All posts by Diane Kopasz

St. Mary’s Day: August 13, 2017

In addition to our three worship services on St. Mary’s Day, we have two fellowship events planned, and many reasons to give thanks.

After the 10:00 a.m. service, we will have a coffee hour reception to welcome our new associate priest, The Rev. Chris Cole, who will be with us on St. Mary’s Day.

As you may have read in the June Vestry update letter and in recent newsletter articles, St. Mary’s has been exploring avenues of a deeper relationship with Iglesia Santa Maria, a mostly Bolivian Episcopal parish in Falls Church that St. Mary’s helped to found years ago.

Parishioners from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church & La Iglesia Episcopal de Santa Maria are invited to celebrate our Patron Saint, St. Mary, on Sunday, August 13.

  • Location: St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
  • 5:00 p.m.: Eucharist Worship Service  6:15 p.m.: Barbecue Dinner
  • 6:15 p.m.: Barbecue Dinner
  • RSVP: August 10 via Paperless Post or Sign Up in Paca Hall

Evening Parking Information

 If you are able, please park at either The John Marshall Medical Building – 2501 N Glebe Rd, the entrance is on Old Dominion Drive or The Arlington Osteopathic Building –  2517 N Glebe Road, entrances on Glebe and Old Dominion. Let’s show our hospitality to Santa Maria parishioners by making room for them to park at the Glebe & 26th Street lot.

Thank you!



Vestry Update to the Parish, June 28, 2017

June 28, 2017

Dear St. Mary’s Parishioner(s):

Many of us undoubtedly welcome the different rhythm that summer brings to our lives, with the promise of long days, vacations, and, hopefully, a slower pace. The rhythm changes at St. Mary’s as well, as we switch to the summer service schedule and give our Sunday school teachers a well-deserved break. Likewise, our regular coffee angels take a respite, and lemonade is offered during fellowship time after the 10:00 a.m. service. The choir is less formal with an open invitation to anyone who would like to join on a given Sunday.

While the rhythm has changed, a good deal of ministry is still going on. This summer, in particular, we have quite a bit happening.

  • As the Rev. Amy Slater settles in (after jumping in with both feet!), we are excited to add a third clergy member. The Rev. Chris Cole has accepted the call to serve at St. Mary’s, with an expected start date of early to mid-August.
  • Our summer book sale July 8 and 9—run by the Hale and Hahn families with help from youth—is a fundraiser for Arlington Pediatric Center and a draw for the larger community.
  • Our summer Ice Cream Social will be on July 20. This year, the Committee on Youth and our Neighbor Relations Workgroup have invited Old Dominion neighbors to join us.
  • We are organizing a St. Mary’s Day at the Ball Park on Saturday, August 12, to see the Giants versus the Nationals. Tickets are $20 per individual. Sign up in Paca Hall; email with questions.
  • And on St. Mary’s Day, August 13, we hope to have a joint service with Iglesia Santa Maria, a mostly Bolivian parish in Falls Church that St. Mary’s helped to support years ago. More recently we have been exploring avenues of deeper relationship based on worship and social justice interests.

Your Vestry also is working to forward the vision of the Beacon Committee, in particular around sustainability.

As you know, the Beacon Committee recommendations have shaped much of the recent work of the Vestry. Previous Senior Warden Jane Jacobsen wrote a letter at the end of December 2016 updating you on the parish’s response to those recommendations. Many of those efforts around staffing, financial health, stewardship, and our physical plant continue apace.

I wanted to update you on a particular decision of the Vestry, which came out of many months of discussion and discernment. The sense of the Vestry is that St. Mary’s will need a rectory at some point in the not-so-distant future. This is common practice for many Episcopal parishes: they own a rectory that is made available to a rector upon hiring. It seems particularly important in this part of the country. We simply would not be able to attract qualified candidates (when the time comes) without offering housing, given how steep home prices and the cost of living are here. With rates creeping up and housing prices steadily increasing, we don’t believe waiting too long makes sense.

To that end, the Vestry approved the formation of a small committee, headed by recently retired Junior Warden Dave Fletcher (working closely with Jane Shafran), to look for housing and to act if an opportunity presents itself.

The Vestry has empowered the committee to work from a set of parameters of what a rectory should have (proximity to the church, the number of bedrooms, open layout etc.), but otherwise has given the committee flexibility to be nimble and responsive. For example, the committee could look at a ready-to-move-into house, or perhaps one that needed renovations or an eventual addition. The house could be rented out in the meantime to keep a flow of revenue.

Earlier this year, the Vestry directed the Finance Committee to make liquid the funds from the sale of the house to our former priest associate, Anne Turner, so that we would have those funds ($850,000) available to put toward a rectory. Those funds would be used as a down payment. The Vestry agreed to work with the Finance Committee to find the best way to finance the balance between the purchase price and the down payment. We have set an upper limit on a purchase price of $1.35 million, hoping to find a suitable property for less but realistically addressing this market.

Please know these decisions were made after robust discussion over a number of meetings and months.

Indeed, the groundwork was laid a few years ago with the sale of the associate’s house. The Vestry strongly believes that giving the committee flexibility, with some basic parameters, increases our options and could even present us with a number of opportunities.

We fully expect there are parishioners who might want to sell their homes to the church, with possible lease-back while they near retirement or relocation. This raises the possibility that we could consider more than one property if associate housing and a rectory were possible to finance. The issue of parish vitality and sustainability going forward is uppermost in the Vestry’s thinking.

All sorts of options should be on the table. Hence, it is important to the Vestry that Dave Fletcher and his committee have the flexibility they need to explore and act on them. With that, I would like to thank Dave and Jane for giving of their time and talent to lead this very important ministry. We are blessed as a parish to have such faithful leaders. If you know of or have a property worth exploring, please email the information to

Rest assured, we are not pushing Father Merrow out the door. To the contrary. It is hard to imagine St. Mary’s without him. But long-term planning, which includes succession planning, is totally appropriate and critical. Businesses do this kind of planning all the time; healthy parishes do as well. Indeed, Father Merrow has encouraged this sort of planning.

Of course, much has been written about the difficulties of planning. To paraphrase one of my favorite poets, Robert Burns: the best-laid schemes of mice and men aft go awry. Or to quote Woody Allen, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

I certainly don’t think those quotes argue against planning. They just serve as a reminder that we need to be open to adjusting and adapting. Most importantly, we need to be open to the Holy Spirit. And, we have to be willing at times to step out in faith.



Kate Muth
Senior Warden

Vestry Update: December 29, 2016

Dear St. Mary’s Parishioners,

As the year 2016 comes to a close, we would like to take the opportunity to look back on the year passed as well as glance ahead to what lies in store for St. Mary’s in 2017.

If you spend any time at St. Mary’s you are likely aware that the Beacon Committee delivered its final report to the parish in June. The report provided us with an ambitious agenda consisting of a plethora of recommendations directed at shaping our future as a parish. We would like to share with you what’s been happening in the past 6 months in response to the Beacon recommendations.

The Beacon Committee divided its recommendations into five categories: 1) Strengthening Parish Sustainability; 2) Enhancing Spiritual Growth and Formation; 3) Renewing our Outreach Strategy; 4) Fortifying Relationships with our Neighbors and; 5)Conducting a Formal Space Study of our Building and Long-term Options for All Properties.

The Vestry recently commissioned three new working groups to focus on the Beacon recommendations in the areas of Spiritual Growth and Formation, Outreach, and Neighbors. Each group has two-chairs and a vestry liaison and they have begun discussing ideas and calling parishioners as workgroup members to set agendas and begin acting to implement short and long term recommendations that are easily achievable. They expect to spend some time carefully planning and evaluating next steps for recommendations that will take more time or discernment before coming to fruition.

The group co-chairs (and vestry liaisons) are:
• Outreach: Paul Douthit and Nancy Brooks; (Elizabeth Keith)
• Spiritual Growth/Formation: Joan Turkus and Jay Liwanag: (Kate Muth and Lisa Leibel)
• Neighbors: Rosanna Esposito and Stacey Tevlin; (Tyler Suiters)

The clergy and staff have also been out in front in some of these areas, particularly with the topics covered in Sunday Forums – responding directly to Beacon recommendations with discussions focusing on mental health, stress, Christian citizenship, prayer, and individual discipline.

The Vestry has decided that the recommendations in the areas of Sustainability and Space Study/Long-Term Property options would best be addressed by the vestry itself. Much of the work in this area is well underway.

I. Staffing and Organization: The most pressing need is to make sure St. Mary’s is properly staffed and organized to meet the needs of our vibrant parish. First and foremost, we are in the midst of calling a full-time priest. A search committee, headed by Carolyn Boswell, is interviewing potential candidates and hopes to have a new priest in place in the spring of 2017.

2. Professionalization of previously volunteer positions and functions: For decades, many key functions of our church were carried out by stalwart volunteers and our small and very over-stretched administrative staff. Father Merrow and the vestry have acted to increase the capacity of our paid staff to adequately support our growing needs. We have several new paid full-time (FT) and part-time (PT) positions:

 FT Finance Manager – Janet Tasker
 FT Minister of Communications – Diane Kopasz
 PT Spt. of Sunday School, Evelyn Hutton
 PT Outreach Coordinator, Ned Leonard
 PT Weekend Sexton, Santino Dut

In our preliminary budgeting for 2017 the Vestry is planning on expanding the hours of the outreach coordinator (though still part-time) and planning for bringing on a full-time sexton to support the work of Facilities Manager Jane Shafran, who has pretty much worked 24/7 for years – an incredible, but unsustainable example of service.

Finally, a personnel committee has been reinvigorated to provide guidance and counsel to the rector and staff to ensure that there are appropriate procedures and policies in place, including up-to-date job descriptions, a process for annual evaluation, and ensuring the adequacy of compensation and benefits.

3. Financial Health: Over the past two years an enormous amount of work has been done by our Finance Committee, which is populated by a group of highly qualified financial professionals from our parish, and chaired by our new treasurer, Deb Gandy. With the support of the new finance manager, the committee is in an excellent position to evaluate and plan for our long-term needs. For the first time, the vestry has received a draft of a long-term budget for anticipated capital expenses. When the results of the 2017 Stewardship Campaign are finalized, we are confident we will be able to allocate resources for those known expenses.

4. Stewardship is, of course, the main driver of our financial health and is a major focus of the Beacon Report. Our Stewardship Committee has built on its efforts to make giving and money something we talk about regularly and encouraged us to think about the spiritual aspects of giving. This year’s Stewardship Campaign was more direct in identifying the financial needs of the parish and asking for corresponding increases in giving. Nearly 60 percent of our pledging parishioners responded to the call to increase their giving. We are so grateful for the generosity of everyone who has provided a pledge for 2017.

Another focus of stewardship has been to encourage those parishioners who do not pledge to make a financial commitment. If St. Mary’s is important to you, please pledge so we can budget proactively. Remember: You can always update your pledge amount, and your pledge is only known by the Finance Manager, you and God. Please join your fellow parishioners who have already made a commitment.

5. Space Study and Long-Term Options for Properties: One of the principal findings of the Beacon Report was that the parish felt that no new structure should be built on the 26th Street property without first ensuring best use of existing space, clearly identifying needs, as well as the resources to sustain any new construction over the long-term. In response, Junior Warden Dave Fletcher has obtained a copy of a professional space study that was done in the last three years to help analyze the use of our existing space. The vestry, with the leadership of the junior warden, is beginning to discuss possible improvements to the 26th Street property that would enhance our ability to address key priorities, such as the provision of affordable housing beyond our current four houses, as well as potential housing for clergy and/or a sexton. The cost of living in Arlington is high and is a significant barrier to the calling of clergy. Dave Fletcher is working with a small group of real estate and development professionals within the parish to begin envisioning various development options and to analyze the cost of such projects. This work is in the earliest of stages and there will be wide consultation and communication before any next steps.

6. January Retreat for Staff, Vestry and Lay Leaders: On January 21, 2017, the clergy, staff, vestry and some key lay leaders will meet for a day at Virginia Theological Seminary reflecting and planning for 2017 and beyond. This should include an opportunity to discuss recommendations from the Beacon Report including broadening, enhancing, and strengthening lay leadership.

I hope this message provides a good update to anyone wondering about follow-up to the Beacon Report and gives everyone a sense of the actions underway to ensure a bright future for St. Mary’s as a parish well-positioned to grow in faith and to serve Christ where we live and work.

In the year ahead, look forward to more updates from our new working groups and from the vestry about how St. Mary’s is working to strengthen our life together, define our role in the community, and plan for our future.


Jane Jacobsen, Sr. Warden