Ask the Bishop #13

The latest installment of our “Ask the Bishop” series has arrived! Bishop Sean discusses making history at the joint convention of the Diocese of Western New York and the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, his upcoming sabbatical, and preparing to move into the future.

The bishop will be on sabbatical beginning in December until February 23.  While he is away, the diocesan staff is prepared to manage the day to day workings of the diocese and meet your needs. They can be reached by phone at 814.456.4203, or by email at the individual addresses here.

Make Quiet Happen

Every time I have made a big decision without pausing, listening and waiting, it hasn’t worked out too well. Each time I’ve rushed into a solution, forced a solution, demanded a solution right now, I find myself disappointed, frustrated and stuck.

But when I make room for the Holy Spirit, when I allow myself the time to get quiet and listen for the “next right thing,” I am energized, satisfied and on the move to where it is God wants me to go.

Getting quiet – easier said than done! In our 24/7 world, being quiet is tough. But even if you get the external noise to abate, shutting down the internal noise is a whole other proposition. Internal noise is cunning and relentless.

I have experienced anxiety my entire life, and one of the enemies of anxiety is quiet. If there’s background noise—music, the tv—my anxious brain won’t engage in the “what ifs, how about this, what about that, why can’t I, why did they….” dance. This dance leaves no room for the Holy Spirit to move and no space in my heart for discernment.

I need to “make quiet happen.” This can be driving without the radio playing so that I am alone with my thoughts enough to stop the internal talking and begin the deep listening. It can be taking the dogs out for a walk and never looking at my phone; it can be setting my phone to a quiet mode from 9 at night until 6 in the morning; it can be taking a moment every hour to breathe deeply and to stretch out my back. It can be standing outside, feet firmly on the ground, arms out-stretched and face turned toward the sky. It can be a nap.

I have worked hard to find out what works for me, and I encourage you to find what works for you.

Whatever takes you out of the distractions and places you into the here and the now will open you to the working of the Holy Spirit.

I find that getting myself out of my own head and reorienting myself as one small piece of the vastness that is God’s creation helps, a lot. When I realize that I am just one piece of a much greater whole, when I can breathe deeply and stand firmly, when I allow the quiet to envelop me, the Holy Spirit speaks to me, my imagination is engaged and the possibilities for my life are unleashed.

I guess my message is to hurry up and slow down! Make being quiet part of your routine, and then prepare yourself to be prodded, poked and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. For it is when we can receive the message of the Holy Spirit that discernment happens.

It is there and it is then, that we discover just who it is our gracious and life-giving God intends us to be. Enjoy the ride!

The Rev. Canon Cathy Dempesy-Sims is Canon for Connections in the Diocese of Western New York. 

Convention 2018 Wrap-Up

It was a historic convention this year in Niagara Falls! Following fourteen months of prayer, meetings, and discernment, the Diocese of Western New York elected Bishop Sean to be their bishop provisional for the next five years, officially embarking on a collaborative relationship with the Diocese of NWPA.

Prior to voting on Friday afternoon, keynote speaker the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, talked about embarking on an unknown future and how the church can meet the challenges of what comes next, including her Top Ten List of things for church leaders to remember in times of change (the full text of the address is available at the House of Deputies website). After President Jennings spoke, the election was held and, when the final tally was announced, the crowd gave a standing ovation.

Bishop Sean addressed both dioceses Saturday morning to discuss our shared future (a full video of the speech is available here). The bishop also announced that, in preparation for this new season, he will take a time of sabbatical from December through February.

Following the address, the two conventions separated for business and elections for offices and voting on resolutions occurred. The Rev. Dr. Mary Norton and Craig Dressler were elected to Standing Committee, the Rev. Melinda Hall and Jeff Mills won seats on Diocesan Council, the Rev. Canon Brian Reid and Kathy Rogers were elected to the Constitution and Canons committee, and the Rev. Geoff Wild, Anne Bardol, and Matthew Ciszek were elected to represent the diocese at the Provincial Synod.

The 2019 budget and assessments, as well as the 2019 minimum stipends for clergy, were passed as presented, and the resolution to establish a drug and alcohol committee was passed as edited to be in compliance with the Constitution and Canons. A special resolution was also passed in memory of Lois Tamplin, long-time member of St. John’s, Sharon and known to many at convention for her efforts in supporting the Church Periodical Club.  The convention raised $369.50 in her honor, which the bishop matched, to make a total donation of $739.00 given to the CPC in her memory.

It was announced that convention next year will be held at a time and place to be determined after conferring with the Diocese of Western New York.

Many thanks to all of the staff and volunteers who made convention possible, and to the delegates for taking time out of their busy schedules to conduct the business of the church.

All of the passed resolutions and materials from other presentations can be found on our website.

As Bishop Sean says: It’s a Great Day in the Kingdom!

Special Bonus Edition of “Ask the Bishop”

It’s a special edition of “Ask the Bishop”!

Join us as we chat with Bishop Bill Franklin of the Diocese of Western New York about highlights of his bishopric, his prayer for the Buffalo Bills, and his “Stair Dance”. Check it out below:

Sharing Resources: The Joint Board of Examining Chaplains

Our collaboration with the Diocese of Western New York isn’t just discussion for the future – the Joint Board of Examining Chaplains is a shared ministry of both dioceses that over the past three years has shown how combining resources can benefit our ongoing work for the Kingdom. Read on to learn more about this ongoing collaboration. 

The Joint Board of Examining Chaplains (JBEC) has for the last 3 years helped the Commissions on Ministry (COMs) of both the Diocese of Western New York and the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania monitor and assess the academic preparation of postulants and candidates for ordained ministry. The JBEC currently consists of six chaplains, three from each diocese, with one from each diocese serving as co-chairs. They meet twice a year, in the spring and fall, and use their time together to review work submitted from those in the formation process. Reports then go directly to the COMs to help in their work of shepherding our future clergy through their formation.

This shared ministry of the two dioceses is the result of conversations that began early in 2013, when the bishops of each diocese asked their examining chaplains to meet together and discuss the possibility of how we could share resources. Those first meetings explored the logistical issues of working together, the similarities and differences between the formation process and culture of each diocese, and the potential benefits. Very quickly we saw that having a larger team of people committed to the ministry meant better oversight and broader perspectives available for the work, and the potential negatives could be easily mitigated by careful planning and communication.

Time was spent putting together a proposal for how the joint committee would function, along with a set of requests on how we would want to do that work. One key piece has been the development of guidelines for postulants and candidates that ask them to build a portfolio of work from the academic formation, pieces of which get submitted to the JBEC each year. This way, instead of a cursory inspection of work towards the end of the formation process, the JBEC can both suggest ideas for improvement along the way and also have ample evidence of a candidate’s preparation in case end of formation examinations raise concerns.

That proposal went to the two dioceses in the summer of 2014, and at the conventions later that year the current members of the JBEC were appointed. Currently, The Rev. Vicki Zust and The Rev. Matthew Scott serve as the co-chairs.

The Rev. Matthew Scott is vicar of the Episcopal Mission of Warren County – St. Francis and Trinity Memorial churches. 

Courage & Collaboration – Bishops’ Addresses from Convention 2017

During the plenary session of the 107th Diocesan Convention we heard from both the Rt. Rev. William Franklin of the Diocese of Western New York and our own Bishop Sean as they discussed the potential collaborative relationship between our two dioceses. The full addresses are available below.

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.

On Being Included in the Creative Process

We are all leaders. We’re all used to being the ones leading the meeting, coming up with the ideas, and fostering and supporting the ideas of those on our leadership teams.

What this means is that sometimes when we are included in the creative process for something large and exciting – and we didn’t come up with the idea, and we’re not leading the meeting – that it can naturally be a little strange, and a little awkward.

Further, some of us think in very concrete ways, and others of us think in very fluid and flexible ways. Both are incredibly necessary for our beautiful and diverse church to function. After all, creative problem solvers aren’t always the best administrators, and linear thinkers aren’t always the best when it comes to brainstorming new ways forward.

So when we are being invited to participate in the creative process of making something new, we might be doing the thing we love most, and are the best at. And we might be doing something we find a bit stressful.

However, when we come into the process matters as well. Think about it:

We can come in toward the beginning of the process or toward the end. Both options have positives and negatives.

When we’re invited in at the beginning of a creative process – maybe not at the exact start, maybe we weren’t in the room when the idea was first conceived of, but it’s still early days – then we have the beauty and honor of being the people who come up with all the ideas. We have a chance to put our two cents in and make it even better than it might have been, even more useful to us and the people we represent.

The downside of coming in at the beginning of the process is that it can be messy. Nothing is certain. If it will even work is uncertain. It might be hard to explain to others because we have a lot of question that we don’t yet have answers for. And we know exactly what those questions are, because we’ve been asking them ourselves.

Sometimes if we try to explain where we are in the process to other people when it’s still early days, we can seem like we don’t have all our ducks in a row. And the truth is, we don’t. We’re still figuring out what ducks we need to have, much less to try to get them to all stand in a line.

So it might seem like coming in later in the process would be infinitely preferable. But coming in later has its pros and cons as well.

On the upside, later in the process it’s so much easier to explain it to other people! We can show them the glossy pictures of what it will look like, the architect’s rendering, the budget, the price points, the height of the bell tower, the exactly symmetry of the curve to the walkway, and an idea of who is going to pay for it all. When we come in later in the process, all of our ducks are in a row. We have numbers, statistics, pie charts, success rates, incomes, expenses, staffing plans, timelines, and lists upon lists of who is going to be responsible for what.

This is the stuff of Annual Meetings, and it can be very impressive.

What we don’t get when we come in later in the process is a hand in the pot. We don’t get a say. We weren’t consulted, our opinions weren’t required, and so our own viewpoints, and the viewpoints of our constituencies, weren’t reflected in the plan.

So that’s where we are.

When we’re brought in earlier, it’s messier and there are questions everywhere, but we get a say in what happens, we can change the very course of the project, and even exercise the power to veto it if it seems apocalyptically bad.

When we’re brought in later, it’s clean, clear, beautiful, and easy to present, and it’s also already a done deal which we are being asked to vote upon, or ratify.

We can have one, or the other, but not both. We can have a hand in the creation of a new thing, or we can have the calm certainty of exactly what it’s going to look like, but not both.

Our bishops, in their wisdom, have chosen to bring us in on the beginning of this process. Oh, they went through all the proper channels first to make sure it could be done and they weren’t violating a canon somewhere. And once the proper people said, ‘Sure, maybe, but what’s it going to look like?’ then they turned to us.

It was presented to the clergy at a joint overnight. It was the main topic of conversation. Would the clergy take one look at the idea and veto it immediately? That was an option. They didn’t. They said, en masse, ‘Sounds interesting. I’m not totally convinced. Let’s keep going. Also, here are my list of questions.’

The feeling at the end of the overnight was a tentative hopefulness.

A group of clergy and laity from both dioceses gathered together for an intense two-day session, let by an expert. They came out with seventy pages of questions, which was exactly what we needed from them. Did they at that time come to a consensus that this was a terrible idea and we should scrap it immediately? Not at all. They came up with seventy pages of questions about all that needed to be considered going forward. The feeling at the end of the two-day session was a tentative hopefulness. Now this idea is going to each diocesan convention – WNY in October, NWPA in November. Do we have a resolution to vote on and debate? No. Why?

Because we don’t need one. It’s totally normal and reasonable, and part of our canons, to have a bishop of one diocese become the provisional bishop of another for some set period of time. Happens all the time.

So why are we giving this so much intense thought and treating it like it’s a new process? Because what we’re considering isn’t just a bishop of one diocese fulfilling an administrative role on an ad hoc basis.

What we’re really considering is this: could we really be such good friends and neighbors, one diocese to another, could we be involved in such similar ministry to such similar communities, could we discover such similar new avenues of ministry and outreach that it would just make more sense to share a bishop and a bishop’s staff?  Would it make more sense to have some joint committees? A joint convention? What we’re not doing is this: we’re not talking about combining two dioceses into one.

First, that’s a nightmare of red tape at the state level. And the few dioceses who do span across state lines were grandfathered into such red tape issues because the dioceses came before the state lines.

Second, we don’t need to have a combined diocese to be such good friends and neighbors, to participate in such similar ministry to such similar communities, to even share a bishop and a bishop’s staff.

Look at Stafford and LeRoy. Look at Burt and Wilson. They are individuals parishes with individual identities – and shared ministries, and shared leadership.

So that’s where we are: in the beginning of a creative process that builds on what is already allowable and normal in our church, but which may be a beautiful creative solution that takes us into the future with confidence and faith.

The Rev. Sare Anuszkiewicz is a priest in the Diocese of Western New York where she serves at Trinity, Warsaw.