.  In less than a month’s time, these very same trees would seem so gaunt and haunting.  And even that would only signify the beginning. The bleak passage toward the season of the Undertakers. The morticians and pall bearers whose elongated apparitions still stride along the widened sidewalks in front of the brownstones.  Tall wooden figures in tuxedo jackets and stripe pants, with top hats and walking sticks.

Perhaps it was the knowledge of what waited ahead, that  served to make these moments even more precious.  Increasing the intensity of the offering.  Likely it persuaded some to cling more tightly to the beauty unfolding before them.  To surrender.  To be pliant.

(Completion?  Finality?  Such concepts seem an anathema to the Divine.  God is an unaccomplished artist just setting out, and each day is an awkward clumsy sketch, that will be torn off and begun over. Constantly being altered, edited, modified. Never finished. Never perfect.  Always a work in progress. )

My fingers deftly knitted and crocheted the keys, as reminiscent melodies wheezed out.

The poignancy of the falling leaves compelled something in the depths of each singular heart to dance.  It reached in and invited the soul to tango.  Each interior landscape  was momentarilly transformed into a ballroom,  Roseland, a massive dance hall  in which an often unconuslted aspect of our being was called forth from the shadows and recessitudes to exult.  To be swung around in the rhapsodic embrace of a mysterious and faceless stranger.

The angels are always pleading to be let in.  They scurry amongst us.  Fleeting.  As Vaporous as the el greco clouds that were beginning to assemble overhead.

An ember in the smoldering ashes was stirred.  A glint, a glimmer. A gleam. For some, its always a matter of such a flame is being ignited. Or extinguished.

The skies darkened. A storm of pigeons squabbled. They strutted across the pavement in their red shoes and grey suits, clucking their heads to some unheard rhythm that had nothing to do with the songs i was cranking out.  Individuals seated on the benches eventually rose, drifting off in various directions, though their places were constantly replenished by new wanderers, that had been compelled by the music. Songs known the world over.  The theme from the Godfather. La Vie En Rose. Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  Songs that i had played throughout India, Morocco, South East Asia, Egypt, Europe.  Songs that had angered me rides on elephants in Udaipur,  camel rides across the moon drenched desert sands to the great pyramids.  Songs that had persuaded the old and unwanted indian women, sitting in endless succession along the dusty streets of Delhi, to remove bangles from their wrists and offer them in exchange for another melody.

No, please don’t go, they pleaded in Hindi.  The same appeal as we held toward these final rhapsodic days of the season.

Like the leaves, the songs had a universal appeal.

Beauty  is like that.  It has such traits and attributes.  It is capable of knocking down borders. Slipping through barriers.

Multitudes of men dressed in sheets followeed through Marrakesh singing Hi Lili Hi Lili Hi Lo.  Women in burkas peered out from the corners to watch in fascination.

Had the cigar box been more conspicuous it might have dissuaded many from pausing.  Especially the poor, the elderly, those who might feel guilty not being able to contribute.  Because the box was so submerged, people took no notice.  those who did, approached to thank me, and discreetly dropped a few dollars in before leaving.

It was when i began cranking out Moon River that another shower of butter colored leaves began to descend, prolonged by a breeze that did not want to let up.  The air seemed to suddenly condense and thicken with moisture.  The predicted evening rains were drawing closer. With darkness encroaching,  the glow of the street lamps seemed more vibrant, the chips of amber blazing throughout the park.  Like metallic chips in a painting by Hunterwasser.  Or Klimpt.  The line between dusk and twilight, between day and night, was disputable. The borders were being smudged.  The leaves fell in great multitudes.  Like the flakes of snow that fall when a child’s glass dome is shaken.  I lifted my gaze as my weathered fingers pressed on, and beheld the tree from its underside.  The leaves fell on my shoulders, on my lap, and on the bellows.  They collected in the rim of my hat.  They continued to descend into the innermost depths of my being.  They forced the lips open of an invisible mouth, one hitherto muted, that had remained undisclosed in my own interior darkness.  The beauty tore at the crack that sealed shut those lips. It ripped apart at the seam that confined its secrets.  Unrelentingly it pried.  And as the leaves continued to fall, and my fingers continued to press the succession of notes, while the bellows continued to expand and contract, to heave pendulously and with certain intent, the power of beauty suddenly yanked from the throat of that dark orafice – an apology to the universe.  Yes, suddenly my soul cried out.  It wrenched out a thank you.  The song continued like a moon lit river through the tributaries of the past. Bursting forth, from such unconsummated depths, a tacit and unprecedented gratitude for my childhood.  For growing up in the woods, and having a pond that my foster father had made with his bulldozer in a clearing formed after sawing down a lot of  trees.  There were brooks that tickled through those woods, with moss covered banks and gurgling black waters that fed into the pond. The earth, especially where the truncated stumps had been removed, smelled of anise and sasparilla. Of horehound. Overhead the stars began to glimmer.  The stars in the skies of my memory, and in the skies above tompkins square park, abolishing time. Eradicating the line between the past and the present.

The angels are always waltzing with the phantoms across such borders.  The spirits are entangled in each other’s embrace, dancing amid the casualties and corpses.  The shapeless shadowy adumbrations.

How many leaves had fallen from the elm in the few hours i had played.  Hundreds? Thousands?  Tens of thousands?  How many autumns had i played through.  How many more awaited?   Each a requiem as much as a rendezvous.

The rapture induced by the falling leaf. Multiplied to the square root of poetry.  Some would call it God’s duplicitous sense of mercy.  For it diverted our attention from the branch that was being denuded.  Slowly, incrementally, death was nibbling at each limb, and licking its chops.  Gazing up from beneath the boughs, the heavens became increasingly more visible.Seconds passed.  Minutes.  Hours.  Time marched like an indefatigable  troop of soldiers impervious to the passage that had left so many of us battle weary. The most we could do was trudge. And even that would be with belligerence.


Soon the snow would fall and the branches would be articulated by its accumulation, as would the park benches and the railings of the wrought iron fences. The swing sets of a nearby play ground would creak arthritically in the wind.

Suddenly a mother rose,  lifted her toddler from the pile of leaves, and began dancing with him in her arms.

Dream maker.

Heart breaker.

Helen Stratford

November 8th 2015

Completed November 12th


Bishop’s All Saints letter

Together in Christ

Nov. 1, 2015

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Today we observe and celebrate All Saints’ Day! Though we may each define saint differently, I think we can all agree that saints are change-agents or “balcony people.” “Balcony people” are not those members of your congregation who sit in the upper seats! (Or maybe they are; read on).

Consider this definition from a blog I recently read: “A Balcony Person brings people to a higher place – where they can flourish, live freely, pursue their passions, and become better human beings. Balcony People encourage, help, give, serve; they are considerate, enthusiastic & joyful, quick to forgive, good listeners, diligent, compassionate. They make people’s lives better. They also make people better. They know how to encourage others to grow into the best versions of themselves.” Taken from the blog “You Are the One that I Want.”

As we observe All Saints’ Sunday, may we think about the saints in our lives who have been our change-agents and balcony people – those who have gone to their eternal rest since we observed and celebrated All Saints’ Sunday in 2014.

May I share with you four people in my life who have been my change-agents and balcony people, those who have left us in the last few months to enjoy their heavenly home?

First, Padma Punja, who was one of my earliest role models. She opened her house to people of all faiths and backgrounds, rich and poor alike. The youth, lay, clergy, and bishops who visited India always enjoyed her powerful hospitality. Even on our last Mission of Peace Pilgrimage to India, she, along with her son and his family, gave us a gala dinner. She was an inspiration to others through her humility and gracious smile.

Second, Ursula Veigel, the spouse of a missionary from Germany who I knew in my childhood and teenage years. Ursula’s radiating smile and compassionate eyes always spoke to us on our level as children and youth. She taught us how to love and care for the poor.

Third, my Aunt Betsy, a positive thinker who had the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. She always encouraged people to see the goodness in others. I still remember with gratitude her great ability to listen to others and always see the gifts they possessed. I was also touched by her radical hospitality.

Fourth, Bishop Taranath Sagar, a global ecumenical leader and bishop of the Methodist Church in India. Though I only came to know him in this last decade, he amazed me with his ability to speak the truth with a touch of humor. On my visit to India this summer, I enjoyed spending time with him. We engaged in holy conversation with one another without any fear. It was a beautiful visit where I enjoyed his and his wife Padma’s graceful hospitality. Bishop Sagar challenged me to go places I would not have gone on my own, thus enabling me to stretch my imagination and thoughts.

Friends, may I prayerfully encourage you to think about all those who have been your saints – your agents of change, your balcony people?

May we take time to talk about them and share how they influenced and changed us through their lives and their roles as children of God?

May we take time to thank our Creator for each of them and for the gifts, in all shapes and forms, they have given us that continue to make us better people?

May we also take time to write a note of appreciation to those saints who are still living, letting them know how they have influenced us for the better; let them know that we recognize them as our saints, our balcony people.

Interestingly, someone just recently sent me this quote from Albert Schweitzer: “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

May God grant all of us the power and grace to be a change agent or balcony person, rekindling inner spirits in others, filled with the compassionate love of God and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In Christ’s love,
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar


1854 A Folk Opera

1854 is about and inspired by, the Vineyard mid-19th century abolitionist movement .  Come hear about its creation.

On Sunday, August 16th at 4:00 p.m. there will be a presentation regarding a developing folk opera, 1854 . This presentation is meant to give the audience an inside look into how such a piece of musical theatre is developed. A storyboard of sample scenes, plus early musical renderings of two scenes that begin 1854 will be presented. Questions are welcome. This demonstration is meant to benefit the further development of 1854. Afterwards, a free-will offering will be requested.

See the links below to learn more.   Listen to sample here.  Beautiful!

THE NET: Youth group beings in Sept.

Stay posted for further information.

Island churches are forming an ecumenical youth group. Its proposed name is The Net. Please read the guiding principles and goals below and then sign off on this memorandum if you wish to participate. Each participating church is expected to provide financial support and assist a paid youth group leader.


Guiding Principles:

  1. The goal is to provide a safe place where students can grow and share their faith.
  2. The Net will serve students in grades 7-12, beginning September, 2014.
  3. Character education and faith development will be stressed. Though we may not study scripture, this will be a faith-based program (for example, we expect to end each meeting with The Lord’s Prayer).
  4. At least one clergy person from a participating church will be present at every meeting. Participating churches will also be asked to provide adult lay leaders on occasion (for regular meetings and special events or trips), who will also be asked to contribute to the life of the group (e.g., get to know the students and take and active role in the group).
  5. There will be no “discipling” and no proselytizing.
  6. Safe Church policies will be followed. Leaders and volunteers will be CORIed.


Proposed Format:

The Net will meet on Sundays from 4:00 to 5:30 pm from September 14 – May 17. If school is not scheduled for Monday, the Youth Group will not meet, therefore meeting dates are:

September 14, 21 and 28 (3) February 1, 8 and 22 (3)

October 5, 19 and 26 (3) March 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29 (5)

November 2, 9, 16 and 23 (4) April 12 and 26 (2)

December 7 and 14 (2) May 3, 10 and 17 (3)

January 4, 11 and 25 (3)

There will be 28 meetings, plus a winter ski trip, and a mission trip in the spring.

We will hold meetings at Island churches on a rotating basis. One church will host in September, October and November. A second church will host in December, January and February. A third church will host in March, April and May.

We will hire and pay one leader, who will be supported by clergy and lay people from the participating churches. Details about staffing and accounting for paid position are available upon request.


“Spirit Song” September 14

On "stage"

On “stage”

September 14 at 3, the concert of songs, arias and spirituals sung by mezzo-sooprano, Lia Kahler with friends.
Silent auction at 2.
Info about “Spirit Song”

What: Catalyst Concert of songs, spirituals, arias and solo works for piano and organ

Why: To raise funds for the estimated $20,000 repair of the steeple and cross of the Chilmark Community Church damaged by Hurricane Sandy

Who: Lia Kahler, mezzo-soprano, with fellow artists and friends, pianist Richard Gordon, organist Philip Dietterich, and readers Arlene Bodge and Dan Cabot

When: Sunday afternoon September 14, 2014, 3:00 p.m. Preceded by Silent Auction at 2:00, during intermission and at the reception following the concert

Where: Chilmark Community Church, Menemsha Crossroad

Other info:

Arlene and Dan will be readers of the English texts of Brahm’s “Four Scriptural Songs”

Silent auction: Special item up for bid: a ride for up to 5 to a private picnic on the North Shore chauffeured by Bob Ganz at the wheel of his 1926 Lincoln convertible; other items – dining certificates, prints, jewelry, stocking stuffers and other surprises.






Chilmark reaches goal of $500 for Imagine No Malaria

As of Sunday, with the help of Bob’s matching funds,   Chilmark  Community Church surpassed it’s goal of $500 for the campaign.  We’ll be sending the New England Conference $571 toward the goal. See below.

Can We Catch a Killer?

Every 60 seconds, malaria claims a life in Africa. The people of the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church are unified in the fight against a needless killer with Imagine No Malaria.

Imagine No Malaria is an extraordinary effort of the United Methodist Church as we put our faith into action all across the denomination to end preventable deaths by malaria in Africa, especially the death of a child or a mother. Our goal in the New England Annual Conference is to save 150,000 lives by raising $1.5 million for Imagine No Malaria.

New England Campaign Progress:

Achieving the goal of ending preventable deaths by malaria requires an integrated strategy against the disease. As a life-saving ministry, Imagine No Malaria aims to empower the people of Africa to overcome malaria’s burden. We in the New England Conference join with other United Methodists to fight malaria with a comprehensive model.

In 2006, we entered into the fight with Nothing But Nets program. Imagine No Malaria will continue to support Nothing But Nets and build partnerships, because bed nets are an effective tool against the disease.

We are making a difference

But there is still more work to do

Just a few short years ago, statistics showed a child died every 30 seconds of malaria. Today, because of your dedicated and generous support by United Methodists, malaria’s impact has been cut in half.

According to the World Health Organization (World Malaria Report 2011), this disease now claims a life every 60 seconds. We seek to end all preventable deaths from malaria, so our journey continues….

Now, Imagine No Malaria helps us take the next step in this fight (think of it as Nets Plus). We’re doing more and addressing this issue on a variety of fronts, including Prevention, Education, Communications, and Treatment.

To date, Imagine No Malaria is responsible for the distribution of 1.2 million insecticide-treated bed nets throughout the continent.
We know that local people are the most credible and trusted source for information about malaria. We have trained more than 5,400 community health workers to personally deliver mosquito nets and measure usage rates. Recent efforts in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo have produced net usage rates exceeding 80 percent.
Behavior-change communication includes how to use and care for a bed net, and when to seek treatment for the disease. In addition to word-of-mouth outreach, the United Methodist radio station in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) broadcasts messages about malaria to thousands of listeners each day.
The United Methodist Church operates more than 300 hospitals, clinics and health posts throughout Africa. This vital healthcare infrastructure is a critical part of how we will overcome the disease. In order to be effective, however, these facilities must have life-saving resources like rapid diagnostic tests and malaria medication.

Cross and steeple Repair to begin


It all began with hurricane “Sandy”.  The cross took a dramatic lean to the East.  Before it could fall Mark Clements brought over his equipment and Roy Riley rode up to the heavens and took down the cross.



4-IMG_0450 3-IMG_0446 2-IMG_0442Now  it is time to repair the cross and do some overdue maintenance on the upper part of the steeple (the bottom third was rebuilt four years ago). John Leecock from Palmer, Massachusetts, a partner of Frank Allard, who repaired steeples in West Tisbury and Edgartown and even, Chilmark, years ago, has been consulted about doing the work.

Contributions to the project would be most welcome:  Chilmark Community Church, 9 Menemsha Crossroad. 02535.