By Sharon Sheridan
The sign on her office wall reads: Do Justice, Love Mercy. A
balloon representation of Jonah inside the whale from Sunday’s children’s
sermon rests on a table in front of the couch. A small refrigerator in the
corner stocks cans of soda, ready for visitors.
The Rev. Cynthia Black is settling in.
After two decades doing ministry elsewhere, Black returned
to the Episcopal Diocese of Newark at the end of June as rector of the Church
of the Redeemer in Morristown. On Sept. 29, Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith
formally will install Black in her new post during a Celebration of New
Ministry at 7 p.m. at the church on South Street.
The service music mostly will feature hymns written by
Redeemer members, plus two anthems composed for the occasion by church Director
of Music Ed Alstrom and using instrumentation such as trumpets, bassoon,
clarinet and timpani. “One is a piece based on what people commonly refer to as
the ‘New Zealand Lord’s Prayer,’” Black said. The other uses the words of a
prayer from Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Lowder: “Praise for All Creatures,
Laughers and List Makers.”
During the celebration, the rector said, “we’ll be
acknowledging our deep connection with folks like the [Community] Soup Kitchen
and the Empty Bowl Zendo and the Eric Johnson House … and the larger Morristown
The sermon will engage a “preaching team” of Redeemer member
Leah Thomas, Diocese of New York Bishop Suffragan Catherine Roskam and Louie
Crew, founder of Integrity, which works for the full inclusion of LGBT people
in the Episcopal Church.
“The three of them are going to be reflecting on where the
church is today and where it needs to be tomorrow and how Redeemer can be a
part of that,” Black said.
The service’s creative liturgy and outreach focus are
typical for the congregation that describes itself as “a Christian liberation
community in the Episcopal tradition.” It was that combination of liturgical innovation
and justice that attracted Black. “I joked with the search committee about this
being a place with liturgy and justice for all. The intersection of those two
things is where I find myself right now.”
Black began her ordained ministry in Essex Fells in 1985
before becoming dean of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Kalamazoo, Mich.,
and, most recently, interim rector of Church of the Epiphany in Plymouth, Minn.
She has been involved in all levels of church life, from serving on the Episcopal
Church’s Executive Council and as president of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus to
attending meetings of the World Council of Churches in Zimbabwe and the U.N.
World Conference on Women in Beijing. She chairs the Episcopal Church’s
Committee on the Status of Women and has been honored for efforts to raise AIDS
awareness by Community AIDS Resource and Education Services in southwest
Her partner of 30 years, mathematics professor Rebecca Walker, will join her in Morristown after completing this year’s teaching contract at
Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.
Black’s return to the diocese came in response to the call
she felt to Redeemer.
“I couldn’t wait for the right job and wherever that was,”
Black said. “I’m delighted to be back here [in New Jersey], but it wasn’t the
In a way, it seemed like a drawback. “One of the things I
was really enjoying about Minnesota was because it was all new. I’m an explorer
by nature,” she said. “Coming to New Jersey meant losing some of that.”
But she discovered that the state had changed in 20 years,
plus she’s living in a different part of it. “So there is still a newness about
it, and that’s very exciting to me.”
At Redeemer, “I’m still learning and discovering,” she said.
One of the church’s hallmarks is expanding the liturgies of
the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer “in a way that welcome s everyone and
hopefully keeps them from being ostracized,” she said. “We’re very intentional
about our language. Imagery for God is balanced as best we can.”
This means, for example, using gender-neutral language for
“But within and behind all of that, there is a high level of
sensitivity to what’s going on in the world,” she said.
This Sunday, for example, the church will celebrate its
fifth anniversary as a Peace Site with special music, readings and prayers at
its 10:30 a.m. service. The liturgy will end with a blessing in front of the
church at the peace pole and the release of doves. Afterward, folk singer and
Redeemer choir member Jim Gartner will present “Songs of Peace” during a Peace
Site Coffee House.
According to a press release, Lou Kousin launched the
concept of Peace Sites around the world more than 30 years ago. A member of NJ
SANE (predecessor to NJ Peace Action), Kousin thought that, if every place
became a peace site, there would be nowhere left to fight or have
wars. The idea caught on, and hundreds of peace sites now exist around the
On Oct. 23, Christopher Senyonjo, former bishop of West
Bugunda Diocese in the Anglican Church of Uganda, will speak about his work as
an LGBT activist. Senyonjo was ousted by the
Ugandan church in 2007 for his ministry serving the marginalized and oppressed,
including the gay community.
“The passion of Redeemer is all about connecting locally
with things that are happening around the world,” Black said. So while the
church is hosting Senyonjo, who works for human rights in Uganda, it also
developed a speaker’s bureau in response to Rutgers University freshman Tyler
Clementi’s suicide after his roommate videostreamed him kissing another man and
is sending a team that has raised nearly $2,000 to march in Saturday’s Garden
State Equality Walk for marriage equality.
“There’s a commitment to living out the global issues
locally and the local issues globally,” Black said. “I think it’s all done
based on an understanding that God loves absolutely everybody.”
“I think Redeemer prides itself on its uniqueness but at the
same time feels deeply connected to the breadth of the Anglican experience,”
Church members sign up on an annual basis, making specific
financial and ministry commitments. “It’s a conscious choice to be a member of
Redeemer,” Black said. And many of those members drive many miles – including
from Pennsylvania – to belong.
“There is no church better positioned for growth in the
Episcopal Church than this one because of its unique identity, its willingness
to take risks and its ability to reach a segment of the population that has
either been ignored or treated poorly,” she said.
Looking ahead, she wonders whether Redeemer eventually might
build “satellites” for worshipers in other areas. “I believe that the liturgy
and theology of Redeemer can appeal to people far beyond the Morristown area. I
think something like that would be interesting to explore.”