Encounter Grace

This is the seventh and final 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

Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
and leaves me
like a needle

in a haystack
of light.
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Asked to name things for which I’m grateful, I’m capable of a long litany, ranging from the invention of the Frisbee, to the Alexa currently playing Mozart, to the jalapeno plants in my garden actually producing more than last year’s two peppers. But that’s not really how I think about gratitude, as discreet elements of my life. Gratitude is an orientation to the world.

Gratitude stems from my understanding of how God is in the world and how I am in the world. It begins with grace. Grace, meaning the love and forgiveness of God, is at the heart of our faith. Grace is always gift. We do not earn grace; we do not warrant grace; we cannot lose grace. It is ours by the choice of God to be for us, particularly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It comes to us in every moment, covering us, embracing us, holding us from the start of our lives beyond the end of our lives. The lavish love of God is given to me, it claims me as God’s own beloved. That is fantastically overwhelming, nearly unbelievable, and produces such a sense of joy and wonder within me that it changes how I see everything.

If grace is poured out upon me, as angry, anal, and annoying as I am, then grace must be poured out upon everyone, upon the entire creation. It’s a Julian of Norwich moment of revelation: though we are as small and fragile as a wee hazelnut, God sustains us out of God’s great love for us. We are all held by grace, soaked in it, protected by it, surrounded by it. It is possible to forget this, and to see only the mess and brokenness of the world; I can go to a dark place reading about Yemen, trying to negotiate the shrinking public school budget, or staring at the pain plaguing multiple friends. The darkness is real; we’re caught in the mess of the world, some of our own making and some the collective swell of bad human decisions for centuries. We call all of that sin. And we’re caught in it like a web.

Yet, light overcomes the darkness; Jesus rises from the grave. Grace flows through the web of sin. I can expect that in all things, the muck and the mire as much as the sun and the smiles, God is at work. Jesus’ defeat of death means that grace is loose in the world. The Holy Spirit swooshes through us and through our world, bringing good out of evil, moving to create serendipitous moments, causing a pop of laughter in dread times. I used to think all of the gifts of a day- the fortuitous finding of a friend in the grocery, the kind word offered on a really down day- were coincidence or luck. Not anymore. That’s grace. That’s God. That’s the Holy Spirit doing her best to reveal goodness, bring out kindness, and sustain every one of us.

And what I can be left with but gratitude? If God has claimed me as a loved one, if God has chosen to love all of us like that, and if God is constantly moving in the world so as to bring people together, promote peace, and mend brokenness, what can I do but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and expectation? That’s quite an orientation to have to reality, and it has shifted everything about my life. I expect God will show up; I expect to encounter grace; I expect God is at work in your life and mine and across the globe. And when grace finds me or when someone shares how grace has found them, I throw my head back in laughter or fall on my knees in tears, grateful to the One who makes all good things possible.

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips….

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
2

The Rev. Melinda Hall is vicar of Holy Trinity, Brookville, and Church of Our Saviour, DuBois. 

1 Oliver, Mary. “Mindfulness.” Why I Wake Early. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

2 Oliver, Mary. “Why I Wake Early.” Why I Wake Early. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

Victorian Christmas Brings Community to Holy Trinity

Rarely am I rendered speechless, but Saturday was such an occasion.  It began with the complete transformation of our parish hall into an img_2051art gallery.  We took every shred of furniture to a giant closet upstairs and constructed large frames with black over them on which to hang art; we flipped bookshelves and desks to create gallery space.  And we filled the entire place with local artists, exhibiting photography, paintings, drawings, felting, and ceramics.  This is to say nothing of the sanctuary, in which the Stations of the Cross were replaced with bright linoleum prints by a famous local artist, and which was host to five different musical performances that afternoon, from young violinists to well-known guitarists and dulcimer players.

But here’s the piece de resistance: we also hosted the Chamber of Commerce Wine Walk, which guaranteed loads of people would be in our img_2065building to see the art and hear the music.  Our folks provided an array of tasty cookies, cheeses (horseradish takes blue ribbon), and meatballs, providing hospitality to all the people who came through our space that day.  One of our members stood outside in the cold all afternoon to direct people and convince them that yes, the winery was really in the parish hall- it wasn’t a bizarre joke.

It took all of us pulling together; Holy Trinity is a small congregation, numbering in the img_2070twenties.  So, why, you might ask, did we go to all the trouble?  Because that Saturday is the biggest Saturday in our town: part of the annual Victorian Christmas Celebration.  You want to prove community buy-in?  Then you must show up for the main events.  We have a wonderfully gifted musical couple who organized the art and music; the rest of the congregation had the interest and willingness to provide good hospitality.  And voila, a brilliant event was born.

We had fun.  Yes, it was work.  Yes, I collapsed on my couch in a dark room after the event concluded.  But it was a blast and a complete success: now over 400 people have discovered where Holy Trinity is.  I heard people coming in say they didn’t know this church was here; as they left, my greeter heard them say it was such a warm church.  Mission accomplished!  The full mission of reaching people for Jesus?  Of course not. But getting people to know we exist in the community, that’s a terrific first step, and we’re working on how to follow-up.

I’ve gone from speechless to gushing, but I’m wicked proud of everyone’s work and everyone’s joy in the work.  The work of getting known in img_2061-2a community, of sharing the love of God, is one that takes time and commitment; it requires understanding of what church is and how church is not about the people who already attend, but about those who do not yet attend.  I’m gushing because that transformation is taking place at Holy Trinity.  It will take time; it will be hard work.  But the Holy Spirit is moving in new directions, at Holy Trinity and in this diocese.  I’m excited and scared and interested to see just what she will do in our midst to change us and our communities.

Melinda Hall is vicar of Holy Trinity, Brookville

One Church Presentation at ECW Annual Meeting

“One Church” was the message presented by the Reverend Melinda Hall at the ECW Annual Meeting in Youngsville, May 7.  Members of the diocesan Dominican Republic team each spoke of their mission to the church in Santiago De Los Caballeros and the children as they assisted in the Vacation Bible School.  This coming year will be the second time the team travels there.  Recently,  Melinda requested support from our diocesan churches by way of crafts and financial support for “treats” for the children.  On hand at the ECW Meeting,  Gloria McIsaac, President of the ladies guild of Emmanuel Church, Emporium was able to present two crafts to the team.  Supplies for bead bracelets and flower pens.  Melinda pointed out that the ten member team was a collaborative effort from our diocese as no two people were from the same church.  Missy Greene also shared her role working with The Vine, a youth ministry in the Erie area.  The Episcopal Church Women offer their prayers and support for these two outstanding efforts.

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Pictured from left to right: Missy Greene (Erie), Sue Frontino (Brookville), Valerie Marshall and Gloria McIsaac (Emporium), Tina Mills (Hermitage) and Rev. Melina Hall (Dubois)

“Mission Possible” ECW Annual Meeting

The Episcopal Church Women (ECW) of Northwestern Pennsylvania will hold their annual meeting Saturday, May 7th, 2016 from 9:30 am – 3:25 pm at St. Francis of Assisi in Youngsville, Pennsylvania.  Presenters include the Rev. Melinda Hall, Vicar at Church of Our Saviour in Dubois, PA and Missy Greene, Christian Formation Associate at St. Stephen’s Church in Fairview, PA.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 1.45.48 PMAfter earning her M.Div. from Princeton Seminary, The Rev. Melinda Hall completed a year of Anglican Studies in New York. In her presentation, “Plastic Beads, Presidente, and Preschool: Why Trips to the Dominican Republic Make a Difference,” she asks, “Is our partnership with the Dominican Republic important? What does a Vacation Bible School have to do with early education?” and invites us to “Come with our questions as we explore why building relationships in the Dominican Republic is part of our calling in Christ.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 1.46.43 PMMissy Greene coordinates programs for all ages at St. Stephens. One of those ministries is The Vine, a collaborative youth community among three of the Episcopal Churches in the Erie area. Missy will share the development of The Vine as a model for collaborative ministry among small churches. Missy also participated in the 2015 mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

All are welcome to the ECW annual meeting.  Learn more about the program and get the registration and materials at the ECW page on the diocesan website.

Grandma’s Stuffing – A Third Space story

4TOq6PhIEvery Thanksgiving my family makes the same kind of stuffing we have made for years; the recipe has been handed down through at least three generations. It is one of my favorite components of the meal because its presence makes my grandmother present at the table, even though she has passed from this life. Unlike other family recipes that are no longer at the table, the stuffing remains. It remains because it is a meaningful tradition; it connects me to people I still love though gone, cooking it leads to laughing over stories of my Gran, and it tastes awesome. It is tradition, but it is alive and meaningful.

But there are dishes that are no longer on the table that were once part of the fare. For various reasons, they are no longer present. We didn’t like the flavor of the cranberry relish; the corn pudding simply didn’t stir up the feelings of the stuffing. And so the tradition modified to include new dishes we like that we will hand down, while also keeping the old dishes that still meant something to us. We kept major parts of the traditional meal, but we tweaked it so that it was more meaningful to us- and more delicious!

All good traditions are constantly in flux, finding a balance between what works and what no longer has relevance, and adding in new components to impart more meaning to the tradition. All traditions are subject to review and evaluation, which is why I propose we subject our Christian, worshipping traditions to the same scrutiny. As attendance declines, one has to ask why and generally the why has something to do with culture and something to do with the perceived irrelevance of the institution. So why not look at the tradition, keep major parts that are still meaningful, let go of parts that are not meaningful, and add in now components that have increased relevance today?

There is no reason we have to worship God using the same patterns that have prevailed for the last half-century. It is interesting that while the rest of culture has undergone enormous shifts and changes, the houses of Christian worship have largely not participated in that change. No wonder their relevancy rating has dropped! But change is difficult, especially when folks experience such rapid culture shifts and hope that church remains a place of stability. But what is stability; is stability a continuation of the same? Or can stability be a shifting of tradition, a modifying of the inherited past so that it cultivates more meaning and relevance for those in the present?

I think how we worship God and gather to talk about our spirituality can look different. Imagine a space in which folks from every walk of life could gather together around a common table, sharing a meal and sharing their lives. A space we could talk about what is happening in our lives and where God is in the midst of them. A space where we read together, discuss together, and pray together. If that sounds like an experience to test out, let me tell you about Third Space. Third Space is a gathering of folks who share a meal, share our lives, and try to figure out where God is in our lives and in the world. You’ll find us in downtown Brookville at coffee shop once every month. We’ll be there eating and talking about God, trying to figure out how to be the people God calls us to be in our community.

By the Rev. Melinda Hall, Vicar at Trinity Memorial, Brookville, PA, Church of Our Savior, DuBois, Pa and leader of Third Space that meets at CREATE Cafe (168 Main St. Brockville, PA) Third Wednesday of the month from 7:30-9p.

Third Space – A new worship Community

lightning ChurchChurch. Does the word make you feel pleased or pained; does it cause you to cringe from painful memories or feel slightly nostalgic? Odds are the word has some impact on you because most Americans have had some experience of attending church, avoiding church, or being hurt by the church. I fall into the ‘attending church’ category, which isn’t so surprising since I’m an Episcopal priest, but my reaction to the word ‘church’ is a bit mixed. I find so much richness in the prayers and in the worship, but sometimes I wonder about what I’ve sung or said and whether it has relevance in my life.

Attendance in all churches–not just those in the mainline–has fallen sharply, revealing that lots of us are pondering the relevance of the Sunday morning experience. To many, particularly Millennials (of which I am one), church seems antique, something lovely and old, something one’s parents or grandparents attended, but which has little bearing on day-to-day life. Sitting in a pew, puzzling through hymns with words like ‘vouchsafe’ and ‘wilt’ can have the cadence of irrelevance. Equally, many people may be skeptical of worship that feels too much like entertainment or is just a little too slick. It begs the question whether worship as we know it is relevant to our lives.

Here’s what I think. I think Jesus is relevant. And I think the coming together of people to learn to love and be loved by God, each other, and their neighbors is relevant. But I think it can look different. Why couldn’t we gather together and talk about Jesus and how that might change our lives and the world? What if we shared a meal while we shared our stories? What if it was a space where I could come and you could come and your gay neighbor and your divorced sister, your disillusioned aunt and your addicted brother could come and we receive equal welcome and equal embrace?

We all live in a variety of spaces: home, work, the park, the café. Our first space is home and for a lot of us, our second space is work. But what sociologists have found is that we need a third space, somewhere we can be ourselves and find community.   A third space is a place where you can be who you are and be in relationship with others and find purpose.

Let me introduce you to Third Space, a gathering of folks where we share a meal, share our lives, and try to figure out where God is in our lives and in the world. We’re meeting in the local coffee shop once a month, trying to figure out how Jesus is present in our lives and in our community. Gathered around a meal, we talk about God and we share our lives, then we go back out into our neighborhood differently. We’re finding our third space, a place of honesty with each other and with God. The Spirit has been moving in our lives as we’ve begun gathering, and we’re not entirely sure which direction she’s moving, but we excited to be along for the ride!

By the Rev. Melinda Hall, Vicar at Trinity Memorial, Brookville, PA, Church of Our Savior, DuBois, Pa and leader of Third Space that meets at CREATE Cafe (168 Main St. Brockville, PA) Third Wednesday of the month from 7:30-9p.

‘Ah Padre’: Day 2 from the Diocesan Mission Trip to Cristo Salvador

DSC_6407‘Ah Padre,’ I jump to my feet from my plastic chair at the breakfast table to greet the aging priest entering the café. Short and balding with his pale yellow button-down and trousers, Fr. Hipolito bustles over to the table, bursting with smiles. He rattles off something in Spanish, shakes a few hands and then grasps me into a hearty embrace, my face meeting his armpit. He’s talking rapidly and gesturing wildly at me, and our translator and missionary leader Emily starts laughing as she translates. I can feel the sweat begin to spill out of my every pore as I wonder what exactly is about to come my way.

‘My baby priest!’ Hipolito exclaims with joy. I smile sheepishly, but with pleasure. Fr. Hipolito is a great guy and depending on which day it is and what he decides that day, he’s anywhere between ages 86 and 89. He has been with Cristo Salvador from the beginning, first as a small group Bible study and then as a house church. His family harbored Haitians during the Trujillo years and despite running slightly afoul of Trujillo, he managed to survive those brutal years, saving lives and spreading the gospel. I am certainly a baby priest compared with his years, his courage, and his spunk.

Released from his armpit, I smile and shake my head, following everyone out to the van. Arriving last means the front seat and in this case, the front seat means breathing some really deathly air-freshener called ‘black ice’ hanging from the rearview mirror. Dodging traffic- a few pedestrians here and there, a motorbike or two, the coconut guy with the giant knife- is really pretty fun by my book, but by the time we arrive, I nearly jump out of the van, fleeing the ‘black ice’ and the terrible synthesized music of American soft rock hits.

Fr. Hipolito leads us to the front of the building, showing us the new iron steps our diocese (meaning the donations made by DSC_6374congregations) helped pay for that lead to the roof; inside, he shows us the new doors our diocese helped purchase. We take our seats in the first few pews, behind a row of young kids. Foolishly, I think that worship is about to begin, but Father begins to tell us all about the church and other various facts. Worship only begins 15 minutes late, which is wicked early by DR standards.

By some trick of grace, the reading for their lectionary today was Ephesians 4, which is our reading next week. So naturally, the preacher spoke on unity, a unity founded on our common baptism in Christ, our common life in the Spirit. Our team has learned a lot about our various gifts, which complement each other well, and we are excited to see how our gifts are complemented and completed by the teachers we will work this week from the congregation of Cristo Salvador.

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Tomorrow we begin the VBS and our painting projects. But for now, it’s time for me to pry my legs from this sweaty vinyl cushion and find a shower and some AC.

Signing off from the DR, where the avocadoes are creamy, the plantains are dreamy, and the humidity is steamy,

The Rev. Melinda Hall, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Brookville and Church of Our Savior, DuBoise