REV. BR. BLANE FREDERIK VAN PLETZEN-RANDS
On a tour of Trinity Episcopal Church, Rev. Br. Blane Frederik van Pletzen-Rands gestured to a stained glass window portraying Jesus Christ with his arms spread wide. It’s Br. Blane Frederik’s favorite mosaic in the Village of Hamburg church. He feels it depicts how both God and the church are accepting toward everyone.
“Our doors are not only open, but they are open in a very radical way,” said Br. Blane, who was recently installed as the sixth rector of Trinity Episcopal Church.
“Trinity is an interesting parish because it defies any stereotype,” Br. Blane said. On Sunday mornings, the church offers three very different services. At its 7:45 a.m. service worshippers follow Elizabethan scripture from the prayer book. The 9 a.m. service is more family-friendly, featuring modern language and much singing. The 11 a.m. is even more contemporary, with electric guitars and keyboard and the sermon projected on the wall. “This parish has a wide variety of worship and liturgical styles, which is very unusual for this time and place,” he said.
The church is just as exceptional as its new priest, who has led a fascinating journey before coming to rest at Trinity Episcopal.
“I was born a colonial African in Bulawayo (in Zimbabwe), which was then called Southern Rhodesia in 1960,” Br. Blane Frederik said. His father’s family had long lived in the Union of South Africa. His mother was from Scotland. “It was during a time when the colonial folk were being invited to come over and homestead,” Br. Blane said.
Though Br. Blane led a privileged childhood, he grew up under apartheid and witnessed the extreme racial tension. “I was 10 years old when we moved from Southern Rhodesia to the Republic of South Africa, and that’s when I experienced apartheid,” said Br. Blane, though he added he was too young to fully understand the system and its implications. “It was only years later after I left the country that I fully realized what an evil system it was, and what an impact it had on all of our lives,” he said.
As a young adult, he spent two years in the infantry of the South African Defense Force. He worked as a rifleman, and was stationed in Angola during the tail end of the Bush War.
“It was a very difficult time,” Br. Blane remembered.
He left his homeland to embark on his spiritual journey, spending two years as a Mormon missionary in Manchester, England. He then moved to the U.S., where he received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English literature.
Though he was raised Anglican, his father and the rest of his family converted to Mormonism in the late 1970s.
“That marked the beginning of a very long tenure with the Mormon church,” Br. Blane said. He taught English and world religion at Brigham-Young University-Hawaii and Salt Lake City Community College.
Though Br. Blane enjoyed his time as a Mormon, he always felt attached to Anglican theology and eventually decided to rejoin the church. “For me, it wasn’t so much a switch when I came back. It was more of a homecoming,” he said.
He believes his profound experience with multiple religions, along with the fact that he is a friar with the Brotherhood of St. Gregory, provides him with a multi-faceted approach to lead his parish. In fact, Br. Blane prefers to be addressed as “Brother” rather than “Father.”
The Episcopalian brotherhood consists of 50 men dispersed throughout the world who meet every six months for prayer and instruction. They live under modified vows of poverty, obedience and chastity, since Episcopalian brothers and clergy are allowed to marry.
Br. Blane lives with his husband, Scott, in Buffalo’s Elmwood Village. Their daughter, Esmé, is currently pursuing her master’s of social work at the University of Utah.
“The Episcopal church is well-known in this country for pushing the boundaries in terms of gender and sexuality,” he said. “We are not the first church to ordain women, but certainly one of the first churches to promote and accept the fact that the priesthood is open to all, regardless of their gender or their sexual identity.”
Br. Blane is aware that this is not the case with many other religions, though he urges them to reconsider.
“I’d ask them to consider the possibility that God is carrying out a new thing in our time, particularly in an age where we have a different understanding on many things as a result of advancements in medicine and science,” he said.
Br. Blane said his welcome into Trinity’s parish was warm and full of hospitality.
“The Hamburg community reminds me in many ways of the town I grew up in, Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia,” he said. “There is a tremendous sense of friendliness here.” Br. Blane added he has enjoyed getting to know the local clergy of other denominations.
Each week, a group of clergy from various faiths congregate at Great Harvest Bread Co. in Hamburg to study the Bible and prepare sermons together.
“It’s one thing to pray for us to be one, and its another thing for us to come together,” Br. Blane said.
For more information on Br. Blane Frederik or Trinity Episcopal Church, located at 36 East Main St. in Hamburg, visit www.trinityhamburg.org.