December 17, ERIE, PA–Bishop Sean Rowe announced on Wednesday that, in keeping with the recommendations of its Vision Committee, St. Jude’s, an Episcopal mission with three centers of ministry that began in January, 2011, will conclude its ministry on December 31.
After that date, two of the ministry centers—Trinity Church in New Castle and St. Clement’s Church in Greenville will continue as missions of the diocese, and the Church of the Redeemer in Hermitage will close. Bishop Rowe will preside and preach at Redeemer’s final service on January 31.
In his letter to St. Jude’s congregants, Rowe acknowledged that the end of St. Jude’s and the closing of Church of the Redeemer is a painful time for many of its members and for him. “But as I said at diocesan convention last month, I believe that God is leading us to a new place in a new time, and this movement is only possible because together we have done the hard work of examining what has worked and what hasn’t, and have trusted one another enough to recognize hard truths,” he wrote.
“Over the past five years we have made many friends from all three ministry centers, we have laughed together and cried together, we have started new ministries and even enhanced current ministries,” said Jeff Mills, a member of Church of the Redeemer and treasurer of St. Jude’s. “But we were not able to grow our church enough to be self-sustaining based on the current setup.”
After the ministry of St. Jude’s concludes, St. Clement’s will continue as a mission under the part-time direction of the Rev. Doug Dayton. Trinity Church will undertake a period of “intentional development,” said Rowe, who has appointed the Rev. Erin Betz Shank as its vicar.
Betz Shank was sponsored for ordination by St. John’s Episcopal Church in Franklin, where she grew up. She was educated at Thiel College, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Boston University, and the General Theological Seminary in New York, and was ordained by Rowe in February. She currently serves as assistant rector at Middleham & St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish in California, Maryland.
“There is an old cliché that says as one door closes another door opens,” said Dorothy Perkins, a member of Trinity Church in New Castle who served on the Vision Committee. “It will be an exciting time in our church life as we move forward, worshiping and working together with our new priest, Erin. She is an energetic, spiritual young woman who will work alongside us to reach our goals of having a stronger presence in the community, developing a strong stewardship program and finding ways to serve the needy of our community with a strong outreach program.”
Later in 2016, after what Rowe terms “a time of preparation,” the diocese will plant a new church in Hermitage under the leadership of Jason Shank, a Methodist pastor and experienced church planter who is beginning the process of ordination in the Episcopal Church. He is married to Erin Betz Shank.
Church planting, said Rowe, has long been part of the diocese’s congregational development strategy, and Hermitage’s growing population and economy make it a good candidate to be the location of the diocese’s first new church in 50 years.
“Hermitage is a growing, changing community, and we know that thriving congregations reflect their communities in worship style, outreach, and parish life,” said Bishop Rowe. “As difficult as it is, the Vision Committee and I determined that the people of the Church of the Redeemer were better equipped to embrace a fresh vision for a new generation of Hermitage families and residents than to work within the existing constraints.”
Members of all three congregations are invited to meet with Bishop Rowe on January 3. On that day, he will preach and preside at the 8 a.m. service in New Castle and meet with the congregation afterward, and preach and preside at the 11 a.m. service in Hermitage and meet with the congregations of Church of the Redeemer and St. Clement’s afterward. Members of the St. Jude’s Vision Committee will also attend both meetings.