Ask the Bishop: Summer Camp Edition

Straight from Camp Nazareth, it’s Ask the Bishop!

Bishop Sean discusses the hot button issues of General Convention, the buzz generated by Presiding Bishop Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding, and his favorite part of summer camp below.

Church Nerd: What the Heck Does General Convention Look Like Anyways? Edition

How to adequately describe The Episcopal Church’s General Convention…

The Super Bowl of church nerding, where, rather than the Lombardi Trophy, heavenly treasure is awarded to those who can last through 10 days of legislative business without having a “Jesus flipping tables in the temple” moment?

Disney World for church nerds, where you can experience the magic of ministry and mission with thousands of other likeminded folk and, rather than parades of princesses in gowns, we have processions of bishops in rochets and chimeres?

ComicCon for church nerds, where we can all take selfies with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, deputies from around the world, and a cardboard cutout of the last saint to win Lent Madness?

All of the above?

The official explanation of General Convention is that it’s “the governing body of The Episcopal Church that meets every three years. It is a bicameral legislature that includes the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, composed of deputies and bishops from each diocese. During its triennial meeting deputies and bishops consider a wide range of important matters facing the Church. In the interim between triennial meetings, various committees, commissions, agencies, boards and task forces created by the General Convention meet to implement the decisions and carry on the work of the General Convention.”

Bicameral legislature? I don’t know about you, but it’s been a while since my high school civics course. So, let’s bust out our Schoolhouse Rock lessons, shall we?  Remember “I’m Just a Bill?”  If you don’t, we’ll wait while you look it up on YouTube.

General Convention works sort of like that, except we would be singing “I’m Just a Resolution” (which doesn’t have quite the same rhythm…maybe we could sing it to the tune of “I am the Bread of Life” where meter doesn’t matter) and we don’t have an Executive Branch with veto power (Episcopalians would never stand for it).

Now you may be saying to yourself, “Great! But I could have Googled and found all that myself, Ms. Lazy Blogger. What does all that actually look like?” I’m so glad you asked.

It looks like the staff of the General Convention office starting to plan each event years in advance. It looks like them working what seems like 24 hours a day during the convention, handling issues and fielding countless questions and complaints with patience and grace.

It looks like interim bodies meeting in person, by telephone, and by video conference, doing the work assigned to them by the last General Convention.  It looks like innumerable studies and surveys undertaken to inform their work.  It looks like writing and editing and re-editing reports to be sent out to the Church, to better inform discernment and decision-making on an array of topics.

It looks like bishops and deputies starting weeks (and, in some cases, months) ahead of time, reading, researching, and networking so they are well educated about what will appear before them at General Convention.

It looks like the staff and volunteers in the Secretariat working endless hours to make sure that the legislative business is conducted seamlessly and that the work done at the General Convention is recorded properly for future reference.  (Side note: the Secretariat is where you’ll find me. This will be my fourth General Convention serving as the minutes writer for the House of Deputies. You can read more about a day in the life of a Secretariat volunteer here.)

It looks like legislative committees meeting at 7:30 AM, fueled by Starbucks and the occasional Coca-Cola.  It looks like the committees holding hearings in the evening so that anyone can give input on the resolutions in the committees’ care, and then burning the midnight oil, working on crafting amendments and deciding on recommendations, only to turn around and be right back at 7:30 the next morning to start all over again.

It looks like days of legislative sessions where hundreds of pieces of legislation are presented, debated, amended, passed, rejected, and referred.  It looks like legislative decisions informed by prayerful discernment and conversation.

It looks like hundreds of volunteers gathered from all over the country, working together with people they’ve never met to help conduct the business of The Episcopal Church.  It looks like registration agents, door greeters, gallery monitors, ushers, language aides, virtual binder distributors, pages, committee supporters, among others.

It looks like church communicators, laden with laptops and camera equipment, rushing from session to session and event to event, continually seeking Wi-Fi, and telling the stories of General Convention for all those who want to be connected.

It looks like ministries and vendors setting up shop in the massive exhibit hall and hosting receptions and dinners. It looks like people dedicated to their ministries hoping to spread the word about their own niche in the Kingdom, seeking those who need their help or those who can join in the work.

It looks like diocesan staff members, bishops’ and deputies’ spouses, and others taking countless trips to grocery stores, drug stores, and restaurants, making sure those who are enmeshed in the legislative work of General Convention are fed and taken care of.

It looks like staff, family members, and volunteers holding down the fort at home and at work while us church nerds do our thing for two weeks.

It looks like shared Eucharists and prayer groups. It looks like worshiping with those we don’t otherwise worship with, possibly in ways that we don’t normally worship.

It looks like friends and family and colleagues reuniting and rejoicing in each other’s company.

It looks like differing beliefs and values held in balance in the interest of remaining a unified group of Christian brethren.

It looks like love and hospitality.

It looks like church in the way we are called to be church.

I can’t wait. See you in Austin!

Vanessa Butler is Canon for Administration for the Diocese of NWPA and Minutes Secretary to the House of Deputies at General Convention. 

*Author’s note: If you’re looking for a more detailed description of the legislative work of General Convention or for materials such as resolutions, schedules, orientation videos, etc., please visit the diocesan website, where we have gathered links to these resources.  Before and during General Convention, we will also be posting on this blog and on social media, so watch out for intros to our deputies, reports back from General Convention, and other updates.

Ordination of Nicholas Evancho

We wish congratulations and blessings to the Rev. Nicholas Evancho on his ordination to the priesthood and upcoming move to the Diocese of Southern Ohio, where he will serve as a curate at Christ Church in Glendale.

Photos of the ordination service, which was held on Saturday, June 2, at Church of the Epiphany in Grove City, are below.

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Not Only Her Daughter-In-Law

This is the first 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

I recently received an e-mail from Megin Sewak about my willingness to write an article for the Forward blog summer series. She said the series would be based on gratitude. The American Heritage dictionary definition of gratitude defines it as: The state of being grateful; thankfulness. Several ideas and individuals immediately came to mind about whom I could write about. After tossing around a few names in my head, I decided the person I would base this article on was my late mother-in-law, Marjorie Stanford. It wasn’t too long after I had been introduced to her by my then boyfriend, her son Rick, I found out she liked to be called by her nickname, which was “Pete”, so “Pete” was what I called her unless she slipped and called me by my given name “Norma” instead of my nickname “Noni”. If she called me Norma, then I called her Marjorie! Rick and I dated for several years before we got married. During those years of courtship with Rick, I had an opportunity to get to know my future mother-in-law and we became great friends. After Rick and I married, we lived the next house down from my in-laws, who lived in the family farmhouse which was built in 1819!

Now to the gratitude part of the story. Every spring when the trees burst out with a multitude of shades of green and flowers spring out of the ground, Pete comes to mind. She always had fabulous flower beds around her house. She spent many hours transplanting and relocating perennials in the early spring. I would help her and ask her questions about how did she know where to move plants and how did she know the species she was moving? She would smile and tell me after all the years of gardening she enjoyed the mystery of what would bloom and where it would bloom. We spent time in the pasture gathering dried “meadow muffins” to spread around the flower beds. Soon I found myself developing my own flower beds with plants or seeds she shared with me. When the spring/summer season turned to fall, we would prep the beds for winter. She not only tended to flower beds, she was also an active participant in the dairy farm business with her husband Rex. After the dairy business became too much for them, they sold the cows and began to raise beef cows. During the week, I worked at Edinboro University. However, on the weekends I helped with chores, first with the dairy herd and later with the beef cows. After chores, Rick and I would often go to Pete and Rex’s house for a wonderful breakfast made by no one other than Pete! She always made the most fabulous bread/toast and served it with the breakfast meals. I inquired about her bread recipe, and she offered to teach me how to make it. I remember spending a Saturday afternoon at her house making bread. After the bread was made, she told me to go home and make some bread. I did as I was told. After my bread was made, I called to tell her I did it! She asked me to bring her a sample, so I did. She smiled and told me it was just as good as hers. Then she informed me I could now take over making the bread.

As the years passed, my mother-in-law and father-in-law dealt with the death of both of their sons. I continued to live down the road from Pete and Rex after Rick’s tragic death. Often I would cook meals and share them with Pete and Rex. They continued to be an important part of my life. A few days before Pete’s death, she told me I was not only her daughter-in-law, but more importantly I was her friend. Rick died in 2002 and Pete and Rex both died in 2005.

Every spring, when I work in my flower beds, I think of Pete. Those memories continue to bring a smile to my face and I will be forever filled with gratitude for all Pete shared and taught me all those years ago.

Noni Stanford is a member and senior warden of St. James, Titusville. 

The Gift of Diversity

This article first appeared on the A Positively Poetic Priest blog on May 22, 2018.

I want you to take a look at your hand.
Right or left, it doesn’t matter.
Every day our hands do impressive amounts of work.
They influence our experience of the world.
Look at your fingers.
You probably don’t think about them often.
They are very similar in nature to each other,
yet each is different.
Each is unique from the others.
Even our fingers have diversity!
Each of our fingers have different purposes and gifts.
The fact that our thumbs are at an angle and move slightly
differently than the other fingers… opposable thumbs!
What a gift our thumbs are in our daily lives!
(Especially when you consider animals without opposable thumbs,
we have all seen those internet memes.)
We may look at our hands and think they are all the same.
In fact, we have diversity right in our hands.

The word diversity really means a range of different things.
Not that it has a range of different meanings,
it quite literally means, “a range of different things.”
Having a collection be diverse means that there are different things in the collection.
So speaking about diversity in the context of people
requires two things: community and different gifts.

This is where we go to the passage from acts,
the bedrock of Pentecost.
The passage starts with the community.
“The disciples were all together in one place.”
Here we have a collection of people, already diverse in nature.
Tax collectors, fishermen, carpenters,
all gathered together in a room because of the same glue.
It’s quite obvious that the only reason the disciples ever managed to stay together
was because of Jesus.
Together, this little community of men
has an amazing experience.
A rush of wind and tongues of fire,
a change of heart and feeling of presence,
and a sudden new knowledge filling each of them.

Diversity is one of the first gifts the Holy Spirit ever gives to the church,
simply by giving the disciples the ability to speak different languages.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples that day of Pentecost,
it didn’t tell the disciples to go only
to the Aramaic speaking good Jews to spread the good news of Jesus.
No, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples new languages,
the gift of speaking to people wholly different from them.
With the gifts of the Holy Spirit there were going to be
Egyptian followers of Jesus
and Parthian followers of Jesus
and Mesopotamian followers of Jesus.
People from all over the known world
who didn’t all have the same background or the same ideas.
The Holy Spirit came and made the disciples more diverse, even than they had been before.

I love the fact that someone thinks this rush of speaking in languages from Jews
is because of wine.
As if having some wine could give us the ability to speak a new language.
The work of the Holy Spirit in this way
was so new,
so amazing,
so profound,
no good excuses could be made to justify the event away.
Someone in the crowd tried to blame it on wine,
but we all know that was simply out of fear.
You can see the bystanders trying to push the idea away,
out of fear, out of wanting to stay away from the unknown.

Unfortunately, for many the gift of diversity looks like a threat.
The unknown quality of people being different from one another leads to fear.
Thankfully, this fear can be overcome.
Recognizing and accepting diversity does put us outside our comfort zones.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit,
and God doesn’t call us to be comfortable.
In a world increasingly separating into groups of like minded people who do not play well with people or groups who
are differently minded,
the world asks the grace of living into our gifts as diverse people.

However, everyone is different in this world.
Everyone deserves the dignity and respect which we each crave for ourselves.
Everyone is different and has different gifts.
One of the greatest gifts we can give another person
is acknowledging them as uniquely themselves.
It is only by working together,
using all the gifts which we bring to the table,
can we really ever accomplish anything.
The world is worth working with other people who are extremely different than us.
Not everyone can speak Spanish or German or Hindi or Swahili,
but the Holy Spirit has given us the gifts that we need in order to work together.

Many people feel that the church is, and has always been,
a place for people who all think, feel, believe, and look the same.
You have to be and act and speak in a particular way in order to be a part of the church.
Unfortunately, there are many parts of the church in which this is true.
There are rules governing what you can wear, what you can eat or drink,
who you can talk to, and so forth.

By no means am I advocating a standard of lawlessness or anarchy,
there are standards for being a follower of Jesus
however none of them are based on what clothing you wear
or what you can eat or drink.
In fact, Jesus would probably have broken any and all rules
given to him by the religious authorities of his own church
in order to be involved and part of the lives of the people who needed him.

Diversity is a strength, not one of the church’s greatest strengths,
though thankfully one that we are more and more recognizing the need for.
Here in this community, we have a range of diversity
Episcopalians, Lutherans, a few Catholics,
we have people who speak languages other than English,
we have people who are differently abled,
we have people who can program electronic devices,
and people who stay as far away from such devices as they can,
and all these diversities make for a better community.

We come together today to join our diverse hands
to be together as a community with different gifts
experiencing the Holy Spirit in this time and in this place,
so that when we go out into the world
we can meet God at work through the Holy Spirit
in all the diverse places and people we experience.
God sends us out to find ourselves and Him
in all the beautiful diversities of His creation.

Amen.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest in Charge at St. John’s, Franklin. 

Awareness

Anthony de Mello, Cynthia Borgeault, Richard Rohr and others write often about the relationship between awareness and spirituality.  Awareness equates to being willing and able to sit in one’s peripheral vision and invite the images to expand into one’s spiritual consciousness.  If so, one never needs to look far for sources, causes, and visions for prayer, nor for evidence of the Divine.

This Saturday morning, my personal loneliness was transcended being with five other men for breakfast.  One man’s affection for his son who was present and who is differently-abled manifested love of a deep and unknown origin.  I look up in time to make eye contact with a little girl at the table next to us who smiles and squeals with delight that someone has noticed her and smiled back to her.  Her parents and grandparents are confused.  The waitress, usually effervescent, sticks out her tongue to say good morning but clearly isn’t herself.  What’s wrong?  Motorcycle accident has left her with broken ribs.  No usual hugs on the way out.  A trip to Wegman’s brings a delightful encounter with the butcher.  And, miracle of miracles, I’ve purchased Mother’s Day cards for Vickie eight days early.   Aware that today permitted time to browse, so I did.  Need to find a card with a Black Lab.  A trip to Smoker Friendly brings a delightful visit with the person at the cash register.  Swapping stories of flying, I’m aware that I’m still recovering from the turbulent flights of yesterday and the twice-circling of Erie Airport before landing with my knuckles white by then.  All three places visited Saturday have “help wanted” signs out front.  With full employment, who will be interested in these jobs and what will they pay?  Interesting challenges.

Driving, I see from a distance a young boy is shooting baskets on this beautiful day.  Approaching it’s clear he has Downs’ syndrome but can dribble the basketball with grace and efficiency and has a pretty good jump shot.  I wonder about his parents and whether they hope to live one day longer than him or not?  Further down the road two very old adults begin the work of gardening for the year.  I imagine they have done this preparation countless times and have their own routine.  I wonder if they sit and enjoy creation also?  They weren’t smiling.  A bit further along and there are the tree trimming trucks preparing for some work in the neighborhood here in Erie.  All the assistants are young white men.  I say this only because where I live they would be Hispanic men and generally not young.  All the while awareness deepens about leaving St. Stephen’s and the grief about that ending and the perennial confusion about how relationships between clergy and laity continue when clergy leave.  With this insight comes the awareness that I’ve not prepared myself to leave.  The young man in the other apartment where I live, the son of the owners, ignores their rules and smokes in his apartment.  His Mom wants me to call her.  I don’t.  The smell makes my eyes water; why don’t I call?

All of the above in less than two hours and I’ve probably only sensed 10% of all that was taking place.  Awareness requires time and breath and space and prayer and solitude.  So many poets write about settling into all that surrounds us.  Mary Oliver is the best.  Her poems cannot make me slow down.  Not even reading them.  But a desire to connect with the Source of Life offers the invitation to expand awareness and absorb levels of God’s most beautiful creation.

The Rev. Alvin Johnson is Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation for the Diocese of NWPA. 

Ordination of Nicholas Evancho to the Priesthood

It’s a great day in the Kingdom, and especially in the Diocese of NWPA! Bishop Sean will ordain Nicholas Evancho to the priesthood on Saturday, June 2, at 2:00 PM at the Church of the Epiphany in Grove City, PA. All are welcome to attend.

To learn more about Nicholas’ journey to the priesthood, read Trusting the Call, about his decision to become a priest, and Who Knew There Were So Many Chipotles, a reflection from Nicholas on his first year of seminary.

Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile
the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those
whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours for ever. Amen.

Preaching for Congregational Vitality

This post originally appeared on the Diocese of Oklahoma’s News and Events page on April 30, 2018. 

By The Rev. Canon Susan Brown Snook, Canon for Church Growth and Development

What role does preaching play in leading a congregation toward vitality? Given that a priest’s best opportunity to communicate with parishioners each week is a 12-minute sermon, how can our preaching help a congregation grow, spiritually and numerically?

I posed this question to my good friend, the Rev. Dr. Adam Trambley, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Sharon, Pennsylvania. He offered some helpful ways to think about preaching.

First, he says, think of your preaching over a year or a multi-year period as one long sermon, “trying to create in effect a continuous sermon that weaves through an extended period of time. You’re not just thinking about what the readings say this morning. You’re thinking about where you want your congregation to go, and what to say about today’s lectionary, this congregation, and this community that will move you toward that place.”

Every congregation has its strengths and weaknesses, says Trambley. Following the Natural Church Development[1] approach, he points out that according to the theory, taking the next step in congregational vitality means shoring up a congregation’s weaknesses. Natural Church Development describes eight components of congregational vitality: empowering leadership, gift-based ministry, passionate spirituality, effective structures, inspiring worship, holistic small groups, need-oriented evangelism, and loving relationships. The weakest component of this mix is the one a congregation needs to improve to grow, spiritually and numerically.

Based on this theory, Trambley says, “you have to know where you’re going and what needs to be addressed, and you have to weave those together over time. If you want a congregation to change, you can’t just give one sermon that gives the answer, because 30% of the people won’t be there to hear it, and people don’t change that quickly anyway. Even a 4-week sermon series can be helpful, but that can lead to a situation where everyone says, okay, evangelism is the thing for Advent, but in Epiphany we’re moving on to something else!”

So if we know that evangelism, for instance, is the thing we need to work on over the next 18 months, then Trambley says we need to think about that component every week. “How can I touch on that issue in this sermon? It’s about slowly changing their language and their thinking so they come to expect that’s what we’re talking about, but not so they’re hit over the head with it as if they’re wrong. Instead, they’re just slowly introduced to this idea over and over again. You describe the ways scripture talks about this issue until it sinks in. You choose stories and illustrations that speak about that issue. When you preach, you’re constantly looking at ways you can give examples of where this is done in the community or the congregation, things you can lift up as ways you saw God at work this week. You praise the people you saw doing those things, without ever saying negative things about the places where it’s not happening. You lift it up so that people want to join in. You admit your own struggles with that component and you highlight any nascent growth you see happening in that area. It can’t all happen in one or three sermons.”

I asked how Trambley incorporates this approach with the scriptures in each Sunday’s lectionary readings. Of course he uses the lectionary, he says. But with four lectionary readings each Sunday, he says, “you can almost always find a point that helps people move in the direction you believe God is calling them to go. The point is to preach strategically, with an end in mind for the congregation. Even if the main point of that week’s sermon is another topic, and the focus of most sermons will be on another theme, I still try to find a place to spend at least a sentence or two on my long-term goal.”

“What I want to do over time,” explains Trambley, “is give people a language they don’t have that is positive and compelling and relates this area they need to grow in to the Christian faith, allows that to seep into the whole congregation, so if there’s one group that wants to take positive steps in that area, there’s room for that to happen. You’ve lifted it up, helped them see how it fits. Others might start taking small steps in that direction too.”

If you are a regular preacher in a congregation, how have you used your preaching to support congregational vitality? How have you preached to develop disciples and move the congregation toward mission? I would like to hear your stories. Contact me at CanonSusan@epiok.org.

The Rev. Canon Susan Brown Snook
Canon for Church Growth and Development
Email: CanonSusan@epiok.org 

 

[1] This approach is described by Christian Schwarz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches (ChurchSmart Resources, 1996).

Time for the Diocesan Picnic at Waldameer!

The Diocesan Picnic at Waldameer is just around the corner! This great opportunity for worship, fellowship and fun will be held on Sunday, June 17, 2018.  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 $24.00 per person (with a $100 maximum per immediate family), which includes food, rides, and the water park (normal price per person would be $39.35). 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 4th.  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 be split into two accounts, with 60% of the proceeds being placed in a scholarship fund for Camp Nazareth and 40% of the proceeds becoming available for youth ministry grants for our congregations (information and applications for this grant are available on the diocesan website).

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!