Feeding the Future (Part One)

One of the areas we’ve focused on as a diocese is collaboration, and more specifically, how pooling our resources and talents can lead to adaptive change not only in the church, but in our communities for the greater glory of God. While this can take several forms, one obvious area for change is outreach.

We’re fortunate in our diocese to have several congregations who’ve come together to increase the impact of their ministry. For this series, we’ll focus on the Snack Pack outreach project, a collaboration between St. Stephen’s in Fairview and St. Mark’s in Erie to aid youth attending the Erie Charter School of Excellence.

One might ask: Why pick a charter school to partner with for an outreach project? Generally charter schools aren’t thought of as institutions in need of aid, but this particular school and its target demographic are an exception to the rule. From the CSE website:

The Charter School of Excellence initially opened its doors for students on August 26, 2003 for the school year 2003-2004. The school serves students in grades six through twelve from the Erie, Pennsylvania region. Although any student can attend the charter school, the school’s focus is directed toward those students who have had significant difficulties with academic performance in their previous school settings.

As Carly Rowe of St. Mark’s puts it, “These are kids who for whatever reason wouldn’t have made it in the public system.” CSE has a high refugee and English as a second language population, which seems unusual until you consider that, as of May 2017, Erie’s mayoral office estimated that roughly 18% of the city’s population comprises refugee families from countries like Syria, Bhutan, and Iraq, among others. Besides students facing language and cultural barriers, there is also a subset of teen mothers and roughly 30% of CSE students are considered homeless or under housed.

With all the obstacles these students work through on a daily basis, the uncertainty that they will get a meal at home only compounds the difficulty of trying to concentrate in school. Part of providing a recipe for success at CSE is making sure their students have regular meals. Breakfast and lunch are served each school day, but, when it comes to weekends, the school has little control. This is where the Snack Pack outreach program steps in: St. Mark’s and St. Stephen’s have teamed up with the Second Harvest Food Bank to create food packets that are delivered to students two Fridays a month so they have food at home over the weekend. Church volunteers pick up the food from Second Harvest, pack individual bags (along with supplemental items donated by members of both congregations), and volunteers who have passed both Safe Church and school district clearances take the bags to the school and deliver them to students.

While getting food to the students is the basis of this particular outreach project, the hands-on delivery by the volunteers has had an added benefit: the building of relationships between church volunteers and the school faculty and administrative personnel. As the volunteers have become a known quantity in the building, the faculty find it easier to speak with them directly and share additional student needs that may not have been communicated otherwise, which has led to an expansion of the outreach ministry. As a result of speaking with teachers about student needs, St. Mark’s now supplies a hygiene pantry at the school, where church members donate items like toothpaste and soap that are available at the school for students to take what they need. One member of the St. Mark’s congregation is using her talents as an extreme couponer to purchase additional hygiene products to supplement the donations, which stretches the purchase power of outreach dollars while simultaneously creating an opportunity for members who aren’t available on delivery days to participate in the project.  The Snack Pack program has also grown to include a packed lunch service that takes place during the school’s summer program – last summer St. Mark’s provided 75 bagged lunches two times a week for four weeks, which covered half of the CSE summer session.

Earlier this winter, teachers also made the Snack Pack volunteers aware that several of the students didn’t have appropriate outerwear for Erie weather. With this in mind, the collection taken at Diocesan Convention was earmarked to purchase coats for CSE students. Bishop Sean matched the dollar amount collected at the convention Eucharist service and, with the combined funds, over 100 coats were purchased and donated for students who would otherwise have gone without.

It’s sometimes difficult to see the impact of a ministry once the donations have been sent to their destination, but in this video, produced by Charter School of Excellence students, you can see firsthand the kind of impression this program is making:

In our next segment of Feeding the Future, we’ll discuss the issues of long term ministry sustainability, growing ministry from strictly outreach into relationships, and the continued impact that this ministry has on both the church and the community. Stay tuned!

St. John’s and Grace – A Relationship in Christ

A long long time ago… well, at least thirty years ago, two congregations in Franklin decided to do something radical. They decided to prepare for Christmas and Easter together, spending the seasons of Advent and Lent having soup suppers and sharing the Word of God.

The radical part about this whole idea is that one congregation was Episcopalian, St. John’s, while the other congregation was Evangelical Lutheran, Grace. Way before the official agreement between the national Episcopal Church and the national Evangelical Lutheran Church on shared ministry, St. John’s and Grace in Franklin were sharing fellowship, bible study, and prayer.

Fast forward almost twenty years and that same shared ministry of soup suppers in Advent and Lent was still going on. However, one of the congregations had fallen into some difficult decisions in financial and facility matters. Yet, since the members of Grace Lutheran knew the congregation at St. John’s and were familiar with St. John’s Church, they had an option beyond closing. They decided to sell their building and rent space from St. John’s.

After another almost ten years, the relationship between St. John’s and Grace is still going strong. Not only do the congregations share Advent and Lent soup suppers, but now also Sunday School, Adult Formation, an annual Church Picnic, Coffee Hour, Vacation Bible School, and both congregations have members in the Grace Chapter of the Daughters of the King. Joint services are held regularly and almost all the high feast days are celebrated together.

Given this great relationship, the clergy, vestry, and council of St. John’s and Grace undertook this past year to put together a document entitled the Shared Ministry Agreement. The Agreement outlines the relationship and shared ministry of the two congregations, while presenting some new ideas to help both congregations move into the future.

All this culminated in a great celebration this past December. On Sunday December 17th, 2017, Bishop Sean Rowe and Bishop Ralph Jones joined the congregations of Grace and St. John’s in a special Eucharist which included the signing of the Shared Ministry Agreement, confirmation, and the Blessing of the new Elevator Lift in the Parish Hall. Both the Vestry and the Council stood before the bishops and committed the churches to the development and partnering of this relationship.

While we can all thank the Holy Spirit for its work in bringing together the congregations of St. John’s and Grace over the years, the members of both congregations state that the real reasons the relationship has withstood the testing of time and troubles is that we have become one community. The members proclaim, “We are better together,” “We like working together, we like being in community together.” Being a part of Christ’s one Body means working together even when we are different. We strive to live this out as one community made up of Episcopalians and Lutherans in Franklin.

No longer is either congregation defensive about which ministry is whose or how they fit together. The reality of the situation is that neither Grace nor St. John’s would be able to follow through on the mission of the church in Franklin without the other. However, together, we are able to follow God’s calling to us in Franklin.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest-in-Charge of St. John’s Church, Franklin. 

Courage, Compassion, Connection

Clergy conferences are different everywhere you go. Diocesan culture changes from one region to another. Some groups can’t wait to be together: everyone knows each other and is friendly and helpful. Other places are so big or full of competition or conflict that going into a conference makes everyone wary about what might happen. I have been in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania just over a year now. I have been to three clergy conferences and each one has been different from the last. Last year, the clergy met with the clergy of the Diocese of Pittsburgh at Antiochian Village. In the spring, we met by ourselves at Olmstead Manor, and last week, we met with the clergy of the Diocese of Western New York at Chautauqua. I have been nervous going into each one, not knowing what to expect or anything about the location, and knowing that I wouldn’t know half the people in attendance. Of the three of them, this last one was the best. Even though I only knew my colleagues in NWPA, there was never the sense of being an outsider or a newbie. There was a friendly attitude throughout the conference. It was interesting because as much as any of us thought we knew what was going to happen, there were surprises for all of us along the way.

Bishop Sean Rowe and Bishop Bill Franklin brought together the clergy of their dioceses to make a suggestion and gather our input on the idea. The idea is a rather radical one, especially currently given the Episcopal Church’s history of autonomy and continual splitting up into more dioceses. The idea is as the letter from the Executive Committees stated it, that when Bishop Franklin retires (announcing his retirement date of April 3, 2019) the Diocese of Western New York vote Bishop Rowe as the Provisional Bishop for five years and see what the dioceses can do together in the next five years.

Now I have to own my own baggage. I realized at this conference that my entire ordained life (all three and half years of it), I have been canonically resident (priest-speak for which diocese we belong to) in a diocese sharing a bishop. I was ordained the day after Bishop Sean was approved as the Provisional Bishop of Bethlehem and then transferred to the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. During that time I worked in the Diocese of East Tennessee as a seminarian and in the Diocese of Texas as a curate, two very different dioceses. What I have noticed though is that the effort of collaboration and innovation of working together and sharing resources between the Diocese of Bethlehem and the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania has had good and lasting effects for the people of both dioceses.

We considered the idea to the best of our ability. There is always vulnerability with thinking about something new and innovative and being able to face that and express it is helpful for everyone instead of getting defensive or fighting about aspects of the idea. We considered it with all the wisdom we were able to muster… and probably a little extra thrown in by the Holy Spirit. We took an idea seriously which hasn’t been tried before, because we know what a difference it might make, not only to our dioceses, but also to the national and international church. Things we do and learn and try and experiment with may someday revolutionize the way the church works. We don’t know what the future holds exactly. What we do know is that we want the Episcopal Church to be a part of it. Adaptation and innovation will help us get there.

What I saw was Brene Brown’s gifts of imperfection at work. I saw courage, in facing a new and scary idea. I saw compassion, for each other in the face of what might have to change in order for the idea to work. I saw connection, as we talked through how we might work together for God’s kingdom. I saw excitement for something that brings us together and progresses the kingdom of heaven. I saw acknowledgement that kingdom work ain’t so easy. I saw grief at the impending loss of a good bishop and a relationship which will be changing.

Yet, we also acknowledged that we know our future is going to require working together with other people and groups. We have to model this for those in our future. Seeing us work together, with those like us and those who are not like us will make a huge difference to how well the Episcopal Church weathers the years. The details of how we do this are important and many would argue they are the crux of the matter. I would say that the heart of the matter is the love which God has given us as a gift to share. Working from a place of love and unity, as does our Trinitarian God, we can make all things work together for good with those who love God. (Philippians 4:13)

I don’t always like being stuck in a windowless room for long periods of time listening to someone else talk, more or less simply because I like looking out windows. Yet, what happened in that low beige windowless room was much more remarkable than what it would have seemed. We walked into that room not knowing what was going to happen, simply we knew we had been brought together by God and our bishops to work together… and what we started was looking at a very intentional bonding together of people who can work, share, and play together. It was good to see people who don’t really know each other being vulnerable together and working together and thinking about something new together. It was good to meet new people who could be resources for each other and support for each other in different ways. I don’t know where it will lead, but I’m looking forward to exploring the future together.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest-in-Charge of St. John’s Church, Franklin. 

Courage and Collaboration in Christian Community: Diocesan Convention 2017

We have a lot of exciting things going on in our diocese right now and, to reflect that, this year’s convention will not be business as usual!

As part of our ongoing conversation about collaboration and innovation in the church, we will be welcoming the Rt. Rev. William Franklin and a large contingent from the Diocese of Western New York.  Just two weeks prior to our convention, we will have sent a contingent to their convention (and there’s still time to sign up to join us!  Visit our website to do so).  They will join us for our entire convention and we will have ample time to get to know one another.

Those that have attended convention in the past may notice that we will have a different emphasis for the content of our convention.  This convention will be very mission-focused and the schedule will reflect that. We will have a more condensed time for business than we usually do so that we have the time we need for learning and conversation.

To help us continue our work on innovation and collaboration, we have invited the Rev. Canon Scott Slater to be with us.  Scott has been an Episcopal priest since 1993 and has served in the Diocese of Maryland since 2001. Following nine years as rector of Church of the Good Shepherd in Baltimore, he began serving on the bishops’ staff as the Canon to the Ordinary in July of 2010. In 2015, he became a Certified Daring WayTM Facilitator based on the work of Brene Brown, Ph.D.  He will be leading us through a program relating to issues regarding shared ministry, both on the diocesan and congregational levels, using the work of Brené Brown.  Please see below for links to videos from Brené, as well as to some of her books.  If you are able, we would encourage you to take the time to look at some of her work prior to convention.

We urge our clergy and delegates to come ready to engage in these conversations. Please do not use the condensed business time as an excuse to not attend the entire convention.  The work that we will be doing at the convention, though not the conventional business, will be setting the table for the future of our diocese. We would also encourage those laypeople who are not delegates but who are interested in being a part of this conversation, to please join us as well.  We will have plenty of space for those who would like to join us and we would love to have you there.

Videos from Brené:
The Power of Vulnerability
Brené on Blame
Brené on Empathy

Promoting Diocesan Collaboration

By our own Fr. Adam Trambley and reprinted from the ‘House of Deputies News.’

Image via EpiscopalChurch.org

Image via EpiscopalChurch.org

I believe that the most important “sleeper issue” coming before General Convention this year is diocesan collaboration. A number of resolutions could open important doors to allowing our struggling dioceses to gain more traction in their crucial work.

The various creative initiatives dioceses have attempted in recent years demonstrate the difficulties some dioceses face in developing a mission strategy and raising the money to pursue it. The election of Sean Rowe as Bishop Provisional of Bethlehem, even as he continues the bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania is but one example of the ways different dioceses are trying to adapt.  These ecclesiastical experiments to date can be considered the beginning of a coming wave of collaborations for three reasons: the financial situations of small dioceses are likely to get worse before they get better; nothing tried so far has proven to an unqualified success; and a number of canonical barriers remain to fuller collaboration.  Hopefully by the end of convention, we will have at least removed some of the canonical barriers.

I was part of a group that wrote two resolutions to facilitate diocesan collaboration: D007, which I proposed, and D003.  These resolutions would enable greater flexibility in diocesan collaboration without requiring anyone to do anything they do not want to do.  Another resolution, C031, would provide financial incentives for diocesan mergers.

D007 would accomplish two objectives.  First, this resolution would allow dioceses to share a commission on ministry.  Current canons provide that each diocese will have its own commission.  Allowing for collaboration in this area seems especially beneficial at a time when more and more dioceses are developing clergy formation programs that differ from a traditional three-year Master of Divinity, and are developing training and licensure for a variety of lay leadership offices.  Second, this resolution would allow bishops to serve in more than one diocese.  Current canons require a bishop to reside in his or her diocese. D007 would allow a Standing Committee to consent to a bishop residing in another diocese where that bishop is also serving.  This solution seems the most straightforward way to eliminate the only current barrier to bishops serving more than one diocese at a time.  This resolution would still require each diocese to have its own standing committees and finance committees, which seems necessary as long as the dioceses remain independent corporations.

D003 would amend the constitution to allow for diocesan mergers when a diocese does not have a bishop.  Article V of the church’s constitution currently requires that dioceses without a bishop wait until they elect one before moving ahead with a merger.  This requirement would seem counter-intuitive, however.  The time when a diocese is without a bishop may be the best moment to consider a merger with a neighboring diocese.  Consent of General Convention and approval by the Executive Council would still be required, however, so this change does not create an unduly hasty process.  Note that resolution A101 accomplishes as similar goal, but only when a Bishop Provisional is in place in a diocese.  D003 provides for the Ecclesiastical Authority, which may be a bishop or the Standing Committee, to allow a merger to move forward.

C031 is a resolution proposed by Province III that would reduce the General Convention Assessment by 50% for one year for dioceses that agree to merge.  This resolution will require some wordsmithing by the legislative Committee on Governance and Structure, but it provides an interesting carrot that might prompt some discussions about inter-diocesan mergers and collaborations.

I would also mention a number of resolutions that discuss the selection process of bishops.  Ensuring we get the best leaders at the diocesan level is extremely important.  The Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church saw a need for the church to look seriously at the role of bishop and proposed A002.  A number of other resolutions deal with various aspects of the episcopacy, and how to ensure that recent selection problems aren’t repeated.  I believe D004, which was written by a group I was a part of, is perhaps the most comprehensive of these resolutions, but whatever comes out of committee should probably be approved.

Adam Trambley, a member of the legislative Committee on Structure, is a clergy deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

“One Church” Mission Conference 2015 (Part 1)

For many years, we have been working toward deeper collaboration between congregations and regions of the diocese for the sake of a robust mission strategy that reaches more people for the gospel. This year’s mission conference “One Church” focused on this collaboration. 80 Clergy and parish ‘thought leaders’ gathered together in one place to consider ways we can broaden the understanding of our common life.  See Bishop Sean’s video below of his vision for “One Church.”

Click here to see Part 2 that includes the benefits of “One Church”

Click here to see part 3 that includes an example of “One Church.”