Congratulations, Rev. Mark Elliston!

The Diocese of NWPA is pleased to welcome our newest priest -the Rev. Mark Elliston! The service of ordination was held on Saturday, December 16 at Christ Church, Oil City.

Please keep Rev. Elliston and the Christ Church community in your prayers as they continue their journey together.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’  –Isaiah 6:8

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Being A Priest Part 2: “Broken Open”

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


“…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.

 *   *   *

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

A Wild Ride

God moves in mysterious ways. In the late 1990s, the Rt. Rev. Robert Rowley, then the bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, met with the Rev. Barbara Akin, then the vicar of Church of the Epiphany in Grove City. They were having a discussion about her successor and joking around about who his successor might be. Little did they know that his successor, Barbara’s student intern Sean Rowe, was filing papers in the next room, and that her successor, Geoff Wild, was living in Australia deciding whether he was an atheist or not.

The now Rev. Geoff Wild, a native of Australia, has served as the vicar at Fr GeoffChurch of the Epiphany in Grove City for seven years and in recent years has also served as the vicar of Memorial Church of Our Father in Foxburg. However, the road to ordained ministry was not always an easy one.

Fr. Geoff describes growing up with uninvolved parents. As a young person, he drifted and in College he found alcohol. He spent twenty years drinking and using drugs. At one point, his then-wife wanted a divorce and Geoff recognized that he was harming his family. Finally, a friend took him to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and it was there that Geoff realized he was lonely. He got sober but didn’t follow all of the 12 steps, in particular the step about developing a relationship with your higher power. He remained lonely in sobriety. He became mean and miserable and, at times, even suicidal. Six years later, his marriage was over.

Even though he had been raised as an Anglican, he stubbornly refused to develop a relationship with a higher power. And then, as he says, “One night I got found by God in the form of a big white Ford wagon.”

One rainy afternoon, Fr. Geoff was out for a run and got hit by that big white Ford wagon. It put him in the hospital for three days. While he was in the hospital, he looked around him and saw the devastating affects of alcohol and drugs. The person next to him had tried to jump off a building because he thought he could fly. Another person could only talk about drinking beer and a third was drunk and waiting to go back to his homeless shelter. Geoff asked himself, “What is wrong with this picture?” And his answer was: “Me.”

He began in earnest to try and develop a relationship with his higher power. He started following the 11th step in the AA 12 steps, meditation. Around this time he also met Cheryl (now his wife and better half) and, to please her on a trip to the U.S. to visit her, he accompanied her to church. There he found “words that spoke to me.” He continued with his meditation and one day asked God, “Are you there?” To his surprise he received the reply, “Of course I am.” It made all the difference: “That loneliness I had felt all my life didn’t have to be there because God was there.”

Following his conversion, Geoff moved to the U.S. to be with Cheryl and started attending Church of the Epiphany, Grove City. One day Barbara Akin asked Geoff if he wanted to be a priest. He was somewhat taken aback because, when he was young, one of the things he thought about was becoming a priest. He took his time to think, meditate, and pray about it and 18 months later was able to answer yes. That was in 2003 and, in 2008, Barbara Akin’s successor that she had discussed with Bishop Rowley so many years previous was ordained by Bishop Rowley’s successor.

25 years ago, Fr. Geoff only wanted to stop drinking and using drugs. Life hasn’t always been easy for him, but sobriety and a relationship with Jesus Christ gave him far more than he believed he deserved: “Stopping [drinking] was the best decision I made in my life, but it wasn’t enough. It is the relationship with Jesus Christ that has made the difference.”

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

Steady, Diligent, Dedicated Faith

Brian ReidNot all faith journeys are like the Road to Damascus. Most of us do not get knocked off our horse with the blinding light of revelation. Many think that they need this kind of conversion for their faith story to be relevant. Canon Brian Reid has a different understanding. He believes that a slow and steady faith journey can lift you up. His journey is more like the road that the Good Samaritan found himself on when he helped the man beaten by robbers. The road where we do what faith demands of us without expectation of reward or blinding light revelations.

A cradle Episcopalian, Brian Reid was born in Detroit, Michigan, and took what he describes as a “bizarre” path to the priesthood, the type of path that we don’t see all too often these days. He went from high school to college and then straight to seminary and into the priesthood. He says that he knew in high school that he wanted to be a priest but this was not news to his family. “My parents said they knew from when I was little that I would be a priest.”

Brian was deeply formed by his experience in seminary at Nashotah House. He says it didn’t just give him an education, it formed him as a priest: “Nashotah made you know what a community is, how a priest is formed by and forms that community.” He felt that, in the midst of a society that was “experimenting” in the early 1970s, Nashotah grounded him in tradition. The experience of morning and evening prayer every day taught him that life does not have to have “one continuous spiritual high or one continuous spiritual low.” Slow and steady can lift you.

Within 6 months of his first assignment in an inner city church in Detroit, the rector left, essentially leaving Brian in charge. He headed up a predominantly white congregation in a predominantly black neighborhood: “I got to know all sorts of and conditions of people.” After that experience and some supply work, he found himself in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania (then known as the Diocese of Erie). “My mother grew up in DuBois and my aunt who still lived in Pennsylvania pestered the Bishop until he gave me a job.”

And this is where Canon Reid became the guru of Canons. As a young priest in the Diocese in the late 1970s, Father Reid was asked to be part of the Constitutions and Canons Committee. It was an important time for the Diocese as we were figuring out how to combine the Diocesan Council with the Board of Trustees. “Being new, I read the Canons and prepared by thinking about what we might do.” He became at his first Constitution and Canons meeting, and remains still, the Diocese’s go-to expert on the Canons. In fact, when we decided to simplify our structure after Bishop Sean’s consecration Canon Reid produced the first draft. He is humble about his expertise. Around 1980, Canon Reid, took classes at Penn State Behrend and now has the credentials to be a paralegal. “I guess I like the Law,” he says.

And the rest is an almost 40 year history of steady dedication and commitment to faith and to lifting up the people and congregations of this Diocese. Canon Reid has served at Osceola Mills, Houtzdale, Youngsville, Warren, Franklin, Brookville, Emporium, St. Mary’s, Rigeway and DuBois. He also has mentored countless students in his role teaching classes on scripture at the School for Ministry and his role on the Commission on Ministry. He has not only shaped the laws of the Diocese in his role on Constitutions and Canons but has helped guide the Diocese in his role on the Standing Committee. He even taught New Testament Greek in his time at Youngsville!

Canon Reid says that the Diocese is still struggling with the same issues it did when he first arrived, and even from when it first started in 1910, that we feel “small, poor and ignored and we struggle to become church in that context.” He says we will continue to struggle and that one of the glories of the Anglican Communion is what he calls, “Holy Plodding.” “You put one foot in front of the other.” His advice to new clergy is to “remember it is not up to you and it is not your responsibility to save the world but rather to continue plodding along with the task God has given you.”

Some of you may not know that Canon Reid is a pilot and has been since he was a teenager. He owns two planes and has flown to Vegas, Florida, the Bahamas, Northern Michigan, Colorado, Canada and Long Island to name just a few. Flying is a liberating experience for him. His philosophy about flying sounds like good advice for all of us: “You can’t be thinking about what you left on the ground. You have to attend to what you are doing.”

We are thankful for Canon Reid’s dedicated and steady attention to lifting up this Diocese.

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

Fr. Rowe’s Holey Donut Ministry

14958_849088981803061_1158887782248200972_nI began my nursing home ministry as a diaconal ministry in 1998. It was to a group of people I enjoyed talking to and being around. I enjoyed my grandmother and grandfather a lot and I spent a great deal of time with them in my childhood and teen years. When my grandmother died at 93, she was the oldest active member of her church. She was always active at her church and taught Sunday School. She was a great evangelist and teacher for me.

So when I needed to find a way of expressing my call to the ministry, I began to seek a place to minister to people where there was a need I felt I could meet, and where I would not need specialized training to begin. My daughter Carrie, as a young teenager, used to ride her bicycle to visit a nursing home only about a mile away from our home, and would go to just talk to residents who “needed a visit.” I started thinking about a nursing home that I used to walk past on my way to HS. I thought about it a lot. I needed to have a place to do practical assignments as I studied with the Diocesan School for Ministry. I discussed it with my wife Pat, ad nauseam, until she finally said one day, “take your BCP and just go do it!” I did. And still do.

Many of these residents are people who have gone to church their entire lives and now are not able to go. Some are people who rarely attended church but now are facing serious health and spiritual issues, and are concerned about “what’s next” for them. Some are facing dementia of one type or another, and find comfort in experiencing regular and familiar worship in Evening Prayer. There are many who ask for prayer for healing, for family and friends, or who just want a blessing to end their day. I remember fondly two dear souls, Margaret and Betty, who wanted to attend my ordination to the diaconate in 2002. The nursing home made it possible by providing transportation and sending a nurse and an aide. They were thrilled to be there. The then Fr. Sean Rowe preached a great sermon. They were overwhelmed by Bishop Rowley’s personal greeting of them. They both lived another 5 or 6 years at the nursing home and reminisced about it a lot. They were two special people in my 15 to 20 person, ever changing congregation.

When I began this ministry, I took “genuine” donuts (from Dunkin Donuts) as this is yet another thing they miss out on in a doughnuts-634021_1280nursing home. It’s “holey food.” (They get the humor.) In 1998, when I began this ministry, I referred to these residents as older people, but now, as I approach my 68th year on this earth, I just say it’s a ministry to mature adults! They need the gospel as much as any of God’s people. It’s a great ministry and I commend it to you. There are many nursing home opportunities. And yes, I still take “genuine” Dunkin’ Donuts each week.

The Rev. Richard Rowe, who currently serves at St. John’s, Franklin

What is my vocation?

Recently, one of the sons of our diocese, Tim Dyer, was ordained to the transitional diaconate. It was a wonderfully vibrant and hope filled day for everyone! Tim’s journey toward the priesthood is not quite complete but it is moving forward and that is a story best told by Tim himself. But his journey began with a deceptively simple question: what is my vocation?

By virtue of our baptism, we all have a vocation. We all have been called by God for ministry in his church. We may be called as lay persons, bishops, priests or deacons. Yes. There are four orders of ministry, not just three. It is unfortunate that when someone feels a call to do more in their life of faith, we tend to assume it is a call to ordained ministry. The truth of the matter is that lay ministry is vital to the life of the church. That said, there is much more to lay ministry than what might first come to mind.

Our catechism defines the ministry of the laity as, “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the church.” BCP p. 855. A key phrase in this definition is ‘according to the gifts given them.’ When we are discerning our vocation, it is important to know that our call will align with the gifts that we have. We may be called to altar guild, hospitality, visiting, praying, supporting mission work. All of it is ministry.

Discerning a call to ministry begins with the individual—either by the one being called or in some cases by a person who sees in someone else a call to such ministry. When the question keeps nagging and won’t be silenced, we need the help of the community (such as the clergy, spiritual directors and/or diocesan staff) to discern the particular nature of that call.

It may be a call to one of the licensed lay ministries. Most of us are familiar with Eucharistic Ministers and Eucharistic Visitors. However, there are others. One can receive training and be licensed as Worship Leaders, Pastoral Leaders, Preachers, Catechists and Evangelists. These licensed lay ministries are integral components of successful congregational ministry, particularly in the case of bi-vocational and non-stipendiary clergy. If you want more information on the training required for these ministries, contact the Diocesan Church Center.

It may well be a call to ordained ministry. Today there are various paths toward ordination. All of our deacons and some of our priests are locally formed in the diocese. They take most of their classes in the diocese and are ordained as non-stipendiary clergy. Some of our priests are formed through attending full time residential seminaries for a period of three years. Still others follow a more hybrid route with some classes being taken locally and some offered through online classes at accredited seminaries.

What is my vocation? It is a question we all need to be asking as we take our baptismal vows seriously. The answer is the journey of a lifetime. Ask Tim.

The Reverend Martha Ishman, Canon for Mission Development and Transition and Vicar of St. James, TitusvilleMartha Ishman