Praying with Icons

In this second installment of our prayer video series, Dean Downey of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie discusses using icons as part of your personal prayer practice.

Other videos in this series:
Personal Prayer Part 1 – Developing Your Personal Prayer Practice
Personal Prayer Part 3 – Praying the Daily Office
Personal Prayer Part 4 – Walking the Labyrinth
Personal Prayer Part 5 – Centering Prayer

A Different Way to Pray: Prayer Arbor at the Cathedral

When you close your eyes and think of the word “prayer,” what do you see? People kneeling, their hands folded, silently sharing their concerns with God? A congregation saying The Lord’s Prayer together on Sunday morning?  What about… ribbons?

img_0685If you walk past the front of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie this week, your eyes are bound to stray to the wood arbor out front, covered with white ribbons that flap in the autumn breeze. If your curiosity gets the better of you and you step up for a closer look, you’ll see that each ribbon is inscribed with an individual’s prayer, hundreds of prayers, written down and tied carefully to the wire framework inside the arbor itself.

AJ Noyes, the Program Associate for the Cathedral, originally presented the idea of the Prayer Arbor to the Cathedral Chapter in the spring. She was inspired by another prayer installation called “Knotted Grotto” by Meg Saligman in Philadelphia, Prayer Trees, and her own artistic leanings (she has a Bachelor’s degree in art). “My position here at the Cathedral gives me the opportunity to be creative, but I’ve wanted to do an installation piece for years,” she says.

The Chapter was very receptive to the idea, and Dean Downey suggested that the arbor be focused on the city of Erie, given the current issues with homelessness, school closings and budget deficits, and other concerns.

img_0418After AJ worked out the initial concept for the installation, Cathedral sexton Terry Bishop took on the task of building the arbor and placing it on the Cathedral lawn. The Arbor was introduced on June 26, and, that Sunday morning, the congregation was asked to add requests to the arbor during the Prayers of the People.

Since then people in and outside the church have taken advantage of the Prayer Arbor to either add prayers, or to take time to pray for the concerns already listed. The Vine youth group and their parents have added prayers, and a contingent from the Cathedral took ribbons and information to the National Night Out at Gridley Park in early August.  AJ relayed that, “Many people – especially children – took the time to write out a prayer and then we hung their ribbons on the arbor the next day.”

img_0682The goal of the Arbor, besides being a vessel for prayer, is to reach out to the community. The Cathedral emphasizes that the Arbor is open to people of all ages, conditions, and faiths, and it has drawn people from the Erie community who may not otherwise have been aware of the Episcopal Church. Some of our diocesan clergy have noted the effect of the Arbor:

 “A student of mine stopped into my office earlier this fall to say that he was walking down West 6th street, and noticed the Prayer Arbor in front of the cathedral. While he said that he wouldn’t normally have noticed anything like that or taken the time to investigate, something about the way the ribbons caught the wind caught his interest. He stepped up the stairs to the arbor level, and stepped in. He found himself compelled to read the various intentions that were tied there, and even found himself praying for the individuals who wrote them and the hopes that they had. He was surprised to find that almost fifteen minutes had passed while he was engaged in the structure and its intention. This is just one wonderful example of how the Prayer Arbor had facilitated this moment of prayer in this rather unlikely pilgrim.” – the Rev. Shawn Clerkin

img_0689“A few months ago, I was visiting a patient, someone I’d never met before, in the hospital. He asked which church I was from. When I replied the Cathedral of St. Paul across from the Court House, he said “Oh, I live a few blocks from there and walk my dog past it every day! You have that ribbon sculpture out front; what’s that about?” “It’s a Prayer Arbor! As followers of Christ, we’re called to be people of prayer, reconciliation and hope in His redeeming love right here, where we’re planted.”  I watched his face fill with awe and excitement as he exclaimed, “You mean I could go in, get a ribbon, write my prayer for the community and put it on the Arbor?! What a wonderful idea, why aren’t we all doing this?” This gentleman is a member of another denomination and church in the downtown neighborhood. And, yes, his prayer really is fluttering in the breeze on the Prayer Arbor.

 “Riding hospital elevators as I visit patients, I frequently am asked what I do and where I serve as a clergy person. In the past few months when I say “St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, across from the Court House”, someone will usually ask about “that house thing” out in front of the church. Inevitably, there’s “wow”, “neat” & “you mean ANY one can write a prayer?” when I explain the Prayer Arbor. Sometimes, I even hear “Why aren’t we ALL doing that?” Indeed. I wonder how many of those fluttering prayers might be from someone in that elevator.”  – the Rev. Kathleen Ziegenhine

 The prayers will remain on the Prayer Arbor until November 6. There will be a Choral Evensong that evening at 5 pm at the Cathedral, at which time the ribbons will be removed and distributed to the attendees for the service, then archived. All are invited to attend.

There are many ways to pray, and many ways to share the love of God – even with something as simple as a piece of ribbon.

Megin Sewak is Communications Specialist for the Diocese of NWPA. 

Christian Life Inspires Cathedral Artist

ChisolmQuoteJohn Chisholm, a member of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie, PA, is an artist who has been exhibiting since the mid 1960s. He will be doing his 28th one man show, called “Zodiac Knots,” this coming September in Westfield, NY, and will be showing his piece The Cathedral Crest at the Cathedral’s art exhibition in honor of its centennial beginning at the end of July.

John’s path to artistic success was not easy. He was abused as a child, arrested in the 1960s for protesting the Vietnam War, had cancer, and struggled with coming out and depression in his 40s. He also has had joyous experiences like his many art shows, judging art, publishing, and teaching. John taught for 50 years and is proud of the impact he has made. As in his art, he used his pain and hurt to help others and make himself a better teacher: “My life experiences have provided me with my material.” He sees his life as a series of beginnings and his art as a way to work through his life experiences, his beliefs, and his identity.

The Cathedral Crest

The Cathedral Crest

One of those life experiences was his conversion to Christianity. Years ago in Florida, a friend, the conductor of a church choir, invited John to sing for a Christmas mass. Even though John was Jewish at the time he knew singing was good for his soul and agreed to do it. At the mass, during communion, John went up for a blessing. As the priest laid hands on him, John began to weep. He began attending the Episcopal Church following conversations with his rabbi. John now considers it home.

His medium of choice before he converted to Christianity was ceramics. He did his doctoral work in ceramics and much of his art in the early years was based on Judaism and was very internalized. His current work is constructed from wire and John attributes the regeneration of his artistic creativity to his conversion to Christianity.   He says, “It [his art] has become externalized, in that I do what I can to touch others. It’s not a matter of ‘who I am’ but rather ‘who are we?’ In Christianity everything is outreach. I do that with my life.”

Each piece John creates takes 60-80 hours. He begins with a sketch and then constructs each separate part of the piece with wire. He then has to glue them together, cover the piece with several coats of rubberized material, and, finally, paint it all. His art is three-dimensional and he believes that it touches people because it is more accessible and “that is what Jesus was about.” He creates his artwork because he feels it: “When I begin a new piece, my thoughts are going over a hymn or a message I heard in a sermon.” For example, his piece Shall Beat Their Swords into Plowshares, which he made for the Cathedral’s last art show, was inspired by the book of Isaiah.

Shall Beat Their Swords into Plowshares

Shall Beat Their Swords into Plowshares

John hopes that his art will speak to others and trigger their own spiritual reflection. He says that, “we touch others with art. Touching others, isn’t that what Jesus did?”

You can see John’s piece The Cathedral Crest as well as other great art at the Cathedral of St. Paul’s Centennial Homecoming on Saturday, July 25, at 5:00 pm and on Sunday, July 26, at the 8:00 am and 10:00 am liturgies.

When I Wake Up


Joseph Glarner, a third-generation member of Trinity Memorial in Warren, is no stranger to the music industry. His work has taken him all over the country, working with artists such as the Goo Goo Dolls and companies like Disney and Nickelodeon. However, his musical and spiritual journey began at Trinity Memorial. Following some twists and turns away from Trinity and his relationship with Jesus, Joseph now finds himself back home and considers himself a “witness to Jesus Christ.”

After growing up at Trinity Memorial and being influenced by their music program, Joseph’s own music career took off. He studied in California and New York, was in a band, and by age 22 had started his own recording studio. Joseph enjoyed his music, but also felt that something was missing. He calls his experience, “my prodigal son journey:” “I was interested in worldly things.”

His journey back to Christ, and eventually to Trinity Memorial, started ten years ago when he was on tour with his band. It had become a job for him, no longer a passion, and he was tired of the nights of drinking. One day, he felt compelled to pick up and start reading the Bible. As he expected, he got some teasing from his band members. However, unexpectedly, the drummer joined him in his reading and they began discussing the Bible and Jesus. This prodigal journey led him to work at a studio where the owner was a Christian: “He sparked a fire in me to use music for the Glory of God.” Joseph also attributes his return to Jesus to the support he received from his mother: “A lot of my personal growth is due to her.”

About three years ago, Joseph was looking to do something other than produce music when the part time organist position at Trinity Memorial became available. Since then he has become the music director and has helped revitalize Trinity’s music program. He, Fr. Matthew Scott, and Andrew Pollard (another member of the music team) have worked together to create music that bridges the sacred hymns of the past with more modern music. Their music is featured every Wednesday night at the 5:30 p.m. contemplative service.

Joseph’s experiences at Trinity helped him get back to a place where he could make music for the glory of God, following years of being burned out from making his own music. “I decided to write a song every week that expressed the readings,” Joseph says, explaining how the process began. “I prayed hard to receive God’s message in a way God wanted and in a way that glorified God.”

This is how he ended up with his new CD, “When I Wake Up.” It is not typical contemporary Christian music, but rather simple, thoughtful compositions with piano and flute written to glorify God. Joseph says that he is “more than honored to share that with people.”

Trinity Memorial will be hosting a CD release concert for “When I Wake Up” on July 11th. Follow Joseph at and all are welcome to the concert on July 11th at 6:30 p.m. at Trinity Memorial (444 Pennsylvania Ave. West, Warren, PA).

Trinity Memorial will be hosting a CD release concert for “When I Wake Up” on July 11th. Follow Joseph at and all are welcome to the concert on July 11th at 6:30 p.m. at Trinity Memorial (444 Pennsylvania Ave. West, Warren, PA).

*7/31/15: Article has been corrected and edited from its original version.

Julien Goulet, Assistant for Communications and Administration, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania