The Official Beginning – Consecration Service at Resurrection Church Plant

Fr. Jason Shank invites everyone to the Resurrection Church consecration service to be held on September 23 at 4:00 PM in Hermitage. For more details, including what’s been happening to prepare for this moment, watch below.

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).

Resurrection Church Has A Home!

A lot has happened in the last few months! After much discernment and prayer, we as a launch team (in consultation with Bishop Sean and our Church Planting Coach Jim Griffith), decided that Resurrection Church would be planted in the former Church of the Redeemer building.  We felt that having a location would allow us to connect with the community and would give us a place to worship on a regular basis.  In order to get the building ready there was a lot of work we had to do.  We’ve spent the summer renovating the building and getting it ready for worship and to welcome new people into our new faith community.

Our hope and belief is that the creative and new things we are doing with the building will allow us to do new things, reach new people and give us our best chance to succeed.  We have spent the past year learning, praying and discerning what this new community of faith will be – the location was one of the unclear pieces of the puzzle.  We are grateful for the clarity we have received.

Here are some of the many things we have done so far: we installed a new parking lot, put up new vinyl siding, and re-painted the entrance and the large social hall.  We also took everything out of the sanctuary in order to install a new sound system, projector, new flooring and padded chairs, and installed a new sign out front.  Much of the work has already been completed, but there is more work to be done!  Look for more updates soon and please keep us in prayer as we continue the work of planting Resurrection Church-An Episcopal Congregation!

The Rev. Jason Shank is overseeing Resurrection Church, our church plant in Hermitage.

Prayers for Church Growth and Development

A number of years ago, St. John’s in Sharon offered the following four prayers for the development of our church’s mission and ministry. The prayers are based on suggestions by Dick Eastman in his book The Hour That Changes the World.

Eastman suggests that as part of our world-changing intercession, we should ask God “to give more laborers into the harvest, to open doors for these workers, to bless them with fruit as a result of their efforts, and with the finances to expand their work” (page 79). These four prayer foci are also important prayers for the growth and development of our diocese and for our congregations. At St. John’s, we took each area and wrote a short scriptural prayer that we could use to pray for that intention.

Prayer for Laborers in the Harvest
Thank you, Lord, that the harvest is plentiful. We pray that you would send out laborers into your harvest. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From Luke 10:2)

Prayer for Open Doors
Thank you, Lord, that you promised what we ask for we will receive, what we seek we will find, and when we knock the door will be opened. We pray that you would open doors for our ministries and provide us opportunities for success in your work. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From Matthew 7:7-8)

Prayer for Fruit
Thank you, Lord, that we did not choose you, but you choose us, and you appointed us to go and bear fruit. We pray that we may abide in you and bear much fruit, and thereby glorify our heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From John 15:5,8,16)

Prayer for Financial Resources
Thank you, Lord, that every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. We pray that you would gift us with everything we need in order to do the work you have given us to do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From James 1:17)

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

This is the sixth installment in our Prayer series that will run up to the Diocesan Prayer Vigil in March. Click here to view other stories in the series, and here for more information on the Vigil.

God Gave the Growth – Church Planting in the Episcopal Church

God Gave the Growth: A Book Review

growthAs our diocese has embarked on its first new church plant in decades, many of us may have questions: Why do we need to plant churches when so many churches around us are failing? What would an Episcopal Church plant look like?  What would it take to help a new church succeed?

These questions, and many others, are answered in Susan Brown Snook’s book, God Gave the Growth: Church Planting in the Episcopal Church.  Susan Brown Snook is the rector of Church of the Nativity in Scottsdale, Arizona, a church that she planted in 2006.  She is also a member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council and a founder and steering committee member of the Acts 8 Movement.  (Disclaimer: I work with Susan on the Acts 8 Movement and am in her Doctor of Ministry cohort at Virginia Theological Seminary.)

God Gave the Growth’s first section deals with the basic issues concerning church planting, including specifics about church planting in the Episcopal Church. Two chapters provide reasons for planting new churches, including the ways that new plants can benefit existing churches.  Then the book looks at types and models of church planting, including a discussion of the need to continue doing traditional church plants.

The second section deals with factors promoting church planting success.  Here Susan addresses topics including important characteristics of church planters, discerning a new plant’s mission, the formation of a leadership team, methods of evangelistic community outreach, the launch, the formation of disciples, the worship facility, and finances and stewardship.  Susan’s final section provides wisdom and counsel for diocesan and church leaders who want to see successful new churches planted in their dioceses.  Without the vision and support of current established churches, new plants are much less likely to succeed.

While God Gave the Growth is contains needed statistics, models, principles and explanations concerning different aspects of church planting, part of the book’s strength comes from extended quotations from various Episcopal church planters.  Throughout the book, we hear elements of Susan’s own story, but we also hear stories of Episcopal church planters who have started churches in a working class area in Georgia, in a wealthy area of Los Angeles, with the homeless, with Latino communities, and in other contexts.  We also hear from Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas, whose diocese has planted numerous churches in recent years, and other Episcopal Church leaders.

Overall, God Gave the Growth is a helpful and inspirational book for anyone interested in learning more about church planting in the Episcopal church.  It is an especially important book for our Diocese at this time.

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

‘Planting’ Hope for the Future at Buhl Day

Buhl Day (the annual Labor Day celebration held in Hermitage, PA) was a success for the diocese’s newest church plant in more ways than one.  The church’s food stand, besides being a great fundraising opportunity, brought together people from eight different congregations all over the diocese to work and reach out to the community and each other. Good food, good fun, and building relationships while helping to further the Kingdom of God – the definition of One Church at work. It was definitely a Great Day in the Kingdom!

Read on for some personal reflections on the day:

buhl-day-cover

“In the beginning of Buhl Day there is a parade that local residents are excited to attend; giving us time to prepare before the rush.  I had helped prepare for this in the two days prior, but I was getting pumped on what was to come. Eventually, after getting everything ready and seeing more people arrive to help, we got customers. The crowd did not seem as big as usual, but we had a steady amount of people buying things. It was time to roll and perform my duties, alongside others who were working diligently.

There was a fantastic amount of people there helping, so I found I could sit and actually take a break – something that I and  others that had worked at this booth on Buhl Day in the past had not experienced too often. Finally after smelling the sandwiches being prepared all morning, I enjoyed one myself.

photo-sep-05-10-47-30-amAt one point I was standing outside the booth to help direct people, and I looked at all the people inside the booth.  Seven churches and the new Episcopal church plant all gathered together for this one goal.  Everyone was at a station talking amongst themselves.  There were so many there, you could find someone to talk to.  It was good to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in a while, and meet new ones throughout the NWPA diocese, including Canon Martha and Bishop Sean.  The feeling of “one church” was clearly evident.

As the day was winding down, we counted down things that were close to being sold out.  After the last kielbasa was sold, we shouted a loud “Amen” that caughtphoto-sep-05-10-14-43-am the attention of those nearby. Seeing the Bishop work in the different sections was such a pleasure, especially when he was a cashier talking to the customers.  We talked, laughed and maybe even sang and danced with others there feeling the energy flowing throughout the place.  To the bittersweet end where we tore down everything, I couldn’t have imagined things going too much better. I left feeling proud of all the accomplishments this day had made, and was glad that I was involved and witnessed something that wondrous.

In the amazement of how everything went, I think, as a new Episcopal church we are ready to tackle anything that comes our way. The support and thankfulness we felt with all the other people of the churches in the diocese is overwhelming. Together, I believe, that since we got through this, then we can get through many things our church will face. I, as well as others, are very hopeful for the future. ”  Laura Betz, Hermitage Church Plant


Pastor Jason Shank, Hermitage Church Plant

Roots and Renovation – Growing a Movement

God has great plans for a specific hill in Millcreek Township – that hill is the land upon which St. Mark’s is situated.  Many of you are aware of the exciting things happening at St. Mark’s.  Over the past five years, St. Mark’s has grown from an average Sunday attendance of around 50 to 150!  The faithful people of St. Mark’s have taken to heart the calling of the resurrected Christ in the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  They have developed a regular practice of inviting friends, family, and co-workers to church.  And they are committed to continually fostering a deeper sense of community, connectivity, and formation through small groups, house groups, Bible studies, outreach ministries, alternative worship experiences, and much more.

Beyond being committed to programmatic and experiential opportunities, the people of St. Mark’s also realize that it’s time to make the physical Parish Hallbuilding of St. Mark’s reflect the Spirit and needs of a growing community.  The current parish hall and church have been basically untouched since their completion in 1961 and 1965.  And let’s face it; brown asbestos tile, cinderblock walls, military green bathrooms, broken windows, no gathering area, and a lack of air conditioning don’t tell a newcomer that a church is alive and growing in Christ in the year 2016.  Even more importantly, the congregation has exceeded the capacity of the current parish hall and is aware of the need to create space for the next 100+ worshippers yet to join to St. Mark’s.

This realization was the birth of our capital campaign and building project.  The congregation fully met their campaign goal of $600,000 and with financial assistance from Diocesan Council, St. Mark’s is Bathroomscurrently in the process of preparing the hill for a 1700 sq. ft. addition to our parish hall and kitchen to include proper storage, kitchen equipment, carpeting, lighting, drywall, and new windows.
A gathering area will also be added to the front of the church to create a space for people to mingle and live further into our practice of welcome and hospitality.  Enlarged and fully renovated restrooms are also part of the plan.  And all of the above mentioned areas will have commercial HVAC!

The church space itself is also being enhanced with new LED lighting (as most of the peak lighting has been burned out since the late 1980s).  And the balcony will be renovated to serve as overflow seating for larger attended liturgies.  As with any building project, there will be things done to the property that won’t been seen, but are necessary to the current and future development of the hill.  We are upgrading the electrical service, installing new electrical panels, abating all asbestos, and creating a land development and stormwater management plan for the long-term growth and development of the hill.

Even though demolition has only been happening for a few weeks, there have been some fun discoveries along the way.  There is a 12-foot stained glass window from the original St. Mark’s building (formerly located at 10th and French Streets) in the corner Trinitarian Stained Glassof the boiler room featuring some wonderful Trinitarian and Eucharistic themes waiting to be resurrected and put into ministry again.  Also, the bell tower came down for restoration allowing us the chance to read the bell.  The bell was made by the Aspinwall Bell Company in 1831 – it’s amazing to think that our bell has been calling Christians to worship for 185 years!  So while St. Mark’s appears to be on the surface a simple 1960s A-frame church, we are discovering our roots and praying that from those roots grow a great movement in the name of Jesus Christ unlike anything ever seen before in our region.  Stop up sometime; I’d love to show you around!

Bell

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

Focus Local – Trinity Church, Houtzdale

Trinity Church in Houtzdale, PA, is a prime example that you don’t have to be a large church to be effective in your community and to deliver on God’s promise of compassion. They are representative of the current revival of the neighborhood church model where congregations live into being the church of and in the neighborhood in which they are located.

Trinity is doing just that. They support many local clubs and institutions that make a difference in the community. They recently completed their semi-annual Roast Beef Dinner, held in late spring. A 10% of the proceeds from last year’s dinner went towards three local fire companies and to a local Veterans’ Halfway House. They also give 10% of their total income each month to the local school’s backpack program that provides weekend meals to needy children.

They have also leveraged their space to support the community. The church facility is used by the Houtzdale Lions Club for their dinner meetings and, from February through April, as practice for their annual “Showboat” Show. The Showboat Show is held each year as the Lions Club’s major fundraiser and Fr. Bill Ellis, vicar at Trinity Church, and a few members of the church participate in the show. Other organizations also use the facility for their meetings: the Widow/Widowers Club, the MoValley Alumni Association, and the Lady Damsel Soccer Club.

Trinity does fellowship that is small and intimate. Each Sunday they have coffee hour and bible study following Eucharist. They are currently studying “The Story” by Adam Barr, which is about how God goes to great lengths to rescue lost and hurting people, which is something Trinity is familiar with. Instead of creating a program to help the poor and marginalized that they would not be able to sustain due to their size, they instead help the individual. Recently they helped a young woman who has Chiari, a disease that affects the brain. The church community came together to provide childcare, cook meals, and help pay medical bills.

Trinity also shows a compassion for who they are and who they were. In addition to fellowship, Coffee Hour is about honoring their older members and the sharing of memories. Recently, they spent time remembering when there were enough Sunday School children at Holy Trinity to put on a Christmas Pageant. They had enough children for a Mary, Joseph, an innkeeper, shepherds, angels and three wise men. There is a dust free box packed full of nostalgia in the back closet. Over 70 years ago, a group of dedicated women made costumes for the “actors.” Gauzy white angel gowns, homespun drab looking tunics for the shepherds, a better quality tunic for the innkeeper and rich, brightly colored robes and turbans for the three kings. The competition to be Mary, in a flowing blue headdress and pure white gown, and stately, protective Joseph, standing so proudly by, was fierce, but Miss Langsford had the last word. She was a retired schoolteacher and would not tolerate any nonsense.

FB_IMG_1450639267291The costumes, made many years ago, were used this past Christmas. The older members sat in the congregation and watched their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren wearing them as they put on a shortened version of the pageant that was done so many years ago. The pageant was enjoyed by all and the children did a great job, even the youngest, who is 2.

Trinity knows that even though the makers of these costumes have passed on, what they made with love lives on and will live on in the compassion of this neighborhood church.

By Eleanor Washic and Elizabeth Carey, members of Trinity, Houtzdale.

#doinganewthing Social Media Sunday at St. Mark’s

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

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Screen shot of Kate Amatuzzo’s (with Carly Rowe) Facebook post during the service.

It was only somewhat coincidental that St. Mark’s planned our first attempt at Social Media Sunday on the same day that we heard this passage from the prophet Isaiah. While I admit, I was pleased when I read the appointed lessons, it was actually after the fact! We picked Sunday, March 13, because it was the end of Lent and timely in that folks may in fact be considering attending church for Holy Week and Easter. It was also planned to happen at the same time that we launched our new website (www.saintmarkserie.org in case you were wondering). Once we determined those two things, the Isaiah reading made it all the more appropriate. So much so, that we used #doinganewthing as part of the day!

So why do a Social Media Sunday? This idea is certainly not original to St. Mark’s. The Episcopal Church has done several on a national level in recent years. Why? Because Social Media has become a powerful way to encourage people of faith to share the gospel. Facebook reports that they have 1.2 billion users (238 million in the United States alone) and Twitter reports 230 million users. I think we could all agree that this kind of reach is greater than just about any other medium available right now – oh and it’s free!

Our goal, like others who have done similar events, was to get people beyond their fear of using digital media and understand that these are effective tools that we can use to invite others, show our care and concern, tell our friends about our church, and introduce them to Jesus. Not everyone is an extrovert and not everyone is going to be comfortable walking up to someone and inviting them to church. However, if you are on Facebook or Twitter, you can post, share, invite and you have reached into your network of folks in a way that your church couldn’t do without your help. One on one evangelism times the number of friends you have on Facebook!

59695_976127559130832_6951792523750174087_nOur organization for this Sunday was simple. We produced a handout with clear instructions that everyone who came to church was given. It explained where to find St. Mark’s on Facebook and Twitter and then we suggested posts and tweets and of course hashtags (#doinganewthing #getconnected #stmarks). We gave those who were not on social media a way to participate by giving them the opportunity to write out their tweets and giving them to me to tweet. We also projected the new website and the live twitter feed in the church. (Yes, projecting in an Episcopal church and nothing bad happened, it was just fine.) Both really helped people get engaged. Vanessa Butler was on hand posting and tweeting on behalf of the diocese so our reach was even broader.

The results of all of this were beyond what we could have expected. The participation from the congregation was overwhelming and we had so much fun engaging in it on a Sunday. We picked up 20 new Twitter followers and 10 new page likes on Facebook, all in less than two hours. The website traffic was exponentially higher than any other Sunday morning. Will these people turn up at St. Mark’s for Easter or another Sunday? That remains to be seen, but at least they now know who we are and what we stand for when they decide that they are ready to come to church.

An unexpected result was that our members found new relationships and connected with other members they may not have otherwise connected with, by liking and sharing their posts and tweets. They were looking for each other after the services, introducing themselves by asking “Were you the one that posted that?”.

We said all along it was about the relationships, not the technology. Indeed it was. We reached hundreds of people outside of the walls of St. Mark’s on March 13 and we formed community for those who were already there. Win, win, and, yes, we would most certainly do it again!

Carly Rowe, Associate for Programs and Development, St. Mark’s, Erie

Update On St. Jude’s

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 11.57.36 AMDecember 17, ERIE, PA–Bishop Sean Rowe announced on Wednesday that, in keeping with the recommendations of its Vision Committee, St. Jude’s, an Episcopal mission with three centers of ministry that began in January, 2011, will conclude its ministry on December 31.

After that date, two of the ministry centers—Trinity Church in New Castle and St. Clement’s Church in Greenville will continue as missions of the diocese, and the Church of the Redeemer in Hermitage will close. Bishop Rowe will preside and preach at Redeemer’s final service on January 31.

In his letter to St. Jude’s congregants, Rowe acknowledged that the end of St. Jude’s and the closing of Church of the Redeemer is a painful time for many of its members and for him. “But as I said at diocesan convention last month, I believe that God is leading us to a new place in a new time, and this movement is only possible because together we have done the hard work of examining what has worked and what hasn’t, and have trusted one another enough to recognize hard truths,” he wrote.

“Over the past five years we have made many friends from all three ministry centers, we have laughed together and cried together, we have started new ministries and even enhanced current ministries,” said Jeff Mills, a member of Church of the Redeemer and treasurer of St. Jude’s. “But we were not able to grow our church enough to be self-sustaining based on the current setup.”

After the ministry of St. Jude’s concludes, St. Clement’s will continue as a mission under the part-time direction of the Rev. Doug Dayton. Trinity Church will undertake a period of “intentional development,” said Rowe, who has appointed the Rev. Erin Betz Shank as its vicar.

Betz Shank was sponsored for ordination by St. John’s Episcopal Church in Franklin, where she grew up. She was educated at Thiel College, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Boston University, and the General Theological Seminary in New York, and was ordained by Rowe in February. She currently serves as assistant rector at Middleham & St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish in California, Maryland.

“There is an old cliché that says as one door closes another door opens,” said Dorothy Perkins, a member of Trinity Church in New Castle who served on the Vision Committee. “It will be an exciting time in our church life as we move forward, worshiping and working together with our new priest, Erin. She is an energetic, spiritual young woman who will work alongside us to reach our goals of having a stronger presence in the community, developing a strong stewardship program and finding ways to serve the needy of our community with a strong outreach program.”

Later in 2016, after what Rowe terms “a time of preparation,” the diocese will plant a new church in Hermitage under the leadership of Jason Shank, a Methodist pastor and experienced church planter who is beginning the process of ordination in the Episcopal Church. He is married to Erin Betz Shank.

Church planting, said Rowe, has long been part of the diocese’s congregational development strategy, and Hermitage’s growing population and economy make it a good candidate to be the location of the diocese’s first new church in 50 years.

“Hermitage is a growing, changing community, and we know that thriving congregations reflect their communities in worship style, outreach, and parish life,” said Bishop Rowe. “As difficult as it is, the Vision Committee and I determined that the people of the Church of the Redeemer were better equipped to embrace a fresh vision for a new generation of Hermitage families and residents than to work within the existing constraints.”

Members of all three congregations are invited to meet with Bishop Rowe on January 3. On that day, he will preach and preside at the 8 a.m. service in New Castle and meet with the congregation afterward, and preach and preside at the 11 a.m. service in Hermitage and meet with the congregations of Church of the Redeemer and St. Clement’s afterward. Members of the St. Jude’s Vision Committee will also attend both meetings.