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Unity and difference: blessings of engagement for local church members and the Sisters of Providence

Providence Associate Karen Sagraves plays the piano in the Church of the Immaculate Conception

Providence Associate Karen Sagraves has been integral in creating a close relationship between her church home, Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Terre Haute and the Sisters of Providence.

To date, 11 members of Central Christian Church have become Providence Associates or are candidates, including the pastor! Another three church members have applied to become candidates in the fall.

Karen is coordinator of liturgy and music for the Sisters of Providence. “Working with the sisters has changed my life. My perspective is so much broader,” Karen said.

She says many synergies exist between Central Christian Church and the Sisters of Providence. “We’re both very inclusive, related to ecumenical issues and relationships with others. We’re both justice-oriented and progressive.”

Despite theological differences, Karen feels her faith and that of the sisters “meshes really well.”

Inspiring others

Karen’s sharing her experience has led others to follow. She tells of her inspiration for becoming an associate.

“It is such a privilege to play at the sisters summer annual meetings, sit in the background during musical breaks and at times be invited to sit at the tables and be part of the discussion,” she said. “It was the year of the Vatican visitation [when church leadership had ordered an investigation into many U.S. women religious communities],” she recalls. “It was such a revelation for me to hear the sisters talk honestly and express grief, anger and concern. They didn’t just pretend everything was okay. But, they never expressed hate or vindictiveness, always hope and love,” Karen said. “I thought to myself, ‘The world needs more of this, this way of dealing with difficult situations.’ So, I decided to become an associate. Sister Marsha Speth was my companion during my candidate year and she was wonderful. I am so grateful for that year.” Karen became an associate in 2013.

Central Christian Church members who have made commitments as Providence Associates, pictured last November. From front left, Pastor Rebecca Zelensky, Traci Tucker, Karen Sagraves, Kelly Meyer. Back row from left: Carroll and Dinah Vasbinder, Will Hine, Theresa Vaughn and Sarah Wilson.

Mutual blessing

The blessing is mutual for the two faith groups, Sisters of Providence and members of Central Christian Church.

About 20 church members attend the monthly Taizé prayer at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and several help plan and play music at the service.

Taizé has been so meaningful. It has solidified the desire of many to be in relationship with the sisters,” Karen said.

Providence Associates, Pastor Rebecca Zelenski and parishioner Will Hine of Central Christian, lead spiritual programs at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Some sisters attend Central Christian services and events on occasion. Sisters were asked to participate in the church’s 175th anniversary celebration last summer, and then-General Superior Sister Denise Wilkinson spoke at the dinner. Karen says she has heard sisters say, “I love that church.” Reciprocally, some Central Christian Church members refer to their church as ‘Sisters of Providence East.’

“If we come to situations genuinely wanting to know and understand more about a person’s culture and faith, nine times out of 10 the response will be positive,” Karen said.

(Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Diane Weidenbenner

Diane Weidenbenner is director of marketing and communications for the Sisters of Providence Mission Advancement office.

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