“There and Back Again” – Adventures in Episcopal Communications

I’m not a “big crowds” person, generally. I don’t go to concerts, I skip school reunions, and I avoid the mall on Saturday afternoons as though my life depended on it. That being said, you can probably imagine my trepidation as I stood outside the airport waiting to catch the bus headed to the Episcopal Communicators conference in downtown Cincinnati. (I know, I know – a SHY communications person? We really do exist, I swear.) Talking back and forth with hundreds of people on Facebook and email is one thing, but meeting them in person is a somewhat more nerve-wracking experience, especially as a first-time conference attendee.

I sat at the bus stop nervously checking the conference and metro schedules on my phone, and whether it was the look on my face or the fact that I was obviously an out-of-towner, two young guys waiting for the same bus took pity on me. In the thirty minutes it took us to get from the airport to the hotel, they’d explained to me which stop was mine, gave me at least four recommendations on where to eat,  told me where they were staying in case I needed anything, and sent me off with wishes to “have a great time!”. Grace pops up in the oddest places, but it’s usually when we need it most.

There was just enough time after I’d checked in for me to drop my bags in my room and try to tame my humidity-frizzled hair before registration closed, so I did a quick check in the mirror and then made my way to the conference floor to pick up my nametag.  (There were a few large groups meeting in town that week, and for the first day and a half of the conference one would regularly see people looking around at other’s nametags to be sure they were heading towards the correct meeting room.  Several of us in the EpisComm group made conversation with the Tasters’ Conference people down the hall, though we never did figure out how to sneak in so we could be part of the vanilla bean tasting. Maybe next time!)

I suppose my initial worries about the conference were unfounded – in a room full of professional communicators, it’s almost impossible not to be drawn into conversation unless you’re actively working at it. There were roughly 150 people from all corners of the country in attendance, and the noise level in the room could be described as ‘lively’. I slipped into an empty seat about halfway between the door and the announcer’s podium, and within moments I’d been introduced to everyone at the table, and another first-time attendee from southern Florida (who was simultaneously updating his Facebook page in both English and Spanish) asked me which workshops I was planning to attend. I was in!

As we chatted I wondered how long it would take the EpisComm President to get everyone quiet so we could begin the plenary session – a minute? Two? Would she have to bang a gavel? My speculations were wildly off.  At three o’clock sharp she stepped up the microphone, coughed politely, and then said, “The Lord be with you.”

“AND ALSO WITH YOU!”  rang out from every corner of the room, and then there was silence. Amazing!

It’s even more amazing when you consider that this response, and the liturgy as a whole, is something we all share in spite of our manifold differences. The Episcopal Communicators are quite a mixed bunch. Over the course of the conference I met a delightful young lady from Oregon state and a gentleman from London, a woman who was the sole communicator for her small parish in Maryland and another who was head of communications for the entire state of Minnesota, men and women, baby boomers and millennials, Episcopalians, Catholics, and one woman who regularly attends a Quaker service (!). So many differences, but all united in their purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

The thing that really sold me on the greatness of conferences is that you have an incredible bank of talented people all within reach, sharing their ideas and resources freely. Jana Riess, the keynote speaker and author of The Twible, was a wealth of information during her addresses, and between times she made herself available to anyone who wanted to chat (or get their book copy signed).  As for workshops, there were at least two media teams that had tips on how to tailor your church’s social media presence; Scott Gunn of Forward Movement gave a tutorial on how to take pictures with basic point and shoot cameras; Episcopal Relief and Development had a highly interesting discussion on the Asset Map (which is a fabulous resource for churches) – and this was just from the professionals during formal workshop time. Conversations were happening EVERYWHERE – at the breakfast table, in the elevator, at the yarn store (knitters gotta knit!).  The spontaneous discussions were just as productive as the workshops, in some ways – comparing situations with others ‘on the ground’ and seeing what each of us does differently can be both eye-opening and instructive. As someone relatively new to diocesan communications I wasn’t sure that I would have much to offer others, but in the course of conversation it happened that we spawned some new ideas for reaching out to college students, and I had some input in a promotional video concept for Taize services. (Don’t discount your contributions out of hand – God may have plans you’re unaware of!) Plus, as a result of those spontaneous meetings we were all able to share contact information for continued collaboration outside conference time, so the fun didn’t end when we said goodbye Saturday morning.

No one, and no church, should be an island – if we want to share God’s story and be part of the Jesus Movement, we need to take a chance and come out of our shells a bit. So, from my shy self to you, a word of recommendation: communicate!

And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15    I think you’ll be glad you did.

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

Church Bells To Be Rededicated

This article appeared in the Philipsburg Journal on April 14, 2017. 

The bells of St. Laurence Episcopal Church in Osceola Mills, which have not resounded together in some time, will ring in the Resurrection on Easter Sunday at 11 a.m., thanks to rehabilitation by master bell restorationist Brian Michaels of Forest. Delivery of a newly-fabricated part for one of the bells last week means that all three of them will be ready for their debut by Easter.

“To think we looked high and low for someone to bring back our bells, only to find an expert right in our own back yard,” says church board member Sheila Heath of Chester Hill.

“… He took a look, pronounced our bell tower good and solid, and prescribed a little TLC for two of our three bells, only one of which was in working order,” says church organist Luther Gette of Michaels.

According to Michaels, only a little cleaning and oiling was needed for two of the bells, along with tightening up the mounts, some new bell rope, etc.

“It was bell number three – the middle in tone – that required a new bolt, since the old one had rusted out and could no longer hold the clapper assembly,” Michaels explains.

“I searched for a manufacturer to make a new one, – 15 inches long and made out of stainless steel – and finally found a firm willing to do the job.”

The three bronze bells of St. Laurence Church were cast by the McShane Foundry in Baltimore in 1898, only six years after the church was built in 1892.

They were first housed in a small, temporary bell tower until the present tower was built in 1904 by the Osceola Lumber Co.

The present restoration was undertaken as part of a general sprucing-up for the 125th anniversary of the church.

“We’re hoping the bells can ring once again for many occasions in the community, such as the Fourth of July Parade and Osceola Spirit Days,” says Fr. William Walker, pastor of St. Laurence.

“We will be blessing them on Easter Sunday, a few moments before the service at 11 a.m., and we invite the whole community to come and participate.  Or just listen from anywhere in town as the beautiful three-bell peal wafts over Lingle Street and the park.”

Article submitted by Luther Gette, organist at St. Laurence, Osceola Mills. 

Upcoming Services of Ordination

There are some exciting events coming up in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. Please join us at the following services as we welcome new clergy to the Diocese!

Bishop Sean will ordain Dorothy Konyha, David Betz, Mark Elliston, and Nicholas Evancho to the Diaconate on Sunday, May 7, at 5:00 PM at the Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie. The Rt. Rev. William Franklin, Bishop of the Diocese of Western New York, will preach. All are welcome to attend. Please keep all the candidates in your prayers as they prepare for ordination.

Then, on June 25, Bishop Sean will ordain the Rev. Jason Shank to the priesthood at 4:00 PM at Trinity Episcopal Church in New Castle.   Join us if you are able and please keep Jason and the Resurrection church plant in your prayers as they begin their new ministry together.

 

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Invitation to the Diocesan Prayer Vigil – March 17 & 18

altar-boy-1190759_1920The conviction that praying shapes believing is part of our Anglican heritage.  Prayer is a core practice of our Christian faith and serves as both a foundation and covering for our common mission.

I invite you to join me in prayer for our diocese at St. John’s, Sharon, on March 17-18 from noon to noon.  We will set aside 24 hours to pray for each other, our common life and mission, and our communities.

Please join us as you are able.  I recognize that not everyone will be able to join us in Sharon, but I hope that you will offer prayer from wherever you are during that time.

+Sean

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The schedule for the prayer vigil is below.  As you can see on the schedule, we will be praying from noon to noon with services and events planned throughout the vigil.  All are welcome to join us for any portion of the vigil, whether that be attending a single service, coming just to pray on your own for a time, or being present for the full 24 hours.  There will be food provided throughout our time.

We will also have a form on the website for those who would like to submit prayer requests to be prayed over by our intercessors.  You are welcome to submit as many as you would like.

If you have any questions about this event or submitting a prayer request, please contact Vanessa.

Schedule for Prayer Vigil
March 17-18
St. John’s, Sharon
12:00 PM       Stations of the Cross
2:30 PM         Centering Prayer teaching and prayer time
5:30 PM         Evening Prayer
7:00 PM         Healing Service
10:00 PM      Compline
11:00 PM       Oral Reading of Book of Revelation
12:00 AM      Private Prayer/Intercession over submitted prayers
7:00 AM         Morning Prayer and Praise
9:00 AM        Prayerwalk & prayers for community
11:00 AM       Eucharist
12:00 PM      Lunch with St. John’s Family Kitchen (if you wish to stay)

Diocesan Summer Camp 2017 – Go!

Whether you like to swim or play basketball, read or do crafts, challenge yourself on the high ropes, or just be with new and old friends, Diocesan Summer Camp has something for everyone!

This year’s camp is June 11th through 17th, and the theme is “Go!”  Be challenged on the ropes course, camp1learn a little Tae Kwon Do, do some acting, worship together, explore nature, play sports, splash in the pool, make art and much, much more. Come and have a great time making new friends, seeing old friends, interacting with caring counselors, enjoying dynamic worship and of course having a lot of fun!

The cost per camper is $345. Scholarships are available: please contact Dennis Blauser at 724-699-3747 or frdenny@earthlink.net.

Now Accepting Applications for Mission Trip to the Dominican Republic

And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’  Mark 16:15

The Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania will conduct a third mission trip to the Dominican Republic to work with our partner congregation, Cristo Salvador, from July 21-29, 2017.

Cristo Salvador Episcopal Church in Santiago offers hope amidst the drug use and poverty of their neighborhood, ever trying to reach out to IMG_9607those around them. With this in mind, rather than simply sending money and never meeting one another, folks from our diocese will work with the folks there, getting to know one another, learning from each other, and experiencing different ways of life. We will also assist with the church’s Vacation Bible School, which will help Cristo Salvador proclaim the good news to the youth and adults of their neighborhood. We are going to support them, hoping that what we do furthers their ministry in that community. You can read more about our diocese’s relationship with Cristo Salvador and the mission trips in 2015 and 2016 here.

image1We are currently accepting applications for volunteers for this year’s mission trip through February 15th. More information about the trip can be found at http://dionwpa.org/our-diocese/mission-trip-2017, as well as an online application. Please note that at this time you must be 15 years of age or older to participate in the DR Mission Trip.

If you have further questions about the trip or how to apply, please contact the Rev. Melinda Hall. We look forward to sharing the experiences of this year’s group of volunteers this coming July!

Congratulations, Father Timothy!

Congratulations to Father Timothy Dyer of the Episcopal Mission of Warren County on his ordination this past Sunday, December 11th!

Photos of the ordination can be seen below, and full video of the service is available here.  God’s blessing on your ministry, Fr. Timothy.

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Victorian Christmas Brings Community to Holy Trinity

Rarely am I rendered speechless, but Saturday was such an occasion.  It began with the complete transformation of our parish hall into an img_2051art gallery.  We took every shred of furniture to a giant closet upstairs and constructed large frames with black over them on which to hang art; we flipped bookshelves and desks to create gallery space.  And we filled the entire place with local artists, exhibiting photography, paintings, drawings, felting, and ceramics.  This is to say nothing of the sanctuary, in which the Stations of the Cross were replaced with bright linoleum prints by a famous local artist, and which was host to five different musical performances that afternoon, from young violinists to well-known guitarists and dulcimer players.

But here’s the piece de resistance: we also hosted the Chamber of Commerce Wine Walk, which guaranteed loads of people would be in our img_2065building to see the art and hear the music.  Our folks provided an array of tasty cookies, cheeses (horseradish takes blue ribbon), and meatballs, providing hospitality to all the people who came through our space that day.  One of our members stood outside in the cold all afternoon to direct people and convince them that yes, the winery was really in the parish hall- it wasn’t a bizarre joke.

It took all of us pulling together; Holy Trinity is a small congregation, numbering in the img_2070twenties.  So, why, you might ask, did we go to all the trouble?  Because that Saturday is the biggest Saturday in our town: part of the annual Victorian Christmas Celebration.  You want to prove community buy-in?  Then you must show up for the main events.  We have a wonderfully gifted musical couple who organized the art and music; the rest of the congregation had the interest and willingness to provide good hospitality.  And voila, a brilliant event was born.

We had fun.  Yes, it was work.  Yes, I collapsed on my couch in a dark room after the event concluded.  But it was a blast and a complete success: now over 400 people have discovered where Holy Trinity is.  I heard people coming in say they didn’t know this church was here; as they left, my greeter heard them say it was such a warm church.  Mission accomplished!  The full mission of reaching people for Jesus?  Of course not. But getting people to know we exist in the community, that’s a terrific first step, and we’re working on how to follow-up.

I’ve gone from speechless to gushing, but I’m wicked proud of everyone’s work and everyone’s joy in the work.  The work of getting known in img_2061-2a community, of sharing the love of God, is one that takes time and commitment; it requires understanding of what church is and how church is not about the people who already attend, but about those who do not yet attend.  I’m gushing because that transformation is taking place at Holy Trinity.  It will take time; it will be hard work.  But the Holy Spirit is moving in new directions, at Holy Trinity and in this diocese.  I’m excited and scared and interested to see just what she will do in our midst to change us and our communities.

Melinda Hall is vicar of Holy Trinity, Brookville

Giving Thanks – St. James’ Community Soup Kitchen

img_1709-478x640If you drive through Titusville on a Tuesday morning just before lunch time, you may notice how busy the corner of Main Street and Franklin Avenue is compared to the rest of town. Cars line the edge of the roadway, and people walking singly or in groups of three or four make their way down the sidewalk towards the doors of the St. James Parish Hall. Outside the hall a white sign proclaims “St. James Community Soup Kitchen Today 12 – 1 pm. All are Welcome!”

All are indeed welcome to this particularly busy ministry of St. James, as I came to find out. I spoke with Eda Scales and Noni Stanford, two of the soup kitchen coordinators, last Tuesday as they were preparing to serve over 200 people for the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Even though I arrived at 11 am, well before the usual serving hour, most of the tables in the hall were already full of people chatting and having steaming cups of coffee, enjoying each other’s company and relaxing before the beginning of the meal. Volunteers zipped back and forth, topping up glasses and making last minute preparations, but everyone I passed had enough time to smile and say hello as they went about the business of Thanksgiving dinner.
The food program at St. James has been running continuously since 2001, serving hot meals once a week to anyone who drops in. The first few dinners had perhaps a dozen people in attendance, but numbers have increased steadily to the point that on any given Tuesday there are img_1706-640x478at least a hundred people in and out of St. James’ hall, sharing a meal and fellowship (and double that for the Thanksgiving celebration).  Volunteer participation is both ecumenical and community-oriented: at least four churches in the area send helpers to aid the St. James’ crew, and they are often joined by women from the St. James House – a shelter program run by the local YWCA that is housed in the old church rectory. On the few occasions when Canon Martha Ishman is unable to attend dinners, Pastor Terry Brown of the Methodist church in Enterprise gives the blessing before the meal.

The program was given a jumpstart in its early days with a grant from the Diocese, but between donations from parishioners and support from local groups and businesses like Northwest Hardwoods, the VFW, United Way, and a partnership with the Second Harvest Food Bank, the soup kitchen ministry is now self-sufficient and able to provide hot meals and groceries for people in and around the Titusville area. It is also one of the only regularly scheduled soup kitchens in the area that doesn’t charge a fee for the meal. Eda pointed out to me that not only does the program meet financial, social, and spiritual needs for attendees in general, it is particularly valuable to people with special circumstances: the working poor, people on fixed incomes or Social Security, and others who may not qualify for assistance programs, but still find themselves in need. There are no qualifiers to participate in the food ministry, and everything is on the honor system – if someone says they have a need, they may receive.

The program also encompasses the God’s Abundance Cupboard food pantry, which began on an emergency basis whenever the church was open, and has since grown so that there are now twice-monthly scheduled pickup days where families can come and get a bag of groceries including fruit, cereal, soup, vegetables, and (thanks to a grant from Giant Eagle) two packages of frozen meat. The food pantry now gives out approximately 70 bags of groceries each pickup day.
The financial benefit of the meals and grocery donations is readily evident when you see the number of people who participate in the program. As I walked around the tables and chatted with people the social and spiritual benefits made themselves known. For many of the attendees, the soup kitchen is about much more than a hot meal – it’s an important social space, and a church outside of church. From Noni: img_1689-599x640“If you miss a week or something, they ask ‘where were you last week?’ They feel like this is their church, even if they don’t all come on Sundays.” It’s obvious that the people visiting last Tuesday felt at home. Chatter passed back and forth between people and tables with a familiarity that only comes from regular interaction. I sat down near the kitchen to chat with one young woman and her 14-month old daughter, and she mentioned that she was there because her parents came regularly. Her father was seated further down the table, and he introduced me to his wife, one of his cousins, and another relative (who was one of the volunteers, and not able to sit with them as he was working). He said how much they appreciate the church, and his wife jumped in to tell me a story about how one of the previous priests, after seeing that she had been crying at one of the meals, was able to get them help that saved them from being evicted from their home. Both volunteers and people sitting at tables stopped me as I walked around and asked if I needed a seat or a plate, and there wasn’t a single table where someone didn’t have a story or a joke to share (or a groan about the upcoming snow in the weather forecast). As Eda had said while we talked, “you see the face of God in everyone around the tables.” If the smiles on the faces of the volunteers are any indication, they receive as much joy in giving as the attendees do in receiving.

Noni walked by with a large tray filled with slices of pumpkin pie, signaling an end to the first wave of dining, and I waved goodbye and worked my way back through the tables towards the exit. Knots of people who had finished eating or were waiting for spaces to open up at the tables stood in the entry hall and outside on the sidewalk, and several folks wished me a happy holiday as I zipped up my jacket and headed down the street.

I walked out the doors of the hall that day far more uplifted in spirit than I had been prior to arriving. The weather may be getting colder and the days shorter, but God’s presence in this ministry will continue warming hearts throughout western PA’s people for hopefully many years to come.

Megin Sewak, Communications Specialist for the Diocese of Northwestern PA