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TideWriters Tales


Celebrating the Past, Present & Future

Cassandra 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 person.

    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 years.

    A faint fragrance of chocolate assails my nostrils as I walk into Cassandra and Malachi Burton’s home, in Westmoreland County.

    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,” she continues.

    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 is valuable.”

    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 in Tappahannock.

    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 spirituality.

   “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.

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