by Barbara Dundon
“Wellspring at St. Martin’s,” a space at 8020 St. Martin’s Lane that will house a program designed to address the spiritual needs and longings of Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy residents, will be dedicated Sunday, Oct. 6, by the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, rector of St. Martin’s, described Wellsprings as a place for “soul discovery,” spiritual growth and healing, and a response to the expressed needs of people he encounters who seek spiritual health and wholeness without necessarily showing up in church on Sunday mornings.
Kerbel said his decision to initiate the program came out of his experience of leaving the church because “no one bothered to teach me how to pray, or that the goal of faith is reunion with God.”
“So,” he recalled,” I went on my merry way and read Whitman and Thoreau and tried to create my own language of faith, which did not serve me well.”
Findings from the 2011 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveal that one in five – 20 percent of Americans – say they have no religious affiliation. Young adults ages 18-29 are much more likely than those age 70 and older to say they are not affiliated with any particular religion (25 percent to 7 percent).
Kerbel acknowledged this trend and said he saw Wellspring as a way to make the Episcopal Church more accessible, more relevant to seekers, young and old.
He compared the church to an armadillo, a mammal that protects itself in a tough, leathery armor.
“Over the years the church got so defensive, it stopped sharing its best stuff,” he said. The “best stuff,” according to Kerbel, is the church’s capacity to nurture the contemplative, spiritual, mystical nature of its members – their vulnerable interior lives.
While the physical space for Wellspring has been under renovation for the past four months, programming was launched last spring. Offerings have included a class called “Humans Anonymous,” modeled after the 12-step program for recovering alcoholics; meditation for teens; and an upcoming session called “’Friending’ God and each other: an alternative to Facebook,” designed to introduce non-parishioners to the various Wellspring programs.
Most popular to date has been a seasonal offering called “Women Connecting,” the creation of Associate Rector Harriet Kollin.
“Women Connecting,” Kollin said, “is a time for women to cultivate an awareness of their interior journeys.”
“The soul is naturally shy,” said Kollin, who is herself soft-spoken and quiet but who particularly appreciates the contemplative and pastoral aspects of her role. Kollin joined St. Martin’s shortly after Kerbel arrived in 2011.
Women Connecting is offered six times a year on Saturday mornings and attracts about 50 women at each session. The mornings are grounded in prayer, reflection and quiet meditation.
About 20 percent of the participants at Wellspring programs have been non-parishioners, a sign that suggests to Kerbel this model of spiritual outreach is on track.
Phyllis Strock, of Chestnut Hill, is a longtime member of First United Methodist Church (FUMCOG) in Germantown. She calls it her “family.” She is also a lifelong meditator, having taken a course in Transcendental Meditation in the 1970’s. But she walks down St. Martin’s Lane every morning to attend the 8 a.m. meditation service in St. Martin’s chapel.
Why not meditate at home?
“It’s the energy and the intention of others to be in a loving space,” she said. “It enhances the experience. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
“People, young people especially, have an aversion to church,” she said. “They don’t associate meditation as a Christian practice.”
Strock attended a Wellspring program on prayer during Lent last spring and was moved by the experience.
“It was a holy space,” she recalled, “where I could experience God and share my deepest heart.”
The newly renovated physical space is located on the first floor of Hilary House, a church-owned residence adjacent to St. Martin’s. In addition to being used for Wellspring programming, the space will be used for spiritual direction and Stephen Ministry: a one-to-one lay caring ministry that equips caregivers to provide high-quality, confidential care to people who are hurting.
When Kerbel first arrived at St. Martin’s in 2011, one of his early impressions was that there was “a river is running under St. Martin’s – a depth of spirit and prayerfulness” expressed through a growing cadre of Stephen Ministers, regular attendance at morning meditation and healing services, and lay-organized support for families in physical, emotional or financial distress.
He credits much of this activity to the legacy of clergy who preceded him, including the Rev. Frank Griswold, former rector at St. Martin’s and former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. At the Oct. 6 dedication of Wellspring, St. Martin’s will honor Griswold and his wife, Phoebe, both of Chestnut Hill; Episcopal priest Sharline Fulton, a parishioner who served at St. Martin’s with Griswold in the late ‘70’s and early 80’s and then left to serve other churches in the diocese; and the family of Virginia “Ginny” Smith, also of Chestnut Hill.
The dedication will take place immediately following the 5 p.m. Evensong, at which the Rev. Ledlie I. Laughlin will preach. Laughlin is president of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pennsylvania and rector of Old St. Peter’s Church, Philadelphia.
Guests are invited to tour the Wellspring space, which was designed by a committee of parishioners that included architects, interior decorators and visual artists.
The renovation process took a year, from the time of the first design committee meeting to the completion of the work. Early on, the group recognized that lighting would be a key component.
“One of the things we recognized right away was how bad the lighting [in Hilary House] was,” said parishioner/architect Kim Kopple. “It had an institutional feel, was dim, even unpleasant.”
The group also recognized the effect that lighting has on creating sacred spaces. They talked with several lighting designers and eventually chose Crowell Design, Inc., the same designers who worked as consultants on St. Martin’s sanctuary renovation in 2000 with KSK Architects, Planners, Historians, Inc.
The artwork commissioned for the space includes photography by Lucretia Robbins, of Wyndmoor; watercolors by Susanne Okamoto, of Glenside, photography by Rob Cardillo, of Ambler, a quilt by Victoria Bartling, formerly of Glenside; and icons by icon writer Peter Pearson, of Scranton.
The contractor for the Wellspring renovation was Heacock Builders.
After the brief dedication ceremony, refreshments will be served in St. Martin’s Parish Hall.
The public is invited to tour the Wellspring space on Saturday, Oct. 5, from 10 a.m. to noon.
For more information, contact Natalee Hill: firstname.lastname@example.org; 215-247-7466.