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. 

Courage and Collaboration in Christian Community: Diocesan Convention 2017

We have a lot of exciting things going on in our diocese right now and, to reflect that, this year’s convention will not be business as usual!

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.  Just two weeks prior to our convention, we will have sent a contingent to their convention (and there’s still time to sign up to join us!  Visit our website to do so).  They will join us for our entire convention and we will have ample time to get to know one another.

Those that have attended convention in the past may notice that we will have a different emphasis for the content of our convention.  This convention will be very mission-focused and the schedule will reflect that. We will have a more condensed time for business than we usually do so that we have the time we need for learning and conversation.

To help us continue our work on innovation and collaboration, we have invited the Rev. Canon Scott Slater to be with us.  Scott has been an Episcopal priest since 1993 and has served in the Diocese of Maryland since 2001. Following nine years as rector of Church of the Good Shepherd in Baltimore, he began serving on the bishops’ staff as the Canon to the Ordinary in July of 2010. In 2015, he became a Certified Daring WayTM Facilitator based on the work of Brene Brown, Ph.D.  He will be leading us through a program relating to issues regarding shared ministry, both on the diocesan and congregational levels, using the work of Brené Brown.  Please see below for links to videos from Brené, as well as to some of her books.  If you are able, we would encourage you to take the time to look at some of her work prior to convention.

We urge our clergy and delegates to come ready to engage in these 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.

Videos from Brené:
The Power of Vulnerability
Brené on Blame
Brené on Empathy

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