107th Diocesan Convention Wrap-Up

This year’s convention had it all: business, programming, guests from Western New York, some surprises, and even a little dancing (check out Facebook for that!).  The first surprise of the weekend came from the Standing Committee, who issued a proclamation at the start of business that this convention was being held in honor of the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe’s tenth consecration anniversary.

Guests from the Diocese of Western New York, including the Rt. Rev. William Franklin, joined us for a day and half of programming led by the Rev. Canon Scott Slater, who guided the conversation on the possibility of a shared future using the Daring Way methodology of Brene Brown.  Many delegates remarked that they found the methodology useful in framing the conversation and enjoyed the time getting to know new people both from Western New York and our own diocese.

At the banquet, Paul and Lane Nelson, members of St. Mark’s in Erie, were honored with the Bishop’s Cross, which is given to those in the diocese who have contributed to the diocese over a significant number of years and in a variety of ways.  Also at the banquet, Bishop Sean was surprised with a video honoring his ten years as bishop, with contributions from people in the diocese, as well as outside the diocese including Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Elections were held for a variety of offices. The Rev. Jason Shank was newly elected to the Standing Committee, with Jack Malovich being re-elected to the lay seat on Standing Committee.  The Rev. Erin Betz Shank and Ed Palattella regained their seats on Diocesan Council and the Rev. Matthew Scott and Bob Guerrein regained theirs on the Constitution and Canons committee.

The 2018 budget and assessments, as well as the 2018 minimum stipends for clergy were passed as presented.

It was announced that convention next year will be held jointly with the Diocese of Western New York, regardless of any decisions made about a shared future.  Convention will be held October 26-27 at the Niagara Falls Convention Center in Niagara Falls, NY.

A huge thank you to our host committee of St. Mark’s, who did a fabulous job welcoming everyone to Erie and sharing a wonderful worship service with us.

All of the passed resolutions and materials from other presentations can be found on our website.

See you next year in Niagara Falls!

Reflections on My Attendance at the Diocese of Western New York Convention

Why I signed up: I thought it would be a fun weekend in a nice hotel with my husband at my side. I love our Diocesan Convention – this year will be my eighteenth – and I thought it would be interesting to see how other dioceses run their annual conventions.

What I found out: Whoa, there, lady! This was not just a getaway weekend for the Wilds! This was a vitally important encounter with the members of the DioWNY churches and their clergy. The responsibilities were hefty. It was work! Yikes! As I sat at our sparsely occupied table, #39, I realized that I had a job to do for my diocese and my bishop: Lord, help me to be a positive, effective member of our delegation. Help me to allow the dedicated people of Western New York to see our diocese and our bishop as loving, creative, and honest. Help me to do your will, always.

I found myself praying this little prayer a number of times during the weekend. Geoffrey, (my spouse) and I sat alone at Table 39 until we were joined by a priest from our own diocese. He encouraged me to move to another table. I sat down beside a lady and said, “Hi, my name is Cheryl, and I’m from Grove City, PA.” She told me her name and we began to make connections. It turned out that Geoffrey and I had vacationed near and in the town where she lives and attends church and that she and I were born ten miles apart in the Southern Tier of New York State. I met a priest at that same table. She was personable and genuine. The ladies at the table seemed a bit skeptical about the arrangement being suggested by the bishops. I got the feeling that they were afraid that they would be giving up control and would be absorbed into the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Lord, help me to be a positive, effective member of our delegation. Help me to allow the dedicated people of Western New York to see our diocese and our bishop as loving, creative, and honest. Help me to do your will, always.

As Friday continued, Bishop Sean was able to answer some of their concerns. He did so in his usual outgoing straightforward manner. My favorite question and answer were as follows:

DioWNY member: (paraphrasing) We would like to see our bishop more than once every three years. Would this mean we would see you only every four years?

Bishop Sean: Yes.

He did go on to explain how he would be available in many different ways to the folks in Western New York and their clergy as well as those in the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania. But that simple “Yes” said more about him than his explanation.

It is my belief that his answer impacted many people who were worried about what our bishop was up to with this proposal he and Bishop Bill had made. There was no sugar coating. It was simple and honest.

My favorite part of the weekend was the Eucharist at St. Andrew’s Church. This beautiful structure was packed with people from both dioceses, and I felt that I was among friends. We were all Episcopalians with a common purpose: to share the body and blood of our Lord and Savior and to honor Him and one another.

I came away from the weekend with a huge sense of pride in our bishop and our diocese. I have known Bishop Sean since he was nineteen years old and a member of our congregation at Epiphany. I have seen him grow as he has been called to different positions within the Church. His calling is clear: he is to lead the Church in new directions in order to save the Episcopal Church from a slow, painful decline. He and Bishop Franklin are stepping out in faith to do something that has never been done before: to share administration of two dioceses under one bishop. The benefits of doing so are enormous.

I cannot wait for our Diocesan Convention next weekend at which I will see some of my friends from the Diocese of Western New York!

Lord, help me to be a positive, effective member of our delegation. Help me to allow the dedicated people of Western New York to see our diocese and our bishop as loving, creative, and honest. Help me to do your will, always.

Cheryl Wild, as the wife of a priest who is assigned to more than one congregation, attends both Epiphany, Grove City, and Memorial Church of Our Father, Foxburg.

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. 

Considering a Shared Future: The Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and the Diocese of Western New York

                      

The Rev. Earle King had an organ recital on the books, and he was no more eager than the next busy person to lose two days of rehearsal time to attend a meeting in Erie, Pennsylvania, convened for something called “compression planning.” But he serves on the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Western New York, and Bishop Bill Franklin asked him to be there.

In the end, however, King was glad he went. He joined 43 other leaders from the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania convened by Franklin and Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania to explore possibilities for a long-term collaboration between the two dioceses. The session, held at the Cathedral of St. Paul on October 8 and 9, was led by consultants Donna Brighton and Scott Beilke from the Brighton Leadership Group, and followed a process pioneered by the Disney Corporation. In this kind of meeting, called compression planning in business circles, participants record words, pictures and graphics that represent goals, questions, hopes and limitations associated with a particular idea.

The idea, in this case, is that the Diocese of Western New York would elect Rowe as its bishop provisional for a term of five years at a joint convention of the two dioceses in 2018. Franklin reaches the canonically mandated retirement age for bishops on April 3, 2019, so if Rowe were elected, he would assume the role of bishop of Western New York on that date.

But the collaboration would go beyond simply sharing a bishop. The proposal on the table is for the two dioceses to spend 2019-2024 exploring opportunities to collaborate in ways that would increase operational efficiencies and create more opportunities for mission. In 2021, Rowe would ask the two dioceses for a midpoint evaluation.

It’s the chance to explore opportunities for mission that enthused King, despite the loss of his rehearsal time. “I was happy I was there because, particularly on Monday, I began to get a sense of the great opportunities and the obstacles that we’re facing in the two dioceses together,” he said. “Exploring this could bring us enormous opportunity, but we need to know how we will encourage people in Western New York to explore this with an open mind.”

Rose Sconiers, warden of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo, agreed. “I thought it was a good exercise, especially since a lot of people in our diocese think this whole concept is a done deal,” she said. “It was good to sit and talk and find out what the real plans are, and also to meet Sean. He really is a nice person and I think that makes a big difference,” she said.

“At our vestry meeting, someone said this was a done deal,” she said. “I was able to say, ‘No, it’s not a done deal.’ I think it is important that we dispel that myth.”

What is a “done deal,” say Rowe and Franklin, is that the two dioceses will spend the next year exploring possibilities for collaboration and hold a joint convention in October 2018 in Niagara Falls.

The bishops began thinking about this idea as early as 2012, said Franklin, “when we met and looked together at where we are going. Both of our dioceses have big challenges, both have big gifts, and both have Rust Belt resilience.”

So far, possibilities for collaboration have been discussed at two meetings that included participants from both dioceses—a joint clergy conference held in mid-September at the Chautauqua Institution, and the compression planning meeting in Erie. Participants generated hundreds of initial questions, organized them by theme and identified those most important to address.

Some, like “Is there a legal or canonical roadblock that is insurmountable?” can be answered definitively, Rowe said. (There is not.) But it is the others, like “What difference will this make?” that most interest him, and will require conversations with people from across both dioceses.

“If all this is going to be is putting two dioceses together, it’s only going to buy more time to decline. It’s not worth doing,” Rowe told the group in Erie. “But if we’re creating an adaptive playground for experimentation, that to me is exciting. It’s prophetic.”

Joyce Gieza, a 38-year member of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Erie, agrees. “It reminded me of the parable of the talents. This is our chance to make maybe just a little bit from what we have been given,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s going to work, but I don’t know how we can say no to trying. To me we would be cowards if we didn’t even try.”

Clergy who attended the September clergy conference are feeling hopeful, King said. “I really believe that Bishop Rowe is really good, and his clergy tell me that behind his back. They don’t have to do that. I have a great deal of confidence in him. And as far as Bishop Rowe is concerned, this is about the mission of the church.

“The challenge is going to be how we make that increase in mission happen,” he said. “What does it mean to have that occur, what are the steps, what are the strategies? Are we targeting people in a different way, are we focusing on outreach?”

Sconiers agrees that Rowe’s leadership is an appealing prospect. “I think one of the opportunities is to have someone overseeing the diocese who is fairly young, who is fairly progressive, who has shown he can relate to the older and the younger people. I think he brings a freshness to the whole process, and I think he has a proven track record. But since he will be over two dioceses and his home base will be in Pennsylvania, will we have access to him? Will we be able to get a meeting with him to talk with him?”

Rowe, who has spent the last three years serving as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Bethlehem in northeastern Pennsylvania, says that after a six-hour commute between dioceses, the distance between even the furthest parts of the contiguous dioceses will seem modest, and if elected, he would be present in both dioceses regularly.

“My ability to balance this opportunity with my family responsibilities has been an important part of my discernment,” he said. “The last three years have meant a lot of time away from home, but these two dioceses put together are geographically smaller than many dioceses in other parts of the country, and I feel confident that the arrangement is manageable.” Rowe is married to Carly, a Christian educator at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Erie, and they are the parents of Lauren, age 5.

For the Rev. Matthew Scott, vicar of The Episcopal Mission of Warren County, made up of St. Francis and Trinity Memorial Churches in Youngsville and Warren, Pennsylvania, the exploration process is its own reward.

“One of the best parts…was the chance to work with many of the leaders from Western New York in a larger setting,” he said. “I serve on the Joint Board of Examining Chaplains, a ministry we began sharing together three years ago, and while through that I have worked with a couple clergy from the diocese, this helped me to grow a larger picture of the potential fruit of a closer relationship. The energy level of the combined group was contagious and enjoyable, and the real fruit was coming up with questions together as a large group of leaders across both dioceses.”

At the two dioceses’ upcoming conventions—October 27 and 28 in Buffalo and November 10 and 11 in Erie—Franklin and Rowe will present the proposal to the gathered delegates and clergy. After that, they’ll plan a series of conversations and meetings in both dioceses to get feedback, answer questions, and hear concerns.

“Going forward, I would like to hear from those with expertise in the legal and financial areas as to what kinds of options are open to us moving forward,” Scott said. “I would also like some time for us to dream about mission and identity, as I see potentials for broadening the pool of colleagues as we all face the adaptive challenges of the local congregational context.”

Sconiers agrees. “Let’s roll it out to the dioceses and various congregations, and have an honest open conversation and let them know how it will look,” she said. “Change is difficult for people if they don’t understand what is happening; they are going to push back. It’s important to get the input of everybody.”

“If we can generate excitement and curiosity, that would be good,” Gieza said. “That way we’ll see they [the people of Western New York] aren’t any different than we are. They aren’t Pittsburgh and they aren’t Ohio. We are all Rust Belt recyclers.”

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

Blessing and Hope

On August 11 I received a call from Cindy Dougan at the Diocesan Center concerning an unfortunate situation and our possibly assisting St. Stephen’s in Olean, NY (which is on the border of Pennsylvania, north of Bradford). Cindy received a phone call from The Rev. Kim Rossi, rector of St. Stephen’s, requesting assistance. I called to see if I could help with the situation. A person from Olean had a friend in Bradford whose daughter had died unexpectedly at Hamot Hospital in Erie and didn’t have enough funds to bring her daughter’s body back to Bradford. Kim told me that her Alms Fund was almost gone and hoped I could help. I told her I would. I contacted the mother and assured her that we would get the remaining funds to the funeral director so her daughter could come home. In conversation with the mother, Sandy, I inquired if she was going to have a service and she said not at this time.

Just when we think we have been blessed with more then we can imagine, God does what God does best, and blesses us with more. This blessing I received was not a monetary blessing but a spiritual and hope blessing. A few days later, I was asked if I would celebrate a Memorial service for Bobbie Jo Groff. I did not personally know Bobbie Jo. I only recognized who she was by Ascension, Bradford’s secretary, Chris Schaffer’s, description and knowing that Bobbie Jo came to our Thursday lunches and Second Harvest Food Bank. She was confined to a wheelchair. I only mention this for the following reason: there are those who have worked hard or who have been blessed with financial security that sometimes feel sorry for or may even look down upon people with disabilities or who are going through low economic hardship. In reality, they don’t care what anyone thinks, what they want is to be accepted just as they are. God does just that.

In preparing for the service, I asked Bobbie Jo’s mother what was she like. Her mother told me she loved to dance, she loved her family, she loved to laugh, she loved her friends, and she loved to fish. For those reasons, I knew I would have liked Bobbie Jo.
Then I asked how many people did she expect to be in attendance at the service so we could print enough bulletins. She estimated 25 to 35 so Chris printed 50.

As it got closer to the beginning of the service I was operating the handicap elevator, so I wasn’t paying much attention to how many people were coming in. When Janet Carr, a member of Ascension, and I walked into the sanctuary we were surprised by a full church – one hundred plus with some standing. This was the blessing and the hope all in one package. To see a church full of love and compassion for someone who was full of and shared her LOVE and COMPASSION.

Thank you God for the blessing and hope in humanity that I experienced on August 17 at Bobbie Jo’s celebration of new life.

The Ven. Gail Winslow is the archdeacon of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and serves at Church of the Ascension, Bradford.

Courage, Compassion, Connection

Clergy conferences are different everywhere you go. Diocesan culture changes from one region to another. Some groups can’t wait to be together: everyone knows each other and is friendly and helpful. Other places are so big or full of competition or conflict that going into a conference makes everyone wary about what might happen. I have been in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania just over a year now. I have been to three clergy conferences and each one has been different from the last. Last year, the clergy met with the clergy of the Diocese of Pittsburgh at Antiochian Village. In the spring, we met by ourselves at Olmstead Manor, and last week, we met with the clergy of the Diocese of Western New York at Chautauqua. I have been nervous going into each one, not knowing what to expect or anything about the location, and knowing that I wouldn’t know half the people in attendance. Of the three of them, this last one was the best. Even though I only knew my colleagues in NWPA, there was never the sense of being an outsider or a newbie. There was a friendly attitude throughout the conference. It was interesting because as much as any of us thought we knew what was going to happen, there were surprises for all of us along the way.

Bishop Sean Rowe and Bishop Bill Franklin brought together the clergy of their dioceses to make a suggestion and gather our input on the idea. The idea is a rather radical one, especially currently given the Episcopal Church’s history of autonomy and continual splitting up into more dioceses. The idea is as the letter from the Executive Committees stated it, that when Bishop Franklin retires (announcing his retirement date of April 3, 2019) the Diocese of Western New York vote Bishop Rowe as the Provisional Bishop for five years and see what the dioceses can do together in the next five years.

Now I have to own my own baggage. I realized at this conference that my entire ordained life (all three and half years of it), I have been canonically resident (priest-speak for which diocese we belong to) in a diocese sharing a bishop. I was ordained the day after Bishop Sean was approved as the Provisional Bishop of Bethlehem and then transferred to the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. During that time I worked in the Diocese of East Tennessee as a seminarian and in the Diocese of Texas as a curate, two very different dioceses. What I have noticed though is that the effort of collaboration and innovation of working together and sharing resources between the Diocese of Bethlehem and the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania has had good and lasting effects for the people of both dioceses.

We considered the idea to the best of our ability. There is always vulnerability with thinking about something new and innovative and being able to face that and express it is helpful for everyone instead of getting defensive or fighting about aspects of the idea. We considered it with all the wisdom we were able to muster… and probably a little extra thrown in by the Holy Spirit. We took an idea seriously which hasn’t been tried before, because we know what a difference it might make, not only to our dioceses, but also to the national and international church. Things we do and learn and try and experiment with may someday revolutionize the way the church works. We don’t know what the future holds exactly. What we do know is that we want the Episcopal Church to be a part of it. Adaptation and innovation will help us get there.

What I saw was Brene Brown’s gifts of imperfection at work. I saw courage, in facing a new and scary idea. I saw compassion, for each other in the face of what might have to change in order for the idea to work. I saw connection, as we talked through how we might work together for God’s kingdom. I saw excitement for something that brings us together and progresses the kingdom of heaven. I saw acknowledgement that kingdom work ain’t so easy. I saw grief at the impending loss of a good bishop and a relationship which will be changing.

Yet, we also acknowledged that we know our future is going to require working together with other people and groups. We have to model this for those in our future. Seeing us work together, with those like us and those who are not like us will make a huge difference to how well the Episcopal Church weathers the years. The details of how we do this are important and many would argue they are the crux of the matter. I would say that the heart of the matter is the love which God has given us as a gift to share. Working from a place of love and unity, as does our Trinitarian God, we can make all things work together for good with those who love God. (Philippians 4:13)

I don’t always like being stuck in a windowless room for long periods of time listening to someone else talk, more or less simply because I like looking out windows. Yet, what happened in that low beige windowless room was much more remarkable than what it would have seemed. We walked into that room not knowing what was going to happen, simply we knew we had been brought together by God and our bishops to work together… and what we started was looking at a very intentional bonding together of people who can work, share, and play together. It was good to see people who don’t really know each other being vulnerable together and working together and thinking about something new together. It was good to meet new people who could be resources for each other and support for each other in different ways. I don’t know where it will lead, but I’m looking forward to exploring the future together.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest-in-Charge of St. John’s Church, Franklin. 

Registration for Convention 2017 Now Open

 

Registration for Courage and Collaboration in Christian Community: Diocesan Convention 2017 is now open.

Convention will be held November 10-11 at the Bayfront Convention Center in Erie and is being hosted by St. Mark’s, Erie.  A full schedule and other convention information can be found on our website.

As part of our ongoing conversation about collaboration and innovation in the church, we will be welcoming the Rt. Rev. William Franklin and a large contingent from the Diocese of Western New York.  This convention will be very mission-focused and the schedule reflects that.  The Rev. Canon Scott Slater, of the Diocese of Maryland, will help us continue exploration of our future through a program relating to shared ministry, both on the diocesan and congregational levels, using the work of Brené Brown.  To learn more about our program, you can revisit this blog post.

On the schedule you can see that we will have an open house on Thursday, November 9, from 7:00 PM-9:00 PM at St. Mark’s in place of the usual hospitality suite.  As many of you know, St. Mark’s recently underwent major renovations, due in part to a grant from the diocese, so they could continue growing their mission and ministry.  They are holding the open house as a thank you to the diocese for assisting in their work.  All are invited to attend.

Please also note the two pre-convention meetings.  The first will be held on October 10th at 7:00 PM at Christ Church, Meadville.  The second will be held on October 12th at 6:00 PM at St. John’s, Kane.  All are welcome to attend the pre-conventions.  We will be talking more about the process of exploring a shared future with the Diocese of Western New York so that all are fully informed prior to convention.

We urge our clergy and delegates to come ready to engage in our conversations. Please do not use the condensed business time as an excuse to not attend the entire convention.  The work that we will be doing at the convention, though not the conventional business, will be setting the table for the future of our diocese. We would also encourage those laypeople who are not delegates but who are interested in being a part of this conversation, to please join us as well.  We will have plenty of space for those who would like to join us and we would love to have you there.

Exploring Our Future

September 22, 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Last weekend at a meeting of the clergy of the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania, Bishop Franklin announced that he will retire on April 3, 2019, as required by the canons of the Episcopal Church. His letter, which you can read here, says he has returned from sabbatical “full of energy and ideas that we will explore together over that time.” Chief among those ideas, as we discussed with the clergy of both dioceses, is the possibility of our dioceses sharing a future.

At our upcoming diocesan conventions, we will 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 plan to meet together for a joint convention in Niagara Falls.

If our discussions in the next year are fruitful, as we hope they will be, we would anticipate that in 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.

In proposing a partnership between our dioceses, we are not seeking simply to save money, although we believe that will be possible, and we are not aiming just to share a bishop. We believe that our dioceses have complementary strengths and challenges, and that together we are well suited to respond to God’s call in our region. Our communities share an industrial past, a Rust Belt culture, and a love for the natural beauty of the Lake Erie watershed, and our congregations are home to resilient people who know that by working together and staying focused on mission, we can weather uncertain times and a changing church.

Between now and our conventions—October 27 and 28 in Western New York and November 10-11 in Northwestern Pennsylvania—we hope that you will join us in praying about the opportunity we have before us and thinking about your hopes, concerns, and questions. We look forward to being together soon and to embarking on this year of discernment about the future that God has in store for the people of both our dioceses.

Faithfully,

The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin                               The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe
Bishop of Western New York                                     Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania

James Isaac                                                                    Jack Malovich
President, Standing Committee                                 President, Standing Committee
Diocese of Western New York                                    Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

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.