top of page

M3daas3, part 4 (pronounced 'me-daa-si')

I took a call one afternoon from a Pennsylvania number: "Hello - good afternoon," I said.

"Good afternoon, Emmanuel. This is Cliff, calling from St. Paul’s, Philadelphia."

That was the beginning of my relationship with Cliff. During this first phone call, we agreed on a date and time when we could have an interview. We had that interview and then a few days later, he invited me to Philadelphia to visit St. Paul’s.

The visit was great. He picked me up from the airport and drove to Chestnut Hill. The entire visit was an interview. Our conversations bore the semblance of an interview. The only formal interview I had, though, was with the committee, which was made up of parishioners who were Sunday School teachers, parents, and mission and outreach people. Every single experience with members of this parish said more about the congregation than about them as individuals.

St. Paul’s wasn’t as big as Trinity Cathedral, but the welcome and disposition of the parish touched me a great deal from the start. Chatting with Cliff was so effortless. I got to know more about the church and what his vision was for the church over the two days that I spent with him. To the members of this group, M3daas3.

Right at the tail end of my visit, he asked me this question: "Why do you want to work with me?" Because of my experience in Columbia, I knew I wanted to be in an environment where the wisdom of a wise priest would be an anchor for me and the ministry that I cherish.

And so, I responded with this story: "One of my old professors advised that you should always seek to work with an old, wise priest."

My response caused huge laughter from Cliff, who then asked, "So, do you consider me to be old?"

"Not really," I said. "But you look more like a wise priest."

A week after my visit, Cliff called to offer me the unique position of serving with him as the Assistant Rector. I accepted the position and moved with my family to Philadelphia. It just so happened that my family couldn’t move with me at the same time, so I had to move myself first and live in the rectory for about a month before my family eventually joined me. To Amy, Cliff’s wife, who opened her home to me, M3daas3.

I was welcomed by the parishioners, which helped me to acclimatize. I got interviewed by the Chestnut Hill Local - a local newspaper for the Chestnut Hill community and residents in Germantown, PA. I have to say, this was a great beginning for me - I saw myself as being welcomed and accepted by the St. Paul’s congregation. This felt more like All Saints had.

My one real rude awakening was that although St. Paul’s is far smaller in size than Trinity Cathedral, there were more people of color at St. Paul’s than at Trinity. And I could confidently say that by this time I had become aware - so aware that I had to pay close attention to issues about race without becoming consumed by it.

As an Assistant Rector, I usually told the joke that I was in charge of everything apart from raising money. And to an extent, that was true - I did everything. I was involved in everything, and the opportunity to be responsible for different ministries was very helpful. I was able to learn and to hone my skills.

One afternoon, as I drove through town - I don’t remember the exact location - I saw a long line of people, most of whom were African American. I stopped and asked a person what the line was for. I was told that it was people who had lined up to receive food. Cliff had told me about the challenges of poverty, hunger, and homelessness in the city, and seeing this line confirmed what he said. The question for me, then, was how to get my new church engaged.

We began a relationship with Face-To-Face, Germantown. Face-To-Face is a Soup Kitchen that offers a whole lot more services than just food. Apart from monetary support, I took the youth, young adults, and other groups in my church to volunteer at Face-To-Face monthly. That was the first-time volunteering at a soup kitchen for those who accepted this invitation and came with me. Serving at the soup kitchen opened their eyes, allowing them to come to see, first-hand, some of the dire needs of people within the city.

This led to Thanksgiving turkey drives to help support Face-To-Face and Church of the Advocate during the season. It led to school supply drives, which supported St. James School - a new school that served mostly African American children in West Philadelphia. It also led to a few other initiatives, one of which became an annual youth mission trip to North Dakota.

In addition to the myriad of mission-oriented ministries, some of which are still alive at St Paul’s, there are a few more things that I was able to do, such as oversee the Sunday School and build a new family ministry.

St. Paul’s had three Sunday services and one morning, some parents had already started gathering during the Sunday School hour after the 9:00 a.m. family service. On my first visit to the congregation during the interview, there were about 17 worshippers at the family service. On my last Sunday, there were 93 worshippers at the same service. Most of these people were attracted by the work that we were doing as a parish within the community.

We also built up our Children's Formation by strengthening Godly Play. St Paul’s had already invested a lot in renovating Sunday School classrooms, so I became trained as a Storyteller and was able to invite new parishioners who were parents to train as Storytellers, too. St. Paul's funded travel for their Storytellers to attend Godly Play conferences in Colorado and Tennessee. The amount that the church invested in its Sunday School teachers helped keep up their commitment level and continued the growth of the program, as well. To Godly Play Storytellers, M3daas3.

We also organized the parents who met during Sunday School and introduced formation opportunities for the group. We held Parents’ Night Out, which provided babysitters, food, and movies for kids while their parents went out for dinner, picking them up a few hours later. We organized quarterly parenting seminars on Mindfulness and Parenting, had a quarterly potluck dinner hosted by different families, and started an annual 3-day camping trip which ended with a Eucharist on Sunday mornings. To Cathy, Joe, and all the members of Parents’ Exchange, M3daas3.

Working with the youth was often a challenging part of my work, but it was also the best. I was able to mentor young minds - ones I now get to occasionally see updates about on Facebook, doing marvelously well. Teaching them and helping connect their faith with the world was one of the beautiful things about youth and youth ministry. To the many youths with whom I shared a meal and traveled to North Dakota, M3daas3.

Providence has a way of bringing things together, of bringing meaning to our lives, and of holding us up even in times of great distress. Providence has a way of opening new doors for us. And like I said in a recent Sunday sermon, we don’t have control over how providence causes things to manifest in our lives.

One recent Saturday afternoon, as I sat in my Columbia office working on a sermon, I heard the doorbell. I opened the door and guess what, it was Cathy and Joe at the door. "Wow! This is a big surprise," I exclaimed. "What brought you to Columbia? You should have told me you were coming!" Turns out that Joe is a beer connoisseur and he learned about a reputable brewery in town so he decided to come check it out. They also figured that since they were in the neighborhood, they should check on me. Thankfully, I was in the office so we had the chance to visit with each other. I took them on a tour of our campus and they were very impressed. To Cathy and Joe and all the wonderful people of St. Paul’s, M3daas3.

These are but snippets of my time and ministry at St. Paul’s. I learned a lot there, so when I departed for my new chapter at Christ Church, I felt this sense of having had a fulfilling ministry. I am thankful that I was provided with a unique platform to be inviting, innovative, creative, collaborative, empowering, and strategic with, and to shape the life of many beautiful people and ministries. To Cliff, who gave me this opportunity, M3daas3.

It is interesting to note that it was during one of these St. Paul's youth trips to North Dakota to volunteer at Standing Rock Reservation when I answered a phone call from Donna Campagna and Steve Alpern of Christ Church, Columbia. If they had called even a minute earlier, they would have missed me because I would still be on the plane. To Donna and Steve, M3daas3.

This initial call from Donna and Steve eventually led to my call to Christ Church as Rector. This September will mark seven years for me here, and I think it has been a wonderful ministry. I am so grateful to God for the gift and blessing of being at Christ Church. Providence has a way of bringing things together. M3daas3.


(M3daas3 means "Thank You" in my native dialect. This thank-you tour of sorts is meant to highlight pivotal moments and people in my life and to give thanks for all those who, by the grace of God, made it happen for me. This is part 4 of a multi-part series (part one; part two; part three). It turns out that I have more to write than I originally thought!)


bottom of page