Book Review: “Walk in Love” by Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe

This article originally appeared at The Black Giraffe blog on Tuesday, April 17. 

When I read a draft of Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs and Practices, I was elated.  Here, finally, was the book about the Episcopal Church that I had wanted to give to inquirers for my entire ministry. The love that Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe have for their church infuses the entire volume, and their desire to explain their beloved church to others is thorough, readable, and insightful.

Three qualities make Walk in Love particularly valuable to anyone looking for a book about the Episcopal Church.  First, this volume focuses on the key elements of who we are from the perspective of what is most important to us, instead of trying to differentiate us from other flavors of Christianity.  The book opens with the liturgy and the sacraments, which are the central elements of our worship and a key experience for our common life.

Second, this volume is thorough, covering a lot of ground to describe many important aspects of our faith. After the sacraments, Gunn and Shobe look at how we pray at different times, our basic beliefs, how the church is structured, the Trinity, and how we live out our faith more deeply. At 338 pages, the book is long, but the chapters are short, with each section broken up into easily digestible pieces.

Finally, the book is accessible, with a clear organization, personal stories, reflection questions, pull-out boxes, and a writing style that doesn’t assume any particular background. Reading Walk in Love is like having two dedicated guides leading you through their favorite community, explaining what is happening, why it is happening, and why it is so important to them.  Gunn and Shobe are sharing how the Episcopal Church embodies and proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ.  Their work is generous and expresses the breadth of our traditions, lifting up aspects of our life that could be recognized in almost every Episcopal congregation.

The cover design is beautiful, and the binding is solid, especially for a large paperback volume.

As I noted in the blurb I gave to the editors after my initial reading, I believe that this book is the most comprehensive, and comprehensible, guide to Episcopal faith and practice available. It is perfect book for new comers, long-time members, and anyone in between.

Forward Movement is also publishing a free curriculum called Practicing Our Faith that is based on Walk in Love.  This curriculum will be available in the spring of 2018.

To order copies of Walk in Love, including bulk discounts, or to find out more about Practicing Our Faith, go to:

https://www.forwardmovement.org/Products/2463/walk-in-love.aspx

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

Many Voices, Many Approaches, One Vision

What do you get when you combine a love for the church, strong collegiality, and a willingness to engage the difficult issues facing the church with honesty?  You get my experience of the latest clergy retreat.

I was invited by Bishop Sean and Vanessa to make a presentation at the diocesan clergy retreat this past February at Olmstead Manor.  It was an honor as a lay professional to be included in a clergy event, let alone make a presentation at such an event.  The openness and welcome I experienced from all of my clergy colleagues was a joy – there was a deep sense of mutuality and support for each of our ministries.

The entire retreat was a series of peer-led presentations on the future of the church and the issues associated with that future.  Presentations were given by John Downey, Stacey Fussell, Jason Shank, Melinda Hall, Bishop Sean, and myself.  Each of us come from very different congregations and contexts each with unique assets and challenges.

What was so exciting about the retreat was that all of our presentations acknowledged the challenges facing the Episcopal Church with honesty – mainly that mainline Christianity is in decline across our country.  Not only did we begin with the same basic premise, but each presentation ended with a love for the church, love for Jesus Christ, and the hope of the resurrection to be manifested in our diocese.

The most fascinating part of the presentations was how each of us through our individual contextual lenses addressed the challenges and how to resolve them for the sake of the Gospel.  Some of us focused on statistical trends, others on life cycles of churches, some on the need for planting churches, others on the church’s need to be more visible in the community, and I focused on the need for authentic relational community between three equally important entities: God, church leaders, and congregants.

Why did this retreat excite me?  Because the presentations showed just how diverse and gifted are the leaders of our diocese.  The Spirit of God manifested in powerful ways through those open, honest conversations showing us that innovation and resurrection are possible.  And not only are innovation and resurrection possible, but we have been given the resources on all levels of leadership from laity to clergy, from our smallest congregations to the diocese as a whole, to make the changes necessary to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our beloved Episcopal tradition for generations to come.  Now that’s Good News!

Craig Dressler is Associate for Parish Life at St. Mark’s Erie. 

Feeding the Future (Part One)

One of the areas we’ve focused on as a diocese is collaboration, and more specifically, how pooling our resources and talents can lead to adaptive change not only in the church, but in our communities for the greater glory of God. While this can take several forms, one obvious area for change is outreach.

We’re fortunate in our diocese to have several congregations who’ve come together to increase the impact of their ministry. For this series, we’ll focus on the Snack Pack outreach project, a collaboration between St. Stephen’s in Fairview and St. Mark’s in Erie to aid youth attending the Erie Charter School of Excellence.

One might ask: Why pick a charter school to partner with for an outreach project? Generally charter schools aren’t thought of as institutions in need of aid, but this particular school and its target demographic are an exception to the rule. From the CSE website:

The Charter School of Excellence initially opened its doors for students on August 26, 2003 for the school year 2003-2004. The school serves students in grades six through twelve from the Erie, Pennsylvania region. Although any student can attend the charter school, the school’s focus is directed toward those students who have had significant difficulties with academic performance in their previous school settings.

As Carly Rowe of St. Mark’s puts it, “These are kids who for whatever reason wouldn’t have made it in the public system.” CSE has a high refugee and English as a second language population, which seems unusual until you consider that, as of May 2017, Erie’s mayoral office estimated that roughly 18% of the city’s population comprises refugee families from countries like Syria, Bhutan, and Iraq, among others. Besides students facing language and cultural barriers, there is also a subset of teen mothers and roughly 30% of CSE students are considered homeless or under housed.

With all the obstacles these students work through on a daily basis, the uncertainty that they will get a meal at home only compounds the difficulty of trying to concentrate in school. Part of providing a recipe for success at CSE is making sure their students have regular meals. Breakfast and lunch are served each school day, but, when it comes to weekends, the school has little control. This is where the Snack Pack outreach program steps in: St. Mark’s and St. Stephen’s have teamed up with the Second Harvest Food Bank to create food packets that are delivered to students two Fridays a month so they have food at home over the weekend. Church volunteers pick up the food from Second Harvest, pack individual bags (along with supplemental items donated by members of both congregations), and volunteers who have passed both Safe Church and school district clearances take the bags to the school and deliver them to students.

While getting food to the students is the basis of this particular outreach project, the hands-on delivery by the volunteers has had an added benefit: the building of relationships between church volunteers and the school faculty and administrative personnel. As the volunteers have become a known quantity in the building, the faculty find it easier to speak with them directly and share additional student needs that may not have been communicated otherwise, which has led to an expansion of the outreach ministry. As a result of speaking with teachers about student needs, St. Mark’s now supplies a hygiene pantry at the school, where church members donate items like toothpaste and soap that are available at the school for students to take what they need. One member of the St. Mark’s congregation is using her talents as an extreme couponer to purchase additional hygiene products to supplement the donations, which stretches the purchase power of outreach dollars while simultaneously creating an opportunity for members who aren’t available on delivery days to participate in the project.  The Snack Pack program has also grown to include a packed lunch service that takes place during the school’s summer program – last summer St. Mark’s provided 75 bagged lunches two times a week for four weeks, which covered half of the CSE summer session.

Earlier this winter, teachers also made the Snack Pack volunteers aware that several of the students didn’t have appropriate outerwear for Erie weather. With this in mind, the collection taken at Diocesan Convention was earmarked to purchase coats for CSE students. Bishop Sean matched the dollar amount collected at the convention Eucharist service and, with the combined funds, over 100 coats were purchased and donated for students who would otherwise have gone without.

It’s sometimes difficult to see the impact of a ministry once the donations have been sent to their destination, but in this video, produced by Charter School of Excellence students, you can see firsthand the kind of impression this program is making:

In our next segment of Feeding the Future, we’ll discuss the issues of long term ministry sustainability, growing ministry from strictly outreach into relationships, and the continued impact that this ministry has on both the church and the community. Stay tuned!

Boundaries

This article originally appeared on March 6 at A Positively Poetic Priest, the blog of Mother Elizabeth Yale, Priest in Charge at St. John’s, Franklin. 

“He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
and to whom I was like to give offense.”

This is a portion of Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall.
The poem talks about mending a wall in the spring with the neighbor on the other side.
It goes through how the wall fell apart, and as we heard, we hear him wonder
about why there is a wall in the first place.
The only thing the neighbor says in the poem is
“Good fences make good neighbours.”
But Frost brings up a good question in these lines
why do good fences make good neighbors
why build a wall
is it because you’re walling something in
or walling something out?
It seems that there are good walls,
which keep people safe,
and then there are bad walls,
which keep people apart.

Though Frost wrote this poem more than a hundred years ago,
it still pertains to us today.
The question of walls or boundaries
is quite a serious one.
Recently the question about President Trump’s wall between Texas and Mexico
has gotten many people up in arms, both in favor and against.
Even more recently, the Winter Olympics in Korea
reminded us all of the tension between North and South
split with the DMZ, the demilitarized zone,
a long fence splitting the country in two.
And while we have these recent examples
controversial walls between neighbors is not a new thing.
The Berlin Wall
The Israeli West Bank wall along the Green Line
The wall in Baghdad.

Unfortunately though
it seems these walls
haven’t created good neighbors.
The amount of fighting, rallying, negotiation talks, and protests
which happen around these walls
doesn’t make it look like any of them are helping
develop good boundaries.
Just because we have physical walls
doesn’t mean we have good healthy relationships.

However, boundaries are very important in our human lives.
We need boundaries
to lead happy healthy lives.
Boundaries are involved in pretty much everything we do as human beings.
In order to be clear, the definition of boundary
is what is okay in a situation and what is not okay.
Basically, knowing where the line is between okay and not okay.

We have boundaries in all aspects of our lives.
Physical boundaries
such as our skin
our personal space
our privacy.
We have emotional boundaries
our circles of trust and confidentiality.
We have financial boundaries
our own personal accounts
business accounts
and lots of laws to keep those boundaries in peace.
We have social boundaries
both stated and unstated
which let us know what is okay to do with other people and what is not okay to do with other people.
We have occupational boundaries,
which determine what is our job and what is not our responsibility.
(We all know the phrase, “That’s above my pay grade.”
which is a boundary we all know when something is not our responsibility.)
In every aspect of our lives there are healthy boundaries
necessary to keep us whole, safe, and able to function.

Yet, we also have lots of unhealthy boundaries floating around in our society.
Where it seems acceptable to break other people’s feelings of what is okay and not okay.
We have seen this explode with issues of sexual harassment and abuse in the last year.
Unhealthy boundaries lead to conflict, disrespect, and distrust.
All of which we have in gigantic amounts throughout our society.

In her research on people living wholehearted lives,
Brene Brown, a social researcher working in topics of shame, resilience, and living healthy lives
points out from the data
that one of the most compassionate things we can do as human beings
is have good clear boundaries.
Where we know for ourselves what is okay and what is not okay
and we talk with other people in respectful ways when boundaries are broken.
Respectful, healthy communities are built around people who have healthy boundaries.

And while Brene Brown’s research has only come out in the last couple of years
this idea of good community being born out of having good boundaries among people
is so ancient
its biblical.

We see the first example
in our reading from Exodus for today.
Exodus was written sometime in the 15th century BC,
So about three and a half thousand years ago.
God gives Moses the Ten Commandments
which are to govern the community of Israelites in their life together
and in relationship with God.
The Ten Commandments
are rules, effectively, good boundaries of what is okay, and what is not okay,
for the people to do.
God says, it is not okay for us to have any other gods than God.
Its not okay to murder other people.
Its not okay to covet what other people have or to gossip about them with other people.
God says we definitely should
keep sabbath time, to rest,
we need to respect other people, especially our parents.
The people who had fled from Egypt
were trying to create a new kind of nation
a new kind of community
and having healthy boundaries
good rules for communal living
were very important to the health, safety, and longevity of the community.
Even in the gospel story for today from John
the story of Jesus overturning the market tables in the temple
is a story with boundaries
and the breaking of boundaries
at the heart of it.
Jesus goes to worship in the temple
and finds the place having been turned into a marketplace.
Understandably at that time
there was still animal and crop sacrifice going on in the temple
and people did need to buy cattle or birds
or grains or fruits in order to give to the temple.
However, the understanding is that the money changers and market sellers in the temple at that time
were gouging the people who came to worship.
They were lining their own pockets and being unfair to the people.
They were breaking the good boundaries of living in community
they were preying on the poor people of the land.
Jesus drives them out.
He reinforces the good boundaries of the community
making clear that what was going on is not okay.
Jesus’ mission in the world is to return the people
including us
to right relationship with God.
Which does mean pointing out the ways in which we have strayed from that relationship
and broken its good healthy rules.

What does this mean for us today?
During this season of Lent
we are called to remember the ways in which we have broken the boundaries of good community
we are called to repent for the ways in which we have strayed from right relationship.
We are called to return to good healthy clear boundaries and community.
We are called to repair the relationships which have been broken among us.
Thankfully, Jesus has already promised us
that he will forgive us
he will rebuild the temple
though we chip away at its walls
with our brokenness and unhealthy boundaries.
Thankfully, God loves us more than we can imagine
and continues to try to meet us in right relationship.
Thankfully, we can rely on God’s grace to catch us when we fail
and return us to faith and trust.

Like Robert Frost in his poem Mending Wall
we are given the opportunity each year
to mend the relationships
the broken places in our lives
and return to healthy good relationships
with each other
and with God.
Amen.

Sharing Resources: The Joint Board of Examining Chaplains

Our collaboration with the Diocese of Western New York isn’t just discussion for the future – the Joint Board of Examining Chaplains is a shared ministry of both dioceses that over the past three years has shown how combining resources can benefit our ongoing work for the Kingdom. Read on to learn more about this ongoing collaboration. 

The Joint Board of Examining Chaplains (JBEC) has for the last 3 years helped the Commissions on Ministry (COMs) of both the Diocese of Western New York and the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania monitor and assess the academic preparation of postulants and candidates for ordained ministry. The JBEC currently consists of six chaplains, three from each diocese, with one from each diocese serving as co-chairs. They meet twice a year, in the spring and fall, and use their time together to review work submitted from those in the formation process. Reports then go directly to the COMs to help in their work of shepherding our future clergy through their formation.

This shared ministry of the two dioceses is the result of conversations that began early in 2013, when the bishops of each diocese asked their examining chaplains to meet together and discuss the possibility of how we could share resources. Those first meetings explored the logistical issues of working together, the similarities and differences between the formation process and culture of each diocese, and the potential benefits. Very quickly we saw that having a larger team of people committed to the ministry meant better oversight and broader perspectives available for the work, and the potential negatives could be easily mitigated by careful planning and communication.

Time was spent putting together a proposal for how the joint committee would function, along with a set of requests on how we would want to do that work. One key piece has been the development of guidelines for postulants and candidates that ask them to build a portfolio of work from the academic formation, pieces of which get submitted to the JBEC each year. This way, instead of a cursory inspection of work towards the end of the formation process, the JBEC can both suggest ideas for improvement along the way and also have ample evidence of a candidate’s preparation in case end of formation examinations raise concerns.

That proposal went to the two dioceses in the summer of 2014, and at the conventions later that year the current members of the JBEC were appointed. Currently, The Rev. Vicki Zust and The Rev. Matthew Scott serve as the co-chairs.

The Rev. Matthew Scott is vicar of the Episcopal Mission of Warren County – St. Francis and Trinity Memorial churches. 

Lent Madness is On at Christ Church, Oil City

Lent Madness is on again at Christ Episcopal Church!

Our congregation has been getting together every Sunday during Lent for four years now, to pick our individual selections for the upcoming week. We all have our Saintly Scorecards and some dedicated followers do additional research. We allow voters to show their financial favor for their favorite Saints. Not gambling, mind you! Since I serve as the contest judge, everyone realizes they will see no financial benefit from their votes. All funds collected are used for a worthy cause. For the last few years, the funds helped some Diocesan youth attend Camp Nazareth. Prizes are awarded to the participants with the highest point score and highest percentage. Last year we had participants from four counties and two churches.

Most participants wisely vote online at the official Lent Madness site, doing what they can to see that their individual picks fare well.

Our current leaders, as of Sunday, February 25, are Jocelind Gant, with a .875 average, and Noni Stanford, with 40 points.

It is a great way to learn about the amazing lives of the people that populate the pages of Holy Men Holy Women, and really has led to a greater realization of the many ways that they have served others. We have come to appreciate the deep faith of people that we viewed as names from a history text, if we had ever heard of them at all.

If you are unfamiliar with Lent Madness, the Forward Movement has a great website for the event:

http://www.lentmadness.org/

And if any other churches are interested in a little intra-Diocesan contest next year, we would be glad to consider any challenges by our brothers and sisters in Christ, in the spirit of Christian collegiality. Just like Georgetown and Villanova.

The Rev. Mark Elliston is the vicar at Christ Episcopal Church, Oil City. 

‘Children of Abraham’ Documentary, produced in Warren, March 3 at Struthers

This article originally appeared in the Warren Times Observer

By STACEY GROSS (sgross@timesobserver.com)

“A Jewish businessman, a Christian priest, and an American Muslim…”

It sounds like the beginning of a joke. But it’s not. It’s the beginning of the tagline for a film produced in Warren County by Glarner Group Production Studio, and it ends “…coexisting in peace.”

Glarner said that he and Mark Robinault made the 45-minute documentary over the course of two years. It’s been shown most recently at the Asian World Film Festival, Glarner said. And now, it’s going to be shown in Warren.

The three men interviewed in the movie are Timothy Dyer, Sam Qadri, and Harvey Stone. All are local or semi-local. Qadri teaches at the Jamestown High school and also is a professor of Muslim Studies at JCC. Dyer is a local priest and Stone is a local businessman.

Glarner said he was sitting at Trinity Episcopal Church in Warren one day listening to Dyer talk about the latest Children of Abraham event – an event designed to introduce those unfamiliar with it to the concept of interfaith discussions – and he wanted to know more.

“Why is he doing this,” Glarner said he found himself wondering as he listened to Dyer talk. Through subsequent conversations, however, Glarner said he  understood perfectly what the goal of the Children of Abraham Project hope to achieve.

Interfaith conversations, said Glarner, are “pretty relevant to everyone right now.” And this, Glarner added, “is the narrative we need to hear.” As opposed to the tendency to divide and fracture people based on differences in belief and lifestyle, the goal of Children of Abraham and of the film is to get people both recognizing they are alike, and also seek to find ways to make connections with those of different faiths. “If there’s going to be some kind of lasting peace in the world then how we’re going to get there is through conversations like these and through a loving heart.”

Glarner said the screening, to be held on Saturday, March 3 at the Struther’s Library Theatre from 7 to 9 p.m. will be both an opportunity to expose a local audience to the film, but also a fundraiser for the Music Conservatory, of which Glarner has been a part since it began. Admission to the film is $10 per person and includes an introduction by Glarner who will talk more about what compelled him to make a documentary based on the interfaith discussions of three local men.

2018 Diocesan Lenten Day of Prayer

As we observe Lent, we would invite individuals and congregations throughout the Diocese to join us in a 12-hour Day of Prayer on Friday, March 9, from 9:00 AM-9:00 PM.  Four congregations will be serving as host sites:

  • Church of the Ascension, Bradford (26 Chautauqua Place, 16701)
  • Holy Trinity, Brookville (62 Pickering Street, 15825)
  • St. Mark’s, Erie (4701 Old French Road, 16509)
  • St. John’s, Sharon (226 West State Street, 16146)

All host sites will have their sanctuary open throughout the day for prayer, and will join the Diocese in times of common prayer. In addition, each site may offer additional scheduled or on-going prayer including Stations of the Cross, healing prayer, a labyrinth, community prayerwalks, The Great Litany, or centering prayer.  The schedule (which could be updated with additional events) is as follows:

9:00 AM       All Host Sites and Trinity Memorial, Warren*: Morning Prayer (Psalm 88, Genesis 47:1-26, 1 Cor. 9:16-27)

11:00 AM     St. John’s: The Great Litany

12:00 noon   All Host Sites and Trinity Memorial, Warren: Noonday Prayer

12:05 PM     St. John’s: Stations of the Cross

2:00 PM       St. John’s: Centering Prayer

5:00 PM       St. Mark’s and Trinity Memorial, Warren: Stations of the Cross

5:15 PM       All Host Sites: Evening Prayer (Psalms 91-92, Mark 6:47-56)

5:15 PM       Holy Trinity: Taize Evening Prayer

7:00 PM       St. John’s: Eucharist

8:15 PM       Holy Trinity: Contemplative Compline

8:30 PM       St John’s, St. Mark’s, Ascension, & Trinity Memorial, Warren: Compline

During this day of prayer, we especially ask prayers for discernment in the Northwestern Pennsylvania-Western New York collaboration, for the mission and ministry of our diocese, for increased evangelism throughout our region, and for the needs of our local congregations.

Individuals and congregations are encouraged to participate by joining a neighboring host site for as much of the day as you are able or by joining in the common times of prayer from your own congregations or homes.

For more information, please contact Canon Vanessa Butler (814.456.4203) or the Rev. Adam Trambley (724.347.4501).

*Additional Addresses:

Trinity Memorial, Warren (444 Pennsylvania Ave. West, 16365)

God’s Valentine to Us

The realization that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year has me revisiting thoughts on love. I am struck by how pedestrian our understanding of the concept of love is. Our English language is so imprecise; we use the same word to refer to the pleasurable/enjoyable to the sentimental/romantic to the awesome divine. I say that I love chocolate, I love my children and that God loves me.

In the church we have long resorted to the Greek language to try to clarify things. C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book called The Four Loves where he explores the different types of love expressed in that language. So we have storge for affectionate love, philia for brotherly love or the love of friends, eros for romantic love and agape for unconditional or Godly love. Of course Lewis also explores how these types of loves are expressed in wholesome and unwholesome ways and spends time differentiating between love based on need, love offered as gift and love resulting from appreciation.

Understanding love matters because it is so central to our understanding of both God and what it means to be a Christian. St. John says in his first letter that, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

We must be mindful that our ability to love is a reflection of God’s love; part of the way that we are created in God’s image. We cannot love with the perfection of agape, but we are called to strive toward that goal. When we love one another we are always seeking to let that love show glimmers of the higher, truer love that is known in God.

The ash crosses we will be marked with to begin our Lenten journeys are God’s Valentine to us – reminding us that God loved us from before the beginning and will love us through death and back to new life Christ. Our Valentine to God is showing others that they are beloved by God, too.

The Rev. Stacey Fussell is Rector of Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Bradford.