Convention 2018 Wrap-Up

It was a historic convention this year in Niagara Falls! Following fourteen months of prayer, meetings, and discernment, the Diocese of Western New York elected Bishop Sean to be their bishop provisional for the next five years, officially embarking on a collaborative relationship with the Diocese of NWPA.

Prior to voting on Friday afternoon, keynote speaker the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, talked about embarking on an unknown future and how the church can meet the challenges of what comes next, including her Top Ten List of things for church leaders to remember in times of change (the full text of the address is available at the House of Deputies website). After President Jennings spoke, the election was held and, when the final tally was announced, the crowd gave a standing ovation.

Bishop Sean addressed both dioceses Saturday morning to discuss our shared future (a full video of the speech is available here). The bishop also announced that, in preparation for this new season, he will take a time of sabbatical from December through February.

Following the address, the two conventions separated for business and elections for offices and voting on resolutions occurred. The Rev. Dr. Mary Norton and Craig Dressler were elected to Standing Committee, the Rev. Melinda Hall and Jeff Mills won seats on Diocesan Council, the Rev. Canon Brian Reid and Kathy Rogers were elected to the Constitution and Canons committee, and the Rev. Geoff Wild, Anne Bardol, and Matthew Ciszek were elected to represent the diocese at the Provincial Synod.

The 2019 budget and assessments, as well as the 2019 minimum stipends for clergy, were passed as presented, and the resolution to establish a drug and alcohol committee was passed as edited to be in compliance with the Constitution and Canons. A special resolution was also passed in memory of Lois Tamplin, long-time member of St. John’s, Sharon and known to many at convention for her efforts in supporting the Church Periodical Club.  The convention raised $369.50 in her honor, which the bishop matched, to make a total donation of $739.00 given to the CPC in her memory.

It was announced that convention next year will be held at a time and place to be determined after conferring with the Diocese of Western New York.

Many thanks to all of the staff and volunteers who made convention possible, and to the delegates for taking time out of their busy schedules to conduct the business of the church.

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

As Bishop Sean says: It’s a Great Day in the Kingdom!

A Head Start

At our fall retreat in September at Chautauqua, ECW got a head start on “working together to deepen relationships” as Bishop Sean said in his presentation at the joint Convention with the Diocese of Western New York. The ECW Board sent invitations to the retreat to New York’s southern tier churches.  To our delight, eight women, lay and clergy,  responded and attended our event.

Barbara Sheakey, assisted by Sharon Kestler, presented a program about women’s role in American Indian spirituality and gave us a first person view of Native American customs and beliefs from Alaska, the Midwest, Canada and Mexico, illustrated by many artifacts that turned the living room of the Episcopal Cottage into a virtual museum.  Luncheon was also inspired by Native American food.  At the end of the day, Barbara ushered us through making a Hopi Indian “prayer stick.”

One woman from the Diocese of Western New York asked if she could sign up ahead for next year’s retreat.  That was what we were hoping  for – a renewed enthusiasm in learning, loving and living with God, which is what our guests brought to our retreat.

Diane Pyle is secretary of the Episcopal Church Women of DioNWPA. 

Bishop Rowe’s Statement on Tree of Life Shooting

Dear People of God in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania:

On hearing the news that a number of people had been murdered during Saturday morning services at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh by a gunman shouting anti-Semitic statements, my friend Elizabeth Drescher took to Twitter, where she offered these verses from Psalm 55:

My heart is in anguish within me,

the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

Fear and trembling come upon me,

and horror overwhelms me.

The words of the psalmist—indeed, any words—are inadequate to express my deep grief and condolences to the Jewish community of Pittsburgh and to Jewish people across the country who are reeling from this hate-filled attack on peaceful people at prayer. There is no place in our churches, our communities, or our country for anti-Semitism.

The verses speak not only to this latest mass shooting, but also to the reality of our daily lives in a time of increasing ideological and partisan violence. Earlier this week, a gunman shot two black shoppers at a Kroger’s near Louisville, but did not shoot a white man, to whom he said, “Whites don’t shoot whites.” News of this outrage competed for airtime with another, as pipe bombs were mailed to prominent critics of President Trump.

My friends in Christ, we are in the grip of a spiritual sickness. This illness manifests itself in our debased civil discourse, which is rife with charge and countercharge but lacks individuals willing to take responsibility for the violence their rhetoric spawns. It makes itself known both in the massacres of innocent people and the cowardice of a Congress unwilling even to consider legislation that would keep weapons such as the AR-15 used in today’s shooting out of the hands of hate-filled ideologues. And while the sickness demeans and endangers every one of us, it presents a particular threat to religious, racial, ethnic and sexual minorities whose lives are held cheap by those whom reckless politicians and pundits incite.

In circumstances such as these the church has a mission: to comfort the afflicted, to sow seeds of peace, and to advocate for justice. In prayerful humility, let us be about it.

Faithfully,

 

Here and Now

The Holy Spirit blows where she wills, upsetting old patterns and blowing life into old adages we wear as badges, like “Careful what you wish for…you might just get it.”  Such has been the case in my life. When the first note of a priestly calling began to ring in my heart at the age of 24 years old, I was an NYU Grad Student living in Brooklyn.  The single note resounded to the core of my being and wishing to be a priest more than anything, I entered the discernment process.

Discernment requires copious research and reflection…so I read many books about the vocation; I talked to countless priests about it; and I imagined and dreamed about how becoming a priest would meet all of my desires both for service and identity.  I would be something—complete with a title, a uniform and role.

So as I began the discernment process with the requisite internship at a neighboring parish, and endured a barrage of psychological testing, all seemed to fall into place.  I even found a job working for the Episcopal Church Center (aka 815) while I waited to go to seminary.  When the time came for the interviews with “the powers that be”, all went well, and I was granted postulancy and seminary loomed on the near horizon, I thought I had it made.  I delayed going to seminary because I was learning so much working on the staff of the Presiding Bishop.

And that’s when things started to go sideways.  I was young in the ways of the world and didn’t realize how power is wielded.  It never occurred to me that the Bishop might not be the one calling the shots.  Unfortunately, as it turned out the Bishop was terribly sick and falling completely under the sway of alcoholism.  And although to my eyes it looked like he was in charge, it was his Canon who ran the diocese.  And so instead of listening to the suggestions of the Bishop, I should have paid more attention to the woman behind the ‘episcopal’ screen.  I didn’t and for that I was given an opportunity for correction.

My permission to go to seminary was revoked and I was quasi-kicked out the ordination process.  I had no status, but as my obedience still being observed, I was still being told where I should go to church and I was required to spend Saturdays doing local theology and bible classes at a local school of theology.   I’ll spare you the retelling of the anguish I experienced during this three-year period—of my scheming to find a new diocese and bishop, of my decision to nearly give up on becoming a priest and the sorted dealings through which the “powers that be” finally sent me off to seminary.

The discernment time at seminary became one of intentional formation and I grew as a one-day priest in training.  And at yet, as I finished seminary and the time for ordination approached—some 8 years after the desire to be a priest emerged in my heart—the notion that I should “Be careful what you wish for” finally struck home.  Throughout all of this time, I had expected becoming a priest to feel magical.  And while the day was very affirming…and my wish was finally fulfilled, being a priest didn’t make me feel any different.  I was still me.  No extra-significant sense of calling, no special illumination from the Holy Spirit.

You see, once we arrive at the wished-for reality and it almost never ends up being not for what we hoped.  As so, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to here and NOW.

That is precisely what I learned after my ordination…I realized how many years I had fretted and worried, schemed and agonized. In the end, very little of it really mattered.  It only served to distract me from the really priestly work that all of us are called to participate in.  The truth is that God is not really interested in our wishes for significant and pronounced service—God simply wants us to open our eyes to the need around us NOW and to serve:  “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. “

Actually, this was the lesson I learned on the day of my ordination. You see a new bishop had been elected and when he arrived at the church, he found me changing my then three-year-old son’s VERY poopy diaper.  We were chatting and getting to know one another as I worked.  It was when I wrapped up the diaper, that I realized, much to my horror, that the bishop was standing between me and the trashcan.  He must have seen the panicked look on my face and without missing a bit.  He silently coaxed me into handing him the diaper and he quickly deposited it in the trash—without missing a beat in the conversation.

It was this simple act that truly taught me what it means to be a priest…what it means to be truly human.  If you want to be great, you must serve.  Whatever journey we are on…whatever “wish” we are working to make reality, let us practice true discernment and listen for the Holy Spirit.

The Rev. Luke Fodor is rector of St. Luke’s Church, Jamestown, NY. 

Living Lives of Discernment

There were many times in my life that I fervently hoped that God would communicate with me by sliding a 3×5 card under my bedroom door. On the card would be God’s explicit directions for me on what to do next. I suppose today it’d be more appropriate to wait for a text message. Either way, that was my first idea of what discernment was all about. Okay God, now what? Tell me.

However, discernment is more nuanced than that. Discernment is about finding a way forward when God has placed something on your heart, but it also can be a way of life. There are many definitions of discernment. At its most basic, it is a process of discovering God’s activity, movement, and direction in our lives.

If we use that definition as our starting point, we already see that discernment is not simply a decision. It is not one course of action over another. Rather, it is an ongoing process that occurs on many levels, sometimes simultaneously. A hallmark of good discernment is movement from confusion to clarity.

Due to the ongoing nature of it, discernment is open to the work of the Holy Spirit, to testing and to change. In order to be open to the Holy Spirit, we must notice what God is already doing in our lives and in the lives of those around us. When we step back from the daily rush from one appointment to the next, from one project to the next, from one place to the next, and take time to reflect, what do we see? What do we hear? Having done this we also must take the time to be in conversation with others, to test if what we have heard or seen is congruent with their sense of it. Finally we must also be willing to recognize that discernments can change. As elusive as the whole process is, in the end, discernment is sturdy. It will stand up to testing and to the passage of time.

It is also important to recognize that discernment involves more than prayer and holy conversation. Discernment is also revealed through our life circumstances. God does not call us into something new to the detriment of relationships that have been important to us. That is not to say that being called to something new will not be without pain or disruption. It may well be. However, our life circumstances might dictate that now is not the right time or there is not the right place. In the same way, discernment is sometimes revealed through an honest look at where we have already been. How have we seen God at work in our lives in the past may shed light on what God holds for us in the future.

As we intentionally engage the practice of discernment, we begin to recognize that we have developed a community of trust, a deepening of our own faith and a growing sense of God’s leading. We begin to understand that we are not only seeking discernment but rather living lives of discernment. In the words of Henri Nouwen, discernment is “a life long commitment to ‘remember God,’ know who you are, and pay close attention to what the Spirit is saying today.”

The Rev. Canon Martha Ishman is Rector at St. James, Titusville, and Canon for Mission Development and Transition for the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Book Review: “Resurrection Matters” by Nurya Love Parish

This post originally appeared at The Black Giraffe blog on May 13, 2018. 

Many books about cutting-edge, transformational ministries are told after the fact.  A new opportunity arose, the Holy Spirit nudged a few faithful, gifted leaders, and, looking back, the whole enterprise seems almost inevitable.  Resurrection Matters: Church Renewal for Creation’s Sake by Nurya Love Parish takes a very different approach.  Nurya tells her story of starting a farm-based ministry while still in its early phase.  Instead of three easy steps to replicate this ministry in your own context, we are blessed by the courageous account of someone struggling to answer her call in a confusing time for the church and critical time for the environment.  How God has led her smack dab into the middle of the fledgling Christian food movement is both challenging and inspirational.

Throughout this book, we are introduced to Nurya’s deepest passions.  Her central passion is her faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Flowing out of that faith are her dedication to the renewal of God’s church and the stewardship of God’s creation.  In Resurrection Matters, we journey with Nurya through the personal stories and the facts and figures that led her to taking a huge risk with her family’s home and savings to start a farm ministry.  Along the way we learn about the infinity loop of organizational renewal, the contemporary church’s “rummage sale”, the modern history of Christian farm ministry, and why millennials seem more interested in organic farming than churches.  Most importantly, we share a Christian leader’s struggles as she finds the necessary wisdom and courage to begin a non-traditional ministry that is beginning to make a difference in the church and the environment.

Resurrection Matters’s engaging style makes for an easy and enjoyable read.  The book contains appendices with a study guide; planning processes for households, congregations, and judicatories; information on community supported agriculture; and lists of resources for further study.  I highly recommend this book to those interested in how the church might engage creation care, as well as to anyone feeling like God may be calling them to start something new.

(Disclaimer: I have worked with Nurya Love Parish on a number of projects, and I received a review copy of Resurrection Matters.)

You can order Resurrection Matters from church publishing or Amazon.

The Rev. Dr. Adam Trambley is rector of St. John’s, Sharon. 

Welcome, Resurrection Church!

Sunday was a particularly blessed day in the life of the diocese as we celebrated the consecration of our first church plant in over fifty years, Resurrection Church in Hermitage. The sanctuary was full of over one hundred worshipers, there to show their love and support of this new congregation.

During the sermon, the Rev. Jason Shank, our church planter, detailed the work that has gone into this plant: from his initial meeting with Bishop Sean three years ago and their hopes for this new church, going into the community and learning what the needs of the people were, to meeting folks on the street and worshiping with them in public (quite literally, as Fr. Jason recounted one frigid Christmas Eve service held in a parking lot downtown), taking prayer walks, and, finally, to the long search for a permanent home that culminated in the renovation of the building which housed a congregation that had closed. “We saw God’s presence every step of the way when we were planting in this building,” he said. People in the community even stopped to comment on how pleased they were to see cars in the parking lot – a welcome sign of God’s presence in the neighborhood.

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to renew the mission of the diocese and our ministry in the Hermitage community. He also gave thanks for everyone who had been involved in the discussions and planning for this church plant, which span over ten years, as well as other projects like it.  “Endeavors like this require the planning and vision of generations of leaders,” the bishop said.

Through scripture, song, and fellowship time following the service, the day was a reminder of the love of God and his presence in northwestern Pennsylvania. As Bishop Sean remarked before communion, “It truly is a great day in the Kingdom!”

Below are photos from Sunday’s consecration service.

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A Tour to Christ Church’s Past

The annual Grove Hill Cemetery Tours were held this year on September 8, and the event turned into an unofficial celebration of Christ Episcopal Church in Oil City. The cemetery dates to 1870 and each year the tours feature current residents of Oil City portraying past residents of Oil City.

This year’s tour booklet featured 32 figures from the past and at least 10 were members of Christ Episcopal Church. A local photographer, whose family provided the land the current church building sits on, was also included in the booklet. Of the eleven people portrayed, three were members of Christ Episcopal Church. Three of the eleven re-enactors were also members of the church.

Becca Swartzlander, treasurer of the Altar Guild, portrayed Miss Margaret Reid. Margaret’s great-great-grandfather served as interpreter for Chief Cornplanter of the Seneca Indian tribe and held power-of-attorney for Cornplanter. Her great-uncle and father were involved in the Reid Gas Engine Company, pioneers in oilfield equipment.  However, Miss Reid was best known for her nearly 40 years of teaching in the Oil City Schools. She wrote A History of Christ Church in 1987 and is responsible for the excellently maintained historical records of the church.

Jocelind Gant, the member of our congregation responsible for our Second Harvest Food ministries, portrayed Carrie Peterson, one of the most unique stories told this year. Peterson was born into slavery in Virginia around 1850 and came to Oil City in the early 1860s. It is unclear if she came as a fugitive slave or as a free woman.  She had some association with Robert and Isaac Mann, late of Allegheny City. Robert was one of the founders of the AME Church in Oil City and Isaac wrote for an African-American newspaper in Harrisburg.

I portrayed the Rev. James H. B. Brooks, 6th Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, serving from 1883 until his death in 1901. Brooks was pastor during the building of the current church and during the Fire and Flood of 1892. The church building was used as a hospital during this disaster. Father Brooks’ health never totally recovered from that incident. In researching the life of Rev. Brooks, it was noted that the two seminaries and three other parishes he served still survive today, with some mergers involved.

Some of the other members of the church from the 19th and early 20th century in the tour booklet included Thomas Cowell, Kenton Chickering, John Campbell, John Tonkin, Margaret Winifred Tonkin, Thomas Porteous, Annie Clark, and William Lay. Winifred Tonkin died in a tragic railway accident in 1901 and is memorialized in one of the church’s windows, and the Winifred Tonkin Guild still provides for the needy of the community, a living memorial to her memory.

Cowell, Chickering, and Campbell all served on the Vestry during Father Brooks’ tenure. His Vestry actually resembled a Board of Directors meeting for Standard Oil. Christ Church’s Vestry records indicate that Father Brooks wisely indicated upon arrival that he would leave all temporal matters in the hands of his Vestry.  I read through about 50 years worth of Vestry notes (preserved by Miss Reid) before the tours, trying to learn more of Brooks and his time here. What I found was a man that served as pastor to a community, calling on sick and injured people that had no affiliation with any congregation. The oil business was not a stable business, with booms and busts and fortunes made and lost. Yet the Vestry had no issue with committing to building a new church building in those uncertain times, when the budget often was at a deficit.  Kenton Chickering’s great-grandson, Ken, still spends some summer months in our area, away from his home parish in Houston. He was kind enough to lend me his library of materials about Oilwell Supply, founded by Kenton, and I got to spend the winter with those materials. Before he returned to Houston this year, I was able to provide a copy of the beautiful tribute paid to his great-grandfather by his fellow Vestrymen upon his death in 1908.

I have always loved history and I always will. I truly appreciate the work that Margaret Reid did preserving our church records. I treasure my friendship with Ken and enjoyed the records of the past he shared with me.  Margaret was also instrumental in our sponsorship at the church of a family of refugees from Vietnam in the 1980s. Ken has spent his life working in Texas in a career that has little to do with his family’s oilfield origins, but is still an Episcopalian. Both appreciate the past but learned to embrace change. An appreciation for history does not mean we must live in the past. It should enable us to learn from that past. Ignoring the past and living in the past both have bad outcomes. We live in exciting times, faced with changes and challenges and opportunities in the Church and the world that our ancestors could not have imagined.

Some words from the poet T. S. Eliot will serve us well as we approach what promises to be an exciting diocesan convention:

“And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it.  The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without.”

The Rev. Mark Elliston is vicar of Christ Church, Oil City.