St. Stephen's minister Giulianna GrayBy BY MARK H. STOWERS FOR THE E-T,
Delta residents run the gamut across professions, race, creed and color but they all need a minister of some sort.
For those of the Episcopalian faith, Reverend Giulianna Cappelletti Gray, has been helping lead the century-plus-year-old St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church as their Rector for the last six years. A native of Wheeling, West Virginia, Reverend Gray attended Xavier in Cincinnati, Ohio as an undergrad, later attended Tulane for a Master’s in Social Work and received her Master’s of Divinity at Virginia Theological Seminary.
Before she took the turn into full-time church ministry, Reverend Gray had been working in New Orleans as a clinical social worker. Her path to the Delta was helped along as her husband, Peter, whom she met in seminary, got a call to preach and tend an Episcopal Church congregation in Greenwood.
“We took our first calls in New Orleans and I worked as a college chaplain at Tulane and Loyola,” Reverend Gray said. “I was also in charge of a community there on the Tulane campus for about five years.”
Being a female in the pulpit, Gray “found people to be very open and accepting” of her as their preacher. She’s had much the same in Indianola.
“We came to Greenwood about seven years ago and about a year later, the position was open here as the person before had retired,” she said. “Growing up in Appalachia and working in New Orleans prepared me for the Delta.”
Gray has enjoyed being part of the Delta’s ministerial landscape and lauds the “kindness and the faithfulness of the people of the Delta. I like the pace of life, it’s a slower pace than anywhere I’ve lived and I think people are open to each other.”
The church currently has about 100 active members and meets every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. for worship. There are seasonal mid-week meetings and an annual Pancake Supper fundraiser the day before Ash Wednesday begins. The men at the church cook pancakes and sausage for either eat in or take out. This year’s fundraiser will be the last Tuesday of February.
“I’ve come to appreciate the grace of a small church. I really appreciate how much we know each other. It’s been a great experience for my children to grow up in this parish,” she said. “Our kids now are six and eight and they have a strong sense of their own call to ministry partly because they are seen as full people at St. Stephen’s.”
Reverend Gray’s ministry simply focuses on those she comes in contact with each and every day.
“I think God’s mission is to embrace and love all people and I think my call as a minister of the gospel in my ministry is to share the love of God in Christ with everyone that I come across.”
The West Virginia reverend has been working to continually build relationships with those the church serves.
“We’re trying to continue growing our outreach ministry along with our friend Reverend Herron Wilson to build the Mission Mississippi Community, an interdenominational and cross-racial community of Christians.”
The statewide organizations seeks to foster greater relationships in the body of Christ through prayer.
“We have an Indianola chapter that has been meeting for several years,” she said. “It’s a group of Christians from different denominations and cultural backgrounds. We simply gather to get to know one another and pray. I do feel a sense of through call to prayer and through the love of God that we can break down these barriers that divide.
The Gray family resides in Greenwood and they enjoy getting across the Delta and beyond to walk and hike the area.
“We enjoy the state parks and our kids are involved in sports,” she said. “I’m also the current president of the Indianola Rotary Club and that’s a lot of fun.”
While enjoying Sunflower County and helping minister to those around her, Gray notes that she enjoys that “Delta folks are quick to laugh and I just enjoy spending time and I enjoy the culture around here.”
Though Reverend Gray’s main calling is behind the pulpit, she also has gifts that stand out in the choir loft. As a soprano, she joins in to help with worship.
“I did study voice when I was in college and I do like to sing,” she said. “I’ve sung in the local Greenwood Chorale the past several years,” she said. “But I think my calling here is to help continue to breathe new life into the church and to continue to make it a place of welcome and grace for people today.”
The church has a Facebook page and website to help spread its message as well. But Reverend Gray notes the doors are open for anyone and everyone at St. Stephen’s each and every week.