As the world slowly emerges from two years of pandemic isolation, the Rev. Anne Jolly, T’13, is focused on building community. For Jolly, who is rector at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Deerfield, Illinois, fostering togetherness not only involves reaching out to her congregants—it also means connecting with other Episcopal churches. Recently, St. Gregory’s created a partnership with three nearby Episcopal congregations. As Jolly describes, “We are working to collaborate on everything but Sunday worship.”


In the spirit of pooling ideas and resources, clergy from St. Gregory’s meet with partnering clergy once per week “as if we [are] one unit,” Jolly says. At the start of Lent this year, congregants from all four churches wrote devotionals, created artwork, and recorded music to exchange with each other. During Holy Week, the churches will take turns hosting services where all congregations are welcome.


Jolly acknowledges that embracing collaboration may be difficult for some church leaders. But, she says, in the end, “We’re Christians, not ‘Churchians’ . . . It’s not about ‘my sheep’ and ‘your sheep.’ Let’s just feed all the people.”


In the past month, feeding people has been a literal goal for St. Gregory’s and its partnering churches. “We’re pooling together now to bring in a refugee family,” Jolly says. “We might even be able to [bring in] two families . . . whereas, none of us could have done it by ourselves. It would have been a huge undertaking.” St. Gregory’s is also in conversations about transforming the church’s common space into a community gathering spot. With several public schools and Walgreens’ corporate headquarters nearby, Jolly explains, there is tremendous opportunity to “be the church in the world.”


Although Sewanee bears little resemblance to busy Deerfield, Jolly says that life on the Mountain prepared her for working closely with her church partners. In a small, tight-knit community like Sewanee, “You work through conflict. You work through issues with people—because you don’t have a choice.” In her School of Theology classes, she notes, there was “a spectrum of theologies and a spectrum of political opinions,” yet there was also a sense of unity. “It gives me hope,” she says, “that the Church can continue to hold to that center and be a place of love, commitment, and reconciliation.”