A Tour to Christ Church’s Past

The annual Grove Hill Cemetery Tours were held this year on September 8, and the event turned into an unofficial celebration of Christ Episcopal Church in Oil City. The cemetery dates to 1870 and each year the tours feature current residents of Oil City portraying past residents of Oil City.

This year’s tour booklet featured 32 figures from the past and at least 10 were members of Christ Episcopal Church. A local photographer, whose family provided the land the current church building sits on, was also included in the booklet. Of the eleven people portrayed, three were members of Christ Episcopal Church. Three of the eleven re-enactors were also members of the church.

Becca Swartzlander, treasurer of the Altar Guild, portrayed Miss Margaret Reid. Margaret’s great-great-grandfather served as interpreter for Chief Cornplanter of the Seneca Indian tribe and held power-of-attorney for Cornplanter. Her great-uncle and father were involved in the Reid Gas Engine Company, pioneers in oilfield equipment.  However, Miss Reid was best known for her nearly 40 years of teaching in the Oil City Schools. She wrote A History of Christ Church in 1987 and is responsible for the excellently maintained historical records of the church.

Jocelind Gant, the member of our congregation responsible for our Second Harvest Food ministries, portrayed Carrie Peterson, one of the most unique stories told this year. Peterson was born into slavery in Virginia around 1850 and came to Oil City in the early 1860s. It is unclear if she came as a fugitive slave or as a free woman.  She had some association with Robert and Isaac Mann, late of Allegheny City. Robert was one of the founders of the AME Church in Oil City and Isaac wrote for an African-American newspaper in Harrisburg.

I portrayed the Rev. James H. B. Brooks, 6th Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, serving from 1883 until his death in 1901. Brooks was pastor during the building of the current church and during the Fire and Flood of 1892. The church building was used as a hospital during this disaster. Father Brooks’ health never totally recovered from that incident. In researching the life of Rev. Brooks, it was noted that the two seminaries and three other parishes he served still survive today, with some mergers involved.

Some of the other members of the church from the 19th and early 20th century in the tour booklet included Thomas Cowell, Kenton Chickering, John Campbell, John Tonkin, Margaret Winifred Tonkin, Thomas Porteous, Annie Clark, and William Lay. Winifred Tonkin died in a tragic railway accident in 1901 and is memorialized in one of the church’s windows, and the Winifred Tonkin Guild still provides for the needy of the community, a living memorial to her memory.

Cowell, Chickering, and Campbell all served on the Vestry during Father Brooks’ tenure. His Vestry actually resembled a Board of Directors meeting for Standard Oil. Christ Church’s Vestry records indicate that Father Brooks wisely indicated upon arrival that he would leave all temporal matters in the hands of his Vestry.  I read through about 50 years worth of Vestry notes (preserved by Miss Reid) before the tours, trying to learn more of Brooks and his time here. What I found was a man that served as pastor to a community, calling on sick and injured people that had no affiliation with any congregation. The oil business was not a stable business, with booms and busts and fortunes made and lost. Yet the Vestry had no issue with committing to building a new church building in those uncertain times, when the budget often was at a deficit.  Kenton Chickering’s great-grandson, Ken, still spends some summer months in our area, away from his home parish in Houston. He was kind enough to lend me his library of materials about Oilwell Supply, founded by Kenton, and I got to spend the winter with those materials. Before he returned to Houston this year, I was able to provide a copy of the beautiful tribute paid to his great-grandfather by his fellow Vestrymen upon his death in 1908.

I have always loved history and I always will. I truly appreciate the work that Margaret Reid did preserving our church records. I treasure my friendship with Ken and enjoyed the records of the past he shared with me.  Margaret was also instrumental in our sponsorship at the church of a family of refugees from Vietnam in the 1980s. Ken has spent his life working in Texas in a career that has little to do with his family’s oilfield origins, but is still an Episcopalian. Both appreciate the past but learned to embrace change. An appreciation for history does not mean we must live in the past. It should enable us to learn from that past. Ignoring the past and living in the past both have bad outcomes. We live in exciting times, faced with changes and challenges and opportunities in the Church and the world that our ancestors could not have imagined.

Some words from the poet T. S. Eliot will serve us well as we approach what promises to be an exciting diocesan convention:

“And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it.  The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without.”

The Rev. Mark Elliston is vicar of Christ Church, Oil City.

Encounter Grace

This is the seventh and final installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
and leaves me
like a needle

in a haystack
of light.
1

Asked to name things for which I’m grateful, I’m capable of a long litany, ranging from the invention of the Frisbee, to the Alexa currently playing Mozart, to the jalapeno plants in my garden actually producing more than last year’s two peppers. But that’s not really how I think about gratitude, as discreet elements of my life. Gratitude is an orientation to the world.

Gratitude stems from my understanding of how God is in the world and how I am in the world. It begins with grace. Grace, meaning the love and forgiveness of God, is at the heart of our faith. Grace is always gift. We do not earn grace; we do not warrant grace; we cannot lose grace. It is ours by the choice of God to be for us, particularly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It comes to us in every moment, covering us, embracing us, holding us from the start of our lives beyond the end of our lives. The lavish love of God is given to me, it claims me as God’s own beloved. That is fantastically overwhelming, nearly unbelievable, and produces such a sense of joy and wonder within me that it changes how I see everything.

If grace is poured out upon me, as angry, anal, and annoying as I am, then grace must be poured out upon everyone, upon the entire creation. It’s a Julian of Norwich moment of revelation: though we are as small and fragile as a wee hazelnut, God sustains us out of God’s great love for us. We are all held by grace, soaked in it, protected by it, surrounded by it. It is possible to forget this, and to see only the mess and brokenness of the world; I can go to a dark place reading about Yemen, trying to negotiate the shrinking public school budget, or staring at the pain plaguing multiple friends. The darkness is real; we’re caught in the mess of the world, some of our own making and some the collective swell of bad human decisions for centuries. We call all of that sin. And we’re caught in it like a web.

Yet, light overcomes the darkness; Jesus rises from the grave. Grace flows through the web of sin. I can expect that in all things, the muck and the mire as much as the sun and the smiles, God is at work. Jesus’ defeat of death means that grace is loose in the world. The Holy Spirit swooshes through us and through our world, bringing good out of evil, moving to create serendipitous moments, causing a pop of laughter in dread times. I used to think all of the gifts of a day- the fortuitous finding of a friend in the grocery, the kind word offered on a really down day- were coincidence or luck. Not anymore. That’s grace. That’s God. That’s the Holy Spirit doing her best to reveal goodness, bring out kindness, and sustain every one of us.

And what I can be left with but gratitude? If God has claimed me as a loved one, if God has chosen to love all of us like that, and if God is constantly moving in the world so as to bring people together, promote peace, and mend brokenness, what can I do but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and expectation? That’s quite an orientation to have to reality, and it has shifted everything about my life. I expect God will show up; I expect to encounter grace; I expect God is at work in your life and mine and across the globe. And when grace finds me or when someone shares how grace has found them, I throw my head back in laughter or fall on my knees in tears, grateful to the One who makes all good things possible.

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips….

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
2

The Rev. Melinda Hall is vicar of Holy Trinity, Brookville, and Church of Our Saviour, DuBois. 

1 Oliver, Mary. “Mindfulness.” Why I Wake Early. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

2 Oliver, Mary. “Why I Wake Early.” Why I Wake Early. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

With Grateful Hearts

This is the sixth installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Gratitude is a subject that isn’t exactly trendy, but that has gained status in the last two decades in terms of its potential effect on what I would call the human spirit.  There has been more recent attention paid to it in terms of how gratitude or the lack of it affects the way we live.

Sara Hacala, in her book, “Saving Civility,” says that “gratitude is outer—as opposed to inner—directed: We are grateful to someone or for something outside of ourselves—whether to God, people, or things.  It implies our reliance on others for what they provide us and is a humbling reminder that we are not self-sufficient but connected and bound to those around us.”[1]  To me, this sounds exactly like how we are supposed to live as Christians…with grateful hearts for God and for one another, recognizing that we all live in community.

I’m one of those people who says “thanks” or “thank you” too often.  I know I do it, but it’s difficult not to.  Because I mean it.  I really am grateful, but I’ve never known quite why it is such an important thing to me or why I am hyper-alert to the things people do for one another, or for me for that matter.

I think this especially applies to church, when people work together for the wider community or for the church community or do something for one other person.  It really matters.  And I think people should be thanked so they realize that what they do counts—it makes a difference, even if they do it because they want to.

But even though gratitude is a hotter topic at the moment, I have to say it doesn’t necessarily seem like people in general have more gratitude, and it seems that people are expressing it less.  Take saying “thank you,” for instance.  While a “thank you” used to be normal behavior in retail establishments following a purchase, a simple thank you from a cashier is now harder to come by.  And where I would always have said thank you in response, I now find myself wondering why I should say thank you when I do not feel grateful that a sullen, unthankful cashier silently threw my bag of groceries or clothes at me following my purchase.

Maybe people just don’t feel very grateful these days.  It is hard for most of us to embody or express gratefulness when we’re not feeling especially grateful.  So…why should we?  Because it makes a difference for ourselves and those with whom we interact.  In every interaction we have, we can make a change in an increasingly hostile world by finding and then expressing gratitude.   That might sound pollyanna-ish, but research bears it out.  Gratefulness guru Robert Emmons notes: “Living gratefully begins with affirming the good and recognizing its sources. It is the understanding that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift, accompanied by an awareness that nothing can be taken for granted.”[2]

Life owes me nothing…and nothing can be taken for granted.  If we could think that way all the time, we’d be feeling gratitude most of the time.  Because for most of us living in this country, we have no idea how good we really have it.

In “Sleeping with Bread,” the authors suggest ending each day with these two questions (and preferably actually discussing them with someone): “For what moment today am I most grateful? For what moment today am I least grateful?” [3] Considering both of these questions helps a more negative person acknowledge that there were some moments for which to be grateful in the day, and helps a person who doesn’t like to think about the difficulties in life to acknowledge that pain or difficulties are part of being human.  I plan to start doing this, and I think this could be woven into our prayer life as well…bet this might be the kind of thing God would like to hear from us.

And, thank you for reading this!

The Rev. Dr. Mary Norton is Priest-in-Charge at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Corry. 

[1] Sara Hacala, Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude & Attitude for a Polite Planet, (Woodstock, Skylight Paths Publishing, 2012), 113

[2] Dr. Robert A. Emmons, The Little Book of Gratitude, (London, Gaia Books, 2016), Kindle, 10

[3] Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Matthew Linn, S.J., Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, (New York, Paulist Press, 1998) Kindle, Loc. 25

The Official Beginning – Consecration Service at Resurrection Church Plant

Fr. Jason Shank invites everyone to the Resurrection Church consecration service to be held on September 23 at 4:00 PM in Hermitage. For more details, including what’s been happening to prepare for this moment, watch below.

Gratitude and “God-incidents”

This is the fifth installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

When I consider the word “gratitude”, it brings to mind how blessed I was to know my good friend and long-time mentor, Mrs. Arlene Heath.  I first met Mrs. Heath in the early 1960s when she moved to Kane following the unexpected death of her husband.  Her beloved Marvin was a country church Pastor. His death left Mrs. Heath and her teenaged daughter not only without husband and father, but without income.  She would later explain what followed as a series of “God-incidents.” Soon after Marvin’s passing, Arlene was contacted by an old college friend about a position teaching English at the high school in Kane.  She applied for the position and was hired for the next term.  At the same time, she was offered the rental of a second floor apartment in the house of two elderly sisters, who lived just one block from the Kane Senior High School. That location became important for several reasons, not least of which was because Mrs. Heath did not drive, and never wanted to learn to drive, or to be encumbered by a car throughout her long life.

God had a plan for Arlene, and for those of us who came to know her. She came into my life, and the lives of my high school classmates, as our sophomore year English instructor.  Throughout the 40 years or longer in which she would be my teacher, my mentor and my friend, I would learn much from her about the nature of God, of faith, trust, and gratitude.  Above all Mrs. Heath taught me that there is no such thing as mere coincidence; God is always at work for and with us. “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, KJV)

I have never known any person of stronger vision, faith or the will to live a Christ-like life than Arlene, and she was determined that the young people she chose to mentor would follow such an example as well.  In our American Literature class she taught us to dig deeper into the writings of great thinkers including Whitman, Emerson and Thoreau.  Both before and after school, some of us would gather at her home to be introduced to such diverse voices as Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, C.S. Lewis, Teilhard de Chardin, Madeleine L’Engle, and Joseph Campbell to mention only a few.  This casual gathering she later developed into an in-school course in “Humanities” which has been offered to all Kane High School students ever since.

Through literature, poetry, and the arts, as well as comparative Bible study and discussion, Mrs. Heath opened a world of ideas for us, and demonstrated how God could be heard and seen and experienced across cultures and religious experiences.  I believe she prepared me, and many of us whom she called her “kids,” to better transition out of small town parochial life, and into the wide world, by introducing us to what lay beyond our church school and high school classrooms. At the same time, she helped us to challenge our faith and understanding of God and Christianity.  While some people considered this to be very risky business, Arlene recognized how vital it was for us to have our beliefs questioned in such a safe setting as her living room, before we were challenged about them in our college classrooms, or dorm rooms.

No matter what we faced, Arlene helped to provide a “life line” to pull us back to our spiritual and faith foundations.  Summer evenings and holiday breaks throughout my college years were often spent among other students on her porch, or over hot chocolate and cookies in her living room, talking about just those challenges and ideas.

I especially appreciated the rare occasions throughout the rest of her life when I could catch her alone and she would listen patiently while I explained my latest triumph, or heart-break.  In the end, she would confront me with difficult questions, asking what I had learned from my experiences, and what I was going to do about it.  She left no doubt that she had expectations for me to live up to. Later she would send me kind and thoughtful notes about our conversations, often tucked into special book, or clipped to an article of interest from the Christian Science Monitor, Christianity Today, or Sojourners.

I cherish those notes, especially one she wrote to me after a tearful discussion about the end of my first, sadly failed, marriage. I was at the lowest point of my life, both psychologically and spiritually. Even then, she was tender but resolute with me, and expressed the opinion that failure and heartache were simply part of the great scheme of things; I was fortunate to have such a heartbreak while I was still very young. She trusted that I would survive, and thrive, and be able to use my experience to help other young women one day.  I can humbly report that I have done that, and a bit more as well.

It is with deepest gratitude that I thank the Lord for providing the “God-incident” that brought Mrs. Arlene Heath into my life.  In body, and now in spirit, she forever challenges me to be more, and to do more, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

I think of her each time we close Morning Prayer with “Glory to God whose power working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever more. Amen“  (BCP)

(Mrs. Heath ultimately bought the house where she first rented the upstairs apartment from the elderly sisters. The money obtained from the sale established the endowment which sustains St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kane, where I am blessed to worship and from which I go out “to love and serve the Lord.”)

Becky Harris is a member of St. John’s, Kane. 

Responding to Report on Sexual Abuse in PA Roman Catholic Dioceses

Dear People of God:

In the last several days, our fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic Church here in Pennsylvania have been shaken by the revelations of widespread child sexual abuse committed over many years by clergy in that church and covered up by bishops and other church leaders. The stories detailed in the grand jury report released on Tuesday are horrific and evil, and have shaken to its core the faith of many good people who have trusted in the church their entire lives.

I ask you, first, to join me in praying for the people whose lives have been ripped apart because they were sexually abused by priests or other church leaders. In the face of the unthinkable betrayal they have suffered, may God enfold them in healing mercy and strengthen their spirits with the knowledge that they are perfectly loved. I ask your prayers especially for those victims who were so broken by the abuse they suffered at the hands of clergy and other church leaders that they have ended their own lives and now rest in God’s loving arms.

Please also pray for our friends and neighbors who are faithful Roman Catholics, some of whom are now struggling with the faith they have placed in the church, and for the lay and clergy leaders of the Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania who have cooperated with this investigation and now must find ways to repent for the abuse and rebuild a more accountable, transparent structure.

In the Episcopal Church, we are not strangers to news of abuse and betrayal by our leaders. For some of us, the news of the grand jury report may have stirred up memories of our own grief and anger when we have learned that a priest or bishop we have known has abused children or been complicit in covering up abuse. For some of us who began our lives as Roman Catholics, this news may have reopened old wounds. And for some of us who have been victims of abuse, this news may trigger anger, sadness and trauma. If you find that, in the wake of this news, you would like to talk confidentially with me or with a member of the clergy about issues of sexual abuse in the church, please call the diocesan office in Northwestern Pennsylvania at 814-456-4203 or the diocesan office in Bethlehem at 610-691-5655.

The church must be a place where people can come with the deepest wounds and vulnerabilities and be safe, and our churches must be places where children are nurtured and respected and cared for and never harmed or abused in any way. As your bishop, I am deeply committed to the safety and well-being of everyone who attends our churches and diocesan programs. In recent years, our dioceses have strengthened our misconduct policies and procedures, and are places where we make every effort to deal both responsibly and responsively with complaints and allegations of misconduct. We make reports to the appropriate civil authorities when child abuse is suspected. All of our clergy, staff and volunteers who work with children are required to complete training called Safeguarding God’s Children, and we follow misconduct policies based on the model policy of the Church Pension Group.

Thank you for your prayers and care for our Roman Catholic friends and family during these difficult days, and for your active involvement in ensuring that our churches are safe places for all of God’s children.

Faithfully,

The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe
Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania
Bishop Provisional of Bethlehem

A Reflection of Gratitude

This is the fourth installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

There have been countless moments in my life that I have been completely overwhelmed with gratitude.  God has blessed me time and again, and I never cease to be amazed by His great plan.  When asked to write this reflection of gratitude, there was one particular memory of my mom that came to mind:

My mom has never been one to sit back and let life pass her by.  She is always up for an adventure.  If there is something she wants to do or accomplish, she finds a way.  My mom has an incredible gift for being in the moment and grateful for each day.

A little over fifteen years ago, as my family was preparing for a Memorial Day picnic, I realized that my mom had not been working around the house with the rest of us.  It seemed odd and I suddenly felt the urge to check on her.  I found her in her bedroom looking extremely pale and sick.  She told me that she didn’t feel well and I could tell instantly that something was very wrong.  I ran outside to get my dad and in a matter of minutes things went from bad to worse.  My mom was having trouble walking, she began coming in and out of consciousness, and life was draining from her with each passing moment.  I started to panic.  How could this happen?  How could someone who was so full of life just a few hours before suddenly be so sick?  We didn’t know at that moment, but an infection had made its way into her blood stream. Her body was shutting down as she became septic.  The ambulance finally came and she was taken to the hospital.  That day seemed to last forever.  The doctors and nurses worked tirelessly to stabilize her throughout the day and night.  With tears of desperation I prayed, begging God to let her live.

When morning came, mom was not out of the woods, but by the grace of God she was stable.  Many family and friends showered us with love, prayers and support.  It was overwhelming to feel the love of God through their actions.  Mom had a long road to recovery in the following months, but we were so grateful for her continued healing and the peace of God that we felt in the middle of it all.  Even through her pain and fatigue, she chose to face each day with a grateful heart.

Often times I get frustrated with what’s going on in my world.  It’s easy to get caught up in the daily routine, family drama, or the news stories that splash across our televisions and newspapers.  All of these things are parts of life that can leave us in a whirlwind of chaos and negativity.  We suffer unimaginable trials on our journey.  It can be difficult to feel grateful in the midst of it all.  Sometimes we have to choose gratitude.  When we choose gratitude, we allow ourselves to see the beauty that God is creating in the midst of our pain.  When we invite God into the center of our world, He surrounds us with peace that surpasses all understanding.  On difficult days when I struggle to find something to be grateful for, I think back on that Memorial Day.  I remember the grace and peace that God gave to us.  I think about my mom’s example of living a life of gratitude in good and bad times.  I give thanks that my mom is still here with me and for the beautiful memories we have been able to make together since then.  I am filled with gratitude knowing that God is walking beside me on my journey through life and I know that no matter what challenges I may face, I am never alone.

Jill Dressler is a member of St. Mark’s, Erie. 

Episcopal Gratitude

This is the third installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

When asked to write about gratitude, I had thoughts far and wide of all of the blessings for which I am grateful. I have an incredible relationship with my husband for which I thank God every single day. I have a wonderful daughter. I have a great job. I have precious friends. My family is loving and supportive.

My grandfather was an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Central New York. When I was born, I came home to the rectory. We lived upstairs, and Grandpa and Grandma lived on the first floor. Dad was in the military then. It was wartime.

I’ve never NOT been an Episcopalian. The word “cradle” seems to have taken on a negative connotation for some people; however, that’s what I am – a cradle Episcopalian.

From the Diocese of Central New York, my family eventually moved to Pennsylvania and the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The late Canon Fred Haworth was my priest in Indiana, PA. Remarkably, he would also go on to become my priest in Grove City, PA.  As a teen, I was deeply involved in youth activities, choir, and nursery duties. The church on the corner of Elm and Main held public dinners in its basement. I loved serving at those dinners alongside wonderful women who were mentors to us young people.

We built a new church outside of town in the mid sixties, and Epiphany is still there today with its pink tower outside and gorgeous woods inside. I love that church building. My marriage was blessed there. My daughter was baptized there. Sean Rowe was ordained to the diaconate there. My husband was ordained there and installed as vicar.

The clergy of our diocese are a gift to me as well.  At the recent ordination of Nick Evancho to the priesthood, I looked around at the wonderful people who engage in ordained ministry as well as those who do vital work in other capacities. I truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as they came forward and laid hands on Nicholas.  Later, I told my husband, “I love these people! They are amazing!”

The late Barbara Akin [former vicar of Epiphany] and I were close friends. We argued, hung up on one another, disagreed over many issues; but we loved one another, and I love her still. I am grateful for her presence in my life at a time when I was single and struggling with belief and relationships.

Then the greatest blessing of all appeared: my husband. Most of you know that we worked together on the internet and that we became friends as well as co-workers. Love blossomed for both of us, and so I went to Australia twenty years ago to meet him. When I arrived in the airport lobby, he was waiting there for me. I ran into his arms, and it has been wonderful ever since.

When Geoffrey came to live in the USA and we married, he did not attend church. I went every Sunday and came home to talk about Barbara Akin and the other great people in the congregation. One Sunday he decided to go with me. The rest is history!

Then came Foxburg. Through a training held at Epiphany, we met some people from Foxburg and learned that they had no priest at all. Geoffrey decided to involve himself in a ministry there, and this ministry has gone both ways: we have received more than we have given.

I have had two wonderful careers: teacher for thirty years and outpatient mental health therapist for the past thirteen. Being an Episcopalian has enabled me to work with an open mind and a nonjudgmental attitude with all “sorts and conditions” of humankind.  I continue to do so with generosity of heart and with love. The Episcopal Church, in all its liberal glory, has enabled me to have a spiritual base from which to work, The Church teaches us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Almost every sermon that I hear, whether it be from my husband, our deacon, our bishop, or another pastor or priest in our diocese, teaches love. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael, preached love at the recent royal wedding, and I am told that he exudes love when encountered in person.

With all of my faults, I am accepted by the Episcopal Church as a worthy member. God has provided me with many opportunities for ministry wherever I have gone and in everything I do. The Church forms the basis for my decisions and actions. It supports me and gives me hope for the future here on this Earth and in the World to come. The Church has given me a relationship with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Grateful? You bet I am –  every day of my life!

Cheryl Wild attends both Epiphany in Grove City and Memorial Church of Our Father in Foxburg, where her husband, Geoffrey, serves as vicar. She is also a member of the diocese’s Commission on Ministry.

Taking it On the Road: The Cathedral Choir Tour of 2018

After two years of planning and preparation, the Cathedral Choir and some additional travelers will depart for Coventry Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.  Why in the world would anyone undertake such a project?

A choir tour is great fun for the singers.  It’s a chance to travel abroad, sing in wonderful places that you would not be able to sing on your own, and visit sights you would not see otherwise.  It builds camaraderie within the group.  It enhances the musicality of the choir.  It’s great for the choir.  But there are other aspects.  It’s a pilgrimage, a time for personal reflection and spiritual renewal.  Individuals are moved to depths they might never otherwise experience.  It also allows us to bring a bit of the US, Erie, the Episcopal Church and our Diocese to those who hear us sing.  We’re ambassadors, perhaps even evangelists! The majority of the music we will be singing is by American composers, including Harry T. Burleigh.  We’ll be bringing copies of our CD to distribute to share the story and music of Burleigh and his connection to our Cathedral and city.

Here are some quotes from individuals on our last two choir trips that illustrate the impact:

“It was the trip of a lifetime which we will always cherish.  It certainly left a mark on us spiritually and made us proud to be Episcopalians.”  “Much had been spoken in advance about the pilgrimage aspect of our trip but I was thinking of it only as a vacation.  However, our first night singing at Canterbury Cathedral it hit me during the anthem of what I was doing.  I knew that if I gave into those feelings I would not be able to finish the piece so in true “stiff upper lip” mode, I pressed on.  That was a moment I will remember for a long time.” 

On this trip, August 3-13, we have 24 singers, most of whom are regular members of the Cathedral Choir.  Our organist, Ethan LaPlaca, grew up in Erie, earned a degree in music education and organ from Duquesne and now teaches in Mt Lebanon.  He has been coming to Erie this past year to play for Evensongs as we prepared the repertoire for the trip.  In additional to the singers, we have family members and friends who will travel with us, bringing the total number of our group to 41.

We begin with a weekend in Coventry where we will sing for the morning Eucharist and Evensong.  Coventry is unique, having been bombed in WWII and later rebuilt, preserving the ruins.  Dean Witcombe writes on their website: “It is a wonderful and renewing place for anyone of any age to visit. The narrative of chaos and destruction being taken and offered back to God, issuing in resurrection and new life, is one that speaks into the reality of lives of many of our visitors. The Cathedral is a physical expression of hope, of love, and of celebration.” 

The majority of our time will be spent in Oxford, with the choir singing daily services at 6:00 pm from Tuesday through Sunday.  We also sing for Choral Matins and the Eucharist on Sunday morning.  And there will still be time for some touring each day before our daily choral services.

Dean Downey will be preaching at the morning Eucharist while we are in Coventry. He will also serve as the Officiant at Evensongs while in Oxford.  Deacons Dorothy Konyha and Richard Nygaard will be traveling with us, too.  Look for updates about our adventures while we are away. Please pray for safe travels and new encounters with God’s grace and glory.

Sharon Downey is Canon Musician for the Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie. 

My General Convention Wrap-Up

This article originally appeared at The Black Giraffe blog on July 16, 2018. 

I have just returned from The Episcopal Church’s 79th General Convention in Austin, TX. While much happened in the almost two weeks I was there, I wanted to share a few highlights. (For a fairly comprehensive set of articles and news reports about what happened day by day at convention, go to Episcopal News Service or the House of Deputies news. Total church nerds interested in seeing what happened to particular resolutions, the budget, or other legislative items can look at the General Convention virtual binder.)

1. The Way of Love.  In his sermon at our opening Eucharist, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry introduced the Way of Love.  This seven-step path offers a rule of life that helps us walk in love as disciples of Jesus Christ. The seven step: Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, and Rest are all designed to develop our capacity to walk along our own way of love.

 


2. #churchtoo. Two important activities happened during convention to make the church a safer place for everyone, especially for women and others who frequently experience abuse, harassment, and discrimination.  First, the bishops held a listening session embedded in a liturgy.  They solicited stories of abuse, harassment, and discrimination from a wide variety of people. A number of those powerful stories were read aloud.  Second, the House of Deputies Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitationbrought together more than 50 women who addressed issues of theology and language, structural equity, clergy discipline and training, truth and reconciliation, and social justice for women through a series of concrete resolutions designed to make the church a safer, more equal, and more just place for all people.  Many of these resolutions were enacted by convention. (Church nerd alert! If you want to see the final disposition of the committee’s resolutions, I’ve noted it at the bottom of this post.)

3. Texas Revival. On Saturday night we were treated to a Texas style revival. The Presiding Bishop preached, a couple thousand people showed up, and at the end of the service people were invited to go to numerous prayers stations surrounding the auditorium.  The sense of the Holy Spirit showing up was palpable.  One person in our deputation told us afterwards that there was a row of people behind her who had come to hear the “Royal Wedding” preacher.  When the invitation to prayer came, she heard them talking about wanting to go for prayer, but not knowing how and not feeling like they were really allowed.  So she turned around and offered to pray with them right there, an invitation they gratefully accepted.  They prayed, among other things, to accept Jesus into their lives that night. 

4. Prayer Service at Hutto Detention Center.  Austin isn’t particularly close to the border, but a half-hour ride from Austin is the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, which holds women who are trying to immigrate into the United States.  The Center’s residents includes women separated from their children and families, and it has a history of incidents of abuse by guards. The Reverend Megan Castellan and others organized a noonday prayer service at a ball field adjacent to the detention center.  Readings and prayers were offered in English and Spanish, and Bishop Curry preached. Afterwards a letter was received from women inside the Center saying that they watched until the last buses departed, grateful to know that they were not alone. (To support the ongoing work with women at the Hutto center, go to grassrootsleadership.org.)     

5. Budget. We passed a budget. Among other noteworthy items is $3 million to continue the work of church planting and evangelism begun three years ago.  This work has proven effective, and we expect even more fruit as we increase our investment in this area.

6. Prayer Book and Liturgy. Much discussion going into Convention centered around proposals for beginning work on a new prayer book. In the end, in substitute resolution A068, Convention decided not to begin that work immediately, but to create a Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision (TFLPBR – pronounced “tafel-puber”?).  This task force will look at and propose structural ways for the church to be more adaptive in its future worship life to a wide variety of needs. At the same time, diocese are encouraged to create liturgical commissions that will experiment and create liturgical texts appropriate to their circumstances as resources for the church going forward. Convention also said that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer will continue to be used going forward and that any liturgical revisions will adhere to our Anglican tradition and the Baptismal and Eucharistic theology of our current prayer book. Importantly, we also allocated funds for new, dynamic-equivalence translations of the Prayer Book and other resources into Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole.  In a separate resolution, inclusive and expansive alternatives for Prayers A, B, and D in Rite II were adopted.  (For more on this Convention decision, see Derek Olsen’s post.)

7. Same-sex blessing and marriage rites.  Rites for same-sex marriage have now been authorized for use throughout the church, with provisions even in dioceses where bishops have previously forbidden their use. 

8. The Pigeon. OK, @gc79pigeon was not a particularly important outcome of Convention, but it did provide some needed comic relief along the way.  Thanks to the Reverends David Sibley and David Simmons for their sense of humor and good work

Given all the hard work by so many people on so many issues, I am sure I have missed more than one important Convention item.  Thanks to everyone behind the scenes who made Convention happen this year, and kept the work of the church moving ahead for another triennium!



Final status of Special Task Force resolutions (for details on the resolutions, go to the virtual binder, click the resolutions button, and type in the resolution number):
   Adopted: A178; B011 as amended; C041 as amended; D016 substitute; D017; D021 as amended; D031 as amended; D032 as amended; D087; D037 substitute; D046 as amended; D045 as amended; A284; D076 substitute; D067 as amended; D034; D023 as amended; D025 substitute.

   Take no further action: D020 (merged with D016); D026 (replaced with A284); D075 (partly included in D076); D080 (unofficially headed to interim body); D099 (duplicates D040); D022

   Referred to interim body: D033, D073; unofficially D080; D100

   Rejected: D035

The Rev. Dr. Adam Trambley is rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon.