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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Think on the True, the Honorable, and the Just

This post was the Rev. Adam Trambley’s From the Pulpit article that appeared in the Sharon Herald on February 3, 2017.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Paul’s instructions are important for us, but life can make them so hard to follow. We are surrounded all too often by the biased, the inaccurate, and the problematic. Tabloids and clickbait try to turn our heads to the trendy, the troubled, and the tawdry.  Strong television ratings rarely support the pure, and what is worthy of praise is ignored while panderers broadcast the banal.  As such unhealthy items receive our attention in spite of our best intentions, we reinforce our confinement amid the cacophony of the uncommendable. Yet, Paul calls us to something better.

The first step in following Paul is to unplug from the stream of messages around us, so that we can hear the message that God would have us hear.  Until we can hear ourselves think, we cannot hope to think on the things that Paul presents for us.  If we withdraw for a while in a time of silence with God, we can retune our spiritual antennae to that right channels.  Different Christians find that rhythm of essential silence in different ways.  Some start their days an hour early with sixty minutes of quiet time with God.  Others may have twenty minutes set aside a couple of times a day just to let go of all the spiritual, emotional, and mental clutter that has built up so that they can be attentive.  Whatever works for an individual’s personality and place in life is good, as long as we can find moments to turn away from the world’s noise.

Once we have disconnected from thinking on unhelpful things, we can focus on those traits that Paul commends to us.  The places to start looking are places those traits are most obvious – the pages of scripture, quality spiritual writings, and the godly men and women in our own lives.  Our goal in thinking on these qualities is three-fold.  First, we want to come to a deeper understanding of what it means to be true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.  As we spend the time with profound examples of people and actions that exemplify these characteristics, we move beyond superficial characteristics to the qualities that give someone such a godly character.

Second, as we understand these traits, we want to appropriate them for ourselves.  Paul does not ask us to ponder them for our own entertainment, but so that we might become transformed ourselves.  We need a church filled with people who are praiseworthy and commendable and pure and just and honorable.  As we think on these traits, we allow ourselves to be changed from the inside out into the people that God wants us to be.

Third, once we have gained an understanding of these godly aspects of character and have begun to live into them, we will also learn to recognize them.  At this point, we are ready to go back out into the world and see what God is up to in unexpected places.

In a world full of demonization and polarization, the people of God need to be able to look beyond the incendiary issues of the moment and see all that is truly there.  In most cases, both sides have something honorable or something commendable or something worthy of praise.  One side may be narrowly focused on the just and another side exclusively worried about the pure.  Both sides may be seeking what is true, but without quite getting there. As Christians following Paul’s instructions, our call in the midst of the strife that remains rampant in our civic discourse is to discover the qualities Paul commends, regardless of where we might find them.  Then as we find them, we can share what we see.  Our country desperately needs people who can break into the mutually destructive drain-circling that passes for debate and lift up the good and the godly in our midst.  Our society requires prophets that see reflections of the divine image and likeness in people who disagree.  Our churches yearn for the vision to see where we can find opportunities for mutual encouragement and fellowship in the midst of our differences.

So, beloved, let us think about these things.

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

Exploring Fasting, Part II

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Matthew 6:16-18

In Part 1 of this series, I looked at why fasting is important.  In this post, I want to focus on the practical aspects of fasting.  The Bible commends fasting, but does not present a clear set of instructions on the best ways to incorporate fasting into a regular spiritual discipline.  On top of that, certain churches may commend or require a particular fasting discipline for certain days or seasons without providing more general instructions.

Fasting is voluntarily giving up some kinds of food and/or drink for a certain period of time for a particular purpose.  Depending on the fast, someone might give up everything but water, or someone might give up all solid food but drink whatever they want, or someone might give up anything with calories in it, but still drink coffee, tea and water.

Partial fasts are also possible.  Instead of not eating at all, people may eat much smaller meals for a particular period of time.  A partial fast may also involve not eating certain foods, like in the first chapter of Daniel, when Daniel and his companions refused the king’s rations and ate only vegetables and water.  Some Christian traditions refer to times of not eating meat as days of abstinence.

The duration of a fast can also vary.  An initial fast might be giving up a meal for a particular intention.  A day-long fast is a common duration, and can last from midnight to midnight.  John Wesley, and others, recommended fasts beginning at sundown, which was the beginning of the Hebrew day, and going until the next day at 3:00pm.  Generally fasting from after dinner one day until dinner the next day makes for an effective 24-hour fast that is a bit less taxing than going all day without food and then going to bed hungry.  Once people are accustomed to a day-long fast, the Holy Spirit could lead them to a longer fast.

Of course, any kind of fast should only be undertaken if a person’s health can handle it.  Diabetics, people taking medications that must accompany food, or people with certain medical issues should probably not do a total fast.  Everyone can, however, do some kind of partial fast.  For people without a discipline of fasting, the important first step is to start with a small or partial fast and let the Holy Spirit lead them more deeply as time goes on.

One particular instruction that Jesus does give is to wash our faces and not be dismal while fasting.  These directives are important guards against hypocrisy and pride.  At the same time, Jesus knows that a particular danger of going without food is that people tend to get grumpy.  The point of fasting, however, is not to make everyone around us miserable, or to let them know just how much we are sacrificing.  A good rule of thumb is that we are not undertaking any spiritual discipline properly if others want to avoid us while we are doing it.  Instead, we should do our best to look good and act with extra love, care and generosity while fasting.  Then our heavenly Father, who see in secret, will reward us, and our intentions can move forward.

I hope that you will take an opportunity during Lent this year to explore the spiritual discipline of fasting more deeply, and that you will find ways to continue it throughout the year.  In addition to your other intentions, please include our diocese and congregations in your intentions as you fast.

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

Why Do We Pray?

We sometimes find ourselves – whether as an individual or part of a group – alone in the mission field. By alone, I mean the individual or group, though in the midst of hundreds or thousands around us, were alone as we jumped on an idea and did not bring God into the mix. I’ve had the experience of a group trying to engage God’s people in the field of the world in what WE determined was a useful way…but the small group missed the mark. We organized, we consulted, we analyzed, we came up with a plan and even had the “post event” ready to go…but all fell flat. Why…we didn’t understand – what did we do wrong? Come on… we did this for God, it was for His people, it was good, and it was a great plan. But why did it fall so flat, flub, not even a hint of some redeemable good for all the work and effort we put in?

Some might say that we could look under all the rocks and be alert to what God has in plan that we don’t see just now. Yet, there is something inside of us that knows that our efforts did not remotely come close to benefitting God. There seems to be no benefit for the work and we might have burned out a few good folks along the way or might have used a few favors from friends or colleagues as well.

This might have happened to many of us…we had this great plan. We had the best intentions…we truly wanted this for God…all the best goals were considered. But it reminded me of trying to buy a present for someone close to me at the last minute without the opportunity to ask, or consider what was best for that dear person, a person that counts on us and knows us and has been generous with us. What we did find and offer at the last minute wasn’t a gift that was needed…but a cover-up for not taking the time to really find out what the person wanted or needed.

workplace-1245776_640We do that to God some days…He can be short-changed based on our busy lives. In His or Christ’s and the Holy Spirit’s name we come up with some goofy things that we think are needed for us to do. We may spend a lot of time thinking about it, planning about it over multiple meetings. We may ask or include a lot of people and we may spend a lot of money on doing whatever we came up with that we should be doing, but it is just a cover-up for something we are lacking.

So, what are we lacking…maybe it is as simple as getting to know and spend some time with God? We know the best gifts are rarely the most expensive items, they are things that are just needed (generally not wanted). God needs us to understand Him as the people He created. We need to know who God is to us. We need to know who God wants us to be. How does He wish us to engage the world He has laid before us?  These may seem like difficult questions, but think about our best friend in the world. Would it be difficult to answer any of these questions? It probably would not take very long…because we know that person, we are close in all the positive ways and intuitively understand them. We can be close to God in the same way…through prayer.

We do embrace God for many things in prayer. He wants us to come to Him with our concerns, He wants us to lay our troubles at the foot of the cross, and He wants us to lift up our concerns for ourselves and others. Because He knows us…inside and out…just like the creator He is…there are no secrets. To Him, we are an open book with all chapters (past and present) highlighted, marked and read. The question of the day…can we say that we understand God as well as He understands us? Have we taken the time to know who He is? Sure – a good Bible study is great, important and helpful for many reasons, but have we taken time to listen? Listen for His words directly to us and not through anyone else, just from Him, in whatever way He chooses to communicate…but are we there to hear Him?

We live in a time that is a mixture of responses from the world. The world feeds us with information that seems very personal, because the world has invested time and money into understanding just who we are. The world does this most likely because they want something from us (probably our money). God invests in us as well for a very simple reason, He loves us.

Just simple time with Him…quiet time…praise time…study time…it is our time together. Listen and watch for Him in everything and everywhere. The easy part, there are no rules …just make the time, any time, any place. Clear our minds of our stuff, our wishes, our wants, our agenda…what is God saying to us? No analyzing, no judgement, no comparison to the past or present…just listen. Leave what we know, what we have done and just how smart we are…and just listen.

He does love us, He does know us, He is as present today as in the beginning. Just listen and you will then see and know.

The Rev. Randy Beck is Deacon at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, Greenville, PA. 

This is the fifth installment in our Prayer series that will run up to the Diocesan Prayer Vigil in March. Click here to view other stories in the series, and here for more information on the Vigil.