Lenten Preparation – Books for the Journey

Ash Wednesday is only a week away, and here at the Forward we’re preparing for Lent by slowing down, cutting back on screen time, and committing to prayer, introspection – and a LOT of reading!

We recently polled people from around the diocese for suggestions on texts that would be useful guides on our Lenten journey, which you’ll find collected below. It’s an eclectic mix of authors, books, poetry, meditations, and some guided Bible exploration. We hope that you will find something here that speaks to your soul and provides some spiritual food for thought.

Have a blessed Lent, and happy reading!

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis 

In this book Lewis talks about his coming to faith in part through the experience of “Joy” which is distinct from mere pleasure or happiness and is in fact an apprehending of the presence of God. My favorite quote from the book is “a young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” I think a corollary is also true, “a Christian who wishes to remain in charity with his/her neighbors cannot be too careful of his/her reading, either.”  – The Rev. Stacey Fussell

Final Words from the Cross by Adam Hamilton

The author leads a study and discussion on the traditional last statements of Jesus.  He shares several stories, historical information and questions for discussion, as well as guided prayer for 6 sessions.  A DVD, leader’s guide and book are included – giving the leader adequate and formational support.  It is a good study and intentional focus on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for Lent.  – The Rev. Erin Betz Shank

Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom

One of the books that has most deeply influenced my life as a Christian is Beginning to Pray by Orthodox Metropolitan Anthony Bloom.  Bloom invites his readers to journey along the road of prayer with him, understanding all of us (including himself) as beginners to prayer.  Bloom addresses a large variety of issues related to prayer in a short approachable book including: a feeling of the absence of God, orienting ourselves towards fullness of life, managing our times of prayer, and the power of being in relationship with the living God.  May this book impact your prayer life as deeply as it has mine.   –  Craig Dressler

The Shape of Living by David F. Ford

In this book David Ford explores, from the Christian perspective, the challenge of living a Christian life in the world of the overwhelmed. He theorizes that we are ALL overwhelmed and suggests ways to explore living in this new reality.  – The Rev. Canon Al Johnson

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown 

In a season that tells us to “remember that you are dust,” it’s good to be reminded that while we are imperfect, we still have value, and God and others love us despite our imperfect natures. This early book by professor Brené Brown not only discusses imperfection, but provides ten focus guideposts to assist us toward embracing more wholehearted living – cultivating calm and stillness, gratitude, authenticity, and more.   – Megin Sewak

Pauses for Lent by Trevor Hudson

[Trevor] offers a daily Scripture, prayer and questions for the day for reflection and prayer.  Lent is about repentance, and so even though I have not used this resource, I think it may be a good option to help us ask the tough questions for how we must change our broken ways into God’s image and intentions.  – The Rev. Erin Betz Shank

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

– Recommended by The Rev. Elizabeth Yale

When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd

This is an excellent read for anyone searching to determine what the next step is in their spiritual life. She especially believes that patience poses an essential posture in seeking a deeper relationship with God.  – The Rev. Canon Al Johnson

Between Two Souls: Conversations with Ryokan by Mary Lou Kownacki

This book of spiritual poetry is a conversation between a 19th century Buddhist monk and a 20th century Roman Catholic Benedictine from Erie.  Thought-provoking, inspiring, and occasionally funny, these poems dig deeply into an all-embracing compassion that spans centuries, traditions, and human hearts.   – The Rev. Adam Trambley

Falling Upward by Richard Rohr 

Carl Jung wrote that ‘one cannot live the afternoon of life according the program of life’s morning,’ which is the topic of Falling Upward.  Rohr invites his reader into a journey that only the second-half of life can bring, when God calls us to go more deeply into ourselves and unlearn much of what we have constructed about our world.  For those willing to take that risk, an incredible journey of falling up into God awaits.  Whatever your age, Rohr provides space for you in this short, but thoughtful book.  –  The Rev. Melinda Hall

The Spirituality of Imperfection by Kurtz and Ketcham

This book explores the spiritual life from several perspectives besides Christianity.  Filled with moving stories, testimonies, and insights, the authors invite us to open our hearts and mind to that which lives beyond us in the world of the Spirit.   – The Rev. Canon Al Johnson

God’s Abiding Love: Daily Lenten Meditations and Prayers by Henri Nouwen

I have a booklet that I’ve used for the past couple of years that I read every night during Lent before I go to sleep – it begins with a passage from the Bible, followed by a small dissertation and ends with a one-sentence prayer.  It gives me a sense of calm and peace, if even for a few minutes, during a season that isn’t for me anyway and of trying to do something during Lent.   – Anne Bardol

Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith by Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen’s Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith makes an excellent Lenten companion.  This slim book is filled with Nouwen’s insights, and his stories lead the reader to consider her/his own self and faith journey.  Each chapter concludes with prayer and journaling suggestions, offering a guided way to spend time in silence and reflection.  – The Rev. Melinda Hall

The Three Marriages by David Whyte

This is a wonderful book that explores the three vocations of everyone’s life: the call to work, the call to self, and the call to relationships.  The premise:  “We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way.” – The Rev. Canon Al Johnson

Teaching Faith with Harry Potter: A Guidebook for Parents and Educators for Multigenerational Faith Formation by Patricia M. Lyons

With over 400 millions copies sold worldwide, translated into 68 languages, a movie franchise worth more than $25 billion, and a universe expansion with the release of the Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them movies, Harry Potter is a language that A LOT of people speak. Through the Harry Potter story and characters, J.K. Rowling’s story, and some personal reflection, Patricia Lyons brings out the messages of faith that permeate this cultural phenomenon. It is a great read for HP fans and those who might be curious about its ties to faith. – Missy Greene

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

Just because Lent arrives, doesn’t mean life slows.  For the busier soul, perhaps a daily dose of Mary Oliver’s poetry, particularly my favorite of her collections, A Thousand Mornings, would be an excellent addition to one’s day.  Oliver’s poems are centered in nature but take the reader to beautiful, soul-filled places.  Although not explicitly religious, I never read Oliver without encountering the sacred. – The Rev. Melinda Hall

The Good Book Club – Forward Movement

For those who would like to spend more time with the Bible, Forward Movement is now offering the Good Book Club – a free guided reading of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, with additional suggested readings and a downloadable discussion guide for groups. Learn more about the Good Book Club and sign up for updates here.

Do you have reading suggestions that didn’t make it on the list? Feel free to share in the comments section below! 

107th Diocesan Convention Wrap-Up

This year’s convention had it all: business, programming, guests from Western New York, some surprises, and even a little dancing (check out Facebook for that!).  The first surprise of the weekend came from the Standing Committee, who issued a proclamation at the start of business that this convention was being held in honor of the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe’s tenth consecration anniversary.

Guests from the Diocese of Western New York, including the Rt. Rev. William Franklin, joined us for a day and half of programming led by the Rev. Canon Scott Slater, who guided the conversation on the possibility of a shared future using the Daring Way methodology of Brene Brown.  Many delegates remarked that they found the methodology useful in framing the conversation and enjoyed the time getting to know new people both from Western New York and our own diocese.

At the banquet, Paul and Lane Nelson, members of St. Mark’s in Erie, were honored with the Bishop’s Cross, which is given to those in the diocese who have contributed to the diocese over a significant number of years and in a variety of ways.  Also at the banquet, Bishop Sean was surprised with a video honoring his ten years as bishop, with contributions from people in the diocese, as well as outside the diocese including Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Elections were held for a variety of offices. The Rev. Jason Shank was newly elected to the Standing Committee, with Jack Malovich being re-elected to the lay seat on Standing Committee.  The Rev. Erin Betz Shank and Ed Palattella regained their seats on Diocesan Council and the Rev. Matthew Scott and Bob Guerrein regained theirs on the Constitution and Canons committee.

The 2018 budget and assessments, as well as the 2018 minimum stipends for clergy were passed as presented.

It was announced that convention next year will be held jointly with the Diocese of Western New York, regardless of any decisions made about a shared future.  Convention will be held October 26-27 at the Niagara Falls Convention Center in Niagara Falls, NY.

A huge thank you to our host committee of St. Mark’s, who did a fabulous job welcoming everyone to Erie and sharing a wonderful worship service with us.

All of the passed resolutions and materials from other presentations can be found on our website.

See you next year in Niagara Falls!

Falling Into Quiet

My daughter and I have very different views of summer vacation. When the goodbyes are said on the last day of school and the bus pulls away for the final time that year, she sees three months of relaxation, time in the sun, and that word dreaded by parents everywhere – boredom. I see a calendar crowded with activities: summer soccer league, football and marching band camps, Fourth of July parties and the obligatory nine hour drive for a visit with the in-laws, summer reading at the library and the ever-growing list of house and yard chores that depend on warmer weather to complete.

Summer in the church isn’t a slow time, either. Every year after Pentecost and the end of formation classes church secretaries catch their collective breath and say, “Oh, good – now things will ease up a bit!” Of course, then it really begins: wedding season is in full force, church cleanup days need scheduled, there’s preparation for Blessing of the Backpacks and the beginning of the new formation year – constant activity.

The news is also full of activity during these months. We’re somewhat blessed in our area when it comes to summer weather, but in many places the season often brings with it extremes of heat and storms, and we’re called more than ever to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need. (Episcopal Relief and Development is doing important work now in the areas hit by Hurricane Harvey. You can learn more at their website here.)

With all this and more going on each summer, I can’t say that I find the season to be either slow, or particularly relaxing. There’s far too much to do, and so little time to do it in! It’s easy to become discouraged and let what should be a joyful time instead turn into just another day to get through. I’ve decided this year, though, that I’m going to break the cycle.

Now that school is in session and life is falling back into a semblance of a routine, I’ve begun taking moments where I “fall into quiet”. When the bus has pulled away from the curb and I can no longer see my girl waving goodbye from the window, I take my cup of coffee and walk to the far end of the house, away from any hustle and bustle on the road. I stand in the doorway looking out over the backyard, enveloping myself in peace, birdsong, and quiet, preparing for the coming day.

It’s in the quiet moments, when the distractions and noise and business of life are put aside, that I really feel the presence of God. When it’s quiet, really quiet, I can hear the voice that says, “Come to me, you who labor, and I will give you rest.” Then, refreshed, I take a deep breath, finish my coffee, pick up my to-do list, and continue the work of the day ahead, because I’ve been reminded that I’m not laboring on my own.

Summer may not always be relaxing, but I hope yours has been full and joyous, and that you’ve found moments to “fall into quiet” with God when you’ve needed them most. God’s peace to you.

Megin Sewak is Communications Specialist for the Diocese of NWPA. 

Have a question? Ask the Bishop!

The Diocese is getting ready to film the eighth installment of the “Ask the Bishop” video series, which means we’re looking for questions from you!

Unfortunately, Bishop Sean cannot be with every member of the diocese all the time, but he would like to be able to answer questions you may have. If there is something you’d like to hear the bishop’s thoughts on (i.e., Convention, Explorer’s Day, Bible questions, you name it!), send your questions to Megin (msewak@dionwpa.org) by August 30.  You can view past “Ask the Bishop” videos here and see what sort of topics have already been covered.

Please include your name and congregation with your submission, and then watch for ‘Ask the Bishop 8’ on the Forward blog, Facebook, and Twitter!
ask the bishop

We Need Your Questions for ‘Ask the Bishop’!

ask the bishop

The Diocese is getting ready to film the seventh installment of the “Ask the Bishop” video series, and we need your questions!

Unfortunately, Bishop Sean cannot be with every member of the diocese all the time, but he would like to be able to answer questions you may have for him. If you have something on your mind regarding theology, the diocese, the bishop’s views on current events, summer camp, etc. – send your questions to Megin (msewak@dionwpa.org) by May 29th. We may not be able to answer everyone’s questions due to time constraints, but all submissions are welcome (and may appear in later installments).

Please include your name and congregation with your submission, and then watch for ‘Ask the Bishop 7’ on the Forward blog, Facebook, and Twitter!


Join Us For The Diocesan Picnic on June 18

The Diocesan Picnic at Waldameer is just around the corner. This great opportunity for worship, fellowship and fun will be held on Sunday, June 18, 2017.

Tickets are $22.00 per person (with a $90 maximum per family), which includes food, rides, and the water park. Congregations are once again being asked to gather money and reservations. Ticket sales MUST be done in advance using only tickets that are obtained from the Diocese.  NO SALE OF TICKETS WILL BE PERMITTED AT THE PARK. Tickets may be ordered by a congregational representative, not individual members. Reservations from the churches must be to Vanessa at the diocesan office by noon on Monday, June 5th.  Tickets will then be mailed to the churches.

Paul Nelson, former diocesan treasurer and owner of Waldameer, has again generously offered for us to keep all proceeds from ticket sales.  The proceeds will be split into two accounts, with 60% of the proceeds being placed in a scholarship fund for Camp Nazareth and 40% of the proceeds becoming available for youth ministry grants for our congregations (applications for this grant are available on the diocesan website).

On the day of the picnic, registration will be from 10:00 AM until 10:50 AM, and it is there that you will exchange your tickets for wristbands. There will be NO registration during the service.  Registration will resume and the food lines will open after the worship service is completed. Food will be available until 4:00 PM. You MUST have a wrist band to eat.

It is hoped and expected that those coming to the picnic would also attend the worship service at 11:00 AM. Bishop Sean will preach and celebrate.

Hope to see you at Waldameer!

Vanessa Butler is Canon for Administration of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. 

Another Kind of Vigil

“When your heart is breaking for someone who is broken, but your words can’t reach them and your love can’t save them, ask the angels to go where you cannot; to whisper into their heart what their ears cannot hear; we love you, we’re here, you’re not alone.”

When Vickie and I returned to Barrington on Wednesday, April 26, we went immediately to be with our friend and their families who were sitting vigil for their husband/father.  They had begun the climb for Machu Picchu in Peru when her husband suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.  After surgery and a time of hopeful recovery in Lima, he eventually was flown back to Rush-Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago where his family was told that he had no chance of recovery.  He was moved to hospice care where he has been slowing dying for over a week as I write this on Wednesday, May 3.  They are dear friends.  We’ve been visiting regularly.

Few experiences in life strip us down to the essentials more than sitting vigil with someone who is dying.  Existence becomes razor focused.  All that seemed to matter a few days ago becomes window dressing on the essentials of human existence:  breath, love, family, friends, time, suffering and more.  Work pressure disappears into the rhythm of keeping watch day and night.  Matters of existential urgency are consumed by the spirit of eternity.   Those in vigil become acutely aware of life, hoping deep in their souls that the loved one will somehow continue indefinitely while facing into the reality of death and the knowledge that they/we can’t have it both ways.

Behavior changes unfold.  Showers aren’t needed everyday.  Clothes become “lived in.” Chairs become beds and two hours of sleep a luxury.  Surrounded by a community of family and friends, food appears randomly and abundantly.  There is a story of one friend who brought six vanilla lattes because she didn’t know what else to do.

No pattern governs life except the reality and comfort of the dying.  We might rarely hold the hand, look a loved one in the face, and sit still when all is well, but in vigil these moments are gifts as the human soul seeks to record all that is unfolding in order to remember forever; seeks to forge a connection that will sustain the surviving loved one, because, as Jesus said before his own death, “where I’m going you cannot come.”  And each moment encapsulates the dilemma between suffering and freedom.  Life has an intrinsic and focused purpose.  Life has meaning.  Life has value.  Everyone counts in a vigil.  Awareness becomes a sensitivity to each silent nuance of the environment.  Time seems to slow down and so do those of us who surrender to the vigil.  For some, there is prayer of words.  For some, there is prayer of actions.  For some there is no conscious prayer.  For some God is a comfort.  For others God is a question mark.  For some God is irrelevant.  But I wonder: God is love and where true love is found, there is God.  Hover above a vigil of loved ones where love is present and God is there.  God doesn’t need recognition.  God simply shows up in a myriad of undisclosed ways including a peaceful death.  But then, that’s my belief and comfort.

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

ECW Announces Annual Meeting

“and He walks with me”

Celebrate ECW’s Annual Meeting and World Labyrinth Day with The Episcopal Church Women of Northwestern Pennsylvania on Saturday, May 6, 2017, from 9:00 AM – 3:15 PM at Church of the Ascension, Bradford.  All are Welcome!

The schedule for the day includes a continental breakfast, the meeting, an introduction to the labyrinth, Holy Eucharist with the Rev. Stacey Fussell presiding, lunch, a labyrinth walk, and concluding prayer.

Registration for the event is $10, and registration forms are due by April 29. You may view a copy of the meeting brochure and download a registration form here.

Episcopal Church Women’s Mission:

“to live, to love, to give through Christ”


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