A COMMUNITY OF RADICAL HOSPITALITY
When The Rev. Betsy Fisher preaches her final sermon on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 10:30 a.m. at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Amenia Union, it is likely there will be more than a few damp eyes in the congregation.
Every once in a while, the right person comes along at just the right time. So it was in the tiny church when the now retiring Rev. Fisher arrived. She is known far beyond the boundaries of her parish, throughout Dutchess County and even into Connecticut as her good works — particularly in fighting for the hungry — have provided practical solutions and inspiration to many.
As far reaching as her reputation is, no one knows her impact better than those with whom she has worked closely during her time at the church. Senior Warden emeritus Anne Vance voiced the collective feelings of the Vestry.
“In the 11 years since Betsy came to St. Thomas as its first full-time priest, the church has been transformed,” she wrote. “We’ve gone from a congregation of about 16 people to one of more than 70.
From Rev. Betsy
Dear friends --
It is my pleasure to introduce you to St. Thomas' new organist, John Gagliardi. John hails from LaGrange, New York. He began his musical studies at age 11. By age 16, John was serving as a pianist at a Methodist church and subsequently became the organist. John has studied piano and organ with Dr. Peter Muir, Music Director at Grace Episcopal Church, Millbrook. He is presently under the tutelage of Maestro Hector Olivera, and Peter Krauss. John is also co-owner of New York Beef Company, a family operated farm that specializes in raising grass-fed Angus beef cattle.
John comes to us with great enthusiasm and love of music and the organ. He has a deep sense of the importance of music in the context of worship. In a recent conversation I had with John about liturgy and the role of music, this is what John shared with me:
"I love playing organ music. But people shouldn't come to church just to hear the music. They need to come to hear the message. That's your job, Rev. Betsy. My job is to create an atmosphere of welcome and to inspire people as they worship." Wise words from a young man. I couldn't agree more!
John at the organ with Maestro Hector Olivera.
“Betsy has been there for every one of us in times of pain and in times of joy, an expression and an example of the presence of God all around us during difficult times, and we will miss her more than we can say [we cried when she told us she was going to retire].
But perhaps most important, she guided the church in finding its mission of ‘radical hospitality.’”
That resulted in the opening of the Food of Life/Comida de Vida pantry nearly 10 years ago, which today provides food for 150 people every Friday. Said Vance, the on-site Giving Garden produces fresh vegetables from May through October, and the parish is dedicated to working with other community groups and churches to keep it open as long as there are people who need it. We can thank Betsy for helping us to develop the vision and courage to make it work,” Vance stated. “We wish her a rich retirement, full of pleasures and new challenges.”
As she prepared to retire, Rev. Fisher thought of those being left behind. “People always worry when a priest leaves that everything is going to fall apart,” she said. “But nothing could be further from the truth with St Thomas. They will be just fine. The next priest who comes to St. Thomas will be very lucky,” she added, noting her congregants, “are clear on their mission.”
The pantry, she said, is well funded and well supported. “It has captured the imagination of the broader community and many people beyond the boundaries of the church,” Fisher said. “So I am sure it will stay there.” In addition to establishing the food network, Rev. Fisher “gave a lot of energy to developing lay leadership,” which she said should help the parish as it searches for a new priest.
She added the vibrancy of the community is exceptional. “They get it. They just get it. They know what’s important. Wonderful, wonderful things have happened there because of those people,” she said.
While the Rev. Fisher is looking forward to taking some time to rest and contemplate, she plans to offer her services as a counselor/coach. She will be working with clergy who are in transition or who are in small parishes who need guidance while doing some consulting for the local diocese and working with parishes trying to grow. She said coaching is different from counseling — though she enjoys both. “It’s not telling people what they should do,” she said. “It’s helping them to discover what they want to do or what they believe they can do.”
With all of her plans to continue her good work, Rev. Fisher looks forward to what she’ll find because she is leaving it “open for the Holy Spirit.”
Courtesy of the Millerton News, 11/15/18