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!

Special Bonus Edition of “Ask the Bishop”

It’s a special edition of “Ask the Bishop”!

Join us as we chat with Bishop Bill Franklin of the Diocese of Western New York about highlights of his bishopric, his prayer for the Buffalo Bills, and his “Stair Dance”. Check it out below:

Diocesan Summer Camp 2018 “Seek the Truth”

Do you like to swim, play sports and games, make crafts, hike, climb a ropes course, or make new friends? If you do, our Diocesan Summer Camp has something for you and more!

Camp is for students who have completed 2nd through 12th grade. Three separate programs are run during the week. Kids Camp is 2nd to 5th grade. Middle School Camp is 6th to 8th grade. High School Camp is 9th to 12th grade.

Camp will take place from June 10 – 16 at Camp Nazareth. The theme this year is “Seek the Truth.” Campers will work in small groups for bible study, discussion, and activities. Worship happens daily.

Camp Nazareth is located in Mercer, PA. It is surrounded by forest with well-marked hiking trails. The camp’s amenities include a pool, basketball court, softball field, high and low ropes course, a chapel, and cabins with showers and bathrooms inside. Each cabin is staffed by adult counselors. Our staff is drawn from volunteers across the diocese.

The cost per camper is $345. However, the first 100 registrations received or postmarked by May 29 will receive a $65 scholarship to reduce the fee to $280.

Registration and deposit payment may be made online at http://dionwpacamp.org/forms/. If registering online, adults will still need to print, sign, and send the consent forms with their child to camp. A camp brochure, consent form if registering online, and printable application form are available to download at the camp website.  Please contact Dennis Blauser at 724-699-3747 or frdenny@earthlink.net for more information.

Camp is the best week of the summer! We hope that you’ll be a part of it.

Book Review: “Walk in Love” by Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe

This article originally appeared at The Black Giraffe blog on Tuesday, April 17. 

When I read a draft of Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs and Practices, I was elated.  Here, finally, was the book about the Episcopal Church that I had wanted to give to inquirers for my entire ministry. The love that Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe have for their church infuses the entire volume, and their desire to explain their beloved church to others is thorough, readable, and insightful.

Three qualities make Walk in Love particularly valuable to anyone looking for a book about the Episcopal Church.  First, this volume focuses on the key elements of who we are from the perspective of what is most important to us, instead of trying to differentiate us from other flavors of Christianity.  The book opens with the liturgy and the sacraments, which are the central elements of our worship and a key experience for our common life.

Second, this volume is thorough, covering a lot of ground to describe many important aspects of our faith. After the sacraments, Gunn and Shobe look at how we pray at different times, our basic beliefs, how the church is structured, the Trinity, and how we live out our faith more deeply. At 338 pages, the book is long, but the chapters are short, with each section broken up into easily digestible pieces.

Finally, the book is accessible, with a clear organization, personal stories, reflection questions, pull-out boxes, and a writing style that doesn’t assume any particular background. Reading Walk in Love is like having two dedicated guides leading you through their favorite community, explaining what is happening, why it is happening, and why it is so important to them.  Gunn and Shobe are sharing how the Episcopal Church embodies and proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ.  Their work is generous and expresses the breadth of our traditions, lifting up aspects of our life that could be recognized in almost every Episcopal congregation.

The cover design is beautiful, and the binding is solid, especially for a large paperback volume.

As I noted in the blurb I gave to the editors after my initial reading, I believe that this book is the most comprehensive, and comprehensible, guide to Episcopal faith and practice available. It is perfect book for new comers, long-time members, and anyone in between.

Forward Movement is also publishing a free curriculum called Practicing Our Faith that is based on Walk in Love.  This curriculum will be available in the spring of 2018.

To order copies of Walk in Love, including bulk discounts, or to find out more about Practicing Our Faith, go to:

https://www.forwardmovement.org/Products/2463/walk-in-love.aspx

The Rev. Adam Trambley is rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon. 

Many Voices, Many Approaches, One Vision

What do you get when you combine a love for the church, strong collegiality, and a willingness to engage the difficult issues facing the church with honesty?  You get my experience of the latest clergy retreat.

I was invited by Bishop Sean and Vanessa to make a presentation at the diocesan clergy retreat this past February at Olmstead Manor.  It was an honor as a lay professional to be included in a clergy event, let alone make a presentation at such an event.  The openness and welcome I experienced from all of my clergy colleagues was a joy – there was a deep sense of mutuality and support for each of our ministries.

The entire retreat was a series of peer-led presentations on the future of the church and the issues associated with that future.  Presentations were given by John Downey, Stacey Fussell, Jason Shank, Melinda Hall, Bishop Sean, and myself.  Each of us come from very different congregations and contexts each with unique assets and challenges.

What was so exciting about the retreat was that all of our presentations acknowledged the challenges facing the Episcopal Church with honesty – mainly that mainline Christianity is in decline across our country.  Not only did we begin with the same basic premise, but each presentation ended with a love for the church, love for Jesus Christ, and the hope of the resurrection to be manifested in our diocese.

The most fascinating part of the presentations was how each of us through our individual contextual lenses addressed the challenges and how to resolve them for the sake of the Gospel.  Some of us focused on statistical trends, others on life cycles of churches, some on the need for planting churches, others on the church’s need to be more visible in the community, and I focused on the need for authentic relational community between three equally important entities: God, church leaders, and congregants.

Why did this retreat excite me?  Because the presentations showed just how diverse and gifted are the leaders of our diocese.  The Spirit of God manifested in powerful ways through those open, honest conversations showing us that innovation and resurrection are possible.  And not only are innovation and resurrection possible, but we have been given the resources on all levels of leadership from laity to clergy, from our smallest congregations to the diocese as a whole, to make the changes necessary to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our beloved Episcopal tradition for generations to come.  Now that’s Good News!

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

Feeding the Future (Part One)

One of the areas we’ve focused on as a diocese is collaboration, and more specifically, how pooling our resources and talents can lead to adaptive change not only in the church, but in our communities for the greater glory of God. While this can take several forms, one obvious area for change is outreach.

We’re fortunate in our diocese to have several congregations who’ve come together to increase the impact of their ministry. For this series, we’ll focus on the Snack Pack outreach project, a collaboration between St. Stephen’s in Fairview and St. Mark’s in Erie to aid youth attending the Erie Charter School of Excellence.

One might ask: Why pick a charter school to partner with for an outreach project? Generally charter schools aren’t thought of as institutions in need of aid, but this particular school and its target demographic are an exception to the rule. From the CSE website:

The Charter School of Excellence initially opened its doors for students on August 26, 2003 for the school year 2003-2004. The school serves students in grades six through twelve from the Erie, Pennsylvania region. Although any student can attend the charter school, the school’s focus is directed toward those students who have had significant difficulties with academic performance in their previous school settings.

As Carly Rowe of St. Mark’s puts it, “These are kids who for whatever reason wouldn’t have made it in the public system.” CSE has a high refugee and English as a second language population, which seems unusual until you consider that, as of May 2017, Erie’s mayoral office estimated that roughly 18% of the city’s population comprises refugee families from countries like Syria, Bhutan, and Iraq, among others. Besides students facing language and cultural barriers, there is also a subset of teen mothers and roughly 30% of CSE students are considered homeless or under housed.

With all the obstacles these students work through on a daily basis, the uncertainty that they will get a meal at home only compounds the difficulty of trying to concentrate in school. Part of providing a recipe for success at CSE is making sure their students have regular meals. Breakfast and lunch are served each school day, but, when it comes to weekends, the school has little control. This is where the Snack Pack outreach program steps in: St. Mark’s and St. Stephen’s have teamed up with the Second Harvest Food Bank to create food packets that are delivered to students two Fridays a month so they have food at home over the weekend. Church volunteers pick up the food from Second Harvest, pack individual bags (along with supplemental items donated by members of both congregations), and volunteers who have passed both Safe Church and school district clearances take the bags to the school and deliver them to students.

While getting food to the students is the basis of this particular outreach project, the hands-on delivery by the volunteers has had an added benefit: the building of relationships between church volunteers and the school faculty and administrative personnel. As the volunteers have become a known quantity in the building, the faculty find it easier to speak with them directly and share additional student needs that may not have been communicated otherwise, which has led to an expansion of the outreach ministry. As a result of speaking with teachers about student needs, St. Mark’s now supplies a hygiene pantry at the school, where church members donate items like toothpaste and soap that are available at the school for students to take what they need. One member of the St. Mark’s congregation is using her talents as an extreme couponer to purchase additional hygiene products to supplement the donations, which stretches the purchase power of outreach dollars while simultaneously creating an opportunity for members who aren’t available on delivery days to participate in the project.  The Snack Pack program has also grown to include a packed lunch service that takes place during the school’s summer program – last summer St. Mark’s provided 75 bagged lunches two times a week for four weeks, which covered half of the CSE summer session.

Earlier this winter, teachers also made the Snack Pack volunteers aware that several of the students didn’t have appropriate outerwear for Erie weather. With this in mind, the collection taken at Diocesan Convention was earmarked to purchase coats for CSE students. Bishop Sean matched the dollar amount collected at the convention Eucharist service and, with the combined funds, over 100 coats were purchased and donated for students who would otherwise have gone without.

It’s sometimes difficult to see the impact of a ministry once the donations have been sent to their destination, but in this video, produced by Charter School of Excellence students, you can see firsthand the kind of impression this program is making:

In our next segment of Feeding the Future, we’ll discuss the issues of long term ministry sustainability, growing ministry from strictly outreach into relationships, and the continued impact that this ministry has on both the church and the community. Stay tuned!