the Past, Present & Future
Burton to be an Episcopal priest
By Janet Abbott Fast
Garden Week in Richmond County some five to ten years ago was the
setting in which I first met Cassandra Burton.
A mutual friend with a vivacious personality came up
to me saying, “I have someone you need to meet!” And she
introduced me to Cassandra.
I don’t recall our initial conversation,
but am certain Cassandra burbled enthusiasm.
Soon thereafter, Levi’s (it was still in
Warsaw then) celebrated a big anniversary, to which I was invited.
At each place was a pair Levi jeans, in blue chocolate. Guess who
made them, all of them? Yes, our Cassandra. Mmmm Good!
We were publishing Chesapeake Style the first time,
at that time. Soon Cassandra began to write for us. We discovered
her passion for cooking, and I’m certain recipes were among
the first things she submitted for publication.
Our monthly editorial meetings, time we used to plan the next issues,
were enhanced by Cassandra’s never-ending flow of exceptional
ideas. She was a bottomless pit of new thoughts and ideas.
Being invited to one of her holiday gatherings
was an event of sumptuous proportions where tables in her home overflowed
with palate pleasing food. The folks who attended came from different
areas, different backgrounds as well as locals. Conversations were
fascinating as we consumed the food, like hungry locusts.
Cassandra published two books about Westmoreland
County History, pictorial essays and she earned the trust of many
elders who loaned their precious family photos to be copied.
Time passed, Chesapeake Style became an online
only publication and we all began to travel different paths. I’d
hear about Cassandra preaching in local churches, working as a lay
Then I learned that she had decided to enter Virginia
Theological Seminary in Northern Virginia to become an Episcopal priest,
one of a very small elite group of African American female priests
in the church. Recently she said, “I did a presentation today
showing the number of active clergy in the Episcopal church and that
less than one percent is African American females! According to the
Church Pension Fund in 2006 there were only 50 active African American
clergy in the US !”
Word travels like a lightening strike in the Northern
Neck, and soon I learned that Cassandra was about to graduate and
be ordained. So I called. We met for a visit to catch up about her
current life and learn about her remarkable travels these past three
A faint fragrance of chocolate assails my nostrils
as I walk into Cassandra and Malachi Burton’s home, in Westmoreland
Cassandra is making New Orleans Iced Coffee for
us to enjoy as we talk. I notice a cake shaped like a cross on the
kitchen counter. Later I learn it is brownies and tastes luscious!
Cassandra’s passion for cooking remains, but there hasn’t
been much time for that in the past three years.
Was there a defining moment which caused you to
decide to become and Episcopal priest, I ask. “Hearing the voice
of God calling—and saying, yes—it’s like the song
I am the Lord of Sea and Sky I have heard my people cry...when I was
able to say ‘Here I am Lord, I will go if you lead me’...and
I have been lead to describe it.”
New Orleans is one of the many places all over the world that Cassandra
has visited. She says, “Virginia Seminary truly prepares their
people to go into ALL the world to preach the Gospel.”
She launches into a description of her recent visit to Louisiana,
waxing enthusiastically, all smiles. “Spring break in New Orleans
is an opportunity to see what the Episcopal Church is doing,”
she tells me. “The church has spent about $3.2 million on the
Jericho Road project.
“The Red Cross and Salvation Army pulled out a year ago, so
the Episcopal Church is embarking on an Ecumenical project. One primary
goal is to find or create obtainable housing for the residents,”
Cassandra talks about the Pink Shoe Lady—she
lost everything in the hurricanes and went to Texas. And came back.
“When the going gets tough, women go shopping,” she laughs.
They met in a Payless® Shoe store, and the inexpensive pink shoes
made the woman’s day.
St. Luke’s Church (New Orleans) is asking
for books, and computers and volunteers. Every family in the congregation
of 175 people, except one, lost everything. Everything. Next door
is a high school. There were 75 to 100 students before Katrina. Thirty
percent are now without a custodial parent. “People want to
return home,” she continues.
Twenty seminarians, representing 11 Episcopal seminaries,
came to look and learn and take the message back to their homes. Bishop
Charles Jenkins of the Diocese of Louisiana contacted bishops from
other areas of the country, asking for the students to come for a
visit. The group arrived on Sunday and stayed until Thursday. St.
Lukes Homecoming Center seeks books for youngster ages six to 18.
There is a Road Home Project needing volunteers to do paper work,
make computer entries, help keep records. School teachers are needed,
about 500 to 1,000, Cassandra shakes her head saying, “It’s
just mind boggling.” Houses are on their sides, other places
have only foundations left.
Leaving the subject of New Orleans, Cassandra tells
me that when she is ordained at the National Cathedral on June 16,
“We are prepared to go into the world to serve all people.”
She’s been to Asia, Burma aka Mymanar, one
week after the Tsunami. Five percent of the population are Christians,
the majority are Buddhist. “We had wonderful dialog with people
of other faiths. I have also been trained and certified to give pastoral
counseling in crisis situations.”
In 2006 she spent a week in Panama. Speaking about
the Episcopal school there, she says the children can speak four languages.
She’s been to Thailand. “Israel’s too dangerous,”
she says, so she’s not been there. She’s spent time in
a homeless shelter.
Three years ago Cassandra entered Virginia Theological
Seminary (VTS) to embark upon her journey to become an Episcopal priest.
“I started with Hebrew (language).” Her instructor was
Dr. Fentress Williams, from Yale, “an excellent professor.”
Then there was the “clinical” aspect
of her training and preparation, CPE is a requirement. Her hands on
training took place at the Adventists Hospital in Rockville, Maryland.
She learned how to comfort the families of hospital patients in crises.
“The Adventists value chaplins...the knowledge of many faiths
She has worked in the nursery school, the Butterfly
House, where people drop off children, while they attend classes about
budgeting or parenting skills. “I mentioned doing this in a
sermon one week and a young child collected $4.05 in pennies nickels,
dimes and quarters from her Sunday school class along with a book
and asked that I take it to the children in the shelter. She also
drew me a priceless picture of Christ’s heart and hands. She
was about seven years old,” Cassandra says.
“This is an attempt to get at the root cause of homelessness
in America. The goal is to train persons, giving them skills so they
can move out of a shelter to a place of their own and have the means
to budget to keep their home.”
In Old Town Alexandria Cassandra has enjoyed teaching
Bible study at Meade Memorial Episcopal Church. On Sundays she teaches
Bible study, and (attends/serves/preaches) at two services; assists
with healing services, trains lay Eucharistic people. She preached
her last sermon there on April 15. Part of her education included
two years in the field, eight weeks of which she served at St. John’s
During a nursing home visit she says, “I
met a woman last summer. She was well groomed, a beautiful woman,
brilliant. Her feet were out of the bed. It reminded me of Tuesdays
with Morrie. The woman said, ‘As long as my feet are out of
bed, I’m not dead.’” She laughs.
Cassandra, born in east Orange, NJ, calls herself
a “cradle Episcopalian.” “I was born into a family
involved with the Episcopal Church for seven or eight generations.
Husband Malachi has been more than supportive. When Cassandra returned
to their apartment in Alexandria, tired from studying, dinner was
on the table. He will graduate from Lay School on May 3.
“Classes are mind stimulating, and learning is a life-long process,”
she says, philosophically.
Cassandra graduates on May 17 with a Masters of Divinity, and will
be ordained at the National Cathedral in Washington on June 16. Her
sponsoring church is Grace Episcopal Church, in Millers Tavern, priest
is Vincent Hodge.
There are eleven people in her class. Of those
attending VTS 51 percent are male, 49 percent are female. There is
an initiative to get younger people involved. There are more couples
entering into the ministry, many finding jobs in the same town, even
in the same parish, one full time, one part time. Despite the nearly
equal percentages of males and females, at the very top, the majority
of the bishops are male.
“We will always maintain a home in the Northern Neck. God is
very present with me in nature. I can watch the sun rise. It is the
place where I recharge my batteries. This is why I love doing the
annual Blessing of the Pets service because of my love of Franciscan
“I have embraced Celtic spirituality, and use this blessing
at the end of my sermons, classes...May God’s wisdom, love and
God’s grace strengthen you to be Christ’s heart and hands
in the world. in the name of the Holy Trinity. Amen”
Iced Coffee from Cooking New Orleans Style
8 ounces instant coffee
1 1/2 gal. very hot water
1 1/2 gal. milk
16 ounces chocolate syrup
3 heaping TBL sugar
5 half-gal. vanilla ice cream
In large container, blend the coffee and hot water. Let cool. Add
milk, chocolate syrup and sugar. Pout into three gallon jars. When
ready to serve, pour coffee mixture into a punch bowl, add large scoop
of softened ice cream. Serve in punch cups.
There are three cookbooks published by the Episcopal Churchwomen of
All Saints’:La Bonne Cuisine, Cooking New Orleans Style
and Lagniappe. The mailing address is La Bonne Cuisine, 100
Rex Drive, River Ridge, LA 70123; phone 504-737-1416 and fax is 504-738-7829.
Ask for is Carol - she can give you the prices for each of the cookbooks.