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. 

Gladness and Thankfulness

This is the second 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 was asked to write about gratitude, I realized that I have spent much of this year being thankful for so very much—my husband, my children, my extended family, my friends, my coworkers, the people who attend Grace, Ridgway, and the people of this diocese. But there’s more than just the long, long list of people for whom I am thankful. There’s a lifetime of events, and a whole lot of mistakes, that have shaped who I am, the kind of person, the kind of Christian I am. I started out thinking about my gratitude for these people.

But then I started writing, and I kept finding myself back, just over eighteen months ago, on my knees in church on a typical Sunday. Maybe not so typical in that I was so frustrated that what I believed I was being called to do simply wasn’t happening. I felt overwhelmed with the burden of not knowing where I was supposed to even begin; I had no idea what I needed to do. I was angry–more angry and frustrated–than I’ve ever felt in my life. I felt lost, invisible, and ignored. And I was exhausted from what feels like a lifetime of fighting to be heard and to be seen. I was tired of arguing with managers at work for fair treatment; I was tired of defending my parenting choices with my mother. Add in years of being a single parent, a history of clinical depression, and the hundreds of times I was the only one on the PTA or the Bishop’s Committee speaking up on certain topics. I was, in my own words, tired of having to fight all the time.

During the sermon that day, Fr Alan was telling a story about God taking a man and placing him near a very large boulder. God tells the man, “Push the rock.” The man pushes the rock; the rock doesn’t move.  The man continues to push the rock; the rock continues to not move. After a time, God returns to see the man. The man complains, “Lord, I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I can’t move this rock!” God responds, “My son, I didn’t tell you to move the rock. But now you are strong enough for the work I have for you. Come with me.”

Then, I’m on my knees, begging God to take my anger away. I’m telling Him how very tired I am over and over and over. And I’m crying. I can’t see, because that happens sometimes. I’m repeating the litany of battles I’ve fought, begging to have it end. And in my blindness, in my tears, God responds, “Just what do you think all that was for?”

In the months since then, I have moved through a good many conversations with God, as well as conversations with others who have shared their thoughts and insights. There’s been a lot of scripture, some found and some searched for.

I am overwhelmed with gladness and thankfulness for the people God has given me. For the ones who have guided, for the ones who have listened, for the ones who have simply loved. I’m even thankful for the ones who have caused pain and grief, for the lessons they’ve taught me.

I’ve heard it said that all prayer can be boiled down to two things:  help me and thank you. I have spent a lot of my life asking for help. I find myself, more and more these days, saying, “Thank You,” to God for His mercy in forgiving and loving me, His wisdom in those persons He has given me, and His peace as I learn to rest in Him. “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” ~Ephesians 1:16

Cheryl Whipple Mumford is a member of Grace Episcopal Church, Ridgway. 

And on the 7th Day, the Budget Was Presented…

With committees beginning to conclude their work so it can be brought to the attention of the House of Deputies, this 8th consecutive General Convention has been the most moving for me – from the listening session on #MeToo to riding on one of 19 filled buses to the T Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, TX for a prayer service for the women detained there.  We were welcomed by the mayor-elect, and yes it was hot, 86 degrees under cloudless skies, but every drop of perspiration was worth it.  I was told that some detainees wept, others applauded and still others slid pieces of white paper up and down the windows as a message that they could hear and see us. We were loud and loving.  All this occurred after attending the Bishops Against Gun Violence rally in the park across from the Austin Hilton and hearing from the parents about the Parkland High School shooting whose daughter was one of the 17 killed. Sunday was filled with what, as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, God had planned for us that day. That was Day 4.

But my day is the 7th day, July 11, and it wasn’t a day of rest. Our legislative calendar is backed up, which led to an evening session and a couple long days ahead before the 79th General Convention adjourns on Friday. After the morning legislative session and a lunch break, a joint session of both houses gathered in the House of Deputies for the presentation of the budget for the next triennium as presented by PB&F – Program, Budget & Finance.

The budget presentation is always interesting – a case of limited resources and much need. Today’s presentation was no exception.  The joint session saw the assessment rate for dioceses reduced from 18% to 15% and the exemption was also reduced from $150K to $140K. Exemption reduction was done so ‘additional money could be found’. Questions were asked and answered seemingly to the satisfaction of those asking and the joint session ended.

The budget is always one of the main events of the convention but perhaps not today. Today’s main event that brought the House to its feet was the passage of Resolution A238 calling for the reinstatement of the Diocese of Cuba! Five decades of absence ended with the unanimous passage of this resolution.  The applause lasted for several minutes as their bishop and deputation were escorted to the front and greeted with shouts of ‘Welcome Home’ and ended with the doxology in wonderful harmony. It was powerful and emotional for many of us and that’s all I have to say about that.  Looking forward to coming home…

Blessings to all of you from Austin.

Anne Bardol is a member of Holy Cross, North East and a lay deputy to General Convention. 

Greetings from Austin on Day 6: July 10, 2018

Many thoughts as I traveled at 7:30 this morning on my scooter 8 blocks to my last committee meeting… a beautiful, warm day with little traffic… friendly folks along the way.

I was a “newbie” on the Committee for Christian Formation & Discipleship but was welcomed by others who had served several times. We had met 10 times and worked to send along several resolutions for consideration to the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies.

The days have been full with legislative sessions and other activities. The work is challenging and rewarding. The time has flown by. I’ve learned a lot about diversity and discrimination in our church, as well as much about the good work being done with reconciliation, caring for creation, and evangelism.

We have heard testimonies in committee hearings and legislative sessions that were painful and difficult to hear… but also extraordinary stories of grace, courage, bravery and determination.

Worship services are beautiful and bring us back to center. The Texas Night Revival was fabulous. I hope perhaps some of you have listened to the Presiding Bishops’s sermons on the internet. (Editor’s note: PB Curry’s sermons are available here in the Video Highlights section.)

The Bishops’ Anti-Gun Rally and our trip to Hutto Women’s Detention Center on Sunday were eye-opening and heartbreaking. Indeed, time is up! We need to speak up and work to correct wrongs we see being done. As Christians we are called to seek justice, safety, respect and dignity for all people… that includes food, drinkable water and shelter…. together we can do this and more, WITH GOD’S HELP.

You’ve heard me say before that General Convention is an amazing experience… I truly wish all of our Diocese could be here to feel the energy. The Church is struggling, but it is also alive and exciting, blessed with strong leadership, and full of people determined to be part of the Episcopal branch of the Loving, Liberating, Life-Giving Jesus Movement!

Looking forward to seeing y’all soon!

Kaycee Reib is Senior Warden of St. John’s, Franklin, and a lay deputy to General Convention.