Feeding the Future (Part One)

One of the areas we’ve focused on as a diocese is collaboration, and more specifically, how pooling our resources and talents can lead to adaptive change not only in the church, but in our communities for the greater glory of God. While this can take several forms, one obvious area for change is outreach.

We’re fortunate in our diocese to have several congregations who’ve come together to increase the impact of their ministry. For this series, we’ll focus on the Snack Pack outreach project, a collaboration between St. Stephen’s in Fairview and St. Mark’s in Erie to aid youth attending the Erie Charter School of Excellence.

One might ask: Why pick a charter school to partner with for an outreach project? Generally charter schools aren’t thought of as institutions in need of aid, but this particular school and its target demographic are an exception to the rule. From the CSE website:

The Charter School of Excellence initially opened its doors for students on August 26, 2003 for the school year 2003-2004. The school serves students in grades six through twelve from the Erie, Pennsylvania region. Although any student can attend the charter school, the school’s focus is directed toward those students who have had significant difficulties with academic performance in their previous school settings.

As Carly Rowe of St. Mark’s puts it, “These are kids who for whatever reason wouldn’t have made it in the public system.” CSE has a high refugee and English as a second language population, which seems unusual until you consider that, as of May 2017, Erie’s mayoral office estimated that roughly 18% of the city’s population comprises refugee families from countries like Syria, Bhutan, and Iraq, among others. Besides students facing language and cultural barriers, there is also a subset of teen mothers and roughly 30% of CSE students are considered homeless or under housed.

With all the obstacles these students work through on a daily basis, the uncertainty that they will get a meal at home only compounds the difficulty of trying to concentrate in school. Part of providing a recipe for success at CSE is making sure their students have regular meals. Breakfast and lunch are served each school day, but, when it comes to weekends, the school has little control. This is where the Snack Pack outreach program steps in: St. Mark’s and St. Stephen’s have teamed up with the Second Harvest Food Bank to create food packets that are delivered to students two Fridays a month so they have food at home over the weekend. Church volunteers pick up the food from Second Harvest, pack individual bags (along with supplemental items donated by members of both congregations), and volunteers who have passed both Safe Church and school district clearances take the bags to the school and deliver them to students.

While getting food to the students is the basis of this particular outreach project, the hands-on delivery by the volunteers has had an added benefit: the building of relationships between church volunteers and the school faculty and administrative personnel. As the volunteers have become a known quantity in the building, the faculty find it easier to speak with them directly and share additional student needs that may not have been communicated otherwise, which has led to an expansion of the outreach ministry. As a result of speaking with teachers about student needs, St. Mark’s now supplies a hygiene pantry at the school, where church members donate items like toothpaste and soap that are available at the school for students to take what they need. One member of the St. Mark’s congregation is using her talents as an extreme couponer to purchase additional hygiene products to supplement the donations, which stretches the purchase power of outreach dollars while simultaneously creating an opportunity for members who aren’t available on delivery days to participate in the project.  The Snack Pack program has also grown to include a packed lunch service that takes place during the school’s summer program – last summer St. Mark’s provided 75 bagged lunches two times a week for four weeks, which covered half of the CSE summer session.

Earlier this winter, teachers also made the Snack Pack volunteers aware that several of the students didn’t have appropriate outerwear for Erie weather. With this in mind, the collection taken at Diocesan Convention was earmarked to purchase coats for CSE students. Bishop Sean matched the dollar amount collected at the convention Eucharist service and, with the combined funds, over 100 coats were purchased and donated for students who would otherwise have gone without.

It’s sometimes difficult to see the impact of a ministry once the donations have been sent to their destination, but in this video, produced by Charter School of Excellence students, you can see firsthand the kind of impression this program is making:

In our next segment of Feeding the Future, we’ll discuss the issues of long term ministry sustainability, growing ministry from strictly outreach into relationships, and the continued impact that this ministry has on both the church and the community. Stay tuned!

Sharing Resources: The Joint Board of Examining Chaplains

Our collaboration with the Diocese of Western New York isn’t just discussion for the future – the Joint Board of Examining Chaplains is a shared ministry of both dioceses that over the past three years has shown how combining resources can benefit our ongoing work for the Kingdom. Read on to learn more about this ongoing collaboration. 

The Joint Board of Examining Chaplains (JBEC) has for the last 3 years helped the Commissions on Ministry (COMs) of both the Diocese of Western New York and the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania monitor and assess the academic preparation of postulants and candidates for ordained ministry. The JBEC currently consists of six chaplains, three from each diocese, with one from each diocese serving as co-chairs. They meet twice a year, in the spring and fall, and use their time together to review work submitted from those in the formation process. Reports then go directly to the COMs to help in their work of shepherding our future clergy through their formation.

This shared ministry of the two dioceses is the result of conversations that began early in 2013, when the bishops of each diocese asked their examining chaplains to meet together and discuss the possibility of how we could share resources. Those first meetings explored the logistical issues of working together, the similarities and differences between the formation process and culture of each diocese, and the potential benefits. Very quickly we saw that having a larger team of people committed to the ministry meant better oversight and broader perspectives available for the work, and the potential negatives could be easily mitigated by careful planning and communication.

Time was spent putting together a proposal for how the joint committee would function, along with a set of requests on how we would want to do that work. One key piece has been the development of guidelines for postulants and candidates that ask them to build a portfolio of work from the academic formation, pieces of which get submitted to the JBEC each year. This way, instead of a cursory inspection of work towards the end of the formation process, the JBEC can both suggest ideas for improvement along the way and also have ample evidence of a candidate’s preparation in case end of formation examinations raise concerns.

That proposal went to the two dioceses in the summer of 2014, and at the conventions later that year the current members of the JBEC were appointed. Currently, The Rev. Vicki Zust and The Rev. Matthew Scott serve as the co-chairs.

The Rev. Matthew Scott is vicar of the Episcopal Mission of Warren County – St. Francis and Trinity Memorial churches. 

St. John’s and Grace – A Relationship in Christ

A long long time ago… well, at least thirty years ago, two congregations in Franklin decided to do something radical. They decided to prepare for Christmas and Easter together, spending the seasons of Advent and Lent having soup suppers and sharing the Word of God.

The radical part about this whole idea is that one congregation was Episcopalian, St. John’s, while the other congregation was Evangelical Lutheran, Grace. Way before the official agreement between the national Episcopal Church and the national Evangelical Lutheran Church on shared ministry, St. John’s and Grace in Franklin were sharing fellowship, bible study, and prayer.

Fast forward almost twenty years and that same shared ministry of soup suppers in Advent and Lent was still going on. However, one of the congregations had fallen into some difficult decisions in financial and facility matters. Yet, since the members of Grace Lutheran knew the congregation at St. John’s and were familiar with St. John’s Church, they had an option beyond closing. They decided to sell their building and rent space from St. John’s.

After another almost ten years, the relationship between St. John’s and Grace is still going strong. Not only do the congregations share Advent and Lent soup suppers, but now also Sunday School, Adult Formation, an annual Church Picnic, Coffee Hour, Vacation Bible School, and both congregations have members in the Grace Chapter of the Daughters of the King. Joint services are held regularly and almost all the high feast days are celebrated together.

Given this great relationship, the clergy, vestry, and council of St. John’s and Grace undertook this past year to put together a document entitled the Shared Ministry Agreement. The Agreement outlines the relationship and shared ministry of the two congregations, while presenting some new ideas to help both congregations move into the future.

All this culminated in a great celebration this past December. On Sunday December 17th, 2017, Bishop Sean Rowe and Bishop Ralph Jones joined the congregations of Grace and St. John’s in a special Eucharist which included the signing of the Shared Ministry Agreement, confirmation, and the Blessing of the new Elevator Lift in the Parish Hall. Both the Vestry and the Council stood before the bishops and committed the churches to the development and partnering of this relationship.

While we can all thank the Holy Spirit for its work in bringing together the congregations of St. John’s and Grace over the years, the members of both congregations state that the real reasons the relationship has withstood the testing of time and troubles is that we have become one community. The members proclaim, “We are better together,” “We like working together, we like being in community together.” Being a part of Christ’s one Body means working together even when we are different. We strive to live this out as one community made up of Episcopalians and Lutherans in Franklin.

No longer is either congregation defensive about which ministry is whose or how they fit together. The reality of the situation is that neither Grace nor St. John’s would be able to follow through on the mission of the church in Franklin without the other. However, together, we are able to follow God’s calling to us in Franklin.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest-in-Charge of St. John’s Church, Franklin.