Movement on the homeless shelter?

The long-awaited and overdue feasibility study commissioned by the City of Madison has finally been completed. Architects are proposing several alternatives for using a city-owned property on S. Fairchild St. for a permanent men’s homeless shelter. You can read about their ideas here.

We’ve been waiting for this report for months and its completion is another step in what might be an exciting and very different future both for homeless men in Madison and for Grace Church. The Men’s Drop-In Shelter came to Grace in 1984 on a one-year trial basis and we’ve hosted ever since. Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to find alternative locations and better solutions, but nothing ever came of them.

A recent series of articles in the Madison State Journal have provided a comprehensive and troubling overview of Madison’s homeless problems and the inadequacies of our shelter system. Those articles are available here.

This is truly a wonderful opportunity but there are significant challenges still to come. The neighborhood meeting on Monday night will be an opportunity to hear about the possibilities and to provide feedback to the architects, city staff, and elected leaders. Perhaps the greatest challenge will be financial. While the city is willing to provide the property, there are no public funds available for renovation of the space. At this point, we don’t have any idea of what those costs might be, and whether the private sector can produce the funds necessary.

Nonetheless, I am optimistic about the future. We have found a location that could work which is an important step forward and in conversations and meetings I’ve been with other stakeholders, there seems to be a great deal of excitement about the possibility of a new shelter designed for our current needs.

But that leaves a final question. What does all this mean for Grace Church. We have hosted the shelter for over thirty years, and over that time, ministry to and with the homeless has become part of our identity. We have created enormous good will throughout the community because of the shelter’s presence here, and when there is negative publicity, we suffer as well.

If and when the shelter moves, the effects of that move on Grace will be significant. We will have to think about how we might continue to engage in ministry with the homeless; how we might continue to support the work of the shelter and its current operator Porchlight. Beyond that, Grace will have to discern anew what the best uses of our space might be and how best we might share Christ’s love with our neighbors. Those conversations will be exciting as well and I look forward to them.


Proclaiming the Year of the Lord’s Favor: A Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 2016



As I’ve walked around our building the past few weeks, trying to negotiate my way around painters, tilers, electricians, and carpenters, I’ve noticed that my own feelings of anticipation and excitement are growing. I’ve heard others express similar feelings. Everything we’ve worked so hard for over the last years, all of the meetings, the conversations, the fund raising, the visioning, all of it has brought us to this point. It seems like the closer we get to completion—2 or 3 weeks away, the more our excitement is spiking as we look forward to taking ownership of and living into our newly-renovated and expanded spaces. We’re almost there.

At the same time, as I walk around Grace, I notice all the things we didn’t do, the product of decisions we made to limit the scope of our project to keep within our financial resources. In a way, I think that’s a positive thing, because even as we celebrate and enjoy all that we’ve done, we will have some very visible reminders of the work that remains ahead, the work we have to do in the years to come. We won’t be able to sit back and relax. Continue reading

Abiding in the presence of Christ: A Sermon for Proper 16, Year B

Today is a historic day for Grace Church. As we break ground officially on our renovation project, it’s important to acknowledge all of the hard work and vision that have brought us to this moment. We’ve been working on this for three years. As I’ve said before, there have been countless meetings, hours and hours of conversation and debate. Almost everyone involved at Grace has participated in some way in the work as we’ve developed, revised, revised, and revised again the Master Plan, saw our Giving Light, Giving Hope capital campaign to its successful conclusion, and helped us prepare our facilities for construction and the move. Continue reading

A Holy Place for Compassion and Rest: A Sermon for Proper 11, Year B


After hearing today’s readings, you might suspect that I selected them for the occasion, as we make last minute preparations for the beginning of construction today and over the next few days. But that’s not the case. As you know, we follow the lectionary and so the fact that we heard the story of David’s desire to build a temple, and the famous image of Christ the cornerstone from Ephesians, are only coincidental. Continue reading

Torn-Apart Heavens: A Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, 2015

Today is an exciting day in the one hundred and seventy five year history of Grace Church. It is also a day tinged with just a little bit of sadness and regret. We are celebrating the success of our Giving Light Giving Hope capital campaign that has raised nearly a million dollars and laid the foundation for renovations to our spaces that will equip us to engage in mission and ministry in the coming decades of our rapidly changing world. Continue reading

The Burning Bush and Grace Church: A Sermon for Proper 17, Year A

Most of you know that we are embarking on a capital campaign in a few weeks in order to renovate and upgrade our facilities. We’ve been talking about this for several years now, gone through several iterations of plans, but now we’re on the brink of the campaign itself. Excitement is building and over the next few weeks you will hear more about the campaign itself, how you can be involved, and more about what precisely we hope to do as we renovate our historic facilities. Continue reading

The first Episcopal worship in Madison, WI (July 29, 1838)

and the third sermon ever in Dane County!

Two accounts have been widely disseminated. One is of an eyewitness, Simeon Mills, who also was co-owner of the store in which the service took place. His wife took over leadership of the music after the “reverend gentlemen” failed to pitch a tune, and also hosted Bishop Kemper and other guests at dinner between the services.

In the summer of 1838, Mr. John Catlin and myself, having rather outgrown our little log store, 14 x 16 feet on the ground, undertook the erection of a metropolitan building eighteen feet front, thirty-two feet deep and one and a half stories high, in which to open out our general assortment. We had so far progressed with the work as to have the building inclosed and the lower floor laid, but without doors and windows, when one Saturday was made notable by the arrival of the Rt. Rev. Bishop Kemper, the Rev. Mr. Cadle, later of Green Bay, and the Rev. Mr. Grier, of Galena, Ill.

It must not for one moment be imagined that such an arrival in our little community was not the event of the season, that must be duly noticed and improved. It could not be truthfully said that Mr. Catlin and myself opened our new store for religious services, for the front was already open, and, by the introduction of a few boards and blocks of wood for seats, and an empty flour barrel turned bottom end up and covered with a table spread for a desk, the First Episcopal Church of Madison, of sufficient capacity to accommodate the entire population, was complete and ready for dedication on the morrow by the Bishop of the Northwest.

The morning of the second Sunday of July 1838, was bright and warm, and the condition of our improvised church was no uncomfortable feature of the morning service. The people assembled, and the service was commenced at the appropriate time, but “as it was in the beginning,” when no man was found to till the ground, so it was now; when the hymn was given out, no man was found to “pitch the tune” and lead in singing. One of the reverend gentlemen and some others tried their hands and throats, and piped away awhile, but finally gave up in despair, when Mrs. Mills volunteered to lead the choir, and helped out that part of the service, as the Bishop was afterward pleased to express it, “with marked ability.” The discourse was given by the Bishop, and was the third sermon ever preached in Dane County.

Service being over, under the direction of Mrs. Mills, who always took the lead in the family in all religious matters, the reverend gentleman, Mr. Catlin and a few other friends were escorted to our house and a banquet spread of everything choice that the market and the house could afford, the Bishop meanwhile making himself and the little circle merry at the expense of a reverend brother by imitating his style and effort to pitch a tune and lead in singing, and advised the employment of the hostess to give him a few lessons in music.

It is just possible that at our little dinner the courses were not as numerous or the viands as costly or abundant as may have been set before the Bishop in after years, but it was our best, and at all events they were not sent away empty. It was an occasion never forgotten, and was the subject of a pleasant remark as we sometimes met in the downward journey of life. Simeon Mills, recorded in A History of Dane County, Wisconsin, 1880

And from Bishop Kemper:

“A store partly built was comfortably prepared for us, and we had two services at nine and two; in the morning a full attendance and a goodly number all day united in the service.” From the Diaries of Bishop Jackson Kemper, date July 29, 1838

Mills recollection that it occurred “on the second Sunday in July” was written long after the event and is contradicted by Bishop Kemper’s diary.

Another historical tidbit that I came across this afternoon. According to a Milwaukee newspaper article from 1898, Grace Church (completed in 1858) was reputed to be the first stone Episcopal Church west of the Allegheny Mountains.