Courage & Collaboration – Bishops’ Addresses from Convention 2017

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

On Being Included in the Creative Process

We are all leaders. We’re all used to being the ones leading the meeting, coming up with the ideas, and fostering and supporting the ideas of those on our leadership teams.

What this means is that sometimes when we are included in the creative process for something large and exciting – and we didn’t come up with the idea, and we’re not leading the meeting – that it can naturally be a little strange, and a little awkward.

Further, some of us think in very concrete ways, and others of us think in very fluid and flexible ways. Both are incredibly necessary for our beautiful and diverse church to function. After all, creative problem solvers aren’t always the best administrators, and linear thinkers aren’t always the best when it comes to brainstorming new ways forward.

So when we are being invited to participate in the creative process of making something new, we might be doing the thing we love most, and are the best at. And we might be doing something we find a bit stressful.

However, when we come into the process matters as well. Think about it:

We can come in toward the beginning of the process or toward the end. Both options have positives and negatives.

When we’re invited in at the beginning of a creative process – maybe not at the exact start, maybe we weren’t in the room when the idea was first conceived of, but it’s still early days – then we have the beauty and honor of being the people who come up with all the ideas. We have a chance to put our two cents in and make it even better than it might have been, even more useful to us and the people we represent.

The downside of coming in at the beginning of the process is that it can be messy. Nothing is certain. If it will even work is uncertain. It might be hard to explain to others because we have a lot of question that we don’t yet have answers for. And we know exactly what those questions are, because we’ve been asking them ourselves.

Sometimes if we try to explain where we are in the process to other people when it’s still early days, we can seem like we don’t have all our ducks in a row. And the truth is, we don’t. We’re still figuring out what ducks we need to have, much less to try to get them to all stand in a line.

So it might seem like coming in later in the process would be infinitely preferable. But coming in later has its pros and cons as well.

On the upside, later in the process it’s so much easier to explain it to other people! We can show them the glossy pictures of what it will look like, the architect’s rendering, the budget, the price points, the height of the bell tower, the exactly symmetry of the curve to the walkway, and an idea of who is going to pay for it all. When we come in later in the process, all of our ducks are in a row. We have numbers, statistics, pie charts, success rates, incomes, expenses, staffing plans, timelines, and lists upon lists of who is going to be responsible for what.

This is the stuff of Annual Meetings, and it can be very impressive.

What we don’t get when we come in later in the process is a hand in the pot. We don’t get a say. We weren’t consulted, our opinions weren’t required, and so our own viewpoints, and the viewpoints of our constituencies, weren’t reflected in the plan.

So that’s where we are.

When we’re brought in earlier, it’s messier and there are questions everywhere, but we get a say in what happens, we can change the very course of the project, and even exercise the power to veto it if it seems apocalyptically bad.

When we’re brought in later, it’s clean, clear, beautiful, and easy to present, and it’s also already a done deal which we are being asked to vote upon, or ratify.

We can have one, or the other, but not both. We can have a hand in the creation of a new thing, or we can have the calm certainty of exactly what it’s going to look like, but not both.

Our bishops, in their wisdom, have chosen to bring us in on the beginning of this process. Oh, they went through all the proper channels first to make sure it could be done and they weren’t violating a canon somewhere. And once the proper people said, ‘Sure, maybe, but what’s it going to look like?’ then they turned to us.

It was presented to the clergy at a joint overnight. It was the main topic of conversation. Would the clergy take one look at the idea and veto it immediately? That was an option. They didn’t. They said, en masse, ‘Sounds interesting. I’m not totally convinced. Let’s keep going. Also, here are my list of questions.’

The feeling at the end of the overnight was a tentative hopefulness.

A group of clergy and laity from both dioceses gathered together for an intense two-day session, let by an expert. They came out with seventy pages of questions, which was exactly what we needed from them. Did they at that time come to a consensus that this was a terrible idea and we should scrap it immediately? Not at all. They came up with seventy pages of questions about all that needed to be considered going forward. The feeling at the end of the two-day session was a tentative hopefulness. Now this idea is going to each diocesan convention – WNY in October, NWPA in November. Do we have a resolution to vote on and debate? No. Why?

Because we don’t need one. It’s totally normal and reasonable, and part of our canons, to have a bishop of one diocese become the provisional bishop of another for some set period of time. Happens all the time.

So why are we giving this so much intense thought and treating it like it’s a new process? Because what we’re considering isn’t just a bishop of one diocese fulfilling an administrative role on an ad hoc basis.

What we’re really considering is this: could we really be such good friends and neighbors, one diocese to another, could we be involved in such similar ministry to such similar communities, could we discover such similar new avenues of ministry and outreach that it would just make more sense to share a bishop and a bishop’s staff?  Would it make more sense to have some joint committees? A joint convention? What we’re not doing is this: we’re not talking about combining two dioceses into one.

First, that’s a nightmare of red tape at the state level. And the few dioceses who do span across state lines were grandfathered into such red tape issues because the dioceses came before the state lines.

Second, we don’t need to have a combined diocese to be such good friends and neighbors, to participate in such similar ministry to such similar communities, to even share a bishop and a bishop’s staff.

Look at Stafford and LeRoy. Look at Burt and Wilson. They are individuals parishes with individual identities – and shared ministries, and shared leadership.

So that’s where we are: in the beginning of a creative process that builds on what is already allowable and normal in our church, but which may be a beautiful creative solution that takes us into the future with confidence and faith.

The Rev. Sare Anuszkiewicz is a priest in the Diocese of Western New York where she serves at Trinity, Warsaw.

Considering a Shared Future: Frequently Asked Questions

The Dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York are considering a shared future that includes the possibility of sharing a bishop for the next five years. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the process.

What is the proposal under consideration?
At our upcoming diocesan conventions, Bishops William Franklin of Western New York and Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania will, along with the presidents of the respective standing committees, propose that we spend the next year convening discussions among leaders across our region about how we might create more opportunity for mission by working together. This process will culminate in October 2018, when our dioceses will hold a joint convention in Niagara Falls to consider their futures.

If our discussions in the next year are fruitful, as we hope they will be, we would anticipate that in October 2018, the Diocese of Western New York would elect Bishop Rowe as its bishop provisional for five years beginning in April 2019, when Bishop Franklin retires.

During the first three years of the partnership, our two dioceses would work together to deepen our relationships and develop shared mission priorities. In October 2021, we would re-evaluate the partnership and then, in October 2024, decide whether we wanted to continue it beyond the five-year mark.

What is a provisional bishop?
A provisional bishop is a bishop, either retired or already serving in another jurisdiction, who serves as the bishop of a diocese during a vacancy. In some instances, dioceses choose a provisional bishop arrangement because they are not yet ready to undertake the search process. The Diocese of Western New York could undertake such a process, but is considering electing Bishop Rowe as its provisional bishop to explore a deeper relationship with the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Why is this happening?
The retirement of a bishop requires any diocese to engage in a process of reflection and prayerful self-evaluation as it determines the qualities it seeks in a new leader. In this instance, the strong relationship between Bishops Franklin and Rowe, the similarities of the challenges and cultures of our two dioceses, and the urgent need for the Episcopal Church to experiment with new ways of organizing and energizing itself for ministry suggested some creative possibilities worthy of exploration.

Dioceses across the church have too much overhead, too few resources to devote to mission and too little experience cultivating deep collaborative relationships with other dioceses. We have an opportunity to change that.

What decisions have already been made?
No decisions have been made. We are in hopes that the Diocese of Western New York will elect Bishop Rowe as provisional bishop and explore a deeper relationship with the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania on the timeline described in the first answer above. However, before Bishop Rowe can stand for election, the Standing Committees of both dioceses must consent. Their consent does not resolve the matter. The Diocese of Western New York can decline to elect Bishop Rowe at the joint convention scheduled for Niagara Falls in October of 2018, and initiate a search for a new bishop. If Bishop Rowe is elected as provisional bishop, the arrangement will be reviewed as described in the first answer above.

What steps in this process have already been taken?
Bishops Rowe and Franklin and their standing committees have had extensive conversations to consider whether to advance this proposal. It was first shared publicly at a joint clergy conference in Chautauqua, NY, on September 15-16. On October 8-9, some 44 people, drawn from the lay and clergy leadership of both dioceses, gathered in Erie for a process known as “compression planning.” Working in small groups and plenary sessions, they raised scores of questions, identified specific concerns and discussed numerous opportunities presented by the proposal to share a bishop and deepen the relationship between the two dioceses.

What steps come next?
The two dioceses will consider the proposal to share a bishop and deepen their relationship at their conventions. Western New York meets October 27-28. Northwestern Pennsylvania meets November 10-11. No votes will be held at those conventions. In 2018 members of the two dioceses will have an opportunity to discuss the proposal and explore the possibilities in a deeper relationship at listening sessions. Working groups including members of both dioceses will be formed to explore various issues raised by the collaboration as those issues become clear.

What changes will take place if Bishop Rowe is elected?
If Bishop Rowe is elected, he will exercise the same authority in the diocese that Bishop Franklin and his predecessors did. He will maintain offices in both Buffalo and Erie and make visitations in both dioceses. Elected leaders in both dioceses will continue to exercise their canonical functions. Each diocese will send a deputation to the 2018 General Convention. Each diocese will maintain its cathedral. Other changes may unfold after a period of exploration and discernment.

What are the advantages of sharing a bishop?
To begin with a practical concern: the move will save money by reducing overhead and streamlining operations. Western New York, for instance, will not have to spend the $150,000 to $200,000 associated with the search for a new bishop. Spending less money on overhead means we will have more money for mission and more capacity to help our congregations.

Because our diocesan and regional cultures are quite similar, and because we face similar challenges, we believe we can be natural companions in ministry, sharing resources, information and wisdom to help build the church and serve our communities. Together, we’d have opportunities to collaborate on building Episcopal institutions like schools and ministry centers. As we explore this relationship more deeply, other opportunities might emerge.

Rust Belt people are not a prideful bunch, but it’s not too much to say that through this partnership, we have a chance to show the church one path out of its institutional malaise by demonstrating how deepening relationships and careful reorganization can refocus our energies on mission, evangelism, pastoral care and spiritual development.

What are the possible outcomes of this process at the end of the five-year period suggested in the proposal?
The process itself will flesh out possibilities for shared ministries and creative collaborations. In terms of diocesan governance, the possibilities include, but are not limited to: returning to the previous status quo of two bishops and two dioceses; maintaining two dioceses but with a single bishop and some shared administrative services and ministries; combining to form a single diocese.

Are there legal and canonical impediments to this proposal?
No. There are no legal or canonical impediments to electing a provisional bishop who also has jurisdiction in another state, nor in another province of the Episcopal Church. If the dioceses move toward shared or combined governance, they will consult with legal experts and the three existing dioceses (Central Gulf Coast, Rio Grande and Spokane) that span two states, and the Church in Navajoland, which exists in three states.

How will we have input as the process moves ahead?
After the upcoming diocesan conventions, Bishops Franklin and Rowe will plan a series of conversations and meetings in both dioceses to get feedback, answer questions, and hear concerns.

The bishops and diocesan leaders, including members of the Standing Committees and councils, will be available throughout the process to receive feedback and answers questions.

Printed copies of this article will be provided for congregations at convention. 

And So We Go

At the end of July, eleven us of from our Diocese, including eight from the Shenango Valley, spent eight days on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. After spending the weekend getting acclimated, preparing, and attending worship, we helped with a Vacation Bible School in the morning and ran an eyeglass clinic in the afternoon.  We also had opportunities to build relationships with a number of people from the church over meals and other fellowship time.

The trip was successful, based on the outcomes we could see.  The Bible school grew each day as children from the neighborhood invited their friends, and the games and crafts we brought to accompany the local teachers’ Bible lessons seemed to go well.  We were also able to match up over 100 people with eyeglasses that met their needs, including some for senior citizens who had never had glasses before.  Seeing the joy on their faces as they could see clearly for the first time in decades or even in their entire lives was a real blessing.  Everyone on our team was able to find God at work during the week and learned something about themselves and life in the Dominican Republic.

Mission trips, regardless of the destination, are important because our God is a sending God.  In the scriptures, we hear God repeatedly telling people to “Go!”  Abraham is told to “Go!”  Moses is told to “Go!” Isaiah is told to “Go!”  Jesus sends out the 12 and the 70 and tells them to “Go!”  Jesus’ Great Commission begins with “Go!”  In those rare instances where Jesus says to “stay,” the staying is only temporary.  “Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,” Jesus says to his disciples before ascending (Luke 24:49).  After the Holy Spirit descends those same disciples will be witnesses, going from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  We know that God even sent his only Son to come into the world. God is all about sending.

If God is telling us to “Go!” then we need to listen.  We need to pay attention, however, to where God is sending us.  Abraham was sent to another land.  Moses was sent to Pharaoh.  Isaiah was sent to his own people. Sometimes we are sent to unknown people on the other side of the world, but sometimes we are sent to people we know very well.  Not everybody is going to take a mission trip to another country.  Yet all of us have family members, friends, neighbors, or others within our circles of relationships who need to experience the love and good news of Jesus.  The important thing is that we get up and “Go!”

Going means that we leave behind our security and our established ways of doing things so that we can be open to what God might have in mind. Going means caring more about sharing God’s love and good news with someone else than our own comfort and convenience.  Going means that we offer ourselves to be used by God however he can use us to touch other lives.

When we are sent on a mission trip to another country, we may be giving up our language, our familiar foods, and potable tap water.  We may have a program to implement, but have never met the individuals with whom we will be sharing Christ’s love.  When we are sent within our own communities however, what we are giving up can be much more difficult.  We may need to give up our judgments and resentments toward someone.  We may need to give up our certainty that nothing will change.  We may need to give up our control or our comfort with a situation or relationship.  Instead we can offer God the gifts we have and use them where we are sent without any expectations except that God will be at work.  We might cook a meal, watch someone’s children, share some music, offer prayers, or just be a listening ear.  If we are obedient to God and go where God sends us, we can rest assured that God will do the rest.

We saw God show up in numerous places when we went to the Dominican Republic.  Imagine how you will see God at work when you go where you are sent.

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

DR Mission Trip Day 7 – Friday

The eye clinic was a success!!! There were lots of people that got glasses, and we are even ordering some for other people! Some people that came in didn’t even need glasses – they were so shocked! On Wednesday we didn’t have Randy, our translator, but we still managed to understand the people and give them glasses. There were people in their 70’s that needed glasses. We thought, “how could someone go that long and just now realize they need glasses?”  

The kids LOVED vacation bible school, even the little ones!! They  would come up to you and hug and kiss you, then they would ramble on and on even if you didn’t understand them! The older ones would cheat in the games here and there, but then Father Hipolito talked to some of them and calmed everything down. Some of the older kids were helpers, and they are slowly learning English from some of us. 

So many good things happened this week: meeting new people and remembering kids from last year, happy people from the eye clinic, our adventures to Bon, meeting a parrot, and unexpected rain storms. This week was one for the books, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. One of the hardest things was saying goodbye – since this is our senior year we don’t know what the future holds. We hope we can come back and see their beautiful faces again some day. 

– Abby and Sarah Wheeler, Resurrection Church, Hermitage, PA

DR Mission Trip Day 6 – Thursday

I’m not much of a writer, so please bear with me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on this mission trip, but when my twin daughters Abby and Sarah said they were interested I thought this would be a great opportunity for the three of us to have together. And what an experience it has been!

As I sit on this balcony of the hotel listening to the sounds of traffic, the occasional siren, horns honking and people talking in their native language, i’m absolutely amazed. It’s busy, it’s hectic,but at the same time soothing and relaxing. It’s mesmerizing. Yesterday some of us from our group sat for an hour on the balcony and watched people jump start a car! That is definitely something I would not take the time to watch at home, so why here? I just can’t explain it.

When we attended church on Sunday I was intimidated. I didn’t know what to expect. I was so surprised by the warm welcome along with the feeling of love and acceptance from Father Hipolito and the people from his church. The language barrier was there but the smiles broke through that barrier and put me at ease. After church, as we set up for bible school and the eye clinic, I began to feel at home. Some of the staff and children helped and joined us for lunch where we became better acquainted.

In the morning as we climb out of the van, some of the children greet us with hugs and kisses as we walk into the church. Throughout the day the outpouring of affection continues. If you sit for more than a few minutes chances are there will be a little one on your lap or braiding your hair. Their excitement and enthusiasm for every song, every game, every craft is infectious. You can’t help but smile, sing and laugh right along! It seems hard to believe we have only one more day to experience all this joy.

Speaking of joy, the eye clinic has brought that and so much more! We have had the privilege of seeing faces light up as they put glasses on and see all the beauty that surrounds them. We have received many a hug from complete strangers who are so grateful and appreciative. In America we go to our yearly eye exams and never think twice. Here, there are older adults who have never experienced an exam let alone had glasses to see clearly.

In the evenings our group gathers on the roof of our hotel for evening prayer and a time to share. We’ve become comfortable with one another. As the nights go by we spend more time up there telling stories and laughing. We have become a family. We have become one church. It’s a great day in the kingdom!!

– Chris Wheeler, Resurrection Church, Hermitage, PA

DR Mission Trip Day 5 – Wednesday

Today was a warm and uncomfortable day, like most days here.  I started off at breakfast with a veggie omelet that was not a veggie omelet, but regular scrambled eggs. I was glad it was a nutritious breakfast and I am glad I ordered it. It gave me energy for my busy day ahead.

My day got better after breakfast at Bible School. I saw the kids and that made my day. I love their chubby cheeks and their bright eyes. I always pinch the cheeks. For our craft of the day we made bead bracelets.  The beads were made out of plastic and wood and a silver heart hung from the middle. They seemed to really enjoy that. The beads flew everywhere!

Today at the eye clinic I had the job of helping patients read the eye chart. This job was especially hard to do because they were saying “up, down, left, right” in Spanish.  I had to pay attention to what their motions were, if they were correct,  and what line they were reading. I got frustrated at times, but I made it through.

Although it’s hard down here, I am learning a lot and I am having fun.

Anyah  Holben

DR Mission Trip Day 4 – Tuesday

I have always felt a calling to mission and am finding this first opportunity to be all that I had imagined it to be. What has made the trip an even richer experience is being able to share it with my son, Ben. Watching him interact with the mission team and the Dominican children and adults we are here serving has been a real pleasure.

Today, we completed day two of our Vacation Bible School and held another successful vision clinic. We are finding that the need is great in the community surrounding the church. The language barrier is frustrating, but we are fortunate to have a dedicated translator, Randy, who has been so wonderful in helping us to communicate. Several children from the church have been a big help each day. While they don’t speak English, they are getting familiar with our routines and needs and are able to give directions to our clients as we do the vision screenings. They are even trying to teach us some Spanish and are very patient!

After a busy day at the church when we return to our hotel, my favorite place to sit is the hotel balcony. A nice breeze and a chance to observe the busy street below are a welcome diversion after our busy day. Before we head to bed, we meet on the hotel rooftop for evening prayer and spend time reflecting on the day’s events. It’s the perfect way to end the day.

– Missy Baron

DR Mission Trip Day 3 – Monday

After our first days here in the Dominican Republic, I have made a few realizations about what I will take away from this experience. As we have settled into our routines, become familiar with the differences of the culture, and completed a successful day doing God’s work, I am certain I will come away from this trip with a better understanding of myself and a desire to continue to use my gifts to help others.

My first realization came from today’s work.  I have become accustomed to my privilege and often do not give thanks for the things that I take for granted on a daily basis.  Today we set up for the first appointments of the vision clinic. Most of the people who came to the clinic, having never received an eye exam, did not question their ability to see. I did not realize that the annual eye exams that I have been fortunate enough to have would be considered a luxury to the people I encountered today in the Dominican Republic. In a total of 3 hours, our team was successfully able to see 26 people and distribute 23 pairs of glasses.  Together, our team worked diligently to meet the needs of others. It was encouraging to see that we really did make a difference.

Likewise, this brings me to my next realization: we all have gifts that we need to share.  Along with the first day of the vision clinic, today was also the first day we worked with the children in the vacation bible school. Each person did their part to make sure activities ran smoothly and that the children had a memorable experience. In order for us to reach the end goal (to build up the kingdom) we must use and share the gifts that God has given us.

I was able to use some of my gifts today.  For the last 3 years I’ve taken a Spanish course in school. I’m definitely not fluent but I can form simple sentences and struggle my way through understanding other’s requests. Today I was really able to practice and put my acquired gifts to use when I gave instructions to people receiving prescriptions from the auto-refractor. When I didn’t understand a person’s request, the young girls in the church assisted me by presenting it in simpler Spanish terms I knew.

I’m overjoyed to be able to work with such an amazing team and have no doubt in our group’s success. I am happy to contribute to the good work that Father Hipolito has done to build the church in this community.

-Ben Baron  

DR Mission Trip Day Two – Sunday

Glorious Sunday!!

Our team was up early today for breakfast because the van needed to pick us up at 8:30. We didn’t want to be late for 9:00 service. Our friends here have not changed. Only the children have grown taller since my last visit two years ago. Fr. Hipolito looks just the same. His humor is the same as is his energy level. Not bad for a man who’s 88 years old!! We waited for over half an hour for the service to actually begin. That’s just how things are done here.

Fr. Adam Trambley presented the sermon in English while our interpreter Ernesto translated. Wow, what a great talk he gave regarding us going out to others to help, love, and serve God. He also led much of the service–in impressive Spanish, I must say. Afterward we were whisked upstairs in the school to begin setting up eye clinic supplies. Miraculously, we were able to successfully register 640 or so pairs of glasses. Tomorrow we will hold clinic each afternoon. Our hope is to see 20 patients each day. The need here is great, so hopefully we’ll be able to do these wonderful people some good!

All our Bible School supplies are ready and waiting for tomorrow as well. We expect to welcome 60 or more children each day. We are really excited to begin!

What will I remember about today? The breathtaking view from the school where we ate a delicious homemade lunch prepared by the church women, a solo to entertain the congregation while we waited for our service to begin (our singer was all of 5 years old and never missed a beat), the colorful parrot owned by a parishioner who sat on our arms, fingers, and necks. I will remember comments from our wonderful team members who are here for the first time. Every single person stepped up and helped with anything needed today. We have so many gifts to give and share, from our ability to work with children, to our ability to lead others, to our ability to adjust in a completely situation. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!!

– Sue Frontino