A Message from Bishop Sean

Dear Friends,

As we approach the season of Advent and look to a new Church year, I want to take this opportunity to share some news with you about our future together with Western New York and a time of sabbatical for me.  As you know, I completed four and a half years as Bishop provisional of the Diocese of Bethlehem in September. I am so grateful for the experience and for the gifts our diocese shared with our brothers and sisters in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Last week, our two dioceses approved an arrangement whereby I will serve as the Bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York and remain bishop in this diocese for five years beginning April 5, 2019. This move made history in The Episcopal Church as the first such experiment structured in this way. Leave it to the good people of our region to take a risk in leading the Church.

In preparation for this new season, I will take a time of sabbatical beginning December 3 and ending February 24.  This will be a time of reflection, prayer, discernment, and continuing education. I plan to disconnect from the life of the diocese during this time and appreciate your understanding.

As you are aware, the diocesan administration is in good hands.  The diocesan staff is prepared to address the day to day operations of the diocese and meet your needs.

These past 11 years as your bishop have been a joy-filled privilege. I look forward to the next season with great anticipation.

Warmest regards and prayers for each of you,

+ Sean

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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Responding to Report on Sexual Abuse in PA Roman Catholic Dioceses

Dear People of God:

In the last several days, our fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic Church here in Pennsylvania have been shaken by the revelations of widespread child sexual abuse committed over many years by clergy in that church and covered up by bishops and other church leaders. The stories detailed in the grand jury report released on Tuesday are horrific and evil, and have shaken to its core the faith of many good people who have trusted in the church their entire lives.

I ask you, first, to join me in praying for the people whose lives have been ripped apart because they were sexually abused by priests or other church leaders. In the face of the unthinkable betrayal they have suffered, may God enfold them in healing mercy and strengthen their spirits with the knowledge that they are perfectly loved. I ask your prayers especially for those victims who were so broken by the abuse they suffered at the hands of clergy and other church leaders that they have ended their own lives and now rest in God’s loving arms.

Please also pray for our friends and neighbors who are faithful Roman Catholics, some of whom are now struggling with the faith they have placed in the church, and for the lay and clergy leaders of the Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania who have cooperated with this investigation and now must find ways to repent for the abuse and rebuild a more accountable, transparent structure.

In the Episcopal Church, we are not strangers to news of abuse and betrayal by our leaders. For some of us, the news of the grand jury report may have stirred up memories of our own grief and anger when we have learned that a priest or bishop we have known has abused children or been complicit in covering up abuse. For some of us who began our lives as Roman Catholics, this news may have reopened old wounds. And for some of us who have been victims of abuse, this news may trigger anger, sadness and trauma. If you find that, in the wake of this news, you would like to talk confidentially with me or with a member of the clergy about issues of sexual abuse in the church, please call the diocesan office in Northwestern Pennsylvania at 814-456-4203 or the diocesan office in Bethlehem at 610-691-5655.

The church must be a place where people can come with the deepest wounds and vulnerabilities and be safe, and our churches must be places where children are nurtured and respected and cared for and never harmed or abused in any way. As your bishop, I am deeply committed to the safety and well-being of everyone who attends our churches and diocesan programs. In recent years, our dioceses have strengthened our misconduct policies and procedures, and are places where we make every effort to deal both responsibly and responsively with complaints and allegations of misconduct. We make reports to the appropriate civil authorities when child abuse is suspected. All of our clergy, staff and volunteers who work with children are required to complete training called Safeguarding God’s Children, and we follow misconduct policies based on the model policy of the Church Pension Group.

Thank you for your prayers and care for our Roman Catholic friends and family during these difficult days, and for your active involvement in ensuring that our churches are safe places for all of God’s children.

Faithfully,

The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe
Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania
Bishop Provisional of Bethlehem

Episcopal Church needs to look for #MeToo in the details

This op-ed piece originally appeared at the Religion News Service, July 3, 2018

(RNS) — Anyone who follows the news from the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, which begins this week (July 5) in Austin, Texas, might hear about the more than 20 resolutions put forward by an all-female special committee on sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation that will come before the convention.

All of these resolutions are important, though some will make the eyes of even a church nerd glaze over. But the devil is in the details, and we need to get him out of there.

If we pass these resolutions, however, it is essential that we not sit back and say we’ve done what the moment — and the gospel — demands.  

The Episcopal Church has much work to do to ensure the fair treatment of women at every institutional level, from the local parish to the highest positions of power. Even though sexual abuse is the most urgent matter, and should thus be given priority, the problems go far deeper and cut to the heart of how the church treats women.

Biases, both conscious and unconscious, still conspire to push female church employees into lower-paying or part-time positions more frequently than their male counterparts. That means they advance more slowly into leadership, earn less money than men —as much as 11 cents on the dollar less over the course of a career — and retire with smaller pensions.

To work against these biases we need to keep a close eye on disparities in pay. We need to strengthen the internal church laws that prohibit discriminatory hiring practices, continue the collection of compensation data and establish anti-sexism training in seminaries. These measures are included in the committee’s resolutions and are all worthy of support.

Closing the pay gap will require a commitment on the part of bishops to make pay parity a priority. Nine years ago, I instituted a system in my diocese in which I meet with the leaders of a congregation in need of a priest and determine the compensation appropriate to the position before the parish determines which candidates to consider. It is not a perfect solution, because it sometimes results in offering candidates with differing experience the same pay, yet that is a small price to get closer to pay parity.

I don’t suggest that the convention spend all of its time examining pay scales and other personnel matters. We will once again be debating same-sex marriage and deciding whether to revise our Book of Common Prayer. We also will rally against gun violence and the inhumane treatment of refugees.

But the #MeToo movement demands our attention, and we need to make sure that everyone, but especially women, can feel safe in the Episcopal Church. The legislation to be offered at convention that most inspires me calls for the creation of a “Task Force for Women, Truth, and Reconciliation for the purpose of helping the Church engage in truth-telling, confession, and reconciliation regarding gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence against women and girls in all their forms by those in power in the Church … ”

In 2010, I learned that one of my predecessors as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania had sexually abused numerous pre-pubescent girls at the diocesan summer camp 30 years earlier. The months that followed were an education both in the depths of human sinfulness and the profound difficulty churches have in dealing with their own failings.

It takes only brief exposure to people who work on these issues to learn that there is deep dissatisfaction among victims and their advocates over the way the church has handled complaints of abuse, especially against bishops. I hope creating this task force will be the first step to ensuring that complaints of assault and abuse are handled sensitively and confidentially, but also that the interest of powerful perpetrators are not protected at the expense of victims and that we do not put the reputation of the church before the demands of justice.

As with our failures in the human resources realm, we need to address these issues at a detailed level. We need to support a resolution that would create an alternative path for reporting abuse or harassment when circumstances within victims’ home dioceses might give them pause about pursuing a complaint. We should extend the statute of limitations to report abuse or harassment for three years, so that previously unreported cases can be heard under this new system. We should vote to protect whistleblowers who report instances of abuse or harassment but are not complainants or witnesses themselves.

These kinds of procedural revisions are essential to building trust in our disciplinary processes. As the gospel leads us to believe, they are small steps that are necessary and significant if we want to create a safer and fairer church.

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

Ask the Bishop: Summer Camp Edition

Straight from Camp Nazareth, it’s Ask the Bishop!

Bishop Sean discusses the hot button issues of General Convention, the buzz generated by Presiding Bishop Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding, and his favorite part of summer camp 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.