For many churches today, finding one engaging pastor to deliver sermons and perform rites is a challenge. Not for All Saints Episcopal Church in the Pontiac section of Warwick, however. They now have two.
Father Alfred “Al” Zadig and Father George H. Warren came to the church in December with a simple but daunting task - to recapture the interest and faith of people in a population that is less religious than perhaps ever before.
The two priests have storied pasts, which lead them to Warwick.
Zadig, once an aspiring rabbi, converted from Judaism and became a schoolteacher. He attended the diocesan seminary in Garden City, Long Island, N.Y. and became an ordained priest. He began in Newton, Mass. and was most recently parish priest in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. He holds a master’s degree in pastoral care and psychology and a Ph.D. in psychology. At 86 years old, he shows no signs of slowing down his mission to spread the word of God.
“It helps when you love what you do,” he said with a smile.
Warren was born and raised in Rumford, R.I. and attended and graduated URI. He entered seminary in Philadelphia and received a M.D. in theology and pastoral ministry. He has served in parishes throughout New England, including Saint Barnabas and Saint Mark’s in Warwick.
The two had previously preached together, and now they’re bringing their unique blend of “tag team” preaching to All Saints, which has a membership of about 110. They both expressed their excitement at the opportunity to grow that number and bring more people into the church.
“People are sort of isolated today,” said Zadig. “I think one of the things that churches offer, if it's done right, is a community. Church is a place where people let you know that they care.”
Zadig highlighted church being “done right” purposefully, and he spoke openly about how some churches and gospels have negatively impacted individuals through harsh judgments of behavior, character or personality traits.
“A lot of people have been hurt by church,” he said. “Church can get in the way of God.”
Zadig said this fact is why more people should explore the Episcopal sect of Christianity. Throughout the conflicted history of Christianity, he said that Anglican beliefs largely fell in the middle of more extreme belief systems. The church, today, is a welcoming place for all in society, and does not place judgment on people for certain oft-talked about actions, such as abortion, homosexuality or divorce.
“In the Episcopal church they find the faith that they know without a stance on those issues,” he said. “No matter what your problem is, you're welcome. It isn’t even necessarily a problem.”
Zadig gave the example of a woman who approached him at one of his parishes during coffee hour, expressing disappointment because she enjoyed the sermon but felt as though she couldn’t join the church because she had been divorced. She asked him, “Do you let people like me in the church?” Zadig answered with a question, “Are you left or right handed?”
“Why does that matter?” the woman answered, confused. “Exactly,” replied Zadig.
Zadig said that, at its best, church can serve as a gathering for benevolent people to share ideas and think of how to make the world a better place. For example, Zadig belonged to a parish in Newton, Mass. that created the first hospice center - Hospice of the Good Shepherd - in Massachusetts in the 1970s, a time when mainstream opinion towards hospice care was less than favorable.
Warren said that people have incorrectly assumed and placed their own meaning behind the words of God throughout the ages, despite the real truth being larger than simple explanations.
“God is bigger than any of us can comprehend,” he said. “It has been easy to misinterpret throughout history about what God's love really is.”
Warren agreed that church should be a place of welcoming, not a place of right and wrong, or moral and immoral.
“It is not exclusive. It isn't supposed to be,” he said. “A lot of people come in just for the feeling of community.”
The pair knows that they have a tough task ahead of them, with fewer and fewer people attending church and even fewer young people pursuing a career in religion. However they remain hopeful that people will rediscover the wonders that a morning in church can bring about.
“The goal is to make All Saints something that people hear about, and want to come to,” Zadig said. “We want to let it be known that we have a positive message and for people to come here and see if they can find something.”
Sunday services are at 8 and 10 a.m. with the later service including the choir.