“Listen to the Whisper” ECW’s Annual Retreat at Chautauqua

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The Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania’s Episcopal Church Women will be hosting their annual retreat at the Chautauqua Institution on September 17th.  The retreat will feature speaker Sandi Matts, author of Listen to the Whisper – Freedom in the Midst of the Storm.

Sandi was born and raised in Erie, PA, and is part of the core team and a speaker at the “Discover the Woman Within Series,” and the “Life in the Spirit Series”.  She also serves on the healing ministry at her church. From her personal page: “My mission is to share love, life and God’s light with the world.  To inspire others to believe in their individual giftedness and to recognize blessings in the midst of life’s storms.”  

All are welcome!  Registration is $20 for Saturday and is due by September 10th. Registration includes a continental breakfast and lunch.

If you have questions or wish to make a reservation contact dianepyle@windstream.net  or maryblaineprince@atlanticbb.net

Meet Mother Elizabeth

As I walk into the main office at St. John’s in Franklin on Friday morning to meet with their new priest, I’m surprised by all the activity going on. It’s still early, but I’m Mother Elizabeth Yale’s third appointment of the day. She greets me graciously and introduces me to the finance team as they make their way out, then invites me to step into her office.

I ask how she’s settling in as we sit down. She’s only been at St. John’s since mid-July, but already she’s going full steam ahead. “I’m completely unpacked! That’s an accomplishment!” she smiles. “And I’ve reorganized the office.” Everything is tidy, right down to the desk that has her laptop and a tiny model spaceship on it. It’s a lot more efficient than my workspace, that’s for certain!

While Mother Elizabeth may be new to St. John’s in Franklin, she is no stranger to the Episcopal church in Pennsylvania. She is originally from Bethlehem, PA, and she and her family were active members at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in the Diocese of Bethlehem. She was also ordained to the diaconate by our own Bishop Sean the day after he became the provisional bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem!

When I ask what made her decide on her vocation, she says she was drawn to the priesthood from very early on. “I decided at the ripe old age of 10 that I needed to be in the church, and the best place for me in the church was to be a priest.”

She participated in just about every church ministry open to her at that age and into her teen years, and the community at the Cathedral knew her well. So well, in fact, that even though she didn’t really tell anyone about her desire to enter the priesthood, her church family suggested the possibility to her frequently. Archdeacon Rick Cluett sent her to attend a retreat weekend for teenagers interested in ministry because he thought it was where she needed to be. The Rev. William Lane, dean of the cathedral at the time, personally came to her middle school Sunday school class and spoke to the students about what it was like to be a priest, mainly because everyone thought Elizabeth was interested. When she formally announced her intention to go to seminary, several members of the congregation came to her with stories about the exact time they knew she was going to be a priest.

Before attending seminary Mother Elizabeth did undergraduate work at Allegheny College in Meadville, where she double majored in mathematics and religious studies. “I wasn’t going to study religion since I knew I was going into seminary, and then couldn’t help myself and started taking religious studies classes.” Mathematics and religious studies might seem like two very different sides of school, but Mother Elizabeth says that taking a variety of classes as an undergrad has aided her ministry. “[It] helps me to converse with people, since so much of my job is relational.”

After finishing at Allegheny College, she went on to seminary at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. I asked her if there was anything she wished they would have taught in Seminary – “more accounting classes!” It seems that pure mathematics and accounting are very different things, and there’s a lot of accounting when it comes to running a church!

Once she finished seminary Mother Elizabeth took a position as curate and chaplain at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Houston, TX. She says there was some initial culture shock moving down South, but overall she enjoyed the city. People in the area were sometimes surprised that she was a priest, though – one person even mistook her for a college student while she was wearing her clerical collar!

She had been working in Houston for about two years when Bishop Sean called and asked her to visit Franklin and consider becoming the priest of St. John’s. “Going into it I wasn’t sure I really wanted to visit Franklin, but when I got here I loved it. I felt like this is where God was calling me, and that hopefully I would be the right fit for them… I look forward to building the Kingdom here, seeing not where I’m going but where the church is going. I’m more interested in what we can do together, and where people can surprise me, because that’s always the best thing.”

Mother Elizabeth’s other interests include children and school ministry, writing poetry, the inter-relation of science and religion, and being the family of God. She is also a science fiction fan (the model I noticed earlier on her desk is a light up replica of the original Starship Enterprise given to her by a friend).

If you’re ever in the Franklin area, be sure to stop by St. John’s and welcome Mother Elizabeth to the diocese!

Megin Sewak, Communications Specialist, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

“Talking God” – Book Review

Talking God: Preaching to Contemporary Congregations by Albert R. Cutié

A Review by Adam Trambley

talking godAlbert Cutié’s Talking God is a short, accessible book that reads like a coffee conversation on preaching with a thoughtful and experienced practitioner.  Albert Cutié, known to many as “Padre Alberto”, had a daily talk show broadcast to a national and international audience, as well as a column in the Miami Herald’s Spanish language publication.  Originally ordained a Roman Catholic priest, Cutié joined the Episcopal Church in 2009 and preached at the 2012 General Convention.  Talking God is a based on his Doctor of Ministry thesis.

Talking God is filled with interesting tidbits and thought-provoking ideas.  His first chapter looks at six preachers of the past four hundred years. He talks about the vocal quality of preaching used by John Wesley, the ways that Bishop Sheen engaged a wide American audience, and credibility and connection that Joyce Meyer’s use of her own personal experiences offers.  In other chapters, he looks at topics including the ways that new technology is changing people’s listening habits and the importance of the proper use of humor in homilies.  To connect with contemporary audiences, he discusses the need for enthusiasm, creativity, prayer, and sermon structure. He also shares his strong opinion on the importance of not preaching from a text and the importance of preachers focusing on the delivery, as well as the content, of their messages.

While Cutié provides much for preachers to ponder, he offers little in terms of concrete advice that would help a reader implement his ideas.  His idea of having a sermon evaluated by small group of people each week is excellent, but the tool he provides is far from the best sermon-evaluation instrument available.  Anyone looking for help developing the kind of effective sermon structure Cutié advocates will need to look elsewhere. (I personally recommend Paul Scott Wilson’s The Four Pages of A Sermon as a starting place.)  Some of his other points, such as his experiences with technology in worship and even his opposition to full-text preaching, come from his personal experience with no data to back up his claims.  What he says is worth thinking about, but others may disagree based on their own contexts.

Cutié’s book is a helpful one to those interested in thinking about the craft of preaching and how it is changing.  While he provides few compelling answers, the questions Cutié raises are important ones for preachers and the future of the church.

Rev. Adam Trambley is Rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Sharon, PA

Gold Medal Ministry – the VBS Olympics

Creating a Vacation Bible School from scratch may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it! It is an opportunity to flex my creative muscles and work with some pretty fantastic people. It was only a few years ago that I was introduced to the idea of creating my own VBS by Pr. Joie Baker while working with the churches in Sharon and Hermitage. There has been no looking back.

In my last four summers with St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fairview, our VBS participants have been superheroes, spies, sailors, and Olympians. This being an Olympic summer, it only made sense to link this great DSC_9851world-wide tradition with stories from the Bible. Using the values of the Olympics and Paralympics – friendship, respect, equality, courage, inspiration, excellence, and determination –  each day we explored them within the stories of Ruth and Naomi, the Good Samaritan, David and Goliath, Nehemiah, and the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The themes are highlighted in a rotation of daily activities: music, science/art, storytelling/snack, and games. We keep our VBSers and volunteers busy the entire two and a half hours they are here.

It is quite amazing to see God at work in this ministry over the last few years, guiding us in steady growth. In 2013,DSC_0368 we hosted 27 children and about 13 volunteers. This summer, we hosted 55 children and had 27 volunteers! It is
hard to find the words to express the amazing community that continues to be built around this ministry. We see many of the same families, as well as meet new ones, and it is so much fun to watch the children grow from year to year.

I will be honest, as I really started thinking about VBS back in April, my biggest concern was not having enough volunteers for the number of children that I anticipated. It is all well and good to have an influx of children, but you absolutely need the adults to match it. I was overwhelmed by the response to my plea for volunteers from around our St. Stephen’s community. We had members of the church, Nursery School teachers, parents, grandparents, and teens offer to share their gifts with us for the week.  It was a comfort to know that we could handle a significant amount of kids in a fun and safe environment.

DSC_0039Volunteers are the heart of this ministry and, I believe, are the reason for our success. Ministries within the church are about lifting up and sharing the gifts that God has given us for continual building of the Kingdom, which is something that I strive to do within a VBS program. Being able to mold your program to the strengths of the volunteers is one of the benefits of creating your own program. The volunteers have just as much fun as the children who participate. And in the end, VBS is truly a team effort.

While much of our program remains the same, we are constantly evaluating it and finding ways to improve. One of the things that I am already thinking about for next summer is how to accommodate further growth. There is always something to adjust from year to year, but that is part of the fun!

Vacation Bible School is a great ministry that all churches can offer. It is a DSC_9741wonderful way to engage both the church and the wider community. It also brings a wide range of ages together to learn and share with each other about the love of Christ. As I said before, I love Vacation Bible School. It is an important and worthwhile ministry that I am always happy to talk about and share with others.

Missy Greene Christian Formation Associate at St. Stephen’s, Fairview

Roots and Renovation – Growing a Movement

God has great plans for a specific hill in Millcreek Township – that hill is the land upon which St. Mark’s is situated.  Many of you are aware of the exciting things happening at St. Mark’s.  Over the past five years, St. Mark’s has grown from an average Sunday attendance of around 50 to 150!  The faithful people of St. Mark’s have taken to heart the calling of the resurrected Christ in the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  They have developed a regular practice of inviting friends, family, and co-workers to church.  And they are committed to continually fostering a deeper sense of community, connectivity, and formation through small groups, house groups, Bible studies, outreach ministries, alternative worship experiences, and much more.

Beyond being committed to programmatic and experiential opportunities, the people of St. Mark’s also realize that it’s time to make the physical Parish Hallbuilding of St. Mark’s reflect the Spirit and needs of a growing community.  The current parish hall and church have been basically untouched since their completion in 1961 and 1965.  And let’s face it; brown asbestos tile, cinderblock walls, military green bathrooms, broken windows, no gathering area, and a lack of air conditioning don’t tell a newcomer that a church is alive and growing in Christ in the year 2016.  Even more importantly, the congregation has exceeded the capacity of the current parish hall and is aware of the need to create space for the next 100+ worshippers yet to join to St. Mark’s.

This realization was the birth of our capital campaign and building project.  The congregation fully met their campaign goal of $600,000 and with financial assistance from Diocesan Council, St. Mark’s is Bathroomscurrently in the process of preparing the hill for a 1700 sq. ft. addition to our parish hall and kitchen to include proper storage, kitchen equipment, carpeting, lighting, drywall, and new windows.
A gathering area will also be added to the front of the church to create a space for people to mingle and live further into our practice of welcome and hospitality.  Enlarged and fully renovated restrooms are also part of the plan.  And all of the above mentioned areas will have commercial HVAC!

The church space itself is also being enhanced with new LED lighting (as most of the peak lighting has been burned out since the late 1980s).  And the balcony will be renovated to serve as overflow seating for larger attended liturgies.  As with any building project, there will be things done to the property that won’t been seen, but are necessary to the current and future development of the hill.  We are upgrading the electrical service, installing new electrical panels, abating all asbestos, and creating a land development and stormwater management plan for the long-term growth and development of the hill.

Even though demolition has only been happening for a few weeks, there have been some fun discoveries along the way.  There is a 12-foot stained glass window from the original St. Mark’s building (formerly located at 10th and French Streets) in the corner Trinitarian Stained Glassof the boiler room featuring some wonderful Trinitarian and Eucharistic themes waiting to be resurrected and put into ministry again.  Also, the bell tower came down for restoration allowing us the chance to read the bell.  The bell was made by the Aspinwall Bell Company in 1831 – it’s amazing to think that our bell has been calling Christians to worship for 185 years!  So while St. Mark’s appears to be on the surface a simple 1960s A-frame church, we are discovering our roots and praying that from those roots grow a great movement in the name of Jesus Christ unlike anything ever seen before in our region.  Stop up sometime; I’d love to show you around!

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

Wrap-Up Post from the DR Mission Team

‘I would like to see Senor Hidalgo.’ This is how my morning begins on Saturday: with an inquiry to see the customs official at the Santiago airport. I’m shown into a small office with dingy lights, one high-heeled shoe lying ominously next to the metal-framed desk. A previous misadventure with customs? I briefly contemplate what my Brooks sneaker would look like next to it, before snapping out of it. I’m never very rational or clear-headed at 3:30am.

Hidalgo appears, in his official uniform, with a ring of keys. ‘You’re here too early.’ He says, looking only briefly at the carbon form in my hands, while unlocking a door to a larger room where I glimpse the two bags that are my reason for being here. With the dim lights and the carbon paper and the suspense, I really feel like I’m in a film noir set in 1940. ‘Too early?’ I reply back, really not liking where this seems to be leading. I want the two bags of our 640 pairs of glasses to take back to America, and I want them now, not later. Who knows what the line is like at immigration? ‘You must wait,’ he says. That’s when I wish it were a movie, because then I’d be some super cool CIA person with karate skills and the ability to teach Hidalgo a real lesson. Instead, I’m a puny priest with no real arm muscles and only a passing knowledge of Spanish.

‘No. No. I’m not waiting. We are not too early; your airport website says arrive 3 hours early. I am taking the glasses. I am going to Delta. You can come with me, but I am going. Now. Right now.’ At least that is what I think I said- this is all happening in Spanish- in my most defiant tone with blazing eyes. A long pause, hands on my hips; heart beats shallow, anger pulsing behind my eyes as I try to think of my next move, but I can’t because it is 3:30am, and I’ve not had any coffee.

Then he looks at the man with him, in a regular button-down shirt, round faced and younger. A decision is made as they point me to the door and grab the cart with the glasses. I become the ringleader of a parade through the outdoor airport, complete with a giant cart holding the big black bags and two customs officials. They escort me to the Delta check-in and wait with me until I check the glasses, procuring copies of my tickets and baggage tags before giving me a stack of stapled papers they assure me I’ll need in the US, which I put away because no one in the US cares about 640 pairs of glasses, all looking like they came from 1982. Only Hidalgo cared.

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And that is probably the only ‘rational’ explanation for why our vision clinic never happened this past week. Let me be clear: no one we worked with anticipated any trouble. The company from whom we rented the equipment and bought the glasses sends teams all over the world- often to the DR- with little trouble; the American missionary in the DR, who plans our trip, works with teams that do vision clinics and has never encountered an issue. The priest at Christo Salvador also did not anticipate this problem. Over the course of the week, Father Hipolito made repeated phone calls and visits to the airport; the diocese involved their government liaison. Despite having the paperwork all finished on Wednesday, customs refused to give the glasses back. I feel quite relieved even to have received them back to take home.

The losers in this are the people of the barrio where we work. They were signed up for appointments. The last day, a little girl asked Tina about glasses; it was the worst feeling in the world to say ‘no, no glasses.’ I have sent scans of the paperwork I received back to the missionary in the DR to try and get an answer, but I remain unsure whether we will have an answer. By no means was the week a waste of time, but this was undeniably disappointing. We will do our best to figure out what went wrong and make an informed decision about next year.

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In wrapping up this blog, I would like to extend an enormous ‘thank you’ to those who kept us in your prayers and to the churches and individuals who supported us financially. Without the assistance and commitment of our sponsors, we could not have gone. The team is grateful for their support of this ‘one church’ endeavor that grows the kingdom and changes lives.

– Melinda Hall

Post from Friday of DR Mission Trip

The dreaded time has come to say our goodbyes. We were only here for a short period of time,  and made such a huge impact on the kids’ lives. Just by being here for a little while the kids even made an impact on me. Despite what happens in the children’s lives, they came to Vacation Bible School and forgot whatever was the matter at home, and had a huge smile on their face. They also loved playing with my hair every day! I cannot wait to come next year and see the kids again. I am going to miss them so much. They were so cheerful to see us come and happy we were having fun too. By the end of the week we had 73 kids. This is a lot for the community the church is located in. The first day we had about 45 children show up.  They loved the games and crafts we had for them. For this being my first time being out of the country and first mission trip, I was scared of the different culture and food.  Once we got here Friday, I noticed a lot of things were the same and not a lot different from home. The food was different but I tried a lot of news things, including rice, fried eggplant, and papaya.

-Abby Wheeler

Post from Thursday of DR Mission Trip

Seeing the children waiting each morning, makes us smile. We are greeted with hugs and smiles. They are excited to learn new games and teach us their games. They are so happy to see ping pong balls and balloons and game time goes so quickly.

During craft time today, the teachers read ‘The Giving Tree’. The children then traced their hand to create a tree that they decorated with stickers to make ‘leaves’ of thanks. As we helped them trace their hands we noticed how they were sharing crayons and helping each other draw leaves.

This week is going very quick. Even though it’s not going the exact way we planned, each day we are reminded of how this partnership in the DR is truly as blessing for all of our church family.

– Julie Westman – Church of Our Savior, DuBois

Post from Wednesday of DR Mission Trip

It’s after lunch, post worship on Sunday, and we’re all sitting around Fr. Hippolito’s table, having just eaten a load of flan to prove how grateful we are for the invitation.  The afternoon seems long and stretches out into a haze of humidity and heat, making me feel lazy and languid.  For a few minutes I have been following the conversation between Fr. Hippolito and our translator, Ernesto, listening particularly for how it is we’re getting back to the hotel, but the conversation is mostly about church.  I’ve been learning Spanish fairly diligently, so I am following along ok, but I find myself stuck on one word.  Finally I just ask what it is.

‘Oh,’ says Ernesto, ‘the word is templo.’  I am slightly confused because this sounds a lot IMG_9607like the word I just learned meaning earthquake.  Surely this is not the word.   ‘Um, what does it mean?’ I ask, Ernesto looking at me like I am really slow today.  ‘Templo, you know, the church building?’  No wonder he’s raised his eyebrows at me like I’ve lost it; that
should have been easy.  ‘Riiiiight!’ I chuckle with him.  ‘But wait, Ernesto, I learned iglesia means church.’  ‘Yeah,’ explains Ernesto, ‘Templo is the building but iglesia is the people.  You know?’

The laziness flees from my body as I sit bolt upright.  ‘For real?’ I say, totally captivated by this superb theology expressed linguistically.  ‘Yes.’ Ernesto says in a voice that is meant to convey his authority but also that he thinks I am slightly silly for the question.  ‘That is the best ever!’  Because it is.  Because think of all the time in English spent trying to parse the difference between the church where I attend and the place it physically occupies and
the church as the body of Christ, the gathered disciples.  The iglesia is what matters; templos are completely secondary.

IMG_9625This week in Santo Domingo is an iglesia experience, the one church gathered for kingdom work.  We talk a lot about being one church in our diocese, partnering together to do more and to support one another, and this relationship with the iglesia of Christo Salvador in the DR is an extension of that.  There is only one iglesia of Jesus Christ, and we’re all part of it- Americans, Dominicans- any Christ follower.  Being one church is what this is about.  It is not about running the perfect VBS or experiencing a new culture; it is not about ‘going on a mission trip’ or even holding a vision clinic.  It is
about partnering to bring the kingdom, to be Christ in the world.

For one week, we get to witness how the kingdom is unfolding in a different place and be part of it, to see what Jesus is up to in an entirely different barrio than our own.  We have the joy of supporting our brothers and sisters who work diligently and faithfully despite issues of poverty and development.  We have the privilege of developing relationships with people who seem so different and yet are so similar, people who like us pray for the kingdom to come and God’s will to be done.

Why partner and visit the DR?  Because we’re all one church, that’s why.  Because we are all in this together.   But we easily forget that, we even forget to be one church in the IMG_9622
diocese, as each templo gets consumed by parochial affairs.  This week reminds me that the Jesus movement is a global movement.  That the Spirit is loose, not only in my backyard, but all over the world, stirring up new things and overturning systems and inviting us to be part of her dance.  Being here opens my eyes, extends my vision, and sends me back differently.  We are one in Christ, we are the iglesia.

– Melinda Hall

Post from Tuesday of DR Mission Trip

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

The second day of vbs went well!! I was so excited to see many more children attend bible school this morning. The craft was amazing, and the children really enjoyed painting their corazon (heart).  Today, two amazing girls caught my eye we when singing during lunchtime. Everyone here is so compassionate and despite the rain that fell today, it didn’t stop us from having a good time. I’m excited for what the rest of the week brings us. Prayers for our eye clinic! 

-Stephanie Onyeiwu, Christ Church Meadville