Archives for April 2017

Gotta be This or That by George Merrill

Gotta be this or that? Would it were that simple.

When I was a teen-ager, a gay man befriended me. He went to my church. Cal was about six years my senior. He was preparing to enter ministry. We spent time together – he introduced me to classical books, we discussed poetry, religion and philosophy and we listened to classical music. One summer we traveled to Europe. I felt very cared for in the relationship – mentored, like a son by a father. During the four years we were friends he never made any sexual advances on me. Although we never discussed sexual orientation, I knew he was gay. This was a time when homosexuality was considered depraved and the devil’s contrivance. I did not feel that Cal was sinister and, as I look back, I profited greatly through his mentoring. The relationship with Cal called forth some of my intellectual and artistic abilities. I am grateful for what the relationship offered me.

In my first church assignment as a priest I was one of two young associates. My colleague was a delightful man, animated, bright, had a compassionate way with people. He married a charming woman. They made a winsome couple and the parish adored them.

On Cal’s day off, he went out of town to visit a friend. The friend was a male lover. The police pulled them over, issued Cal a DUI and the word got back to the rector of our parish. The situation turned ugly. The rector was terrified; ill equipped to handle the emotional and social complexities and called the vestry together. He slammed Cal for being a “drunk and a homo, a disgrace to the parish.” The rector manipulated the support of influential lay leadership to call for Cal’s immediate dismissal. The Bishop concurred. It was my first exposure to how malignant ignorance can be and how brutal it can turn, especially among the traditional standard bearers of mercy and righteousness.

The rector was secretive and never discussed the incident with me. Cal told me there was no attempt either by the Bishop or the rector to work with the suffering the man’s dilemma created for him and for his wife who too was devastated. The church treated him as damaged goods and he had to go.

The tragedy was not that the ecclesiastical leadership didn’t understand the complexities of gender preference or orientation – few did then – but that the clergy showed no compassion. I saw the church as capitulating to the binary world of tidy moralities –it’s either this or that. The church failed in its mission to minister and help the couple’s to begin healing their broken lives. Broken lives are messy – all lives are messy – they are never just this or that, and they challenge everyone involved in the messes to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

I was furious and, quit my position at the church indignantly – with more than a little of the self-righteousness of youth. If this, I thought, is what parish life is like, I wanted no part of it. The incident would shape my life. I left parish ministry to study for a specialized ministry in psychotherapy and pastoral counseling.

It was the right choice for me. I’ve mellowed over time and have seen how much goodness and compassion finds expression in parish ministries when the leadership is secure in itself.

I can say that today we’ve come a way on the road of compassion.

Human sexuality, however, remains contentious among religious bodies. Gender identity is divisive and an anxiety-laden issue for several reasons – confusion and fear being the greatest. Because gender identity is so personally intimate in the formation of self-image and of relational and social attitudes, sexual orientation doesn’t lend to simple explanations or pious platitudes. As the gender revolution grows in popular awareness, the struggle will be to develop a holistic understanding. The issue needs a larger context, and a frame of reference for understanding gender while psychologically and socially regulating differences. The differences need legitimacy, a spiritual place in the created order.

A discussion of the gender revolution appearing in the January edition of National Geographic identifies a glossary of twenty-one distinct categories of sexual orientation worldwide. On the cover is a group photo of seven attractive young people, two of whom are transgender females, the others intersex nonbinary, bi-gender, transgender male, androgynous, and male heterosexual. None of the kids looks anything but ‘normal.’ The Bible tells us God made them male and female, but God gave us little indication at the time the Bible was written of the variations that may attend the two primary gender identities. I wish that God had said more.

As we try figuring it out, I’d offer this hope: that the conversation takes place in an atmosphere of kindness and compassion. For example, to date the debate over restroom usage for transsexual persons is couched in fear of sexual exploitation and violence. When I was young, the myth was that homosexuals preyed on children. It’s incomprehensible to me that a person having gone through the agonies of establishing a sexual identity as lesbian, gay or transgender is going to use restrooms for purposes of exploitation. The struggle of those outside the gender mainstream is not where the quickies are, but the longing to belong and to be accepted.

In the sixties, I remember fondly the first client assigned to me while in training at the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry in New York. He was a young gay man – poor, Hispanic, flamboyant and articulate. I will call him Manny. AIDS had not been identified and being a closeted gay was a risky business because sexual liaisons in subway restrooms and bathhouses could spread disease. We knew nothing about AIDS then. Manny wasn’t in therapy because he was gay, but for incidents of psychosis that clouded his judgment and put him in danger to himself and others.

When I think of Manny my hope is that the world today will grow kinder and gentler for people who discover they don’t naturally fit into “this or that” than it was for Manny in the early nineteen sixties. Interestingly, even then psychology and psychiatry had little knowledge about the nature of gender orientation. I am pleased that the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry provided Manny and others like him that level of hospitality and acceptance in a hostile world. I hope it helped him live into his life more fully.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Easton Middle 8th Graders Send Care Packages to Patients

As part of a service learning project, some of the students in Mrs. Lauri Bell’s 8th grade Health classes at Easton Middle School made care packages and encouraging art work to support patients undergoing treatment for addiction.  The students donated their work to The Chesapeake Treatment Center LLC.  The students pictured are: Margaret Keswick, Alice Ledford, Nick Thrift, Ralph Verteramo, Alexis Brooks, Chloe Dixon and Brianna Gourley. Missing from the picture are: Jocelyn Spencer and Clair Weedon.

Talbot County Garden Club was ‘Putting on the Glitz’

The Talbot County Garden Club held its biannual Symposium on April 18, 2017, at the Milestone in Easton, MD.  It was a sell out event with 245 attendees, 32 patrons and 14 sponsors.  The majority of the attendees were from Talbot County and the surrounding areas, but quite a few travelled in just for the event.

Chris Olsen (Photo Credit: Marsie Hawkinson)

The all day affair titled Putting on the Glitz featured three nationally acclaimed guest speakers who spoke on an array of topics ranging from Landscape design to Style to Floral Artistry.  The day kicked off with Chris Olsen – Master Designer from Little Rock, Arkansas.  Chris shared amazing ways to take your landscape from “Drab to Fab”, emphasizing color, shape and size in the landscape.  Bettie Bearden Pardee – lecturer and garden connoisseur from Newport, Rhode Island, followed Chris.  Bettie took everyone through the beautiful mansions and gardens of Newport, Rhode Island, sharing excerpts from her book “Living Newport”.  The final speaker of the day was Paige Canfield – owner / designer of Sumner B. Designs in Washington DC.  Paige’s presentation was chock full of bits of information on floral design which she demonstrated through a handful stunning arrangements.  Between speakers, attendees were treated to a farm to table lunch, and they were able to shop on “Roseo Drive”, a marketplace consisting of 14 vendors selling items including home décor, pottery, jewelry, and other accessories.  It was truly a day of day full of style and entertaining, enjoyed by all.

The event is this year’s largest fundraiser for the Talbot County Garden Club.  The funds support the club’s projects throughout the community.

About the Talbot County Garden Club

The Talbot County Garden Club was established in 1917 to enrich the natural beauty of the environment by sharing knowledge of gardening, fostering the art of flower arranging, maintaining civic projects, supporting projects that benefit Talbot County and encouraging the conservation of natural resources.  Noteworthy projects include maintaining the grounds of the Talbot Historical Society, Talbot County Courthouse, Talbot County Free Library, the fountain and children’s gardens at Idlewild Park and numerous other gardens and activities.  There are currently a total of 101 active, associate and honorary members.

Saint Michaels Middle High School Earns Maryland Green School Status

The Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) announced that St. Michaels Middle High School is one of 58 schools that have been awarded Maryland Green School status. Talbot County now has three Green Schools, Easton Elementary, Easton High, and now Saint Michaels Middle High, representing 57% of the TCPS student population.  Maryland Green Schools have demonstrated a continuous effort to integrate sustainable environmental practices, environmental education curriculum, professional development and community engagement into the culture of the school. Green School certification signifies that these schools have made a commitment to developing stewards of the earth and reducing environmental impact.

SMMHS Science Teachers Gia Ritsvey, Chris Pridgen, and Lauren Greer teamed up with students in various science classes to complete the application and meet all of the requirements in order to be awarded Maryland Green School Status.

William Keswick, Secondary Science Curriculum Supervisor said, “While Environmental Education is an integral component of the TCPS science curriculum, it is fantastic to see SMMHS staff and students take the initiative to earn the Green School Status. The work involved in the application process shows a commitment to conservation and environmental education that extends outside of our classrooms and goes beyond curriculum.”

The Maryland Green Schools Program is nationally recognized program that was started in 1999. Today there are over 582 Green Schools certified in Maryland, over 25% of all Maryland schools.

“The Maryland Green Schools program provides a framework for creating sustainable environmental structures at school, home and in the community. The Maryland Green Schools program has encouraged children to become stewards of Maryland’s environmental resources,” says Laura Johnson Collard, MAEOE Executive Director. “Students are involved in projects that save energy and reduce waste. We encourage teachers use the outdoors as an extension of the classroom.”

MAEOE will celebrate with Green Schools, Green Centers and schools that are interested in knowing more about the program at the Maryland Green Schools Youth Summit on May 18, 2017, at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis.

Children’s Advocates Commemorate National Child Abuse Prevention Month

To commemorate April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, children’s advocates from organizations throughout the five county region recently placed 61 blue ribbons, each representing a child served by the Talbot County Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) the past year, on a tree at University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton. The annual event is designed to heighten community awareness of the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect and to promote the social and emotional well-being of children and families.

Pictured are the volunteers who placed 61 blue ribbons, each representing a child served by the Talbot County Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) the past year, on a tree at University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Volunteers who helped place ribbons represented the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office, Easton Police Department, Maryland State Police, Talbot County Department of Social Services, Talbot County State’s Attorney’s Office, Evolution Mental Health and Trauma Services, Talbot Community Connections, University of Maryland Shore Regional Health at Easton, Kent County State’s Attorney’s Office, Kent County Children’s Advocacy Center, Talbot County Department of Social Services Advisory Board, and Talbot County Children’s Advocacy Center.

The CAC coordinates with local law enforcement and social services to offer comprehensive, multi-disciplinary responses to alleged incidences of child sexual and physical abuse. In partnership with University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, the CAC provides noninvasive, forensic medical examinations in a secure location for cases in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties. Talbot Community Connections (TCC), a nonprofit arm of the Talbot County Department of Social Services, has the mission to raise and distribute funds to answer unmet needs that are fundamental to the safety, security, health and well-being of Talbot County’s children and adults. These needs cross all economic levels. The funds raised provide help to abused children through the Talbot County Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) families in crisis, the unemployed and working poor, and disabled and frail elderly. TCC awards provided funds for respite care, prevention of evictions and utility disconnects, therapeutic activities for disabled foster care children, housing fuel, transportation, and a fatherhood program.

The CAC can be reached at 410-820-7141 or More information is available at

Best Care Ambulance Inc. Donates $10,000 to UM Memorial Hospital Foundation

Best Care Ambulance Inc. recently made a donation of $10,000 to the University of Maryland Memorial Hospital Foundation to help benefit the ongoing renovations for the Birthing Center at UM Shore Regional Health.

“We are excited to be able to help the Birthing Center and the current renovations to their patient care areas,” says Wayne L. Gardner, Sr., president, Best Care Ambulance Inc. and UM Shore Regional Health Board Member. “The Birthing Center is very important to this community and it is important that we invest in it so that it can continue to benefit so many.”

L-R: F. Graham Lee, vice president of philanthropy, Ken Kozel, president and CEO, UM Shore Regional Health, Bob Frank, senior vice president of operations, UM Shore Regional Health, Luanne Satchell, manager, Women’s and Children’s Services at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton, Dan Jewell, executive vice president and part owner, Best Care Ambulance Inc, Wayne L. Gardner, Sr., president, Best Care Ambulance Inc, Shirley Garnder, general manager, Best Care Ambulance Inc, Lori Jester-Childers, advanced life support coordinator, Best Care Ambulance Inc.

“We appreciate Best Care Ambulance for stepping up and helping the Birthing Center to fund these renovations,” says Luanne Satchell, manager of Women’s and Children’s Services at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton. “We believe that once completed, the renovated patient care areas will greatly enhance the overall patient experience, for mother and baby.”

To learn more about the Birthing Center at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton or the educational opportunities and support groups available to expectant and new mothers, visit

About UM Shore Regional Health: As part of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), University of Maryland Shore Regional Health is the principal provider of comprehensive health care services for more than 170,000 residents of Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. UM Shore Regional Health’s team of more than 2,600 employees, medical staff, board members and volunteers work with various community partners to fulfill the organization’s mission of Creating Healthier Communities Together.

Continuum Dance Debut Performance Scheduled for May 13

Zoo, performed by Continuum Dance professional and apprentice dancers. Pictured from left: Malley Hester, Chloe Tong, Adrianna Smigo, Camilla Smigo, Katherine Kilbourn, Rachel Andrew, Shari Smigo, Julia Eismeier, Allison Speight.

Continuum Dance invites the public to attend a debut performance on May 13. Pieces, choreographed and performed by local artists, include Watercolors, You Are Your Own Noose, and Zoo.The performance includes accompaniment by musicians of the Front Porch Orchestra.

Saturday, May 13 show times are set for 3:00pm and 7:00pm at the Oxford Community Center, with a reception to follow each performance. Tickets can be purchased with cash or check at the door for $15 adults and $10 students and seniors.

Through professional performance, education, and outreach, Continuum Dance is committed to providing greater accessibility and knowledge of artistic dance in the greater Delmarva community. For more information or to get involved, visit or email

Midshore Project Clean Stream Volunteers Collect Over 10,000 Pounds of Trash

Starting Saturday April 1 and continuing throughout the spring, Midshore residents and community groups took to streams, shorelines, streets and woodlands along local rivers to volunteer to remove debris and litter as a part of the Chesapeake-wide Project Clean Stream. Started by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Project Clean Stream is a concerted regional effort that engages community members in a hands-on opportunity to improve local water quality through litter pick-up. Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) spearheads the effort locally as the Project Clean Stream coordinator for the Midshore region, including the Choptank, Miles and Wye Rivers.

Photo by Bart Merrick

The results of this clean-up provide a snapshot of the amount of trash and debris that, if not removed, could make it into our waterways and degrade local water quality and habitat for fish, crabs and oysters. Approximately 250 volunteers from Caroline, Talbot, and Dorchester Counties worked at 15 different locations to clean up local streams. They collected over 10,800 pounds of trash, with the most common items being plastic bottles and plastic bags. Unusual items included a car exhaust, upholstery, a cell phone, crab pots, televisions, shopping carts, oil drums, car parts and household wall insulation.

This clean-up effort is a great way to build awareness and to encourage the community to get involved in cleaning up debris left behind after winter and before spring showers wash it into local waterways.

“Project Clean Stream is an opportunity to create awareness and encourage action,” says Choptank Riverkeeper Matt Pluta. “I urge everyone to join this effort, not just in the spring but every day, by not littering and by picking up unsightly trash throughout your day. We all enjoy the outdoors—whether boating on our rivers, fishing, or walking at our parks. Let’s continue to work together to keep these areas clean and inviting for everyone to enjoy.”

Photo by Dave Harp

Participating groups included Cambridge Association of Neighborhoods, Cambridge Main Street, Cambridge Multi-Sport, Cambridge Sail and Power Squadron, Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth, Nick Carter Team, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, The Country School 2nd Graders, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, Easton High School Environmental Club, 4H Busy Beavers, Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake, Nanticoke Watershed Alliance, Phillips Wharf Environmental Center, Saints Peter and Paul High School, residents of Secretary, Third Haven Friends Meeting, and Y-Guides.

MRC extends appreciation to the amazing volunteers who gave up a few hours of their time to clean our streams and beautify the rivers of the Eastern Shore. A special thanks also goes to the Town of Easton, the Town of Greensboro, City of Cambridge, and Talbot, Caroline, and Dorchester County Departments of Public Works for collecting and disposing of the trash.

There is still time to get involved in Project Clean Stream. Volunteers of all ages are welcome to participate in a Project Clean Stream event at Pickering Creek Audubon Center on Saturday, May 20 from 9am-12pm. Explore and restore a section of the Audubon Center not generally open to the public as volunteers remove trash from a wet woodland. Gloves and boot will be available to borrow. Call Samantha at 410.822.4903 or email to sign up by May 15.

For more information about Project Clean Stream or to start your own cleanup, contact Suzanne at or 443.385.0511.

Chesapeake College Announces President Barbara Viniar’s Departure; Former President Stuart Bounds to Become Interim

The Chesapeake College Board of Trustees has announced that Dr. Barbara Viniar’s term as President of the College will conclude on July 1, 2017. The Trustees appreciate Dr. Viniar’s efforts on behalf of the College over the past nine years and wish her well in her future endeavors.

Dr. Stuart Bounds has been appointed Interim President of the College effective July 1, 2017. Dr. Bounds retired from the College in 2008 after 11 years as president. Since retiring as President, Dr. Bounds has remained active in the community college field, both as a consultant and as an adjunct professor of political science at Chesapeake. The Board is delighted that Dr. Bounds has agreed to return to the College in this interim role and believes that his executive experience at Chesapeake and deep understanding of the Mid-Shore community will be a great asset to the College and to the Board during the transition period.

The search for a new president of the College will commence this summer. The Board will engage and consult with the College community, the College’s five supporting counties and other key stakeholders in the development of a plan for the search, and in the evaluation and selection of the sixth president of Chesapeake College.

Chesapeake College has provided 50 years of outstanding service to the Mid-Shore community and the Board is committed to finding an exceptional community college leader to guide the College into the future. With that leadership and the extraordinary talent and resources within the College and throughout the community, the College’s role as the primary provider of higher education and workforce training in the region will continue to expand and, thereby help to ensure a bright future for the Mid-Shore.

Food Friday: Growing Season

We are still fussing with the plans for our new raised garden bed, so I am concerned that we will not be getting the tomatoes in the ground this weekend. Last night I ran out to the grocery store for a bottle of cheap white wine (it’s been a week) and I saw some sad, limp and leggy tomato plants for sale on a table set up just outside the entrance. “2 for $5” read one sign. “$10/plant” read another. Yikes!

I’m too late to start seeds for this season, but I have started looking around for a good balance of plants, hybrid and heirloom, so I can hope to have at least a modestly successful harvest. The plants at the grocery store were not labeled, so one can only imagine what sort of homes they came from. I am not sure I need to be completely artisanal, choosing only heirloom, Brooklyn-worthy plants. I tend to lunge at the bright shiny objects, or the ones with vaguely poetical names: Brandywine (I think Andrew Wyeth would approve), Early Girl, Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple or Green Zebra.

For the Mid-Atlantic states, Mother Earth News suggests Amish Paste and Brandywine tomatoes.

I like to have slicer tomatoes lolling in the sun on the windowsill. I can always make a happy lunch of a tomato sandwich, Pepperidge Farm white bread and a thick schmear of mayonnaise. With some potato chips, please. There is nothing better than a nice sun-warmed tomato. But then Mr. Friday is fond of some cherry tomatoes, which he likes to sear under the broiler, and serve with burrata, basil and good olive oil as dressing. He might prefer growing some Sungold or Sweet Million cherry tomatoes.

Mother Earth News also suggests putting plants in every couple of weeks. This staggering spreads out the growing season. I am stealing that idea as pure genius, and to cover for the fact that I am so late starting seeds. And then I can keep up with the weeding.

There are plenty of places on the Eastern Shore you can visit to get your tomato fix: CSAs and farms and farmer’s market abound.

And what will you prepare with your summer-long tomato bounty? Besides deelish tomato sandwiches?

This is the most popular salad recipe on Pinterest:

Cucumber Tomato Avocado Salad


2 avocados
1/4 cup cilantro
1 English cucumber
1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons of juice)
1/2 red onion, medium
1 pound Roma tomatoes (or run through the garden, and see what beauties you have)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt (we prefer Maldon, just like the Queen!)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Our clever friends at Food52 always have something delightful to say about tomatoes. I was particularly charmed when a period of time was described as a “load of laundry” – my kind of time frame. This is a slightly more involved tomato dish, but it will be fabulous in a few weeks, when your first green tomatoes are harvested:

The USDA has a price per pound and a price per cup listing for most fruits and vegetables. They are not so specific about the myriad tomato varieties – just grape and cherry, Roma, and beefsteak make their catchall list. In 2015 grape and cherry tomatoes were more expensive than beefsteak – but only just: $3.29 per pound versus $3.16. Romas were the bargain at $1.24 per pound. In the dead of winter I buy Romas at the grocery store, because they have more flavor than the soulless slicing tomato option. I bet our tomato crop this year is going to set us back a few more dollars that we would have spent at the grocery store – but I will save a lot of seeds, and stick a PostIt on my 2018 calendar, and I will get cracking earlier next year.

Update: today at the garden center, while also eyeing the foxgloves, I bought four starter tomato plants: two Black Cherry, hybrid cherry tomatoes for Mr. Friday, and two German Queen heirloom tomato plants for me. Let the garden games begin!

“I feel old and vulnerable. I now realise that I knew nothing and know nothing, but back when my career was beginning, I thought I was a man when, in fact, I was a dewy-eyed boy who’d not seen an avocado or eaten a tomato.”
– James Nesbitt