In this new video, Bishop Sean offers an update on what’s happened since April, when the partnership of the Dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York got underway. He invites everyone to convention in Erie on October 25 and 26, but don’t expect business as usual!
In the four months since we celebrated the beginning of our partnership with a festive Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo, the leaders and staff of both of our dioceses have been working hard with me to lay the groundwork for strong and productive collaboration. Today I want to update you on our progress and invite you to participate in developing the mission strategy that will guide our work together beginning in 2020. First, I am pleased to say that our staff team is now in place. Beginning this month, the bishop’s staff includes:
Canon to the Ordinary the Rev. Cathy Dempesy-Sims: Cathy, formerly canon for connections in Western New York, will oversee congregational development, clergy transitions, and diocesan ministries including Christian formation; children, youth and young adults; and outreach. Reporting to Cathy will be:
- The Rev. Martha Ishman, Canon for Transitions (part-time)
- The Rev. Al Johnson, congregational development consultant (contract)
- Wendy Schumacher, Missioner for Youth and Children (part-time)
Canon for Administration Vanessa Butler: Vanessa, who has been canon for administration in Northwestern Pennsylvania, will oversee administration, governance, and operational issues and will serve as my executive assistant. Reporting to Vanessa will be:
- Megin Sewak, Missioner for Communication & Development (full-time)
- Michael Brown, Missioner for Administration (full-time)
- The Rev. Joann Piatko, Assistant for Ordinations (part-time, non-stipendiary)
Canon for Finance Cindy Dougan: Cindy, who has been canon for finance in Northwestern Pennsylvania, will oversee the finances and budgets of both dioceses. Working with Cindy will be Maria Manocchio, Missioner for Finance (full-time). Maria will oversee the work of George Czapko, sexton in the New York office.
Canon for Strategic Change the Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley: Ruth, who is new to both of our dioceses, joins us half-time for an initial period of two years to assist us with planning and implementing a mission strategy that can encompass our entire region. Ruth, who also serves as senior vice president for strategic change with the Episcopal Church Building Fund, has been canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Colorado, a parish priest, and a consultant to several dioceses in the area of strategic change. She brings abundant experience to our partnership.
Director for Integration Danielle Dolin-Bane, Ed.D.: Danielle, a leadership consultant with expertise in measuring, evaluating, and integrating staff cultures, will work on a contractual basis with staff in both the Pennsylvania and New York offices to coordinate workflow, goals and objectives, and workplace culture.
Assisting me and the rest of the staff will be Howard Gondree, financial consultant; Ellen Fowler, a consultant and coach in leadership and change management; and Canticle Communications.
In this new staff structure, we have eliminated the part-time position of website and social media manager in the Diocese of Western New York. I am grateful to Elisabeth Brauza-Hughes, who has held that position, and ask that you join me in praying for her in this time of transition. Day-to-day communications responsibilities will transition to Megin Sewak between now and October.
Please also wish a happy second retirement to Lorraine Hapeman, who graciously returned to the office last year to assist Bishop Bill at the end of his episcopacy. We are eliminating the position of executive assistant to the bishop; Vanessa Butler will continue to serve that role for me.
As you know if you participated in the recent online communications survey, we are actively working on a new communications plan for both dioceses that will include a new website, weekly newsletters, social media, and more resources for congregational communications ministry. We expect to launch this new communications plan, including a new website, at our diocesan convention in October. If you have questions or comments, please email Rebecca Wilson at Canticle Communications.
Mission Strategy Planning
At pre-convention meetings this fall, at convention, and at regional meetings in November and December, we will spend time together developing a new strategy for our common mission. Together, we will come together as one church to discern goals that can energize congregations across our region and provide us with new opportunities to experiment for the sake of the Gospel and the people of God in our communities.
As you may remember, last October, I spoke about the way that I hope our collaboration on this new strategy will build the body of Christ and fire our imaginations what might be possible in our region. The 2020 budgets that will be presented at convention will allocate funds for new mission in our congregations and communities, and the plan we will develop together will guide our investment of those funds.
I hope that all of you will participate in one or more of the mission strategy meetings, and in particular, that you will all attend convention on October 25 and 26 in Erie and encourage the people of your congregations to do the same. Our work there will be energetic and participatory, and our hope is that people from all parts of our dioceses will take part in this work that is so critical to our future. Please watch for more information about upcoming meetings and convention in your diocesan newsletter.
As I said last October, God has called us to a new adventure, and we are headed into uncharted territory. I am grateful to be on this journey with you, and I look forward to seeing you soon.
The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe
Bishop of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania
Since last Sunday, three different gunmen have opened fire on crowds of innocent people, killing at least 32 people and wounding many more. In two of the cases, the shooter’s motive is unclear; in the deadliest of these three attacks, at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, the shooter posted a hateful anti-immigrant manifesto not long before he began to kill.
These attacks feel relentless and savage, and it is tempting to lose hope that we will find a way to end them. But as people of faith, we cannot give in to despair. God calls us to stand resolutely against both the scourge of gun violence gripping our nation and the rising tide of racism and white nationalism that fuels it. God calls us to welcome the stranger, to pray for peace and reconciliation, and to work toward a world in which hatred, fear and the ubiquity of guns shape neither our national life nor our relationships with one another.
I invite you to pray in response to these evil acts—not as a substitute for action, but as a precursor to it. The website of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network in which I participate alongside more than 80 colleagues, has a variety of liturgical resources for offering prayers, vigils, and other witness against gun violence. By following our network’s Facebook page, Episcopalians United Against Gun Violence, you can stay updated on opportunities to advocate with your elected officials for common sense gun safety measures with wide bipartisan support, including the ones outlined here.
May God give comfort to those who grieve the precious children of God lost to gun violence, give courage to our legislators who must act now to stop it, and give grace to all of us who are called to turn our grief, fear, and despair into passion for justice and peace.
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, p. 824
The Rev. Melinda Hall spent time in South Korea, Lebanon and England and lived in Kentucky and New Jersey before she moved to Brookville, Pennsylvania. Despite her global experience, she hoped her next career move would keep her in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.
That wish came true on Sunday when she was named dean-elect of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie. When Hall, 35, takes up the job in mid-October, she will be the first woman to lead the congregation of 250 members and the youngest cathedral dean in the Episcopal Church.
The superlatives attached to her appointment don’t interest her nearly as much as the opportunity to be involved in Erie’s rebirth.
“This is a fascinating time for Erie and for the cathedral congregation,” Hall said. “As downtown Erie redevelops, the cathedral’s more open spirituality and tradition of beautiful worship can provide opportunities for people to find a sacred space where they can connect to themselves and to God.”
When Hall speculates about the potential of attracting newcomers with Anglican liturgy, she is speaking from experience. Raised in an evangelical Christian church, she drifted away from that tradition in college and fell in love with choral evensong while studying abroad in Oxford, England.
Shortly before that, she had abandoned an economics and finance major in favor of English literature and enrolled in some theology classes.
“It blew my mind,” she says. “People asked any question they wanted. Growing up, I had never heard that Jesus cared about poor people.”
Unsure about a career path, she followed a mentor’s suggestion and applied to seminary. After deferring her enrollment for a year to teach English in South Korea, she started at Princeton Theological Seminary, where an Episcopal Church sits on a corner of campus. She walked in, she says, and never walked out.
After Princeton, she spent a fellowship year in Lebanon learning about Islam and Middle East church traditions, and then a year at General Theological Seminary in New York studying Anglicanism. She and her husband, the Rev. Nathan Royster, a Presbyterian minister, moved to Brookville in 2012, where she was ordained by Bishop Sean Rowe in 2013. She served in DuBios and then in Brookville as vicar of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
The couple, whose son was born in March, will move to Erie in the fall.
“Living in rural America has been the experience of a lifetime,” she says of her time in Brookville. “I cannot catalog the number of things I’ve learned.”
For Ed Palattella, the cathedral’s senior warden who led the search for a new dean, Hall’s commitment to the region helped her stand out among the dozen applicants for the job.
“What really impressed us is her vision. In northwestern Pennsylvania, we have our struggles, but we have so much talent here with what is happening in Erie. We wanted someone dynamic, a community builder, who will continue making Erie aware of the Episcopal approach to investment and engagement in the community.”
When Hall’s election was announced on Sunday at the cathedral’s principal service, the news was met with extended applause, Palattella says. The Very Rev. John Downey, who has been dean since his successor was in preschool, told the congregation that the hire was “brilliant.”
Palattella says that the cathedral’s congregation “wanted us to make a bold move” in hiring the new dean. He credits Rowe with fostering a desire for innovation.
“The bishop pushes us to think beyond ourselves, to approach what we want to be in a big way without being unreasonable. He’s supportive of not limiting our thinking based on our geography or economy.”
For Rowe, a native of the region who only recently relinquished the title of youngest bishop in the Episcopal Church, hiring Hall is the right response to the new energy he finds in the city and the congregation.
“Melinda is a first-rate preacher and teacher, and she is deeply committed to our region,” he said. “Her faithfulness to the gospel and energy for collaborating make her the ideal leader for a cathedral in a city poised for change.”
On the day after the announcement of her election as dean, Hall and Royster spent the afternoon house hunting in Erie, an endeavor that gives her a personal stake in the city’s revitalization. But even as Erie makes room for young couples like them, she is committed to ensuring it also cares for people too often pushed aside by urban redevelopment.
“The church needs to be a voice of faithfulness making sure people on the margins aren’t left out of change,” she says. “We can model what reinvestment in communities looks like.
“At the core of who I am as a priest is the conviction that the church exists for the world.”
On Saturday, July 13, the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania celebrated another first: the joint ordination of Rosaleen Nogle and Rebecca Harris to the transitional diaconate. The Rev. Rosaleen Nogle will serve Trinity, Buffalo, and the Rev. Rebecca Harris will continue her work at St. John’s, Kane. It was a truly great day in the Kingdom and another step on our walk together in Christ.
St. John’s, Franklin was host to a lively group last week: a mission team consisting of 29 youth and 9 adults from the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, who were in town to assist Mustard Seed Ministries of Venango County (an ecumenical service organization focused on home repair and transportation for those in need), Emmaus Haven (a transitional housing program), and Catholic Rural Ministries with various service projects in the greater Franklin area. Kids camped out in the parish hall basement by night and split into groups to tackle jobs ranging from yard work and housecleaning to building a utility shed from the ground up during the day.
Mary Anthony, director of religious education at St. Paul’s in Medina, Ohio, and one of the mission trip coordinators, took some time out from her work to talk a bit about the kids and the week’s projects.
“There are kids ages 12-19 representing six different parishes from the diocese this year,” she said. “We started coming here back in 2010 when Mother Holly was here. One of the priests from one of our churches in the diocese had found – it used to be called Helping Hands – because Mother Holly started the program. So we came and we really liked it, and this is our fifth year here.” [Editor’s Note: Mother Holly Davis, who was priest at St. John’s in 2010, began the Helping Hands ministry during her time at the church. It has since been taken over by Pastor Randy Powell of the First Baptist Church in Franklin and renamed Mustard Seed Ministries.]
She went on to say that each year the mission coordinators come up with a list of potential areas to visit, then allow the youth to make the final decision on where they’ll be serving. “I like getting them out seeing different areas and working with different dioceses,” she continued. “We usually give them a couple of ideas, and the juniors and seniors pick. Some kids had been here and told the other kids what it was like. Deacon Dave (Betz) was here and the kids love him.” She turned and pointed out a young man who was visiting with the group during the picnic St. John’s hosted for them on Tuesday evening. “This is one of my former youth that came with us, and now he’s married and lives here in Franklin.”
Mary’s crew of teens spent the week in Seneca assembling a shed that will be used to store lawnmowers and other equipment for the new Family Service and Children’s Aid Society PPC shelter. “They’ve literally framed the whole thing top to bottom,” she said. “We started with 2x4s, now we’ve got all these walls and they’ll put them together on site.” Another group assisted with the cleanup of a building that had previously been a Catholic church, but is now being repurposed as a homeless shelter through Emmaus Haven in Oil City. Deacon Dave Betz of St. John’s is the contact person for Emmaus Haven, and he shared that, while there has been a homeless shelter in Franklin for three years, the former church in Oil City has only recently been purchased and approved as a shelter. Both buildings are intended to house single men and women in homeless situations – definitely needed, since Emmaus Haven gets up to 97 calls a month for people in need of shelter in Venango County.
This group of hardworking young people certainly were the definition of mission this week: going out into the world and spreading their faith through acts of service. Even more, they were loving their neighbors in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania as themselves. As Mary Anthony said, “We’ve gone some other places in between, but we decided we’d come back. We’ve formed some really good relationships with the people at St. John’s.”
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Mark 12:30-31
It’s summer camp week, and Bishop Sean has flipped the script for this episode of “Ask the Bishop” and is asking the campers questions! Check it out below:
In our last video in the Personal Prayer series, Fr. Geoff Wild discussed how prayer beads can be used as part of a personal prayer practice. In today’s installment, follow along as Cheryl Wild teaches how to craft a set of your own!
- heavy fishing line or Wildfire beading thread
- cross or crucifix charm
- 33 beads: 28 “week” beads, 4 cruciform beads, and 1 invitatory bead
- E6000 glue
The descriptors “introvert” and “public evangelism” don’t usually go together. These “things” never have held appeal for me and the last thing I wanted to do was walk around town and pray for the uninformed and the unconverted. Yet I had committed to the Rev. Erin Betz-Shank, Bishop’s Warden Heather Armstrong, and the people of Trinity, New Castle, that I’d do whatever their priest did for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday while she was on maternity leave. That promise turned into my first experience of an ecumenical prayer walk.
Due to Erin’s leadership, laity and clergy from the churches of New Castle participate in a prayer walk around downtown New Castle on Good Friday following a humble, draped cross. The experience was entitled “Prayer in Motion”. We began with the library and moved to the police station, Salvation Army, United Way, medical clinic, businesses, restaurants, churches, and local government offices. At each location we prayed for the work done in each profession and for those who live the profession.
The symbolism of the event leapt out of the concrete: in the midst of an economically challenged community like New Castle, this rain-soaked procession was a moving sign of hope. We travelled into the heart of sorrow, poverty, and decay with a message of hope, faith, and commitment. Jesus was here and he was staying. The Church was here and the Church was staying. The youngest person was about two and oldest near 90. We weren’t many. The torrential rains kept many at home. Yet, we moved, prayed, and asked God’s blessings.
Sometimes these experiences affect those around the troop most. Perhaps that’s so; I hope so. The experience deeply affected me. We are called to show up in many ways: shelter, food, medical care, money, legal assistance, counseling, recovery, and the list goes on. We are also called to show up with faith, hope, and love. What a perfect, as in complete, way to worship on Good Friday: to step into the challenges of redevelopment in New Castle, reminding people that Jesus identifies with the suffering and with those who serve those in need. Honestly, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful worship experiences of Good Friday ever for this aging Christian.
Thank you, Erin and Heather, for your leadership and holding me to my promise.
The Rev. Al Johnson is Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation for the Diocese of NWPA.
The Diocesan Picnic at Waldameer is just around the corner! This great opportunity for worship, fellowship, and fun will be held on Sunday, June 16, 2019. It is hoped and expected that those coming to the picnic would also attend the worship service at 11:00 AM. Bishop Sean will preach and celebrate.
Tickets are $25 (with a $100 maximum for members of an immediate family). Tickets will be exchanged at the park for a wristband that allows access to any or all of the following: a buffet meal, an all-day pass for riders, admission to the water park. Children 3 and under are free but require a wristband, so should be included in the reservation.
Congregations are once again being asked to gather money and reservations. Ticket sales must be done in advance using only tickets that are obtained from the Diocese. No sale of tickets will be permitted at the park. Reservations from the congregations must be to Vanessa by email or phone (814.456.4203) by noon on Monday, June 3rd. Tickets will then be mailed to the congregations.
Paul Nelson, former diocesan treasurer and owner of Waldameer, is again generously allowing us to keep all proceeds from ticket sales. The proceeds will go towards youth ministry in the dioceses.
On the day of the picnic, registration will be from 10:00 AM until 10:50 AM, and it is there that you will exchange your tickets for wristbands. There will be no registration during the service. Registration will resume and the food lines will open after the worship service is completed. Food will be available until 4:00 PM. You must have a wrist band to eat.
Hope to see you at Waldameer!