February 2023

Letter from Priest in Charge

The Reverend Chris Lee

Dear friends—

Following the Jan 28th service for my Commissioning as Priest-in-Charge, a parishioner remarked that she felt “the old Saint Mary’s magic” had returned. Surely our recent hiring of Dr. Alexandra Beliakovich-Shkoda with her phenomenal musical gifts, plus the reanimated the parish choir, was a big part of that reason. But I believe something even more foundational is happening as well.

Simply put, people are showing up again, and showing up with renewed energy and purpose. With all the vulnerabilities that the pandemic laid bare—both individual and societal—it’s clearer than ever what an incomparable resource our faith community is. The Body of Christ remains a unique source of comfort to its

members and hope to the wider community.

I felt that at Christmas, not just in the robust attendance, but in an undeniable spirit of promise and possibility. I see it in the faithfulness and generosity this community displayed with our annual pledges for 2023, which will provide the financial support for all the wonderful ministries that happen in and through this parish.

I hear it during Coffee Hour or in Zoom gatherings, at Lectionary Brunch or in Vestry meetings, conversations full of excitement about where God is calling us at St. Mary’s in the coming years.

That conversation continues formally on Sunday February 12th, at our Annual Parish Meeting, immediately following the 10am service of Holy Eucharist. I hope you will join us, to review the

past year and elect new lay leaders. I’m also thrilled that our teenagers have once again organized the Souper Bowl of Caring to coincide with the meeting. They're preparing and selling soups, chilis and baked goodies to benefit the Interfaith Food Pantry. Get ready to support them by purchasing items as a customer or by volunteering to provide something, sign up here.

With all the current excitement, it’s easy to forget that the holy season of Lent begins in less than a month. We’ll observe Ash Wednesday at 7pm on February 22nd, with the Imposition of Ashes and Holy Eucharist. On Wednesday evenings throughout Lent, I’ll be offering an Introduction to Contemplative Prayer. Gathering in the sanctuary at 7pm, we’ll explore another

side of Christian spirituality, focusing on silence, listening and reflection in a judgment-free space where the only requirement is an open heart and mind.

Come as you are—and please bring a friend!

Yours in Christ,



Chris can be reached on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the parish office 914-238-8751 and anytime for pastoral care 646-431-9298 (cell)

Wardens Corner

News from Senior Warden,

John Priscantelli


As many of you know pledging is the financial lifeline for our parish. It is very important that you give

what you can without feeling pressured. We are at a point in our church’s life where your pledge is

more important than ever. Our budget for 2023 shows a substantial operating loss. If you can increase your pledge please carefully consider doing so, it would really help.

When speaking about pledges or asking for pledges sometimes I find myself torn between the needs of each parishioner and the needs of our church. It is a balancing act that I have learned to approach with respect for all our parishioners and for the church. On the one hand, pledging is the financial lifeline for our parish. On the other, if you cannot pledge, this should not dissuade you from being an integral part of St. Mary’s community.

It is very important that you give what you can without feeling pressured. What is as critically important is that you are coming to the church for your spiritual needs. We have done our best to keep the church relevant the past couple of years while creating optimism for the future with the hiring of Father Chris.

We are lucky to have such a strong community and we want everyone, whether you pledge or not to be part of it. Your presence for your spirituality reasons should be the real reason we go to church.


We have already hired the petting zoo from 12:00 – 2:00pm and will begin with organizing the rest of it soon.

Our approach this year and going forward will be geared towards getting the teenagers more involved.

We want to offer any high school senior in the parish an opportunity to make the Strawberry Festival into their senior project, specifically with music and communications. We also want to give any other teenager or younger person in the parish an opportunity to be more involved in the process. If there are no teens to get involved in this community-building project, then I will reach out to the local high schools to see if their students would like community service hours.

Also, please let me know if you are willing to be a Strawberry Festival Committee Member.

Vestry Minutes

Meeting Minutes are available on bulletin board outside of Parish Hall office

or by contacting Rich at juzumas@verizon.net.

Worship & Music


10:00 AM Morning Prayer

10:30 PM Lectionary Brunch

Holy Eucharist will be celebrated at

8am and 10am on Sundays.

Ash Wednesday Service

Feb 22 | 7pm

8am Services Resume

Feb 26th | 8am

We will be bringing back the 8am Rite I Holy Eucharist beginning on the first Sunday in Lent .

Join us!

Annual Meeting

Sunday, February 12th

in the Parish Hall

immediately following the

10am Holy Eucharist

Our annual meeting is an opportunity to review the past year and elect a new Warden and Vestry members. As per our St Marys tradition, the Souper Bowl of Caring will be offered for sale, to raise funds for our local food pantrys. (see below)

Please make every effort to attend.

This is about MONEY, and DEATH and TAXES

but please read anyway!

by Rick Romeo

The Cornernstone Fund

With the hope that you will continue to read on despite the ominous title, rest assured, this article is about helping St. Mary’s to grow and to thrive, to inspire and to encourage us to be faithful Christians.

This will not be the “usual” plea for all of us to help provide ongoing financial support for St Mary’s to continue serving all of us in its community of parishioners. Those “usual” pleas for pledges and other contributions are certainly important, but the attempt here is to focus more on the longer term than on the day-to-day or even year-to-year details.

There is now a sense of renewed energy and enthusiasm at St. Mary’s, most notably with the welcomed start of our new priest Chris Lee and a new music director. The 2023 budget to be presented at the upcoming annual meeting will show that this fresh start means an increase in expenses that has not yet been matched by an increase in pledge and other revenues, resulting in a substantial deficit. This will require dipping into our “rainy day” resources such as the endowment funds shown on our balance sheet.

Some of these endowment funds are intended to be used for specific purposes, such as Buildings and Grounds, for which St. Mary’s has been blessed to be receiving a bequest from the estate of parishioner Doug Hunter. 

Related to the idea that a “parting gift” to St. Mary’s can be provided for in a will, a donor can also make a gift but receive income for as long as he or she lives, with St. Mary’s thereafter receiving the remaining principal. Examples include charitable gift annuities and various types of trusts. A gift naming St. Mary’s as the charitable beneficiary can be facilitated by the Episcopal Church Foundation.

Fortunately, there are other ways for a donor to be able to enjoy seeing the benefits their gifts provide to St. Mary’s during his or her lifetime. For example, direct contributions of appreciated non-cash assets (such as publicly traded securities or real estate) held for more than one year may be advantageous to a donor. You can claim a tax deduction for the full fair market value of the contributed assets, while eliminating the capital gains tax you would incur if instead the assets are first sold and the net proceeds then contributed.

Another way to donate, by making “qualified charitable distributions” (QCDs), is possible for those of us who have reached a certain age – that is, 70 ½. QCDs of up to $100,000 per year can be made from an individual retirement account (IRA) directly to charities. A QCD is excluded entirely from the donor’s income and can be used to satisfy “required minimum distributions” (RMDs) that tax rules require to be withdrawn from an IRA.

Other than the minimum age requirement, there are some other rules to follow for QCDs. They can only be made from a “traditional” IRA funded with pre-tax contributions, not a “Roth” IRA or 401(k) or other retirement plan. Companies that manage IRAs (such as Charles Schwab, Fidelity, Vanguard) now make it easier to do all this, as QCDs have become better known. The company’s check must be made payable to the charity, NOT to the donor, but the company will typically mail that check to the donor to then be delivered to the charity.

Although a QCD donation for St. Mary’s can be used for any purpose, including to satisfy an annual pledge, Barbara and I have used QCDs to help establish what is now called the Cornerstone Fund. Unlike other St. Mary’s endowment funds with restricted potential uses, this special fund is instead meant to provide a general, unrestricted financial cushion. A major motivation for this was to enable St. Mary’s to search for and call a full-time priest rather than seek only a part-time priest or possibly share a priest with another parish.

Started in 2021, the Cornerstone Fund had a balance of $120,000 at the end of 2022. It is hoped that others might supplement their annual pledge giving by making special gifts to St. Mary’s for this fund, with a QCD (for those over age 70½) just one possible way to do this.

The usual disclaimer here: the above tax and financial information is general in nature, with donors needing to address their own situations. I’m willing to discuss anything here further, whether individually, in small groups, or maybe via a presentation or meeting of some sort if there is enough interest.


June 3rd

Mark your calendars, invite friends and consider which areas you can volunteer or contribute.

Sign ups will be available closer to date.

Contact John Priscantelli if you would like to be a Strawberry Festival Committee Member.


February Calendar


Coffee Hour

Let's get two families for each Sunday!

HERE are the TOP 10 Reasons to host Coffee Hour & FAQs

Sign Up

Lector, Usher, Altar Guild

Now that we have resumed in-person worship in the church, we need Ushers as well as Lectors and Altar Guild.

Sign Up


Lectionary Lunch is now BRUNCH

Thursdays, 10 am in Jackson Library

Join us for Morning Prayer at 10am followed by Lectionary Brunch each Thursday.

A weekly exploration of the Bible led by Father Chris, focused on the upcoming Sunday’s readings. Light refreshments will be provided

All are welcome!


By Father Chris

You’re probably familiar with meditation as a popular wellness practice. You may even have a mindfulness app on your phone. Meditation is also widely recognized as an integral aspect of religious traditions like Buddhism and Sufism. Less well known is the fact that Christians, too, have always practiced meditation. One of the Church’s treasures, hiding in plain sight, Christian contemplative prayer has too often been overlooked or downplayed.

Thankfully, beginning in the mid-20 th century, a new generation of monks recognized that this vital form of Christian spirituality should be accessible to everyone, not just the cloistered few, and began developing new ways to teach it.

Like other forms of meditation, Christian contemplative prayer seeks to move us beyond the frenetic surface of our lives, into the calmer depths of our being. Using many of the same techniques as other traditions—silence, breath, sacred words, chanting—the Christian contemplative aims to encounter the divine within herself. Naturally, the figure of Christ plays a central role, as mediator and guide, but in this prayer the emphasis is on humbly entering into a divine mystery, what one classic mystical text calls “the cloud of unknowing,” where cold rationality and rigid categories give way to more intuitive and creative understandings of our relationship to God.

Some worry that this form of prayer, with its intense focus inward, is a kind of escapism, or even narcissism. At first glance, it’s hard to see what connection there could be between contemplative prayer and the Gospel’s call to engage with the world, stand up against injustice and seek solidarity with “the least of these.” A deeper look shows how misguided this suspicion is.

At the heart of the contemplative tradition is the belief that the personal transformation we experience through prayer only increases our compassion for others. By calling us out of an egocentric understanding of ourselves, contemplation prepares and inspires us to devote our lives to loving and serving our neighbor. For the Christian contemplative, prayer and action are two sides of the same coin, in symbiotic and harmonious relationship.

Jesus himself is our model here. The Gospels often portray Jesus sneaking up a mountain to pray or being pulled out of seclusion in the wilderness. What was he doing, all alone out there? The answer is obvious: meditating, which he would have learned how to do as a disciple of the Jewish mystical tradition. Jesus favored this approach to prayer both because it fueled his earthly ministry, and empowered him to accomplish his divine mission—the reconciliation of Creation through his passion, cross and resurrection. And so, at the very least, as followers of Jesus, we’re called to practice contemplation because he did.

On Wednesday nights in Lent, I will be leading a series introducing a range of techniques and practices that Christian contemplatives have developed over the centuries. Most of each session will be spent in silent prayer, with some time set aside for questions and reflection. I think you will find it a welcome respite, not just from the storm and stress of your daily life, but also from the ways in which “normal” prayer—and perhaps church in general—may have become stale for you.

Best of all, no prior knowledge or experience is necessary, just an open mind and heart. You certainly don’t need to be a hardcore Church-goer; contemplative prayer welcomes and rewards the skeptic and seeker no less than the devout. The groups in which I have practiced this prayer have been gloriously ecumenical and even interfaith, and my hope is that we, too, will draw people from across our wider community into deeper relationship with God, themselves, and one another, through this ancient and profound form of prayer.

An Introduction to Contemplative Prayer

Led by the Rev. Chris Lee

Wednesday nights in Lent at 7pm

(March 1, 8, 15, 22, 29)

The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Chappaqua, NY


Meet the Parish

Alexandra Beliakovich-Shkoda & Family

We are so blessed to have Dr. Alexandra Beliakovich-Shkoda as our new music director at St. Mary’s. An accomplished concert pianist, on her first Sunday, January 22nd, Alex moved congregation members to tears with her exquisite command of our organ.

Born in Minsk, Belarus, where her parents, sister, and other relatives still live, Alex tries to return at least once a year. At 21, Alex came to

America for the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College. Through Howard Abel, a wonderful American pianist and teacher, she met Solomon Mikowsky, who then became her mentor and teacher for the next ten years. Under his tutelage, she performed in four cities in China

and went on solo tours to Spain and to Cuba where she performed three times in solo recitals. Later Alex earned bachelor’s, master's and doctoral degrees from the Manhattan School of Music.

Alex lives in Yorktown with her husband Art Shkoda, an engineer, also from Belarus, and their three daughters, Victoria (10), Agata (7) and Azaria, (2.5) who speak Russian and Belarussian. A family of musicians, Victoria plays cello and Agata plays the cimbalom, taught to her by her aunt Polina. In their free time they love being outdoors skiing, kayaking, camping and playing tennis.

Since 2011 Alex served as organist and choir director at the United Methodist Church at Shrub Oak. She is currently adjunct professor at Seton Hall University where she works with student choirs. As our choirmaster, Alex is hoping for new members with some singing background. There is a particular need for tenors and basses. If you love to sing or know someone who would be interested in joining our choir, please have them contact Alex at belpianist@yahoo.com.

It is already a treasured opportunity and experience, with Alex, to worship through singing sacred music.


Remembering Deacon Shiane

by Sally Sobolewski

A Tribute to

The Rev. Deacon Shiane Marlena Lee

July 8, 1953 - December 30, 2022

“We are called to be a holy people who witness God’s

love to the world and serve others.”

-SMTV mission statement

Deacon Shiane

If ever there was a person who embodied the mission of the Church of St. Mary the

Virgin, the Rev. Deacon Shiane Marlena Lee comes to mind. Deacon Shiane served SMTV

from September 2017 thru September 2021, and then transitioned to her call as Deacon

at Christ Church & San Marcos in Tarrytown, New York. About one year thereafter,

Deacon Shiane was diagnosed with cancer. Her earthly life ended on December 30,

2022. Our community mourns her loss but also celebrates and pays tribute to her

legacy of love and service to God.

Life Background

Shiane grew up in the South Bronx as one of five children. She was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church. In 1983 she moved to The Church of the Atonement in the East Bronx where she served as a lay reader, Eucharist Minister and began working with the Episcopal Diocese heading the Bronx Youth Ministry.

In 1997, Shiane moved to Westchester, where she attended The Church of Ascension, Mt. Vernon, New York. Prior to becoming a Deacon, Shiane spent a career in healthcare services and social work. She earned a bachelor's in health service management and behavioral science from Mercy College and a Master of Social Work from Yeshiva University. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, she worked for such institutions as Planned Parenthood and, for many years, Palladia, Inc., a large and respected social services organization in New York City.

Shiane was trained as a community organizer, licensed social worker and Psychotherapist. Her hobbies included reading, photography, playing video games, playing music (piano since the age of 2, Contra Bass since the age of 10), Altar Guild, and Bible Study. Shiane was ordained a Deacon on May 13, 2017 by Bishop Andrew Dietsche. She continued to deepen her service in Christ through Chaplaincy internships at Calvary and White Plains Hospitals. For the wider

New York Episcopal Diocese, she served on the Advisory Committee of Episcopal Charities. She also led a book group for Episcopal Church Women.

Shiane is survived by her sister, Patience; her daughter, Sarina and son-in-law; grandchildren Ashli and Antoine, along with nieces, nephews, many cousins and friends.

Life at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin

As her first parish assignment following her ordination to the Diaconate, St. Mary’s had the

honor and privilege to come to know Deacon Shiane and her giftedness as an ordained

minister, spiritual leader, fellow Christian and friend. The hallmarks of her life included

humility, service, joyfulness, hope and love for all those with whom she came in contact. At the

time of her departure from St. Mary’s, many parishioners joined together in posting a tribute to

Deacon Shiane. The deep sentiments contributed portray both the integral role Deacon Shiane

played at St. Mary’s and the effect she had on the lives of many. It seems fitting to present a

portion of those comments as a testimonial to Deacon Shiane.

  • “You are a fearless and inspiring leader....so devoted, full of love, life and unending positive energy.”

  • “Thank you for your compassionate spiritual leadership and your vibrant enthusiasm for all you do.”

  • “Hearing your beautiful voice during Sunday services from afar created a unique worship experience for us which we have so appreciated during these challenging times. Thank you for sharing your grace, humor and energy with us.”

  • “I so love your energy. I find it rare to experience being in the presence of someone so filled with God's love.”

  • "Your enormous warmth, faith and joy enriched all of us at St. Mary's.”

  • “Your poetry contributions were inspiring and reminded us to pause, give thanks and seek beauty and grace.”

  • “Thank you…for participating in outreach like Midnight Run; and most especially for your

unmatched, heartfelt praise exclaimed at the end of the services.”

  • “You have made a huge difference in the life of our parish community”

  • “We are so grateful you were able to be part of our boys' baptism and (our son's) confirmation.”

  • “My spiritual growth and life have been enriched by your power of example and Lenten Series teachings.”

  • “I am particularly grateful for the pastoral care you gave me at the time of my mother's death.”

  • “Your Gospel readings, your homilies, and especially the Alleluias at the end of the service. Your deep spirituality shines through.”

These comments—and the many more not included here—reflect Deacon Shiane’s leadership,

compassion, energy, light, grace, humor, service, teaching and care. It is fitting to conclude this tribute with two final notes about Deacon Shiane.

  • “Your warmth and compassion, and your irrepressible joy, were all such wonderful additions to our parish home.”
  • “As I think about you and what you have shared with us, I keep remembering a quote from Maya Angelou: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ We will always remember how you helped us move from feeling a sense of helplessness to feeling hopeful by taking action when facing the challenges of the pandemic and racism which persists in our society.”

Deacon Shiane—we pray for your eternal rest, thank you for how you have made us feel the love of God in our midst and commit our efforts to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ in your memory.

The next issue of the Bell will be in April.

Send along photos, ideas and stories to stmvbell@gmail.com