Something of Eternal Value

Each year, the clergy of the diocese gather in late February for a pre-Lenten retreat. It’s a time of reflection and fellowship and learning. Several years ago, our retreat focused on the mission of the Church. We had presentations from a consultant who works with non-profit agencies using business models and asked us to consider our work in those terms as well. We know the church isn’t a business in the traditional sense, but there is no reason that we can’t use tools from that world to be more effective in our work for the Kingdom.

I was particularly struck by her insistence that successful organizations have clarity of purpose and understanding of what their “product” is. In church terms, the question relates to what the purpose or goal of our evangelism is. What are we inviting people to? Are we trying to sell them on our way of worship? Are we trying to get them to join our church the same way other folks might try to get them to join the Bradford Club or Kiwanis? I’m afraid sometimes churches have engaged in evangelism with those very things in mind.

As much as I balk at the idea of “selling” in connection with faith, I realize that if we must use those terms then I wanted to be sure that we are offering something of eternal value. The purpose of our evangelism, of our inviting others to join us in our faith journey, must be no less than to invite them to have their lives transformed by a relationship with Jesus Christ.

As Episcopalians, we believe that the best place to encounter Christ is in community through worship and the sacraments. Our evangelism focuses on calling others into relationship with our church family so that they may share with us in being transformed through a relationship with Jesus. We are not perfect people – we can’t claim perfection in worship or fellowship or discipleship. If all we have to offer is ourselves then we really won’t be terribly successful. But if we remember that we are offering so much more – a priceless treasure, the very Living Water that Christ pours out on us and through us – then we indeed have a “product” that everyone we encounter longs for.

As we move through this Lent toward Easter joy, may we be ever aware of the precious gift we have to share and re-commit ourselves to boldly offering it to others – not for our own, but for Christ’s sake.

The Rev. Stacey Fussell is Rector of Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Bradford. 

Victorian Christmas Brings Community to Holy Trinity

Rarely am I rendered speechless, but Saturday was such an occasion.  It began with the complete transformation of our parish hall into an img_2051art gallery.  We took every shred of furniture to a giant closet upstairs and constructed large frames with black over them on which to hang art; we flipped bookshelves and desks to create gallery space.  And we filled the entire place with local artists, exhibiting photography, paintings, drawings, felting, and ceramics.  This is to say nothing of the sanctuary, in which the Stations of the Cross were replaced with bright linoleum prints by a famous local artist, and which was host to five different musical performances that afternoon, from young violinists to well-known guitarists and dulcimer players.

But here’s the piece de resistance: we also hosted the Chamber of Commerce Wine Walk, which guaranteed loads of people would be in our img_2065building to see the art and hear the music.  Our folks provided an array of tasty cookies, cheeses (horseradish takes blue ribbon), and meatballs, providing hospitality to all the people who came through our space that day.  One of our members stood outside in the cold all afternoon to direct people and convince them that yes, the winery was really in the parish hall- it wasn’t a bizarre joke.

It took all of us pulling together; Holy Trinity is a small congregation, numbering in the img_2070twenties.  So, why, you might ask, did we go to all the trouble?  Because that Saturday is the biggest Saturday in our town: part of the annual Victorian Christmas Celebration.  You want to prove community buy-in?  Then you must show up for the main events.  We have a wonderfully gifted musical couple who organized the art and music; the rest of the congregation had the interest and willingness to provide good hospitality.  And voila, a brilliant event was born.

We had fun.  Yes, it was work.  Yes, I collapsed on my couch in a dark room after the event concluded.  But it was a blast and a complete success: now over 400 people have discovered where Holy Trinity is.  I heard people coming in say they didn’t know this church was here; as they left, my greeter heard them say it was such a warm church.  Mission accomplished!  The full mission of reaching people for Jesus?  Of course not. But getting people to know we exist in the community, that’s a terrific first step, and we’re working on how to follow-up.

I’ve gone from speechless to gushing, but I’m wicked proud of everyone’s work and everyone’s joy in the work.  The work of getting known in img_2061-2a community, of sharing the love of God, is one that takes time and commitment; it requires understanding of what church is and how church is not about the people who already attend, but about those who do not yet attend.  I’m gushing because that transformation is taking place at Holy Trinity.  It will take time; it will be hard work.  But the Holy Spirit is moving in new directions, at Holy Trinity and in this diocese.  I’m excited and scared and interested to see just what she will do in our midst to change us and our communities.

Melinda Hall is vicar of Holy Trinity, Brookville

Invitation 100 Years Ago Has Borne Fruit

Vic Kinnunen

The Rev. Vic Kinnunen doing some inviting

On occasion I am asked if I have always been an Episcopalian.

Having been baptized as an infant at Christ Episcopal Church in Meadville in 1936, and having been confirmed there in 1948 by Bishop Sawyer, I guess you could say I have always been an Episcopalian.

But what about my parents? My Father was raised in the Finnish Lutheran Church and my mother was raised in the Presbyterian Church. So how did I end up in the Episcopal Church?

When my mother was about 11 or 12 years old, her girlfriend, Dorothy, invited her to come to church with her at Christ Episcopal Church, and my mother stayed, was confirmed and married there, and had her 3 children baptized and confirmed there.

I am able to be an Episcopalian priest in 2015 because my mother’s friend invited her to attend the Episcopal church – about 100 years ago!

Have you invited a friend, or a neighbor, or co-worker, or even a family member to join you at church some Sunday? Who knows what this might mean 75 or 100 years from now? Think about it. Pray about it.

The Rev. Victor J. Kinnunen, Christ Church, Oil City, PA

Welcome to The Forward

Welcome to the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania’s new blog, The Forward. Here you will find that, as our mission statement says, we are a community of miraculous expectation and of transformational ministry. You will be able to learn about stories from our diocese as well as hear messages of hope. From time to time, you will see messages and videos from Bishop Sean Rowe and other clergy from the diocese.

You may recognize the name The Forward from its days as a printed and, more recently, an online newsletter. There are several reasons we thought that a blog format would be more effective for delivering our news and stories. First, this format allows us to keep you connected in a more timely fashion; as soon as stories and news are available, we can get them to you.   A blog also allows us to share multimedia content, such as video and audio files. Perhaps most importantly, this will allow you to share the news and stories that have impacted or are important to you. By having individual stories online, you will be able to share them through social media, email, text, or by printing out any particular story and sharing it with your congregation. On a regular basis, we will send an email to those of you who are subscribed to give a rundown of recent posts that you may have missed. (To subscribe click the “Join our email list” button on the side bar.)

Pending budget approval, we also hope to publish special edition printed newsletters twice per year. The plan is that each of these would be specific to a topic that fits in with our diocese’s strategic plan and our congregations’ needs at the time of publication. For example, a special edition on stewardship could be published ahead of stewardship season to help our congregations plan for their campaigns.

In order to make all of this work, we want to hear from you. Please let us know of events or stories from your congregation. Tell us if someone in your congregation has an interesting story to tell. Make us aware of new ministries in your congregation. We are constantly looking for stories to include and would love to hear from you.  We also encourage you to share your comments about stories that have been posted or to let us know about topics that you would like to see covered.

We hope that The Forward blog will keep you engaged and informed. We welcome any feedback you have. Please call me at 814.456.4203 or email me at jgoulet@dionwpa.org with your comments, suggestions, and story ideas.