Local church to host ‘blessing box’ with donations

This article first appeared in the Bradford Era on May 19, 2017. 

By KATE DAY SAGER
The Bradford Era

Era photo by Kate Day Sager

On any given Sunday, needy people stop by the Episcopal Church of the Ascension on Chautauqua Place in Bradford with the hope there will be food to spare.

Consequently, when the Rev. Stacey Fussell, rector of Ascension, learned Amanda Kemick and Stacy Wallace needed a venue for their new Blessing Box, she volunteered outdoor space at the church for the project.

The Blessing Box, which was installed near the church parking lot on Mother’s Day, sits atop a pole several feet high. Inside the unlocked box are canned and boxed foods stocked by parishioners and community residents. All food items in the box are free for the taking.

Kemick, a stay-at-home mom, said she and Wallace, an attorney, came up with the Blessing Box idea last fall after viewing a post on Facebook.

“Many of our friends on Facebook expressed interest and support of the idea,” Kemick recalled. “We began with the construction of two boxes” after funding was provided by two private donors.

Kemick said they contacted Scott Oxley, carpentry teacher at Bradford Area High School, for help. When they asked Oxley if the students could construct two boxes similar to what was seen online, he agreed and asked only that materials be provided.

The first box was installed Sunday at the church by Kemick and Wallace’s husbands, Donny and Curt, respectively.

“Stacy and I both have children and it was a great experience for them to help install and put food in the first box,” Kemick said. “On the box we put, ‘Give what you can, take what you need.’ “It is our hope that anyone in need — a hungry child or a mother who doesn’t have time to get to the grocery store — can stop and take what is needed.”

She said the blessing box is not limited to food, as donations of personal hygiene items and baby products are also acceptable.

In explaining the notion behind the blessing box, Wallace said it is intended to bless all people with food and items, regardless of class.

“I know some people do not want to take something for nothing, so if you see something there you need, take it and put something else in — like a barter system,” Wallace explained.

She said the hope is the boxes will be replenished by the community. As a backup measure, one or two groups from the community will be assigned to stock the boxes, as needed.

Suggested store-bought items for the box include canned foods, dry cereal or other dry items  such as pasta and rice. Small clothing items that include new packages of underwear, socks or gloves, are also acceptable donations.

Fussell said initial food items stocked in the box, that included small canned hams, were taken. They were quickly replenished with other food, however. She said the supplies will likely be appreciated by people in the neighborhood which is close to housing projects.

“From our standpoint, it is not uncommon to have folks come by the church on a Sunday afternoon and say ‘I don’t have any food in my house,’” Fussell remarked. “Ascension doesn’t keep a stocked food pantry” and none of the other pantries are open on Sunday.

“This will help if you’re in a bind,” she continued. “It really is the hope that people will restock it.”

In making a final comment, Kemick said their greatest hope is that by next winter a local agency or private business will offer to house a blessing box inside its doors.

“Our outdoor blessing boxes will get less use in the winter due to foot traffic and the practicality of food storage, yet we could use blessings year round,” she said.

Kemick said there is another blessing box ready to be installed, but a location hasn’t been determined. She said a church or organization that can ensure the box will stay filled would be preferable. Kemick said they have plans to make additional boxes in the future.

For more information on the blessing boxes, contact Kemick or Wallace via Facebook or call Wallace at Hamlin Bank and Trust Company at 887-5555.

Invitation to the Diocesan Prayer Vigil – March 17 & 18

altar-boy-1190759_1920The conviction that praying shapes believing is part of our Anglican heritage.  Prayer is a core practice of our Christian faith and serves as both a foundation and covering for our common mission.

I invite you to join me in prayer for our diocese at St. John’s, Sharon, on March 17-18 from noon to noon.  We will set aside 24 hours to pray for each other, our common life and mission, and our communities.

Please join us as you are able.  I recognize that not everyone will be able to join us in Sharon, but I hope that you will offer prayer from wherever you are during that time.

+Sean

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The schedule for the prayer vigil is below.  As you can see on the schedule, we will be praying from noon to noon with services and events planned throughout the vigil.  All are welcome to join us for any portion of the vigil, whether that be attending a single service, coming just to pray on your own for a time, or being present for the full 24 hours.  There will be food provided throughout our time.

We will also have a form on the website for those who would like to submit prayer requests to be prayed over by our intercessors.  You are welcome to submit as many as you would like.

If you have any questions about this event or submitting a prayer request, please contact Vanessa.

Schedule for Prayer Vigil
March 17-18
St. John’s, Sharon
12:00 PM       Stations of the Cross
2:30 PM         Centering Prayer teaching and prayer time
5:30 PM         Evening Prayer
7:00 PM         Healing Service
10:00 PM      Compline
11:00 PM       Oral Reading of Book of Revelation
12:00 AM      Private Prayer/Intercession over submitted prayers
7:00 AM         Morning Prayer and Praise
9:00 AM        Prayerwalk & prayers for community
11:00 AM       Eucharist
12:00 PM      Lunch with St. John’s Family Kitchen (if you wish to stay)

“You Realize You Do This Wrong And I’m Dead, Right?”

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2017 newsletter of the Episcopal Mission of Warren County. 

Summer day camp for me when I was 12 involved spending 3 weeks researching local estuary health along the coast of Connecticut where I grew up. Project Oceanology provided a fantastic program for local science-loving youth that got us out doing real research. It’s fun to brag to others that I’m a published scientist with four papers housed at the University of Connecticut library. No word yet on if anyone has ever cited any of my data, but still…

Like every good experience for young people growing up, though, there’s more being learned than just the stated curriculum. So it was that one sunny morning I was in a 12-foot skiff with Mr. Hage who was one of our project directors (local science teachers who lead the program), scuba-diver-569333_640and two other young scientists like me out collecting water samples. At one location, we needed a clean sample from 8 feet down in the water, and due to the conditions it mean that our project leader would need to use his SCUBA equipment. After he donned the heavy tanks, adjusted his fins and mask, and checked the sample bottles to make sure they would open and close, he turned to me and asked me to open the valve on his tanks. I still remember his words, “one full turn clockwise, then a quarter turn back”.

As a bunch of 11 and 12-year-olds are prone to do, we had spent the whole time headed out to the sample station laughing about typical juvenile topics. We must have still been laughing as I reached over and turned the valve the prescribed distances. And thus I can still to this day close my eyes and see Mr. Hage’s face as he turned, lifted his mask, looked me square in the eyes, and said, “you realize you do this wrong and I’m dead, right?”

Most of us probably do not think of our relationships in church as involving such high stakes. We enjoy meeting people, enjoying the company of others who think and feel like us and being politely challenged by those who might be a bit different. That’s part of the growth opportunity that comes with being in a community: it’s a healthy mix of nurturing and challenging relationships that help us live more deeply into God’s desires for us. We can engage as much or as little in these relationships as we feel like any given day.

diving-403250_640I think there is more to our contribution to one another as we live together as a community of God’s disciples, though. We support one another in living our spiritual lives, lives that are under threat from so many forces around us. From the pressures of our busy lives, the challenges of medical situations, and our greater social and political world, our souls are always being severely tested. We spend a few hours together each week, and then we each don our tanks of spiritual fresh air and head off into the waters that bring both blessings and challenges.

In those times when we are together, whether all together on Sunday or Wednesday, or just a few of us at an event, one thing we are doing is preparing each other for our next dive into the wider world. We hold each other’s spiritual lives in our hands.

When we take time to invest in one another, to care enough to bring our best selves to one another with an eye toward helping them be prepared for their lives, we’re doing the real work of Christian community. We do this by educating ourselves to deepening our relationships, paying attention to practicing forgiveness, sharing of our own gifts, and working to hear one another’s stories. We do this work as well by committing to praying for one another, knowing that God joins us in the midst of prayer to open up even greater potentials for all. We do these things to adjust the valves on each other’s spiritual air tanks and invite others to check our own. We are building up the body of Christ, remembering the gravity of this thing we call discipleship life.

Mr. Hage brought me more than just a water sample that day, he brought me a lesson in how much we truly matter to one another. So far, that sense of how much we matter to one another has only grown for me in the years since. God has blessed us to be in one another’s lives not just for polite company, but so we can have true companions who love us and to whom we can direct his love. In this way we reveal the love of God to the world, in how we love one another as he loved us.

The Rev. Matthew Scott is vicar of the Episcopal Mission of Warren County – St. Francis and Trinity Memorial churches. 

 

Giving Thanks – St. James’ Community Soup Kitchen

img_1709-478x640If you drive through Titusville on a Tuesday morning just before lunch time, you may notice how busy the corner of Main Street and Franklin Avenue is compared to the rest of town. Cars line the edge of the roadway, and people walking singly or in groups of three or four make their way down the sidewalk towards the doors of the St. James Parish Hall. Outside the hall a white sign proclaims “St. James Community Soup Kitchen Today 12 – 1 pm. All are Welcome!”

All are indeed welcome to this particularly busy ministry of St. James, as I came to find out. I spoke with Eda Scales and Noni Stanford, two of the soup kitchen coordinators, last Tuesday as they were preparing to serve over 200 people for the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Even though I arrived at 11 am, well before the usual serving hour, most of the tables in the hall were already full of people chatting and having steaming cups of coffee, enjoying each other’s company and relaxing before the beginning of the meal. Volunteers zipped back and forth, topping up glasses and making last minute preparations, but everyone I passed had enough time to smile and say hello as they went about the business of Thanksgiving dinner.
The food program at St. James has been running continuously since 2001, serving hot meals once a week to anyone who drops in. The first few dinners had perhaps a dozen people in attendance, but numbers have increased steadily to the point that on any given Tuesday there are img_1706-640x478at least a hundred people in and out of St. James’ hall, sharing a meal and fellowship (and double that for the Thanksgiving celebration).  Volunteer participation is both ecumenical and community-oriented: at least four churches in the area send helpers to aid the St. James’ crew, and they are often joined by women from the St. James House – a shelter program run by the local YWCA that is housed in the old church rectory. On the few occasions when Canon Martha Ishman is unable to attend dinners, Pastor Terry Brown of the Methodist church in Enterprise gives the blessing before the meal.

The program was given a jumpstart in its early days with a grant from the Diocese, but between donations from parishioners and support from local groups and businesses like Northwest Hardwoods, the VFW, United Way, and a partnership with the Second Harvest Food Bank, the soup kitchen ministry is now self-sufficient and able to provide hot meals and groceries for people in and around the Titusville area. It is also one of the only regularly scheduled soup kitchens in the area that doesn’t charge a fee for the meal. Eda pointed out to me that not only does the program meet financial, social, and spiritual needs for attendees in general, it is particularly valuable to people with special circumstances: the working poor, people on fixed incomes or Social Security, and others who may not qualify for assistance programs, but still find themselves in need. There are no qualifiers to participate in the food ministry, and everything is on the honor system – if someone says they have a need, they may receive.

The program also encompasses the God’s Abundance Cupboard food pantry, which began on an emergency basis whenever the church was open, and has since grown so that there are now twice-monthly scheduled pickup days where families can come and get a bag of groceries including fruit, cereal, soup, vegetables, and (thanks to a grant from Giant Eagle) two packages of frozen meat. The food pantry now gives out approximately 70 bags of groceries each pickup day.
The financial benefit of the meals and grocery donations is readily evident when you see the number of people who participate in the program. As I walked around the tables and chatted with people the social and spiritual benefits made themselves known. For many of the attendees, the soup kitchen is about much more than a hot meal – it’s an important social space, and a church outside of church. From Noni: img_1689-599x640“If you miss a week or something, they ask ‘where were you last week?’ They feel like this is their church, even if they don’t all come on Sundays.” It’s obvious that the people visiting last Tuesday felt at home. Chatter passed back and forth between people and tables with a familiarity that only comes from regular interaction. I sat down near the kitchen to chat with one young woman and her 14-month old daughter, and she mentioned that she was there because her parents came regularly. Her father was seated further down the table, and he introduced me to his wife, one of his cousins, and another relative (who was one of the volunteers, and not able to sit with them as he was working). He said how much they appreciate the church, and his wife jumped in to tell me a story about how one of the previous priests, after seeing that she had been crying at one of the meals, was able to get them help that saved them from being evicted from their home. Both volunteers and people sitting at tables stopped me as I walked around and asked if I needed a seat or a plate, and there wasn’t a single table where someone didn’t have a story or a joke to share (or a groan about the upcoming snow in the weather forecast). As Eda had said while we talked, “you see the face of God in everyone around the tables.” If the smiles on the faces of the volunteers are any indication, they receive as much joy in giving as the attendees do in receiving.

Noni walked by with a large tray filled with slices of pumpkin pie, signaling an end to the first wave of dining, and I waved goodbye and worked my way back through the tables towards the exit. Knots of people who had finished eating or were waiting for spaces to open up at the tables stood in the entry hall and outside on the sidewalk, and several folks wished me a happy holiday as I zipped up my jacket and headed down the street.

I walked out the doors of the hall that day far more uplifted in spirit than I had been prior to arriving. The weather may be getting colder and the days shorter, but God’s presence in this ministry will continue warming hearts throughout western PA’s people for hopefully many years to come.

Megin Sewak, Communications Specialist for the Diocese of Northwestern PA

Gold Medal Ministry – the VBS Olympics

Creating a Vacation Bible School from scratch may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it! It is an opportunity to flex my creative muscles and work with some pretty fantastic people. It was only a few years ago that I was introduced to the idea of creating my own VBS by Pr. Joie Baker while working with the churches in Sharon and Hermitage. There has been no looking back.

In my last four summers with St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fairview, our VBS participants have been superheroes, spies, sailors, and Olympians. This being an Olympic summer, it only made sense to link this great DSC_9851world-wide tradition with stories from the Bible. Using the values of the Olympics and Paralympics – friendship, respect, equality, courage, inspiration, excellence, and determination –  each day we explored them within the stories of Ruth and Naomi, the Good Samaritan, David and Goliath, Nehemiah, and the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The themes are highlighted in a rotation of daily activities: music, science/art, storytelling/snack, and games. We keep our VBSers and volunteers busy the entire two and a half hours they are here.

It is quite amazing to see God at work in this ministry over the last few years, guiding us in steady growth. In 2013,DSC_0368 we hosted 27 children and about 13 volunteers. This summer, we hosted 55 children and had 27 volunteers! It is
hard to find the words to express the amazing community that continues to be built around this ministry. We see many of the same families, as well as meet new ones, and it is so much fun to watch the children grow from year to year.

I will be honest, as I really started thinking about VBS back in April, my biggest concern was not having enough volunteers for the number of children that I anticipated. It is all well and good to have an influx of children, but you absolutely need the adults to match it. I was overwhelmed by the response to my plea for volunteers from around our St. Stephen’s community. We had members of the church, Nursery School teachers, parents, grandparents, and teens offer to share their gifts with us for the week.  It was a comfort to know that we could handle a significant amount of kids in a fun and safe environment.

DSC_0039Volunteers are the heart of this ministry and, I believe, are the reason for our success. Ministries within the church are about lifting up and sharing the gifts that God has given us for continual building of the Kingdom, which is something that I strive to do within a VBS program. Being able to mold your program to the strengths of the volunteers is one of the benefits of creating your own program. The volunteers have just as much fun as the children who participate. And in the end, VBS is truly a team effort.

While much of our program remains the same, we are constantly evaluating it and finding ways to improve. One of the things that I am already thinking about for next summer is how to accommodate further growth. There is always something to adjust from year to year, but that is part of the fun!

Vacation Bible School is a great ministry that all churches can offer. It is a DSC_9741wonderful way to engage both the church and the wider community. It also brings a wide range of ages together to learn and share with each other about the love of Christ. As I said before, I love Vacation Bible School. It is an important and worthwhile ministry that I am always happy to talk about and share with others.

Missy Greene Christian Formation Associate at St. Stephen’s, Fairview

Wrap-Up Post from the DR Mission Team

‘I would like to see Senor Hidalgo.’ This is how my morning begins on Saturday: with an inquiry to see the customs official at the Santiago airport. I’m shown into a small office with dingy lights, one high-heeled shoe lying ominously next to the metal-framed desk. A previous misadventure with customs? I briefly contemplate what my Brooks sneaker would look like next to it, before snapping out of it. I’m never very rational or clear-headed at 3:30am.

Hidalgo appears, in his official uniform, with a ring of keys. ‘You’re here too early.’ He says, looking only briefly at the carbon form in my hands, while unlocking a door to a larger room where I glimpse the two bags that are my reason for being here. With the dim lights and the carbon paper and the suspense, I really feel like I’m in a film noir set in 1940. ‘Too early?’ I reply back, really not liking where this seems to be leading. I want the two bags of our 640 pairs of glasses to take back to America, and I want them now, not later. Who knows what the line is like at immigration? ‘You must wait,’ he says. That’s when I wish it were a movie, because then I’d be some super cool CIA person with karate skills and the ability to teach Hidalgo a real lesson. Instead, I’m a puny priest with no real arm muscles and only a passing knowledge of Spanish.

‘No. No. I’m not waiting. We are not too early; your airport website says arrive 3 hours early. I am taking the glasses. I am going to Delta. You can come with me, but I am going. Now. Right now.’ At least that is what I think I said- this is all happening in Spanish- in my most defiant tone with blazing eyes. A long pause, hands on my hips; heart beats shallow, anger pulsing behind my eyes as I try to think of my next move, but I can’t because it is 3:30am, and I’ve not had any coffee.

Then he looks at the man with him, in a regular button-down shirt, round faced and younger. A decision is made as they point me to the door and grab the cart with the glasses. I become the ringleader of a parade through the outdoor airport, complete with a giant cart holding the big black bags and two customs officials. They escort me to the Delta check-in and wait with me until I check the glasses, procuring copies of my tickets and baggage tags before giving me a stack of stapled papers they assure me I’ll need in the US, which I put away because no one in the US cares about 640 pairs of glasses, all looking like they came from 1982. Only Hidalgo cared.

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And that is probably the only ‘rational’ explanation for why our vision clinic never happened this past week. Let me be clear: no one we worked with anticipated any trouble. The company from whom we rented the equipment and bought the glasses sends teams all over the world- often to the DR- with little trouble; the American missionary in the DR, who plans our trip, works with teams that do vision clinics and has never encountered an issue. The priest at Christo Salvador also did not anticipate this problem. Over the course of the week, Father Hipolito made repeated phone calls and visits to the airport; the diocese involved their government liaison. Despite having the paperwork all finished on Wednesday, customs refused to give the glasses back. I feel quite relieved even to have received them back to take home.

The losers in this are the people of the barrio where we work. They were signed up for appointments. The last day, a little girl asked Tina about glasses; it was the worst feeling in the world to say ‘no, no glasses.’ I have sent scans of the paperwork I received back to the missionary in the DR to try and get an answer, but I remain unsure whether we will have an answer. By no means was the week a waste of time, but this was undeniably disappointing. We will do our best to figure out what went wrong and make an informed decision about next year.

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In wrapping up this blog, I would like to extend an enormous ‘thank you’ to those who kept us in your prayers and to the churches and individuals who supported us financially. Without the assistance and commitment of our sponsors, we could not have gone. The team is grateful for their support of this ‘one church’ endeavor that grows the kingdom and changes lives.

– Melinda Hall

Post from Friday of DR Mission Trip

The dreaded time has come to say our goodbyes. We were only here for a short period of time,  and made such a huge impact on the kids’ lives. Just by being here for a little while the kids even made an impact on me. Despite what happens in the children’s lives, they came to Vacation Bible School and forgot whatever was the matter at home, and had a huge smile on their face. They also loved playing with my hair every day! I cannot wait to come next year and see the kids again. I am going to miss them so much. They were so cheerful to see us come and happy we were having fun too. By the end of the week we had 73 kids. This is a lot for the community the church is located in. The first day we had about 45 children show up.  They loved the games and crafts we had for them. For this being my first time being out of the country and first mission trip, I was scared of the different culture and food.  Once we got here Friday, I noticed a lot of things were the same and not a lot different from home. The food was different but I tried a lot of news things, including rice, fried eggplant, and papaya.

-Abby Wheeler

Post from Thursday of DR Mission Trip

Seeing the children waiting each morning, makes us smile. We are greeted with hugs and smiles. They are excited to learn new games and teach us their games. They are so happy to see ping pong balls and balloons and game time goes so quickly.

During craft time today, the teachers read ‘The Giving Tree’. The children then traced their hand to create a tree that they decorated with stickers to make ‘leaves’ of thanks. As we helped them trace their hands we noticed how they were sharing crayons and helping each other draw leaves.

This week is going very quick. Even though it’s not going the exact way we planned, each day we are reminded of how this partnership in the DR is truly as blessing for all of our church family.

– Julie Westman – Church of Our Savior, DuBois

Post from Wednesday of DR Mission Trip

It’s after lunch, post worship on Sunday, and we’re all sitting around Fr. Hippolito’s table, having just eaten a load of flan to prove how grateful we are for the invitation.  The afternoon seems long and stretches out into a haze of humidity and heat, making me feel lazy and languid.  For a few minutes I have been following the conversation between Fr. Hippolito and our translator, Ernesto, listening particularly for how it is we’re getting back to the hotel, but the conversation is mostly about church.  I’ve been learning Spanish fairly diligently, so I am following along ok, but I find myself stuck on one word.  Finally I just ask what it is.

‘Oh,’ says Ernesto, ‘the word is templo.’  I am slightly confused because this sounds a lot IMG_9607like the word I just learned meaning earthquake.  Surely this is not the word.   ‘Um, what does it mean?’ I ask, Ernesto looking at me like I am really slow today.  ‘Templo, you know, the church building?’  No wonder he’s raised his eyebrows at me like I’ve lost it; that
should have been easy.  ‘Riiiiight!’ I chuckle with him.  ‘But wait, Ernesto, I learned iglesia means church.’  ‘Yeah,’ explains Ernesto, ‘Templo is the building but iglesia is the people.  You know?’

The laziness flees from my body as I sit bolt upright.  ‘For real?’ I say, totally captivated by this superb theology expressed linguistically.  ‘Yes.’ Ernesto says in a voice that is meant to convey his authority but also that he thinks I am slightly silly for the question.  ‘That is the best ever!’  Because it is.  Because think of all the time in English spent trying to parse the difference between the church where I attend and the place it physically occupies and
the church as the body of Christ, the gathered disciples.  The iglesia is what matters; templos are completely secondary.

IMG_9625This week in Santo Domingo is an iglesia experience, the one church gathered for kingdom work.  We talk a lot about being one church in our diocese, partnering together to do more and to support one another, and this relationship with the iglesia of Christo Salvador in the DR is an extension of that.  There is only one iglesia of Jesus Christ, and we’re all part of it- Americans, Dominicans- any Christ follower.  Being one church is what this is about.  It is not about running the perfect VBS or experiencing a new culture; it is not about ‘going on a mission trip’ or even holding a vision clinic.  It is
about partnering to bring the kingdom, to be Christ in the world.

For one week, we get to witness how the kingdom is unfolding in a different place and be part of it, to see what Jesus is up to in an entirely different barrio than our own.  We have the joy of supporting our brothers and sisters who work diligently and faithfully despite issues of poverty and development.  We have the privilege of developing relationships with people who seem so different and yet are so similar, people who like us pray for the kingdom to come and God’s will to be done.

Why partner and visit the DR?  Because we’re all one church, that’s why.  Because we are all in this together.   But we easily forget that, we even forget to be one church in the IMG_9622
diocese, as each templo gets consumed by parochial affairs.  This week reminds me that the Jesus movement is a global movement.  That the Spirit is loose, not only in my backyard, but all over the world, stirring up new things and overturning systems and inviting us to be part of her dance.  Being here opens my eyes, extends my vision, and sends me back differently.  We are one in Christ, we are the iglesia.

– Melinda Hall

Post from Tuesday of DR Mission Trip

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

The second day of vbs went well!! I was so excited to see many more children attend bible school this morning. The craft was amazing, and the children really enjoyed painting their corazon (heart).  Today, two amazing girls caught my eye we when singing during lunchtime. Everyone here is so compassionate and despite the rain that fell today, it didn’t stop us from having a good time. I’m excited for what the rest of the week brings us. Prayers for our eye clinic! 

-Stephanie Onyeiwu, Christ Church Meadville