A New Year in Florence & At St. James

The Rev. Richard Easterling, photo by Brayden Traughber

As 2022 will bring to the entire world, new beginnings have also arrived at 19th century St. James Episcopal church which welcomed new leadership.  Arriving in Florence during the “red” zone, The Rev. Richard Easterling is overseeing the two most important facets of the church:  worship services in English and community outreach programs, which involve the local English speaking and Italian communities.  

A New Year’s Message from Rev. Easterling

“Happy New Year!” In the past, this sentiment has always seemed to be something like a statement of fact or a foregone conclusion. The previous year is finished and perhaps we are celebrating a good run. Or maybe it wasn’t the year we’d hoped for and therefore we are happy for the fact that it is done. In any case, pop the Prosecco and toast the close of one chapter and the beginning of another.

Those were the good old days, consisting of everything up until almost two years ago. Now, as we observe our second annual COVID Christmas, I’m having a bit of trouble: the phrase “Happy New Year!” doesn’t roll off the tongue with the same ease and innocence it once did. Naively, I thought 2021 was going to be the year when we brought the pandemic to heel. Vaccines were coming out, travel restrictions were liberalized, everything seemed to be moving in the right direction. 2021 was supposed to be another hard but ultimately happy year because of the where I thought we would be by the end of it.

Well, here we are. And though there are some promising bits of news concerning the rapidly spreading Omicron Variant, I feel like the progress we’ve made is being erased. My “Happy New Year!” from this time last year is standing on rather shaky ground. So, if you are worried that you won’t be able to tell people “Happy 2022!” without sounding ironic, sarcastic, or flat-out delusional, you are certainly not alone!

Still, perhaps it’s more noble and generous to offer this sentiment when times are difficult rather than easy; to offer kind optimism even when we struggle privately to find great depth in our convictions. I thoroughly believe that human beings are hardwired for hope, and hope must definitionally run at least somewhat counter to observed reality. So whereas once “Happy New Year!” was completely effortless and a bit meaningless, this time, at the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, I endeavor to make my use of these hopeful words less cliché and more authentic.

On behalf of St. James Episcopal Church, I truly wish you a better, a happier, and a healthy 2022. Keep a good thought and don’t lose heart. We are here for each other.

The Rev. Richard B. Easterling
Priest in Charge
St. James Episcopal Church

OUTREACH PROGRAMS AT ST. JAMES

Even with the limitations imposed by COVID regulations, St. James has sought to keep itself as open to its community as much as possible. Even during lockdown, services were held over Zoom to help everyone stay involved.  Starting in 2021, some of the church’s programs and activities have returned.

One such program is the Thrift Shop, held on the last Wednesday of the month from 9:30 to 11:30 am (the next is January 25, 2022), perfect for anyone seeking a good bargain. There is also a Food Bank that, due to changes caused by health regulations, currently focuses on giving out dry goods, household items, hygiene products, blankets and clothing to those in need. The Food Bank is held every Thursday from 10 to 11 am; all are welcome to donate.  Items needed for the Food Bank are: unopened dry and canned good, sanitary products of all types (especially diapers/nappies and feminine hygiene).  These can be dropped office during office hours (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 9 am – 1 pm) or on Sunday before or after the 11 am service.

The Children’s Lending Library, a cultural association housed in the St. James undercroft, is open from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm  on Sundays, and is also available to provide English literature to children and easy reading for adults learning the language.  Adults can also borrow books from the St. James’s own library, also in the undercroft, filled with paperback fiction and non-fiction.  The international “Quirky Quilters” quilting and “Il Club del Punto in Croce” embroidery groups are also guests of St. James.

For upcoming plans, St. James wishes to maintain the previously mentioned programs while slowly reintroducing projects that fall in line with Italy’s anti-Covid health regulations.   Be sure to sign up for the weekly newsletter to stay up to date on the integrations as well as any potential changes to scheduled activities du to Covid or otherwise.

St. James, through these programs, has focused on helping to foster an international community. Current Sunday worship is held at 11 am and is also streamed live on the church’s YouTube Channel.  For more information (in English and Italian), you can always call the church office (055/294417) and leave a message.  (nelson matos)

REV. EASTERLING’S JOURNEY

“Even without sometimes knowing we’re you’re going, you still end up where you need to be,” said Rev. Easterling.

For Easterling, everything seemed to fall into place. 

“Every step in your life has led you to this point.”

Easterling, accompanied by his husband David and poodle Bear, traveled from New Orleans, Louisiana to Florence in late December. The married couple never foresaw foreign missions in their future, but the opportunity at St. James Church arose and they eagerly accepted it. Despite challenges, the glory and beauty of Tuscany has left the couple awestricken, and they’ve come to love their new home. 

He graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in German from the college of foreign languages and literature in 1999.  Easterling earned a Masters of Divinity from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois in 2003. Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, he considers New Orleans his hometown after having lived there longer than anywhere else.

Prior to St. James Church, Easterling served as Rector of St. George’s Church for six years. At St. George’s, he was praised for his profound preaching, reestablishing the community, creating financial sustainability, and cultivating a diverse community. Easterling plans to continue to utilize these skills at St. James.

“I had a fairly accurate picture coming in of what they wanted and what they needed … With sort of fresh eyes, I can see things that we will continue to work on,” Easterling said. 

Even though he has the skills and ambition to continue his work at St. James, the timing has not been on Easterling’s side. Since his arrival, the pandemic has prevented him at times from conducting in-person worship and activities.

“I think the biggest challenge of coming in during the middle [of the] pandemic is just making these connections in an authentic and … tangible way.” 

Despite this, Easterling looks on the bright side of things. He looks to the future and the possibilities that St. James has to offer. 

St. James was founded in 1853 with a gothic revival architectural design. The stained-glass windows and beautiful structure attract a diverse congregation of American and European tourists. For this reason, Easterling describes the church as a “Cathedral Church.”

“It is … the church of everybody in that area,” he said, “Everybody needs to be able to come to that church and find something that they find appealing, something that’s familiar or something that they like. And that’s what St. James needs to do.”

Under the guidance of Easterling, the community can expect more projects and outreach programs in the future.

With a faith filled heart, Easterling calls St. James his new parish family and lends his support and welcome to all.

“If people come to St. James, the thing that they should know and believe is that God loves them and that everybody in this world is worthy of love,” he said.  (rachel pellegrino)