Diocese of Ohio Mission Group Visits Franklin, PA

St. John’s, Franklin was host to a lively group last week: a mission team consisting of 29 youth and 9 adults from the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, who were in town to assist Mustard Seed Ministries of Venango County (an ecumenical service organization focused on home repair and transportation for those in need), Emmaus Haven (a transitional housing program), and Catholic Rural Ministries with various service projects in the greater Franklin area. Kids camped out in the parish hall basement by night and split into groups to tackle jobs ranging from yard work and housecleaning to building a utility shed from the ground up during the day.

Mary Anthony, director of religious education at St. Paul’s in Medina, Ohio, and one of the mission trip coordinators, took some time out from her work to talk a bit about the kids and the week’s projects.

“There are kids ages 12-19 representing six different parishes from the diocese this year,” she said. “We started coming here back in 2010 when Mother Holly was here. One of the priests from one of our churches in the diocese had found – it used to be called Helping Hands – because Mother Holly started the program. So we came and we really liked it, and this is our fifth year here.”  [Editor’s Note: Mother Holly Davis, who was priest at St. John’s in 2010, began the Helping Hands ministry during her time at the church. It has since been taken over by Pastor Randy Powell of the First Baptist Church in Franklin and renamed Mustard Seed Ministries.]

She went on to say that each year the mission coordinators come up with a list of potential areas to visit, then allow the youth to make the final decision on where they’ll be serving. “I like getting them out seeing different areas and working with different dioceses,” she continued. “We usually give them a couple of ideas, and the juniors and seniors pick. Some kids had been here and told the other kids what it was like. Deacon Dave (Betz) was here and the kids love him.” She turned and pointed out a young man who was visiting with the group during the picnic St. John’s hosted for them on Tuesday evening. “This is one of my former youth that came with us, and now he’s married and lives here in Franklin.” 

Mary’s crew of teens spent the week in Seneca assembling a shed that will be used to store lawnmowers and other equipment for the new Family Service and Children’s Aid Society PPC shelter.  “They’ve literally framed the whole thing top to bottom,” she said. “We started with 2x4s, now we’ve got all these walls and they’ll put them together on site.”  Another group assisted with the cleanup of a building that had previously been a Catholic church, but is now being repurposed as a homeless shelter through Emmaus Haven in Oil City. Deacon Dave Betz of St. John’s is the contact person for Emmaus Haven, and he shared that, while there has been a homeless shelter in Franklin for three years, the former church in Oil City has only recently been purchased and approved as a shelter. Both buildings are intended to house single men and women in homeless situations – definitely needed, since Emmaus Haven gets up to 97 calls a month for people in need of shelter in Venango County. 

This group of hardworking young people certainly were the definition of mission this week: going out into the world and spreading their faith through acts of service. Even more, they were loving their neighbors in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania as themselves. As Mary Anthony said, “We’ve gone some other places in between, but we decided we’d come back. We’ve formed some really good relationships with the people at St. John’s.”

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’  Mark 12:30-31

Blue Christmas Service to be Held in Kane

There is a very active and collegial ministerial association in Kane.  Each month pastors and a few lay leaders from our many churches get together for lunch and spend an hour or two planning for the usual community worship services, a joint vacation bible school, and church participation in other local events.  

We also discuss community problems such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and mental health issues that isolate people from one another. It seems that for the last several months there have been many funerals of both elderly members of our congregations, and as a result of unexpected deaths of younger people. In a town the size of Kane, where we all know one another, the losses, whether of loved ones, employment, or health, are shared losses, and deeply felt, especially as the holidays approach.  

And so it was that at our October meeting, Pastor Jan brought up the idea of having an ecumenical “Blue Christmas” service for people who have suffered a loss of a loved one, or are dealing with other problems that can make holidays difficult and depressing. She had gathered information from a few websites and from other churches in our area which have held such an event.  After a bit of discussion, a committee was formed to look at the idea further.

When the Blue Christmas committee met, we brought together a wealth of materials from many denominations and traditions. We had each collected scripture, litanies, prayers, poems and music. I found several selections on Episcopal Church websites, as well as in our Year C Planning for Rites and Rituals resource book.  

As we discussed what we had pulled together, we recognized that feelings of loss and hopelessness are not limited to adults. Children are deeply affected when a family has experienced a crisis. Heather, one of our youngest pastors, volunteered to have a separate gathering on site for elementary aged children using books and activities that she had pulled together.  She is also looking into bringing in a service dog which is trained to work especially with children in emotional distress.

As the plan for a candlelight service began to form in our minds, we chose the evening of Friday, December 21, the longest night of the year, as the date.  St. John’s was chosen for the location because of its intimate size and comforting atmosphere. Pastor David with his years of chaplain experience will present a homily, and we hope to have a counselor from Hospice speak as well. There will be clergy and lay persons from all of the churches leading the worship time.  Music will include both traditional hymns, Taize, and instrumental, but not Christmas carols as such, since they can be powerful emotional triggers.  Following the service we have planned a time of fellowship with refreshments, as well as the opportunity for people to talk with clergy and other professional counselors. 

With our initial publicity about this event, we have had good feedback so far, and a lot of interest.  We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this endeavor that we may touch the hearts and minds of many who are suffering, and help them to begin to heal.

Becky Harris is a member of St. John’s, Kane. 

Editor’s Note: All are welcome to attend the Blue Christmas Service at St. John’s on Friday, December 21 at 7:00 PM.

Keep Plugging Away


David is in the bottom row on the left.

David Gorman likes to think he knows a thing or two about community. He has five roommates, with whom he shares a modest food budget. They have a weekly chore chart and take turns leading evening prayer. They discuss balancing house relationships with outside ones, and how best to interact with neighbors. All this is outlined in their Rule of Life, a covenant they created which acts as a guidepost for their time together.

Community is a central pillar of Grace-on-the-Hill, an Episcopal Service Corps site in Richmond, Virginia. Grace-on-the-Hill invites young adults in their twenties to engage their Christian faith through a 10-month period of service, vocational discernment, and leadership formation. These young adults also work at a local ministry or non-profit.

David’s worksite is Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. AJCES is an independent middle school which provides full scholarships to students of limited economic resources. He serves as an administrative assistant and teacher aide. You might also see him driving a mini-bus.

Below is David’s reflection on his work at AJCES.


Keep Plugging Away

Note: This reflection was inspired by a novel in the AJCES library entitled What Momma Left Me, in which each chapter title is a section of the Lord’s Prayer. At the beginning of each day at AJCES, students and staff recite these words Jesus taught us.

Our Father, who art in heaven…

In the parent column of the student roster, I see many mothers and grandmothers, but hardly any fathers. I know not to assume students live with their father or have regular contact with him.

Hallowed be thy name…

I remember the daunting challenge of learning 90 student names, most of which I was not familiar with. It was a glorious day indeed when I could browse the faces in the cafeteria and recite everyone’s name!

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

I read in T’s essay about AJC, “I like chapel because we talk about God,” and, “We are all a family because God made us,” and I’m reminded of the important work we are doing.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Lord, give us our breakfast bars, our Lucky Charms, our Cheetz-Its, our meatloaf patties, our apple juice. We need all the energy we can get. We work hard at AJC!

And forgive us our trespasses…

Upset at A’s refusal to redo the practice test, I flung the packet in his face. Walking away, I realized, I’m going to need to apologize for that, and later I did. I remember hearing a teacher say that apologies can strengthen relationships because they show you care enough to make amends.

As we forgive those who trespass against us…

When students are especially rude or disrespectful to me, I always make sure to say hi to them the next day, to fist-bump them like all the other students. It’s a way of silently saying, Today is a new day. Let’s start again.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…

I’m tempted to be impatient, or to be too busy. I’m tempted to wallow in what seems impossible, or to see a student as their behavior. There is much to be delivered from in these neighborhoods.

For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory…

After all is said and done—pep talks given, ice packs doled out, refocusing measures taken, math problems explained—things are out of our hands, a truth both liberating and terrifying. At the end of the day, we lament the bad stuff, celebrate the good stuff, and keep plugging away.

For ever and ever. Amen.

David Gorman, whose home parish is St. Stephen’s in Fairview, will be attending Virginia Commonwealth University this fall to earn a Masters of Education in School Counseling.

The Rev. Tim Dyer is Kintsugi

This is the third and final installment in a three part series highlighting the stories of our three seminarians. Click here to read stories about the other two seminarians.

kintsugiKintsugi is the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery using lacquer and gold. The broken pieces are soldered back together with gold in the seams. The philosophy is that the pottery’s brokenness is part of its history and does not need to be hidden. Many regard the finished product as even more beautiful than the original. Something broken is remade into something stunning and useful.

The Rev. Tim Dyer considers himself a piece of Kintsugi. He has been broken both emotionally and physically and has been remade. Though he is shy about talking about his strengths, there is gold in his seams. Rightfully so, he attributes that remaking and the gold to God’s handiwork.

The story of Tim’s accident and near death is no secret [Click here to read an account by Vanessa Butler reprinted from “The Forward,” September of 2013]. Tim was literally broken in several places after a deer hit his car in November 2012. He spent 6 months in the hospital and at one point was not expected to live. He has been through a long road to recovery and in some ways is still broken: “I used to be able to bench press 450 pounds.” Being strong and physical was one of the ways Tim defined his identity before the accident. He is still relearning how to do things and is limited. Now, over three years after his accident, he can barely wield a shovel before his partially healed wrist swells up and keeps him from doing physical labor. He has struggled with losing that part of his identity.

The story of Tim’s brokenness that many don’t know is his ‘prodigal son’ experience. As a very young man Tim joined the Marines and was stationed in Spain. While there, he had a challenging relationship with his stateside girlfriend that ended up in a very emotional breakup. In response, Tim stayed drunk for two years and blamed God for his hurt. He couldn’t get leave to come home so it was easier to act like home wasn’t there and he isolated himself from his family. He was later transferred to California and, while there, started using crystal meth. When he realized it was killing him, he quit but at that point was too embarrassed to go home.

Unbeknownst to Tim, his father had been praying that Tim would return home and return to God. God answers prayers in mysterious ways sometimes. Tim got a call in 1999 that his father had a heart attack (which he survived). Tim knew it was time to come home.

Since then, God has soldered Tim’s broken pieces back together. It started with his family accepting him back without question. Tim then found his life partner, Noreen, and together they started going to church. Tim started feeling acceptance there as well and started getting involved by being a lay reader and a lay minister. Tim later figured out that the turning point for him was when he forgave himself and turned back to God: “God had forgiven me a long time before.”

16969_100564616643449_761487_nTim then started discerning a call to the priesthood and was guided in that decision by Deacon Michael Bauschard: “His dedication was an incredible example to me.” Tim officially entered the ordination process in 2007. He took local courses and, after the hiatus due to his accident, completed his bachelor’s degree in the summer of 2014. He was ordained to the transitional diaconate, surrounded by family, friends and supporters from across the diocese, in February 2015. This past June, Tim began his Masters in Divinity studies in the Church Divinity School of the Pacific’s low residence program and expects to graduate in 2019.

God has soldered Tim back physically as well. No, Tim may not be able to bench press that 450 pounds anymore, but he and Noreen are a team. What one could do before, two can now do even better. They get everything done together. Tim says that you don’t really know him completely until you get to know Noreen.

God has certainly reinforced Tim’s broken pieces with gold. Tim sees his story of brokenness as what has made him who he is. He is able to use it to relate to others. He has known what is like to be isolated from God and family and then to come back and is able to guide others through similar experiences. Tim feels called to be in relationship with people and to serve at a small local church. The way Tim identifies himself is no longer as someone with physical strength, but, rather, as a child of God. “When we place our identity in Jesus Christ we become secure because Christ is always with us.”

Tim lives out that identity through his service to others. He is a Clergy Associate for Pastoral Ministries and sees part of his ministry as helping to facilitate a different understanding of what pastoral care is about. He says, “the worship we do on Sundays is practice for what we are to take into the world and share, but we need to make sure we share that with each other too.” Tim is also the founder of the “The Children of Abraham Project,” through which he helps bring Christians, Muslims and Jews together to understand each other. Tim truly believes in living out this question from the Baptismal covenant: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

Tim is also grateful for all the support and love he has received from his community at the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. He is thankful for all the people who have taught him, guided him and supported him through his accident and ordination process. “Interacting with the body of Christ, my community, pushes my boundaries and forms me. I look forward to more of that.”

You can find the Rev. Tim Dyer, golden seams and all, at Trinity Memorial Episcopal Church in Warren and St. Francis Episcopal Church in Youngsville serving as a deacon. He is there giving back what has been given to him and helping to solder broken pieces back together.

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

“That’s God’s Work Right There” A One Church Story

Donny began “How you all doing today? Who has something they’re sorry for today?” And there it was.

The Holy Spirit was in the house. It was palpable. I just didn’t know it yet.

2015-09-12 17.41.28A little earlier on that chilly, wet afternoon, I parked the car and found my way up the stairway marked with yellow. It was oddly quiet inside. Finding our way through the back hall into the kitchen, my 2 friends and I discovered folks standing around a prep table donned in hairnets and aprons. They looked ready. But no one was doing anything just yet. I needed to get started.

One of my responses to nervousness is to let my tasky side take over. And unexpectedly, I was pretty nervous the afternoon I went to the Erie City Mission to participate in the first joint venture between St. Marks and St. Stephens for a Saturday dinner. I did not know the people from St. Marks well. I had never been to the Erie City Mission (ECM). And I had never worked in a commercial kitchen. So though I was excited about this outreach, I was antsy, too.

We spent a few moments in introductions and then the work got underway. A few plated desserts. Some sliced buns for the barbecue. Others rolled the silverware and napkins. Shortly, the amazing Jackie Krukowski arrived. She leads the kitchen efforts at ECM. The buzz in the kitchen grew. We were all eager to be a part of this ministry. With initiative, teamwork and Jackie’s supervision, we were ready to serve with time to spare.

I had volunteered to lead the blessing. You might think that was the source of my nerves, but it was really a very small factor. I’m a big ham. Donny, the greeter and coordinator out front, prepped me. He would talk first then I would start the prayers. To be honest, I was glad to have a warm-up act.

That’s when Donny began with his “How you all doing today? Who has something they’re sorry for today?” And I felt the Holy Spirit.

Every person in that cafeteria looked tired– a bit worn by life. Most of them were in jackets, wet from hoofing it in the cold rain. All but one of them were men. The singular young woman raised her hand to answer Donny’s question. She could not have been 20 years old. She started slowly.   She said how sorry she was for how she had hurt her family, particularly her father. She described her circumstances, which included drug use, the preterm loss of a child and homelessness. She was in so much pain that she couldn’t stop talking. I was unsure of how to move us along. Donny, at the ready, approached me and said “Can you go with her into another room? Can you spend some time with her? Listen?”

All I could think was “I don’t know what to say.” But wait. She needed someone to listen. I had to lead the prayer, so I turned to another volunteer and said “Can you go sit with her? Spend some time listening?” Her response told me that she was not a social worker, counselor or clergy. In fact, none of us were. But we could all listen. She said yes and Jackie showed them to a room where they could talk.

We said our prayers, then Donny organized the tray line. We began serving and, in no time, needed to start the dishes. The guests were so kind and gracious. One guest told me about a place where the young woman might find help. I shared it with Jackie, and she marched off with purpose. Another said, “How can that father turn his back on that girl? I have 2 daughters and I would do anything for them.” He winced and walked away with tears in his eyes.

Finally there was a break for Jackie and she asked me what was going on with that young girl. She had missed the opening. I briefly told her what had happened. And in a flash she responded with “That’s God’s work right there.” That’s when I knew it. That’s when I understood the palpable change in the air from earlier.

2015-09-12 15.13.01We were a group of people from 2 churches. We just wanted to do some outreach. We knew that the ECM still had some Saturdays where they needed meals. We came together not knowing much about each other. We laughed. We enjoyed each other. We got the work done. I’m guessing nobody expected the experience with that young woman. But I am pretty sure it’s safe to say that when we left, we knew it was God’s work. We had been given a chance to help a few folks feel better for a few hours. Lucky us.

I am a lowly student of human behavior. I continue to search for my path in life and what God’s plan is for me. And there is so much I do not know. But I believe that on that day we were each agents of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe that is what the nervousness was about.

Danielle Bane, St. Stephen’s, Fairview

Serving Our Neighbors

Emerson-GridleyJesús sat on the floor of Ms. Thomas’s office. Ms. Thomas is the guidance counselor at Emerson-Gridley Elementary School, and Jesús, a kindergartener, was in time out. Ms. Thomas took a moment before speaking with me to introduce Jésus and me to each other. Evidently, the teacher had needed a few moments of class sans Jesús, who was spending some quality time with Ms. Thomas, coloring and doing puzzles. Jesús was a bit disheveled, a bit loud, and looked like he might be a handful in class. But he was exactly why I was here.

The Cathedral of St. Paul has made a concerted effort in the past few years to learn about our neighbors. We have taken an active role in the Our West Bayfront organization, participated in the Neighborhood Night Out, hosted city planning meetings, hosted the Sunday Supper Outreach dinner, and, of course, we continue to house a busy Food Pantry. We’ve taken steps not only to become more aware of what’s going on in our small part of the world but also to partner with those working to make it better. In this spirit, it seemed only fitting to contact our neighborhood city school, Emerson-Gridley Elementary.

And that brings me to that day last May when I sat in Ms. Thomas’s office with Jesús. I had contacted Ms. Thomas to talk about the Adopt-A-School program and was very excited to see how we could support them.

Emerson-Gridley lies in one of Erie’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Some families are refugees. Many breadwinners work minimum-wage jobs. Many live below the poverty line. What we wished as a Cathedral to provide through this new partnership was a source of consistent support for these folks through their children’s school, through teachers and school staff who have knowledge of how we might best help residents of this neighborhood. Our neighborhood. Ms. Thomas and I decided the best course of action would be for the Cathedral to partner specifically with the First Grade class.

IMG_1044Over the summer we gathered crayons, flash cards and donated toward the purchase of 125 red polo shirts. The response was tremendous. Our Cathedral folks were eager to support this new partnership, and before long the floor of my office
was filled with boxes of school supplies. After service one Sunday late in August, we packed 125 gifts bags with the supplies and a shirt, as well as a brief note of encouragement for each child.
A Cathedral posse arrived at Emerson-Gridley’s back entrance on September 2. There were 5 of us – myself; Cass Shimek, administrator; Dean and Sharon Downey; and Beth Weddington, member and volunteer – many more than were needed for the job, but we all wished to share in the joy of bringing these small gifts and meet some new friends. Ms. Thomas took the time to introduce us to the First-grade teachers and students, stopping in each classroom to show the children what was in each bag and encouraging a warm “thank you!” in response. At one point, I was wishing there was something a bit more exciting in the bags – maybe a yo-yo or candy bar – but the reaction we got was gratifying nonetheless.

imageMore gratifying, still, was the huge envelope of handmade thank you cards that arrived a couple weeks later. Pictures and notes with sentiments such as “thank you, friends” and “I love my shirt” now adorn a bulletin board in our Commons.

In early October, we were able to send funds to provide school buses to take children from Emerson-Gridley to a concert by the Erie Philharmonic on November 4 at Warner Theater. The concert is entitled “Musicalympics” and focuses on the various connections between sports and music. Emerson-Gridley will receive a curriculum from the Erie Phil ahead of time; complete with lesson plans, games, and audio CD and more. Field trips such as this are an expensive undertaking for our schools as buses usually cost about $200 per trip. What a joy that the Cathedral is able to provide this opportunity for fun and learning through music.

And in process is one of the most important parts of our new partnership – readers and tutors to work with the children at Emerson-Gridley. The Cathedral has 5 members who wish to help with children on a regular basis. Although it has been a lengthy process, I am finally getting all the necessary clearances taken care of for our volunteers, and hopefully we’ll be in the classroom before the end of the year. An invaluable resource in this new outreach has been the Partnership for Erie’s Public Schools. PEPS is a nonprofit organization working to strengthen Erie’s Public Schools by providing financial and community support in five areas: Arts, Academics, Athletics, Assistance, and Advocacy. We have also recently become a member of the All Our Children National Network. All Our Children promotes, supports, and strengthens effective partnerships between congregations and under-resourced urban public schools. Acting as advocate, resource, and convener, AOC nurtures and celebrates these church-school partnerships such as ours.

The work is only beginning. But I do not wish to think of our new partnership as “work.” It’s a joy. A gift. A responsibility. A calling. And a duty to our neighborhood. Our city. To Jesús. To all God’s people.

AJ Noyes, Program Associate, Cathedral of St. Paul