By Mary Anne Pikrone
Since November 2018, Hannah Harkey and Liam Clements have regularly coordinated St. John’s Saturday evening Peace Meal.
The meal, which is free to all, played a large part in drawing the couple to our congregation.
“What we liked about St. John’s is that it does so much,” Hannah said. “We just wanted to throw ourselves in and felt Peace Meal was such a great program.”
Hannah went searching for a new congregation a couple of years ago after a disagreement with her former pastor about evolution. She was told she would go to hell if she didn’t believe the earth was 6,000 years old. She also found it troubling that women were kept out roles with power in her former denomination.
(The Episcopal Church affirmed at the 2006 General Convention “that an acceptance of evolution is entirely compatible with an authentic and living Christian faith,” according to the national denomination’s archives, which adds, “How that compatibility is understood varies among Episcopal and Anglican scientists.”)
“I took about a month’s break, where I didn’t go to church at all. We drove by St. John’s all the time and saw the pride flag. I was missing church, and I thought let’s go and start there,” Hannah said.
They met the Rev. Amy Chambers Cortright, the pastor at the time, and were drawn to the people of St. John’s.
“Our first day was the fall picnic, and the first person we spoke to was Kevin,” Liam said. The Rev. Kevin McGrane, deacon, asked whether they were new to St. John’s. “We explained up how we ended up here and Hannah’s fallout over science. His words were, ‘those pesky facts.”
Hannah and Liam moved to St. Louis after becoming a couple in grad school at the University of Mississippi. They knew that after spending years in a college town, they preferred to live in a big city and found several cities that met their desires. The deal was “whoever got the job first--that’s the city we move to.”
Hannah found a job first with W. W. Norton publishers as their St. Louis area representative, so they moved here in 2016.
Liam said he knew religion was important to Hannah—she’d grown up in church activities-- and supported her. When she decided to move on to another church, he said, “I took a more active role in helping her to find a place.”
They were drawn to Peace Meal because it gave all an opportunity to sit and communicate, they said. (Unfortunately, COVID precautions don’t allow gathering in the church hall at this time, and visitors now pick up their meals to go at the Parish Hall door.)
"And we just kept going back," Hannah said. Liam added, "We are inseparable probably when it comes to volunteer opportunities."
They have been volunteering since November 2018, starting when it was St. John’s turn to host the meal. The previous coordinator couple quit, and at Phyllis Jacobson’s request, the couple took a food safety course.
They passed the test, and now coordinate every five to six weeks. Recently, with the to-go meals, they’ve been filling in extra.
Hannah and Liam like being able to serve the community through the meal, which they say offers a way to build outreach to others and other churches.
“This might be selfish, to have the instant gratification,” Liam said. “The reason people are there is to get something to eat.”
Hannah and Liam officially joined The Episcopal Church on Easter 2019.
They were supposed to be married this November but have moved back the date to May 28, 2021, because of the pandemic. A reception is to be held at Willow downtown.
WHO THEY ARE:
Hannah Elena Harkey, 29
Birthplace: Columbus, Ga., grew up in Lakeville, Mass.
Parents: Mother was a Missouri Synod Lutheran missionary child, grew up in Central America. Father was a pastor and an army brat whose home base was Texas.
Baptized: Missouri Synod Lutheran
Education: Undergraduate degree from Lenoir Rhyne University, Hickory, N.C., with study abroad. Master’s degree in French Medieval Poetry from University of Mississippi.
Career: Studied abroad for a semester in Angers, France, and taught English for a year in Rouen.
Now in fifth year with W. W. Norton publishers as their representative in the St. Louis area. She also sells textbooks to colleges in Rolla and Springfield, MO, and Springfield and Champaign IL.
On St. John’s: “I grew up in the church, my dad was a pastor, I saw my parents live out their lives based on how Jesus wants us to be. I think St. John’s Episcopal really embodies that idea of helping your neighbor and being full of love and teaching the love of God."
Liam Clements, 31
Birthplace: Cincinnati suburb of West Chester, where he grew up.
Parents: Both are from Newcastle, in the northeast United Kingdom. They came to America after his father was hired by G.E. Aviation in Cincinnati.
Baptized: Church of England, but no real religious background.
Education: Undergraduate degree in political science, then master’s in philosophy from the University of Mississippi, with concentration on Kant’s critique on judging art and experience of the aesthetic.
Career: Spent a year in the AmeriCorps national service, working at a United Way in Oxford, MISS. Liam is now a strategy consultant for a small St. Louis firm, UNCOMN, LLC.
On St. John’s: “I didn’t even grow up in the church, didn’t have a lot of interest.” Now, he says, “It’s nice to have a community inviting me to grow and not just have judgment. “
Mary Anne Pikrone is a member of the communications committee at St. John's.
Various members of the St. John's congregation contribute to this blog. For editorial suggestions, contact Jeff McIntire-Strasburg at email@example.com