As a ministry begins to measure its age in decades rather than years, Bristol resident Al Colella, one of its leaders and most tireless volunteers, has written a history about the special relationship between St. John’s Episcopal Church in Barrington and St. Ann’s in the South Bronx, a church serving an economically disadvantaged community of mostly African American and Hispanic parishioners.
A relationship already existed between the two churches, but it was the events of September 11th 2001 that brought their relationship to the next level. A group of about 25 volunteers from St. John’s traveled to New York to help clean up efforts at Ground Zero. “Those were chaotic days, there was nowhere to sleep,” said Mr. Colella. Mother Martha, the rector at St. Ann’s, offered the floor of the church, giving the St. John’s volunteers a front-row view of St. Ann’s neighborhood. “It’s a wonderful, historic parish, but it was clear that they need everything.”
St. John’s church soon sent a home repair ministry crew to help fix the homes of elderly and disabled parishioners, as well as those who simply didn’t have the funds to do the work. They brought blankets and books; they built and stocked a parish library. Still, they felt they could do more. A plan coalesced around a question Al often posed to the kids he met in the Bronx: “How many of you have traveled?” The answer? Of roughly 60 kids asked, one eight-year-old replied “I went to Brooklyn once!”
So the folks from St. John’s set out to change that.
Beginning in the summer of 2002, St. John’s volunteers brought 40 kids from the South Bronx to Rhode Island’s Episcopal Conference Center Camp. That has continued for more than a decade and over the years expanded to provide opportunities for a handful of children to attend St. Andrews School, whose founder was the rector of St. John’s in 1893. Several children have gone on to college, and successful careers. Some remain in Rhode Island.
It’s not only the children from St. Ann’s who have benefitted—the teenagers from St. John’s who have traveled to New York to take part in this ministry have described it as “life-changing” and “eye-opening.” One young man reflected that “when I got home I began to look at life differently….I was so grateful….I did not need anything more.”
“The roots of the poverty that we see in the community served by St. Anne’s goes back all the way to Emancipation,” says Mr. Colella. “Freedom is not enough. You’ve got to do more. When you extend your hand out, you keep it out there. You are in it for the long haul.”
Proceeds from the sale of “Let’s Start with the Children” will be directed to an educational fund for inner-city children.
“Let’s Start with the Children” by Al Colella with Steven Lippincott
Book signing Saturday, April 13, at 1 p.m.
Barrington Books, County Road, Barrington.