While the past year of Covidtide has posed a severe challenge for Christians around the U.S. and the world, others saw it as an opportunity. An example of such optimism can be seen in Fr. Richard R. Tarsitano, who in January moved his family from suburban Jacksonville, Florida (mean high 67°) to plant Trinity Anglican Church, an Anglican Catholic Church mission in Connersville, Indiana (mean high 37°).
Fr. Tarsitano admits that Connersville — the county seat of Fayette County, located an hour from Cincinnati, Dayton and Indianapolis — doesn’t match what church planting handbooks normally define as an “opportunity.” But, in fact, he believes the challenges faced by his new hometown of 13,000 provide two opportunities for evangelism.
First, as he wrote earlier this year, Connersville “is a wonderful city hard hit by fiscal downturn and the opioid crisis.” In this case, the area’s largest employer — a former Ford Motor factory — closed in 2007 after more than 50 years. As a sign of hope, the opening of the church was covered by the local newspaper.
The second was the availability of the historic Gothic revival church, opened as Trinity Episcopal Church in 1859, which after decades of decline was deconsecrated in January 2017 and deeded to the state landmark commission. As a registered state landmark, the building was thus available for only $40,000, and his brother John Tarsitano arrived in November to oversee the rehabilitation of the church and its adjacent rectory.
(Re)launching a Holy Space
At the beginning of March, Trinity’s new vicar relaunched public worship at Holy Trinity. On March 1, the church began offering the Daily Office every weekday at 7:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. As the website promises:
After the repairs were finished, to meet the community Trinity held an open house on March 6. The next day, Fr. Tarsitano celebrated first Holy Communion at the newly revived church, with an initial attendance of 25.
He is confident that his community is ready for the historic faith abandoned by the previous owners of this building. Trinity has announced its Holy Week schedule, with services every day between Palm Sunday and Easter. As with Evening Prayer, all the weekday Holy Week services will be held at 5 p.m., to allow the bivocational vicar to drive the five minutes from his day job to the rectory in time to lead the service.
Bearing Witness in the Community
He believes that evangelizing the community entails a dual responsibility. The first is to meet people where they are, join and be visible in the community, which in his case means wearing his clericals wherever he goes. The other members of his family are also bearing witness in the community — his wife Meghan, mother Sally and his brother John (who doubles as a lay reader and senior warden).
The second is that in every action, he is representing his parish and the faith. Whether it be in how he talks with others or tips a waitress, he knows these actions are shaping how others perceive this newcomer to the community. Together these actions build relationship with one’s neighbor.
Such relationship means responding to that neighbor by acts that demonstrate grace and hospitality.