Walk In The Wilderness

DIOCESAN SUMMER CAMP 2016

Summer camp this year is June 12th thru June 18th.  The theme is “Walk In The Wilderness.”  Come and be challenged on the ropes course, learn a little Tae Kwon Do, do some acting, worship together, explore nature, play sports, splash in the pool, make art and much much more.

Camp is held at Camp Nazareth in Mercer, PA.  It is surrounded by forest with well-marked hiking trails.  Camp amenities include: a pool, basketball court, a chapel, and fields.  Campers sleep on bunks in cabins divided up by age and gender.  Each cabin is staffed with two counselors.  Camp is divided into Kids, Middle and Teen camp. Each have a full staff of counselors drawn from across the Diocese, with a camper staff ratio of about 6:1.

Camp costs $330. However the first 100 registrations postmarked by June 1st will receive a $60 scholarship reducing the fee to $270.

So come and have a great time making new friends, seeing old friends, interacting with caring counselors, enjoying dynamic worship and of course having a lot of fun!

Click here and scroll down to the camp section to get more information and find the application on the Diocesan Website.

Sr. Joan Chittister Speaks at St. Mark’s Service For Displaced Workers

The current state of the world is volatile. We all know this to be true. The terrorism, gun violence, increase in gangs, and job losses can be debilitating. But we are called as followers of Jesus to speak life – resurrection hope – into those dark debilitating places in our world. But, how do we even begin to know where to start?

Fr. Don Baxter, Gary Loncki (one of St. Mark’s delegates), and myself asked that very question of ourselves on the second day of diocesan convention. The lead story in the Erie Times News was about the massive layoffs announced by General Electric for their Erie plant. We wondered how we could respond. There was no way we could create new jobs for these people and no way that we could financially assist all of the people who would be impacted. What we knew is that we are people of prayer as followers of Jesus, and that we have a beautiful tradition of common prayer that perhaps we could offer to the community in a time of great uncertainty and grief.

In that moment of our response, God went to work. We began by crafting an evening prayer service with healing for the jobless and job-displaced people of our region. It was our hope to have a local leader offer a reflection at this event, but we weren’t having much luck finding that leader.

Then a providential opportunity presented itself where Fr. Don found himself at an event with Sister Joan Chittister, a world-renowned author on religion. In a step of faith, Fr. Don approached Sister Joan with the invitation to speak at the service. By the grace of God, Sister Joan was available and excited to offer the meditation. Fr. Don’s willingness to take a chance, Sister Joan’s support, Gary Loncki’s public relations experience, and guidance of the Holy Spirit came together to create an opportunity for healing far surpassing our wildest imagination. All of a sudden we had news coverage from all of the news channels and the newspaper. Our message, the message of the Resurrection, was being proclaimed.

On November 29, St. Mark’s hosted 60 guests at that service from all walks of life. Sister Joan focused her meditation on the grief and sadness that we are all familiar with and spoke deeply to the resurrection hope that we all have in our Savior Jesus Christ. Over 40 people came forward for healing for themselves or on behalf of another. The presence of the healing power of the Spirit was palpable as Fr. Don, Sister Joan, and Judge Nygaard laid hands on those 40 people asking God to come into their lives in new and powerful ways. That night was one of those moments that we desperately yearn for as ministers in the church, and it was an honor to bear witness to such a moment in the life of the church.

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Left to Right: Craig Dressler, Carly Rowe, Sister Joan Chittister, Fr. Don Baxter and Richard Nygard.

Grandma’s Stuffing – A Third Space story

4TOq6PhIEvery Thanksgiving my family makes the same kind of stuffing we have made for years; the recipe has been handed down through at least three generations. It is one of my favorite components of the meal because its presence makes my grandmother present at the table, even though she has passed from this life. Unlike other family recipes that are no longer at the table, the stuffing remains. It remains because it is a meaningful tradition; it connects me to people I still love though gone, cooking it leads to laughing over stories of my Gran, and it tastes awesome. It is tradition, but it is alive and meaningful.

But there are dishes that are no longer on the table that were once part of the fare. For various reasons, they are no longer present. We didn’t like the flavor of the cranberry relish; the corn pudding simply didn’t stir up the feelings of the stuffing. And so the tradition modified to include new dishes we like that we will hand down, while also keeping the old dishes that still meant something to us. We kept major parts of the traditional meal, but we tweaked it so that it was more meaningful to us- and more delicious!

All good traditions are constantly in flux, finding a balance between what works and what no longer has relevance, and adding in new components to impart more meaning to the tradition. All traditions are subject to review and evaluation, which is why I propose we subject our Christian, worshipping traditions to the same scrutiny. As attendance declines, one has to ask why and generally the why has something to do with culture and something to do with the perceived irrelevance of the institution. So why not look at the tradition, keep major parts that are still meaningful, let go of parts that are not meaningful, and add in now components that have increased relevance today?

There is no reason we have to worship God using the same patterns that have prevailed for the last half-century. It is interesting that while the rest of culture has undergone enormous shifts and changes, the houses of Christian worship have largely not participated in that change. No wonder their relevancy rating has dropped! But change is difficult, especially when folks experience such rapid culture shifts and hope that church remains a place of stability. But what is stability; is stability a continuation of the same? Or can stability be a shifting of tradition, a modifying of the inherited past so that it cultivates more meaning and relevance for those in the present?

I think how we worship God and gather to talk about our spirituality can look different. Imagine a space in which folks from every walk of life could gather together around a common table, sharing a meal and sharing their lives. A space we could talk about what is happening in our lives and where God is in the midst of them. A space where we read together, discuss together, and pray together. If that sounds like an experience to test out, let me tell you about Third Space. Third Space is a gathering of folks who share a meal, share our lives, and try to figure out where God is in our lives and in the world. You’ll find us in downtown Brookville at coffee shop once every month. We’ll be there eating and talking about God, trying to figure out how to be the people God calls us to be in our community.

By the Rev. Melinda Hall, Vicar at Trinity Memorial, Brookville, PA, Church of Our Savior, DuBois, Pa and leader of Third Space that meets at CREATE Cafe (168 Main St. Brockville, PA) Third Wednesday of the month from 7:30-9p.

Blessing of the Animals Around the Diocese

Parts of this story excerpted from the opposingviews website.

St. Francis Youngsville

St. Francis Youngsville

Episcopalians celebrate the Blessing of the Animals where people have the rare opportunity to bring their pets to church to receive special blessings, on a Sunday close to the Feast of St. Francis. This past Sunday was the feast of St. Francis.

St. Francis of Assisi was well known for his love of animals. Stories tell of him preaching to flocks of birds, dissuading mosquitoes from biting him and even convincing a wolf to stop stalking humans and livestock in Gubbio, Italy, where he once lived. At the Blessing of the Animals, people remember and emulate Francis’ example of love for animals and appreciation of God’s creations.

The Episcopal Church has long taken a pro-animal stance, reminding members that animals are gifts from God and that people are responsible for being good stewards of the earth and all its inhabitants. In the 76th General Convention (2009), the Episcopal Church reaffirmed that animals are part of creation and that humans must be responsible stewards over them. The church has gone so far as to speak out against puppy mills, factory farms and any other animal husbandry methods that cause suffering to animals. These positions are not new. Even in 1840, The Rev. Thomas Fuller regretted that humans had exterminated some species and enslaved the rest, writing, “We have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the devil in human form.”

See pictures below of how some of our churches celebrated.

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St. Stephens blessed a garden

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Emmanuel, Corry

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Mother Mary at Emmanuel, Corry

Cathedral

Rabbits at the Cathedral

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Dean Downey blesses a dog

Fr Matthew with stuffed

Fr. Matthew blesses a stuffed animal

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Cathedral sheep

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Poki the clown

Third Space – A new worship Community

lightning ChurchChurch. Does the word make you feel pleased or pained; does it cause you to cringe from painful memories or feel slightly nostalgic? Odds are the word has some impact on you because most Americans have had some experience of attending church, avoiding church, or being hurt by the church. I fall into the ‘attending church’ category, which isn’t so surprising since I’m an Episcopal priest, but my reaction to the word ‘church’ is a bit mixed. I find so much richness in the prayers and in the worship, but sometimes I wonder about what I’ve sung or said and whether it has relevance in my life.

Attendance in all churches–not just those in the mainline–has fallen sharply, revealing that lots of us are pondering the relevance of the Sunday morning experience. To many, particularly Millennials (of which I am one), church seems antique, something lovely and old, something one’s parents or grandparents attended, but which has little bearing on day-to-day life. Sitting in a pew, puzzling through hymns with words like ‘vouchsafe’ and ‘wilt’ can have the cadence of irrelevance. Equally, many people may be skeptical of worship that feels too much like entertainment or is just a little too slick. It begs the question whether worship as we know it is relevant to our lives.

Here’s what I think. I think Jesus is relevant. And I think the coming together of people to learn to love and be loved by God, each other, and their neighbors is relevant. But I think it can look different. Why couldn’t we gather together and talk about Jesus and how that might change our lives and the world? What if we shared a meal while we shared our stories? What if it was a space where I could come and you could come and your gay neighbor and your divorced sister, your disillusioned aunt and your addicted brother could come and we receive equal welcome and equal embrace?

We all live in a variety of spaces: home, work, the park, the café. Our first space is home and for a lot of us, our second space is work. But what sociologists have found is that we need a third space, somewhere we can be ourselves and find community.   A third space is a place where you can be who you are and be in relationship with others and find purpose.

Let me introduce you to Third Space, a gathering of folks where we share a meal, share our lives, and try to figure out where God is in our lives and in the world. We’re meeting in the local coffee shop once a month, trying to figure out how Jesus is present in our lives and in our community. Gathered around a meal, we talk about God and we share our lives, then we go back out into our neighborhood differently. We’re finding our third space, a place of honesty with each other and with God. The Spirit has been moving in our lives as we’ve begun gathering, and we’re not entirely sure which direction she’s moving, but we excited to be along for the ride!

By the Rev. Melinda Hall, Vicar at Trinity Memorial, Brookville, PA, Church of Our Savior, DuBois, Pa and leader of Third Space that meets at CREATE Cafe (168 Main St. Brockville, PA) Third Wednesday of the month from 7:30-9p.

The Glories of the Saints from Every Nation, Tribe and Tongue

Did you ever wonder what worship in the Temple of the New Jerusalem might sound like after all the nations of the earth come together? (Besides being loud and following the Book of Common Prayer.) Imagine the saints of every nation, tribe and tongue singing together Holy, Holy, Holy, each in their own language.

IMG_1824Our worship services at General Convention have moments that approach such glorious cacophony. Of course, people of every nation, tribe, and tongue have not joined us in Salt Lake City, but many more have than we generally find in any one congregation on Sunday morning. The largest Diocese in the Episcopal Church is Haiti, where Haitian Creole is most people’s first language, and many Episcopalians in the United States, as well as in Honduras, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, speak Spanish. A variety of Native American languages are spoken by Episcopalians, and the Episcopal Church has congregations in Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Belgium. A new church plant in the United States has formed among Hmong speakers (a Southeast Asian language), and that congregations recently raised up the first Hmong Episcopal priest. Over the course of Convention, many of those languages will be incorporated in some way into our Worship services.

Spanish was the second language used in today’s service. The entire convention bulletin was written in English and Spanish, and the first reading was read out loud in Spanish.Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 10.38.10 PM

Additionally, the Presiding Bishop, read parts of the Eucharistic Prayer in English and other parts in Spanish.   When she read CIXF9-zUkAAXfVA“Por tanto te alabamos, uniendo nuestras voces con los angeles y arcangelse…” (Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels…) I got to thinking about how Isaiah wrote about the angels singing in Hebrew, John related their song in Greek, and that some might speak Spanish, as well as English.

The most powerful moment for me, however, was when Presiding Bishop Katharine said, “In the languages of our hearts, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we now pray,” and I heard people saying the Lord’s Prayer in three different languages. The rhythms of the different languages, their cadences, and their predominant sounds wove together for a beautiful harmony. In heaven that harmony will be even richer, and, with the gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out upon us, we’ll be able to understand each other fully, as well. For this morning, a taste of that heavenly beauty was enough.

Note, everyone can be a part of our convention worship in two ways. First, the convention is accepting petitions from the entire church, some of which will be read each day at worship. You can submit a petition at http://prayersofthepeople.org/. Second, the Episcopal Church Media Hub is live streaming worship and other sessions of General Convention. The Media Hub web address is http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/gc/. For the Worship Bulletins for all the services of General Convention go the General Convention worship page.

By Fr. Adam Trambley, Deputy Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Rector of St.John’s, Sharon, PA

The Sunday Roller Coaster

Reprinted from ECF Vital Practices www.ecfvp.org

by Anna Olson on March 5, 2015

It was a rough first Sunday of Lent in church. Attendance was low, especially in one of our services. There were some explanations for the absences of our regulars (aren’t there always!). But the bottom line was that we had several new folks who were inspired by our Ash Wednesday outreach, and they came for the first time on a Sunday to find the church feeling awfully empty.

On Monday, I shared with my clergy support group that I felt like things were stuck at church, that we are just having the same problems over and over and making no progress. A colleague shared similar frustration in her context. When someone asked what was making us feel that way, we both realized it really came down to one rough Sunday. I had experienced poor attendance and frustration with the way we welcomed newcomers. My friend had had a hard meeting with church leaders. We had both let one Sunday color our perception of our entire ministry.

Maybe it’s just me and my friends, but I suspect we’re not alone in allowing ourselves to get swept onto the Sunday roller coaster. One good Sunday and we’re in the clouds. Church is growing! We are successful! One bad Sunday, and it’s all over. The church is dying. We are failures.

This roller coaster is not a clergy-only ride. A low Sunday or two, and my parishioners are glum as well. I cheerfully remind people that it’s the long haul that counts, but they often seem as unconvinced as I am.

Even if my denials ring hollow when I’m riding the Sunday roller coaster myself, I’m right that it’s the wrong ride for a faithful congregation. Judging our worth Sunday by Sunday keeps us from focusing on longer term efforts that take time to develop and bear fruit. Elevating what happens on Sunday as the test of our whole ministry models a sort of Sunday-only Christianity that we all should be trying to move away from. Judging good and bad based mostly on attendance reflects our desire to be popular more than our desire to be faithful.

Letting “bad” Sundays get us down also serves to obscure the blessings that God often brings out of experiences that we perceive as failures. Having few regulars in the service where we had visitors last Sunday allowed me to focus on the new families, invite their children to help lead the service. We gathered around the altar for communion. They actually got a pretty good taste of the best of who we are as a small, intimate, pastoral, sacramental church that focuses on finding practical ways to live out Biblical teachings on love of God and neighbor. If they wanted big shiny church, they will look elsewhere. As they should. Even on our “best” Sundays, we’re not that big, and not that shiny. Our strength lies elsewhere.

On Ash Wednesday I preached about being dust, and returning to dust, and how embracing that reality can help lay to rest our obsession with success and failure. I preached on temptation and the things that threaten to make us forget who we are, and who God is. This Lent, I will try to get out of the revolving line for the Sunday roller coaster, and listen to my own sermons.

Do you ride the Sunday roller coaster? Might you find ways invite your fellow church members to join you in getting out of line to ride it again?

Episcopal Congregations: What? Why? How?

This is a reprint from Father Adam’s blog “The Black Giraffe” on Feb. 7, 2015

The Acts 8 Moment Blogforce proposed these two questions:

  • What is the mission of the congregation?
  • How should it be structured to serve its mission?

Before thinking about mission and structure, I realized I needed a working definition of what a congregation in the Episcopal Church is today.  While I’m sure more theologically deep and ecclesiologially sophisticated definitions could be offered, a working definition for most congregations is:

Episcopal Congregation: a group of people who meet in the same place for worship on Sunday.

Of course, exceptions exist.  Some congregations are multi-site.  A few congregations worship at times other than Sunday morning.  Emergent churches and fresh expressions sites are experimenting with different models.  But in the end, our Book-of-Common-Prayer-based church identifies its congregations as the group of folks who gather for worship in a particular place, even if some gather at 8:00am and some at 10:00am.

Given this definition, the de facto mission of most congregations begins with hosting a Sunday morning worship service.  Since the 1979 prayer book, the liturgical movement, and our increasing denominational niche as the liberal catholic church, in many places a congregation’s primary focus is offering a Sunday morning Eucharist.

I might be accused of circular logic here.  If a congregation is defined by their Sunday worship, then their worship would be their primary goal.  The circularity makes my argument no less true, however.  This definition and mission has structural implications that are also observable.  Our congregations are structured to provide Sunday morning worship as effectively as possible.  Budgets focus on ensuring a priest to celebrate mass, a sanctuary, and a musician.  (If you have any questions about this, look at the budget differences in most congregations for the costs associated with worship and the costs associated with almost any other mission priority.)  Lay participation is often associated with liturgical ministries, as well, and the members of the choir, altar guild, acolytes, readers, ushers, etc., often outnumber people involved in other church ministries.

These details are particularly true for smaller congregations that have resources for only one or two priorities.  Larger congregations with greater resources can carry out the first priority of worship effectively and still have money and volunteers to accomplish other goals.

While I agree that worship is important, and is one of the priorities of a congregation — maybe even the first among equals — our current over-focus on the Sunday morning event is killing our churches.  For a congregation to thrive it needs inspiring worship, but it also needs evangelism and loving relationships and small groups and a number of other components (for one useful analysis, see the Natural Church Development materials).  Too often, when things are going badly in the Episcopal Church, we tinker with our worship service rather than increasing our evangelism or starting a new ministry in the community or dealing with the conflict that drives away every visitor who actually talks to anyone at coffee hour.

Instead of making worship services the primary mission of our congregations, we should redefine our mission as creating a healthy, growing community of disciples.  Worship will be one important component, but so will private devotions, fellowship opportunities, personal and corporate evangelism, and any number of other practical ways that we live out loving God, loving our neighbors and baptizing all nations while teaching them everything Jesus commanded.  The mission of our congregations, and the mission of the church at every level, should involve being a community that lives out the Great Commandment and Great Commission.

The structure of congregations, then, should be whatever allows a group of people in a particular place to live into that mission.  Given our traditions in the Episcopal Church, part of the structure of our congregations will involve democratically elected lay governance with appropriate clergy leadership along with financial transparency, administrative competency, connection to the diocese and larger church, and other best practices of non-profit and religious corporations.

As this refocusing of mission is happening, some places are realizing that budget, building and other resources also need to be refocused.  These discussions and changes can all be very positive moves as our congregations worry less about filling our emptying pews and more about being a healthy, growing community of disciples.

Father Adam Trambley, St. John’s Sharon