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

Advent ATM

O’Hare Airport, Chicago, Illinois, November 30.  I needed cash and took the right hand turn towards the BMO Harris ATM.  An older adult woman in a wheelchair with an attendant rested sideways to the ATM, wanting cash.  She had repeated trouble reaching and hitting the right suggestions on the screen.  Her assistant had his back turned, protecting her privacy.  When I arrived she was retrieving her first card due to an inaccurate pin number.  She had taken nearly three minutes to get to this point; impatience was showing around my edges.

She drew out a second credit card.  She repeated the routine.  I thought:  why don’t I step up to the ATM, interrupt them, handle my business, and move on to my gate, which by the way didn’t board for over an hour?  Her second card was rejected to her increasing despair.  She hung her head in frustration, sadness, and anxiety.  Over my shoulder a young couple rolled their eyes  in unison, indicating they thought this old lady was an intolerable pain.  They apparently didn’t need cash so desperately and moved on.  Not me.  I needed cash and this was the last ATM of my bank before the gate.

Frustration and impatience increased as she reached for a third card; painfully reached, her anxiety rising together with her confusion.  Her escort and I both now began to coach her in hopes that this time the card would work.  She lowered her requested amount from $40 to $20.  The screen noted she had exceeded her available credit.  She was crushed.  The young man’s face empathetically frowned.  I was frustrated.  Then the young man said quietly, yet loud enough for all to hear, “Don’t worry!  You don’t have to give me anything.  Really.  This is my job!”  All she wanted to do was give thanks to this young man for helping her through the airport from car to gate.  When the screen showed no funds her head drooped, her hands went to her lap, and a profound sadness enveloped her face.  They left the ATM and headed towards her gate.

Realizing my own shortsightedness, I quickly inserted my card, took my money, and headed to find them.  This shouldn’t be so hard, I thought, there aren’t that many people in wheelchairs. The hallway reached out with people shoulder to shoulder.  Looking left a twosome came into sight and I headed their way.  After weaving and dodging for 100 yards, there they were!  He was talking kindly to her as he pulled her over to wait.  I knelt down next to her;  “You want to help this young man for his kindness.  I saw you at the ATM.  Here’s some money for you to give him.”  I handed her $20.  “Oh, thank you honey!  You don’t know how much this means to me.”  “And to me as well!”  I thought: you’ll never know.  “Merry Christmas!”  With a smile on her face and a befuddled look on the young man’s, I turned towards my gate grateful, once again, for Advent and Jesus’ unusual and beautiful ways of showing up.

Happy Advent.

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

O Come, Divine Messiah!

advent-policeThe above cartoon recently popped up on my Facebook feed. It’s by the Rev. Jay Sidebotham, and depicts ‘the Advent police’ citing people for putting up Christmas ornaments and singing Christmas carols during Advent. Silly, right? Normally I would just chuckle and keep scrolling, but for some reason this particular image made me stop and really look.

Can you imagine if there really WERE an Advent police? I know for a fact that the dollar store downtown would be awash in violations, since I’m pretty sure I recall the Christmas aisle being set up the week before Halloween this year. Think of all the fines that could be set aside for mission funds! (Just kidding.) Then again, how many of us are really able to go the entire four weeks before Christmas without trimming the tree or humming a few bars of ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ when we hear it played over the store loudspeakers while doing our Christmas shopping?

As a former (recovering?) church organist and cantor, I find Advent to be one of the most fascinating times in the church year. Though the calendar year is drawing to a close, it’s just the beginning of the liturgical year – a time of quiet, preparation, and yes – anticipation of the coming Savior. The days are shorter, the hymns on Sunday a bit quieter than during the season after Pentecost, and the readings talk about waking from sleep and preparing the way of the Lord.

One hymn in particular makes me marvel every year: ‘O Come, Divine Messiah’.  If you’re not familiar with the tune, please do look it up on YouTube. The music is light, just a tiny bit bouncy, but combined with the lyrics it’s an amazing summation of the anticipation and longing of the Advent season. We wait in the dark and quiet of these weeks of December, yearning for Jesus to come to Earth for our redemption and to bring joy and light into our lives.

“Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.”

I finally made a note in pen at the top of my sheet music to tell the choir not to speed up at that point, because every. single. time. we sang that piece they would get so excited it was like trying to hold back runaway horses. “Hurry, Jesus! We’ve been waiting for so long!” Women in their 80s were singing with all the enthusiasm and impatience of my two year old daughter – “Now, Mommy? Now?”

It’s a busy time of year, and many of us have to-do lists as long as our arm, making our physical preparations for the coming of the Lord. Try to take a few moments this week, though, to quiet your mind and enjoy that thrilling anticipation that comes from having to wait.

“O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.”

Megin Sewak is Communications Specialist for the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. 

Receive Advent As A Gift

advent-1812702_1280As we prepare to enter another season of Advent, we are given the gift of waiting.  So often, we focus on what we want, but Advent invites us to focus on what God might give us.  Instead of expending our effort on choosing what we would like and striving to get it, our energy goes into preparing our hearts to be open to what is coming.  This preparation is much harder work, but ultimately more fruitful.

One of the lies we tell ourselves is that if we work hard enough, what we think is best will come to us.  Really, though, however hard we work, we are always handed a jumble of broken leftovers from the pursuits and plans of others.  We can toil desperately to make that mess into the gift we have decided we deserve to be given.  But we cannot create what we truly need to satisfy us.

Advent provides the space for us to strip down our projections and put away our projects so that we can see where the divine gift for us is to be found in the midst of life’s pains and paradoxes.  We shut off the flashing lights and neon beacons so we can simply see the stars around us.  We step out of the buzzing cacophony and make space for silence where the still, small voice may beckon.  We close the Facebook feeds and the commercial messages to open the prophets and the psalms preparing us to recognize what we can’t yet imagine.  We stop jockeying for candles-141892_640position and simply sit beside our brothers and sisters until these erstwhile allies and enemies become nothing less to us than the true image and likeness of God.

Advent helps us hand over our wills, our imaginations, and our desires so that in the crucible of waiting they can be purified into hope.  We cannot learn hope until we have learned to stop and let go of everything except for God’s coming to us.  Then God’s coming will fill every nook and cranny of our being, occupying our every thought and hunger. We will be able to recognize the Messiah come into the world because we will have become nothing more than a Messiah-shaped outline waiting desperately for God to fill us.

The waiting of Advent allows us to recognize and receive the Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace amid shepherds and Latin-speaking IRS agents two thousand years ago.  That same waiting allows us to recognize and receive the body of Christ in the gifts placed on the altar and in those gathered around it, as well as in the least of our brothers and sisters for whom whatever we do we do also for Jesus.  Our Advent waiting will also allow us to recognize and be received by the Son of Man in his crucified glory at the last day.

Our souls are saturated with so much stress and striving that we cannot wait to wait.  Receive Advent as a gift and dive into it deeply.  Wait until we can’t imagine wanting anything but Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

The Rev. Adam Trambley is rector at St. John’s, Sharon. 

 

What Times! What Standards!

Reprinted from “Ascension Connection,” Ascension, Bradford’s monthly newsletter.

clock-651111_1920As I write this, I am eagerly anticipating the change from Daylight Savings Time back to Daylight Standard Time. Each year as the change back gets closer, I long to quit getting up in the pitch-dark and for time to get “back to normal.” I want to cry out with Cicero, that 1st century BC Roman statesman, “What times! What standards!”

It’s really silly of me to spend energy even considering the whole time change thing, since it is surely something I cannot do a thing about. When it comes to this issue, I can be a thermometer but not a thermostat – I can report what is but I can’t change it.

There are other areas, however, where Cicero’s lament is still true where I can affect change. Consider the standards of our common life and interactions in general. It’s becoming harder and harder to distinguish between worldly values and practices and those of Christians and the Church. Standards like being faithful, being patient, being present are sometimes seen as antiquated and no longer realistic – even among Christians. The loss of these standards diminishes us and our society. Sadly, too many Christians seem to be content being thermometers – wringing their hands and exclaiming how awful it is. But we can be thermostats instead – not just reporting what is but also triggering action to change the environment where we find ourselves. In other words, we can be and live out the change we want to see and model a different way.

This has direct implications for how we live as stewards of God’s gifts, too. Too many of us have adopted the world’s standards when it comes to giving – giving of time, talent and treasure when it is convenient, when we feel like it, when we have any extra. Does that sound like what Paul meant when he wrote to early believers, “on the first day of each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…” to give for the work of the church (1Cor 16:2)?

The Bible tells us over and over that as followers of Jesus, we are being transformed and are to be about transforming the world for the sake of the Kingdom – to be salt, light, yeast. It seems that God expects us to be holy thermostats instead of thermometers. If enough of us respond, we really can change the world and that’s been God’ plan, all along.

Mother Stacey Fussell, Rector, Ascension, Bradford, PA

Website updates

We have added some new pages and updated others on our website.  Click on the titles to get useful information, specific resources and upcoming event information:

Convention 2014 results and updates. Find out about adopted resolutions, courtesy resolutions, election results, Bishop Sean’s nominations and appointments, and workshop and presentation materials and links.

Strategic Plan. Take a look at the strategic plan outline and strategic plan reports from 2013 and 2014.

Devotional Resources.  Daily devotions, liturgical calendars, lesson plans, sermons, bible studies and commentaries from both Anglican/Episcopal and Lutheran (ELCA) sources.

Advent Resources. Print, digital and social media resources from our own diocese and from national sites.

Mission Trip 2015. A Diocesan mission trip is being organized to Christo Salvador in the Dominican Republic for July 2015.

Convention 2015. Dates and location.

Diocesan Church Center Library. All titles (with the exception of the Bishop Israel collection) may be borrowed from the Diocese.

Advent

Adapted fromThe Voice, Biblical and Theological Resources for Growing Christians”

Advent is a season of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Christians anticipate the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming. In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again. That acknowledgment provides a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people.

Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance!

It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant He sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation. It is that hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world.

See more posts about Advent at these Blogs:

26 Ideas for Advent

The Joy of Waiting

Keeping Advent

Go to our website for Advent resources

www.dionwpa.org