Brewing Faith – A Christian Community

Brewing FaithA brainchild of St. Stephen’s Fairview, Brewing Faith has become an essential piece to the spiritual lives and development of many young adults in the Erie area.

What is Brewing Faith? Brewing Faith is a monthly opportunity for young adults in their twenties and thirties to come together in a casual atmosphere – that of a craft brew pub – and intentionally discuss issues of faith and life. A collaborative ministry of St. Stephen’s and St. Mark’s, it is modeled after other young adult groups found throughout mostly major urban areas, and is open to people from all walks of spiritual life – Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Methodist, non-denominational, etc.

As a staff member of St. Mark’s and a thirty year old adult, I am thrilled to be a part of such a community. It’s a chance to simply be in Christian community – no agenda, no right or wrong answers, no rubrics – just simply be. As Jesus regularly broke bread with His community, we too are continuing this tradition and letting the Spirit move in and among us. This freedom of community has created a safe space in which everyone is valued and all opinions matter. Through the grace made manifest in the Brewing Faith community, we have been able to have fruitful and thoughtful discussions (while not always agreeing) on a wide array of topics: The Nicene Creed, Prayer, Social Justice, Racial Discrimination, Liturgical Practice, Holiness, and Lenten Discipline just to name a few.

And God has taken this community of Brewing Faith and has deepened our community far past the surface conversation topics. We have been able to celebrate birth and mourn death together as our individual lives have taken their various turns. We have held each other up in prayer and support one another along our journeys. And the community is starting to ask itself, “What’s next and what’s our wider purpose?” From a community development perspective, a community asking itself those deeper questions is a dream come true – a seed of something that is about to blossom beyond our wildest imaginations. Please pray for us as we work to discern our next steps as we deepen our communal walk with one another and with God. And if you’re ever thirsty…Millcreek Brewing Company on the 2nd Tuesday of every month at 6:30pm. Cheers!

Craig Dressler, Associate For Parish Life, St. Mark’s, erie, PA

Member of St. Francis experiences the power of Christian community

This is reprinted from “The Forward” September 2013.

Imagine waking up in an ambulance, with no awareness of what has happened or where your family is. While the paramedic assures you there is a machine helping you breathe, you feel like you are slowly suffocating. Panic and fear are rapidly mounting. Finally, someone attaches an oxygen bag to the apparatus in your throat and begins to pump air into your lungs. As you begin to slide back into a medically induced sedation, unanswered questions swirl through your mind.

This is where Tim Dyer, a longtime member of St. Francis, Youngsville, and a postulant in the ordination process, found himself in early 2013 after a series of hospitalizations stemming from a car accident. In November of 2012, a deer was hit by an oncoming car and thrown through the windshield of Tim’s truck as he was driving to work. His jaw and right arm were broken and the ligaments in his right wrist were torn. He was told he was lucky; with the manner in which his jaw was broken, it usually would have entered the brain, resulting in death. As it was, Tim was hospitalized and endured multiple surgeries before being released.

Less than a week later, he was re-admitted after contracting a blood infection and pneumonia and placed in a medically induced coma. While in the coma, he was placed on dialysis; had multiple blood transfusions; and underwent surgery to take out the wiring in his repaired jaw, as well as the pacemaker and defibrillator he had due to a pre-existing heart condition, after they were affected by the infection. At Christmas, doctors asked Tim’s wife, Noreen, and his parents if they were prepared for his death. The doctors gave him a 20% chance of survival and, if
he survived, they were concerned his mental capacity would be seriously diminished after his prolonged sedation.

God had other plans. After six weeks, Tim was taken off the respirator and transferred to a rehab facility. It was during this transfer that Tim woke up in the ambulance, having no recollection of his collapse or subsequent hospitalization. He said that fear gripped him then, but it was nothing like the fear that was to come.

As he came out of his sedated state, Tim was unable to feel a connection to God due to the effect of the drugs on his mind. The fear that filled him because of this was new and overwhelming. “Since hearing a call [to ordained ministry], I have felt a strong inner peace,” he stated, “Now, the inner peace was gone; I felt no sense of God at all.” He couldn’t even look to the Bible or the Book of Common Prayer to help him, as he couldn’t focus long enough to read them.


“My family is this diocese. Without their prayers, I would not have made it through.”

He could, however, look to the people of this diocese. Clergy and laypeople from a number of congregations visited Tim, bringing him communion and praying with him. “I lacked a sense of spirituality and they reinforced that sense for me.” And it wasn’t just those in the diocese he was close to that were coming alongside him in his time of need: “People all over the diocese, who didn’t even know me, were praying for me,” Tim said, recounting a phone call with one of our congregation’s secretaries, when she exclaimed, “You’re the Tim we’ve been praying for!” He said it was humbling to have that many people come together for him, but came to understand that support “defines what the Christian family is.”

Strengthened by the prayers and encouragement, Tim was released from the rehab facility in the spring of 2013. While he continues to undergo surgeries and physical therapy, Tim is making progress physically (a recent victory was being able to tie his shoes on his own) and spiritually. His connection to God and the inner peace that comes with it has returned. Tim also has realized the importance of acknowledging gifts from God “on good days, but more importantly, on bad days. The more that we recognize the gifts and works around us, we develop a deeper relationship with God.” He has also realized the importance of Christian community: “My family is this diocese. Without their prayers, I would not have made it through. When I was at my weakest, they were there to give me strength. It’s what family does for each other.”

Vanessa Butler

The Dangers of the ‘Friends and Family’ Plan (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of “The Dangers of the ‘Friends and Families’ Plan” from yesterday (Click here to see part 1)

Recently, my wife and I attended a small parish in a major city. The church was a part of our growing in faith and of our courtship. This was our first visit in over 30 years. The welcome was warm and inviting but not overly so. The priest came and introduced himself. Worship was beautiful, simple, and well within the gifts and abilities of that community. We were looking forward to coffee hour as there were people who had been there years ago and connecting would be fun. All went well until the announcement time at the end and out came the words “friends” and “family.” I thought: “uh oh!” Sure enough, twenty minutes later, after what seemed like every member of the family had spoken and given their particular announcement and spoke of their friendliness, my wife and I had long since decided not to stay and headed for the door as soon as we could. No one paid any particular attention to us once the service ended and my worst fears were confirmed: another church that believes they are friendly and a family only to discover they are less inclusive than they wish to think and more segregating than they would ever suspect. What happened? Friends and family as descriptors draw a line around an imaginary center of the parish. If you are in the family and act friendly, you understand both the locus of the center and how you connect to it. Like in families, dangerous assumptions are made about how and what the family communicates. When I celebrate Christmas with my extended family I understand the patterns, communications, and actions. When we have an “outsider” it is very clear that our rituals are mysterious and, without deliberate action to the contrary, make the guests feel as if they are outsiders. Sometimes being so excluded is comfortable and, the more introverted, perhaps the more comfortable. But remember that the research suggests most churches described above are pressed to grow and bring in new people. Most believe that what the casual church shopper wants is to be in a family and treated in a friendly manner. However, that’s not why people are choosing to show up at church these days. People show up because people want to believe and need help with unbelief. People have plenty of circles of friends. As a recovering alcoholic, I attend three meetings a week. Many of these people are also very good friends and work at friendship more deliberately and more deeply than anything that happens in church. Most of also have a family filled with health and challenges and love and conflict and so much more. Perhaps people don’t need another family. More likely what people seek is connection, community, God, hope, belonging, and faith. When a church draws the line around friendly and family, guests are immediately drawn outside the circle, confused and wondering how one enters the family. And, regardless of the words, people experience the environment as basically resistant to newcomers. Resistance is a conscious or unconscious pattern of exclusion in which a guest is repeatedly invited to press up against invisible boundaries in hopes of miraculously finding the crack that allows entry. What do we do? First, change the language. Consider deliberately dropping the use of the words friendly and family. Exchange them with words like hospitable, gracious, open, inclusive (careful here, however, as this is more than about sexual orientation) or inviting instead of friendly. Consciously choose to exchange the word family with a word like community, or connection, or parish.hands-544522_1280 Secondly, reacquaint the community with the two founding values of parish life: service and sacrifice. Both words cannot be spoken without looking outside ourselves. Research for the past four decades unanimously suggests that growing churches are those churches that place a primary focus outside themselves; looking and discovering where and how they are called to serve and in what ways they are being asked to sacrifice. More importantly, our congregations are to be porous; they are to be open to the next person who arrives at any time. That woman or man who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to get up, dress and head to our churches does so in hope of finding something different than the health club, the local coffee shop, the Sunday paper, their family and their current circle of friends; they seek Jesus not a circle of friends and family. They already have that. They seek life and love and faith; spiritual companions on the way. They bring with them a raw understanding of our purpose as a local church, the hope of the world; what will they find? 20 minutes of announcements that point out how they don’t fit? Do they hear words of friendship accompanied by actions of segregation? Descriptions of family which are code for “we have no room for you here”? Or will they find a humble community of faithful people seeking to grow in their Christian faith, to support and guide others on the same journey, and to change the world? It’s up to each and every one of us who sees herself or himself as a member of a parish community to decide. The only “cost” to being in a parish community is ourselves and our brokenness and humility and the cracks within ourselves that provide the opening for God and others to enter in and help us create the space of healing and light that seeks to envelop the next person who walks through the doors of our parish community. Jesus brought these two elements together in himself on the cross. We would see that full Jesus! The Rev. Al Johnson, Canon for Congregational Vitality and InnovationScreen Shot 2015-03-13 at 10.41.25 AM

The Dangers of the ‘Friends and Families’ Plan (Part 1)

Several years ago a major cell phone company developed a usage plan called “friends and family.” In early cell phone days, when people grew conscious of how many minutes were used and how much each minute cost, we sought ways to increase minutes and decrease the cost per minute. This company invited us to put a certain number of family and friends on a list and call them for less per minute than other calls. Those outside the circle of “friends and family” cost the user higher rates. team-523245_1280Communication with people in our circle grew; outside the circle stayed the same or decreased.

The challenge of friends and family in Christianity goes back to the early days of Jesus’ ministry. Bargil Pixner, in his book With Jesus Through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel, explores Jesus’ ministry from the perspective of geography and location. He notes that when Jesus moves from Nazareth to Capernaum to expand his circle, the main challenge he faced was with his family and whether he would minister as they wished or as he believed God was leading him.

Pixner goes on to note that Jesus eventually moved on from his family and formed a different community with his disciples. His brother James and others went their way to the Jewish based believers while Jesus himself moved outside that circle into the pagan and gentile world. The reconciliation, according to Pixner, takes place on the cross when Jesus speaks to John and says that Mary is his mother; and says to Mary that John is his son; and the two disparate groups are drawn together.

In the past four years I’ve had the chance to visit several Episcopal congregations around the country. More and more the two words these congregations use to describe themselves are the same as that cell phone package years ago and that challenged Jesus’ very ministry: friends and family.

These words tend to be the mainstay of smaller congregations with a Sunday attendance of less than 75 with anywhere from 10 to 60 families. These congregations are resilient, often having survived threats of extinction, while simultaneously being faithful and, often, hospitable. Their liturgies have become comfortable for them over the years and they appreciate some changes but only gradually introduced ones. They seem to live for four sources of connection each week: the passing of the peace, communion, announcements and coffee hour. These are sources of connection and belonging. Here, also, is where they believe they show how friendly and family-like they are; how they hope that each and every visitor will find a home with them.

Ironically, each of these churches, if surveyed, would also state as their top two goals the desire to bring in new people and to attract young families with children. One look around the worship environment and one experience of Sunday makes clear to the casual and insightful observer why that won’t happen and it’s because of two words: friends and family. These two words, more than any others, often prove to be two profoundly discriminative and painfully segregating words in our church lexicon.

Click here for part 2

The Rev. Al Johnson, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation