Episcopal Bishops Issue A Word to the Church for the World

[September 20, 2016] The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has issued the following A Word to the Church for the World.

The video is available in English and Spanish here.
 

A Word to the Church for the World

Greetings from Detroit, a city determined to be revived.  Greetings also from the city of Flint, where we are reminded that the gift of water has for many of our brothers and sisters become contaminated.

Here we have been exhorted to set our sights beyond ourselves and to minister to the several nations where we serve and the wider world.

We lament the stark joylessness that marks our present time.  We decry angry political rhetoric which rages while fissures widen within society along racial, economic, educational, religious, cultural and generational lines.  We refuse to look away as poverty, cruelty and war force families to become migrants enduring statelessness and demonization.  We renounce the gun violence and drug addiction that steal lives and crush souls while others succumb to fear and cynicism, abandoning any sense of neighborliness.

Yet, in all this, “we do not despair” (2 Cor. 4:8.). We remember that God in Christ entered our earthly neighborhood during a time of political volatility and economic inequality.  To this current crisis we bring our faith in Jesus.  By God’s grace, we choose to see in this moment an urgent opportunity to follow Jesus into our fractured neighborhoods, the nation and the world.

Every member of the church has been “called for a time such as this.” (Esther 4:14) Let prophets tell the truth in love.  Let reconcilers move boldly into places of division and disagreement. Let evangelists inspire us to tell the story of Jesus in new and compelling ways.  Let leaders lead with courage and joy.

In the hope of the Resurrection let us all pray for God to work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish God’s purposes on earth.
 

Writing Committee
Bishop Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio
Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington
Bishop Diane Jardine Bruce of Los Angeles
Bishop Victor Scantlebury of Ecuador Central
Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino Real
Bishop Alan Gates of Massachusetts
Bishop Wendell Gibbs Jr. of Michigan
Dr. Scott Bader-Saye
Bishop Prince Singh of Rochester
Bishop Robert Wright of Atlanta
Bishop Rob Hirschfield of New Hampshire

The Episcopal Church House of Bishops met September 15 to September 20 in Detroit MI (Diocese of Michigan).

Love Them

This is a post about the partnership between the Cathedral of St. Paul and Emerson-Gridley elementary in the City of Erie public school district.

I remember it very well, my first-grade classroom at Asbury Elementary in Millcreek Township. I loved everything about it. I was so excited to finally be able to go to school and could hardly wait for the first day. My mother made me a special new dress; my name was embroidered on it so my teacher would know my name at a glance. Our desks were in neat rows and I sat in the front of the room. I remember this because our music teacher would roll the piano into our room right in front of my desk. I would watch her fingers fly across the keys, sparking my interest in piano lessons and asking my parents for a piano.

Now fast forward to this past February when I was heading into a first-grade classroom at Emerson-Gridley to volunteer. I had all of the clearances and training required and was excited about this opportunity. Probably not as excited as anticipating my own first-grade experience, but excited about spending time in a classroom. I have always felt the pull of becoming a classroom teacher, either in music or general education. My degrees are in organ performance, choral conducting and church music, applied music, not music education. At many points in my education and career I have considered adding teacher certification to my credentials. When the Cathedral began its partnership with Emerson-Gridley and the call for volunteers in the school came along, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to give it a try.

IMG_3012 (3)So my first day began by meeting the school guidance counselor who took me on a tour of all the first grade rooms ending in Mrs. Steele’s classroom. This is where I would be volunteering. Mrs. Steele welcomed me and introduced me to the class. The walls in the room were brightly decorated. There was a “Word Wall” with columns of words under each letter of the alphabet that the students were learning every week. There was a list of the children’s names on one board. I could only pronounce a few without help. The desks were grouped into three or four sections, not rows, and there was a carpet on the floor for story time. She asked the students to read at their desks and then called on a few children and me to sit with her to read aloud. We worked together to help students sound out words and read sentences. Once she saw I was comfortable working with her students she asked me to work with several children who needed some extra help with reading. We made flashcards and played relay games and all sorts of things to help them recognize the difference in their “w” and “wh” words. I was hooked. I knew my Monday mornings from then on would be spent with Mrs. Steele’s class at Emerson-Gridley.

As that first morning progressed, one student left the room and came back with a box of snack bags for the children filled with cherry tomatoes. Every day the students are given a mid-morning snack of fresh vegetables. They look forward to it. If the designated child doesn’t remember to go for it, she is reminded by her classmates. She always offers me a snack, too. She and others in the room often express concern that I might be hungry, too. The students all receive a hot breakfast before class begins, a mid-morning snack and lunch. Many stay after school for another snack and some for dinner before going home. Monday morning is difficult for them. Many do not have regular meals at home and they are very hungry when they come to school after a weekend. It is not unusual for several of them to fall asleep with their head on their desk while I am there.  There are lots of red and watery eyes looking up from a book or paper as they struggle to stay awake and concentrate.

Now they and I are anticipating the end of the school year. I have been going weekly and have developed a good relationship with the class. Mrs. Steele has given me the freedom to prepare a music lesson each week. We are working on developing a steady beat, following directions, using body percussion, chanting poems using their rhyming words and recently added playing percussion instruments. They love to share their latest achievements with me, “Mrs. Downey, did you know that I….” Now I share their mid-morning snack with them. We chat and giggle about the fresh green pea pods or juicy tomatoes or squishy cucumbers. I love the big smile that comes across each face when I call them by name. I love it even more when they cheer when they see me come through their classroom door with my bag of instruments. I think about each child often. They are now in my prayers, not just as students at the school but as individuals with names, faces and feelings. Some days I leave in tears because so many were overly tired and out of sorts. But more often than not, I leave with a big smile on my face and a happy heart.

The City of Erie schools are stressed. The administrators and the teachers are stressed. And most importantly, the students are stressed. A volunteer’s job comes with little stress: just show up and spend an hour or two a week in a classroom with some amazing children. Learn their names. Talk to them. Smile at them. Read to them. Love them. And pray for them and everyone who works to care for and nurture them. You will be hooked. And you will never be the same again.

Sharon Downey, Canon Musician, The Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie, PA 

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Being A Priest

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Al Johnson and wife Vickie at his ordination in 1979

When I was lying on the cool tile floor of the Cathedral of St. James in Chicago on December 8, 1979 while the Litany for Ordinations was being beautifully chanted by a tenor voice resonating off the cathedral walls, my grasp of priesthood appeared significant.   Every year since Jesus has taught me that I had narrow vision. Henri Nouwen spoke at our commencement and told us that the worst had already happened in Jesus Christ. It was the worst of my life that had drawn me to priesthood in hopes that God might redeem life and teach what love was all about; love of God, love of others and love of self. In the process my prayer was that the experiences of my life to date in 1979 might be put to use in some way that allowed me to take them off the junk pile of shame and add them to the story of life and break me in the ways that only God knew I needed to be broken. That isn’t a criterion for all priests or for all people but it was a criterion for me. But it could be a necessity for finding and being found by God. When one thinks of an empty soul one need only look in my direction. Ironically while the only way to fill such emptiness is by God, and one would think that becoming a priest would assure that outcome; not so; I still had to hike my way through the landmines of my own denial to begin to see God’s redemption and the hope of love.

Seventeen years later while looking down on a circular stone altar at Tel Megiddo in Israel the musings of a call begun in early teens crystallized into the restorative experience of discovering that I was born to be a priest; that there has been, is, and always will be priests who’s calling is to be with people in the in-between places of human existence; in a liminal space between the divine and the human; that priests have been a part of cultures since before our heritage as Jews and Christians; and there always will be priests because our calling not only grows from the heart of God and our own hearts, but grows from the hearts of people who seek something beyond themselves that we Christians call God. And my job as a priest is to enter into that space with people. The gift of priesthood has no greater value in God’s economy than any other such gift as nurse, teacher, garbage collector, flight attendant, banker, hedge-fund investor, bishop, deacon or any other vocation one can imagine. As St. Paul writes, “the left hand cannot tell the right food; ‘I don’t need you.’” We are all in this soup together.

Like many, I thought ordination was a finish line only to discover that the race of a lifetime was about to unfold filled with rough places, high mountains, crooked roads, and deep valleys. Wouldn’t ordination protect me from the pains of life? On the contrary, ordination threw me into those pains in the lives of others and myself.

And yes, it seems like yesterday that I was lying on that floor full of confidence, hope, and altruism. None of that is different today except I’m hoping Jesus will take me kneeling or sitting because getting up off the cold floor can be a challenge, and perhaps more humility today than confidence unless by confidence one mean’s trust in God.

The Rev. Al Johnson, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation

Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Sermon by The Rev. Sabeth Fitzgibbons from October 18, 2015 reprinted from the blog Pulpit Ponderings

408475371f2248ee_castIt has been said that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  We can all probably think of examples in our own lives and culture where this is true.  When we see a fashionable outfit or a hairstyle we think is particularly attractive or that communicates a message we want, we work to re-create it for ourselves.  Thinking back a decade or two, remember the ‘power tie’ for men or the ‘red power suit’ for women?  We saw those fashions on people we perceived as having power and influence, and we thought to ourselves, ‘If I just wear that, I can garner that kind of respect and power, too.”

We see this dynamic happening in the gospel today with James and John as they ask Jesus for coveted seats of power in glory, the seats at his immediate right and left hands.  If we can’t sit in the seat of power, we should sit right next to it.  Those sons of Zebedee know there is something special about Jesus, and they want to get some of it for themselves.  Even though they’ve been following Jesus around – they have been listening to his teaching, watching him heal people and cast out demons – and they do believe that he is the promised Messiah, they still think he’s going to be a military ruler. The kind of king who wields armies and fear.  And that power looks mighty appealing to these humble men, who have been fishermen and disciples of an itinerant teacher.  ‘Come on, Jesus, you’re going to kick this dusty road and sit in glory.  Just let us sit right next to you and share that glory.’

Jesus on the other hand, has no illusion about what the road to his ‘glory’ will be.  And he asks them, quite pointedly, if they really understand what they are asking for, “Do you really think you can drink from my cup, that you can be baptized with my baptism?” In their ignorance and arrogance, they say, “We are able.”  ‘I’ll take a sip of that cup of power.’

And their friends find out!  And those other ten guys, they are mad.  Mark doesn’t say why the other disciples are angry.  I wonder if it’s because they didn’t think to make this overt move to imitate Jesus’ perceived power themselves.  Nonetheless, Jesus calms the angry disciples.  The explanation Jesus gives completely debunks James’ and John’s assumptions about what his power really is.  Instead he talks about what power in the kingdom of God really looks like.

James and John, they think greatness comes from status, the kind of power over wielded by tyrants and oppressors.  In response, Jesus does what Jesus does all the time.  He turns power completely on its head and he says that power comes from serving other people.  Not from oppressing them with fear, but from serving them.  We will either willingly and joyfully serve others, or we will become enslaved to our illusions that we can be free and secure through status and power. In our culture, we might say through having a respectable job and the right friends.

Jesus asks, who will we serve?  Will we serve the voices of the culture that say that we can (and must) be free on our own and at any cost?  Or will we hear and heed the voice of Jesus?  Will we find our freedom and our true selves through serving our neighbor?

Why do we have a God who is always asking us to serve our neighbor?  Always pushing us to consider the needs of someone else before ourselves?  It goes very much against our culture, and even went against the culture of Jesus’ time, to put the needs of someone else before our own.

God delights in our relationships.  God delights in God’s relationship with us, and God delights in our relationships with other people.  Whether they are at home, at school or work, or with people, strangers in our community.  It is through our relationships with other people that we discover ourselves inextricably linked – “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” – linked with those around us.  We cannot deny that when we open ourselves to know someone else, we are they and they are we.  There is some bit of us, some bit of God, reflected back in the face of the other.

Jesus’ description of his life as giving himself “as a ransom for many” reflects that same priority on loving the other before self.  Jesus does not buy us back from God or the devil, but instead pays himself out in order to rescue us from ourselves.  To rescue us from our delusion that we are somehow self-sufficient and independent, self-made men and women.  Perhaps in this world we can make that claim, but not in God’s.  From this point in Jesus’ story to the end, his whole life and death challenge our assumptions about power.  As we watch the story unfold, we learn that even as we give ourselves in service to others we find ourselves living more fully than ever before.

Our power derives from our imitation of Jesus’ service to us.  That power which is rooted in our status as beloved children of a merciful and gracious God. Being loved unconditionally by God, regardless of our power or position in this world, helps us all to realize that we are blessed.  We know that blessing first in our baptism, when we emerge from the water as Jesus did and we hear God say, This is my child, my beloved. We return that blessing to God, by returning our lives to God.  Our stewardship flows from this same font of blessing, blessing all others through serving them in God’s love.

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?  Maybe in this world.  When it comes to God, I don’t think so.  God doesn’t ask for or need our flattery or kind intentions.  God asks for even more: God asks for our whole selves.  Our whole selves, given to God in imitation of what God gives to us:  his whole self.  God gives to us generously, completely, with no strings, no time limits, no expectations.  Whether we realize or reciprocate God’s love or not, God’s love is still there, as big and bold and available as ever. God gives to us with love, so that we can grow in that love.

In our imitation of our great God, we are asked to give of ourselves, of our time and our passions and our money, with love and generosity, without condition, without expectation of return, so that God’s love can continue to grow in us and in the world around us.  So that the kingdom of God can come near – to us and to everyone else who needs to hear that word of hope.  Thanks be to God.

The Rev. Sabeth Fitzgibbons, St. Stephan’s, Fairview

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God Loves All Unconditionally (From Bishop Sean’s Article in this Saturday’s Erie Times News)

Reposted from GoErie.com: Reflections is a column in the Erie Times News by religious leaders in the region. The Right Rev. Sean Rowe is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, 145 W. Sixth St.

Bishop Rowe Nov 2014-93wtHow many times have we found ourselves engaged in arguments only to realize that whatever hot button issue we were arguing about wasn’t really the issue at all?

Time and again we turn against one another for superficial reasons that are symptoms of deeper issues that remain unaddressed. This is true in secular politics, and it is true in our faith communities as well.

We’re gearing up for what promises to be a long and painful political season. Already, candidates are using the poor for target practice in our ongoing cultural and ideological wars. Some aspirants to political power are even talking about massive deportations of people who live in grinding poverty and do work that many American citizens simply refuse to engage. The goal is to get “them” out.

We’ve walked a long way in the wrong direction since Jesus began his public ministry by announcing that he had come to preach “good news to the poor.” Today, the tenets of Christian and other faith traditions are used to bludgeon and exclude people created, as we are, in the image and likeness of God. Consider the ways in which issues regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are used to divide congregations and denominations. We create a righteous “in” and an unrighteous “out,” often under the cover of the old maxim “hate the sin and love the sinner.”

All of these issues seem, at some level, to involve determining who properly belongs within our communities and who should be kept out. We argue over and over again, down through the centuries, about which race, which religion, which sexual orientations are worthy of inclusion. We create wedge issues, and in doing so, we miss the deeper point.

Theologian James Alison points out that, for Christians, the real issue is that we simply cannot come to terms with the work that Christ has done for us through the cross and resurrection. This reality is quite simple: We are redeemed; anyone who wants to be “in” is “in.” We don’t have to get any better, go any deeper, or work any harder. God loves us for who we are and just as we are. But since we cannot really believe that this is true, since we cannot accept that our own merit played no role in our redemption, we develop standards that exalt ourselves and marginalize others. That’s the way we work out the truth that is so difficult for us to accept, that God loves all people unconditionally.

The good news is too good for us to accept: Through God’s grace — which, by definition is unearned and undeserved — we’re all “in.” Maybe we could work at living as though that was really true without any new terms or conditions.

Valentines and the Inexpressible Love of God

As I write this, Love is on my mind. Not some specific someone love – although that would be nice – but Love as an ideal and as a reality. I guess the near proximity of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday this year got this train of thought going. And when thinking about love I can’t help being a little frustrated by how pedesheart-534793_1280trian my understanding of the concept frequently is. The fault lies in the fact that our English language is so imprecise; we use the same word “love” to refer to the pleasurable/enjoyable to the sentimental/romantic to the awesome divine. I can actually say in the same conversation that I love chocolate, I love my children and that God loves me.

Churchy-types have long resorted to the Greek language to try to clarify things. C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book called The Four Loves where he explores the different types of love expressed in that language. So we have storge for affectionate love, philia for brotherly love or the love of friends, eros for romantic love and agape for unconditional or Godly love. Of course Lewis also explores how these types of loves are expressed in wholesome and unwholesome ways and spends time differentiating between love based on need, love offered as gift and love resulting from appreciation.

For me, this questions of understanding love matters because it is so central to our understanding of both God and what it means to be a Christian. St. John goes so far as to say in his first letter that “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

Taking a cue from Mr. Lewis we need to be deliberately aware that our ability to love is a reflection of God’s love, is in fact, part of the way that we are created in God’s image. We accept that we cannot love with the perfection of agape – that is God’s love – but we know that we are called to strive toward that. When we love one another in familial, friendly or romantic ways, we are to be always seeking to let that love show glimmers of the higher, truer love that is known in God.

So as we enjoy the hearts and flowers of Valentine’s Day and the many types of human love we commemorate on that day, let us also be mindful of the inexpressible love that God has for us as shown to us in Christ. That love tells us that while we were yet separated from God, strangers as it were, Christ died for us.

As this month unfolds, may we be given grace to see the ash crosses we are marked with to begin our Lenten journey as God’s Valentine to us, his beloved.

The Rev. Stacey Fussell, Rector of Church of the Ascension in Bradford

“I know Love will win” an essay on sustainability

Many years ago I worked in a drug and alcohol treatment center for pre-teens in the inner city in Philadelphia (it was mostly prevention but yes there were ten year olds using in the face of very challenging lives).  Everyday I saw the negative power of poverty, drugs, alcohol and despair.  I despaired.  I felt there was no hope.  And then one day I was listening to an NPR reporter interviewing a nun who worked in similar conditions in Harlem.  He asked her the question that was on my mind, “why do you do this when there seems to be no hope.”  Her answer woke me up, “But there is” she said, “everyday someone like you does something small that makes a difference and it is in these moments that God is present and I know love will win.”

And so I struggle because in the end I know Love will win.

As a Christian I am called to be a caretaker of God’s creation, all of God’s creation, and to not participate in its destruction.  I committed to it in my baptismal vows (“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”).  Sustainability to me thus is finding a balance in my relationships to the planet, to others and with myself that causes no harm and celebrates God’s creation.  However in today’s world it is increasingly difficult to live sustainably.  We are faced with environmental inevitabilities such as melting ice sheets and rising sea levels.  We are faced with violence on a daily bases through wars all over the globe and of our own making.  And we are pushed by society to be increasingly “connected” which often leaves us disconnected from those around us.  We are failing our planet, our only home and God’s creation.  In fact we as a whole are participating in the de-creation of what God has made.  Every day we are bombarded by news of how our actions have sent the planet into a tail spin of environmental disasters and of news of war and death.  We as a species are really bad at doing what God has asked us to do.  It seems hopeless.

I know love will win.

I see my efforts in sustainability in three areas: the environment, the community and personal.  I must do all in my power to not harm our environment.  This shows up in decisions I make every day.  Everyone of my choices and behaviors matter.  The coffee I drink, the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the electricity I use, the car I drive all affect others and the environment often adversely.  I also must do all in my power to help build a community that is sustainable and healthy for everyone.  This shows up not just in how I treat my family and neighbors but how I share my resources with those who have less and fight for the needs of all people.  And the hardest one of all, I must treat myself in a way that allows me to sustain my well being while doing all the tasks of my life.

I struggle everyday to walk this out and I fail often.  When I am successful I don’t use paper coffee cups, I use my electric lawn mower, I wash my plastic bags, I turn off the lights (a full time job with young kids), I don’t use chemicals on my lawn, I eat locally produced food, I am kind to my family, I volunteer at Habitat and Second Harvest, I teach Sunday School, I pray, I exercise, I get enough rest… .

These are miniscule efforts in the face of what needs to be done.  I have friends who don’t own cars because of the fossil fuels they consume, who don’t eat meat because of the amount of resources it takes to produce, who haven’t used a plastic water bottle or paper coffee cup in ten years because of the landfills…

My effort, my successes and my failures have value.  I am on a journey.  I believe God is asking me to be on this journey, to struggle with the competing pressures of my life  and to get up every time I fail to try again.  For it is on this journey of caring for what God has made that I will discover my place in creation and help love win.

God of unchangeable power, when you fashioned the world, the morning stars sang together and the host of heaven shouted for joy:  Open my soul to the wonders of creation and teach me to manage faithfully the riches of this good earth, to the honor of your glorious name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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

WELCOME TO THE VINE

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The Vine is a community for youth in 6th-12th grade and a collaborative ministry of the Episcopal churches in Erie County. The Vine will meet twice a month for dinner, conversation, activities, and prayer. Service, outreach, and mission will also be incorporated during the year, as well as overnights and social events.

A theme has been set in place to focus our conversations and purpose. This year The Vine will focus on the theme of community. During the fall, we will look at the communities of the church and our role in them. In the spring, we will explore the communities that we are a part of outside the church and our role in them. We will also begin preparing for our summer missions.

Plans are underway for two mission opportunities during the summer of 2015. Middle School students, those in 6th-8th grade, will have the opportunity to do local mission work within our diocese or in a neighboring diocese. High School students, those in 9th-12th grade, will have the opportunity to do domestic mission work in another diocese. Currently, we are exploring mission opportunities in Boston, MA. More information will be available at a later date. In order to take part in our summer missions, students must attend at least half of The Vine meetings throughout the year. As we move forward, meetings will incorporate preparation for these missions.

LIVING IN THE VINE COMMUNITY
The Vine is meant to be a safe and loving community for all youth. We ask that all our members be respectful toward one another. Bullying, harassment, and violent behavior toward any member of The Vine will not be tolerated. We also ask that youth bring their whole selves to each Vine meeting and event. Come prepared to worship, learn, and engage in the activities planned for the evening or the event. Come prepared to develop and strengthen your relationship with others and with God.

For more information and to see a schedule of Vine events, click here.