Prayer In Motion

The descriptors “introvert” and “public evangelism” don’t usually go together. These “things” never have held appeal for me and the last thing I wanted to do was walk around town and pray for the uninformed and the unconverted.  Yet I had committed to the Rev. Erin Betz-Shank, Bishop’s Warden Heather Armstrong, and the people of Trinity, New Castle, that I’d do whatever their priest did for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday while she was on maternity leave.  That promise turned into my first experience of an ecumenical prayer walk.

Due to Erin’s leadership, laity and clergy from the churches of New Castle participate in a prayer walk around downtown New Castle on Good Friday following a humble, draped cross.  The experience was entitled “Prayer in Motion”. We began with the library and moved to the police station, Salvation Army, United Way, medical clinic, businesses, restaurants, churches, and local government offices. At each location we prayed for the work done in each profession and for those who live the profession.  

The symbolism of the event leapt out of the concrete: in the midst of an economically challenged community like New Castle, this rain-soaked procession was a moving sign of hope. We travelled into the heart of sorrow, poverty, and decay with a message of hope, faith, and commitment. Jesus was here and he was staying.  The Church was here and the Church was staying. The youngest person was about two and oldest near 90. We weren’t many. The torrential rains kept many at home. Yet, we moved, prayed, and asked God’s blessings.

Sometimes these experiences affect those around the troop most. Perhaps that’s so; I hope so. The experience deeply affected me. We are called to show up in many ways: shelter, food, medical care, money, legal assistance, counseling, recovery, and the list goes on. We are also called to show up with faith, hope, and love. What a perfect, as in complete, way to worship on Good Friday: to step into the challenges of redevelopment in New Castle, reminding people that Jesus identifies with the suffering and with those who serve those in need.  Honestly, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful worship experiences of Good Friday ever for this aging Christian.

Thank you, Erin and Heather, for your leadership and holding me to my promise.

The Rev. Al Johnson is Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation for the Diocese of NWPA. 

Quiet Day in Danli – A Letter from Honduras

On March 11, 2019 my husband, Dan, and I left for a two week mission trip to Danli, Honduras. He served as team leader for a group of large and small animal veterinarians, vet techs, and spouses. His sending organization was CVM (Christian Veterinary Mission) and SAMS (Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders). Our local contact was SAMS missionary Jeannie Loving, with whom we have worked through the years. Jeannie is also a member of The Order of the Daughters of King and asked me, as a Daughter, to prepare and lead a Quiet Day retreat for the ladies in the Episcopal Churches in the Danli deanery. A few days after the Veterinary team headed home we had our Quiet Day under the guidance of local Episcopal priests Fr. P. Francisco Midence and Fr. Victor Manuel Valsquez. The following is a reflection of the day sent to my chapter and prayer supporters:

I want to share with you the beautiful Quiet Day we held at Las Manos de Dios Episcopal church in Danli, Honduras on Saturday, March 24.  It was hosted by the Daughters of the King, but all women were invited. Fifty women and at least a dozen children were in attendance. We provided lunch for 73 which included children, teens, the kitchen help and a few men. I was able to greet old friends and make new ones.

We did the stations of the cross through the eyes of Mary. The church is a big open one and Fr. Victor had placed pictures of the 15 stations all around the perimeter.  We moved from one to the other as Fr. Victor recited the Kyrie,  Fr. Francisco played the guitar, and the women sang as they walked.  Two different women read at each of the 15 stations. One woman started to read and was so overcome she couldn’t finish. Many women commented they felt the same way. The Holy Spirit truly was present. It was extra special to me knowing you all were praying and two chapters from Central PA were also doing Mary’s Way of the Cross that very day…Apostles from Christ chapter from York, PA, and Harriet Lane Johnston chapter in Lancaster, PA.

We had fun afterward. I brought hotel soaps, shampoo, lotion, little bottles of nail polish and bags (like ones we buy at the grocery store, instead of using plastic).  We asked questions, like who has the most children, who has on a red shirt, etc., and the woman/ or women would come up and pick 2 items. They had fun with that and so did I. We had enough to give them a third and the leftovers went to the priests to give to the needy. The bags and the nail polish went first.

This is a very special event for the women as they don’t usually have an event where they can just come and be fed…physically and spiritually.  We paid for the bus and/or taxi for them to get there – some had at least an hour ride. The most expensive was $4 round trip. Jeannie Loving, our SAMS missionary contact and Daughter of the King, said most would borrow the money to get there and we reimbursed them when they arrived. We also paid for the food. I noticed some of the women didn’t eat all of theirs but saved some to take home to their family.  I couldn’t eat mine and gave it to Mabell whose husband didn’t have a job and they have 7 children.  The cost for this was covered by a grant from the Daughters of the King self-denial fund.

People here in the US have no idea what poverty is…no electricity, no running water; rice, beans and maybe an occasional chicken added to the mix every day…mangoes and watermelon when in season.  The children at the village high up the mountain don’t attend school. It is too far to go down the mountain every day.  It took us more than an hour by truck, and they use horses for transport. At the airport, I talked with two different women who come each year to help at orphanages. They are not truly orphanages, but homes for abandoned children. The parents are so poor they can not feed them or they are abused. One mentioned an 11-year-old girl with a 1-year-old baby and this was not an isolated case. One woman said the place where she worked had taken in two infants found abandoned on the road just that week.

I’m  glad to be home. Physically we found it takes us longer to recover but we are retired so we can take our time….spiritually and mentally will take a little longer.

Please continue to pray for our Daughters all over the world. It is a beautiful bond that we have as sisters in Christ.

Kathy Paulo is a member of St John’s, Franklin. She has been a Daughter of the King since 2005 and is currently serving as The Order of the Daughters of the King Province lll president and National Membership Chair. 

A Compassionate Response: A Statement on Opioids

(Prepared by The Task Force of Province III of the Episcopal Church)

Opioid use disorder, like other substance use disorders, profoundly affects the mind, body, and spirit. Scientific research shows that addiction is a disease that originates in the brain – not a moral or spiritual failing. Much like other treatable diseases, many factors contribute to addiction, and the disease affects the whole family. Some factors include behavior, environment, and genetics. Recovery benefits from a variety of support, including medical care, counseling, and faith communities. Often the last line of defense in communities, faith communities now have an important call to foster space for conversation, prevention, education, care, healing, recovery, prayer, and advocacy. Faith communities also have an ongoing responsibility to examine and address problematic contextual factors such as joblessness, trauma, injury, family stability, educational offerings, community resources, and crime.

Faith communities offer a place for modeling life-giving relationship with persons facing the disease of addiction by considering their outreach interactions, pastoral response, and language. Certain practices and ways of avoiding persons who are facing addiction express not only cultural stigma, they actively discriminate against a person with a treatable disease. Sometimes our language labels a person as an “addict” rather than seeing them in a more dignified way as a person facing addiction. Faith communities offer open space for worship, healing, interaction with God and God’s people, safety, and prayer. This helps to break down the secrecy and shame around addicted members of family and community groups that leads to discrimination, and may discourage a person from seeking assistance toward their recovery goals.

Recovery is a life-long process requiring commitment. Addiction, as a chronic illness, requires appropriate resources for recovery. There are many pathways to recovery. For some persons, residential inpatient treatment works best. For others, medication-assisted treatment (https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment) offers a pathway toward health. For still others, twelve step groups provide a pathway to recovery and community. There are recovery support institutions and virtual recovery communities. Many discover that a combination of pathways works best for their recovery journey. As new pathways are created, we celebrate new possibilities for persons seeking healing. Faith communities, depending on their gifts, abilities, and facilities, take on various roles of ongoing support for persons in recovery and their families.

Addiction is a daily struggle. It affects entire families, and children are especially at risk during this crisis. Faith communities can offer belonging, community connection, listening, prayer, comfort, care, worship opportunities, and other resources to persons in households where addiction has caused great pain and damage. Children, parents, grandparents, siblings and spouses require care and support that is open-hearted and free from moralizing judgement.

For the Victims of Addiction
O blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you: Look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost our health and freedom. Restore to us the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove from us the fears that beset us; strengthen us in the work of our recovery; and to those who care for us, give patient understanding and persevering love. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church, page 831 with pronouns modified for solidarity.)

Learn more here:
http://www.provisionsforthejourney.org/
https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help

A companion piece with a bibliography of resources gathered by the Opioid Response Task Force is available here

Seek the Face of God

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

(The Epiphany, BCP p. 214 )

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

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

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

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

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

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!