Who Knew There Were So Many Chipotles?

This is a post from Nicholas Evancho a seminarian from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania who just completed his first year at Virginia Theological Seminary.  Nicholas’ home church is Epiphany, Grove City.  To read about our other seminarians, Click here . 

200px-Virginia_Theological_Seminary_Alexandria,_VAMy first year of seminary has been an eventful and formative experience and more has happened in the last year than I ever expected. I have had the opportunity to connect with people from all over the Communion and the Episcopal Church in ways that have been both exciting and challenging. Being immersed in the Seminary community has shown the breadth of the Episcopal Church and the life and opportunities that are present in her.

During my first semester I had the privilege of singing in the choir at the consecration of the Immanuel Chapel presided over by Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori with Archbishop Justin Welby serving as preacher. It was exciting to meet them and other big names in Anglicanism and to put personalities and faces to the names that receive so much esteem in church circles.

Being a musician on campus and one of the staff choristers for the Seminary Choir has given me the opportunity to participate in the diverse liturgical life of the Seminary community. I have served as everything from soloist at Lessons and Carols to service organist, to the background pianist at a cocktail party for the Alumni Association 50th Reunion and everything in-between. My most rewarding musical experience has been being a part of the Schola Cantorum which performs acapella motets and chorales for services of Solemn Evensong and other special services throughout the year. This is a totally student run ensemble that has managed to grow into a professional quality group that has become a valued part of the worship life of the community.

red-peppers-296655_640It has also been exciting, and at times scary, to get my first car while living in the Washington, DC area. I have been able to venture around DC and to see many of the monuments and museums that are scattered throughout the city. I have also gotten to take advantage of my horrible sense of direction since many of my discoveries in the city are due solely to my ability to get lost following even simple directions. (Who knew there were so many Chipotles?) It has been a joy to have many family and friends come and visit me and I have, as Bishop Sean warned me I would, become a great DC tour guide over the last year. It was a special gift that many of my classmates from Grove City got together for a reunion in the DC area and spent the weekend together playing games and catching up on developments in life.

For the first semester this year I was able to visit different parishes around the Dioceses of Virginia, Maryland, and Washington in order to find a place to serve as parish seminarian for the following two years. These churches ranged in character and history spanning from parishes at which George Washington and Robert E. Lee attended, to the National Cathedral, to those with newer worship styles using praise bands and contemporary liturgical ideas. I eventually settled on doing my Field Education at Christ Church, Georgetown which is an historic parish in the oldest neighborhood in the DC area. I am excited to serve there each Sunday and to begin to experience the life of a congregation unlike any I have ever encountered.

Now that I have finished my first year I have completed studies in New Testament, Greek Translation, Old Testament, History of Spirituality, Liturgical Music, and the Theory and Practice of Ministry. These classes have not only enriched me academically but some even involved community volunteer work that broadened and expanded my understanding of what it means to be a minister to a wide range of people. These classes have prepared me to enter Clinical Pastoral Education this Summer during which I will serve as a chaplain at a local Nursing Home/Rehab center in order to get experience with ministry in crisis situations. This will certainly be a great opportunity to grow in my vocation and begin to practice ministry in real-world situations.

Your prayers are greatly appreciated as I continue on my journey and I could not do any of it without the support of the great and Godly people of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. If you would like to continue to follow and support my journey you can find periodic updates at my website: http://www.walkingtowalsingham.com

Nicholas Evancho

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Being A Priest Part 2: “Broken Open”

Read the first post in this series, “Being A Priest.”

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“…people bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs.” Rachel Evans

“All ministry begins at the ragged edges of our own pain.” Ian Morgan Cron

structure-626872_1280Pain and Brokenness. In a class with Dr. Joyce Mercer at Virginia Theological Seminary we explored the cumulative effect of trauma on clergy. Each of us carries our own brokenness with us and we also experience the brokenness of those we serve. Add that up over time and the weight is cumulative and can break the strongest if you and I stay open to the pain and suffering of others, of ourselves and of the world. The first rector I worked for shut down on pain. First he stopped paying attention to his own and then he stopped paying attention to the pain of his people. He surrounded himself with people who protected him but he became a poor reflection of his former self. I always wondered why that was so? I think pain was at the source of his disconnect.

I don’t think for a minute that God inflicts us with experiences so we can learn what it means to hurt. God doesn’t need to. All we have to do is love and live and inevitably pain will come our way. Brokenness is different. James Allison writes in his book “Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay” that the experience of being broken began to be seen in such a way as to become restorative. Allison writes that the experience of being a gay man, a priest, and rejected by his Catholic community invited him to experience and explore the brokenness of his own life that had to do with more than his sexual orientation, policies of the Roman Catholic Church, and love; but not less than those either. This had to do with the complete dismantling of his understanding of himself and the values upon which he had based his existence. Whatever those had been proved to be false under the pressure of his life experiences. Realizing they needed to go became the moment he learned that to live was to experience his own broken-openedness. He was in pieces and at first tried to frantically hold all the pieces together like Humpty-Dumpty after the fall. But he was unable. So he pleaded with God and God began to help him construct a new existence based upon his brokenness.

The challenge of Alison’s book was to examine how we’ve also been a source of pain and brokenness for others. His argument, an argument held by many, is that when we are broken open we are just as likely to lash out towards others, as we are to be empathetic.   And as insensitive as the Roman Catholic Church could be, he wrote, is also as insensitive as he was capable of being. So when we are broken open we get to see the whole picture of ourselves; not only how we’ve been broken, but also how we’ve contributed to the brokenness of others. He would then say that our brokenness is complete and now ready for the process of being restored by God from the insight out as all good healing is meant to go. As priests and clergy it’s not our calling to lead with our brokenness. Perhaps it’s more we stay continuously aware of that space within each of us that periodically cries out for healing and wholeness. And through our pain invite others to healing.

A Fable

It was raining in the forest. It had been raining for days, and all the birds and animals were drenched. The eagle, too, was drenched, and his spirits dampened as well, for his mate lay with a chill, a victim of the constant rain. There was no way to keep her dry, and the eagle looked on with despair as her life slowly drained away. His tears mingled with the rain when she died.

It was raining in the forest. The eagle could not stand the rain. It brought back memories too painful for him to bear. He rose up from the trees, hoping, in flight to escape his thoughts. Higher and higher he climbed until finally he broke through the dark clouds into the dazzling sunlight that lay beyond. As the warm sun dried his wings, he suddenly realized that the healing sun had been there all the time his mate had needed it. The pain of knowledge learned too late was more than he could stand, and there were tears for the sun to dry.

eagle-1260079_1280It was raining in the forest. It had been raining for days, and all the birds and animals were drenched. The rabbit, too, was drenched, and her spirits dampened as well, for her child lay with a chill, a victim of the constant rain. She poured out her sad tale to all who would listen, but the other creatures, too, were victims of the rain, and none could help. An eagle happened by, and the rabbit began to tell her tale to him. But she had hardly started speaking when the eagle suddenly lifted the rabbit’s dying child onto his wings and began to circle quickly up into the dark and stormy clouds on an errand he did not take time to explain.

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Our pain may teach us how to heal. (Armstrong)

 Dedicated to Fr. Holy Joe (Roy Hendricks), that ramblin, Jamaican lovin, healin, man of God.

The Rev. Al Johnson, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

Native Son Graduates From Prestigious Army Chaplaincy Program

Air Force Chaplain Mark R. Juchter graduated from the Fort Hood Family Life Chaplain Training Center and received a Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Texas A&M Central Texas on December 12, 2015.

You may recognize the name, as Mark is a native son to our diocese. Mark’s father, John, was the deacon at St. Mark’s, Erie, for many years and his mother, Annabelle, is still a member there. Mark got his start in life at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Erie in 1972. He attended East High School and Gannon University. When Mark was 17, Bishop Rowley talked to him about the ordination process. As Mark puts it, “I didn’t really listen to him until I was 27.” Mark then attended seminary at Seabury Western and was ordained a priest in 2003. During his second year at Seabury, Mark was commissioned as an Air Force Chaplain Candidate. This began his passion for serving in the military and his journey to the Family Life Chaplain Training Program.

After his ordination and while serving in the Air Force Reserves, Mark served for two years as the curate at St. John’s in Sharon under the Rev. Doug Dayton.   He was then called to St. George’s in Pearl Harbor, HI. While there, he became a 1st Lieutenant Chaplain. He broke many a speed limit on Sundays going back and forth between St. George’s and the Hickam Air Force Base. At the time, Mark felt that he was leading two lives: the life of a priest and the life of an Air Force Chaplain.

In 2007, Mark felt that God was telling him that he was doing this all wrong. He felt that the bigger part of his call was the Air Force. And so he moved to active duty and was transferred to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. He spent two and a half years there and then was assigned to a base in Nevada. He was there from 2011 until 2014 when he was accepted into the Family Life Chaplain Training Center program.

The Family Life Chaplain Training Center is staffed with specially-trained chaplains and provides counseling services to the Fort Hood community. Becoming a chaplain in this program is quite competitive.  Mark was one of only two Air Force Chaplains to be selected to this program in 2014. Mark spent 18 months and over 500 hours in field education (counseling) at Fort Hood. His focus was on trauma and he worked with many clients with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). His training included taking additional courses on a technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). EMDR is a psychotherapy that uses eye motions to help those suffering with trauma “dislodge” or reprocess memories of traumatic events. Mark has become well versed in this technique to help his clients with PTSD. Mark stated that he is grateful to Bishop Sean for supporting his training in EMDR, funding additional training in the use of EMDR to help people overcome addiction.

Mark now sees himself as a chaplain who can counsel on a therapeutic level. When he first got to Fort Hood and the Family Life Chaplain Training Center program, he was tentative when someone with trauma would ask to talk with him. Now when asked, in his head he says, “bring it on.” Mark has just been assigned to be a teacher at the Air Force Chaplain Corps College (AFCCC), a training center for chaplains and chaplain assistants at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. Mark is excited about this next adventure and is grateful for all the support and prayers from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Bishop Sean. Mark’s advice to those considering ordination is to remember that there are many ways to live out your call other than parish ministry. He is happy to talk with anyone about the military path.

Julien Goulet, Assistant to Communications and Administration, Diocese of Northwestern 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