Speak Boldly:  A Two-Track Approach to Christian Education and Formation

Throughout the season of Lent, we at St. Mark’s felt stirred to offer formation for all ages in a way that we had never done previously.  Unfortunately, we didn’t know what that was.  Personally, I knew that I needed to teach something that would be life-giving to me and would therefore feed the congregation in a new way through my energy and excitement.  For me, that meant teaching something about the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) – more on that in a moment.

Of course, the Hebrew Bible wasn’t going to tap the interest of everyone in the congregation, so we needed something else to offer alongside.  With all of the recent changes in the local political landscape, the increase in issues like opioid overdose, and a bankrupt public school district, we felt called as disciples to learn more about those issues.  So we set forth to run a forum featuring influential public leaders to be run parallel to the Hebrew Bible class.  For six weeks in Eastertide, we began as a community with a meal (prepared by the culinary students at the Charter School for Excellence) and then broke off into our classes:  Public Forum, The Story of Creation for kids, and the Hebrew Bible class.

The Hebrew Bible class had one main purpose:  to teach the students about the origins, structure, and historical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.  It was intentionally not a devotional “bible study,” but rather an abbreviated introductory level Hebrew Bible course one would encounter in seminary.  The 26 students were excited and equally apprehensive because they knew they were going to face some challenges to their faiths along with way.  However, we knew that we could trust each other and that all opinions and questions were valued and respected.

Why teach such a class?  First, Jesus was Jewish.  Therefore the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible were His scriptures that informed His faith and His teachings as our Messiah found in the New Testament.  Second, we are called to be peacemakers in the world.  How better to more deeply understand our Jewish brothers and sisters than through a deeper knowledge of their scriptures and our shared history? Third, there are many things as English readers of ancient Hebrew texts that we miss (symbolism, sarcasm, euphemism, parallelism, poetry, etc.) that once realized make the scriptures come alive in a new and powerful way.  Fourth, and perhaps most important, this deep study of the Hebrew Bible in college and seminary liberated my personal faith.  It caused me to think anew and ask the difficult questions I had previously been afraid to ask.  That freedom to ask hard questions is necessary for deepening one’s walk with Christ.

For six weeks, we prayed, studied, argued, sang, and shared revelatory moments together.  From Creation to the Exodus, from myth to commandment, from festivals to prophecies, from sex to poetry, we covered it and we had fun while doing it.  Can the 26 students speak fluent Hebrew?  No, but they can speak a few important Hebrew words and relate them back to their own walks with God.  Can the 26 students identify all of the writers in the Torah?  No, but they now know that there are many voices, faiths, and perspectives found in those books; and that there is much beauty in the unifying work of God in bringing all of those writings together to give us what we have today.  And finally, can the 26 students tell us everything there is to know about God’s character in the Hebrew Bible?  No, but they can certainly proclaim that the God of the Hebrew Bible is not the stereotyped old angry man in the sky, but is the same living, loving, merciful God we know in Christ today.  And for that I say, Alleluia!

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

Roots and Renovation – Growing a Movement

God has great plans for a specific hill in Millcreek Township – that hill is the land upon which St. Mark’s is situated.  Many of you are aware of the exciting things happening at St. Mark’s.  Over the past five years, St. Mark’s has grown from an average Sunday attendance of around 50 to 150!  The faithful people of St. Mark’s have taken to heart the calling of the resurrected Christ in the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  They have developed a regular practice of inviting friends, family, and co-workers to church.  And they are committed to continually fostering a deeper sense of community, connectivity, and formation through small groups, house groups, Bible studies, outreach ministries, alternative worship experiences, and much more.

Beyond being committed to programmatic and experiential opportunities, the people of St. Mark’s also realize that it’s time to make the physical Parish Hallbuilding of St. Mark’s reflect the Spirit and needs of a growing community.  The current parish hall and church have been basically untouched since their completion in 1961 and 1965.  And let’s face it; brown asbestos tile, cinderblock walls, military green bathrooms, broken windows, no gathering area, and a lack of air conditioning don’t tell a newcomer that a church is alive and growing in Christ in the year 2016.  Even more importantly, the congregation has exceeded the capacity of the current parish hall and is aware of the need to create space for the next 100+ worshippers yet to join to St. Mark’s.

This realization was the birth of our capital campaign and building project.  The congregation fully met their campaign goal of $600,000 and with financial assistance from Diocesan Council, St. Mark’s is Bathroomscurrently in the process of preparing the hill for a 1700 sq. ft. addition to our parish hall and kitchen to include proper storage, kitchen equipment, carpeting, lighting, drywall, and new windows.
A gathering area will also be added to the front of the church to create a space for people to mingle and live further into our practice of welcome and hospitality.  Enlarged and fully renovated restrooms are also part of the plan.  And all of the above mentioned areas will have commercial HVAC!

The church space itself is also being enhanced with new LED lighting (as most of the peak lighting has been burned out since the late 1980s).  And the balcony will be renovated to serve as overflow seating for larger attended liturgies.  As with any building project, there will be things done to the property that won’t been seen, but are necessary to the current and future development of the hill.  We are upgrading the electrical service, installing new electrical panels, abating all asbestos, and creating a land development and stormwater management plan for the long-term growth and development of the hill.

Even though demolition has only been happening for a few weeks, there have been some fun discoveries along the way.  There is a 12-foot stained glass window from the original St. Mark’s building (formerly located at 10th and French Streets) in the corner Trinitarian Stained Glassof the boiler room featuring some wonderful Trinitarian and Eucharistic themes waiting to be resurrected and put into ministry again.  Also, the bell tower came down for restoration allowing us the chance to read the bell.  The bell was made by the Aspinwall Bell Company in 1831 – it’s amazing to think that our bell has been calling Christians to worship for 185 years!  So while St. Mark’s appears to be on the surface a simple 1960s A-frame church, we are discovering our roots and praying that from those roots grow a great movement in the name of Jesus Christ unlike anything ever seen before in our region.  Stop up sometime; I’d love to show you around!

Bell

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