Bringing and receiving gifts in Sudan

Earlier this week, we received a great report from South Sudan, soon to be the world’s newest nation, about The Episcopal Church’s missionaries who are serving there. Robin Denney, Larry Duffee, The Rev. Robert North and his wife, Karen, serve in South Sudan, teaching, training and witnessing to the South Sudanese, and in return, receiving the witness of the faithful people of Sudan. All of the missionaries say the same thing:

When you give, you receive.
The story, by Matthew Davies of Episcopal News Service and datelined, Juba, South Sudan, reads:
Throughout several decades of civil war, the Episcopal Church of Sudan kept 2,000 schools open, mostly under trees – a testament to its commitment to educating its people.

Episcopal Church missionary Robin Denney discusses her agricultural ministry in South Sudan with The Rev. David Copley, Mission Personnel Officer for The Episcopal Church. Photo by Matthew Davies.

Today, with 4 million members, the Episcopal Church accounts for almost half of the south’s population. It is one of the biggest social service providers in the country, and as such is strategically positioned to reach deep into the hearts of local communities.

For Robin Denney, development work is about the changing of hearts and minds, and through her service as an Episcopal Church missionary in Sudan she’s witnessed those transformations in abundance through the church’s ministry.

“You can’t just convince someone to change their behavior by telling them something or by giving them training,” she said. “It’s through discerning as a community where is God calling us that people’s hearts and minds are changed and that is the work of the church, and the church here has such a vision for development.”

Denney, of El Camino Real, and Larry Duffee, an Episcopal missionary from Virginia, have traded in their lives in the U.S. to share their gifts and play a small part in helping to rebuild South Sudan, just four months away from independence after voters in a January referendum almost unanimously chose to secede from the north.

Denney’s agricultural training and Duffee’s business and financial background are valuable assets for the South Sudanese, who are eager to learn the necessary skills that ultimately will lead to self-sufficiency in their nation, plagued by decades of civil war until the signing of a peace agreement in January 2005.

While serving in South Sudan, the missionaries have been teaching pastors and community leaders at Bishop Gwynne Theological College, an educational institution in Juba run by the Episcopal Church of Sudan.

A video report on the missionaries’ work is here.

The bishops of the Sudan church, under the leadership of Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, have a vision, Denney explained — “that agriculture can really be the basis of a new economy” in South Sudan. “The land here is so fertile, it can be the breadbasket of Africa.”

Denney has lived and worked in South Sudan for just over two years. She has established an agriculture department for the Episcopal Church of Sudan and she takes her expertise to almost every diocese, offering workshops and hands-on experience, especially in more rural areas of South Sudan that are not experiencing the same level of growth and development as the capital, Juba.

In her first year, she worked primarily on training and preparing communities for agricultural projects and her second year saw those plans move towards implementation. The main farming projects are located in Eastern Equatoria, Yei, and Yonglei states, where the communities are now harvesting crops such as sorghum and sesame.

Most of the workers are volunteers and are learning new skills while simultaneously experimenting with new techniques to explore the yield potential of the land, Denney explained. “We realized that farmers are really interested in trying improved techniques if they can do it in a risk-free environment,” she said.

With that in mind, on one 10-acre farm in Panyikwara Abara half of the land was used to try out new techniques while the other half was cultivated with more traditional practices. “The improved techniques performed significantly better,” Denney said.

Last year, nine out of 10 officers who’d been involved in the projects had already implemented mulching (a protective cover placed over soil), and seven out of 10 had begun planting crops, Denney explained. She expects that number to be higher this year.

But her ministry comes with its share of challenges. In Jonglei, there has been a problem with flooding and insects this year. “Almost the entire sorghum crop everywhere else was destroyed,” she said. “Our farm was reduced in yield because of those problems, but we still produced over 107 sacks of sorghum, which is just over 10 tons, in a community that had nothing.”

Most of the food supply for South Sudan has until now come from the north and from neighboring countries, said John Augustino Lumori, acting provincial secretary for the Episcopal Church of Sudan. “So work such as Robin’s is essential for our agricultural sustainability to ensure we can have our own produce to provide the backbone of the country,” he said. “Our partnerships will enable us to be self-sufficient.”

Denney needs to ensure that when she leaves in April, there are sufficient people trained in the agricultural skills she has brought. So far, 11 diocesan agriculture officers have graduated from Bishop Gwynne Theological College and are now working in their local communities. Fifteen more graduates are expected to return to their dioceses later this year.

Denney’s ministry and friendship is greatly appreciated throughout South Sudan, as evidenced recently when a family in Panyikwara Abara named their newborn child Robinsida in her honor.

The Rev. Emmanuel Lomoro Eluzai, chaplain to the bishop in the Diocese of Ibba, has been one of Denney’s students at Bishop Gwynne Theological College for the past year. He said that education is critical for the stability and growth of South Sudan. Through Denney’s training, he’s learned valuable farming skills, such as rotating certain crops between different terrains each season to ensure that the soil is not starved of essential nutrients.

“During the war, many people did not go to school. That is why we need education now in Sudan, because without education there is no development,” he said.

Duffee initially had intended to stay in South Sudan for four months but soon realized that the task he’d set out to accomplish would not be possible in that timeframe. He now has lived in Juba for almost a year. But, he says, the most important goal for missionaries is to work themselves out of a job, “to get it to a point where I am no longer needed and they have no more use for me. That’s the ideal situation.”

As well as providing training, Duffee brings financial skills to the provincial office, where he has set up systems to enable regular accounting to the church’s international partners.

Duffee is anticipating the Episcopal Church of Sudan hiring a new person who can be trained to step into his role. “As long as I can be useful and as long as I am serving the role God called me for, then I’m glad to be here. If I’m sitting occupying a seat just because it’s nice to have someone from the West … then it’s time to go.”

To read the rest of the story, go here.


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Resurrection is coming

Tuesday in Holy Week in Haiti:

Dear Beloved in Christ:

Tuesday in Holy Week in Haiti began with taking more Duduza Comfort Dolls to the children at the Little School at College St. Pierre in Port au Prince. Today was the last day of the school; the Tent City is being taken down, and the Internally Displaced Persons are being sent out into the countryside – or so the Haitian government hopes. All of the Tent Cities are hard places in which to live; there is little sanitation, not enough room, not enough water, and with the rains here, the situation is only getting worse. Where all the people will go, and whether the new camps will be ready for them, is a question none of us can answer.


So bringing the dolls – these came from St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in New Hope, Pa. – and the soccer balls and basketballs and little bouncy rubber balls donated by my friend Rhonda Busch of Burke, Va. – to the children was yet another poignant act in this holy time. For three weeks, I’m told, the children have been asking: “When will Mere Lauren return? Will she bring us the dolls and balls she promised? When is she coming back?” When Jeanne Pocius, the musician who has been running the Petit L’ecole, and I arrived in the car this morning, the children swarmed around us, greeting me with gladness and shouts of joy, along with instant demands of “Puse! Puse!,” the thumb-wrestling game I taught them on my first visit. (To be honest and above-board, I instantly lost my first three matches. My friend, DeMarius, who is also named Ricardo, I discovered this morning, can beat me in two seconds flat – no lie.)

It took more than two hours to give each child a gift, and to get a picture of each one. Jeanne gave them cardspastedGraphic_1.pdf with her contact information on them, so that if they need anything, they know how to reach her. We put their names on the backs of the cards, too – “just in case,” Jeanne said. “It might help if something else happens, and someone needs to know who to contact.”

What a hard way to live: To know that at any moment, another disaster could strike, and these little ones could be left alone, with no one knowing who they are, or to whom they belong. It is not simply fear of another earthquake or aftershock that drives this fear; we had a 4.2 aftershock early on Sunday morning. It’s knowing that with so many buildings still crumpled but not completely fallen, with so many canted to one side or the other, with balconies overhanging streets without any support, that it not take much to create another disaster. And never mind the disease that already is being seen in Haiti; more rain brings more illness, and despite all the aid flowing into the country, there is still not enough medicine, or medical care, and an almost total lack of decent housing.

Yet despite this fear that hangs over everything, the Haitians continue to show incredible strength. They work together, they help each other, they hold revivals, they pray, they sing songs of praise to God daily. For the past couple of nights, there has been a revival concert going on at the Tent City across from my church in Petion Ville. The shouts of “Allelulia!” ring late into the evening. Haitians are suffering, but they haven’t forsaken their faith in God. Or, as I keep telling them, they have confidence in God because they know that God has confidence in them.

pastedGraphic_2.pdf pastedGraphic_3.pdf

I also went over to College St. Pierre itself, to see what no longer was. Most of the grounds have been cleared; construction already has begun on a new school. It is a shock every time to see empty land where once a beloved landmark stood, almost as shocking as seeing the destruction. But the Haitians never stop. Yes, there was an earthquake. Yes, it was and remains horrible. But to paraphrase the Bishop and all the Haitians I know, no earthquake is going to stop the Haitians.


This afternoon, the clergy of the Diocese gathered at the open-air Cathedral on the grounds of the Holy Trinity complex. To renew my ordination vows here in Haiti at this time was indeed holy. Behind the open-air Cathedral stand the remains of the magnificent, world-renown cathedral. And all around us are empty grounds now. Holy Trinity Primary School, Holy Trinity Music School, Holy Trinity Trade School … all are gone, razed to the ground. It’s very disconcerting to drive down the street and be unable to find any landmarks. Thankfully, Pere David Cesar was driving and knew where to go; I would have driven right on by.

Bishop Duracin preached about the need for us to re-examine our vows and live into them more deeply, more fully, to exercise patience and pastoral care, to be strong so that we can lead the Church and the nation in this time of renewal. What he said today is what he has been saying from the beginning: We have our people; we have our faith. This IS our new creation, and we must make the most of it.


At the end of the service, Bishop Duracin anointed each one of us – 250 or more – with holy oil, pressing the cross of Christ onto our foreheads to further strengthen us as we go right back out into the world to do the work God has given us to do.

Looking around, seeing all the clergy, along with 200 laity who came to worship as well, is to see the strength of the people of Haiti. Life is difficult here. But no one is giving up. We are clearing rubble, burying our dead, praising God and moving on with life. Haiti will be resurrected.

And in this holiest of weeks, that is the message I and so many others especially need to hear.

Blessings and peace,


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Traveling with gifts

On Saturday, 27 March, I return to Haiti for a two-week stay. I know how blessed I am to have this opportunity – to spend Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter with my sisters and brothers in Christ there. There will be more joyful reunions, more tears spilled over the latest bits of news of deaths just being told me, more frustration with the slow pace of traffic and recovery, more wonderment at the joy one finds in Haitians, all of whom tell me they have been saved by God for a reason: To rebuild Haiti, to care for those in need.

Even though I am the one traveling afar, I am not going alone. So many people have reached out, so many have prayed, so many have blessed the people of Haiti and asked me to carry those prayers and blessings with me on their behalf, and I have promised to do just that: To tell the Haitians they have not been forgotten, they are loved, and by their incredible faith, they are strengthening us in our faith.

Another way in which I am not going alone is through the many gifts that have been made or purchased to send to the people of Haiti. Granted, I can only take so much luggage, and not every Haitian will benefit, but the gifts I am bringing, shown below, are tangible signs of the outpouring of love from Americans to Haitians.

There are medical supplies from the ECW and their friends at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., long-time friends and supporters. There are more Duduza Comfort Dolls (for the pattern to make these, go here, from Jane King and her friends at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in New Hope, Pa. There are other comfort dolls from Sue Clary and her friends at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Sequim, Wash. And once again, my friend Rhonda Busch, administrator at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Burke, Va., has sent gifts, this time basketballs, soccer balls, hand pumps, and hard rubber balls. (Remember, in February, she purchased a new alb and cincture for Bishop Duracin.)

I never travel alone; I always go with many blessings and prayers for me and for the people we all serve. On this particular trip, in this holiest of times, the blessings have been multiplied through your love and support.

Thank you and many blessings to all of you in return.

– Lauren


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Love and comfort in knitted dolls

From my visit to Haiti 28 Feb-5 March:

Scene One, Act One:

The Episcopal Church Women of St. Paul’s and St. Timothy’s Episcopal Churches in Winston-Salem, N.C., spent untold hours creating Duduza Comfort Dolls, small, knitted dolls, each individualized, some boys, some girls, some with long hair, some with short. The women’s goal: To provide comfort to the children of Haiti, so many of whom lost so much, if not everything, in the Jan. 12 earthquake.

By Jan. 25, they had 168 dolls ready for me.

Scene One, Act Two:

The dolls are taken to Sherwood Forest Elementary School in Winston-Salem, to the third-grade class of Ms. Kelly Ballard, where the children write a personal note on a heart-shaped piece of paper for each doll. With love, from a friend in America, they typically say. Some dolls get BIG hearts. Others get small ones. Either way, the message of love is clear. I tear up when I see them.

Scene One, Act Three:

I attend the meeting of the St. Anne’s Circle of the St. Paul’s ECW. There were more than 100 people present for this meeting, women and men, all of whom wanted to know more about Haiti and the aftermath of the quake, all of whom are deeply committed to helping those most in need around the world.

There, I am presented with all the dolls, from both parishes. Some of the dolls, it seems, have not yet been blessed. Would I do the honors? I say yes, but when the time comes, I am not able to complete the prayer. The love, the power of it, overwhelms me. I signal for another priest to come forward to finish the prayer for me. The emotions are still so raw, and this outpouring of love and care is more than I can handle at the moment.

Scene Two, Act One:

I arrive in Haiti with a duffel bag full of the dolls. My dear friend, Michelet, whom I have not seen or heard from directly since the earthquake, greets me at the door to the church compound. We go upstairs and I immediately begin to unpack so I can get something out just for Michelet.

He sees the dolls and asks about them; I take them out and explain, and from the expression on his face, I KNOW that he has to have one. So I find a boy doll, with a big paper heart expression, and present it to him, telling him that women in North Carolina made the doll, and children there made the note. I tell him these are messages of love.

His grin never leaves his face.

Scene Two, Act Two:

My friend Frantzy, the artist from whom I commission individual pieces, picks me up on his motorcycle one afternoon. It is a joyous and raucous reunion – we have not been in contact since the earthquake, despite repeated tries.

He and his wife and three children are living on the street, sleeping on the ground under a single tarp that does not keep off the rain. I tell him to come with me: Soon he has a new, small tent; a ground cloth; sheets; and a sleeping pad.

I show him the dolls, and give him three for his children. He is overjoyed at this final gift, because now his children will have something of their own. The messages of love cause his eyes to fill with tears. Mine do as well.

Scene Two, Act Three:

Finally, I am able to arrange to get down to Port au Prince from where I work in Petion Ville. It’s only 7 kilometers, but between the awful traffic and the heavy work-load in the office, it seemed I wasn’t going to make it there. pastedGraphic.pdf

Jeanne Pocius, a master musician and teacher

and inspiration, who survived the earthquake by

crawling and stumbling her way out of the Holy

Trinity Music School, has been running an informal

school for the children of the Tent City at College

St. Pierre. She’s been a God-send since long before

the quake: teaching music, beginning an

international nongovernmental organization for

music and teaching, living in Haiti and the U.S. for years and years, inspiring all with her faith and commitment. After the quake, she cared for more than 300 patients, despite being injured herself. Now, she’s working to care for those in need, and to help rebuild Haiti.

Jeanne organizes the children to come meet with me about 5 p.m. There will be about 100, she says. That’s what they average per day at the school.

But more than 100 children show up. In fact, more than 164 – the total number of dolls I have left – show up. It is nearly a riot, the children are so excited! They each want a doll; they swap them back and forth, to make sure each has the right boy or girl doll. The girls especially like the ones with the braided hair. The boys like the ones with the hats. ALL love the messages; I have to explain that some dolls have large heart messages and some have small ones, but ALL have the same message: We love you and are praying for you.

The children demand more dolls … those who didn’t get any want one. Can I come back? Can I bring more? I promise them: In three weeks, I will return, and I WILL bring more.

Please, I pray to myself, let there be more folks out there who can knit! Fast!



Scene Two, Act Four:

Just because we ran out of dolls doesn’t mean we didn’t keep playing. In Sudan, I taught kids everywhere to play “Thumbs,” the thumb warfare game. There, we called it “Suba,” the Sudanese Arabic term for “thumb.” It brought great joy.

At College St. Pierre, I introduced the same game with its French name: “Pouce.” All of the kids wanted to play. One in particular, Demarius, was excellent. In fact, he beat me all but one time. I think his “pouce” is double-jointed.

I promised to return and play this game as well.

Scene Two, Act Five:

I return to College St. Pierre the next day with the Archbishop of Cape Town, The Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba; the Bishop of Haiti, The Rt. Rev. Jean Zaché Duracin; and the Bishop Suffragan of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, The Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon. We want the visiting bishops to see the devastation, to visit the Tent City, to learn first-hand what has happened and is happening in Haiti.

Jeanne calls; the children have gifts for ME! In class that morning, she had the kids make thank-you notes with drawings. She teaches them art therapy part of the day, to help them emotionally through the trauma. The drawings are simple but powerful and cause me to cry again.

I will send the drawings to the women and children in North Carolina, who did all the work and sent all the love.

I am merely the messenger of that love.

Some days, it is good to be a messenger.


For those of you who might be interested in creating Duduza Comfort Dolls to send to the children in Haiti, see the following web site:

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PB goes to Haiti

‘You have already had your Good Friday,’ Jefferts Schori tells Duracin

By Mary Frances Schjonberg, February 08, 2010


[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori paid a poignant visit to Port-au-Prince Feb. 8 to survey with Episcopal Diocese of Haiti Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin the devastation wrought by the Jan. 12 magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

After climbing over the ruins of the diocese’s Cathédrale Sainte Trinité (Holy Trinity Cathedral), the presiding bishop turned to Duracin and said “You should skip Lent this year; you have already had your Good Friday.”

“Yes, we can all sing Alleluias together,” Duracin replied, according to the Rev. Lauren Stanley, who accompanied Jefferts Schori on her five-hour visit.

Pointing to some of the cathedral’s 13 bells that were visible among the ruins and that appeared to be salvageable, Jefferts Schori said “they will ring again” and that the cathedral “will rise again,” according to Stanley.

While at the cathedral, Jefferts Schori and Duracin said prayers at what the Haitian bishop is calling the diocese’s “open-air cathedral,” which consists of some plastic sheeting stretched over a frame of two-by-fours that shelters some pews rescued from the cathedral ruins.

The two bishops each prayed aloud with those who happened to be at the site. Some of the older women members of the cathedral were combing the ruins for pieces of the building’s world-famous murals depicting biblical stories in Haitian motifs. The gathered congregation also sang “How Great Thou Art” in French, Stanley said.

During the visit, Stanley said, Duracin asked her to “tell the world that physically the church is broken, but the church is still there in faith. Our faith is still strong.”

She said the bishop asked for the support of Episcopalians everywhere to help Haitians rebuild the structures of the church because that work “will have a positive impact on our faith. It will bring us courage, confidence and a good future.”

“We are approaching Lent,” Stanley quoted Duracin as saying. “I ask people to be with us in the desert so that on Easter, all of us in Haiti and all the Episcopal Church may sing together in joy: ‘Alleluia, Alleluia, the Lord is risen indeed.'”

The trip was also meant for Jefferts Schori and Duracin to talk about the immediate and future directions of the diocese. The presiding bishop assured Duracin that the entire Episcopal Church stood with his diocese in prayer and support, and would continue to do so, according to Stanley.

Stanley is one of four Episcopal Church missionaries assigned to Haiti and the only one who was not in-country at the time of the Jan. 12 quake. Duracin has asked Stanley to help the diocese coordinate offers of relief and recovery made by others in the Episcopal Church, and to tell the diocese’s story.

Stanley said part of the discussion in Port-au-Prince centered on how she can continue to assist Duracin and the diocese by splitting her time between Haiti and the U.S. As part of that work, she will begin to help coordinate the work of Episcopalians elsewhere in the church who have interests in or connections with specific places and ministries in Haiti, she said.

Stanley said she was gratified to hear Duracin’s confidence in her ability to help the diocese connect more strongly with “our partners who are working together to help God’s beloved children in Haiti.”

Stanley, who spoke with ENS by phone from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, after the visit, said that Duracin wanted the presiding bishop to see the extent of the devastation the diocese suffered. While the full extent of damage is still being assessed, it is clear that most of the diocese’s churches and schools were destroyed or heavily damaged. The convent of the Sisters of St. Margaret, adjacent to the cathedral, was also destroyed.

The lost schools include the Holy Trinity complex of primary, music and trade schools next to the demolished diocesan cathedral, the university and the seminary. A portion of the St. Vincent School for Handicapped Children, also in the Haitian capital, collapsed. Students and possibly staff were killed at some of the schools.

Stanley said that Duracin, Jefferts Schori and she visited the Holy Trinity school complex, the Episcopal University and the survivors’ camp on a rocky field at College Ste. Pierre, a diocesan school destroyed by the quake. (The diocese, known locally as L’Eglise Episcopale d’Haiti, is caring for about 25,000 Haitians in roughly 20 makeshift camps around the country. Since the quake, many people have left the capital for the countryside.)

The three also surveyed Duracin’s home which collapsed in the quake, trapping and severely injuring his wife, Marie-Edithe. Duracin has told ENS that he is been spending his night sleeping in a tent outside another home that he was having built for his family.

The Rev. Kesner Ajax, head of the diocese’s Bishop Tharp Institute of Business and Technology (BTI) in Les Cayes, drove the three around the city. Everywhere they where they saw evidence of destruction and death, Stanley said.

The Holy Trinity music school once housed the country’s only concert hall, but now “you can see where it came smashing straight down and there are still bodies of our students in there as well,” Stanley said.

Duracin told them that “this is why we cannot just use a bulldozer” to clear the wreckage.

There is a common grave just outside of the Episcopal University and Stanley said they stopped to pray at that grave. One of the lower level classrooms that was destroyed usually had more than 100 students in it, she said, but only nine bodies have been found. People are going through the rubble by hand searching for the dead.

On the street outside the university, there is an outdoor holding cell for prisoners, Stanley said.

At the diocesan trade school, only the façade is still standing, Stanley said.

“There nothing left except bodies,” she said. “We could actually see one body at the ruins.”

Stanley said: “It was heart-wrenching to see the city that I love — to see the things that this church has done for so many years that makes me so proud to be an Episcopalian in Haiti — totally gone,” Stanley said. “It is beyond heart-breaking. I don’t have adequate words to describe the devastation.”

Jefferts Schori flew to Santo Domingo on Feb. 7 from Havana, Cuba, after being a co-consecrator at the Rev. Griselda Delgado Del Carpio’s consecration and ordination as bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Church of Cuba. She and Stanley, who met her in the Dominican Republic capital, flew into Port-au-Prince the next day for the visit.

They brought with them a number of gifts and supplies for Duracin and the diocese, including six episcopal clergy shirts for the bishop that were a gift from the Church Pension Group, three liturgical stoles and 3,000 communion wafers from the presiding bishop, and pants and socks for Duracin and a bottle of Taylor tawny port communion wine from Stanley.

She also gave the bishop an alb and cincture that was purchased by Rhonda Busch, an administrator at Church of the Good Shepherd in Burke, Virginia. The church, where Stanley was priested and which still supports her missionary work, offered a requiem mass Feb. 4 for the victims of the earthquake who were members of the Church of St. James the Just in Pétionville, Haiti. Stanley serves the English-speaking congregation there.

“In our culture it is very important that the leader look like a leader,” Stanley said. “In the church in Haiti, it’s very important that the bishop look like the bishop because when he is properly dressed and properly vested then we know that he can take care of us and we know that we have not been forgotten.”

Duracin told Stanley that the bread and wine will be used Feb. 12 during the Episcopal Church’s part of the nationwide prayer services planned to mark the one month anniversary of the earthquake.

Stanley also brought with her a nearly 150-year-old brass cross that had once been part of a processional cross used by missionaries. She was given the cross by the Woodson family of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, whose members attend St. Paul’s Episcopal Church there. While looking through the rubble at College Ste. Pierre, Stanley said, the presiding bishop found a staff that might have been a short processional cross or a verger’s wand and which the three discovered fit the cross perfectly.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly.

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