We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Rancho- Ciello – “God shall come, and take his harvest home”

Catherine’s sermon on “Last Pentecost”, Nov. 26, 2023 took the “gathering” theme in the opening hymn and the Old Testament reading and wove it into the story of a judge (John Phillips) in California who became a shepherd to troubled youth in Salinas Cal in a project known at Rancho Ciello. This was an inspiring story of how one person (Judge Phillips, pictured below) can make a difference and provide an alternative to long sentences in prison for youth.

From the sermon Nov 26, 2023

“The word for today is “gathering,” an appropriate word for this last Sunday of the church year. This Sunday brings to a close the week of Thanksgiving, when we gather with our families, coming home to those who are near and dear to us. This is also the season of gathering, of harvest, of preparing the gardens and the fields for their winter rest, before the next season of planting and growing begins once more.

The sermon was based on an article in USA Today by Elizabeth Weise,

“Twenty-three years ago, in the year 2000, Superior Court Judge John Phillips got called to be a shepherd. As an angry and unrepentant young man stood before the judge in his courtroom, about to be sentenced for a murder he had committed, the boy’s grandmother walked in, and the boy broke down in tears. The judge says he remembers the moment like it was yesterday. The judge said, “He was just a kid, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m sending kids to prison for life.’”

“That day, the judge, who at that point had served thirteen years as a district attorney and twenty-one as a judge, and had handed out many difficult sentences, decided that there had to be a better way. He knew that the people who passed through his courtroom were for the most part hopeless, with no future, and nothing to look forward to

“Weise writes that “Phillips remembered a broken down, overgrown site up in the hills at the far eastern end of Salinas, a California farm town. The Natividad Boys’ Ranch was a moldering wreck, a juvenile incarceration facility that had been left to slowly rot after it closed in 1982. Why, he thought, couldn’t it be turned into something to aid the children of Monterey County before they arrived at a police station or stood before a judge?”

“I love that part of the story too, because not only did this judge have a vision for the kids, but also for this abandoned place on earth that had been left to rot away.

“Rancho Cielo opened just three years later, in 2003.

“Today, this place, Rancho Cielo, (Sky Ranch), welcomes some 220 students in Monterey County each year between the ages of 16 and 24, who choose to go there. “No one is placed against their will and not all make it. But those who attend find themselves enveloped in a supportive, therapeutic but rigorous program that pushes them to places they never imagined possible.”

“The audacious effort has succeeded. While 40% of youth who go through the county’s juvenile justice system have another encounter with the law, 84.8% graduating from Rancho Cielo do not re-offend. (That’s among students who had already encountered the criminal justice system.)”