With Grateful Hearts

This is the sixth 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

Gratitude is a subject that isn’t exactly trendy, but that has gained status in the last two decades in terms of its potential effect on what I would call the human spirit.  There has been more recent attention paid to it in terms of how gratitude or the lack of it affects the way we live.

Sara Hacala, in her book, “Saving Civility,” says that “gratitude is outer—as opposed to inner—directed: We are grateful to someone or for something outside of ourselves—whether to God, people, or things.  It implies our reliance on others for what they provide us and is a humbling reminder that we are not self-sufficient but connected and bound to those around us.”[1]  To me, this sounds exactly like how we are supposed to live as Christians…with grateful hearts for God and for one another, recognizing that we all live in community.

I’m one of those people who says “thanks” or “thank you” too often.  I know I do it, but it’s difficult not to.  Because I mean it.  I really am grateful, but I’ve never known quite why it is such an important thing to me or why I am hyper-alert to the things people do for one another, or for me for that matter.

I think this especially applies to church, when people work together for the wider community or for the church community or do something for one other person.  It really matters.  And I think people should be thanked so they realize that what they do counts—it makes a difference, even if they do it because they want to.

But even though gratitude is a hotter topic at the moment, I have to say it doesn’t necessarily seem like people in general have more gratitude, and it seems that people are expressing it less.  Take saying “thank you,” for instance.  While a “thank you” used to be normal behavior in retail establishments following a purchase, a simple thank you from a cashier is now harder to come by.  And where I would always have said thank you in response, I now find myself wondering why I should say thank you when I do not feel grateful that a sullen, unthankful cashier silently threw my bag of groceries or clothes at me following my purchase.

Maybe people just don’t feel very grateful these days.  It is hard for most of us to embody or express gratefulness when we’re not feeling especially grateful.  So…why should we?  Because it makes a difference for ourselves and those with whom we interact.  In every interaction we have, we can make a change in an increasingly hostile world by finding and then expressing gratitude.   That might sound pollyanna-ish, but research bears it out.  Gratefulness guru Robert Emmons notes: “Living gratefully begins with affirming the good and recognizing its sources. It is the understanding that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift, accompanied by an awareness that nothing can be taken for granted.”[2]

Life owes me nothing…and nothing can be taken for granted.  If we could think that way all the time, we’d be feeling gratitude most of the time.  Because for most of us living in this country, we have no idea how good we really have it.

In “Sleeping with Bread,” the authors suggest ending each day with these two questions (and preferably actually discussing them with someone): “For what moment today am I most grateful? For what moment today am I least grateful?” [3] Considering both of these questions helps a more negative person acknowledge that there were some moments for which to be grateful in the day, and helps a person who doesn’t like to think about the difficulties in life to acknowledge that pain or difficulties are part of being human.  I plan to start doing this, and I think this could be woven into our prayer life as well…bet this might be the kind of thing God would like to hear from us.

And, thank you for reading this!

The Rev. Dr. Mary Norton is Priest-in-Charge at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Corry. 

[1] Sara Hacala, Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude & Attitude for a Polite Planet, (Woodstock, Skylight Paths Publishing, 2012), 113

[2] Dr. Robert A. Emmons, The Little Book of Gratitude, (London, Gaia Books, 2016), Kindle, 10

[3] Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Matthew Linn, S.J., Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, (New York, Paulist Press, 1998) Kindle, Loc. 25

Meet the Deputies: The Rev. Dr. Mary Norton


This post is the fourth installment of our “Meet the Deputies” series, introducing our eight representatives to the 79th General Convention. To view other “Meet the Deputy” interviews and follow General Convention coverage, click here.

Shalom, Salam, Peace.

This article appeared in the Corry Journal on 3.28.16 and is written by Jordan M. Schrecengost.

The message of peace is universal.

That’s one of the topics that will be discussed at an upcoming interfaith initiative held in Corry by a local deacon.

16969_100564616643449_761487_n“I think the message of love and peace is important, especially when the rhetoric of hate and fear echo so loudly in our world today,” said Deacon Timothy Dyer, who is a clergy associate for pastoral ministries at Trinity Memorial Episcopal Church in Warren and St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church in Youngsville.

Dyer is the founder of an interfaith initiative known as “The Children of Abraham Project,” which will be making its debut in the city of Corry this weekend.

The Children of Abraham Project will be holding its sixth event since the project’s inception in 2012. The event will be held at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 327 N. Center St., Corry, on April 2 from 1 to 4 p.m. 

There is no cost to attend the event.

“This interfaith initiative is designed to bring Judaism, Islam and Christianity together in open and honest dialogue to discuss their differences, and celebrate their similarities,” Dyer said. “It is our hope that in offering this event to our community that we may bring change and reconciliation to the world — one mind, one heart at a time because we are one human family.”

After the first few events, The Children of Abraham Project began to gain a reputation with the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, Dyer said. That led to members of the Emmanuel church approaching Dyer to ask if he could bring the program to Corry. Dyer hoped to hold an event in Corry sooner, but is excited it’s finally happening.

“I wasn’t able to bring the program there as soon as I would have liked, but I am so happy that we were finally able to make the necessary arrangements,” he said. “I honestly believe that we need to hear the message of love and peace over the rhetoric of fear and hate.”

Dyer, who is the event’s Christian representative, will be one of three speakers at the event in Corry. He will be joined by fellow speakers Sam Qadri and Harvey Stone, who will speak on behalf of the religions of Islam and Judaism, respectively.

Qadri is the public relations director at the Jamestown Islamic Society. He’s also a teacher at Jamestown High School and an adjunct professor at the Jamestown Business College. Dyer said Stone is a business owner in Warren and has shared his faith and traditions with many people in Warren area over the years.

The goal of the event is not to convert anyone, Dyer added.

“We come together not to proselytize or convert anyone,” he said. “We come together to listen, to learn, to understand and to hopefully counteract the bigotry, hatred and stereotypical images that inundate our society.”

The Children of Abraham event will begin with an English prayer by Dyer, an Arabic prayer by Qadri and a Hebrew prayer by Stone.

“I will also give a brief history of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, and demonstrate how all three religions share a common ancestor,” Dyer said. “I will then speak to what the purpose of interfaith dialogue is about and what we hope to achieve — understanding, peace and compassion for our fellow human beings. I will finally show how the golden rule of loving your neighbor is prevalent in all three religions.”

Stone will give a history of the Jewish people’s experiences throughout history and how they have contributed to the advancement of the world. Qadri will speak about the history of Islam to generate a basic understanding of its tenets and beliefs, and will highlight what it shares in common with Judaism and Christianity. He will also share stories of discrimination that he has witnessed and speak to the relevance of people’s perceptions.

The Children of Abraham event will conclude with a question and answer segment with all three speakers.

“No question will be out of bounds; any and all questions are welcomed,” Dyer said. “I will admit that many of the questions are directed at Sam because many of their concerns are around understanding Islam.”

Qadri said they’re there to answer the hard questions, though.

“Racism, prejudice and violence are all-too-common in our society,” Dyer said. “Finding love and peace within our communities cannot be successful without each of us working together to counteract hatred, injustice and the stereotypical images that permeate our society.”

The interfaith initiative was developed in the summer of 2011 after Dyer studied the Episcopal Baptismal Covenant.

“While each question struck a chord within me, there were two that particularly stood out,” he said. “Those questions were: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

The first Children of Abraham event was held one year later at St. Francis in Youngsville.

“Our first event was very similar to the event we will have in Corry,” Dyer said. “I explained how The Children of Abraham Project came to be and was inspired by my need to answer questions in the Episcopal Baptismal Covenant.”

Dyer said he chose the name because Judaism, Islam and Christianity all trace their history back to Abraham.

“We are considered the three Abrahamic faiths; thus we are children of Abraham,” he said. “From Abraham came Isaac, from whom the Hebrew line and eventually Christianity came, and Ishmael, from whom Islam traces its history.”

Dyer also explained that the word “project” is in the Children of Abraham name because it’s a continuous effort to eradicate the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding different religions of the world.

“It is a project because this is an educational initiative that should not end; it’s a continual effort,” Dyer said. “It’s a collaboration that brings the three major religions of the world together for a common goal: Peace, understanding and love.”