Speak Boldly:  A Two-Track Approach to Christian Education and Formation

Throughout the season of Lent, we at St. Mark’s felt stirred to offer formation for all ages in a way that we had never done previously.  Unfortunately, we didn’t know what that was.  Personally, I knew that I needed to teach something that would be life-giving to me and would therefore feed the congregation in a new way through my energy and excitement.  For me, that meant teaching something about the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) – more on that in a moment.

Of course, the Hebrew Bible wasn’t going to tap the interest of everyone in the congregation, so we needed something else to offer alongside.  With all of the recent changes in the local political landscape, the increase in issues like opioid overdose, and a bankrupt public school district, we felt called as disciples to learn more about those issues.  So we set forth to run a forum featuring influential public leaders to be run parallel to the Hebrew Bible class.  For six weeks in Eastertide, we began as a community with a meal (prepared by the culinary students at the Charter School for Excellence) and then broke off into our classes:  Public Forum, The Story of Creation for kids, and the Hebrew Bible class.

The Hebrew Bible class had one main purpose:  to teach the students about the origins, structure, and historical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.  It was intentionally not a devotional “bible study,” but rather an abbreviated introductory level Hebrew Bible course one would encounter in seminary.  The 26 students were excited and equally apprehensive because they knew they were going to face some challenges to their faiths along with way.  However, we knew that we could trust each other and that all opinions and questions were valued and respected.

Why teach such a class?  First, Jesus was Jewish.  Therefore the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible were His scriptures that informed His faith and His teachings as our Messiah found in the New Testament.  Second, we are called to be peacemakers in the world.  How better to more deeply understand our Jewish brothers and sisters than through a deeper knowledge of their scriptures and our shared history? Third, there are many things as English readers of ancient Hebrew texts that we miss (symbolism, sarcasm, euphemism, parallelism, poetry, etc.) that once realized make the scriptures come alive in a new and powerful way.  Fourth, and perhaps most important, this deep study of the Hebrew Bible in college and seminary liberated my personal faith.  It caused me to think anew and ask the difficult questions I had previously been afraid to ask.  That freedom to ask hard questions is necessary for deepening one’s walk with Christ.

For six weeks, we prayed, studied, argued, sang, and shared revelatory moments together.  From Creation to the Exodus, from myth to commandment, from festivals to prophecies, from sex to poetry, we covered it and we had fun while doing it.  Can the 26 students speak fluent Hebrew?  No, but they can speak a few important Hebrew words and relate them back to their own walks with God.  Can the 26 students identify all of the writers in the Torah?  No, but they now know that there are many voices, faiths, and perspectives found in those books; and that there is much beauty in the unifying work of God in bringing all of those writings together to give us what we have today.  And finally, can the 26 students tell us everything there is to know about God’s character in the Hebrew Bible?  No, but they can certainly proclaim that the God of the Hebrew Bible is not the stereotyped old angry man in the sky, but is the same living, loving, merciful God we know in Christ today.  And for that I say, Alleluia!

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

Explorer’s Day

Do you feel you are being called to a deeper ministry?  Do you feel that you might be called to ordained ministry?

If so, please consider attending our Explorer’s Day on September 9th at St. Mark’s, Erie.  The program will be offered at no cost and will run from 10:00 AM to 3:15 PM (lunch will be provided).

Explorer’s Day is a program that we run jointly with the Diocese of Western New York. It serves as a day of exploration into ministry and as the entry point to the ordination process.  We hope that, through this program, participants will be able to better discern their call to ministry and make informed decisions about their next steps.

During this day-long program, we will take a look at the different callings and roles of three of the orders in the church: lay, deacon, and priest.  We will do this through theological reflections using the Book of Common Prayer, studying scriptures that show different ways we may be called to ministry, and hearing from representatives of each of the three orders.  We will also explain the details of our respective ordination processes.

We held our first Explorer’s Day in January of this year and had good attendance from both dioceses.  Those that attended found the program very informative and useful in their journeys.  Some chose to enter the ordination process, some discerned that the ordination process wasn’t for them, and some decided that they wanted to continue their prayer and discernment.  Attendance does not mean you are entering the ordination process or that you are locked in to anything.  This program is intended to be what it is titled: a day of exploration for those who feel they may want to go deeper in ministry.

People who believe they may have a call to ordained ministry or a deeper call to lay ministry are encouraged to attend. If you know someone who fits this description, please share this information with them and encourage them to attend.

A couple of notes:  We do require that the priest from the attendee’s congregation accompany him or her, as the clergy will be walking alongside them during this exploration of call.  Also, though you do not have to enter the ordination process after attending this event, attendance at this event is required to enter the ordination process.

To sign up for the event, please contact Valerie Hudson at vhudson@dionwpa.org or 814.456.4203.

Episcopal Youth Event

Every three years, the Episcopal Church hosts an Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) for high school students. This is an international event, bringing youth, their adult leaders, Bishops, and volunteers from across the world together for a few days of worship, speakers, and workshops. EYE takes place this summer, July 10-14 on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, OK. There is expected to be 1,300 youth present for the event.

Our diocese will be represented by nine students: Sierra Adrover and Mari Holben from St. Mark’s in Erie, Josie Noyes and Paul Hoffer from the Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie, Abby and Sarah Wheeler from Resurrection Church in Hermitage, Aaron and Andrew Scott from St. James in Titusville, and Stephen Covington from Memorial Church of Father in Foxburg. Fr. Denny Blauser and I will be accompanying the youth to the event.

We are looking forward to a great trip! It is our hope that the students will engage in all that the event has to offer, make new connections around the world, and experience God in new and transforming ways.

DioNWPA EYE group, 2014

You can follow what our delegation gets up to in Oklahoma on the Diocesan Formation Facebook and Twitter accounts: @dionwpaformation.  You can also follow the National Church’s social media for the event: Facebook, @EpiscopalYouthEvent and Twitter, @episcoyouth.

As always, please keep us in your prayers as we prepare, travel, and participate!

Missy Greene is the Christian Formation Associate for St. Stephen’s, Fairview. 

Honduras Veterinary Mission Team

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 1 Peter 4:10

Sharing of self, using our gifts to help others, reaching out to neighbors and developing relationships, sharing our faith by words and actions with the support of prayerful “senders”………that is what mission means to me.

I was blessed again with the opportunity this past January to be part of an enthusiastic short-term mission team to Danli, Honduras.  While we were billed as a “veterinary team”, less than half of us were veterinarians.  The rest were there to offer their assistance however possible.  Randy Doutt and myself from St. John’s, Franklin joined a team composed of  7 veterinarians, 1 vet technician, and 8 helpers (willing laymen, spouses and 1 teenager).  We had all volunteered to work with SAMS (http://samsusa.org/) missionary Jeannie Loving to supplement some of the spotty veterinary services in the church communities where she serves.  Veterinarians were recruited by Christian Veterinary Mission (https://cvmusa.org/), an inter-denominational mission group.   We were joined by several individuals willing to help in any way that they could, and their efforts were invaluable to the success of the mission.  The “helpers” led devotions, prepared team lunches, lassoed cattle, carried supplies, sorted and loaded equipment and medications, performed crowd control, and helped with the construction of a newly planted church.  With the addition of 3 local drivers and 2 student interpreters from St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Tegucigalpa we were a large enough group to split into two work teams.

We began each day with a morning devotion, followed by breakfast and then traveled to one of the more rural communities near Danli.  One of our teams would care primarily for livestock while the other was mainly engaged with pet animals.  (note: “pet” has a totally different connotation in a poor, rural, third-world area than the image of a pampered, American house pet).  Animals were driven, dragged, and carried to our work areas throughout the day.  During our stay we were able to provide medical or surgical services to over 1800 animals.  Some of the men also spent a few days working alongside local villagers to construct a newly planted church in a previously unserved community.

Perhaps more enduring than the animal care are the relationships that our team has built. We work primarily in villages where the Diocese of Honduras has a church presence so we are supporting the work of the local missionary and clergy.  Many areas are used to seeing mission groups swoop in once and never return, but the people that we have worked with have learned to know us and we them because we have returned to the same location annually over several years.  Because we have been consistent over time we have developed friendships and trust.

One of the highlights of our 10-day mission is always having the opportunity to participate in Sunday church services alongside the local people that we have been serving.  This past year we received communion together with the new congregation of Iglesia de Santa Maria Magdalena.  We worshiped in the same open-air community center where we had spayed dogs just a few days before.  Following the church service, the community proudly led us to the foundation of their new church, which some of our team had helped to construct and which they hope to complete before we return next January.

Surely one of the blessings of this outreach endeavor was in the participants working hard each day to totally use all of their gifts and knowledge and strength for the benefit of their Honduran neighbors.  This is one case where the cliché was absolutely true:  We did receive much more than we gave.

Dan Paulo and his wife Kathy are members of St. John’s, Franklin. Dan is a retired veterinarian who has long been interested in mission, and has made multiple mission trips to Honduras, as well as Haiti, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Mongolia, and Nigeria. 

 

Daughters of the King: Mission Trip to Honduras

God gave me an idea and a nudge at a meeting of the Daughters of the King Province III board last year.  I should invite those present to join me on a mission to Honduras.  Carol White from the Diocese of Southern Virginia accepted the invitation followed by Joyce Frenz from my own chapter at St. John’s, Franklin.  It wasn’t long before her husband Randall, a Lutheran pastor, signed on as well.  We had a team!

I now marvel at the path we took to get to Danli, Honduras.  We were four individuals answering a call but really not sure what God was calling us to do.  We sometimes wandered off the path and I was reminded of Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

A mission trip was not new to me – I had accompanied my husband numerous times on his veterinary mission trips, but this time I would be leading a team with a very different mission.  Lord, what would you have me do?  My husband’s veterinary team was working with SAMS missionary Jeannie Loving, who just happened to be a Daughter of the King.  We communicated with her and after much correspondence, prayer, and a shared daily devotional, God guided us to a plan: a quiet day, a Bible study, and a service project.  It was a very ambitious plan that would require money for materials, interpreters, and in-country transportation for us and the participants.  We applied for and received a generous grant from the National Daughters of the King Self-Denial Fund to cover those expenses.  God gave us the plan and provided the means.  Now we had to trust Him to show us the how.

Ten months later, February 10, 2017, we finally arrived in Honduras.   The first task was to organize our service project.  Our plan was to assemble and distribute mother/baby kits to the public health clinics.  In Honduras, any woman going to the hospital or clinic to deliver her baby is required to bring with her a shirt, cap, socks, receiving blanket and two diapers for the baby and two sanitary napkins and an adult diaper for her.  Many families earn an average of only $20 a month and it can be a real hardship to procure these items.  We had brought with us more than 200 each of baby onesies, hats and pairs of socks donated by individuals in the US.  With the help of local Daughters, we packed all the required items in a 2 ½ gallon zip lock bag.  We included a card written in Spanish stating this kit was from Honduran and US Daughters of the King who were praying for the mother and baby.  These same Daughters accompanied us to the clinics to deliver the kits.  At one clinic, the doctor in charge clapped his hands and exclaimed he was so thrilled it gave him goosebumps.  He ushered us into a room where two very young women had just delivered babies.  We prayed with the new mothers and handed each of them a kit.  Priceless.

Extra baby items and cash to purchase diapers, etc. were left with the local Daughters of the King so they could continue with this project.

Meanwhile Pastor Randall met with ten women for a Bible study.   They came from four different Episcopal churches and some had ridden about an hour on a non-air-conditioned bus  to get there.  They were attentive, inquisitive and faithful in attendance.  We left extra study books for these women to lead Bible studies in their home parishes.

The main event was our Quiet Day which was attended by more than 50 women and about a dozen children.  The morning program was a series of songs and scripture readings with intervals of silent meditation.  After lunch, we opened with a guided meditation followed by a service to admit nine new Daughters of the King to the Order.  A celebration of Holy Eucharist closed out a beautiful, spirit filled day.  It was a great day in the Kingdom!

I had a vision but I never envisioned the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us.  We hope by reading this you will be inspired to step out in faith to do a mission at home or abroad.

Kathy Paulo is a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Franklin, PA, and has been a member of the Daughters of the King since 2005. 

Reflections on Holy Land Pilgrimage 2017

During the second half of May, I had the privilege of leading an Eastertide Holy Land Pilgrimage. The group of 25 included pilgrims from both the United States and Canada, 11 of whom were from the Erie area. It was my fifth trip to Israel and Palestine, the first one in 1985 and then four since 2004. In some ways, the spiritual impact of journeying to the Holy Land had been accomplished for me in previous trips. However, leading a group, sharing their experiences and seeing things anew through their eyes was a blessing for me. And the itinerary included a few places I had not been before.

We began with three days in Galilee, staying at the beautiful and restful Pilgerhaus, a German Benedictine guest house. From that base, we saw Nazareth, Cana, and other sites near or around the Sea of Galilee. A particular joy was worshiping on Sunday morning at Christ Church, Nazareth, an Episcopal Church packed with parishioners and pilgrims for a Eucharist in both Arabic and English. In Galilee, I was especially aware that we were immersed in the sights and sounds of the places where Jesus grew up, and where his vision and mission were forged.

Our journey then headed south through the West Bank where we saw vividly the difficulties and challenges of what is often called “the situation,” that is, the continuing occupation of Palestinian territories. This includes the region of Samaria and the town of Nablus, where Jacob’s Well can be found, as well as an Episcopal parish and hospital. The Diocese of Jerusalem supports many such hospitals, clinics, and schools, often in places of great need. Further south, we renewed our Baptismal Covenant at the Jordan River and went on to two days in Bethlehem, arriving the same day President Trump had been there. In addition to the Church of the Nativity, we visited ministries sponsored by Roman Catholics and Lutherans. After a visit to Hebron and the Tombs of the Patriarchs, we made our way to Jerusalem for our final four days.

While in Jerusalem we stayed within the walls of the Old City at a guest house in the former seminary of the Latin Patriarchate. We visited all the holy sites one would expect including the recently restored Tomb of Jesus (Holy Sepulchre). We shared in joyous worship at St. George’s Episcopal Cathedral where I was invited to concelebrate with two bishops from England, one from Trinidad and Tobago, my colleague and co-leader the Dean of Hamilton, and the Dean of Jerusalem, who is an Arab Israeli. And this really was just another typical Sunday at St. George’s!

Along the way our group celebrated the Eucharist on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in the Shepherd’s Fields in Bethlehem, and, on the final day, at Abu Gosh, one of the sites which recalls Emmaus. At each of these sites, the Roman Catholic custodians were most gracious in providing for our celebrations like any other group of pilgrims. As we were about to leave Abu Gosh, I noted that the statue at the Lady Altar looked like a modern rendition of Our Lady of Walsingham, the principal English image of Mary. As I drew closer, I saw a plaque with the Canterbury Cross on it beside the altar. Stitch by stitch, the broken Body of Christ is being repaired.

In the pilgrimage brochure, I had written, “A pilgrimage to the Holy Land changes things. Past and present, sacred and secular – these are seen in new ways, somehow not so neatly separated as we usually view them. To be at the great biblical sites and the historic holy places alongside the current life of Israel and Palestine is a singular experience which changes how we understand things, and often changes us.” Once again this proved to be true in the experiences of our group. Talk of the next pilgrimage is already beginning.

The Very Rev. Dr. John P. Downey, Dean, the Cathedral of St. Paul

Camper to Counselor: Stephanie Onyeiwu

Diocesan Summer Camp is now in full swing for 2017! We’ve already heard from counselor Henry Palattella about his experience moving from being a camper to a counselor, and this week we’d like to introduce new counselor Stephanie Onyeiwu:

“My name is Stephanie Onyeiwu and I attended Camp Nazareth as a camper since I was in 6th grade. I heard about it from Christ Church, in my hometown of Meadville. I graduated last year, and I am now entering my second year in college. I love children, I enjoy spreading the word of God on mission trips, and doing volunteer work. I am most looking forward to helping these kids grow into the best version of themselves. Apart from volunteer work, I enjoy singing, playing the piano, and attending camp – of course! I am eager to see all the new faces I will meet this year, and can’t wait to see what the week will bring! This year will be my first year on staff, and I am interested to compare the week to my prior experience as a camper. I am not really nervous about anything, but mostly excited and blessed to have another camp experience!”

We’ll follow up with Stephanie after camp week to see what she has learned, and how being a counselor allows her to experience God and share His message with others in a new way. Please keep all the campers and counselors in your prayers this week, and watch the diocesan Facebook page for camp updates!

Building Relationships

Collaboration and interdependence are keys to the deepening of our Christian life together. We’ve given considerable attention over the course of the last decade to the idea that, as a diocese, we really are One Church.  Yes, we all find ourselves in different contexts, are various sizes, and have different charisms of the Spirit, and still we are united in mission and witness that make us one—all in it together as the Body of Christ.  Our challenge to bring the Good News to the world is more apparent than ever and our ability to rise to that challenge is directly related to our willingness to collaborate with strategic partners and rely more heavily on each other.

This fall we take our collaboration with the Diocese of Western New York to a new depth by sharing our Conventions with each other—we’ll take a large group to their Convention, and they’ll bring a large group to ours.  We’ll have a chance to meet new people, see how another diocese works, and experience new mission horizons.  We’ll also have an opportunity to share our particular gifts and richness of our diocesan community.  If you are interested in attending the Diocese of Western New York’s convention, you can visit our website for more information and to sign up.

Our convention will follow a bit of a different format this year.  Though we’ll conduct the necessary business of Convention, the primary focus of our time will be building relationships and having significant and high impact conversations about the future of our life together.  The Convention this fall will be more important than ever, and I appeal to you as your bishop to make every effort to be present.  Your voice and your perspective are a critical piece of the next phase of mission.

You’ve heard me say many times that no one is going to innovate in mission and ministry for us.  There is no group ‘out there’ in the Church that is going to overcome our challenges and unlock our potential for us.  This is our call—right here and right now.  I have every confidence that God is about to provide for us ‘infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.’

Local church to host ‘blessing box’ with donations

This article first appeared in the Bradford Era on May 19, 2017. 

By KATE DAY SAGER
The Bradford Era

Era photo by Kate Day Sager

On any given Sunday, needy people stop by the Episcopal Church of the Ascension on Chautauqua Place in Bradford with the hope there will be food to spare.

Consequently, when the Rev. Stacey Fussell, rector of Ascension, learned Amanda Kemick and Stacy Wallace needed a venue for their new Blessing Box, she volunteered outdoor space at the church for the project.

The Blessing Box, which was installed near the church parking lot on Mother’s Day, sits atop a pole several feet high. Inside the unlocked box are canned and boxed foods stocked by parishioners and community residents. All food items in the box are free for the taking.

Kemick, a stay-at-home mom, said she and Wallace, an attorney, came up with the Blessing Box idea last fall after viewing a post on Facebook.

“Many of our friends on Facebook expressed interest and support of the idea,” Kemick recalled. “We began with the construction of two boxes” after funding was provided by two private donors.

Kemick said they contacted Scott Oxley, carpentry teacher at Bradford Area High School, for help. When they asked Oxley if the students could construct two boxes similar to what was seen online, he agreed and asked only that materials be provided.

The first box was installed Sunday at the church by Kemick and Wallace’s husbands, Donny and Curt, respectively.

“Stacy and I both have children and it was a great experience for them to help install and put food in the first box,” Kemick said. “On the box we put, ‘Give what you can, take what you need.’ “It is our hope that anyone in need — a hungry child or a mother who doesn’t have time to get to the grocery store — can stop and take what is needed.”

She said the blessing box is not limited to food, as donations of personal hygiene items and baby products are also acceptable.

In explaining the notion behind the blessing box, Wallace said it is intended to bless all people with food and items, regardless of class.

“I know some people do not want to take something for nothing, so if you see something there you need, take it and put something else in — like a barter system,” Wallace explained.

She said the hope is the boxes will be replenished by the community. As a backup measure, one or two groups from the community will be assigned to stock the boxes, as needed.

Suggested store-bought items for the box include canned foods, dry cereal or other dry items  such as pasta and rice. Small clothing items that include new packages of underwear, socks or gloves, are also acceptable donations.

Fussell said initial food items stocked in the box, that included small canned hams, were taken. They were quickly replenished with other food, however. She said the supplies will likely be appreciated by people in the neighborhood which is close to housing projects.

“From our standpoint, it is not uncommon to have folks come by the church on a Sunday afternoon and say ‘I don’t have any food in my house,’” Fussell remarked. “Ascension doesn’t keep a stocked food pantry” and none of the other pantries are open on Sunday.

“This will help if you’re in a bind,” she continued. “It really is the hope that people will restock it.”

In making a final comment, Kemick said their greatest hope is that by next winter a local agency or private business will offer to house a blessing box inside its doors.

“Our outdoor blessing boxes will get less use in the winter due to foot traffic and the practicality of food storage, yet we could use blessings year round,” she said.

Kemick said there is another blessing box ready to be installed, but a location hasn’t been determined. She said a church or organization that can ensure the box will stay filled would be preferable. Kemick said they have plans to make additional boxes in the future.

For more information on the blessing boxes, contact Kemick or Wallace via Facebook or call Wallace at Hamlin Bank and Trust Company at 887-5555.