Welcoming Dreamers the Obvious Choice

This op-ed piece originally appeared in the Morning Call on January 29, 2018. 

The current political morass in Washington has thrown light on a deep and ugly divide in our country and in our faith communities on the issue of immigration.

More than half of white evangelical Christians — a group that gave 81 percent of its votes to President Trump in the 2016 election — say that immigration is a threat to this country’s “traditional customs and values.”

In the same survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in 2015, 70 percent of Hispanic Catholics say that immigration “strengthens American society.” Other Christian groups fall in between, but only among white evangelicals does the majority report being threatened by immigration.

Proponents of these sharply contrasting views are on center stage as Congress prepares to negotiate what Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York called “a global agreement” that will include the fate of the young people who live in this country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program initiated by President Obama in 2012 and ended by President Trump last September.

Under DACA, some 800,000 children who were brought to this country illegally by their parents were protected from deportation thanks to renewable two-year deferments. The program also made it possible for these young people, popularly known as Dreamers, to receive work permits.

The politics of immigration are complicated, but as an Episcopal bishop who graduated from Grove City College, a bastion of evangelical higher education in Mercer County, I believe that the teachings of the Christian faith along with those of the world’s other great religious and ethical traditions make it clear that we must protect the vulnerable, provide for those in need, and, when necessary, sacrifice from our own substance to fulfill this duty.

To pick just two of the manifold scriptural examples from my own tradition:

In the 23rd chapter of Exodus we read these oft-quoted, yet seemingly forgotten, words, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

And in the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we read that Jesus and his parents had to flee their homeland to escape a king who wanted to kill the Christ child. We do ourselves and our faiths a disservice if we pretend that these stories and teachings have no meaning for us today.

Dreamers, like every human being, are created in the image and likeness of God regardless of their immigration status or country of origin. They deserve a chance to live full lives in the only country most of them have ever known. They deserve to live free from fear of deportation to a country whose customs they may not know and whose languages they may not speak.

Even as I make this argument, however, I realize that not all hearts are changed by a clergyman’s appeal to our common membership in the family of God. So let me offer another verse, this one from Matthew 7: “Thus you will know them by their fruits.”

Thanks to DACA, about 685,000 people are currently working in this country, paying taxes and contributing to the economic life of our communities. In several Rust Belt cities, DACA recipients, refugees and immigrants have repopulated failing neighborhoods and revived the community’s economic fortunes.

A study last year by the Center for American Progress estimated that the loss of all DACA recipients from the workforce would reduce our country’s gross domestic product by $460 billion over the next 10 years. Pennsylvania, home to nearly 6,000 DACA recipients, would lose more than $357 million each year.

Christians and all people of goodwill are called to do the right thing, even if it hurts. In this case it helps. Our choice is obvious.

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe is bishop provisional of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem and bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

St. John’s and Grace – A Relationship in Christ

A long long time ago… well, at least thirty years ago, two congregations in Franklin decided to do something radical. They decided to prepare for Christmas and Easter together, spending the seasons of Advent and Lent having soup suppers and sharing the Word of God.

The radical part about this whole idea is that one congregation was Episcopalian, St. John’s, while the other congregation was Evangelical Lutheran, Grace. Way before the official agreement between the national Episcopal Church and the national Evangelical Lutheran Church on shared ministry, St. John’s and Grace in Franklin were sharing fellowship, bible study, and prayer.

Fast forward almost twenty years and that same shared ministry of soup suppers in Advent and Lent was still going on. However, one of the congregations had fallen into some difficult decisions in financial and facility matters. Yet, since the members of Grace Lutheran knew the congregation at St. John’s and were familiar with St. John’s Church, they had an option beyond closing. They decided to sell their building and rent space from St. John’s.

After another almost ten years, the relationship between St. John’s and Grace is still going strong. Not only do the congregations share Advent and Lent soup suppers, but now also Sunday School, Adult Formation, an annual Church Picnic, Coffee Hour, Vacation Bible School, and both congregations have members in the Grace Chapter of the Daughters of the King. Joint services are held regularly and almost all the high feast days are celebrated together.

Given this great relationship, the clergy, vestry, and council of St. John’s and Grace undertook this past year to put together a document entitled the Shared Ministry Agreement. The Agreement outlines the relationship and shared ministry of the two congregations, while presenting some new ideas to help both congregations move into the future.

All this culminated in a great celebration this past December. On Sunday December 17th, 2017, Bishop Sean Rowe and Bishop Ralph Jones joined the congregations of Grace and St. John’s in a special Eucharist which included the signing of the Shared Ministry Agreement, confirmation, and the Blessing of the new Elevator Lift in the Parish Hall. Both the Vestry and the Council stood before the bishops and committed the churches to the development and partnering of this relationship.

While we can all thank the Holy Spirit for its work in bringing together the congregations of St. John’s and Grace over the years, the members of both congregations state that the real reasons the relationship has withstood the testing of time and troubles is that we have become one community. The members proclaim, “We are better together,” “We like working together, we like being in community together.” Being a part of Christ’s one Body means working together even when we are different. We strive to live this out as one community made up of Episcopalians and Lutherans in Franklin.

No longer is either congregation defensive about which ministry is whose or how they fit together. The reality of the situation is that neither Grace nor St. John’s would be able to follow through on the mission of the church in Franklin without the other. However, together, we are able to follow God’s calling to us in Franklin.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest-in-Charge of St. John’s Church, Franklin. 

Congratulations, Rev. Mark Elliston!

The Diocese of NWPA is pleased to welcome our newest priest -the Rev. Mark Elliston! The service of ordination was held on Saturday, December 16 at Christ Church, Oil City.

Please keep Rev. Elliston and the Christ Church community in your prayers as they continue their journey together.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’  –Isaiah 6:8

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Courage & Collaboration – Bishops’ Addresses from Convention 2017

During the plenary session of the 107th Diocesan Convention we heard from both the Rt. Rev. William Franklin of the Diocese of Western New York and our own Bishop Sean as they discussed the potential collaborative relationship between our two dioceses. The full addresses are available below.

107th Diocesan Convention Wrap-Up

This year’s convention had it all: business, programming, guests from Western New York, some surprises, and even a little dancing (check out Facebook for that!).  The first surprise of the weekend came from the Standing Committee, who issued a proclamation at the start of business that this convention was being held in honor of the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe’s tenth consecration anniversary.

Guests from the Diocese of Western New York, including the Rt. Rev. William Franklin, joined us for a day and half of programming led by the Rev. Canon Scott Slater, who guided the conversation on the possibility of a shared future using the Daring Way methodology of Brene Brown.  Many delegates remarked that they found the methodology useful in framing the conversation and enjoyed the time getting to know new people both from Western New York and our own diocese.

At the banquet, Paul and Lane Nelson, members of St. Mark’s in Erie, were honored with the Bishop’s Cross, which is given to those in the diocese who have contributed to the diocese over a significant number of years and in a variety of ways.  Also at the banquet, Bishop Sean was surprised with a video honoring his ten years as bishop, with contributions from people in the diocese, as well as outside the diocese including Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Elections were held for a variety of offices. The Rev. Jason Shank was newly elected to the Standing Committee, with Jack Malovich being re-elected to the lay seat on Standing Committee.  The Rev. Erin Betz Shank and Ed Palattella regained their seats on Diocesan Council and the Rev. Matthew Scott and Bob Guerrein regained theirs on the Constitution and Canons committee.

The 2018 budget and assessments, as well as the 2018 minimum stipends for clergy were passed as presented.

It was announced that convention next year will be held jointly with the Diocese of Western New York, regardless of any decisions made about a shared future.  Convention will be held October 26-27 at the Niagara Falls Convention Center in Niagara Falls, NY.

A huge thank you to our host committee of St. Mark’s, who did a fabulous job welcoming everyone to Erie and sharing a wonderful worship service with us.

All of the passed resolutions and materials from other presentations can be found on our website.

See you next year in Niagara Falls!

Reflections on My Attendance at the Diocese of Western New York Convention

Why I signed up: I thought it would be a fun weekend in a nice hotel with my husband at my side. I love our Diocesan Convention – this year will be my eighteenth – and I thought it would be interesting to see how other dioceses run their annual conventions.

What I found out: Whoa, there, lady! This was not just a getaway weekend for the Wilds! This was a vitally important encounter with the members of the DioWNY churches and their clergy. The responsibilities were hefty. It was work! Yikes! As I sat at our sparsely occupied table, #39, I realized that I had a job to do for my diocese and my bishop: Lord, help me to be a positive, effective member of our delegation. Help me to allow the dedicated people of Western New York to see our diocese and our bishop as loving, creative, and honest. Help me to do your will, always.

I found myself praying this little prayer a number of times during the weekend. Geoffrey, (my spouse) and I sat alone at Table 39 until we were joined by a priest from our own diocese. He encouraged me to move to another table. I sat down beside a lady and said, “Hi, my name is Cheryl, and I’m from Grove City, PA.” She told me her name and we began to make connections. It turned out that Geoffrey and I had vacationed near and in the town where she lives and attends church and that she and I were born ten miles apart in the Southern Tier of New York State. I met a priest at that same table. She was personable and genuine. The ladies at the table seemed a bit skeptical about the arrangement being suggested by the bishops. I got the feeling that they were afraid that they would be giving up control and would be absorbed into the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Lord, help me to be a positive, effective member of our delegation. Help me to allow the dedicated people of Western New York to see our diocese and our bishop as loving, creative, and honest. Help me to do your will, always.

As Friday continued, Bishop Sean was able to answer some of their concerns. He did so in his usual outgoing straightforward manner. My favorite question and answer were as follows:

DioWNY member: (paraphrasing) We would like to see our bishop more than once every three years. Would this mean we would see you only every four years?

Bishop Sean: Yes.

He did go on to explain how he would be available in many different ways to the folks in Western New York and their clergy as well as those in the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania. But that simple “Yes” said more about him than his explanation.

It is my belief that his answer impacted many people who were worried about what our bishop was up to with this proposal he and Bishop Bill had made. There was no sugar coating. It was simple and honest.

My favorite part of the weekend was the Eucharist at St. Andrew’s Church. This beautiful structure was packed with people from both dioceses, and I felt that I was among friends. We were all Episcopalians with a common purpose: to share the body and blood of our Lord and Savior and to honor Him and one another.

I came away from the weekend with a huge sense of pride in our bishop and our diocese. I have known Bishop Sean since he was nineteen years old and a member of our congregation at Epiphany. I have seen him grow as he has been called to different positions within the Church. His calling is clear: he is to lead the Church in new directions in order to save the Episcopal Church from a slow, painful decline. He and Bishop Franklin are stepping out in faith to do something that has never been done before: to share administration of two dioceses under one bishop. The benefits of doing so are enormous.

I cannot wait for our Diocesan Convention next weekend at which I will see some of my friends from the Diocese of Western New York!

Lord, help me to be a positive, effective member of our delegation. Help me to allow the dedicated people of Western New York to see our diocese and our bishop as loving, creative, and honest. Help me to do your will, always.

Cheryl Wild, as the wife of a priest who is assigned to more than one congregation, attends both Epiphany, Grove City, and Memorial Church of Our Father, Foxburg.

Exploring Our Future

September 22, 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Last weekend at a meeting of the clergy of the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania, Bishop Franklin announced that he will retire on April 3, 2019, as required by the canons of the Episcopal Church. His letter, which you can read here, says he has returned from sabbatical “full of energy and ideas that we will explore together over that time.” Chief among those ideas, as we discussed with the clergy of both dioceses, is the possibility of our dioceses sharing a future.

At our upcoming diocesan conventions, we will propose that we spend the next year convening discussions among leaders across our region about how we might create more opportunity for mission by working together. This process will culminate in October 2018, when our dioceses plan to meet together for a joint convention in Niagara Falls.

If our discussions in the next year are fruitful, as we hope they will be, we would anticipate that in 2018, the Diocese of Western New York would elect Bishop Rowe as its bishop provisional for five years beginning in April 2019, when Bishop Franklin retires. During the first three years of the partnership, our two dioceses would work together to deepen our relationships and develop shared mission priorities. In October 2021, we would re-evaluate the partnership and then, in October 2024, decide whether we wanted to continue it beyond the five-year mark.

In proposing a partnership between our dioceses, we are not seeking simply to save money, although we believe that will be possible, and we are not aiming just to share a bishop. We believe that our dioceses have complementary strengths and challenges, and that together we are well suited to respond to God’s call in our region. Our communities share an industrial past, a Rust Belt culture, and a love for the natural beauty of the Lake Erie watershed, and our congregations are home to resilient people who know that by working together and staying focused on mission, we can weather uncertain times and a changing church.

Between now and our conventions—October 27 and 28 in Western New York and November 10-11 in Northwestern Pennsylvania—we hope that you will join us in praying about the opportunity we have before us and thinking about your hopes, concerns, and questions. We look forward to being together soon and to embarking on this year of discernment about the future that God has in store for the people of both our dioceses.


The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin                               The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe
Bishop of Western New York                                     Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania

James Isaac                                                                    Jack Malovich
President, Standing Committee                                 President, Standing Committee
Diocese of Western New York                                    Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania