Boundaries

This article originally appeared on March 6 at A Positively Poetic Priest, the blog of Mother Elizabeth Yale, Priest in Charge at St. John’s, Franklin. 

“He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
and to whom I was like to give offense.”

This is a portion of Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall.
The poem talks about mending a wall in the spring with the neighbor on the other side.
It goes through how the wall fell apart, and as we heard, we hear him wonder
about why there is a wall in the first place.
The only thing the neighbor says in the poem is
“Good fences make good neighbours.”
But Frost brings up a good question in these lines
why do good fences make good neighbors
why build a wall
is it because you’re walling something in
or walling something out?
It seems that there are good walls,
which keep people safe,
and then there are bad walls,
which keep people apart.

Though Frost wrote this poem more than a hundred years ago,
it still pertains to us today.
The question of walls or boundaries
is quite a serious one.
Recently the question about President Trump’s wall between Texas and Mexico
has gotten many people up in arms, both in favor and against.
Even more recently, the Winter Olympics in Korea
reminded us all of the tension between North and South
split with the DMZ, the demilitarized zone,
a long fence splitting the country in two.
And while we have these recent examples
controversial walls between neighbors is not a new thing.
The Berlin Wall
The Israeli West Bank wall along the Green Line
The wall in Baghdad.

Unfortunately though
it seems these walls
haven’t created good neighbors.
The amount of fighting, rallying, negotiation talks, and protests
which happen around these walls
doesn’t make it look like any of them are helping
develop good boundaries.
Just because we have physical walls
doesn’t mean we have good healthy relationships.

However, boundaries are very important in our human lives.
We need boundaries
to lead happy healthy lives.
Boundaries are involved in pretty much everything we do as human beings.
In order to be clear, the definition of boundary
is what is okay in a situation and what is not okay.
Basically, knowing where the line is between okay and not okay.

We have boundaries in all aspects of our lives.
Physical boundaries
such as our skin
our personal space
our privacy.
We have emotional boundaries
our circles of trust and confidentiality.
We have financial boundaries
our own personal accounts
business accounts
and lots of laws to keep those boundaries in peace.
We have social boundaries
both stated and unstated
which let us know what is okay to do with other people and what is not okay to do with other people.
We have occupational boundaries,
which determine what is our job and what is not our responsibility.
(We all know the phrase, “That’s above my pay grade.”
which is a boundary we all know when something is not our responsibility.)
In every aspect of our lives there are healthy boundaries
necessary to keep us whole, safe, and able to function.

Yet, we also have lots of unhealthy boundaries floating around in our society.
Where it seems acceptable to break other people’s feelings of what is okay and not okay.
We have seen this explode with issues of sexual harassment and abuse in the last year.
Unhealthy boundaries lead to conflict, disrespect, and distrust.
All of which we have in gigantic amounts throughout our society.

In her research on people living wholehearted lives,
Brene Brown, a social researcher working in topics of shame, resilience, and living healthy lives
points out from the data
that one of the most compassionate things we can do as human beings
is have good clear boundaries.
Where we know for ourselves what is okay and what is not okay
and we talk with other people in respectful ways when boundaries are broken.
Respectful, healthy communities are built around people who have healthy boundaries.

And while Brene Brown’s research has only come out in the last couple of years
this idea of good community being born out of having good boundaries among people
is so ancient
its biblical.

We see the first example
in our reading from Exodus for today.
Exodus was written sometime in the 15th century BC,
So about three and a half thousand years ago.
God gives Moses the Ten Commandments
which are to govern the community of Israelites in their life together
and in relationship with God.
The Ten Commandments
are rules, effectively, good boundaries of what is okay, and what is not okay,
for the people to do.
God says, it is not okay for us to have any other gods than God.
Its not okay to murder other people.
Its not okay to covet what other people have or to gossip about them with other people.
God says we definitely should
keep sabbath time, to rest,
we need to respect other people, especially our parents.
The people who had fled from Egypt
were trying to create a new kind of nation
a new kind of community
and having healthy boundaries
good rules for communal living
were very important to the health, safety, and longevity of the community.
Even in the gospel story for today from John
the story of Jesus overturning the market tables in the temple
is a story with boundaries
and the breaking of boundaries
at the heart of it.
Jesus goes to worship in the temple
and finds the place having been turned into a marketplace.
Understandably at that time
there was still animal and crop sacrifice going on in the temple
and people did need to buy cattle or birds
or grains or fruits in order to give to the temple.
However, the understanding is that the money changers and market sellers in the temple at that time
were gouging the people who came to worship.
They were lining their own pockets and being unfair to the people.
They were breaking the good boundaries of living in community
they were preying on the poor people of the land.
Jesus drives them out.
He reinforces the good boundaries of the community
making clear that what was going on is not okay.
Jesus’ mission in the world is to return the people
including us
to right relationship with God.
Which does mean pointing out the ways in which we have strayed from that relationship
and broken its good healthy rules.

What does this mean for us today?
During this season of Lent
we are called to remember the ways in which we have broken the boundaries of good community
we are called to repent for the ways in which we have strayed from right relationship.
We are called to return to good healthy clear boundaries and community.
We are called to repair the relationships which have been broken among us.
Thankfully, Jesus has already promised us
that he will forgive us
he will rebuild the temple
though we chip away at its walls
with our brokenness and unhealthy boundaries.
Thankfully, God loves us more than we can imagine
and continues to try to meet us in right relationship.
Thankfully, we can rely on God’s grace to catch us when we fail
and return us to faith and trust.

Like Robert Frost in his poem Mending Wall
we are given the opportunity each year
to mend the relationships
the broken places in our lives
and return to healthy good relationships
with each other
and with God.
Amen.

Sharing Resources: The Joint Board of Examining Chaplains

Our collaboration with the Diocese of Western New York isn’t just discussion for the future – the Joint Board of Examining Chaplains is a shared ministry of both dioceses that over the past three years has shown how combining resources can benefit our ongoing work for the Kingdom. Read on to learn more about this ongoing collaboration. 

The Joint Board of Examining Chaplains (JBEC) has for the last 3 years helped the Commissions on Ministry (COMs) of both the Diocese of Western New York and the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania monitor and assess the academic preparation of postulants and candidates for ordained ministry. The JBEC currently consists of six chaplains, three from each diocese, with one from each diocese serving as co-chairs. They meet twice a year, in the spring and fall, and use their time together to review work submitted from those in the formation process. Reports then go directly to the COMs to help in their work of shepherding our future clergy through their formation.

This shared ministry of the two dioceses is the result of conversations that began early in 2013, when the bishops of each diocese asked their examining chaplains to meet together and discuss the possibility of how we could share resources. Those first meetings explored the logistical issues of working together, the similarities and differences between the formation process and culture of each diocese, and the potential benefits. Very quickly we saw that having a larger team of people committed to the ministry meant better oversight and broader perspectives available for the work, and the potential negatives could be easily mitigated by careful planning and communication.

Time was spent putting together a proposal for how the joint committee would function, along with a set of requests on how we would want to do that work. One key piece has been the development of guidelines for postulants and candidates that ask them to build a portfolio of work from the academic formation, pieces of which get submitted to the JBEC each year. This way, instead of a cursory inspection of work towards the end of the formation process, the JBEC can both suggest ideas for improvement along the way and also have ample evidence of a candidate’s preparation in case end of formation examinations raise concerns.

That proposal went to the two dioceses in the summer of 2014, and at the conventions later that year the current members of the JBEC were appointed. Currently, The Rev. Vicki Zust and The Rev. Matthew Scott serve as the co-chairs.

The Rev. Matthew Scott is vicar of the Episcopal Mission of Warren County – St. Francis and Trinity Memorial churches. 

Lent Madness is On at Christ Church, Oil City

Lent Madness is on again at Christ Episcopal Church!

Our congregation has been getting together every Sunday during Lent for four years now, to pick our individual selections for the upcoming week. We all have our Saintly Scorecards and some dedicated followers do additional research. We allow voters to show their financial favor for their favorite Saints. Not gambling, mind you! Since I serve as the contest judge, everyone realizes they will see no financial benefit from their votes. All funds collected are used for a worthy cause. For the last few years, the funds helped some Diocesan youth attend Camp Nazareth. Prizes are awarded to the participants with the highest point score and highest percentage. Last year we had participants from four counties and two churches.

Most participants wisely vote online at the official Lent Madness site, doing what they can to see that their individual picks fare well.

Our current leaders, as of Sunday, February 25, are Jocelind Gant, with a .875 average, and Noni Stanford, with 40 points.

It is a great way to learn about the amazing lives of the people that populate the pages of Holy Men Holy Women, and really has led to a greater realization of the many ways that they have served others. We have come to appreciate the deep faith of people that we viewed as names from a history text, if we had ever heard of them at all.

If you are unfamiliar with Lent Madness, the Forward Movement has a great website for the event:

http://www.lentmadness.org/

And if any other churches are interested in a little intra-Diocesan contest next year, we would be glad to consider any challenges by our brothers and sisters in Christ, in the spirit of Christian collegiality. Just like Georgetown and Villanova.

The Rev. Mark Elliston is the vicar at Christ Episcopal Church, Oil City. 

‘Children of Abraham’ Documentary, produced in Warren, March 3 at Struthers

This article originally appeared in the Warren Times Observer

By STACEY GROSS (sgross@timesobserver.com)

“A Jewish businessman, a Christian priest, and an American Muslim…”

It sounds like the beginning of a joke. But it’s not. It’s the beginning of the tagline for a film produced in Warren County by Glarner Group Production Studio, and it ends “…coexisting in peace.”

Glarner said that he and Mark Robinault made the 45-minute documentary over the course of two years. It’s been shown most recently at the Asian World Film Festival, Glarner said. And now, it’s going to be shown in Warren.

The three men interviewed in the movie are Timothy Dyer, Sam Qadri, and Harvey Stone. All are local or semi-local. Qadri teaches at the Jamestown High school and also is a professor of Muslim Studies at JCC. Dyer is a local priest and Stone is a local businessman.

Glarner said he was sitting at Trinity Episcopal Church in Warren one day listening to Dyer talk about the latest Children of Abraham event – an event designed to introduce those unfamiliar with it to the concept of interfaith discussions – and he wanted to know more.

“Why is he doing this,” Glarner said he found himself wondering as he listened to Dyer talk. Through subsequent conversations, however, Glarner said he  understood perfectly what the goal of the Children of Abraham Project hope to achieve.

Interfaith conversations, said Glarner, are “pretty relevant to everyone right now.” And this, Glarner added, “is the narrative we need to hear.” As opposed to the tendency to divide and fracture people based on differences in belief and lifestyle, the goal of Children of Abraham and of the film is to get people both recognizing they are alike, and also seek to find ways to make connections with those of different faiths. “If there’s going to be some kind of lasting peace in the world then how we’re going to get there is through conversations like these and through a loving heart.”

Glarner said the screening, to be held on Saturday, March 3 at the Struther’s Library Theatre from 7 to 9 p.m. will be both an opportunity to expose a local audience to the film, but also a fundraiser for the Music Conservatory, of which Glarner has been a part since it began. Admission to the film is $10 per person and includes an introduction by Glarner who will talk more about what compelled him to make a documentary based on the interfaith discussions of three local men.

2018 Diocesan Lenten Day of Prayer

As we observe Lent, we would invite individuals and congregations throughout the Diocese to join us in a 12-hour Day of Prayer on Friday, March 9, from 9:00 AM-9:00 PM.  Four congregations will be serving as host sites:

  • Church of the Ascension, Bradford (26 Chautauqua Place, 16701)
  • Holy Trinity, Brookville (62 Pickering Street, 15825)
  • St. Mark’s, Erie (4701 Old French Road, 16509)
  • St. John’s, Sharon (226 West State Street, 16146)

All host sites will have their sanctuary open throughout the day for prayer, and will join the Diocese in times of common prayer. In addition, each site may offer additional scheduled or on-going prayer including Stations of the Cross, healing prayer, a labyrinth, community prayerwalks, The Great Litany, or centering prayer.  The schedule (which could be updated with additional events) is as follows:

9:00 AM       All Host Sites and Trinity Memorial, Warren*: Morning Prayer (Psalm 88, Genesis 47:1-26, 1 Cor. 9:16-27)

11:00 AM     St. John’s: The Great Litany

12:00 noon   All Host Sites and Trinity Memorial, Warren: Noonday Prayer

12:05 PM     St. John’s: Stations of the Cross

2:00 PM       St. John’s: Centering Prayer

5:00 PM       St. Mark’s and Trinity Memorial, Warren: Stations of the Cross

5:15 PM       All Host Sites: Evening Prayer (Psalms 91-92, Mark 6:47-56)

5:15 PM       Holy Trinity: Taize Evening Prayer

7:00 PM       St. John’s: Eucharist

8:15 PM       Holy Trinity: Contemplative Compline

8:30 PM       St John’s, St. Mark’s, Ascension, & Trinity Memorial, Warren: Compline

During this day of prayer, we especially ask prayers for discernment in the Northwestern Pennsylvania-Western New York collaboration, for the mission and ministry of our diocese, for increased evangelism throughout our region, and for the needs of our local congregations.

Individuals and congregations are encouraged to participate by joining a neighboring host site for as much of the day as you are able or by joining in the common times of prayer from your own congregations or homes.

For more information, please contact Canon Vanessa Butler (814.456.4203) or the Rev. Adam Trambley (724.347.4501).

*Additional Addresses:

Trinity Memorial, Warren (444 Pennsylvania Ave. West, 16365)

God’s Valentine to Us

The realization that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year has me revisiting thoughts on love. I am struck by how pedestrian our understanding of the concept of love is. Our English language is so imprecise; we use the same word to refer to the pleasurable/enjoyable to the sentimental/romantic to the awesome divine. I say that I love chocolate, I love my children and that God loves me.

In the church we have long resorted to the Greek language to try to clarify things. C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book called The Four Loves where he explores the different types of love expressed in that language. So we have storge for affectionate love, philia for brotherly love or the love of friends, eros for romantic love and agape for unconditional or Godly love. Of course Lewis also explores how these types of loves are expressed in wholesome and unwholesome ways and spends time differentiating between love based on need, love offered as gift and love resulting from appreciation.

Understanding love matters because it is so central to our understanding of both God and what it means to be a Christian. St. John says in his first letter that, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

We must be mindful that our ability to love is a reflection of God’s love; part of the way that we are created in God’s image. We cannot love with the perfection of agape, but we are called to strive toward that goal. When we love one another we are always seeking to let that love show glimmers of the higher, truer love that is known in God.

The ash crosses we will be marked with to begin our Lenten journeys are God’s Valentine to us – reminding us that God loved us from before the beginning and will love us through death and back to new life Christ. Our Valentine to God is showing others that they are beloved by God, too.

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

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! 

Welcoming Dreamers the Obvious Choice

This op-ed piece originally appeared in the Morning Call on January 29, 2018. 

The current political morass in Washington has thrown light on a deep and ugly divide in our country and in our faith communities on the issue of immigration.

More than half of white evangelical Christians — a group that gave 81 percent of its votes to President Trump in the 2016 election — say that immigration is a threat to this country’s “traditional customs and values.”

In the same survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in 2015, 70 percent of Hispanic Catholics say that immigration “strengthens American society.” Other Christian groups fall in between, but only among white evangelicals does the majority report being threatened by immigration.

Proponents of these sharply contrasting views are on center stage as Congress prepares to negotiate what Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York called “a global agreement” that will include the fate of the young people who live in this country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program initiated by President Obama in 2012 and ended by President Trump last September.

Under DACA, some 800,000 children who were brought to this country illegally by their parents were protected from deportation thanks to renewable two-year deferments. The program also made it possible for these young people, popularly known as Dreamers, to receive work permits.

The politics of immigration are complicated, but as an Episcopal bishop who graduated from Grove City College, a bastion of evangelical higher education in Mercer County, I believe that the teachings of the Christian faith along with those of the world’s other great religious and ethical traditions make it clear that we must protect the vulnerable, provide for those in need, and, when necessary, sacrifice from our own substance to fulfill this duty.

To pick just two of the manifold scriptural examples from my own tradition:

In the 23rd chapter of Exodus we read these oft-quoted, yet seemingly forgotten, words, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

And in the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we read that Jesus and his parents had to flee their homeland to escape a king who wanted to kill the Christ child. We do ourselves and our faiths a disservice if we pretend that these stories and teachings have no meaning for us today.

Dreamers, like every human being, are created in the image and likeness of God regardless of their immigration status or country of origin. They deserve a chance to live full lives in the only country most of them have ever known. They deserve to live free from fear of deportation to a country whose customs they may not know and whose languages they may not speak.

Even as I make this argument, however, I realize that not all hearts are changed by a clergyman’s appeal to our common membership in the family of God. So let me offer another verse, this one from Matthew 7: “Thus you will know them by their fruits.”

Thanks to DACA, about 685,000 people are currently working in this country, paying taxes and contributing to the economic life of our communities. In several Rust Belt cities, DACA recipients, refugees and immigrants have repopulated failing neighborhoods and revived the community’s economic fortunes.

A study last year by the Center for American Progress estimated that the loss of all DACA recipients from the workforce would reduce our country’s gross domestic product by $460 billion over the next 10 years. Pennsylvania, home to nearly 6,000 DACA recipients, would lose more than $357 million each year.

Christians and all people of goodwill are called to do the right thing, even if it hurts. In this case it helps. Our choice is obvious.

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe is bishop provisional of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem and bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

A Different Kind of Fast

There are times when life seems to flash by in a whirlwind – particularly so when in the midst of holiday seasons. It feels like we just wrapped up our Christmas celebrations, and yet in just a few weeks we’ll be heading to church for Ash Wednesday services! This year, instead of blinking and finding out that it’s practically Easter, I’m attempting to be more mindful and actually experience Lent, rather than letting it flash by.

As part of a previous Lenten series on the Forward, Fr. Adam Trambley shared a two-part article about fasting. In it he mentions how the act of fasting can lead to self-control in other areas:

If we can deny ourselves food for a day, maybe we can also deepen our self-control in other aspects of our life. Maybe we can control our tongues when a piece of juicy gossip or a harsh word is on its tip.  Maybe we can turn off the TV or the Facebook feed when we should really be saying our prayers before bed.

That final line is definitely food for thought. If you are like me (or just the average American adult, according to Nielsen media analytics), you spend close to 11 hours a day immersed in media: web surfing, checking Facebook, binge watching shows on Netflix– we’re plugged in most of our waking hours. It’s difficult to concentrate, let alone engage in thoughtful self-examination or meditate on the word of God, when trying to keep up with the influx of information coming through the screen day in and day out. I’m definitely guilty of checking my Facebook feed before bed, and my husband will often start streaming an episode of Agents of Shield after he’s supposedly settled in for the evening. It’s not restful, and definitely not prayerful.

While I don’t plan to commit to a complete ‘digital fast’ this year (which would be a little difficult in my line of work!), I do want to take some steps to cut down on mindlessly surfing social media and reclaim some of that time for more God-centered activity. My current thought is to set aside one hour each evening before bed for prayer, reading, and journaling (or as I like to think of it, meditating on paper). No more Words with Friends after 11 pm!

If you too are interested in stepping back from the screen this Lenten season, near the beginning of February we’ll be posting an article with reading recommendations to give you a jump start on your journey. Do you already have a book in mind that speaks to your soul? Feel free to share the title in the comments section!

Megin Sewak is Assistant for Communications for the Diocese of NWPA. 

Caring and Connection – Stephen Ministry in NWPA

Have you ever had a time when a book quote or song lyric came into your life at just the right moment to teach you something invaluable? I recently read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, the author/research professor whose work on vulnerability we explored at the last diocesan convention, and there were several times when I stopped mid-paragraph to take notes. “THIS! This is ABSOLUTELY true for me!” may have popped out of my mouth more than once. (Aside: If you have a chance to pick up ANY of Dr. Brown’s books, it’s well worth your time. If you’re short on time, though, Youtube has several clips of her talks as well that are worth exploring.) 

There are several sections throughout the book that I’m adding to my “personality traits to work on” list, but one quote in particular caught my eye in relation to an interview I had with Robin Murray of St. John’s, Franklin: 

“One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on “going it alone.” Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.” The truth is that we are both.”    ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

It particularly struck a chord because Robin and I were discussing Stephen Ministry – a one to one lay caring ministry that is based on creating connections between people who are currently hurting and those who have experienced similar situations.

From the official Stephen Ministries website:  “Stephen Ministry is the one-to-one lay caring ministry that takes place in congregations that use the Stephen Series system. Stephen Ministry congregations equip and empower lay caregivers—called Stephen Ministers—to provide high-quality, confidential, Christ-centered care to people who are hurting.”  Stephen Ministers are not counselors, but they are laypeople trained to be caring, non-judgmental, confidential listeners for those in need due to job loss, divorce, grief, chronic illness, or just going through a difficult time.

The program began in 1975 when Lutheran pastor Dr. Kenneth Haugk trained nine members of his congregation to assist with pastoral care as ‘lay listeners’. Stephen Ministry has since expanded to include over 12,000 Christian congregations around the U.S. and abroad, including the Stephen Ministry program at St. John’s, Franklin.

The group at St. John’s began their journey in 2012. The Rev. Holly Davis had initially mentioned the ministry to Robin Murray, who already had a leaning toward pastoral care (“I was convinced I was going to be a deacon!”), and told her that it was about matching people up that have similar problems. Robin’s response? “Well, I can do that!” Robin then looked into attending a free seminar about the ministry in Butler with the Rev. Ed Lowrey, Mother Holly and Linda Trikur from St. John’s, and, after Mother Holly spoke to Bishop Sean about the program, they applied for leader training in Pittsburgh. Within three months enough people in the congregation had shown interest that they began training their first group of Stephen Ministers – twice a week meetings for the next four months.

While Stephen Ministers are well trained to be lay listeners and caregivers, the thing that really strikes me about the ministry is connection. People who might normally try to “go it alone” are put in touch with people who have been in a similar place, so they can share their feelings openly and be understood on a deeper level than with someone who hasn’t experienced similar hurts. To paraphrase Brené from the quote above, we can both need help and offer help, and this ministry encompasses both sides.  I come from a family where it’s strongly encouraged NOT to talk about problems. Over time that approach becomes very isolating, and you assume that no one else has gone through what you have – you’re alone. Stephen Ministry, by pairing you with someone who’s already ‘been there, done that’, gives a feeling of deep connection to those who may well feel like they’re alone in their pain. 

Care receivers (those who need help) have different avenues available to get in touch with a Stephen Minister. They can contact the church directly, or they may be referred by a friend, family member, or a service professional. Robin has said that the Visiting Nurses Association has occasionally contacted the Stephen Ministry group on behalf of a client who has expressed interest in the program. After the initial contact is made with the church or one of the Stephen Leaders, a representative meets with the person and explains what Stephen Ministry is and is not (a caring ear, not a maid/personal shopper/etc). They are then matched with a Stephen Minister within a few days.  Meetings are usually once a week for about an hour, either in person or on the phone (though Robin says in one instance they have a care receiver who likes to stay in contact via email with their Stephen Minister when the person is away over the winter months). People are paired women to women, men to men, with similar problems if at all possible, and care receivers must be over age 21 to be put in touch with a St. John’s Stephen minister.

One example of how this works involves Robin’s best friend, who lost her son when he was 21 – just a few months before Robin went through Stephen Ministry training. Initially the woman refused to speak to anyone about what had happened, but during a later visit Robin asked if her friend would be interested in speaking with a Stephen Minister. Her friend agreed, and Robin placed a call on a Tuesday to locate a Stephen Minister. Within two days someone was in touch with her friend, and for the first time since her son’s death she was able to discuss the issue. 

While St. John’s is currently the only congregation in the diocese with trained Stephen Ministers, Robin would like everyone to know that if there is someone in need outside the greater Franklin area, the St. John’s group can put them in touch with other, closer churches who also have a Stephen Ministry program. They network regularly with groups in Clarion, Grove City, and Meadville, and there are several non-Episcopal congregations in the Erie area that have Stephen Ministers available as well.

If Stephen Ministry is of interest to you or your church, either as a point of connection for people in need or for discerning whether a Stephen Ministry program has a place in your community, you are welcome to contact Robin Murray (ralfiny@zoominternet.net).  

We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.
 Brené Brown, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution

Megin Sewak is Assistant for Communications for the Diocese of NWPA.