Convention 2018 Wrap-Up

It was a historic convention this year in Niagara Falls! Following fourteen months of prayer, meetings, and discernment, the Diocese of Western New York elected Bishop Sean to be their bishop provisional for the next five years, officially embarking on a collaborative relationship with the Diocese of NWPA.

Prior to voting on Friday afternoon, keynote speaker the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, talked about embarking on an unknown future and how the church can meet the challenges of what comes next, including her Top Ten List of things for church leaders to remember in times of change (the full text of the address is available at the House of Deputies website). After President Jennings spoke, the election was held and, when the final tally was announced, the crowd gave a standing ovation.

Bishop Sean addressed both dioceses Saturday morning to discuss our shared future (a full video of the speech is available here). The bishop also announced that, in preparation for this new season, he will take a time of sabbatical from December through February.

Following the address, the two conventions separated for business and elections for offices and voting on resolutions occurred. The Rev. Dr. Mary Norton and Craig Dressler were elected to Standing Committee, the Rev. Melinda Hall and Jeff Mills won seats on Diocesan Council, the Rev. Canon Brian Reid and Kathy Rogers were elected to the Constitution and Canons committee, and the Rev. Geoff Wild, Anne Bardol, and Matthew Ciszek were elected to represent the diocese at the Provincial Synod.

The 2019 budget and assessments, as well as the 2019 minimum stipends for clergy, were passed as presented, and the resolution to establish a drug and alcohol committee was passed as edited to be in compliance with the Constitution and Canons. A special resolution was also passed in memory of Lois Tamplin, long-time member of St. John’s, Sharon and known to many at convention for her efforts in supporting the Church Periodical Club.  The convention raised $369.50 in her honor, which the bishop matched, to make a total donation of $739.00 given to the CPC in her memory.

It was announced that convention next year will be held at a time and place to be determined after conferring with the Diocese of Western New York.

Many thanks to all of the staff and volunteers who made convention possible, and to the delegates for taking time out of their busy schedules to conduct the business of the church.

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

As Bishop Sean says: It’s a Great Day in the Kingdom!

Welcome, Resurrection Church!

Sunday was a particularly blessed day in the life of the diocese as we celebrated the consecration of our first church plant in over fifty years, Resurrection Church in Hermitage. The sanctuary was full of over one hundred worshipers, there to show their love and support of this new congregation.

During the sermon, the Rev. Jason Shank, our church planter, detailed the work that has gone into this plant: from his initial meeting with Bishop Sean three years ago and their hopes for this new church, going into the community and learning what the needs of the people were, to meeting folks on the street and worshiping with them in public (quite literally, as Fr. Jason recounted one frigid Christmas Eve service held in a parking lot downtown), taking prayer walks, and, finally, to the long search for a permanent home that culminated in the renovation of the building which housed a congregation that had closed. “We saw God’s presence every step of the way when we were planting in this building,” he said. People in the community even stopped to comment on how pleased they were to see cars in the parking lot – a welcome sign of God’s presence in the neighborhood.

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to renew the mission of the diocese and our ministry in the Hermitage community. He also gave thanks for everyone who had been involved in the discussions and planning for this church plant, which span over ten years, as well as other projects like it.  “Endeavors like this require the planning and vision of generations of leaders,” the bishop said.

Through scripture, song, and fellowship time following the service, the day was a reminder of the love of God and his presence in northwestern Pennsylvania. As Bishop Sean remarked before communion, “It truly is a great day in the Kingdom!”

Below are photos from Sunday’s consecration service.

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The Official Beginning – Consecration Service at Resurrection Church Plant

Fr. Jason Shank invites everyone to the Resurrection Church consecration service to be held on September 23 at 4:00 PM in Hermitage. For more details, including what’s been happening to prepare for this moment, watch below.

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

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

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

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

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

All of the above?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looks like love and hospitality.

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

I can’t wait. See you in Austin!

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

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

The Gift of Diversity

This article first appeared on the A Positively Poetic Priest blog on May 22, 2018.

I want you to take a look at your hand.
Right or left, it doesn’t matter.
Every day our hands do impressive amounts of work.
They influence our experience of the world.
Look at your fingers.
You probably don’t think about them often.
They are very similar in nature to each other,
yet each is different.
Each is unique from the others.
Even our fingers have diversity!
Each of our fingers have different purposes and gifts.
The fact that our thumbs are at an angle and move slightly
differently than the other fingers… opposable thumbs!
What a gift our thumbs are in our daily lives!
(Especially when you consider animals without opposable thumbs,
we have all seen those internet memes.)
We may look at our hands and think they are all the same.
In fact, we have diversity right in our hands.

The word diversity really means a range of different things.
Not that it has a range of different meanings,
it quite literally means, “a range of different things.”
Having a collection be diverse means that there are different things in the collection.
So speaking about diversity in the context of people
requires two things: community and different gifts.

This is where we go to the passage from acts,
the bedrock of Pentecost.
The passage starts with the community.
“The disciples were all together in one place.”
Here we have a collection of people, already diverse in nature.
Tax collectors, fishermen, carpenters,
all gathered together in a room because of the same glue.
It’s quite obvious that the only reason the disciples ever managed to stay together
was because of Jesus.
Together, this little community of men
has an amazing experience.
A rush of wind and tongues of fire,
a change of heart and feeling of presence,
and a sudden new knowledge filling each of them.

Diversity is one of the first gifts the Holy Spirit ever gives to the church,
simply by giving the disciples the ability to speak different languages.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples that day of Pentecost,
it didn’t tell the disciples to go only
to the Aramaic speaking good Jews to spread the good news of Jesus.
No, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples new languages,
the gift of speaking to people wholly different from them.
With the gifts of the Holy Spirit there were going to be
Egyptian followers of Jesus
and Parthian followers of Jesus
and Mesopotamian followers of Jesus.
People from all over the known world
who didn’t all have the same background or the same ideas.
The Holy Spirit came and made the disciples more diverse, even than they had been before.

I love the fact that someone thinks this rush of speaking in languages from Jews
is because of wine.
As if having some wine could give us the ability to speak a new language.
The work of the Holy Spirit in this way
was so new,
so amazing,
so profound,
no good excuses could be made to justify the event away.
Someone in the crowd tried to blame it on wine,
but we all know that was simply out of fear.
You can see the bystanders trying to push the idea away,
out of fear, out of wanting to stay away from the unknown.

Unfortunately, for many the gift of diversity looks like a threat.
The unknown quality of people being different from one another leads to fear.
Thankfully, this fear can be overcome.
Recognizing and accepting diversity does put us outside our comfort zones.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit,
and God doesn’t call us to be comfortable.
In a world increasingly separating into groups of like minded people who do not play well with people or groups who
are differently minded,
the world asks the grace of living into our gifts as diverse people.

However, everyone is different in this world.
Everyone deserves the dignity and respect which we each crave for ourselves.
Everyone is different and has different gifts.
One of the greatest gifts we can give another person
is acknowledging them as uniquely themselves.
It is only by working together,
using all the gifts which we bring to the table,
can we really ever accomplish anything.
The world is worth working with other people who are extremely different than us.
Not everyone can speak Spanish or German or Hindi or Swahili,
but the Holy Spirit has given us the gifts that we need in order to work together.

Many people feel that the church is, and has always been,
a place for people who all think, feel, believe, and look the same.
You have to be and act and speak in a particular way in order to be a part of the church.
Unfortunately, there are many parts of the church in which this is true.
There are rules governing what you can wear, what you can eat or drink,
who you can talk to, and so forth.

By no means am I advocating a standard of lawlessness or anarchy,
there are standards for being a follower of Jesus
however none of them are based on what clothing you wear
or what you can eat or drink.
In fact, Jesus would probably have broken any and all rules
given to him by the religious authorities of his own church
in order to be involved and part of the lives of the people who needed him.

Diversity is a strength, not one of the church’s greatest strengths,
though thankfully one that we are more and more recognizing the need for.
Here in this community, we have a range of diversity
Episcopalians, Lutherans, a few Catholics,
we have people who speak languages other than English,
we have people who are differently abled,
we have people who can program electronic devices,
and people who stay as far away from such devices as they can,
and all these diversities make for a better community.

We come together today to join our diverse hands
to be together as a community with different gifts
experiencing the Holy Spirit in this time and in this place,
so that when we go out into the world
we can meet God at work through the Holy Spirit
in all the diverse places and people we experience.
God sends us out to find ourselves and Him
in all the beautiful diversities of His creation.

Amen.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest in Charge at St. John’s, Franklin. 

Special Bonus Edition of “Ask the Bishop”

It’s a special edition of “Ask the Bishop”!

Join us as we chat with Bishop Bill Franklin of the Diocese of Western New York about highlights of his bishopric, his prayer for the Buffalo Bills, and his “Stair Dance”. Check it out below:

Many Voices, Many Approaches, One Vision

What do you get when you combine a love for the church, strong collegiality, and a willingness to engage the difficult issues facing the church with honesty?  You get my experience of the latest clergy retreat.

I was invited by Bishop Sean and Vanessa to make a presentation at the diocesan clergy retreat this past February at Olmstead Manor.  It was an honor as a lay professional to be included in a clergy event, let alone make a presentation at such an event.  The openness and welcome I experienced from all of my clergy colleagues was a joy – there was a deep sense of mutuality and support for each of our ministries.

The entire retreat was a series of peer-led presentations on the future of the church and the issues associated with that future.  Presentations were given by John Downey, Stacey Fussell, Jason Shank, Melinda Hall, Bishop Sean, and myself.  Each of us come from very different congregations and contexts each with unique assets and challenges.

What was so exciting about the retreat was that all of our presentations acknowledged the challenges facing the Episcopal Church with honesty – mainly that mainline Christianity is in decline across our country.  Not only did we begin with the same basic premise, but each presentation ended with a love for the church, love for Jesus Christ, and the hope of the resurrection to be manifested in our diocese.

The most fascinating part of the presentations was how each of us through our individual contextual lenses addressed the challenges and how to resolve them for the sake of the Gospel.  Some of us focused on statistical trends, others on life cycles of churches, some on the need for planting churches, others on the church’s need to be more visible in the community, and I focused on the need for authentic relational community between three equally important entities: God, church leaders, and congregants.

Why did this retreat excite me?  Because the presentations showed just how diverse and gifted are the leaders of our diocese.  The Spirit of God manifested in powerful ways through those open, honest conversations showing us that innovation and resurrection are possible.  And not only are innovation and resurrection possible, but we have been given the resources on all levels of leadership from laity to clergy, from our smallest congregations to the diocese as a whole, to make the changes necessary to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our beloved Episcopal tradition for generations to come.  Now that’s Good News!

Craig Dressler is Associate for Parish Life at St. Mark’s Erie. 

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!