Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down!

You are most likely familiar with the children’s rhyme and game “Ring Around the Rosie” with the final line being the title of this article. One would never think this might apply to an Episcopal priest, but stranger things have happened!

On Ash Wednesday, the priest (Fr. Geoffrey Wild) and I were sitting in our allergist’s office waiting for our injections. An elderly friend and his daughter walked in and sat with us. The friend asked me if my husband would be distributing ashes at a service that day, and I told him he would be. The friend said he didn’t know if he could make it out to the church. The priest-husband offered to get the ashes out of the car and impose them in the allergist’s office. The friend then asked if his wife could be given ashes – oh, and, by the way, she was in the emergency room of the hospital in the same building as the allergist’s office. Geoffrey said he would be happy to do so, so we departed and went to the ER to see our friend’s wife.

I work in Mercer, PA, and Geoffrey drove me to work. He then went to a local nursing home to see one of our congregation members and impose ashes for her. She picked up the phone and called the charge nurse to let her know that Geoffrey was there. After he imposed ashes on the lady and her daughter, he turned around to find a line of folks of “all sorts and conditions” waiting to receive ashes, which he then imposed. The charge nurse told Geoffrey that there was a Roman Catholic priest who would appreciate ashes but who was unable to leave his bed. Geoffrey went to the man’s bedside and imposed ashes for the Catholic priest.

Next Geoffrey drove to Foxburg where he imposed ashes in the church there. Quite a bit of snow and ice were around that day, and Geoffrey slipped and fell on the sidewalk that leads from the church to the parish house. He brushed himself off and continued on his way.

His final stop of the day was at Church of the Epiphany where he held a Eucharist with, of course, imposition of ashes. Following the service, he joined my daughter and me for dinner at a local restaurant. As we were finishing the meal, he said to me, “I think I need to go to the ER!” I thought he was most likely in atrial fibrillation again – but no! He thought he had broken his wrist in the Foxburg fall!

We sat in the ER (where Geoffrey had visited our friend’s wife earlier in the day) Following x-rays, we learned that his wrist was severely sprained but not broken. He received pain medication and a wrist wrap, and we were finally on our way home at 11:00 pm. At that point, he was in a great deal of pain. Strangely, he said, the pain did not start until we finished dinner and he had completed his priestly duties for the day! His wrist continues to be black and blue from that fall!

We marveled at how this day unfolded as he traveled from place to place, doing God’s work. We laughed about the big line up of people at the nursing home and the Catholic priest receiving ashes from an Episcopal priest. Most of all, we thanked God for the many opportunities he gives us for ministry. Geoffrey will forever remember this day, a day when “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down” became very real for him.

Cheryl Wild attends both Epiphany in Grove City and Memorial Church of Our Father in Foxburg, where her husband, Geoffrey, serves as vicar. She is also a member of the diocese’s Commission on Ministry.

Episcopal Gratitude

This is the third installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

When asked to write about gratitude, I had thoughts far and wide of all of the blessings for which I am grateful. I have an incredible relationship with my husband for which I thank God every single day. I have a wonderful daughter. I have a great job. I have precious friends. My family is loving and supportive.

My grandfather was an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Central New York. When I was born, I came home to the rectory. We lived upstairs, and Grandpa and Grandma lived on the first floor. Dad was in the military then. It was wartime.

I’ve never NOT been an Episcopalian. The word “cradle” seems to have taken on a negative connotation for some people; however, that’s what I am – a cradle Episcopalian.

From the Diocese of Central New York, my family eventually moved to Pennsylvania and the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The late Canon Fred Haworth was my priest in Indiana, PA. Remarkably, he would also go on to become my priest in Grove City, PA.  As a teen, I was deeply involved in youth activities, choir, and nursery duties. The church on the corner of Elm and Main held public dinners in its basement. I loved serving at those dinners alongside wonderful women who were mentors to us young people.

We built a new church outside of town in the mid sixties, and Epiphany is still there today with its pink tower outside and gorgeous woods inside. I love that church building. My marriage was blessed there. My daughter was baptized there. Sean Rowe was ordained to the diaconate there. My husband was ordained there and installed as vicar.

The clergy of our diocese are a gift to me as well.  At the recent ordination of Nick Evancho to the priesthood, I looked around at the wonderful people who engage in ordained ministry as well as those who do vital work in other capacities. I truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as they came forward and laid hands on Nicholas.  Later, I told my husband, “I love these people! They are amazing!”

The late Barbara Akin [former vicar of Epiphany] and I were close friends. We argued, hung up on one another, disagreed over many issues; but we loved one another, and I love her still. I am grateful for her presence in my life at a time when I was single and struggling with belief and relationships.

Then the greatest blessing of all appeared: my husband. Most of you know that we worked together on the internet and that we became friends as well as co-workers. Love blossomed for both of us, and so I went to Australia twenty years ago to meet him. When I arrived in the airport lobby, he was waiting there for me. I ran into his arms, and it has been wonderful ever since.

When Geoffrey came to live in the USA and we married, he did not attend church. I went every Sunday and came home to talk about Barbara Akin and the other great people in the congregation. One Sunday he decided to go with me. The rest is history!

Then came Foxburg. Through a training held at Epiphany, we met some people from Foxburg and learned that they had no priest at all. Geoffrey decided to involve himself in a ministry there, and this ministry has gone both ways: we have received more than we have given.

I have had two wonderful careers: teacher for thirty years and outpatient mental health therapist for the past thirteen. Being an Episcopalian has enabled me to work with an open mind and a nonjudgmental attitude with all “sorts and conditions” of humankind.  I continue to do so with generosity of heart and with love. The Episcopal Church, in all its liberal glory, has enabled me to have a spiritual base from which to work, The Church teaches us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Almost every sermon that I hear, whether it be from my husband, our deacon, our bishop, or another pastor or priest in our diocese, teaches love. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael, preached love at the recent royal wedding, and I am told that he exudes love when encountered in person.

With all of my faults, I am accepted by the Episcopal Church as a worthy member. God has provided me with many opportunities for ministry wherever I have gone and in everything I do. The Church forms the basis for my decisions and actions. It supports me and gives me hope for the future here on this Earth and in the World to come. The Church has given me a relationship with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Grateful? You bet I am –  every day of my life!

Cheryl Wild attends both Epiphany in Grove City and Memorial Church of Our Father in Foxburg, where her husband, Geoffrey, serves as vicar. She is also a member of the diocese’s Commission on Ministry.

Reflections on My Attendance at the Diocese of Western New York Convention

Why I signed up: I thought it would be a fun weekend in a nice hotel with my husband at my side. I love our Diocesan Convention – this year will be my eighteenth – and I thought it would be interesting to see how other dioceses run their annual conventions.

What I found out: Whoa, there, lady! This was not just a getaway weekend for the Wilds! This was a vitally important encounter with the members of the DioWNY churches and their clergy. The responsibilities were hefty. It was work! Yikes! As I sat at our sparsely occupied table, #39, I realized that I had a job to do for my diocese and my bishop: Lord, help me to be a positive, effective member of our delegation. Help me to allow the dedicated people of Western New York to see our diocese and our bishop as loving, creative, and honest. Help me to do your will, always.

I found myself praying this little prayer a number of times during the weekend. Geoffrey, (my spouse) and I sat alone at Table 39 until we were joined by a priest from our own diocese. He encouraged me to move to another table. I sat down beside a lady and said, “Hi, my name is Cheryl, and I’m from Grove City, PA.” She told me her name and we began to make connections. It turned out that Geoffrey and I had vacationed near and in the town where she lives and attends church and that she and I were born ten miles apart in the Southern Tier of New York State. I met a priest at that same table. She was personable and genuine. The ladies at the table seemed a bit skeptical about the arrangement being suggested by the bishops. I got the feeling that they were afraid that they would be giving up control and would be absorbed into the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Lord, help me to be a positive, effective member of our delegation. Help me to allow the dedicated people of Western New York to see our diocese and our bishop as loving, creative, and honest. Help me to do your will, always.

As Friday continued, Bishop Sean was able to answer some of their concerns. He did so in his usual outgoing straightforward manner. My favorite question and answer were as follows:

DioWNY member: (paraphrasing) We would like to see our bishop more than once every three years. Would this mean we would see you only every four years?

Bishop Sean: Yes.

He did go on to explain how he would be available in many different ways to the folks in Western New York and their clergy as well as those in the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania. But that simple “Yes” said more about him than his explanation.

It is my belief that his answer impacted many people who were worried about what our bishop was up to with this proposal he and Bishop Bill had made. There was no sugar coating. It was simple and honest.

My favorite part of the weekend was the Eucharist at St. Andrew’s Church. This beautiful structure was packed with people from both dioceses, and I felt that I was among friends. We were all Episcopalians with a common purpose: to share the body and blood of our Lord and Savior and to honor Him and one another.

I came away from the weekend with a huge sense of pride in our bishop and our diocese. I have known Bishop Sean since he was nineteen years old and a member of our congregation at Epiphany. I have seen him grow as he has been called to different positions within the Church. His calling is clear: he is to lead the Church in new directions in order to save the Episcopal Church from a slow, painful decline. He and Bishop Franklin are stepping out in faith to do something that has never been done before: to share administration of two dioceses under one bishop. The benefits of doing so are enormous.

I cannot wait for our Diocesan Convention next weekend at which I will see some of my friends from the Diocese of Western New York!

Lord, help me to be a positive, effective member of our delegation. Help me to allow the dedicated people of Western New York to see our diocese and our bishop as loving, creative, and honest. Help me to do your will, always.

Cheryl Wild, as the wife of a priest who is assigned to more than one congregation, attends both Epiphany, Grove City, and Memorial Church of Our Father, Foxburg.