Thou Shalt Not Be Overcome - Hentzi Elek

“Thou Shalt Not Be Overcome. All shall be well,

and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”


 “All Shall Be Well." That phrase is repeated twice and is done quite intentionally. We need to be reminded over and over and over again. All Shall Be Well.

700 years ago a nameless Christian woman ( at least her name lost to history)  lay on her deathbed. And Christ came to her and revealed a series of “showings,“ divine revelations. That woman revived and became known as Julian of Norwich.

Her conversations with Christ were eventually published in The Revelation of Divine Love “which is thought to be the first book written by a woman in English, surviving for us today.”

"Julian was the modern equivalent of a nun, living the most modest life, and providing spiritual counseling to people suffering in plague, poverty, and famine."

“She refers to Jesus as Our Mother and used vivid imagery of God as Motherhood.”

"Julian was an intelligent, sensitive, very down-to-earth woman who maintains her trust in God’s goodness while addressing doubt, fear, and deep theological questions.”

In modern words, God said to Julian, “I don’t get enraged. You do.” God doesn’t unleash fury. We humans lose our tempers and then we happily ascribe the rage to God.

And "Christ didn’t say, you won’t be tempted. Christ didn’t say you won’t suffer horribly. Christ didn’t say you won’t endure disease. No. Christ said, 'You will not be overcome.'"

And “you will not be overcome,” drives the passion of “we shall overcome.”

“Modern writers and poets as diverse as T.S. Eliot, Denise Levertov, Iris Murdoch, and many others reference Julian.” And, of course, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. builds on her faith. We Shall Overcome Some Day.

“Today, pilgrims from around the world visit the Shrine of Julian in Norwich, England.” (Thanks to the website:


This Advent may we give thanks.

We will NOT be overcome.

Not matter what our bodies or the world throw at us. No. We shall not drown, as the psalmists so often cry out.

All Shall Be Well. And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well.

May Julian’s courage, hope, and faith sustain you with peace and joy today and always.


With my prayers and gratitude,

Hentzi Elek, Rector

Sealed & Sent – Joseph Wood

            This Sunday, the Right Rev. Chilton R. Knudsen, Assistant Bishop of Maryland, will visit Emmanuel. As part of the festivities, two of our own will be confirmed. The question is: confirmed to what? And what is the rite of confirmation, that it should wait until a bishop shows up to enact it?

            In the catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, the definition of confirmation is given as a reaffirmation of our Christian faith: “Confirmation is the rite in which we express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop.” (860) When I was growing up, the Roman Catholic Church talked about the sacrament along similar lines, describing it as being sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as an adult within the Church. (In fact, the Episcopal practice use to be that one couldn’t receive communion until one was confirmed.) In both cases, the name makes perfect sense—we confirm and are confirmed into the community of faith that most of us were baptized into as children. Where once others made promises and statements of faith on our behalf, now we taken them wholly upon ourselves. The words of the service echo this understanding in the prayers over the candidates when we ask that God “renew in these your servants the covenant you have made with them at their Baptism” and “send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them” (BCP, 418). Thus, the ceremony is poised between two points, recognizing both the covenant that has already been made “at […] Baptism” and the continued unfolding of their vocation as our Triune God draws them into the service “set before” the confirmands. Past, future, and the believer’s commitment to both are brought into a single unity, because we recognize with the Rev. Sara Miles that “conversion is not a single moment of epiphany but an ongoing process.”* In many ways, the conversion of ourselves and our communities is the task of the Christian life, and confirmation stands as testament to that complicated, grace-filled process.

            Now, let’s talk about the bishop. We believe as a church that Baptism is “full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit” (BCP, 298), so what are we and the Spirit doing in confirmation? I don’t think the answer lies in any sort of insufficiency with our Baptisms, but rather the bishop as symbolic of the larger Church. In fact, bishops are the default presider for Baptism, and priest do so in most Episcopal parishes under the auspices of our bishop(s). (I could go into a longer discussion about how the word “Episcopal” refers to bishops and what that says about our communal identity, but I only have so much room in these meditations.) Accordingly, when the bishop comes to a congregation and confirms the already baptized, we’re recognizing and lifting up what God is already doing in that place. Just as past and present collapse in the moment of the rite, the near and far are inexorably linked too. The confirmed are members of a parish, but they are also members of a diocese, of a denomination, and the Church Universal, the royal priesthood and body of Jesus Christ. When a bishop lays their hands on us, it’s in recognition of our membership in all those manifestations of Christian community. We are all saints of God, and the person of the bishop is an important reaffirmation of just how far those identities can extend. We are called to be faithful followers of Jesus, as best as we can, not in any one time or place, we are called to be Christians in all times and all places. For these reasons and so many more, let’s join together on Sunday to joyously and emphatically celebrate the continued movement of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the lives of our friends.


*from her book Take this Bread

Reach Out - Hentzi Elek

Dear Saints of Emmanuel,

 I can’t thank you enough for the welcome you have shared during our first two months together. Your faithfulness is humbling. God bless you.








I need your help.

Those 5 words summarize my primary goal with you for the next year. Listen, Learn, Laugh, Adapt, and Love.

So, please speak to me, so that I can listen.

Teach me, please, so that I can learn.

 Show me what makes you laugh and what does not.

Be patient with me as I try and adopt your ways and adapt myself to you, the Saints of Emmanuel.

And Risk.

Risk trying to love me.

Risk letting me love you, love you with all that I have and all that I am.

Please reach out to me directly. I welcome the feedback. I welcome your reactions. I can’t promise you miracles, but I can promise you that I will prayerfully listen.

Honest Communication. That’s the key.

And so, I ask you to please reach out directly to me--with thoughts, or questions; with words of praise and words of constructive criticism.

I am happy to meet with you over coffee, or lunch, or dinner, or sometime in between.

410-685-1130   Office Phone

610-715-8629   Cell Phone

I believe in you and give thanks to God for each of you, and I am delighted to be in your midst. God is with you, Emmanuel. Be Confident. Be Courageous. And Be of Good Cheer.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Thanksgiving Meditation - Hentzi Elek

Below are some prayers of gratitude you might share this Thanksgiving. You could say them with family and friends gathered around the table or quietly by yourself.

After each individual prayer of gratitude, you might say, "We thank you, God."


Let us give thanks to God for all God's gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth, and sky, and sea.

For farmers, fisher-people, hunters. For those who transport, manage, and sell our food.

For the gifts of heating, air conditioning, plumbing, sanitation, public health, electricity, transportation, engineering, technology, the internet, phones, and computers.


For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ.

For our daily food and drink; our homes; our families; and our friends.

For all that makes us laugh and smile, fulfills us, and helps us enjoy life.

For minds to think, hearts to love, and hands to serve.

For health and strength to work, and for leisure to rest and play.


For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity.

For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice.

For all soldiers and their families.

For all who seek peace with justice through non-violent means.

For all first responders: police, fire fighters, and for those in the medical profession.

For the transparency, courage, vision, creativity, and discipline of government officials. May they serve, lead, adjudicate, and transform our world daily into the Kingdom of God.

For the persistence, vigilance, and honesty of all those who shape public opinion.


For the Church global, eternal, and for our neighboring congregations in Baltimore.

For the officers of Emmanuel's Vestry: Martha, Senior Warden; Lindsay, Junior Warden; Demetreus, Treasurer; and for Jesse, Registrar.

For the Vestry: Becki, Matt, Saidah, David, Tiffany, Jonathan, Vickie, Herschel, and Greg.

For Eugene, Bishop of Maryland, and Chilton, Assistant Bishop, and for all Diocesan Leaders; for Hentzi, Rector; Joseph, Assistant Rector; John, Director of Music & Arts; Jordan, Organ Scholar; Walt, Director of Finance & Administration; Kim, Office Manager; Taylor, Seminarian and Community Engagement Coordinator; Antoin and Sheila, Sextons; Mary and Carla, Nursery Attendants; and Tom, Rector Emeritus.

For our beautiful building; our rich history; the generosity of past parishioners; for the mission, life, and prayers of this congregation; for all the Saints of Emmanuel; for the hopes and joys of our parish's future and the will to make those dreams a reality.


With my prayers and gratitude for all of you,


(Adapted from the Book of Common Prayer, pgs. 837 ff.)

The Heart of God - Hentzi Elek

The Heart of God, it seems to me, lies in our passionate, patient, and creative will and efforts To Love. And the Bible calls us unambiguously To Love our Neighbor and To Love Ourselves.

Thankfully you, Emmanuel, live into your name. You know God is with you, and you have already built life-affirming, long-lasting relationships of mutual trust, mutual respect, and mutual affection. Hence, you have a good track record of loving yourselves and loving your neighbors. This faithfulness delights God. Sit with that truth for a second.




Emmanuel Episcopal Church, your overflowing love, is undoubtedly the primary quality that brought me to be your new rector. Your history of loving, your present love today, and your capacity to love into the future gives me great joy, and hope, and peace. Together with God we can be incredible witnesses to love.

As we all know, though, Love is messy and confusing and not always so obvious. This is also the reality of any parish life. Our greatest challenge for this coming year--and, frankly, for all of our lives--is to learn to strengthen our love and to free ourselves from whatever may limit this love.

Together in our parish community, we can listen to each other, learn from each other, laugh together, and eventually be freed by the compassion of our fellow parishioners to love ourselves with greater peace and joy.

And when you love yourself more generously, then the quality of your love for others increases exponentially. As we love ourselves with greater humility and forgiveness, then our capacity to share love with people, even those we could never have imagined, organically blossoms.

Christian love in a parish community does have some fundamental qualities that you Emmanuel already manifest and that we can always aspire towards enhancing. These qualities are: Mutual Trust, Mutual Respect, and Mutual Affection.

Strengthening and deepening trust, respect, and affection within Emmanuel Episcopal Church or within any parish is certainly not easy, and yet we believe that with God in our midst anything and everything good and glorious is possible.

Essential to trust, respect, and affection is Some Time and Some Knowledge.

I want to get to know you. And I want you to get to know me. I want us to share our hopes and joys and the challenges that we can transform into opportunities.

I believe with all my heart God is calling us to be a happy, fun, and faithful orchestra. Imagine “The Emmanuel Orchestra” as a metaphor for a diverse, dynamic (structured and flexible), life-sustaining and life-changing Communion of Saints.

You already are a faithful Emmanuel Orchestra. Together, we can continue and build on the blessings of your history. Together, we can be and become a beautiful and inspiring orchestra; a community of courageous, intelligent, and resilient Saints; a church, shaped by the dance of prayer and action.

With God in our midst, barriers can be overcome and transformed. With God in our midst, we can love each other and share that love with the world.

 This is my deepest hope for you. This is my deepest hope for me. And this is my deepest hope for the Emmanuel Episcopal Church of the future.

Now & Then - Joseph Wood

What are modern believers suppose to do in the face of apocalyptic literature? In this week’s lectionary readings, both the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids from Matthew and Paul’s words from 1 Thessalonians speak to questions of preparedness for the end of the world and our final communion with Christ. For the early Christians, the need for such cautions were readily apparent—they thought that they were living in the last days of the Messianic Age, waiting for Jesus to reappear at any moment. Accordingly, they understood the Church’s mission as a horizontal one, spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth as quickly as they could. Over the generations, it became plain that a somewhat more vertical approach was needed; one that would take into account both the evangelical and chronological needs of the various communities of faith.  Slowly, the efforts to preserve the Church qua institution became almost ends in themselves, perpetuation often eclipsing preparation. So, how are we, as inheritors of millennia of establishment, supposed to respond to the messages we’ll hear on Sunday? What does it mean for us to keep awake?

To be honest, whenever I think about the end of the age, I remember the words of a bumper sticker that’s tacked up in the offices of a church I use to work for: “Jesus is coming—look busy.” It can be tempting to move to the other extreme, creating an unforgettable flurry of activity, but I’m not sure that such a single-minded focus on the present is any more faithful to the Biblical witness. Rather, I believe that keeping awake according to Christ’s parable is about constantly living into a balance, recognizing the needs of both the moment and all of those yet to come. There’s actually a meme that I’ve seen making the rounds several times over the years that speaks to that balance almost perfectly. It’s a quote “from the Talmud”* that draws out to the tension upon believers and their communities by playing with the commandments from Micah 6:8: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” We cannot know if it will be ours to complete the work (“neither the day nor the hour”), but we cannot let ourselves be overcome by the enormity of what it means to bring the Kingdom of God either. Neither the moment nor the future should become idols that eclipse our continued relationship with God and those around us. Instead, we must commit ourselves again and again to those relationships, doing our best to offer hope in every direction.

A Racial History of Emmanuel Church

In honor of tomorrow's Trail of Souls pilgrimage, here's the recounting of our parish's story that will appear in the booklet each participant will receive. Many thanks to Richard Fawcett, Audry Gagnon, diocesan archivist Mary Klein, and all who helped with the research for this vital project.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church was founded by Christ Church in 1854 to better serve Baltimore’s burgeoning Mt. Vernon neighborhood. The first parochial reports from Emmanuel printed in convention journals do not mention the presence of any persons of African descent.  However, the report of 1858 refers to “25 scholars in the colored school.” Within a year, that school had grown to 80 scholars with nine teachers. Meanwhile, the parish registers make only four references to “colored” members throughout the church’s early decades —twice in baptisms and twice in marriages. The 1860 parochial report differentiated between white and “colored” communicants, and it echoed those numbers by reporting 475 white communicants and two “colored.” The number of white communicants in 1862 had increased to 566 white, while the number of “colored” communicants remained the same.  In 1863, the report noted 595 white communicants, and three “colored.”

Perhaps the low number of communicants of African descent at Emmanuel, both during the 1860s and later, is explained by the church’s reputation as a confederate-sympathizing community. After a northern army victory in 1862, the Right Rev. Dr. William R. Whittingham, Bishop of Maryland, imposed upon all congregations the reading of “A Prayer of Thanksgiving.” These prayers were quite disturbing to a significant portion of the Emmanuel congregation, as they considered the President of the United States an enemy and a northern victory might mean the maiming or death of relatives and friends. Tradition relates that the more fervent southern supporters would rise and stand during these collects, then return to their knees for the remaining prayers. In 1865, a bazaar was held to raise funds “for the Relief of Sufferers at the South.”

However, not all members of Emmanuel were sympathetic to, or supportive of, the South and slavery. The vestry minutes of January 3, 1861 record a request to the police board for the attendance of a police officer in the vestibule of the church to preserve order.  (The request was denied, as the board stated it did not have power unless there was an infraction of the law.) Similarly, oral traditions have been passed down suggesting possible connections to The Underground Railroad in a space under what is now Eccleston Chapel.

After the Civil War, Emmanuel continued its mission to persons of African descent under the leadership of the Rev. Alfred M. Randolph, who possessed a life-long concern for their religious advancement. With the help of the Women’s Missionary Society of Emmanuel, his first endeavor was to establish a mission for black people, named Howard Chapel and located on Park Avenue between Lanvale and Dolphin Streets. Named after the former assistant at Emmanuel and founding rector of Memorial Episcopal Church, Howard Chapel was a black mission congregation that continued from 1874 until 1894. Emmanuel offered pastoral and financial assistance to the chapel throughout its existence, including providing for the religious education and training of 60 children from the black orphanage on Biddle Street.

Much of Emmanuel’s racial history from this time period can be seen as outreach-oriented, such as the Chinese Sunday School formed by the parish—the first of its kind in the city. Nonetheless, the parish would remain overwhelmingly white until the late 20th century and beginning of the 21st century. The church’s shift towards integration appears to have started as somewhat of a top-down phenomenon, especially under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Alfred Starratt and the Rev. Frederik J. Hanna.  Starratt and Hanna were instrumental in diocesan and local governmental civil rights discussions in the early 1960s, writing, preaching, and teaching extensively about the racial divide within Baltimore and the nation.  Even so, a parish profile written in 1965 expressed concern at Emmanuel’s “superior detached image” while making no mention of race.  In order to fully embrace its current, growing diversity, the parish will need to continue to address the silent assumptions of such dichotomies.  A promising sign in that direction is that in July 2016, members of Emmanuel made up the bulk of one of the diocese’s largest “Seeing the Face of God” anti-racism trainings, which prompted a number of congregants to establish an Anti-Racism Discussion Group in order to continue their work of truth-telling and reconciliation.

Trail of Souls.jpg

Muchness – Joseph Wood

וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽך

“You shall love the Lord your God

with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

(Deuteronomy 6:5)

In this week’s Gospel passage, Jesus is approached by a lawyer and asked, “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:36) Another snare set by the religious authorities, Christ responds by quoting from two Old Testament verses—Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Each synoptic gospel has a slightly different account of this exchange, but they always include the tripartite Deuteronomic list. Naturally, they disagree on the contents of the trio, especially the last item. In the Gospel of Matthew that we’ll hear on Sunday, the list ends with “καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου” (and with all of your mind), while Mark and Luke close with an additional “καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ἰσχύϊ σου” (and with all of your strength) beforehand. The difference between διανοίᾳ and ἰσχύϊ, between mind and strength seems striking. The puzzle only grows when we look at the original passage, which reads “וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽך” (and with all your might). Though might and strength could seem similar, I’m not sure that might is the most authentic translation of the Biblical Hebrew phrase “מְאֹדֶֽך.” Transliterated as m'odekha, it carries a much stronger sense of totality than the English connotations of might may lead you to envision. A tweaked, polished translation might be all that you are, though I think something rougher might be even better in this case: your muchness. The question is: do mind and/or strength capture what it means to love God with all that you are, with all of your muchness?

Or perhaps debating over particular attributes at all means that I have fallen into a trap very similar to the one the lawyer laid before our Lord. How much should we be descending into legalism, quibbling over quite what fully loving God entails? Maybe the authors of Luke and Mark show wisdom by including both terms, strength and mind, in their formulation.* After all, the beauty of muchess is that it invites the question of more again and again. Do I have more of my heart that I could offer to God? More of my soul? More of my mind? More of my strength? Do I love God with all that I am? They can be big, scary questions. I think that’s why Jesus immediately follows it up with a second commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) Shifting from the enormity of what we owe to God, our Savior quietly reminds us that each interaction with those we meet is an opportunity, a chance to live a little more wholly into our particular muchness. (Remember, it’s your might, not some abstract, objective quantity.) We cannot separate our relationship with the Divine from our human ones; thank God. Instead, Christ tells us to go: love your neighbor and live into your muchness.


*In each, the full line reads: καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς διανοίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ἰσχύος σου (Luke 10:27, Mark 12:30)

Whose Are You? – Joseph Wood

According to historical accounts, 18th-century English poet Alexander Pope had an epigram engraved on the collar of a puppy that he then gave to Frederick, the Prince of Wales: “I am his highness’s dog at Kew; /Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?” Whenever I read Matthew 22:15-22 or the other synoptic versions of the story in this week’s Gospel reading, I’m reminded of Pope’s poem and its barbed question of ownership.

Living within society means existing within a web of oft-competing loyalties, striving to give each of our relationships and identities their due. The religious authorities of ancient Judea recognize this constant struggle, and they try to use it to trap Jesus between his national convictions and the necessities of survival in the Roman Empire. The tax in question was a poll tax levied by Procurator Quirinus in 6 C.E., used to by the imperial bureaucracy to gauge the resources of this far-flung, unusually troublesome province. It was immediately met with resistance, including an unsuccessful revolt and the eventual formation of the Zealot faction within Judean politics—the radical, mainly Galilean freedom fighters plotting to cast off the yoke of Roman control by any means necessary. As part of his growing flock, Jesus had attracted a number of Zealots (including the apostle Simon) hoping for a more martial messiah, and any support he offered for the tax risked alienating him from his followers and his home. However, any rejection of the tax, especially publicly, would be a treasonous offense. Either way he could obviously respond to their queries would brand him a traitor and almost definitely have disastrous consequences.

Jesus, of course, upends all expectations. Instead of openly endorsing or opposing the will of the empire, he quietly asks for a denarius, for the amount required to pay the tax. He then asks about “whose head” and “whose title” appears on the coin, which his opponents perplexedly admit are “the Emperor’s.” (A detail not emphasized by the Gospel writer is the Pharisees’ immediate ability to pull out the coin means that they keep money with a graven image on it about their persons, seemingly violating the 3rd commandment.)  Christ deftly turns his clever escape into a teaching moment, voicing the line that has made this story famous and even gained a life of it’s own: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) The problem is, we tend to focus on the first half of the sentence, worrying about giving to the emperor and, more traditionally, rendering unto Caesar—but the real weight of Jesus’ point rests in the second half. Give to God the things that are God’s. If you’re currently trying to puzzle out what things are God’s, I’d like to remind you of a line from the story of Creation and the very beginning of the Bible: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26). You are God’s, stamped with the Divine likeness and image just as surely as Tiberius on that denarius. Christ isn’t trying to give his interlocutors pragmatic tax advice, he’s warning them that they’re forgetting their most fundamental relationship and identity. It can be so easy to disregard that God should be at the center of our lives, our faith mediating everything else about our social existence. All too often we forget that we are God’s, or we forget that someone else is God's.* Nothing we do and nothing done to us can change the truth of our glorious creation. Now we just have to live like it.


*Which should also say a good deal about the Biblical perspective on consent!

A History of the Seal & Symbol of Emmanuel Church

In honor of Emmanuel Day, here is an essay from our archives by former parishioner Steven Sutor about the origins and meaning of our parish seal. (Revised March 14, 2011)


The seal of Emmanuel Church, Baltimore, came into being sometime after 1912, when then-rector the Rev. Dr. Hugh Birckhead asked architect Woldemar Ritter, who was working on the church, to design a seal for the congregation. Ritter seems to have designed both a seal and a beautiful rendering of the pelican-in-her-piety, which were used on a number of print materials and on the Emmanuel china pattern. It is unclear exactly when the current seal came into being, but it bears the Ritter look and feel.


Some Background

Woldemar Ritter, born in Riga (then Russia, now Latvia) was the son of the president of the University of Zurich; Ritter senior was a world-renowned engineer who married an American, the daughter of Ludwig Jacoby, a Methodist missionary who is credited with spreading American Methodism throughout Northern Europe. Woldemar’s American mother gave him an appreciation for the New World, and after his father’s death he emigrated to Massachusetts. His travels through the northernmost countries of Europe with his family gave him an appreciation for the varieties of architecture found there, an appreciation he brought with him to the United States and to Emmanuel Church.

Ritter was the on-site project architect for the Boston architectural firm of Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson for the chancel renovation of Emmanuel. Dr. Birckhead--who came to Emmanuel as the Dr. James Eccleston’s successor in 1912--recognized Ritter’s talent and hired him to continue renovations. Woldemar Ritter designed the buildings and appointments we see and know today as Emmanuel.

Emmanuel Seal.png

The Emmanuel Seal


The Shape

The earliest seals for both the great families and for religious orders reflected the identity of an individual and included the effigy, arms, or personal device of the person identified with the seal. However, in England, in 1307, the Statutum de apportis religiosorum was enacted that required every religious house to have and use a common seal representing the entire community, not an individual; it noted that if the seal was not affixed to a document the document was considered null and void.

Early seals were often in the vesica piscis shape, a shape derived by overlapping two circles at an exact point; that point is such that the mathematical ratio of the width to the height of the shape is the square root of three. One of the ratios of this value is the number 153, which in John 21:11 is the number of fish Jesus caused to be caught in a miraculous catch. There are other interpretations of the shape as well [including as the intersection of Heaven and Earth] , but it has been used as a Christian symbol from the earliest days, and is today frequently seen in the seals of religious, educational, and governmental institutions. Note the vesica piscis behind the carving of Jesus in our reredos. When you see, on the back of a car, the fish shape indicating Christianity, it derives from this; vesica piscis translates as “fish bladder.”


The Pelican

The symbol of the pelican in Christianity was in use as early as 200 CE, when it is mentioned in the Physiologus, an early Christian bestiary. There are  at least two accounts of the pelican-in-her-piety, as the design is called: in times when food was scarce the pelican would pluck her breast and feed her young with her own blood; in the second account the pelican would strike and kill her rambunctious young and then, in reconciliation, with her own blood, resurrect them over a period of three days. The Christian symbolism is clear: the pelican-in-her-piety represents Christ sacrificing himself on the cross and, in the Eucharist, feeding us with his blood, while the three-day period is consistent with the Biblical Resurrection of Christ. [The three chicks in Emmanuel's particular depiction also represent the three chapels the parish helped to found and support.]

Among many other institutions, the pelican is today used as the symbol for Corpus Christi College, Cambridge; Corpus Christi College, Oxford; the medical faculties at Charles University in Prague; and for the Irish Blood Transfusion Service formerly located at Pelican House in Dublin.

In the hymn Adore Te, St. Thomas Aquinas addressed the Savior, "Pelican of Mercy, cleanse me in Thy Precious Blood,” and Shakespeare used the symbol in Hamlet, Act IV:

“To his good friend thus wide, I’ll ope my arms

And, like the kind, life-rendering pelican

Repast them with my blood.”


The Acronym

The lettering, "IHS," on an unfurling banner at the top of the center of the vesica piscis is considered to be a variation of the Greek acroynm ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthys) from the 2nd century. Derived from the earlier Greek work ἰχθύς ("fish"),  the letters became an acronym and covert staement of faith in the early Christian movement standing for ησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ: "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior." In the 3rd century, it was contracted further and latinized as "IHS," which itself became the prevalent, often mistranslated symbol found throughout the world.


The Temporal Element

In the background of the drawing of the pelican is what is called the “bottony cross," the cross is from the Maryland flag and state seal. (The pelican, with feathers spread, sitting on her nest, echoes the vesica shape.) A bottony cross is a cross with arms of equal length and trefoil "buttons" on the end of each arm, often thought to represent the Trinity.

This cross comes from the heraldic banner of George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore, which is now the Maryland state flag; it is the only state flag in the United States based on English heraldry. Interestingly, it was adopted as the state flag in 1904, shortly before the designs for the Emmanuel seal. The red and white element in our state flag, the two bottony crosses counterchanged or countersigned (heraldic language for cater-corner), were the arms of the Crossland family, Baron Baltimore’s mother’s family--he could incorporate his mother’s family’s arms into his banner because she was an heiress to aristocratic titles in her own right.


The Border

The border of the vesica-piscis contains the official name of our church: Emmanuel Church Baltimore, written in a Gothic uncial majuscule (all capitals) type face. At the top and bottom of the border are two Maltese crosses, the 15th century symbol of the Knights Hospitaller--also known as the Knights of Malta--Christian warriors & caregivers. These crosses; with their eight points, two on each arm; were once thought to represent the eight lands of origin, the eight elements of the Beatitudes, or the eight points of courage for the Knights.



The seal of Emmanuel Church, incorporating all of these symbols, contains elements that are ancient yet familiar in design. At Emmanuel we see the pelican-in-her-piety in a number of places throughout our nave: in the green frontal when used on the altar; in the Peace Chapel triptych; and in the sounding board above the pulpit. The seal is both familiar and mysterious, much as we might express our faith to be. A seal that requires some thought to penetrate; not obvious, but innately expressive of generosity, love, and sacrifice. A fitting seal and symbol of Emmanuel Church, Baltimore.