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.

Called For Prayer and Service

“Lord, what would you have me do” is the final sentence in the motto of The Order of the Daughters of the King.  It is both a prayer and a call to serve. We, as a lay order of Episcopal women, pray daily to hear God’s call to serve our parish and our community.  The Daughters of the King in this diocese recently answered His call for prayer and service by participating in two very different activities this fall.

We answered His call to prayer at the recent joint convention of the Dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York in Niagara Falls. When the announcement of a joint convention was made, Daughters in NWPA sought to contact Daughters from WNY to plan a joint activity. Alas, we learned there were no chapters in that diocese, and so we contacted Daughters from that Province. Two Daughters from Albany joined Grace Chapter from St. John’s in Franklin and Martha Chapter from Trinity in New Castle to offer prayer for those in attendance at the convention. A prayer table with candles and prayer request cards was set up in the rear of the meeting room. Attendees were encouraged to use the cards and place their prayer requests in a container on the table. We were astounded by the number of prayer requests which we instantly relayed to our members at home.  Prayer was offered in real time and we continued to pray for the petitions for another 30 days.  We also set up a table with information about the Order in the break area and we were delighted with the interest shown by the convention attendees. Plans are being made to visit a number of churches to give informational talks.

Our call to serve was answered by participating in a joint project with WELCA (Women of the Evangelical Church of America): the Lily Project. The Lily Project is a collaborative effort involving women from Good Hope Lutheran Church in Oil City and Grace Chapter of the Daughters of the King at St. John’s, Franklin. The purpose of the project is to assist women who have been victims of rape or sexual assault. These women often come to the ER with damaged clothing or must surrender their clothing as evidence of their assault.  We know this can be dehumanizing and adds to the trauma of the assault, so the Lily Project provides them with fresh clothing and a prayer for God’s comfort and peace. We have collected donations of underclothing, socks, loose athletic pants and t-shirts. These items are placed in a gift bag with a pack of tissues and a prayer square. Each size from small to extra large is placed in a bin marked with the size and then delivered to five area hospitals with a promise to replace items as they are used.

If you are interested in more information about the Order of the Daughters of the King, you can go to the website doknational.org or contact Kathy Paulo at St. John’s, Franklin.

Kathy Paulo is a member of St. John’s, Franklin. 

Blue Christmas Service to be Held in Kane

There is a very active and collegial ministerial association in Kane.  Each month pastors and a few lay leaders from our many churches get together for lunch and spend an hour or two planning for the usual community worship services, a joint vacation bible school, and church participation in other local events.  

We also discuss community problems such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and mental health issues that isolate people from one another. It seems that for the last several months there have been many funerals of both elderly members of our congregations, and as a result of unexpected deaths of younger people. In a town the size of Kane, where we all know one another, the losses, whether of loved ones, employment, or health, are shared losses, and deeply felt, especially as the holidays approach.  

And so it was that at our October meeting, Pastor Jan brought up the idea of having an ecumenical “Blue Christmas” service for people who have suffered a loss of a loved one, or are dealing with other problems that can make holidays difficult and depressing. She had gathered information from a few websites and from other churches in our area which have held such an event.  After a bit of discussion, a committee was formed to look at the idea further.

When the Blue Christmas committee met, we brought together a wealth of materials from many denominations and traditions. We had each collected scripture, litanies, prayers, poems and music. I found several selections on Episcopal Church websites, as well as in our Year C Planning for Rites and Rituals resource book.  

As we discussed what we had pulled together, we recognized that feelings of loss and hopelessness are not limited to adults. Children are deeply affected when a family has experienced a crisis. Heather, one of our youngest pastors, volunteered to have a separate gathering on site for elementary aged children using books and activities that she had pulled together.  She is also looking into bringing in a service dog which is trained to work especially with children in emotional distress.

As the plan for a candlelight service began to form in our minds, we chose the evening of Friday, December 21, the longest night of the year, as the date.  St. John’s was chosen for the location because of its intimate size and comforting atmosphere. Pastor David with his years of chaplain experience will present a homily, and we hope to have a counselor from Hospice speak as well. There will be clergy and lay persons from all of the churches leading the worship time.  Music will include both traditional hymns, Taize, and instrumental, but not Christmas carols as such, since they can be powerful emotional triggers.  Following the service we have planned a time of fellowship with refreshments, as well as the opportunity for people to talk with clergy and other professional counselors. 

With our initial publicity about this event, we have had good feedback so far, and a lot of interest.  We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this endeavor that we may touch the hearts and minds of many who are suffering, and help them to begin to heal.

Becky Harris is a member of St. John’s, Kane. 

Editor’s Note: All are welcome to attend the Blue Christmas Service at St. John’s on Friday, December 21 at 7:00 PM.

Here and Now

The Holy Spirit blows where she wills, upsetting old patterns and blowing life into old adages we wear as badges, like “Careful what you wish for…you might just get it.”  Such has been the case in my life. When the first note of a priestly calling began to ring in my heart at the age of 24 years old, I was an NYU Grad Student living in Brooklyn.  The single note resounded to the core of my being and wishing to be a priest more than anything, I entered the discernment process.

Discernment requires copious research and reflection…so I read many books about the vocation; I talked to countless priests about it; and I imagined and dreamed about how becoming a priest would meet all of my desires both for service and identity.  I would be something—complete with a title, a uniform and role.

So as I began the discernment process with the requisite internship at a neighboring parish, and endured a barrage of psychological testing, all seemed to fall into place.  I even found a job working for the Episcopal Church Center (aka 815) while I waited to go to seminary.  When the time came for the interviews with “the powers that be”, all went well, and I was granted postulancy and seminary loomed on the near horizon, I thought I had it made.  I delayed going to seminary because I was learning so much working on the staff of the Presiding Bishop.

And that’s when things started to go sideways.  I was young in the ways of the world and didn’t realize how power is wielded.  It never occurred to me that the Bishop might not be the one calling the shots.  Unfortunately, as it turned out the Bishop was terribly sick and falling completely under the sway of alcoholism.  And although to my eyes it looked like he was in charge, it was his Canon who ran the diocese.  And so instead of listening to the suggestions of the Bishop, I should have paid more attention to the woman behind the ‘episcopal’ screen.  I didn’t and for that I was given an opportunity for correction.

My permission to go to seminary was revoked and I was quasi-kicked out the ordination process.  I had no status, but as my obedience still being observed, I was still being told where I should go to church and I was required to spend Saturdays doing local theology and bible classes at a local school of theology.   I’ll spare you the retelling of the anguish I experienced during this three-year period—of my scheming to find a new diocese and bishop, of my decision to nearly give up on becoming a priest and the sorted dealings through which the “powers that be” finally sent me off to seminary.

The discernment time at seminary became one of intentional formation and I grew as a one-day priest in training.  And at yet, as I finished seminary and the time for ordination approached—some 8 years after the desire to be a priest emerged in my heart—the notion that I should “Be careful what you wish for” finally struck home.  Throughout all of this time, I had expected becoming a priest to feel magical.  And while the day was very affirming…and my wish was finally fulfilled, being a priest didn’t make me feel any different.  I was still me.  No extra-significant sense of calling, no special illumination from the Holy Spirit.

You see, once we arrive at the wished-for reality and it almost never ends up being not for what we hoped.  As so, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to here and NOW.

That is precisely what I learned after my ordination…I realized how many years I had fretted and worried, schemed and agonized. In the end, very little of it really mattered.  It only served to distract me from the really priestly work that all of us are called to participate in.  The truth is that God is not really interested in our wishes for significant and pronounced service—God simply wants us to open our eyes to the need around us NOW and to serve:  “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. “

Actually, this was the lesson I learned on the day of my ordination. You see a new bishop had been elected and when he arrived at the church, he found me changing my then three-year-old son’s VERY poopy diaper.  We were chatting and getting to know one another as I worked.  It was when I wrapped up the diaper, that I realized, much to my horror, that the bishop was standing between me and the trashcan.  He must have seen the panicked look on my face and without missing a bit.  He silently coaxed me into handing him the diaper and he quickly deposited it in the trash—without missing a beat in the conversation.

It was this simple act that truly taught me what it means to be a priest…what it means to be truly human.  If you want to be great, you must serve.  Whatever journey we are on…whatever “wish” we are working to make reality, let us practice true discernment and listen for the Holy Spirit.

The Rev. Luke Fodor is rector of St. Luke’s Church, Jamestown, NY. 

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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St. John’s and Grace – A Relationship in Christ

A long long time ago… well, at least thirty years ago, two congregations in Franklin decided to do something radical. They decided to prepare for Christmas and Easter together, spending the seasons of Advent and Lent having soup suppers and sharing the Word of God.

The radical part about this whole idea is that one congregation was Episcopalian, St. John’s, while the other congregation was Evangelical Lutheran, Grace. Way before the official agreement between the national Episcopal Church and the national Evangelical Lutheran Church on shared ministry, St. John’s and Grace in Franklin were sharing fellowship, bible study, and prayer.

Fast forward almost twenty years and that same shared ministry of soup suppers in Advent and Lent was still going on. However, one of the congregations had fallen into some difficult decisions in financial and facility matters. Yet, since the members of Grace Lutheran knew the congregation at St. John’s and were familiar with St. John’s Church, they had an option beyond closing. They decided to sell their building and rent space from St. John’s.

After another almost ten years, the relationship between St. John’s and Grace is still going strong. Not only do the congregations share Advent and Lent soup suppers, but now also Sunday School, Adult Formation, an annual Church Picnic, Coffee Hour, Vacation Bible School, and both congregations have members in the Grace Chapter of the Daughters of the King. Joint services are held regularly and almost all the high feast days are celebrated together.

Given this great relationship, the clergy, vestry, and council of St. John’s and Grace undertook this past year to put together a document entitled the Shared Ministry Agreement. The Agreement outlines the relationship and shared ministry of the two congregations, while presenting some new ideas to help both congregations move into the future.

All this culminated in a great celebration this past December. On Sunday December 17th, 2017, Bishop Sean Rowe and Bishop Ralph Jones joined the congregations of Grace and St. John’s in a special Eucharist which included the signing of the Shared Ministry Agreement, confirmation, and the Blessing of the new Elevator Lift in the Parish Hall. Both the Vestry and the Council stood before the bishops and committed the churches to the development and partnering of this relationship.

While we can all thank the Holy Spirit for its work in bringing together the congregations of St. John’s and Grace over the years, the members of both congregations state that the real reasons the relationship has withstood the testing of time and troubles is that we have become one community. The members proclaim, “We are better together,” “We like working together, we like being in community together.” Being a part of Christ’s one Body means working together even when we are different. We strive to live this out as one community made up of Episcopalians and Lutherans in Franklin.

No longer is either congregation defensive about which ministry is whose or how they fit together. The reality of the situation is that neither Grace nor St. John’s would be able to follow through on the mission of the church in Franklin without the other. However, together, we are able to follow God’s calling to us in Franklin.

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

And So We Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DR Mission Trip Day 7 – Friday

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

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

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

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

DR Mission Trip Day 6 – Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Chris Wheeler, Resurrection Church, Hermitage, PA

DR Mission Trip Day 5 – Wednesday

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

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

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

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

Anyah  Holben