Interview with Greg Lisby, Rector at Church of the Ascension, Cranston

UPDATE: This post is getting tons of page views due to friend and fellow Ascensioner Andre Araujo’s post on Daily Kos. Thanks, Andre!

Father Greg Lisby with daughter Miriam
Father Greg Lisby with daughter Miriam

Father Greg Lisby holds a Masters Degree in Divinity and a Masters Degree in Social Work. He came to lead Church of the Ascension in Cranston, RI in February of 2008, and since that time has helped shape a time of spiritual exploration and awakening.

Kiersten Marek: My first question is: I recently read this article in The Atlantic called “The Velvet Reformation,” about Bishop Rowan Williams and the question of whether the Anglican church can become open to gay marriage. The article referenced an essay by Rowan Williams called “The Body’s Grace” in which Williams talked about how intimate relationships are about experiencing grace and that this grace should be accepted as part of both gay and straight relationships. He wrote:

“Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted.”

I wonder if you can comment on how this idea strikes you, both as a church leader and as a partner in a gay relationship.

Fr. Greg Lisby: To know you are significant and wanted –isn’t that what we all desire? In the lore of creation, found in the book of Genesis, God said it is good for a human to have a partner (it isn’t until the second creation story that it specifically says male and female). God desires for us to be in relationship with another. It is in relationship, whether intimate or not, that we can glimpse the reality of God’s presence. So, whether it is an opposite-sex or same-sex relationship, all possess the potential for manifesting God’s presence. When that presence is realized, acknowledged, then the sense of worth and vulnerability that opens us to God’s grace is made possible. This, I believe, is what Archbishop Williams is getting at.

Fr. Lisby with partner Tim Burger and children Leah and Miriam
Fr. Lisby with partner Tim Burger and children Leah and Miriam

Kiersten Marek: This past summer you became a parent, along with your partner, Tim, to two infant sisters, Leah, 2, and Miriam, 10 months, and are now in the process of finalizing adoption of both girls. What has this been like for you? What are some of the joys and pains of being a parent for these two little bundles of glory?

Fr. Greg Lisby: Incredible! If I may, Rowan Williams is right, grace is to know you are significant and wanted. Children are a channel, an instrument of God’s grace. Nothing can prepare you for having children, you learn as you go, but nothing can ever prepare you for two children, all at once! And, they are only 11 months apart. That was the struggle, jumping into the deep end, with no family in the northeast, and having to rely on the generosity of our parishes for support.

The joys are too many to count. They have shown us another way of seeing God. They have shown us how to be more patient and relaxed. They have demonstrated the power of love, unconditional love. And, we’ve learned to laugh at ourselves more often.

The struggles are the same as any other family with two young children. We don’t sleep enough, daycare germs keep our pediatrician in business, we have to watch how we schedule outside meetings … keeping a ‘family calendar’ is wise, and learning to say sorry helps smooth over rough moments. Oh, and kissing the booboos always makes it feel better.

People often wonder what two dad or two mom families are like, how are they different than a mom and dad family? They don’t differ at all. We have the same joys and challenges that they do.

Fr. Greg in the Procession at Ascension
Fr. Greg in the Procession at Ascension

Kiersten Marek: We’ve spoken about wanting to do more outreach as a church. Are there specific areas of outreach you think are particularly suited for Ascension?

Fr. Greg Lisby: Church of the Ascension sits nears Cranston East High School and next to the Auburn Branch Library. We have homes surrounding the church, and the neighborhood is really a nice blend of urban and some-what suburban. This is where we might find outreach opportunities. This blending of the two environments creates a unique situation and challenge for a parish. On one hand, we could open a soup kitchen and on other we could start a mothers-morning-out group. This summer, the Cranston library system will use Ascension’s facilities to operate a children’s summer reading program. We have explored the possibility of providing an after-school tutoring opportunity. Yet, we could invest in expanding the Cranston inter-faith food pantry, which is located off Park Ave. Once a month, we could volunteer at the Epiphany Meal Site, which meets at Grace Church in downtown Providence.

Another way Ascension is doing outreach is by opening our facilities to therapeutic private practices. We have nice office space available for those interested in expanding services to folks in the Auburn neighborhood in need of psychotherapy.

Kiersten Marek: We recently held a “jazz mass” at our church, a wonderful way to celebrate and experience a very different kind of energy together. Is this something you hope to do more of at Ascension?

Fr. Greg Lisby: Yes! We have another Jazz Mass scheduled for Sunday, June 7th @ 10AM. It’s a great way to connect with the holy through music that seeks to move the spirit within us. Back in October, the church hosted a service called U2charist. That worship experience featured the music of Bono and the U2 band.

Kiersten Marek: You’re known for having an openness to children and for wanting them to participate in mass, that you like the “buzz” of all the children’s energy, even if it is a bit loud at times. What do you see as the trajectory of transformation for Ascension in terms of its care and nurturance of our younger souls?

Fr. Greg Lisby: Jesus said that we are to be like children. Now, he probably didn’t mean that we should all be jumping off the walls, saying ‘no’ whenever we are asked to do something, or stealing our favorite toy from our sister. But, like children, we are to be inquisitive, seekers and searchers. Children usually have an openness to exploring and discovery. How you ever noticed the expression on a child’s face, say at the children’s museum or even the zoo, when they see or hear something for the first time? That is what Jesus says we are to emulate.

So having children in worship allows for us sometimes stuffy adults to hear and see God in new ways. But also, children are no different than adults in their need for worship. Worship, or the participation in the liturgy, allows us to offer praise and thanksgiving to God. By immersing children in the worship of the church, they begin to see the mystery of God revealed. The research shows us that children who attend the entirety of worship from an early age are more likely to continue participating in their faith tradition in adulthood. This is because it has become part of who they are, and they know they are significant and wanted.

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3 thoughts on “Interview with Greg Lisby, Rector at Church of the Ascension, Cranston

  1. Great interview. It’s so cool to see firsthand reporting. Thank you to Fr.Lisby for reminding us all of the sacredness of relationships.

  2. I saw this this on the daily kos. You inter
    view well, and the story is told with joy
    and gladness. The Williams’ quote is great.
    Church of the Ascension is fortunate to
    have Greg’s leadership, intelligence, and
    spirituality.

  3. Thanks very much, Daryl. The community that is gathering around Fr. Greg is astonishingly lively and fun. Ascension’s developing emphasis on music makes it all the richer for the gifts it can foster.

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