by Brendan Sample
Having already worked at parishes in North Carolina, Colorado and as far away as Great Britain, the Rev. Joseph Wolyniak, the newest assisting priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, has still been able to see the uniqueness of Chestnut Hill despite his limited time in the area.
Having been in the position since October, Wolyniak is a full-time chaplain at Princeton University and lives in Blue Bell, but has managed to make his mark on the church despite being elsewhere for most of the time in any given week.
As an assisting priest, Wolyniak is mainly responsible for participating in Masses and contributing to the parish’s adult education hour on Sundays. On top of that, his tasks also include leading occasional weekday services, helping coordinate St. Paul’s social media presence and working with other parish committees.
It’s a lot to handle alongside a separate full-time position, but the adjustment has been smooth for Wolyniak so far, as he has been grateful for the accepting atmosphere of St. Paul’s parish community.
“The congregation is, individually and collectively, a lovely bunch,” Wolyniak said. “They come from all over the area and all walks of life, have fascinating life stories and deep engagement in their community, are earnest in their discipleship and worship, welcoming to newcomers (including me and my family) and they are just generally fun to be around. The biggest challenge I have faced – relatedly – is simply not being able to be as present and involved in the life of the parish community as I would like.”
One of the things that Wolyniak continues to look forward to doing most is to help strengthen the notion of evangelism at St. Paul’s, something that he feels has gained a negative connotation for many people. He maintains that evangelism simply comes down to sharing good news, something he feels that, as a newcomer with fresh eyes, he can encourage the St. Paul’s parishioners to do with regards to the Church’s mission.
“I think our parish community has exceptionally good news to offer our friends and neighbors in Chestnut Hill – good news about a God who unconditionally loves and unreservedly accepts each and every one of us just as we are, compelling us in turn to share such love, forgiveness, mercy, grace and acceptance with everyone we meet, especially the poor and defenseless, hungry and homeless, homebound and lonely,” Wolyniak explained.
While he is currently settled in Pennsylvania, Wolyniak’s experiences within the Church have taken him to places he never expected to be. He studied theology at Duke University and Oxford University and later worked at Duke Chapel and St. John’s College Chapel in Cambridge.
He also spent time in Colorado before starting at Princeton, serving as a missioner for discipleship and theological education in the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. Studying and working in so many places around the world may not have been something he ever planned to do, but Wolyniak has certainly appreciated his travels, as it has given him a greater sense of his purpose in life.
“I can’t honestly say that my life has unfolded according to my own intention or design – I have mostly just been hopping from one thing to the next, driven by the dictates and vagaries of school, vocation and life on life’s terms,” Wolyniak said. “But I do believe, whether or not I fully fathom, that God was somehow ordering my steps in the mystery of divine providence … Accepting that I am not the author of my own life is an incredibly freeing thing. I am then better able to see life for what it is: all and only pure gift.”
As we get further along in 2018, Wolyniak is looking forward to all the potential good that he and the rest of St. Paul’s can hope to accomplish in his new home. From making continued efforts to find homes for refugee families to collecting meals for the hungry both here and abroad, he has already been impressed by the community’s work so far, seeing the positive impact that it has had on his own parishioners in addition to those who are directly affected by it.
“All of this work changes – “converts” – us as much as, if not more than, the individuals and communities we engage as a parish,” Wolyniak explained. “And that is truly the Holy Spirit at work within and among us. What more could one want out of life than such meaning and purpose?”
For more information about the Rev. Joseph. Wolyniak and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, visit stpaulschestnuthill.org.