Many Voices, Many Approaches, One Vision

What do you get when you combine a love for the church, strong collegiality, and a willingness to engage the difficult issues facing the church with honesty?  You get my experience of the latest clergy retreat.

I was invited by Bishop Sean and Vanessa to make a presentation at the diocesan clergy retreat this past February at Olmstead Manor.  It was an honor as a lay professional to be included in a clergy event, let alone make a presentation at such an event.  The openness and welcome I experienced from all of my clergy colleagues was a joy – there was a deep sense of mutuality and support for each of our ministries.

The entire retreat was a series of peer-led presentations on the future of the church and the issues associated with that future.  Presentations were given by John Downey, Stacey Fussell, Jason Shank, Melinda Hall, Bishop Sean, and myself.  Each of us come from very different congregations and contexts each with unique assets and challenges.

What was so exciting about the retreat was that all of our presentations acknowledged the challenges facing the Episcopal Church with honesty – mainly that mainline Christianity is in decline across our country.  Not only did we begin with the same basic premise, but each presentation ended with a love for the church, love for Jesus Christ, and the hope of the resurrection to be manifested in our diocese.

The most fascinating part of the presentations was how each of us through our individual contextual lenses addressed the challenges and how to resolve them for the sake of the Gospel.  Some of us focused on statistical trends, others on life cycles of churches, some on the need for planting churches, others on the church’s need to be more visible in the community, and I focused on the need for authentic relational community between three equally important entities: God, church leaders, and congregants.

Why did this retreat excite me?  Because the presentations showed just how diverse and gifted are the leaders of our diocese.  The Spirit of God manifested in powerful ways through those open, honest conversations showing us that innovation and resurrection are possible.  And not only are innovation and resurrection possible, but we have been given the resources on all levels of leadership from laity to clergy, from our smallest congregations to the diocese as a whole, to make the changes necessary to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our beloved Episcopal tradition for generations to come.  Now that’s Good News!

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

“I know Love will win” an essay on sustainability

Many years ago I worked in a drug and alcohol treatment center for pre-teens in the inner city in Philadelphia (it was mostly prevention but yes there were ten year olds using in the face of very challenging lives).  Everyday I saw the negative power of poverty, drugs, alcohol and despair.  I despaired.  I felt there was no hope.  And then one day I was listening to an NPR reporter interviewing a nun who worked in similar conditions in Harlem.  He asked her the question that was on my mind, “why do you do this when there seems to be no hope.”  Her answer woke me up, “But there is” she said, “everyday someone like you does something small that makes a difference and it is in these moments that God is present and I know love will win.”

And so I struggle because in the end I know Love will win.

As a Christian I am called to be a caretaker of God’s creation, all of God’s creation, and to not participate in its destruction.  I committed to it in my baptismal vows (“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”).  Sustainability to me thus is finding a balance in my relationships to the planet, to others and with myself that causes no harm and celebrates God’s creation.  However in today’s world it is increasingly difficult to live sustainably.  We are faced with environmental inevitabilities such as melting ice sheets and rising sea levels.  We are faced with violence on a daily bases through wars all over the globe and of our own making.  And we are pushed by society to be increasingly “connected” which often leaves us disconnected from those around us.  We are failing our planet, our only home and God’s creation.  In fact we as a whole are participating in the de-creation of what God has made.  Every day we are bombarded by news of how our actions have sent the planet into a tail spin of environmental disasters and of news of war and death.  We as a species are really bad at doing what God has asked us to do.  It seems hopeless.

I know love will win.

I see my efforts in sustainability in three areas: the environment, the community and personal.  I must do all in my power to not harm our environment.  This shows up in decisions I make every day.  Everyone of my choices and behaviors matter.  The coffee I drink, the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the electricity I use, the car I drive all affect others and the environment often adversely.  I also must do all in my power to help build a community that is sustainable and healthy for everyone.  This shows up not just in how I treat my family and neighbors but how I share my resources with those who have less and fight for the needs of all people.  And the hardest one of all, I must treat myself in a way that allows me to sustain my well being while doing all the tasks of my life.

I struggle everyday to walk this out and I fail often.  When I am successful I don’t use paper coffee cups, I use my electric lawn mower, I wash my plastic bags, I turn off the lights (a full time job with young kids), I don’t use chemicals on my lawn, I eat locally produced food, I am kind to my family, I volunteer at Habitat and Second Harvest, I teach Sunday School, I pray, I exercise, I get enough rest… .

These are miniscule efforts in the face of what needs to be done.  I have friends who don’t own cars because of the fossil fuels they consume, who don’t eat meat because of the amount of resources it takes to produce, who haven’t used a plastic water bottle or paper coffee cup in ten years because of the landfills…

My effort, my successes and my failures have value.  I am on a journey.  I believe God is asking me to be on this journey, to struggle with the competing pressures of my life  and to get up every time I fail to try again.  For it is on this journey of caring for what God has made that I will discover my place in creation and help love win.

God of unchangeable power, when you fashioned the world, the morning stars sang together and the host of heaven shouted for joy:  Open my soul to the wonders of creation and teach me to manage faithfully the riches of this good earth, to the honor of your glorious name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Julien Goulet, Assistant for Communications and Administration, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

“This word gives me no hope” an essay on sustainability by the Reverend Evan Clendenin


I have struggled with this. I believe and trust that what I and others have been given in our faith and life together manifests a truth and a life far deeper than can be had by the various versions of ‘sustainability.’ This word gives me no hope.

But I have hope for life on earth, the life I love in many ways, because of God’s promises ‘made known in creation, in the words spoken by the prophets and above all in the word made flesh Jesus [his] Son.” I have hope in the infinite care, fire and energy that is personally present as companion and advocate and agitator to humans and the whole earth.

The word ‘sustainability’ itself admits of so many meanings and uses-but basically, it seems to express the idea that human beings can count, plan and manage our way out of our current state of climate change, species extinction, and natural and political threats to the basic needs of life for humans and other creatures. I don’t think it is that easy.

But it is a word that gets us to the practical tasks of making a life on earth that is durable, healing and just. We face deeper practical and adaptive crises, which we can only answer thru our renewed ways of life as households, organizations and institutions.

We face many decisions. We have choices to make about how much energy, and what sources we may reasonably and justly use. We have choices to make about the food we eat, what it is worth to us, and what it is worth to us to make sure that all people have enough to eat and be satisfied. We have choices to make about what kind of communities we are called to be as the body of Christ.

The theologian Sallie McFague asks us to take very seriously that we know God in Christ as one who has a body, and makes us his body. Our way of life together needs to start with how God has come into the world-as one vulnerable, compassionate, courageous-in order to save it. This way of life needs to address this earth where many people already live on the edge, and many more humans and other creatures will suffer due to changes in the landscape and our habitats.

The grace and hope that I hear in God’s saving work is that this task is not solely up to me, not up to humans, or scientists or the UN Climate assembly or others. It rests in God’s hands. But the earth, with its mixed-creature community I love, is looking with hope and salvation from within the flesh and blood struggle to stay alive. I believe that I, and all Christians, need to begin our work of response to God’s love by shaping our lives more and more in the image of the body given to the world, the bread given to feed and forgive and restore many, indeed the whole fabric of creation.