Seek the Face of God

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(The Epiphany, BCP p. 214 )

An epiphany, an encounter with the living God, is sometimes fleeting – a moment in time where we know that we know God is powerfully present. And while the above collect is beautifully worded, it can easily be misconstrued to mean we will only see God face to face in the heavenly hereafter. That is not true.

We see the face of God in everyone we meet. We see the face of God in those we love and in those we barely know. We see the face of God in the poor, the homeless, the outcast and the lonely. Intellectually we know this to be true, but it is much harder to live into this reality because to do so requires much of us.

First it requires an awareness of the other – an acknowledgment that everyone is beloved of God. This is true regardless of their skin color, political persuasion, social status, or income. Second, it requires listening to the other. Listening is a powerful way to bring someone into the fullness of who they were created to be. This is as true of a young child as it is those who are frail and at the end of their years. Their faces light up as they tell their stories. We see the face of God in others also when we take action to relieve suffering. Sometimes this requires hands on work at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Other times it requires sharing our financial resources. Most times it simply means putting someone else’s needs ahead of our own.

The season of Epiphany ushers in a new year full of hope and promise. My prayer is that as we seek the face of God, there will be a double blessing – first for those we encounter, and second for ourselves. May you all have a very blessed New Year.

The Rev. Canon Martha Ishman is Rector at St. James, Titusville, and Canon for Mission Development and Transition for the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

DioNWPA Year in Review: 2018

It’s been a busy year in the diocese: our first church plant in 50 years was consecrated, there were baptisms and confirmations and an ordination to the priesthood, we made history by embarking on a collaboration with the Diocese of Western New York, and so much more. To commemorate all this we’ve put together a little highlight video of diocesan events from throughout the year – we hope you enjoy it.

Have a blessed New Year, and we’ll see what God has in store for us in 2019!

Called For Prayer and Service

“Lord, what would you have me do” is the final sentence in the motto of The Order of the Daughters of the King.  It is both a prayer and a call to serve. We, as a lay order of Episcopal women, pray daily to hear God’s call to serve our parish and our community.  The Daughters of the King in this diocese recently answered His call for prayer and service by participating in two very different activities this fall.

We answered His call to prayer at the recent joint convention of the Dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York in Niagara Falls. When the announcement of a joint convention was made, Daughters in NWPA sought to contact Daughters from WNY to plan a joint activity. Alas, we learned there were no chapters in that diocese, and so we contacted Daughters from that Province. Two Daughters from Albany joined Grace Chapter from St. John’s in Franklin and Martha Chapter from Trinity in New Castle to offer prayer for those in attendance at the convention. A prayer table with candles and prayer request cards was set up in the rear of the meeting room. Attendees were encouraged to use the cards and place their prayer requests in a container on the table. We were astounded by the number of prayer requests which we instantly relayed to our members at home.  Prayer was offered in real time and we continued to pray for the petitions for another 30 days.  We also set up a table with information about the Order in the break area and we were delighted with the interest shown by the convention attendees. Plans are being made to visit a number of churches to give informational talks.

Our call to serve was answered by participating in a joint project with WELCA (Women of the Evangelical Church of America): the Lily Project. The Lily Project is a collaborative effort involving women from Good Hope Lutheran Church in Oil City and Grace Chapter of the Daughters of the King at St. John’s, Franklin. The purpose of the project is to assist women who have been victims of rape or sexual assault. These women often come to the ER with damaged clothing or must surrender their clothing as evidence of their assault.  We know this can be dehumanizing and adds to the trauma of the assault, so the Lily Project provides them with fresh clothing and a prayer for God’s comfort and peace. We have collected donations of underclothing, socks, loose athletic pants and t-shirts. These items are placed in a gift bag with a pack of tissues and a prayer square. Each size from small to extra large is placed in a bin marked with the size and then delivered to five area hospitals with a promise to replace items as they are used.

If you are interested in more information about the Order of the Daughters of the King, you can go to the website doknational.org or contact Kathy Paulo at St. John’s, Franklin.

Kathy Paulo is a member of St. John’s, Franklin. 

Letter to the Episcopal Church from the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies

Statute of Limitations Suspension for Clergy Sexual Misconduct Begins
January 1, 2019

Advent 2018

Dear People of God in the Episcopal Church:

Nearly a year ago, we issued a call for the church to examine its history and come to a fuller understanding of how we have handled or mishandled cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse through the years. In particular, we asked to hear voices from the wider church at General Convention so that deputies and bishops might consider both how to atone for the church’s past and shape a more just future. As followers of Jesus of Nazareth, as children of God with all people, we could do no less, and we must do more.

In July, General Convention considered 26 resolutions and one memorial addressing  issues the #MeToo movement has brought to light, many of them developed by the House of Deputies Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation. One of these resolutions, Resolution D034, suspends for three years the canon (church law)  that places a time limit on initiating proceedings in cases of clergy sexual misconduct against adults. There is no time limit on reporting clergy sexual misconduct against children and youth under age 21.

As a result of this resolution, from January 1, 2019 until December 31, 2021, those who wish to bring a case of sexual misconduct against a member of the clergy will be able to do so, regardless of how long ago the alleged misconduct occurred. Allegations of misconduct can be made to the intake officer in the diocese where the alleged misconduct occurred, or, if the allegation is against a bishop, to the Office of Pastoral Development. You can learn how to reach the intake officer in a diocese by checking its website or calling the bishop’s office.

We hope that this temporary suspension of the statute of limitations will be one way for the church to come to terms with cases of sexual misconduct in our collective past. Between now and General Convention in 2021, laypeople, clergy and bishops appointed to several task forces created by the 2018 General Convention will be working on other ways of addressing these issues, including a process to help the church engage in truth-telling, confession, and reconciliation regarding our history of gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence.

We are grateful to the many deputies, bishops and other volunteers across the church whose careful work before, during, and after General Convention is helping our church move closer to the day when, having repented of our sins and amended our common life, we may be restored in love, grace and trust with each other through our Savior Jesus Christ.

Faithfully,

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry                   The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
Presiding Bishop and Primate                        President, House of Deputies

Blue Christmas Service to be Held in Kane

There is a very active and collegial ministerial association in Kane.  Each month pastors and a few lay leaders from our many churches get together for lunch and spend an hour or two planning for the usual community worship services, a joint vacation bible school, and church participation in other local events.  

We also discuss community problems such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and mental health issues that isolate people from one another. It seems that for the last several months there have been many funerals of both elderly members of our congregations, and as a result of unexpected deaths of younger people. In a town the size of Kane, where we all know one another, the losses, whether of loved ones, employment, or health, are shared losses, and deeply felt, especially as the holidays approach.  

And so it was that at our October meeting, Pastor Jan brought up the idea of having an ecumenical “Blue Christmas” service for people who have suffered a loss of a loved one, or are dealing with other problems that can make holidays difficult and depressing. She had gathered information from a few websites and from other churches in our area which have held such an event.  After a bit of discussion, a committee was formed to look at the idea further.

When the Blue Christmas committee met, we brought together a wealth of materials from many denominations and traditions. We had each collected scripture, litanies, prayers, poems and music. I found several selections on Episcopal Church websites, as well as in our Year C Planning for Rites and Rituals resource book.  

As we discussed what we had pulled together, we recognized that feelings of loss and hopelessness are not limited to adults. Children are deeply affected when a family has experienced a crisis. Heather, one of our youngest pastors, volunteered to have a separate gathering on site for elementary aged children using books and activities that she had pulled together.  She is also looking into bringing in a service dog which is trained to work especially with children in emotional distress.

As the plan for a candlelight service began to form in our minds, we chose the evening of Friday, December 21, the longest night of the year, as the date.  St. John’s was chosen for the location because of its intimate size and comforting atmosphere. Pastor David with his years of chaplain experience will present a homily, and we hope to have a counselor from Hospice speak as well. There will be clergy and lay persons from all of the churches leading the worship time.  Music will include both traditional hymns, Taize, and instrumental, but not Christmas carols as such, since they can be powerful emotional triggers.  Following the service we have planned a time of fellowship with refreshments, as well as the opportunity for people to talk with clergy and other professional counselors. 

With our initial publicity about this event, we have had good feedback so far, and a lot of interest.  We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this endeavor that we may touch the hearts and minds of many who are suffering, and help them to begin to heal.

Becky Harris is a member of St. John’s, Kane. 

Editor’s Note: All are welcome to attend the Blue Christmas Service at St. John’s on Friday, December 21 at 7:00 PM.

Advent is Different

What we Americans call “The Holidays” begins on Thanksgiving (or before) and continues through New Year’s Day. It is a time of eating, drinking, and spending, with distinctive decorations, sounds, and stories, and with a seemingly endless round of activities. It is also a time of generosity and service to those in need. It puts before us images and expectations of happy families and friends, with everything coming together just right, maybe even a “Christmas miracle.”

While some of us do experience such happiness, or some of it, many of us are painfully confronted with other realities – loneliness, loss, family tension, stress, exhaustion, and a sense of disappointment, if not failure. “The Holidays” are probably a mixed bag for most of us. How welcome, then, is the gift of Advent.

Advent is different from “The Holidays” even though it happens at roughly the same time. It looks, feels, smells, and sounds different. It holds off the Church’s celebration of Christmas until December 25, a celebration that is then kept for Twelve Days, continuing past the time when “The Holidays” have been packed up and put away. Thankfully, the Episcopal Church does a pretty good job of keeping Advent in all its difference, because we need it.

I used to be quite Puritan about all this, wanting the whole world to keep Advent and to keep Christmas away until the 25th. But it is a losing battle and only leads to frustration and needless isolation. “The Holidays” are our culture’s way of marking the end of the year and I join in, trying to make the best of its joys while being sensitive to its difficulties.  Advent in the Church, then, becomes a welcome space apart and away from what is going on all around us. It offers something different, something which allows for reflection and perspective.

That would be welcome enough in itself, but Advent also provides us with an opportunity to be honest about life’s difficulties. The readings, music, and prayers put us in touch with the prophets, with John the Baptist, and with Mary and Joseph before Jesus was born. They allow us to see and admit that all is not right with the world, including with ourselves, and they also invite us to hope in a God who will put things right, even if that is hard to see at the moment.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu often told how, during the Apartheid years in South Africa, he would go around telling suffering people that God was in charge. Then he would go to his prayers and ask God, “Why can’t you make it more obvious that you are in charge?’ That is the spirit of Advent. And that spirit will take us to Christmas with honest and open hearts, remembering that the baby of Bethlehem became the young man who was executed on the cross and rose from the dead, filling us with Holy Spirit, inviting us to trust that God is love.

 

The Very Rev. Dr. John P. Downey is Dean of the Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie. 

 

Advent Resources for 2018

Ordinary time is now behind us, and December 2 marks the beginning of the Advent season. Time flies in this busy world of ours! Since Advent is a time of waiting and preparation, we’ve gathered a few resources below to help us slow down and prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Lord. Feel free to share your Advent preparation recommendations in the comments!

Videos

What is Advent? – a short explanation of Advent (from Concordia Publishing House)

Advent in 2 Minutes – What is Advent all about, and how is it different from Christmas? (from Busted Halo)

The Most Popular Advent Carols Ever Written – a 3 hour compilation of classical choral music for Advent

Online Devotionals and Articles 

#AdventWord – Create a global Advent calendar using your phone! A full explanation of how to participate is available here. (from the Society of St. John the Evangelist)

The Joy of Waiting – An Advent reflection by the Reverend David Sellery (from the Episcopal Cafe)

Advent and Christmas Resources – A collection of resources for both individual and congregation use (from The Episcopal Church)

Advent Reflections from the Forward – reflections from Advents past from the DioNWPA blog

Activities for Home

7 Advent Calendar Crafts for Kids – Sometimes homemade is more fun! Seven different ideas for Advent calendars, including a Blessings Jar made with popsicle sticks. (from The Spruce Crafts)

Printable Advent Activity Cards – includes 60 ideas for family participation in Advent, including attending a nativity play, donating to a local food bank, and reading from the Gospel

Ask the Bishop #13

The latest installment of our “Ask the Bishop” series has arrived! Bishop Sean discusses making history at the joint convention of the Diocese of Western New York and the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, his upcoming sabbatical, and preparing to move into the future.

The bishop will be on sabbatical beginning in December until February 23.  While he is away, the diocesan staff is prepared to manage the day to day workings of the diocese and meet your needs. They can be reached by phone at 814.456.4203, or by email at the individual addresses here.

Make Quiet Happen

Every time I have made a big decision without pausing, listening and waiting, it hasn’t worked out too well. Each time I’ve rushed into a solution, forced a solution, demanded a solution right now, I find myself disappointed, frustrated and stuck.

But when I make room for the Holy Spirit, when I allow myself the time to get quiet and listen for the “next right thing,” I am energized, satisfied and on the move to where it is God wants me to go.

Getting quiet – easier said than done! In our 24/7 world, being quiet is tough. But even if you get the external noise to abate, shutting down the internal noise is a whole other proposition. Internal noise is cunning and relentless.

I have experienced anxiety my entire life, and one of the enemies of anxiety is quiet. If there’s background noise—music, the tv—my anxious brain won’t engage in the “what ifs, how about this, what about that, why can’t I, why did they….” dance. This dance leaves no room for the Holy Spirit to move and no space in my heart for discernment.

I need to “make quiet happen.” This can be driving without the radio playing so that I am alone with my thoughts enough to stop the internal talking and begin the deep listening. It can be taking the dogs out for a walk and never looking at my phone; it can be setting my phone to a quiet mode from 9 at night until 6 in the morning; it can be taking a moment every hour to breathe deeply and to stretch out my back. It can be standing outside, feet firmly on the ground, arms out-stretched and face turned toward the sky. It can be a nap.

I have worked hard to find out what works for me, and I encourage you to find what works for you.

Whatever takes you out of the distractions and places you into the here and the now will open you to the working of the Holy Spirit.

I find that getting myself out of my own head and reorienting myself as one small piece of the vastness that is God’s creation helps, a lot. When I realize that I am just one piece of a much greater whole, when I can breathe deeply and stand firmly, when I allow the quiet to envelop me, the Holy Spirit speaks to me, my imagination is engaged and the possibilities for my life are unleashed.

I guess my message is to hurry up and slow down! Make being quiet part of your routine, and then prepare yourself to be prodded, poked and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. For it is when we can receive the message of the Holy Spirit that discernment happens.

It is there and it is then, that we discover just who it is our gracious and life-giving God intends us to be. Enjoy the ride!

The Rev. Canon Cathy Dempesy-Sims is Canon for Connections in the Diocese of Western New York. 

A Message from Bishop Sean

Dear Friends,

As we approach the season of Advent and look to a new Church year, I want to take this opportunity to share some news with you about our future together with Western New York and a time of sabbatical for me.  As you know, I completed four and a half years as Bishop provisional of the Diocese of Bethlehem in September. I am so grateful for the experience and for the gifts our diocese shared with our brothers and sisters in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Last week, our two dioceses approved an arrangement whereby I will serve as the Bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York and remain bishop in this diocese for five years beginning April 5, 2019. This move made history in The Episcopal Church as the first such experiment structured in this way. Leave it to the good people of our region to take a risk in leading the Church.

In preparation for this new season, I will take a time of sabbatical beginning December 3 and ending February 24.  This will be a time of reflection, prayer, discernment, and continuing education. I plan to disconnect from the life of the diocese during this time and appreciate your understanding.

As you are aware, the diocesan administration is in good hands.  The diocesan staff is prepared to address the day to day operations of the diocese and meet your needs.

These past 11 years as your bishop have been a joy-filled privilege. I look forward to the next season with great anticipation.

Warmest regards and prayers for each of you,

+ Sean