Seek the Face of God

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(The Epiphany, BCP p. 214 )

An epiphany, an encounter with the living God, is sometimes fleeting – a moment in time where we know that we know God is powerfully present. And while the above collect is beautifully worded, it can easily be misconstrued to mean we will only see God face to face in the heavenly hereafter. That is not true.

We see the face of God in everyone we meet. We see the face of God in those we love and in those we barely know. We see the face of God in the poor, the homeless, the outcast and the lonely. Intellectually we know this to be true, but it is much harder to live into this reality because to do so requires much of us.

First it requires an awareness of the other – an acknowledgment that everyone is beloved of God. This is true regardless of their skin color, political persuasion, social status, or income. Second, it requires listening to the other. Listening is a powerful way to bring someone into the fullness of who they were created to be. This is as true of a young child as it is those who are frail and at the end of their years. Their faces light up as they tell their stories. We see the face of God in others also when we take action to relieve suffering. Sometimes this requires hands on work at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Other times it requires sharing our financial resources. Most times it simply means putting someone else’s needs ahead of our own.

The season of Epiphany ushers in a new year full of hope and promise. My prayer is that as we seek the face of God, there will be a double blessing – first for those we encounter, and second for ourselves. May you all have a very blessed New Year.

The Rev. Canon Martha Ishman is Rector at St. James, Titusville, and Canon for Mission Development and Transition for the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Called For Prayer and Service

“Lord, what would you have me do” is the final sentence in the motto of The Order of the Daughters of the King.  It is both a prayer and a call to serve. We, as a lay order of Episcopal women, pray daily to hear God’s call to serve our parish and our community.  The Daughters of the King in this diocese recently answered His call for prayer and service by participating in two very different activities this fall.

We answered His call to prayer at the recent joint convention of the Dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York in Niagara Falls. When the announcement of a joint convention was made, Daughters in NWPA sought to contact Daughters from WNY to plan a joint activity. Alas, we learned there were no chapters in that diocese, and so we contacted Daughters from that Province. Two Daughters from Albany joined Grace Chapter from St. John’s in Franklin and Martha Chapter from Trinity in New Castle to offer prayer for those in attendance at the convention. A prayer table with candles and prayer request cards was set up in the rear of the meeting room. Attendees were encouraged to use the cards and place their prayer requests in a container on the table. We were astounded by the number of prayer requests which we instantly relayed to our members at home.  Prayer was offered in real time and we continued to pray for the petitions for another 30 days.  We also set up a table with information about the Order in the break area and we were delighted with the interest shown by the convention attendees. Plans are being made to visit a number of churches to give informational talks.

Our call to serve was answered by participating in a joint project with WELCA (Women of the Evangelical Church of America): the Lily Project. The Lily Project is a collaborative effort involving women from Good Hope Lutheran Church in Oil City and Grace Chapter of the Daughters of the King at St. John’s, Franklin. The purpose of the project is to assist women who have been victims of rape or sexual assault. These women often come to the ER with damaged clothing or must surrender their clothing as evidence of their assault.  We know this can be dehumanizing and adds to the trauma of the assault, so the Lily Project provides them with fresh clothing and a prayer for God’s comfort and peace. We have collected donations of underclothing, socks, loose athletic pants and t-shirts. These items are placed in a gift bag with a pack of tissues and a prayer square. Each size from small to extra large is placed in a bin marked with the size and then delivered to five area hospitals with a promise to replace items as they are used.

If you are interested in more information about the Order of the Daughters of the King, you can go to the website doknational.org or contact Kathy Paulo at St. John’s, Franklin.

Kathy Paulo is a member of St. John’s, Franklin. 

Blue Christmas Service to be Held in Kane

There is a very active and collegial ministerial association in Kane.  Each month pastors and a few lay leaders from our many churches get together for lunch and spend an hour or two planning for the usual community worship services, a joint vacation bible school, and church participation in other local events.  

We also discuss community problems such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and mental health issues that isolate people from one another. It seems that for the last several months there have been many funerals of both elderly members of our congregations, and as a result of unexpected deaths of younger people. In a town the size of Kane, where we all know one another, the losses, whether of loved ones, employment, or health, are shared losses, and deeply felt, especially as the holidays approach.  

And so it was that at our October meeting, Pastor Jan brought up the idea of having an ecumenical “Blue Christmas” service for people who have suffered a loss of a loved one, or are dealing with other problems that can make holidays difficult and depressing. She had gathered information from a few websites and from other churches in our area which have held such an event.  After a bit of discussion, a committee was formed to look at the idea further.

When the Blue Christmas committee met, we brought together a wealth of materials from many denominations and traditions. We had each collected scripture, litanies, prayers, poems and music. I found several selections on Episcopal Church websites, as well as in our Year C Planning for Rites and Rituals resource book.  

As we discussed what we had pulled together, we recognized that feelings of loss and hopelessness are not limited to adults. Children are deeply affected when a family has experienced a crisis. Heather, one of our youngest pastors, volunteered to have a separate gathering on site for elementary aged children using books and activities that she had pulled together.  She is also looking into bringing in a service dog which is trained to work especially with children in emotional distress.

As the plan for a candlelight service began to form in our minds, we chose the evening of Friday, December 21, the longest night of the year, as the date.  St. John’s was chosen for the location because of its intimate size and comforting atmosphere. Pastor David with his years of chaplain experience will present a homily, and we hope to have a counselor from Hospice speak as well. There will be clergy and lay persons from all of the churches leading the worship time.  Music will include both traditional hymns, Taize, and instrumental, but not Christmas carols as such, since they can be powerful emotional triggers.  Following the service we have planned a time of fellowship with refreshments, as well as the opportunity for people to talk with clergy and other professional counselors. 

With our initial publicity about this event, we have had good feedback so far, and a lot of interest.  We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this endeavor that we may touch the hearts and minds of many who are suffering, and help them to begin to heal.

Becky Harris is a member of St. John’s, Kane. 

Editor’s Note: All are welcome to attend the Blue Christmas Service at St. John’s on Friday, December 21 at 7:00 PM.

Book Review: “Resurrection Matters” by Nurya Love Parish

This post originally appeared at The Black Giraffe blog on May 13, 2018. 

Many books about cutting-edge, transformational ministries are told after the fact.  A new opportunity arose, the Holy Spirit nudged a few faithful, gifted leaders, and, looking back, the whole enterprise seems almost inevitable.  Resurrection Matters: Church Renewal for Creation’s Sake by Nurya Love Parish takes a very different approach.  Nurya tells her story of starting a farm-based ministry while still in its early phase.  Instead of three easy steps to replicate this ministry in your own context, we are blessed by the courageous account of someone struggling to answer her call in a confusing time for the church and critical time for the environment.  How God has led her smack dab into the middle of the fledgling Christian food movement is both challenging and inspirational.

Throughout this book, we are introduced to Nurya’s deepest passions.  Her central passion is her faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Flowing out of that faith are her dedication to the renewal of God’s church and the stewardship of God’s creation.  In Resurrection Matters, we journey with Nurya through the personal stories and the facts and figures that led her to taking a huge risk with her family’s home and savings to start a farm ministry.  Along the way we learn about the infinity loop of organizational renewal, the contemporary church’s “rummage sale”, the modern history of Christian farm ministry, and why millennials seem more interested in organic farming than churches.  Most importantly, we share a Christian leader’s struggles as she finds the necessary wisdom and courage to begin a non-traditional ministry that is beginning to make a difference in the church and the environment.

Resurrection Matters’s engaging style makes for an easy and enjoyable read.  The book contains appendices with a study guide; planning processes for households, congregations, and judicatories; information on community supported agriculture; and lists of resources for further study.  I highly recommend this book to those interested in how the church might engage creation care, as well as to anyone feeling like God may be calling them to start something new.

(Disclaimer: I have worked with Nurya Love Parish on a number of projects, and I received a review copy of Resurrection Matters.)

You can order Resurrection Matters from church publishing or Amazon.

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

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.

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).

Feeding the Future (Part One)

One of the areas we’ve focused on as a diocese is collaboration, and more specifically, how pooling our resources and talents can lead to adaptive change not only in the church, but in our communities for the greater glory of God. While this can take several forms, one obvious area for change is outreach.

We’re fortunate in our diocese to have several congregations who’ve come together to increase the impact of their ministry. For this series, we’ll focus on the Snack Pack outreach project, a collaboration between St. Stephen’s in Fairview and St. Mark’s in Erie to aid youth attending the Erie Charter School of Excellence.

One might ask: Why pick a charter school to partner with for an outreach project? Generally charter schools aren’t thought of as institutions in need of aid, but this particular school and its target demographic are an exception to the rule. From the CSE website:

The Charter School of Excellence initially opened its doors for students on August 26, 2003 for the school year 2003-2004. The school serves students in grades six through twelve from the Erie, Pennsylvania region. Although any student can attend the charter school, the school’s focus is directed toward those students who have had significant difficulties with academic performance in their previous school settings.

As Carly Rowe of St. Mark’s puts it, “These are kids who for whatever reason wouldn’t have made it in the public system.” CSE has a high refugee and English as a second language population, which seems unusual until you consider that, as of May 2017, Erie’s mayoral office estimated that roughly 18% of the city’s population comprises refugee families from countries like Syria, Bhutan, and Iraq, among others. Besides students facing language and cultural barriers, there is also a subset of teen mothers and roughly 30% of CSE students are considered homeless or under housed.

With all the obstacles these students work through on a daily basis, the uncertainty that they will get a meal at home only compounds the difficulty of trying to concentrate in school. Part of providing a recipe for success at CSE is making sure their students have regular meals. Breakfast and lunch are served each school day, but, when it comes to weekends, the school has little control. This is where the Snack Pack outreach program steps in: St. Mark’s and St. Stephen’s have teamed up with the Second Harvest Food Bank to create food packets that are delivered to students two Fridays a month so they have food at home over the weekend. Church volunteers pick up the food from Second Harvest, pack individual bags (along with supplemental items donated by members of both congregations), and volunteers who have passed both Safe Church and school district clearances take the bags to the school and deliver them to students.

While getting food to the students is the basis of this particular outreach project, the hands-on delivery by the volunteers has had an added benefit: the building of relationships between church volunteers and the school faculty and administrative personnel. As the volunteers have become a known quantity in the building, the faculty find it easier to speak with them directly and share additional student needs that may not have been communicated otherwise, which has led to an expansion of the outreach ministry. As a result of speaking with teachers about student needs, St. Mark’s now supplies a hygiene pantry at the school, where church members donate items like toothpaste and soap that are available at the school for students to take what they need. One member of the St. Mark’s congregation is using her talents as an extreme couponer to purchase additional hygiene products to supplement the donations, which stretches the purchase power of outreach dollars while simultaneously creating an opportunity for members who aren’t available on delivery days to participate in the project.  The Snack Pack program has also grown to include a packed lunch service that takes place during the school’s summer program – last summer St. Mark’s provided 75 bagged lunches two times a week for four weeks, which covered half of the CSE summer session.

Earlier this winter, teachers also made the Snack Pack volunteers aware that several of the students didn’t have appropriate outerwear for Erie weather. With this in mind, the collection taken at Diocesan Convention was earmarked to purchase coats for CSE students. Bishop Sean matched the dollar amount collected at the convention Eucharist service and, with the combined funds, over 100 coats were purchased and donated for students who would otherwise have gone without.

It’s sometimes difficult to see the impact of a ministry once the donations have been sent to their destination, but in this video, produced by Charter School of Excellence students, you can see firsthand the kind of impression this program is making:

In our next segment of Feeding the Future, we’ll discuss the issues of long term ministry sustainability, growing ministry from strictly outreach into relationships, and the continued impact that this ministry has on both the church and the community. Stay tuned!

2018 Diocesan Lenten Day of Prayer

As we observe Lent, we would invite individuals and congregations throughout the Diocese to join us in a 12-hour Day of Prayer on Friday, March 9, from 9:00 AM-9:00 PM.  Four congregations will be serving as host sites:

  • Church of the Ascension, Bradford (26 Chautauqua Place, 16701)
  • Holy Trinity, Brookville (62 Pickering Street, 15825)
  • St. Mark’s, Erie (4701 Old French Road, 16509)
  • St. John’s, Sharon (226 West State Street, 16146)

All host sites will have their sanctuary open throughout the day for prayer, and will join the Diocese in times of common prayer. In addition, each site may offer additional scheduled or on-going prayer including Stations of the Cross, healing prayer, a labyrinth, community prayerwalks, The Great Litany, or centering prayer.  The schedule (which could be updated with additional events) is as follows:

9:00 AM       All Host Sites and Trinity Memorial, Warren*: Morning Prayer (Psalm 88, Genesis 47:1-26, 1 Cor. 9:16-27)

11:00 AM     St. John’s: The Great Litany

12:00 noon   All Host Sites and Trinity Memorial, Warren: Noonday Prayer

12:05 PM     St. John’s: Stations of the Cross

2:00 PM       St. John’s: Centering Prayer

5:00 PM       St. Mark’s and Trinity Memorial, Warren: Stations of the Cross

5:15 PM       All Host Sites: Evening Prayer (Psalms 91-92, Mark 6:47-56)

5:15 PM       Holy Trinity: Taize Evening Prayer

7:00 PM       St. John’s: Eucharist

8:15 PM       Holy Trinity: Contemplative Compline

8:30 PM       St John’s, St. Mark’s, Ascension, & Trinity Memorial, Warren: Compline

During this day of prayer, we especially ask prayers for discernment in the Northwestern Pennsylvania-Western New York collaboration, for the mission and ministry of our diocese, for increased evangelism throughout our region, and for the needs of our local congregations.

Individuals and congregations are encouraged to participate by joining a neighboring host site for as much of the day as you are able or by joining in the common times of prayer from your own congregations or homes.

For more information, please contact Canon Vanessa Butler (814.456.4203) or the Rev. Adam Trambley (724.347.4501).

*Additional Addresses:

Trinity Memorial, Warren (444 Pennsylvania Ave. West, 16365)

Caring and Connection – Stephen Ministry in NWPA

Have you ever had a time when a book quote or song lyric came into your life at just the right moment to teach you something invaluable? I recently read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, the author/research professor whose work on vulnerability we explored at the last diocesan convention, and there were several times when I stopped mid-paragraph to take notes. “THIS! This is ABSOLUTELY true for me!” may have popped out of my mouth more than once. (Aside: If you have a chance to pick up ANY of Dr. Brown’s books, it’s well worth your time. If you’re short on time, though, Youtube has several clips of her talks as well that are worth exploring.) 

There are several sections throughout the book that I’m adding to my “personality traits to work on” list, but one quote in particular caught my eye in relation to an interview I had with Robin Murray of St. John’s, Franklin: 

“One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on “going it alone.” Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.” The truth is that we are both.”    ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

It particularly struck a chord because Robin and I were discussing Stephen Ministry – a one to one lay caring ministry that is based on creating connections between people who are currently hurting and those who have experienced similar situations.

From the official Stephen Ministries website:  “Stephen Ministry is the one-to-one lay caring ministry that takes place in congregations that use the Stephen Series system. Stephen Ministry congregations equip and empower lay caregivers—called Stephen Ministers—to provide high-quality, confidential, Christ-centered care to people who are hurting.”  Stephen Ministers are not counselors, but they are laypeople trained to be caring, non-judgmental, confidential listeners for those in need due to job loss, divorce, grief, chronic illness, or just going through a difficult time.

The program began in 1975 when Lutheran pastor Dr. Kenneth Haugk trained nine members of his congregation to assist with pastoral care as ‘lay listeners’. Stephen Ministry has since expanded to include over 12,000 Christian congregations around the U.S. and abroad, including the Stephen Ministry program at St. John’s, Franklin.

The group at St. John’s began their journey in 2012. The Rev. Holly Davis had initially mentioned the ministry to Robin Murray, who already had a leaning toward pastoral care (“I was convinced I was going to be a deacon!”), and told her that it was about matching people up that have similar problems. Robin’s response? “Well, I can do that!” Robin then looked into attending a free seminar about the ministry in Butler with the Rev. Ed Lowrey, Mother Holly and Linda Trikur from St. John’s, and, after Mother Holly spoke to Bishop Sean about the program, they applied for leader training in Pittsburgh. Within three months enough people in the congregation had shown interest that they began training their first group of Stephen Ministers – twice a week meetings for the next four months.

While Stephen Ministers are well trained to be lay listeners and caregivers, the thing that really strikes me about the ministry is connection. People who might normally try to “go it alone” are put in touch with people who have been in a similar place, so they can share their feelings openly and be understood on a deeper level than with someone who hasn’t experienced similar hurts. To paraphrase Brené from the quote above, we can both need help and offer help, and this ministry encompasses both sides.  I come from a family where it’s strongly encouraged NOT to talk about problems. Over time that approach becomes very isolating, and you assume that no one else has gone through what you have – you’re alone. Stephen Ministry, by pairing you with someone who’s already ‘been there, done that’, gives a feeling of deep connection to those who may well feel like they’re alone in their pain. 

Care receivers (those who need help) have different avenues available to get in touch with a Stephen Minister. They can contact the church directly, or they may be referred by a friend, family member, or a service professional. Robin has said that the Visiting Nurses Association has occasionally contacted the Stephen Ministry group on behalf of a client who has expressed interest in the program. After the initial contact is made with the church or one of the Stephen Leaders, a representative meets with the person and explains what Stephen Ministry is and is not (a caring ear, not a maid/personal shopper/etc). They are then matched with a Stephen Minister within a few days.  Meetings are usually once a week for about an hour, either in person or on the phone (though Robin says in one instance they have a care receiver who likes to stay in contact via email with their Stephen Minister when the person is away over the winter months). People are paired women to women, men to men, with similar problems if at all possible, and care receivers must be over age 21 to be put in touch with a St. John’s Stephen minister.

One example of how this works involves Robin’s best friend, who lost her son when he was 21 – just a few months before Robin went through Stephen Ministry training. Initially the woman refused to speak to anyone about what had happened, but during a later visit Robin asked if her friend would be interested in speaking with a Stephen Minister. Her friend agreed, and Robin placed a call on a Tuesday to locate a Stephen Minister. Within two days someone was in touch with her friend, and for the first time since her son’s death she was able to discuss the issue. 

While St. John’s is currently the only congregation in the diocese with trained Stephen Ministers, Robin would like everyone to know that if there is someone in need outside the greater Franklin area, the St. John’s group can put them in touch with other, closer churches who also have a Stephen Ministry program. They network regularly with groups in Clarion, Grove City, and Meadville, and there are several non-Episcopal congregations in the Erie area that have Stephen Ministers available as well.

If Stephen Ministry is of interest to you or your church, either as a point of connection for people in need or for discerning whether a Stephen Ministry program has a place in your community, you are welcome to contact Robin Murray (ralfiny@zoominternet.net).  

We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.
 Brené Brown, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution

Megin Sewak is Assistant for Communications for the Diocese of NWPA.