It’s not what you see every day, but some have come to expect it once a year. For the past two years, it didn’t happen at all: this year it was back.
Imagine driving around the Newton green on your way to do some Sunday morning errands and there, standing a-top a bench in the middle of the square in the snow is a man of cloth in a red robe and a rather interesting hat. The man is Reverend Canon Robert Griner and it has become a Palm Sunday tradition for the congregation of Christ Episcopal Church to gather on the green where palms fronds are handed out and The Liturgy of the Palms is read. After this about 10-minute event, the group then, with a Newton police escort, processes up to their house of worship on the corner of Church and Main.
Over the years, Griner has commented on the looks on the faces of passersby.
He’s said, “Some people have a look of horror, ‘Oh no, I forgot it’s Palm Sunday, I should be in church!’ Others show down and kind of gawk not knowing what’s going on and still others just shake their heads and say, ‘it’s those crazy Episcopalians again.’”
This year, Griner was a bit more charismatic than his generally charismatic self. He’s known for his sense of humor with a touch of sarcasm thrown in and his eloquently written and delivered sermons. He’s also locally famous for the time he—literally—rode a horse into the Newton square and to the Courthouse. A few years back, as the church’s 250th anniversary was approaching, he took horseback riding lessons so he could reenact the November 1769 arrival of the Reverend Dr. Thomas Chandler at the Sussex County Courthouse.
Perhaps his accelerated sense of really making this year’s Palm Sunday procession special is because it’s going to be his last. He’s retiring on Pentecost.
“While other churches are losing members, Robert has led our church through an unprecedented period of growth in our 250-year history,” said Senior Warden, Nick Pachnos.
One of Father Griner’s passions has been helping the people in Panama and in 2018 he was installed as the Canon Missioner for Companion Relations for the Cathedral of St. Luke’s in Panama City. Over the years, he’s worked closely with representatives from the Episcopal Church in New Jersey and Panama. His many projects throughout the country of Panama have included church reconstruction and bringing youth and adults from the church community along with him to Panama for church reconstruction projects.
“Father Robert has taught me what it means to know grace,” said Randy Parks, a parishioner and the Chaplain at Newton Medical Center. “He’s so positively touched the lives of so many all over. We’re very sad to see him leave, but I believe he already does and will now be able to even more serve the people at Alina Lodge.”
Alina Lodge, in Blairstown, is a long-term addiction treatment program that welcomes anyone struggling with addiction to get the help they need. Because it’s long-term, it allows treatment of the whole person and patients can take their time to focus on complete healing.
Father Griner is retiring from his position as rector at Christ Episcopal Church to be able to spend more time at Alina where he leads the Spirituality Program. He is, himself, a recovering alcoholic with well over a decade sober and is paying forward what he learned through his own recovery to help others.
“I need to spend more time with my ‘addicts,’” he said. “I’m only there one day a week now and am looking forward to being there a lot more to help.”
He helps Alina students develop skills through prayer and meditation to cope with whatever is going on in their lives and demonstrates how spirituality can increase the joy of living.
His final service will be on Pentacost: a service where, at Christ Episcopal Church, parishioners wear red and Father Griner enters flying a kite... yes right in the church. It’s a symbol of the resurrection of Christ and a call to lift one another up.
Father Griner came to Christ Church in November of 2003. During those 19 years, he’s made an incredibly positive impact on so many lives and he even blessed a bus once.