Archive for April, 2019

Carol DeFrancisco

Carol DeFrancisco is a native of New York City and was raised both there and in Cary IL.  A former Catholic, Carol learned about St John The Evangelist through her friend, Keith Davis, and was attracted to the architecture, the services (especially Compline), and the convenience of living in St John’s neighborhood.

Carol is an entrepreneur and spends her days as an Executive Coach/Personal Consultant or, as she puts it, “Using Transformational Process, I help super smart people find out what’s next for them.”  She looks forward to experiencing more and growing in love, joy, wonder, and courage and sharing these gifts with St John and her community.


Marjorie Rapp

Marjorie is a Cathedral Hill resident. She became interested in St. John’s when she stopped at our parking lot Farmer’s Market. “I just felt it!” she says while describing her experience coming here for the first time. She is a retired family law attorney who enjoys walking, hiking, and reading. She has twelve grandchildren, age 7 to 21. She is searching for direction in the post-retirement chapter of her life and is exploring ways to give back to the community. She volunteers at Ten Thousand Villages, a wonderful retailer located at 520 Selby that sells fair-trade crafts & housewares from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. In her words, “I’m just interested to know how to be of service.” We’re excited to see where she’s called to serve next! (By the way, if you’re in the community, contact her; she’d love to have the option to carpool, especially in the winter!)

Rachel and Andrew Barkel (with Rosie & Lucie)

Rachel came to St John’s when she was hired to be soprano section leader for the choir about a year ago.  Rachel grew up Christian Reformed in a conservative Dutch community in Northwest Iowa, and Andrew grew up Lutheran in Albert Lea, MN. They are drawn to faith communities that are welcoming to all and active in the community, so St John’s has felt right to them.

Rachel and Andrew attended an ELCA church while in Nashville for six years prior to moving back to the Midwest.  They were married there and their two precious daughters were baptized there.

They have been in the Twin Cities since July of 2017, and live in South Minneapolis.  They love their neighborhood, and are slowly, but surely, fixing up their 1922 Dutch Colonial home. With two feisty toddler girls, they don’t have much “spare” time, but they enjoy good food, concerts, traveling, reading, and an occasional Netflix binge.


Jonathan Lundberg

Meet Jonathan Lundberg! He was born and raised in Saint Paul and went to high school in Hudson, WI where his mother and father still live. Jonathan recently graduated from Concordia University earning a degree in History. He’s currently working at Lowe’s in Stillwater but is eager to start a career in his field. Jonathan and his girlfriend Eliza are making future wedding plans for this coming summer!

While he grew up in the Evangelical Free and Baptist churches, Jonathan walked away from his faith after graduating high school. Through his experiences studying abroad in Rome he found his way back to church. The Church of England was one of the few protestant churches offered in English while he was studying overseas. When he returned home, Jonathan continued his faith journey with the Episcopal Church.

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Lynn Hartmann and Mary Johnson
Lynn and Mary have devoted their lives to serving others. Lynn is a retired oncologist who worked at the Mayo Clinic, while her wife Mary is a retired hospital Chaplin who worked at the Mayo Clinic for 32 years. Both recently relocated from Rochester, where they attended Cavalry Episcopal Church. They started attending St. John’s last March and can usually be seen at the 8 AM service, so if you’re an early bird, be sure to say hello! They’ve been together for 24 years and married for five. Their hobbies are spending time with friends and cats, as well as being involved with their community. Mary is even a playwright! We’re so blessed to have them here at St. John’s, and we look forward to getting to know them and their gifts even more in the coming months and years.

Robin Bloom
Robin and his wife, Liz Pawlak, moved back to Saint Paul, from Santa Fe, NM in January of 2018.  Robert began the task of searching for a church to join, and a former co-worker greeted him at St John’s and recommended he become a member.  Robin soon discovered that the St Paul Grief Counseling Coalition was meeting at St John’s until their summer break. The St Paul Grief Counseling Coalition has provided wonderful support for Robin and his wife while grieving the death of their son due to depression and related issues.

Robin was born in Wisconsin but has spent most of his adult life in Minnesota. Robin was raised Congregational/UCC but was received into the Episcopal church when he was 20. He was first attracted by the liturgy of the mass and the pageantry of the service.  Since then he has been a member of Episcopal Churches across the country.

At St John’s, Robin has been participating in Adult Faith Formation which he finds enlightening, Men’s Breakfast, and is going through the Basics Class. Robin’s wife is a Minnesota native who attended the “U”. They are both retired, him from Hennepin County, she from the MN DOT.

Josh Tucker
Raised in the Palmetto State, Josh graduated from the University of South Carolina with his Master of Social Work and worked in the prison system there. Then why Minnesota Josh? You won’t believe it, but he wanted to live in a place with a great deal of snow so he could learn to ski.

Josh is already at the intermediate level on the slopes, working the Lutsen area of the North Shore as well as Colorado. He keeps a bag packed and is ready to find time away from his job down at St. Peter in the Minnesota Security Hospital where he employs his skills and education as a psychotherapist.

Josh enjoys the music of St. John’s, the energy which the church brings to his life, and he hopes to more fully integrate into the life of the parish once his busy life settles down, with a residence both in Mankato during the week and in The Cities on the weekend.

Jeff Chen
Several friendly conversations with Margaret Thor and others at the 8:00 service led Jeff to join our faith community. He is a Professor of Mathematics at St Cloud State University and lives in his condo there during the week. But he enjoys the urban ambiance of the metro area so regularly stays with friends in St Paul on the weekends.

Jeff was born Jian-Ping Chen in Taiwan. The English Club at his college asked their members to select an English name for themselves—he selected Jefferson—which he later shortened to Jeff. He earned his doctorate degree at Yale University in the mid-1990s and briefly taught there before venturing to Waldorf College in Iowa and eventually St Cloud State to teach math.

Jeff’s faith journey has found him in several Christian communities over the years including Assembly of God and the Church of Christ. He is an early riser so he can swim at the St. Cloud YMCA for fitness before classes.  He has also been teaching himself to speak French. This was most helpful while he lived in Paris last year doing sabbatical research on the history of mathematics.

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Image of the altar cross at Notre Dame

Holy Week is easily ignored by most Christians. Maundy Thursday and especially Good Friday are some of the least-populated services of the church year. Is it because they’re too confusing? Too sad? Too intimate? It’s easy to skip from the Palm Parade to the party Saturday night and the lilies and alleluias of Easter morning.

Yet for those of us who do attend, perhaps it is proof of our desire to draw nearer somehow to God. Any “proof” needed that this is real is the yearning we feel in our hearts as we sit in the pews.

On Good Friday, there is no winning, no victory. Instead of a short- term political victory, what we get is a divine validation of every single thing we have suffered. God in Jesus tells us that there is

no wound so shameful,
no betrayal so scathing,
no pain so searing,
no loneliness so enduring,
no exhaustion so total,
no regret so bitter,
no sadness so unending,
no fear so terrifying,
no anxiety so crippling,
no disappointment so compete,
no cross so high,
no grave so deep,
that He will not have been there before us
to mark the way back.

The women deacons are preaching on Maundy Thursday and Good
Friday. Above is an excerpt from what I’m working on as I think about how the immense pain in the world is reflected on our two of our holiest days.

See you in church.

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By The Reverend Barbara Mraz

“The turn of my heart bends toward you, O God. I search for you in infinite stretches of imagination. I discover you in infinite spaces of need. You give my wounded spirit shelter, my restless life purpose, my questioning mind the embrace of wonder.”
-The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

Jayan Nair has a lifetime of experience packed into his twenty-five years. He has been repeatedly bullied, suffered emotional abuse in his religiously-conservative home, and has struggled with substance abuse. Yet this amazing young man, who left home at seventeen, graduated summa cum laude from college, projects a radiant joyfulness, speaks glowingly of his partner Benji and “the light of his life,” his nephew Theo. He laughs often, reads constantly, and is on his way to a professional life in the Church.  He says he owes his life to the discovery of the Gospel.


Growing up in Huntington, West Virginia, both of Jayan’s parents were physicians. His father was born in Ethiopia and lived in Zambia and Botswana before coming to America. His grandfather was Hindu; his grandmother an Anglican Christian raised in the Church of South India.

Jayan’s early life was marked by hardship. He was bullied in school for his sexuality and “outed” at age 13. He also did not feel academically challenged at the private Christian school he attended. So after seventh grade, his parents decided they would home-school Jayan and his younger sister. His father taught them history and theology; his mother took a leave from her medical practice and taught him the rest. School began at 7:30 and ended for dinner at six, followed by evening homework.  He took a total of nine years of Latin, which he says helped him in countless ways. He read widely in theology on his own.

He observes, “The chance to immerse myself in all areas of knowledge and integrate it was tremendously valuable to me.  I would do it again, but wouldn’t want it for my own kids, if I ever have any.”

The emphasis on theology was because Jayan was being groomed for a life in the church, to be a minister of the Gospel in the “hyper-Calvinist” church his parent attended.


A punishing new element was added to his life after he acknowledged his homosexuality at age 13. For 18 months, he was forced to undergo “conversion therapy” with his pastor and his father. “It destroyed me,” he says. “I went back into the closet for two years to make it stop.” He renounced Christianity in the process.

At age sixteen he came out again and was able to gain the support of an understanding aunt and his grandmother. Yet his only friends were his Math and Latin tutors. He dropped out of high school, ran away from home at 17, found various places to live, and eventually got a GED. Trying to forget the darker parts of his childhood, he drank his way through it all.


He applied to colleges and got a scholarship to Ohio State in Columbus.  He dreamed of becoming an academic, possibly an archaeologist. He was also interested in Linguistics. Academically, college went very well and, wanting a challenge, he decided to major in International Politics and Chinese.

Throughout college, he battled his addiction. Nonetheless he graduated summa cum laude with Honors Research Distinction in Political Science. His thesis was titled Confucian Moral Talent and Security: Diachronic Perspectives on Chinese Strategic Culture. Earlier he had gotten a grant and spent a summer in Beijing researching. His first-rate secondary school education at home, he explained, was a massive academic advantage throughout college.


With an academic career in political science as a goal, the best fit seemed to be at the University of Minnesota.  He was accepted into the PhD program and moved to Minneapolis.

Soon, however, his life collapsed. In November, he blacked out on election night and did not come to for several days. He believed he was going to die as he tried to detox himself at home. The third day brought what he describes as “a moment of divine encounter.”  He says, “I actually heard a voice telling me that I didn’t have to do this alone. That voice had to have been God, and I’m convinced it’s only by God’s grace that I finally believed that voice.”

He talked to his therapist who referred him to a program at Fairview Riverside.  He joined AA and got a sponsor. During this time Jayan also began meditating and spending more time in quiet prayer. He explored an array of different spiritual practices. Nonetheless, he says, “Nothing felt real.” He also experienced a profound need for forgiveness that wasn’t being fulfilled. Throughout his work in recovery, however, he came to understand the narrative of his life as being less about being a victim, and more about being a survivor. But even a survivor needs healing.

He got a job. Working on a student newspaper earlier, he had taught himself digital design. He was hired at United Healthcare where he still works today, doing web creation and copywriting . Soon he met Benji, the man who brought him to an Episcopal Church in Rochester for his nephew’s Baptism. For Jayan, this event turned out to be life-changing.


The Baptism was at Calvary Episcopal Church in Rochester.  Benji was to be his nephew Theo’s godfather. As Jayan experienced the liturgy and heard the words of the Baptismal Covenant and the loud congregational response of “We Will!” something happened to him. Experiencing the sense of community, the strangely-familiar language, and the magnetic pull of the sacraments which convinced him he could not escape even if he wanted to, he remembers, “It was at once terrifying and the best thing in the world. It took me months to take it all in.”

Jayan and Benji began attending church at St. Christopher’s in Roseville but soon found their way to St John’s. Right away, they knew that this was the place for them, noting that it seemed to be a “very healthy place”. Jayan began attending Compline. He became an acolyte and started praying the Daily Office. Still devouring theology, he especially loved reading the work of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. His involvement at St. John’s grew as he began working with the Young Adult Group, and became friends with Craig Lemming. Now he reads Morning Prayer each weekday at the church. He is a regular at Faith Formation (where many of us are astounded at the extent of his theological knowledge). He delights in his toddler godson Theo, writes him on holy days, and carries his picture with him. He and Benji are planning a wedding for next October at St. John’s.

Most of all, he experiences the Gospel as a profound source of healing and joy. No longer a message of self-loathing and fear of the afterlife, the Gospel has opened up as a promise of God’s forgiveness and faithful attentiveness to us in this life and the next. In the story of Christ and in the tangible beauty of the sacraments, he finds the grace to start putting together the pieces of his life and share that healing with the world.

Slowly Jayan has realized that he is called to work in the Church.  The question is how?  So now he is in the process of forming a discernment committee to help him figure this out. Maybe the priesthood? Maybe something else?


Jayan is a delight to speak with: thoughtful, intelligent, passionate, extremely funny, and a man of deep spirituality.  He loves trivia and murder mysteries. He speaks with pride of Benji’s approach to real estate and his partner’s joy at helping young families find their first home. He gave himself a syllabus when he got to college about what he had to view and read to “catch up” with the popular culture that had been kept from him as he grew up.

He has several tattoos, a combination of memories and philosophy. A number is on his upper arm, referencing the fact that in the late 19th century journalists used the symbol ”-30-” to signal the end of a story. He got this tattoo when he was forced to terminate his relationship with his family.  Another, running up and down his forearms, is a quotation in Classical Chinese: “The way of the universe is a flowing stream; it can go in any direction.” Behind his left ear is a conch, a nod to his South Indian heritage.

But perhaps most significant is the name “Jayan,” from Sanskrit. It is a family name harkening back to his father’s roots. It means “victorious,” while his middle name is “Timothy,” which means “honoring God.” Jayan’s mother always told him that “honoring God” is how his victory would come. It’s already started.


Barbara Mraz, Writer-in-Residence. Barbara preaches each month, contributes regularly to the parish blog, Epistles and Epiphanies, and writes profiles of parishioners for The Evangelist. Barbara has been a deacon in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota for more than 30 years and enjoys reading, gardening, spending time with her kids and grandchildren, attending theater productions, and watching films. She is the author of Finding Faith at the Movies (Morehouse, 2004).


Originally published in the March-April 2019 Evangelist. 


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Dear friends in Christ,

The late poet Mary Oliver, popular with priests and preachers, frequently wove themes of death and grief into her poetry. Perhaps her most remembered passage on death, in her poem “The Uses of Sorrow” Oliver writes:

Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift.

I confess that like the poet, it took me a while to understand what this passage could mean– that darkness, grief, and pain might be a gift. Then I read Robert Johnson’s Owning Your Own Shadow (see Craig Lemming’s blog post on the Lenten Read). We all have a shadow self, a product of forces without and within that we believe we cannot fully share. As I’ve written and preached already this season, this shadow is a potent force. The shadow self draws much of its power from the grief and pain we’ve endured. To highlight this point, Johnson writes,

“Parrots learn profanity more easily than common phrases since we utter our curses with so much vigor. The parrot doesn’t know the meaning of these words, but he hears the energy invested in them. Even animals can pick up on the power we have hidden in the shadow!”

Mary Oliver was acquainted with grief and she was no stranger to the pain of betrayal, having been sexually abused by her father as a youth. In a poem titled “Rage” she describes this experience, the source of a lifetime of hurt,

“you were also the red song

in the night,

stumbling through the house

to the child’s bed,

leaving your bitter taste.”

What do you do with that kind of hurt? No one should have to hold such a box of darkness. Johnson might counsel us that “our own healing proceeds from that overlap of what we call good and evil, light and dark. It is not that the light element alone does the healing; the place where light and dark begin to touch is where miracles arise.”

To get here we have to touch the shadow, acknowledge it, the parts given to us and the parts arising from within, and with time and tenderness we can even claim that darkness, and see it as gift.

This summer I had the strange experience of running each morning past my father’s headstone in the small community cemetery on the edge of my hometown in Alaska. On the first morning I went on that route, it was the first time I had been to this spot since the months following his death almost a decade prior. I could sense the ocean of grief welling up within me, the shame over the last years of his life, his mistakes and his death by his own hand, and I pushed it all down and kept running. For a month I ran past that spot each day, and each day the powerful feelings surged just beneath the surface.

On the last day we were in town, I sensed that it would be healthy for me to visit his grave one last time with intention, not just jogging past. I took the boys, and prepared to say goodbye again to my dad, not knowing the next time I’d be in that space. We gathered flowers and laid them on the headstone, and finally, an experience familiar to many, the dam burst and all the feelings came pouring out. I had a moment of conscious hesitation, as if I might be able to stuff it all back down, and no doubt I could have. But I chose in that moment to embrace the grief, to share it with my boys. It was a powerful moment, one I won’t soon forget. It opened up deep connections with both children and far from pushing them away in fear or concern, it drew us closer together. When we left the cemetery I recall a feeling of balance and centeredness that had not been there all month. It is that feeling of balance that I brought back with me into my ministry here at St. John’s, a groundedness that continues to root me more firmly in my vocation as priest, father, and husband. Such is the power of touching and embracing our own shadows.

I hope you will join us in reading Owning Your Own Shadow and explore ways that your own shadow self is a source of power and transformation in your life too.  I also hope you will join us in a deeper look at the issues that surround death and grief in our Sunday forum series. Blessings to you in Lent and look forward to spring and new life. I will see you in worship!


Originally published in the March-April 2019 Evangelist. 


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