By Anastasia Marchese
Rev. Jerry Racioppi came to the Church of the Holy Spirit in Verona about a year ago after serving as the seminarian and deacon at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Montclair.
He is relatively new to the ministry, having been ordained in June of 2015. Previously, Racioppi had a full and busy career in the hotel industry, working in human resources.
“People ask me if I [changed careers] because I was unhappy, but that wasn’t it,” he says. “I really enjoyed my work.” Coming from a Roman Catholic background, Racioppi chose the Episcopal Church for his place of ministry, but received his masters of Divinity from Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, which is a Methodist seminary. He did, however, need to take one semester of classes at the General Episcopal Seminary in NYC.
After having worked in the city for 13 years, he was glad to be able to complete most of his training close to home. The commute was something he was glad to not have to carry over from his previous career. He is pleased by the openness between denominations that has developed and his own training in the ministry is illustrative of the growing ecumenical relationship between churches. He remembers that as a child growing up, being open to other denominations wasn’t something he considered. Now, there is a lot of communication and cooperation between churches.
Racioppi is a Verona native and considers it a privilege to “come back to my home town as rector.”
During his time serving at St. Luke’s, there was a regular practice of having worship services outside during the summer months. The services were called “Worship without Walls,” and were held at different locations throughout Montclair. Sometimes held at a park, or a parking lot, or the church lawn, the services provided a different type of worship experience while also increasing visibility in the community, opening more than their doors to the community, but bringing the worship to the community in an informal way.
During Racioppi’s first summer at Church of the Holy Spirit he brought the practice of outdoor worship with him, calling it “Mass on the Grass.” The church offered outdoor worship every Sunday evening last year during the summer at 5 p.m. at different locations, but this year decided to “keep it simple and just be outside in nature.”
This summer the worship time continues to be at 5 p.m., and the services are held at the same location each week, on the church property.
“It is just logistically simpler on our front lawn,” he says. “It’s gone really well. There is lots of shade, so it works even with the ridiculous humidity we have been having.”
The turnout for the services sort of determines the nature of the service. If there are children in attendance, then Racioppi encourages them to take part in the service. If he knows that the people who have come enjoy singing then he will incorporate more singing into the service.
The church’s other services continue throughout the summer as well, with an 8 a.m. Mass and then another at 9:30 a.m. During the autumn, winter and spring, the later service incorporates the choir and organ whereas the earlier one is more of a contemplative service. Also, on the third Sunday of the month, there is a Children’s Eucharist, which is more of a teaching Eucharist. Sunday school is held during the first half of the 9:30 service, so the children are downstairs, but come up to the sanctuary for the Eucharist. On the Children’s Sunday, Racioppi takes the opportunity to teach more about the elements and symbolism of the service.
The last Mass on the Grass for this summer season will be held on Aug. 28. All are welcome to attend. In the chance of rain services can still be held outside as there is an open air area with a roof at the church. More information can be found at www.holyspiritverona.org.