Seek the Face of God

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(The Epiphany, BCP p. 214 )

An epiphany, an encounter with the living God, is sometimes fleeting – a moment in time where we know that we know God is powerfully present. And while the above collect is beautifully worded, it can easily be misconstrued to mean we will only see God face to face in the heavenly hereafter. That is not true.

We see the face of God in everyone we meet. We see the face of God in those we love and in those we barely know. We see the face of God in the poor, the homeless, the outcast and the lonely. Intellectually we know this to be true, but it is much harder to live into this reality because to do so requires much of us.

First it requires an awareness of the other – an acknowledgment that everyone is beloved of God. This is true regardless of their skin color, political persuasion, social status, or income. Second, it requires listening to the other. Listening is a powerful way to bring someone into the fullness of who they were created to be. This is as true of a young child as it is those who are frail and at the end of their years. Their faces light up as they tell their stories. We see the face of God in others also when we take action to relieve suffering. Sometimes this requires hands on work at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Other times it requires sharing our financial resources. Most times it simply means putting someone else’s needs ahead of our own.

The season of Epiphany ushers in a new year full of hope and promise. My prayer is that as we seek the face of God, there will be a double blessing – first for those we encounter, and second for ourselves. May you all have a very blessed New Year.

The Rev. Canon Martha Ishman is Rector at St. James, Titusville, and Canon for Mission Development and Transition for the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

The Little Church That Could

Grove City Community Food Pantry serves almost 2000 individuals. Perhaps the most startling statistic is that over 40% of the pantry’s clients receive no government assistance whatsoever.  These clients are the “working poor.”  They have incomes, but are unable to provide their families with all of the basic necessities.  They are not only food-insecure, but their incomes are frequently unsteady.  Enter Church of the Epiphany in Grove City.

Church of the Epiphany, Grove City, PA

Church of the Epiphany, Grove City, PA

Church of the Epiphany in Grove City, PA holds some very strong ties with the local food pantry.  Three of Epiphany’s members sit on the pantry’s Board of Directors, including Deacon Patricia Lavery, Bishop’s Warden Jack Warner, and member Pat Brenner.  The pantry, known as the Grove City Community Food Pantry, covers the entire Grove City Area School District.  Even though the community is relatively small, the number of people on the pantry’s register is surprisingly large including some 680 children and 170 elderly.

The food pantry depends heavily on community support to fulfill its mission to feed the hungry.  The Grove City community, along with Church of the Epiphany, has been exceptionally compassionate and generous by holding several food drives throughout the year.  The most important food drive takes place during the Christmas season, and is known as the Parade of Trees. This food drive is a community-wide event that pairs local non-profits with local businesses to display Christmas trees to the public throughout the holidays.  Early in November, the businesses and non-profits that wish to participate in the event register with the food pantry.  The pantry then pairs each non-profit with a local merchant.  Shortly after Thanksgiving, the merchant provides a Christmas tree and the matching non-profit provides the decorations.  The tree is displayed in a prominent location in the merchant’s business, and the non-profit chooses a theme with which to decorate it. The public is then asked to “vote” for their favorite tree by placing non-perishable food items under the tree.  Each individual food item counts as one vote.  At the end of this competitive food drive, the tree that has collected the most food items is the winner.  A previously donated cash prize is then awarded to the first, second, and third place non-profits.

This last Christmas, Epiphany was paired with Grove City’s Chamber of Commerce, and together they collected 1,248 items.

Father Geoffrey at the awards ceremony with the other prize winners. On the far right is Traci Turner, Executive Director of the Grove City Community Food pantry.

Father Geoffrey at the awards ceremony with the other prize winners. On the far right is Traci Turner, Executive Director of the Grove City Community Food pantry.

Altogether, the holiday food drive collected over 89,000 food items for the food pantry’s clients.  Epiphany and the Chamber of Commerce were the winners of the event, and Epiphany received a $100 cash award.  Father Geoffrey Wild donated the prize back to the  pantry.  Epiphany’s entire congregation took part in the food drive by donating cash to a “pot,” which was then used to purchase appropriate food items for the tree.  This is the third time Epiphany has won the Parade of Trees contest, and as a result they have become known as “The Little Church That Could.”

Of course, the real winners of the event were the clients of the Grove City Community Food Pantry.  Donations and contributions tend to fall off after the holidays, but the Parade of Trees meant that the pantry was able to keep its shelves stocked during some bitterly cold months. The food pantry is very dear to the spiritual heart of Epiphany. Father Geoffrey and Deacon Patricia frequently remind us that Christ’s work begins when we leave the church on Sunday morning.  In other words, it takes place on the streets.  By feeding our neighbors, we follow Christ’s decree to reach out to “the least of these.”

The numbers on the pantry’s register have increased month after month, making its mission more and more challenging.  Epiphany remains determined to help the pantry fulfill its mission, and does so by supporting the pantry throughout the entire year.  The congregation not only collects food and clothing on a regular basis, but the church also sends a monthly contribution to the pantry.  By feeding their neighbors, the members of Epiphany serve the church, the community, and the needy.

                                                                                                                                                      

Jack Warner, Bishop’s Warden, Church of the Epiphany, Grove City, PA

Trusting the Call

This is the first in a 3 part series highlighting the stories of the three members of our diocese who will be starting seminary this year.  Click here to see the second installment about Nick Kuchcinski.

1381374_309843139154662_231990307_nNicholas Evancho is a smart young man with a strong faith. He grew up in a single parent home attending the Presbyterian church where his mother was an elder. He began playing the organ at the age of 8 and read the Suma Theologica (the 3000 page compendium by Thomas Aquinas) for fun when he was young. He graduated Valedictorian from his high School in Hamburg, N.Y. and headed off to Grove City College for pre-med. He received a rude awakening and found his faith challenged by the theology at Grove City College. Now, almost 4 years later, he is going to graduate a changed man.

Nicholas is one of three members of our diocese beginning seminary this year, our diocese’s first seminarians since 2010. He has always been interested in religion and was very supported by his mother who took him to church and Sunday School. Nicholas thought about becoming a priest in high school but didn’t think he would actually go through with it. He felt that becoming a doctor was a more financially stable profession. However, the call kept gnawing at him. He continued to play the organ at his home church in New York and continued meeting with the Presbyterian pastor there who made him believe he had what it took to become a priest. It was on a trip to Boston that he attended Trinity Church in Copley Square (a 280 year old Episcopal church) and felt called to become an Episcopalian. This led him to Church of the Epiphany in Grove City and to his own epiphany.

Church of the Epiphany became a refuge for Nicholas. They not only helped him with practical things like rides but they also helped him emotionally. He had a hard time at college and it became a place where he could talk. He often had tea with Epiphany’s deacon, the Rev. Tricia Lavery when life got stressful. “They have given me more than I could have asked,” Nicholas says. He has found a church home there as well. He has played the organ, served as an acolyte, sung in the choir, led morning prayer, and been a Eucharistic Minister and a Eucharistic Visitor. Church of the Epiphany is also where Nicholas found answers to the questions about his faith that were started when he began to attend Grove City College. It “gave me a more loving interpretation of what I always believed.”

It turns out it was only a surprise to himself when he discerned the call to the priesthood.  Looking back he remembers going to graduate school fairs and spending more time talking to the seminaries than to the medical schools. His mother, who Nicholas describes as “the biggest influence in making me believe I could make it to where I am now,” was not surprised at all by this decision. Early on during a bible study at Church of the Epiphany, after a comment Nicholas made, Cheryl Wild (wife of the Rev. Geoff Wild, the vicar at Church of the Epiphany) said, “And thus spoke our next Episcopal priest.” Nicholas remembers thinking she was insane at the time. Then Nicholas attended the diocesan convention during his sophomore year. Getting to meet all the clergy and getting to participate in the church cemented the decision for him.

Nicholas is a changed man: “I finally decided to let my judgment go and trust that the rest would be taken care of.” He no longer needed the notion of financial stability through becoming a doctor. Nicholas will attend Virginia Theological Seminary this fall. He anticipates enjoying the Chapel as well as the tight knit community there, eating and worshiping together every day. He also looks forward to having his faith and views challenged so he can grow and be sure his faith stands up. We too are eager to see the priest Nicholas becomes.

Julien Goulet, Assistant for Communications and Administration, The Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania