A Tour to Christ Church’s Past

The annual Grove Hill Cemetery Tours were held this year on September 8, and the event turned into an unofficial celebration of Christ Episcopal Church in Oil City. The cemetery dates to 1870 and each year the tours feature current residents of Oil City portraying past residents of Oil City.

This year’s tour booklet featured 32 figures from the past and at least 10 were members of Christ Episcopal Church. A local photographer, whose family provided the land the current church building sits on, was also included in the booklet. Of the eleven people portrayed, three were members of Christ Episcopal Church. Three of the eleven re-enactors were also members of the church.

Becca Swartzlander, treasurer of the Altar Guild, portrayed Miss Margaret Reid. Margaret’s great-great-grandfather served as interpreter for Chief Cornplanter of the Seneca Indian tribe and held power-of-attorney for Cornplanter. Her great-uncle and father were involved in the Reid Gas Engine Company, pioneers in oilfield equipment.  However, Miss Reid was best known for her nearly 40 years of teaching in the Oil City Schools. She wrote A History of Christ Church in 1987 and is responsible for the excellently maintained historical records of the church.

Jocelind Gant, the member of our congregation responsible for our Second Harvest Food ministries, portrayed Carrie Peterson, one of the most unique stories told this year. Peterson was born into slavery in Virginia around 1850 and came to Oil City in the early 1860s. It is unclear if she came as a fugitive slave or as a free woman.  She had some association with Robert and Isaac Mann, late of Allegheny City. Robert was one of the founders of the AME Church in Oil City and Isaac wrote for an African-American newspaper in Harrisburg.

I portrayed the Rev. James H. B. Brooks, 6th Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, serving from 1883 until his death in 1901. Brooks was pastor during the building of the current church and during the Fire and Flood of 1892. The church building was used as a hospital during this disaster. Father Brooks’ health never totally recovered from that incident. In researching the life of Rev. Brooks, it was noted that the two seminaries and three other parishes he served still survive today, with some mergers involved.

Some of the other members of the church from the 19th and early 20th century in the tour booklet included Thomas Cowell, Kenton Chickering, John Campbell, John Tonkin, Margaret Winifred Tonkin, Thomas Porteous, Annie Clark, and William Lay. Winifred Tonkin died in a tragic railway accident in 1901 and is memorialized in one of the church’s windows, and the Winifred Tonkin Guild still provides for the needy of the community, a living memorial to her memory.

Cowell, Chickering, and Campbell all served on the Vestry during Father Brooks’ tenure. His Vestry actually resembled a Board of Directors meeting for Standard Oil. Christ Church’s Vestry records indicate that Father Brooks wisely indicated upon arrival that he would leave all temporal matters in the hands of his Vestry.  I read through about 50 years worth of Vestry notes (preserved by Miss Reid) before the tours, trying to learn more of Brooks and his time here. What I found was a man that served as pastor to a community, calling on sick and injured people that had no affiliation with any congregation. The oil business was not a stable business, with booms and busts and fortunes made and lost. Yet the Vestry had no issue with committing to building a new church building in those uncertain times, when the budget often was at a deficit.  Kenton Chickering’s great-grandson, Ken, still spends some summer months in our area, away from his home parish in Houston. He was kind enough to lend me his library of materials about Oilwell Supply, founded by Kenton, and I got to spend the winter with those materials. Before he returned to Houston this year, I was able to provide a copy of the beautiful tribute paid to his great-grandfather by his fellow Vestrymen upon his death in 1908.

I have always loved history and I always will. I truly appreciate the work that Margaret Reid did preserving our church records. I treasure my friendship with Ken and enjoyed the records of the past he shared with me.  Margaret was also instrumental in our sponsorship at the church of a family of refugees from Vietnam in the 1980s. Ken has spent his life working in Texas in a career that has little to do with his family’s oilfield origins, but is still an Episcopalian. Both appreciate the past but learned to embrace change. An appreciation for history does not mean we must live in the past. It should enable us to learn from that past. Ignoring the past and living in the past both have bad outcomes. We live in exciting times, faced with changes and challenges and opportunities in the Church and the world that our ancestors could not have imagined.

Some words from the poet T. S. Eliot will serve us well as we approach what promises to be an exciting diocesan convention:

“And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it.  The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without.”

The Rev. Mark Elliston is vicar of Christ Church, Oil City.

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.

Taking it On the Road: The Cathedral Choir Tour of 2018

After two years of planning and preparation, the Cathedral Choir and some additional travelers will depart for Coventry Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.  Why in the world would anyone undertake such a project?

A choir tour is great fun for the singers.  It’s a chance to travel abroad, sing in wonderful places that you would not be able to sing on your own, and visit sights you would not see otherwise.  It builds camaraderie within the group.  It enhances the musicality of the choir.  It’s great for the choir.  But there are other aspects.  It’s a pilgrimage, a time for personal reflection and spiritual renewal.  Individuals are moved to depths they might never otherwise experience.  It also allows us to bring a bit of the US, Erie, the Episcopal Church and our Diocese to those who hear us sing.  We’re ambassadors, perhaps even evangelists! The majority of the music we will be singing is by American composers, including Harry T. Burleigh.  We’ll be bringing copies of our CD to distribute to share the story and music of Burleigh and his connection to our Cathedral and city.

Here are some quotes from individuals on our last two choir trips that illustrate the impact:

“It was the trip of a lifetime which we will always cherish.  It certainly left a mark on us spiritually and made us proud to be Episcopalians.”  “Much had been spoken in advance about the pilgrimage aspect of our trip but I was thinking of it only as a vacation.  However, our first night singing at Canterbury Cathedral it hit me during the anthem of what I was doing.  I knew that if I gave into those feelings I would not be able to finish the piece so in true “stiff upper lip” mode, I pressed on.  That was a moment I will remember for a long time.” 

On this trip, August 3-13, we have 24 singers, most of whom are regular members of the Cathedral Choir.  Our organist, Ethan LaPlaca, grew up in Erie, earned a degree in music education and organ from Duquesne and now teaches in Mt Lebanon.  He has been coming to Erie this past year to play for Evensongs as we prepared the repertoire for the trip.  In additional to the singers, we have family members and friends who will travel with us, bringing the total number of our group to 41.

We begin with a weekend in Coventry where we will sing for the morning Eucharist and Evensong.  Coventry is unique, having been bombed in WWII and later rebuilt, preserving the ruins.  Dean Witcombe writes on their website: “It is a wonderful and renewing place for anyone of any age to visit. The narrative of chaos and destruction being taken and offered back to God, issuing in resurrection and new life, is one that speaks into the reality of lives of many of our visitors. The Cathedral is a physical expression of hope, of love, and of celebration.” 

The majority of our time will be spent in Oxford, with the choir singing daily services at 6:00 pm from Tuesday through Sunday.  We also sing for Choral Matins and the Eucharist on Sunday morning.  And there will still be time for some touring each day before our daily choral services.

Dean Downey will be preaching at the morning Eucharist while we are in Coventry. He will also serve as the Officiant at Evensongs while in Oxford.  Deacons Dorothy Konyha and Richard Nygaard will be traveling with us, too.  Look for updates about our adventures while we are away. Please pray for safe travels and new encounters with God’s grace and glory.

Sharon Downey is Canon Musician for the Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie. 

Church Nerd: What the Heck Does General Convention Look Like Anyways? Edition

How to adequately describe The Episcopal Church’s General Convention…

The Super Bowl of church nerding, where, rather than the Lombardi Trophy, heavenly treasure is awarded to those who can last through 10 days of legislative business without having a “Jesus flipping tables in the temple” moment?

Disney World for church nerds, where you can experience the magic of ministry and mission with thousands of other likeminded folk and, rather than parades of princesses in gowns, we have processions of bishops in rochets and chimeres?

ComicCon for church nerds, where we can all take selfies with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, deputies from around the world, and a cardboard cutout of the last saint to win Lent Madness?

All of the above?

The official explanation of General Convention is that it’s “the governing body of The Episcopal Church that meets every three years. It is a bicameral legislature that includes the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, composed of deputies and bishops from each diocese. During its triennial meeting deputies and bishops consider a wide range of important matters facing the Church. In the interim between triennial meetings, various committees, commissions, agencies, boards and task forces created by the General Convention meet to implement the decisions and carry on the work of the General Convention.”

Bicameral legislature? I don’t know about you, but it’s been a while since my high school civics course. So, let’s bust out our Schoolhouse Rock lessons, shall we?  Remember “I’m Just a Bill?”  If you don’t, we’ll wait while you look it up on YouTube.

General Convention works sort of like that, except we would be singing “I’m Just a Resolution” (which doesn’t have quite the same rhythm…maybe we could sing it to the tune of “I am the Bread of Life” where meter doesn’t matter) and we don’t have an Executive Branch with veto power (Episcopalians would never stand for it).

Now you may be saying to yourself, “Great! But I could have Googled and found all that myself, Ms. Lazy Blogger. What does all that actually look like?” I’m so glad you asked.

It looks like the staff of the General Convention office starting to plan each event years in advance. It looks like them working what seems like 24 hours a day during the convention, handling issues and fielding countless questions and complaints with patience and grace.

It looks like interim bodies meeting in person, by telephone, and by video conference, doing the work assigned to them by the last General Convention.  It looks like innumerable studies and surveys undertaken to inform their work.  It looks like writing and editing and re-editing reports to be sent out to the Church, to better inform discernment and decision-making on an array of topics.

It looks like bishops and deputies starting weeks (and, in some cases, months) ahead of time, reading, researching, and networking so they are well educated about what will appear before them at General Convention.

It looks like the staff and volunteers in the Secretariat working endless hours to make sure that the legislative business is conducted seamlessly and that the work done at the General Convention is recorded properly for future reference.  (Side note: the Secretariat is where you’ll find me. This will be my fourth General Convention serving as the minutes writer for the House of Deputies. You can read more about a day in the life of a Secretariat volunteer here.)

It looks like legislative committees meeting at 7:30 AM, fueled by Starbucks and the occasional Coca-Cola.  It looks like the committees holding hearings in the evening so that anyone can give input on the resolutions in the committees’ care, and then burning the midnight oil, working on crafting amendments and deciding on recommendations, only to turn around and be right back at 7:30 the next morning to start all over again.

It looks like days of legislative sessions where hundreds of pieces of legislation are presented, debated, amended, passed, rejected, and referred.  It looks like legislative decisions informed by prayerful discernment and conversation.

It looks like hundreds of volunteers gathered from all over the country, working together with people they’ve never met to help conduct the business of The Episcopal Church.  It looks like registration agents, door greeters, gallery monitors, ushers, language aides, virtual binder distributors, pages, committee supporters, among others.

It looks like church communicators, laden with laptops and camera equipment, rushing from session to session and event to event, continually seeking Wi-Fi, and telling the stories of General Convention for all those who want to be connected.

It looks like ministries and vendors setting up shop in the massive exhibit hall and hosting receptions and dinners. It looks like people dedicated to their ministries hoping to spread the word about their own niche in the Kingdom, seeking those who need their help or those who can join in the work.

It looks like diocesan staff members, bishops’ and deputies’ spouses, and others taking countless trips to grocery stores, drug stores, and restaurants, making sure those who are enmeshed in the legislative work of General Convention are fed and taken care of.

It looks like staff, family members, and volunteers holding down the fort at home and at work while us church nerds do our thing for two weeks.

It looks like shared Eucharists and prayer groups. It looks like worshiping with those we don’t otherwise worship with, possibly in ways that we don’t normally worship.

It looks like friends and family and colleagues reuniting and rejoicing in each other’s company.

It looks like differing beliefs and values held in balance in the interest of remaining a unified group of Christian brethren.

It looks like love and hospitality.

It looks like church in the way we are called to be church.

I can’t wait. See you in Austin!

Vanessa Butler is Canon for Administration for the Diocese of NWPA and Minutes Secretary to the House of Deputies at General Convention. 

*Author’s note: If you’re looking for a more detailed description of the legislative work of General Convention or for materials such as resolutions, schedules, orientation videos, etc., please visit the diocesan website, where we have gathered links to these resources.  Before and during General Convention, we will also be posting on this blog and on social media, so watch out for intros to our deputies, reports back from General Convention, and other updates.

Ordination of Nicholas Evancho

We wish congratulations and blessings to the Rev. Nicholas Evancho on his ordination to the priesthood and upcoming move to the Diocese of Southern Ohio, where he will serve as a curate at Christ Church in Glendale.

Photos of the ordination service, which was held on Saturday, June 2, at Church of the Epiphany in Grove City, are below.

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Ordination of Nicholas Evancho to the Priesthood

It’s a great day in the Kingdom, and especially in the Diocese of NWPA! Bishop Sean will ordain Nicholas Evancho to the priesthood on Saturday, June 2, at 2:00 PM at the Church of the Epiphany in Grove City, PA. All are welcome to attend.

To learn more about Nicholas’ journey to the priesthood, read Trusting the Call, about his decision to become a priest, and Who Knew There Were So Many Chipotles, a reflection from Nicholas on his first year of seminary.

Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile
the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those
whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours for ever. Amen.

Time for the Diocesan Picnic at Waldameer!

The Diocesan Picnic at Waldameer is just around the corner! This great opportunity for worship, fellowship and fun will be held on Sunday, June 17, 2018.  It is hoped and expected that those coming to the picnic would also attend the worship service at 11:00 AM. Bishop Sean will preach and celebrate.

Tickets are $24.00 per person (with a $100 maximum per immediate family), which includes food, rides, and the water park (normal price per person would be $39.35). Congregations are once again being asked to gather money and reservations. Ticket sales must be done in advance using only tickets that are obtained from the Diocese.  No sale of tickets will be permitted at the park.  Reservations from the congregations must be to Vanessa by email or phone (814.456.4203) by noon on Monday, June 4th.  Tickets will then be mailed to the congregations.

Paul Nelson, former diocesan treasurer and owner of Waldameer, is again generously allowing us to keep all proceeds from ticket sales.  The proceeds will be split into two accounts, with 60% of the proceeds being placed in a scholarship fund for Camp Nazareth and 40% of the proceeds becoming available for youth ministry grants for our congregations (information and applications for this grant are available on the diocesan website).

On the day of the picnic, registration will be from 10:00 AM until 10:50 AM, and it is there that you will exchange your tickets for wristbands. There will be no registration during the service.  Registration will resume and the food lines will open after the worship service is completed. Food will be available until 4:00 PM. You must have a wrist band to eat.

Hope to see you at Waldameer!

Diocesan Summer Camp 2018 “Seek the Truth”

Do you like to swim, play sports and games, make crafts, hike, climb a ropes course, or make new friends? If you do, our Diocesan Summer Camp has something for you and more!

Camp is for students who have completed 2nd through 12th grade. Three separate programs are run during the week. Kids Camp is 2nd to 5th grade. Middle School Camp is 6th to 8th grade. High School Camp is 9th to 12th grade.

Camp will take place from June 10 – 16 at Camp Nazareth. The theme this year is “Seek the Truth.” Campers will work in small groups for bible study, discussion, and activities. Worship happens daily.

Camp Nazareth is located in Mercer, PA. It is surrounded by forest with well-marked hiking trails. The camp’s amenities include a pool, basketball court, softball field, high and low ropes course, a chapel, and cabins with showers and bathrooms inside. Each cabin is staffed by adult counselors. Our staff is drawn from volunteers across the diocese.

The cost per camper is $345. However, the first 100 registrations received or postmarked by May 29 will receive a $65 scholarship to reduce the fee to $280.

Registration and deposit payment may be made online at http://dionwpacamp.org/forms/. If registering online, adults will still need to print, sign, and send the consent forms with their child to camp. A camp brochure, consent form if registering online, and printable application form are available to download at the camp website.  Please contact Dennis Blauser at 724-699-3747 or frdenny@earthlink.net for more information.

Camp is the best week of the summer! We hope that you’ll be a part of it.

‘Children of Abraham’ Documentary, produced in Warren, March 3 at Struthers

This article originally appeared in the Warren Times Observer

By STACEY GROSS (sgross@timesobserver.com)

“A Jewish businessman, a Christian priest, and an American Muslim…”

It sounds like the beginning of a joke. But it’s not. It’s the beginning of the tagline for a film produced in Warren County by Glarner Group Production Studio, and it ends “…coexisting in peace.”

Glarner said that he and Mark Robinault made the 45-minute documentary over the course of two years. It’s been shown most recently at the Asian World Film Festival, Glarner said. And now, it’s going to be shown in Warren.

The three men interviewed in the movie are Timothy Dyer, Sam Qadri, and Harvey Stone. All are local or semi-local. Qadri teaches at the Jamestown High school and also is a professor of Muslim Studies at JCC. Dyer is a local priest and Stone is a local businessman.

Glarner said he was sitting at Trinity Episcopal Church in Warren one day listening to Dyer talk about the latest Children of Abraham event – an event designed to introduce those unfamiliar with it to the concept of interfaith discussions – and he wanted to know more.

“Why is he doing this,” Glarner said he found himself wondering as he listened to Dyer talk. Through subsequent conversations, however, Glarner said he  understood perfectly what the goal of the Children of Abraham Project hope to achieve.

Interfaith conversations, said Glarner, are “pretty relevant to everyone right now.” And this, Glarner added, “is the narrative we need to hear.” As opposed to the tendency to divide and fracture people based on differences in belief and lifestyle, the goal of Children of Abraham and of the film is to get people both recognizing they are alike, and also seek to find ways to make connections with those of different faiths. “If there’s going to be some kind of lasting peace in the world then how we’re going to get there is through conversations like these and through a loving heart.”

Glarner said the screening, to be held on Saturday, March 3 at the Struther’s Library Theatre from 7 to 9 p.m. will be both an opportunity to expose a local audience to the film, but also a fundraiser for the Music Conservatory, of which Glarner has been a part since it began. Admission to the film is $10 per person and includes an introduction by Glarner who will talk more about what compelled him to make a documentary based on the interfaith discussions of three local men.