Riots in Baltimore and manslaughter charges against former Episcopal bishop Heather Cook in the drunk-driving death of a popular bicyclist did nothing to dissuade the Rev. David Ware from accepting a job as rector of the Church of the Redeemer in Homeland.
In fact, Baltimore's black eye inspired Ware and his wife, Sarah Hoover, to come here to make a difference.
"That's very compelling to me," Ware, 53, a former teacher, said in an interview Sunday after he was introduced to the congregation of about 700 households, one of the largest in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. "I was drawn to that. That's how I understand the gospel. We're called to serve in that way."
"We both felt it was really important for us to come to Baltimore," said Hoover, 50, a former assistant music professor for Hofstra University in New York. She too has a new job in Baltimore, as a senior administrator for the Peabody Conservatory, which is part of Johns Hopkins University. As special assistant to the dean for innovation, interdisciplinary partnerships and community initiatives, Hoover will help to foster stronger relationships between the conservatory and the embattled city.
She sees an important parallel between Baltimore's recent crises and her own newly created position.
"If there ever was a moment where people are helping to build relationships, this is the moment," she said.
Ware, formerly rector of the 500-family St. John's Episcopal Church in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., said he and his wife, who have professional and family ties to the Washington area, "wept" as riots consumed Baltimore April 27, two days after a Church of the Redeemer search committee visited him in New York.
They had also heard about the December 2014 death of Thomas Palermo, of Roland Park, who was riding his bicycle on Roland Avenue when he was struck by a car driven by Cook, then the bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. Cook, who allegedly was driving drunk, has pleaded not guilty to all 13 counts against her, including automobile manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of an accident. Her trial is set for Sept. 9. She has resigned as bishop suffragan, and no longer serves in any capacity in the diocese.
In Cold Spring Harbor, a quaint New York suburb of 5,000 residents, the Cook story generated a lot of buzz.
"Everyone was aware of it and talking about it, about human frailty and the importance of honesty," Ware said.
But the riots hit Ware hardest. The native Tennessean said he grew up poor in one of the few white families in an "underserved" section of Little Rock, Arkansas, and felt an affinity with West Baltimore, epicenter of the riots. He wanted to play a role in helping to ease Baltimore's tumult.
Hoover needed no convincing. She too felt the pull of "having meaningful relationships" in a community that needed them.
"It was like a wind blew through," she said.
Interim rector hailed
Hired for their respective jobs three weeks apart, Ware and Hoover are unpacking boxes in Homeland, a short walk from the church, and their daughter will attend Friends School as a sophomore. Ware officially started at Redeemer on Monday, April 17, and will preach his first sermon Aug. 23.
Ware succeeds the Rev. Paul Tunkle, who retired last year and is now a part-time rector in Maine. The Right Rev. Robert Ihloff, who retired in 2007 as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, had been filling in as Redeemer's interim rector for the past 14 months, and Sunday's service was his last. Ihloff, 74, said he now plans to do volunteer work at the Cathedral of the Incarnation on University Parkway, the seat of the diocese, and preach once a month. He said he might also lead Bible study classes.
In many ways, Ihloff's tenure at Redeemer was defined by Baltimore's unrest and the case of Cook, who was consecrated as bishop suffragan of the diocese in a ceremony at Redeemer last year. Ihloff had served as a diocesan spokesman at a time of soul-searching by Episcopalians in the wake of Cook's resignation. He had led several prayer groups at Redeemer, where parishioners discussed the Cook case and the questions it raised on issues ranging from forgiveness to loss of faith to moral responsibility, as well as why Cook was chosen as bishop suffragan despite a previous arrest in 2010 for driving under the influence of alcohol on the Eastern Shore.
Ihloff is widely credited with being a steady hand and a calming influence during a time of embarrassment for the diocese. Sunday's service was a celebration of Ihloff as much as a welcome to Ware. Ihloff received two standing ovations. Mary DeKuyper, Redeemer's senior warden, told the audience, "He knew how to bring us together as a community."
Ihloff told parishioners he considered it a privilege to serve as interim rector.
"I have had no regrets whatsoever," he said."It has been a joy."
As for Ware, DeKuyper said in a letter posted on the church's website, "David exceeds all the requirements we listed as 'must haves.' ... You will find him to be one of the most open, approachable and caring people you will ever meet."
In his own letter to the Redeemer community, Ware referred to "this beautiful but hurting city," lamented that "the fabric of Baltimore tore open, revealing old wounds of race and class," and cited his childhood "in a poor, black neighborhood where most of my friends felt cut off from any chance to rise."
He added in the letter, "Becoming a teacher and then a priest is rooted in that experience, and the call to Baltimore feels like being invited home."
Called to the clergy
Ware sat in the audience Sunday, wearing a blue blazer, red tie and tan pants but not his clerical collar. After the service, he relaxed in a pew, recounted growing up in Little Rock in difficult financial straits in the early 1970s and being bused to public schools because of desegregation.
"It connected me to the world," he said.
His father, who would later work as a laborer for the city, had trouble keeping jobs and gave up plans to enter the priesthood because he feared being called to lead a white parish that might be resistant to civil rights.
School was a way out for Ware and his brother, Paul, who both got good grades. Ware attended Yale University on a scholarship and majored in English. His brother, who majored in Religion at the University of the South, is now an attorney in Birmingham, Ala.
"Go figure," Ware said.
He tried medical school but didn't like it. He moved to Washington, where he met his wife, and in 1987 developed an adult literacy program sponsored by the Washington National Cathedral.
He later taught English for four years at Sidwell Friends School in the Washington area, where he counseled a student who was working with emotionally disabled teens in a group home as a senior class project. The student, emotionally drained by his work, turned to Ware for counseling as a way to "debrief," and suggested that Ware should become a priest. Around the same time, several of Ware's colleagues at Sidwell made the same suggestion.
"I needed to pay attention to that," Ware said. He had resisted going to seminary school because of his dad's distrust, but eventually enrolled at General Theological Seminary in New York and worked at St. Michael's Episcopal Church as a seminarian.
From there, he became associate rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Ridgewood, N.J., then served as associate rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Del., and then went to St. Albans, an Episcopal school in Washington, where he was the chaplain and upper school head for six years before joining St. John's, a progressive, well-educated congregation in Cold Spring Harbor for the next eight years.
Now, he's here, and said he has no immediate plans to make any changes.
"I'm a leader who listens," he said.
But he stressed that he is outreach-oriented.
"You can't grow up in the inner city and not be," he said.
He plans to write his first sermon this week, but isn't sure what he'll say.
"It'll be based on the gospel," he said, shrugging. "I'll preach a sermon."
And he'll deliver it in his gentle Southern drawl, which he doesn't think anyone will mind.
"It's always good to have a Southerner in the pulpit," he said, grinning.