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!

Harry Potter and Faith

If you know me even just a little bit, chances are you know that I have a slight obsession with the Harry Potter book series. I blame whoever bought my cousin Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for her birthday. I remember picking up the book, reading the summary, and thinking it sounded interesting enough to read. I also remember that it did not take me very long to get through the four books that were published at time, and I was hooked. Fast forward seventeen years, three books, nine movies, Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter trip, owning the books in multiple languages, a ton of merchandise, a couple of trips to the United Kingdom, one Harry Potter themed Winter Vacation Bible School, and so much more later, I am still fascinated by the world created by J.K. Rowling. It certainly helps when you have friends to share an obsession with you.

I met Tricia Lyons during my time at Virginia Theological Seminary, and I have gotten to know her a little better over the last couple of years through a mutual friend, who also happens to love Harry Potter. I have experienced Tricia’s knowledge and love for both the gospel and Harry Potter through a sermon preached at our friend’s wedding and as a part of a Facebook group that was gathered to cheer her on while writing the book.

I am so excited that she has agreed to come and share this knowledge and love with us in just over a week. I believe that both fans of Harry Potter and those interested in how this cultural phenomenon ties into the messages of the gospel will enjoy the event. Please consider joining us to learn more! It is an open event that is ideal for elementary school age and up – yes, adults too!

Harry Potter and Faith
Saturday, October 14, 2017
10:00AM to 12:00PM
at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 1070 Dutch Rd. Fairview, PA
This event is for all ages, elementary school to adults!

The Rev. Dr. Patricia (Tricia) Lyons will share aspects of her new book, Teaching Faith with Harry Potter, by exploring the connections that the Harry Potter series has with faith formation for all ages. This event will also include Quidditch, Harry Potter trivia, treats, and more! Please join us!

For more information and to register for Saturday’s event, visit www.ststephens-fairview.org.

Tricia will also preach at St. Stephen’s on Sunday, October 15 at both the 8:00AM and 10:00AM worship services. Come hear how she connects Sunday’s scriptures with Harry Potter.

If you have questions, please contact Missy Greene, missy@ststephens-fairview.org.

Wands, broomsticks, and Harry Potter wardrobe are encouraged. Please leave your cats, rats, and toads at home.


The Rev. Dr. Patricia Lyons has spent twenty years teaching ethics and theology in Episcopal schools and seminaries. Author of Soul of Adolescence and numerous articles and book chapters on moral and spiritual development theory, her passion for melding pop culture and faith formation has made her a sought after speaker across the Episcopal Church and beyond. She had a Master’s of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, a Doctor of Ministry from Virginia Theological Seminary, and is the found of the C.S. Lewis Society of Harvard. She lives in Alexandria,  Virginia and is the Missioner for Evangelism and Community Engagement for the Diocese of Washington. You can also follow her on Facebook as the Hogwart’s Chaplain.

Mischief Managed!

Missy Greene is the Associate for Christian Formation at St. Stephen’s, Fairview. 

Brewing Faith – A Christian Community

Brewing FaithA brainchild of St. Stephen’s Fairview, Brewing Faith has become an essential piece to the spiritual lives and development of many young adults in the Erie area.

What is Brewing Faith? Brewing Faith is a monthly opportunity for young adults in their twenties and thirties to come together in a casual atmosphere – that of a craft brew pub – and intentionally discuss issues of faith and life. A collaborative ministry of St. Stephen’s and St. Mark’s, it is modeled after other young adult groups found throughout mostly major urban areas, and is open to people from all walks of spiritual life – Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Methodist, non-denominational, etc.

As a staff member of St. Mark’s and a thirty year old adult, I am thrilled to be a part of such a community. It’s a chance to simply be in Christian community – no agenda, no right or wrong answers, no rubrics – just simply be. As Jesus regularly broke bread with His community, we too are continuing this tradition and letting the Spirit move in and among us. This freedom of community has created a safe space in which everyone is valued and all opinions matter. Through the grace made manifest in the Brewing Faith community, we have been able to have fruitful and thoughtful discussions (while not always agreeing) on a wide array of topics: The Nicene Creed, Prayer, Social Justice, Racial Discrimination, Liturgical Practice, Holiness, and Lenten Discipline just to name a few.

And God has taken this community of Brewing Faith and has deepened our community far past the surface conversation topics. We have been able to celebrate birth and mourn death together as our individual lives have taken their various turns. We have held each other up in prayer and support one another along our journeys. And the community is starting to ask itself, “What’s next and what’s our wider purpose?” From a community development perspective, a community asking itself those deeper questions is a dream come true – a seed of something that is about to blossom beyond our wildest imaginations. Please pray for us as we work to discern our next steps as we deepen our communal walk with one another and with God. And if you’re ever thirsty…Millcreek Brewing Company on the 2nd Tuesday of every month at 6:30pm. Cheers!

Craig Dressler, Associate For Parish Life, St. Mark’s, erie, PA

“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

St. Stephen’s Fairview Celebrates 50 years

St. Stephen's 062208 008In 1963, Dolores Templeton stood with several others looking over a tomato field thinking, “This is where we will build our church.” The tomato field, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Yates, was located on Dutch Road in Fairview and became the site for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year.

In her sermon during the service celebrating St. Stephen’s fiftieth anniversary, the Rev. Sabeth Fitzgibbons said, “We tell this story, as we tell many stories, to remember those who went before us. To remember who we are because of those who went before us. Stories of our foremothers and forefathers help shape who we are, how we understand ourselves, and how we live today. Because we know ourselves to be part of this still-unfolding story, we know that we are forming the story which will define history for future generations.”

St. Stephen’s story began in 1963 when a group that was worshiping at Trinity Mission in Fairview (founded in 1907 over Dr. Week’s drugstore), along with a group from the Cathedral of St. Paul who lived in the western suburbs of Erie, gathered together to discuss the need for a new parish. Bishop Crittenden gave his approval for the establishment of a church that would10383968_720247608053897_1721766509236252287_n be a mission of the Cathedral of St. Paul. Money was quickly raised and there was a ground-breaking ceremony in December 1964.

During that time the Rev. Ronald C. Molrine was being considered as the vicar and seemed a perfect fit, but he lived in California and there was no money to transport him for an interview. As luck, or divine intervention, would have it, Fr. Molrine was already traveling to Washington D.C. and was able to make it to Erie for an interview. He was issued the call and accepted before he left.

St. Stephen’s cornerstone was laid on July 15th, 1965, and the first service in the new building took place on October 17th, 1965. St. Stephen’s quickly grew, adding a Boy Scout troop in 1967 and a nursery school in 1968. By 1969, they had outgrown the building and an educational wing and offices were added.

St. Stephen’s has been through both prosperous times and more difficult times during their fifty years as a congregation.   They’ve had a few short-term rectors and some long-term rectors, like Fr. Molrine and the Rev. Mike Annis. They even raised up one of their own, the Rev. Donald Baxter, to be a priest, and he now serves at St. Mark’s in Erie. As the Rev. Fitzgibbons noted, “St. Stephen’s has modeled the natural life-cycle changes of a congregation. There have been more difficult days that may have even felt like trials and persecution and there have been glory days of fondly remembered dinners and Vacation Bible School and Christmas services.”

The Rev. Fitzgibbons went on to say, “Through all of it, the Holy Spirit has been constantly present with this family of faith, blowing on us with life and hope, love and God’s desire for us. Like Stephen himself, this is a place full of grace and wisdom and power. Here in 2015, we know ourselves to be an open and welcoming Christ-centered community, where people of all ages and abilities can find caring and acceptance, be formed and nurtured in faith, and go out into our local community to make a difference in the name of the Gospel. Here in Fairview, we have claimed our identity as a church that welcomes families of all ages and forms.”

St. Stephen’s ministry as a Christ-centered community was celebrated in grand style on October 14th, with Char Molrine, the widow of Fr. Molrine, in attendance.   Bishop Sean was also there and gave the blessing to start the festivities as well as a rousing speech about St. Stephen’s. The Rev. Fitzgibbons called on people to stand by the year they had started attending St. Stephen’s. One parishioner commented on how impressive it was that the parishioners from the 1960s numbered almost as many as the parishioners from the 2010s.   Dolores Templeton is now 87 and could not travel to St. Stephen’s fiftieth anniversary celebration, but sent her blessings and spoke of her pride in raising her kids there.

The event was used not only to look back and celebrate the history, but also to look ahead and celebrate the future that St. Stephen’s has ahead of it. The Rev. Fitzgibbons gave a call to action for the next 50 years: “As we look ahead 50 years, who knows what technology will have emerged? Who knows what mission fields will have emerged as Fairview and Erie County continue to change? What we do know for sure: there will still be people of faith looking for a liturgical church that brings together ancient liturgy with social justice ministries; there will still be children to raise in communities that share our values, baptisms and burials. This broken and hurting world will still need us to bear witness, with courage and confidence, to the love that we know, the hope that we find, the sustenance that we receive in a community of faith like St. Stephen’s.”

Reflections on “One Church”

I grew up in northwestern Pennsylvania, though I have extended family all over the country, in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, and Utah. During the holidays, we travel long distances to reunite. We bear the unpleasantries of travel in stride—paying tolls, sitting in airports, hauling luggage—with one goal in mind: being together. Though we live in different places and do different things, we are united by our love. Our pasts and futures are linked together.

When I played high school tennis, my teammates and I had different roles. Three of us played singles, four played doubles, and everyone else cheered on from the sidelines. My coach was always thinking three seasons ahead. He invested in the younger players because he knew they were the future leaders of the team. Everyone, no matter their role, was striving to accomplish our team goal: to win matches and represent our school well.

PrintThis is how I have come to think of the Church—a family united by love and a team with a goal. Wherever we live, worship, and pray, we are wed to one another by God’s great love. We share a bond because we are all recipients of His abundant grace. Whenever we break bread, we declare in one voice: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. We have all been welcomed into God’s family.

The Church is also a team with a commission, one to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Whether your church is in the mountains or in the desert or along the coast, whether your church is in the city or in the country, its purpose is to fulfill Jesus’s directive. Our church buildings look different and our fellow parishioners are diverse, but our message is the same: God loves us, welcomes us as we are, and has a wonderful new life in store for us.

We are one Church. But how do we live into the reality?

Agreeing on a vision and committing to that vision is the first step. That’s exactly what the “One Church” mission conference was about. Clergy and parish “thought leaders” came together to discuss the one Church vision played out in our diocese. We brainstormed ways to collaborate, to bolster each other’s outreach efforts, and to both offer and receive wisdom.

When each parish shared their gifts and strengths, the richness of our faith communities became obvious. Some strengths were repeated, but many were not. We learned of parishes with ample land for events, parishes who were especially hospitable, and parishes with exceptional teaching.

The beauty of the one Church vision is that we’re not striving to be the same, or to mass produce a single spiritual experience. We are not a franchise. Our burgers and fries won’t taste the same at every location. Instead, we are uniquely diverse faith communities who stand on the common ground of the Gospel. It is this common ground that propels us to proclaim God’s good news to the world. We embark on this mission together. We are a family as well as a team.

May we fully embody the one Church vision and regard each other with compassion instead of comparison and with solidarity instead of strife. May one parish’s joys be all our joys, and may one parish’s sorrows be all our sorrows. May we follow the Apostle Paul’s imperative: “be of one mind, united in thought and purpose” (1 Cor. 1:10).

By David Gorman

(David is a member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal church in Fairview, PA and is headed Richmond, VA in late August to serve in the Episcopal Service Corps)

David Headshot

About Sin and Ash Wednesday; a Testimony!


Ash Wednesday morning sitting in the chapel of St. Stephen’s, Fairview, watching the beautiful snow fall at different paces, listening to the familiar words of the Ash Wednesday Liturgy I became mystically aware of my own sinfulness. The many patterns of sin true for all of us were true for me as well and stuck out like a beautiful cardinal against the backdrop of a grayish winter day. Just as easily my consciousness wished and willed them to fly away in search of roosting somewhere else, but that wasn’t what Jesus had in mind for Ash Wednesday.

All sin, the monk said, points towards good things. My deepest yearning is for love; a special love desired at a young age and absent; a special love that becomes the object of a lifelong search. The objective of sin is always good. It’s the methodology that causes problems. Throughout my life this yearning, perhaps placed by God; more likely initially placed by God and further fueled with desire in part due to my family of origin; this yearning, this vast sea of emptiness became an obsession in hopes that somehow and miraculously the yearning would be removed through the right therapy, the best spiritual experience, or the perfect relationship. This didn’t come from the outside, however, this all came from the inside and as Jesus says it’s what comes from the inside that causes us difficulty. Imagine the pressure on the people around me.

Sins are old friends. We tend to have the same ones and repeat them over and over again. If you have a yearning as I do, then you know the many ways one might go about trying to satisfy such a vacuum. Mind you; we don’t want to repeat them it’s just that our needs sometimes outweigh our wisdom and we crack; we break and unbeknownst to us we are broken more. That’s what unrecognized sins do: they break ourselves from the inside out.

Once we see the sins we repeat again and again and once we listen to the sins of others we learn that we have much in common with our brothers and sisters in this life and in this world. “All sin and fall short of the glory of God.” One author said these sins are like a rock we carry around with us wherever we go. Others look at us and wonder why we just don’t drop the rock. Well, first of all, we might not be able to see the rock we are carrying; or we may be more comfortable with the rock albeit it burdensome; or we’re convinced no one’s sins are as great as our own. Ironically we can even be special in our sinfulness.

The yearning will not go away and thus the beauty of the ashes. Jesus’ redemption now helps me see that the yearnings of my heart are an essential part of who I am; Jesus actually loves me through and with the yearnings.   And His redemption is that there are other ways to live with the yearnings of the human heart that don’t break us and don’t involve sin. But to get there one must first be honest and while the snow was gently falling outside St. Stephen’s in Fairview the Beloved sat next to me, held my hand, and said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. There was a loud sound; beware of falling rocks.

Canon Al Johnson

Member of St. Stephen’s Finds Acceptance in the Episcopal Church


It was a Monday and Amy sat in her Catholic school classroom. Like every other Monday the teacher asked the kids who didn’t go to church on Sunday to raise their hands. Amy grew up in the Midwest in a family that believed in God but did not have a church affiliation or attend church. They did, however, want Amy to have a relationship with God, and made the extra effort to send her to Catholic school. So, on that Monday, like all the Mondays before, Amy had to raise her hand and had to watch as the teacher once again wrote her name on the list of kids who didn’t go to church.   Amy was just seven and already felt excluded and unwelcome.

In a study of people who don’t attend church, the Barna Group reports that “16% of Americans said they have been hurt by experiences in churches (Barna.org).” Amy didn’t give up though. In high school she went to a non-denominational church. She enjoyed being there but was eventually pushed to say when she had accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. When she was first asked, Amy answered from her heart that she had felt that she had always accepted God and Jesus. She was told that this was the wrong answer and that she needed to come up with a specific date. “I didn’t feel right to be told that my answer was wrong.”

In college Amy studied to be a teacher and got her first job at a conservative Missouri Synod school. She witnessed the school board decide to remove a poster of Martin Luther King that a teacher had put up to celebrate Martin Luther King Day and tell the teacher that the reason was because Martin Luther King was a sinner. As well, she heard a teacher comment on an African American student saying that there was no hope for her because she was a “lazy black.” Amy was appalled: “I remember crying to see such blatant racism and for feeling powerless.” More recently, in her last church, she witnessed the exclusion of the LGBT community.

These experiences of exclusion could have led Amy to be one of the over 32% of Americans who have had some contact with churches but no longer attend (based on numbers from Barna.org). However, Amy kept looking and found a church home that she calls family. St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fairview, Pennsylvania, is a place where, as Amy says, “Everyone is friendly and there is no right answer.” She found a place that was open and accepting, a place that didn’t judge her.

Amy was also excited to find a place that worked for her entire family. “It’s a big deal to find a church that works for everyone in your family.” The first thing that caught Amy’s attention when she visited St. Stephen’s was the soft space. The soft space is a section where the pews have been removed and replaced by a soft carpet and quiet toys. It is a place where families with young children can come and be in church with their children. Amy knew then it was a different place than she had been to before, a place where she didn’t have to worry about her kids.

Amy has also found that she is being challenged by God at St. Stephen’s. She was recently asked to lead the Sunday School. “Typically I hear the word ‘leader’ and I run. I don’t like to be in charge of anything. This time I had the confidence I could do it. I pushed myself.” Amy now directs three Sunday School classrooms, 6 teachers and 7 substitutes. She coordinates the curriculum and makes sure all the kids have a great experience. “I feel like I belong more if I am helping with something.”

Amy has become an integral part of St. Stephen’s and has invited others to be part of the community: “I know I am comfortable with a place when I easily talk about it. I’ve never wanted to be evangelical – this is just talking about something that I love.”

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