Friday, April 29, 2016

change? In small bites.

By the time that this blog entry hits the “inter-webs” the document that it references will have been presented to ten different groups in our diocese totaling almost 250 people. (7 Convocations, Standing Committee, Staff, and Council of Trustees) For some, this review of the “Restructuring Initiative” document will be the recitation of old news and for others, it will be completely new.  No matter what level of familiarity you may have with this information, I hope that it will be received as “raw material,” in the process of being shaped and formed-  by a small committee of representatives from the Standing Committee and the Council of Trustees- and by you, seeing it here, perhaps for the first time.

After just 6 months’ time in our diocese, I have come to see that my biggest learning so far is coming to understand how much I still have to learn about Central PA and the way that God is calling us to participate in God’s mission.  Ours is a complex diocese that includes a diversity of cultures, churchmanship, communities, economic resources, assets and challenges.  We face critical social issues of gun violence, opioid addiction, racial injustice and environmental degradation.  We are blessed with excellent colleges and universities in our diocese, the richness of agricultural heritage and industry, amazing natural resources and historical landmarks that reflect some of the most significant time in our country’s development.  We alone can claim Gettysburg, the Yellow Breeches Creek, the Grand Canyon of PA, Penn State and the rockiest parts of the Appalachian Trail.  These are a few of the marvels of our diocese that I’m learning about and, more importantly, in which I am beginning to discern how to serve God in this context.  I look forward to continued discoveries and learning about this special place and her people.

In the meantime, I have discerned some early recommendations for change, revealed to me by my virtue of my nascent understanding of our diocese and the gift of “fresh eyes.”  These changes- to be massaged and shaped by a small committee and presented at Convention in the fall- can be understood in three broad areas:  Parish-Diocesan Leadership Relations, Formation, and Building Capacity in Parish Communities.

Parish-Leadership Relations

Riddle me this:  If God is already active in the world and our invitation is to join God in the work of healing and reconciliation… and if the construct of the parish is (yet) the primary point of contact for God’s faithful to engage in God’s mission… doesn’t it make sense for diocesan leadership to do all it can to support, empower and encourage the congregations (parishes) in their work?  Makes sense to me.  And, yet, in the top-down model of our hierarchal church, too often this support and encouragement can get lost or misinterpreted and we end up with a system where the parishes don’t feel supported in spite of the good work of the staff. It can appear that the diocesan leadership is both funded by the parishes and holds (most of) the chips.

I’d like to turn this idea on its head.

It makes sense to me that the diocesan leadership exists to serve and provide resources to strengthen the parishes and to grow participation in God’s mission in our world.

We like to talk about “the diocese,” and, yet, this is a word that has a double meaning.  When I talk about “the diocese” I refer to our 64 congregations and our 12,000 people.  When others talk about “the diocese” they refer to the 8 folks who work at 101 Pine St. in Harrisburg.    By increasing our understanding of “the diocese” to include all of us (and referring to those folks on Pine St. as “diocesan leadership”) it begins to turn the picture around… to a healthier way of serving God and God’s mission.  It is subtle but so important.   This is a change that is about shifting understanding.  It does not involve money or people or any moving parts. It is about developing an ever-increasing graciousness in our relationship between parishes and the entity of diocesan leadership.


God calls us to ever-grow in our relationship with God.  We aim to grow into the “full stature of Christ” and to achieve “the mind of Christ,” knowing that this is a life-long journey.  In our diocese, we have an amazing facility for supporting Christian Formation in the Stevenson School For Ministry.  Formerly the School for Christian Studies, the school has a long history in our diocese and serves as a solid foundation for continued development in this important area. 

The Stevenson School is in the process of forming a three-year strategic plan to address the best way to offer quality programming, instruction and resources for lay and clergy formation.  My hope is that the school can continue to offer discrete courses in its hybrid real-time and on-line format for anyone interested in deepening their walk in faith.  Additionally, it is my hope that the school can continue to form candidates for diaconal ministry in our diocese and hone its program for priestly formation, as well.  We sorely need to find ways to form candidates for ordained ministry in a diocese where 2/3rd of our jobs are part-time.  We have an opportunity to become a leader in the field of formation by building a solid program using local resources, developing relationships with nearby seminaries and working collaboratively with our diocesan neighbors in Pennsylvania.

Formation for children, youth and young adults has been named as one of the top priorities in our diocese.  It is my hope that the Stevenson School could offer resources and support for all “ages and stages” and coordinate the efforts of so many wonderful volunteers who already work in the area of formation in our Sunday schools, youth programs, Godly Play, retreats, Happening events and mission trips. There is so much that is already going on in formation for our young people; the Stevenson School’s new format will serve to support and enhance that work.

The re-imagining and strengthening of the Stevenson School will require an extraordinary effort on the part of its faculty, Board of Advisors and Dean.  And, I believe that this work is one of the places that God is calling us to serve as leaders and to run, hard, at making the school the best that it can be.  To that end, part of the re-structuring initiative invites the appointment of the Dean as a full-time position. (currently, the position is half-time.)

Capacity Building

The third major part of the Restructuring Initiative includes the formation of 7 Mission Resource Teams- one for each of our Convocations.  These Mission Resource Teams will each consist of 4 members, lay or ordained, who will serve to strengthen the work of the parishes and build capacity in areas of Finance, Stewardship, Evangelism & Community Engagement and Transition Ministry.

As I have traveled around our diocese, I have begun to understand the cultural differences between our regions and am coming to see that a model that empowers “neighbors helping neighbors” is a more appropriate way to strengthen congregations, rather than building one generic team of “consultants” to be “deployed” from the central office.  This new model has at its core the idea that the talent and gifts needed in each region are already present.  The diocesan leadership function is to raise the gifts, offer support and training to build the teams and then to encourage their use throughout our convocations.  Each member of the Mission Resource Teams will receive training in their specific discipline through the Stevenson School (ie: a course on Parish Financial Practices for the Finance Team members) as well as a course on Leadership Development that will help to prepare the team members to be effective supports for our congregations.

The Mission Resource Teams will be recruited and overseen by two of the Canons on our diocesan leadership staff-  the Canon for Finance & Operations and the Canon for Congregational Life & Mission.

Please send me an email (  if you would like a full copy of the Restructuring Initiative in Power Point form that includes several charts and diagrams.

I look forward to its presentation at Convention in October in a revised and refined form as we continue to move forward, serving God’s mission.

Friday, April 22, 2016

out on a limb

Out on a limb…or… where your mind goes on a long car ride.

Not too long ago, I stood in front of the (then) Presiding Bishop, another 20 or so bishops and an auditorium full of priests and faithful laypeople and promised to “uphold the faith, unity and discipline of the Church” and to “conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church,” as part of my ordination vows as bishop. It was an awesome day full of awesome promises.   I remember it- and the gravity of the responsibility, well.

And, as I was driving one of my favorite routes yesterday- down Liverpool way, through Shamokin Dam, up to Williamsport and onto Mansfield-  I had time to think. Plenty of time.  I thought through this weekend’s sermon.  I did some morning devotions and slipped in my cd of great hymns from St. Paul’s (London).  I folded some folks into prayer who had asked for some special intentions. I listed to a live recording of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young  in Detroit (1969), and then my mind wandered to the future of the Church.

I was thinking, actually, about Peter and Cornelius and the awesome vision that God delivered regarding the broadening of the (early) “church” to include Gentiles- outsiders- and how this boundary-breaking vision was so important and instructive for the Jesus Movement in its nascent days.  I reflected on how I keep saying that I believe that God is leading us to a “new thing” (Isaiah 43:19) but that the vision of it is just not clear, yet.  And that our job is to be faithful in following God, to be discerning, and to look for signs of where the Church- one of our vehicles for accomplishing God’s mission- might be headed.   This is a big step for us- releasing our grip on what has been- (or at least being willing to put it on the table)  and stepping out to see what God has in mind for us now. 

Yesterday, a clergy person told me that we need to refrain from the “Little Liturgy of Wringing our Hands,” and get on with God’s mission.  Amen.

So, as I was driving around, I wondered- what might that vision be?  If I had to imagine.  Could I get something as mystical and symbolic as Peter did-  a sheet, filled with animals, floating down from the heavens-  or would it be revealed to me in the bottom of a Sheetz coffee cup or on a billboard on 11/15?  Neither, as it turned out.

But here’s where I went  (out on a limb):

I wondered-  “What is the sacramental RDA for Christians?”  Yes.  What is the “required daily allowance” of sacramental “goods”  and “action”(namely Holy Communion) for us to continue on as Christians in the Anglican tradition?

Let me unpack that.

From a problem solving perspective, in this largely rural diocese, one of the biggest “obstacles” to how we are called to be together as God’s people is in the celebration of the sacraments. We don’t have enough priests… or, enough priests who are able to work part-time.  Our Sacramental Theology in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition is quite high, requiring an ordained priest to celebrate- in the presence of others- and to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit to transform earthly elements into the Body and Blood of Jesus.  We feed on this body, receive sacramental “nourishment” that builds us up, draws us together in an intimate and deep way, and that empowers us to “do the work that God has given us to do.”  For me, the sacramental life is essential to my participation in God’s mission.  To try to do without would be like setting out to run a marathon with no water or fuel.  A guaranteed bonk.

But I grew up in the 1928 Prayer Book Church.  A church where we subsisted, largely, on Morning Prayer.  I have those canticles and psalms in my bones and from time to time, when an old psalm chant comes back to me, I am transported to the pews of St. Andrew’s, Kent… or St. James’, Farmington (CT) and can hear, see, smell, feel everything about those places, in those moments… the sensory memory is amazing.

With the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, our Eucharistic sacramental theology was kicked up a notch. (I admit to some oblivious years of the “Green” and “Zebra” books as I was consumed with high school, but when I woke up, sometime in college, we had a new prayer book and a new pattern of worship where Holy Communion was the order of the day - at least on Sundays.)  We continued to hold to a high vision of the priestly role in serving as President of the Eucharist and that was just fine-  especially in a region of our Church (New England) with a gazillion churches and a gazillion priests.

Rural Central Pennsylvania- and other parts of our Church- now experience a different story.

Congregations are smaller.  They cannot draw full time priests to come live with them and minister to their sacramental needs.  The financial resources are limited, the needs to maintain buildings take up much of a congregation’s assets and the money “left over” to pay a priest is little.   We can have the “building conversation” that asks all sorts of questions about what we “need” to worship God… and we can ask why we can’t just combine to save money or buy a storefront in which to worship. And those are good, practical questions.  But we haven’t really spent too much time exploring what it is that we really need as God’s gathered people to sustain us.  Do we need a priest and a building?  Do we need communion every Sunday?  Instead of our financial deficiencies dictating our sacramental menu, why not become theological, sacramental nutritionists and explore our Sacramental RDA?

So many of our rural churches in this country and in Canada are finding the need to share a priest between several small congregations, drawing on the circuit rider model.  Some of these congregational clusters include up to a dozen churches.  Sadly, when I spoke to a church leader in Nova Scotia some years ago, she told me that fewer people attended church on the Sundays when they “just” read Morning Prayer, the folks felt that “God traveled with the circuit rider” and wasn’t present unless the priest showed up.  Bonk.    In Africa, many churches in the Anglican tradition do not have their own priest and wait, patiently, for their sacramental time, and they nimbly shift worship times to accommodate a traveling priest and devote themselves to study and prayer in the “in-between times.”

I happen to believe Jesus, who said that “Where two or three gather in my name, I am there among them” (Mt. 18:20) but that seems a hard sell, sometimes, without the elements to share.

So- no answers here, yet, but a desire for conversation about sacramental RDA.

What do you need?

Is it time to re-think our 1979 Sacramental theology?

Where does the bow break?  Is it with monthly communion?  Lay presidency? The forming of regional centers (hubs) for regular sacramental nurture with parish churches serving as centers for study, prayer and service?

What is God putting in your sheet floating down from heaven, in the way of a vision?

These are risky ideas. It is a bit like playing with matches, inviting this kind of conversation- particularly for one who has vowed to “uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship” of the Church.  But it is necessary.    I don’t want to pray the Liturgy of the Wringing Hands” anymore but be joyful – and bold- in following Jesus.

What do you think?

Monday, April 18, 2016

meanwhile in Ecuador

On Saturday evening while I was taking a hot shower, washing off the trail dust from our Holy Hike and the faint smell of fish oil from our afternoon of fishing at the pond, Ecuador was being rocked by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that destroyed 370 buildings in the provincial capital of ManabĂ­ and the nearby town of Pedernales, and  killed 272 people and injured 2,527 others .

Somehow this news escaped me- overnight and into the morning as we worshipped at St. Paul’s in Wellsboro.

I only learned of this devastating news as I drove south on Sunday afternoon and finally tuned in the news on my car radio.

Pray for the people of Ecuador.  For those whom they have lost, for the injured and those still missing, and for the significant restoration ahead.

I was reminded of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that claimed somewhere in the area of 150,000 lives- obviously a much greater toll in number- but no less devastating for the families, each by each, who had lost a father, mother, aunt, brother, child, friend.  At the time of the Haiti earthquake, I was the rector of two small churches in CT.  We were called to prayer and spent our Lenten season collecting coins in mite boxes decorated to look like bricks to give towards the re-building effort.  We also gave in a greater way to Episcopal Relief and Development, knowing that they had  the tools to assist in the recovery effort- and that we could trust their application of funds.  At a recent House of Bishops meeting, the Bishop Suffragan of Haiti, Oge Beauvoir, assured me that while much reconstruction has taken place, there is still much more to do, and our prayers are still coveted.

Prayer is important.  It keeps the center of need in front of us, and cultivates the compassion in our souls.  God knows, already, of our prayers before we ask… and God is already “on the job” in Ecuador, in Haiti, and in all places where God’s healing touch is needed… but prayer serves to open us God, allows us to seek the strength to be effective as Christ’s hands in the world, and to connect with our brothers and sisters across the globe through the power of the Holy Spirit  in a common language of the heart.

Yesterday, I was at St. Paul’s, Wellsboro, for the final day of the 3-Day Northern Tier Immersion Experience.  We had a joyful service that included 9 confirmations, a reception of one individual into the Episcopal Church and a reaffirmation of baptismal vows.  We began with the door-knocking ritual and the welcoming of the bishop into the parish community.  We sang joyful Easter and Good Shepherd hymns and, for me, it was an honor to celebrate Holy Eucharist at the high marble altar in one of the most beautiful parish churches in our diocese.  It is a Louis Comfort Tiffany jewelbox with pine timbers cut from local forests during the lumber hey day in those parts.

The candidates for confirmation included teenagers- many serving as acolytes that day- and adults who were choosing Christ and claiming responsibility for their baptismal vows.  Confirmations always thrill me- because at the moment that I lay hands on the heads of the candidates, I feel the Holy Spirit working in and through me and descending upon them, like a great liquid of love, salvation and strength.

We would have prayed for Ecuador, if I’d known.
Along with the prayers for the candidates, calling for a life in grace…
Along with the prayers over the bread and wine, praying elements of the earth into the real presence of Jesus…
As we stood in a beautiful building, surrounded by beauty and craftsmanship and art…

We could have raised our voices together, for healing and hope across the sea.

I am certain that many churches did… and that St. Paul’s will add Ecuador to their long list of intercessions next week.

And it’s not too late to get started, right now.  Here is a prayer from our Lutheran brothers and sisters (Spiritual Care Prayers Annex Draft – 08152011)
Loving Lord, we come to you trusting in your mercy and knowing that your steadfast love endures forever. Look with mercy on those who have been harmed or displaced by this disaster. Grant them your strength to meet the days ahead. Allow those who are affected to experience your peace which passes all understanding and new hope in the resurrection. Move in those who are able to give aid, that we may be your hands and heart on the earth. Be with all who offer your assistance; may your Spirit uphold them (as they) face the challenges ahead. Give us the assurance of your presence even in this time so that we can cling to your promise of hope and life shown us through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, Amen.

As we celebrated Holy Eucharist and Confirmation at St. Paul’s yesterday, I reflected in my sermon about the “key words” that marked my growing appreciation for our region of the Northern Tier and her people.  The four “key words,” (or phrases) were-  Rural Honesty, Passion, Beauty and Inclusion.  These themes are expressed in the people that I met this weekend and combine to make for a people already active in God’s healing work of restoration and reconciliation.  I am honored and delighted to have spent time together and look forward to my next journey north. (which, actually, will be on Thursday for a clergy council meeting!)  Praise God for my Subaru!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

God’s Country

God’s Country.

Yes, it is.  God’s Country, indeed.

On Friday morning when I packed my car, I knew that this would be an extraordinary weekend:  fishing poles, yoga mat, hiking boots, cope& mitre, crozier, blue jeans, flannel shirt, clerical collar& purple shirt.  Any trip that was going to make use of all of these things had a good time written all over it.    My Northern Tier 3 Day Immersion Experience had been carefully planned by the Reverends Gibbons, Yskamp and Hinton and their congregations and I was going to get the “full treatment.”

Yesterday’s Holy Hike, Fishing Expedition and Covered Dish Supper was wonderful.  The day dawned with crisp air that soon softened to lovely spring warmth, and the sky was the color of a robin’s egg with nary a cloud in sight.  We – hubby and I – made our way from Welllsboro to meet up with our hiking party in Brookland at All Saints’ parking lot.  We’d been told that the party was meeting at 9 at the church and leaving the trailhead at 10.  Somehow, we managed to time our arrival for 9:30 and weren’t sure where to land-  church or trailhead.  “No problem,” I told my husband, “I’ll just give Janis a call.”  Uh, no I won’t.  Lesson #1 of life in the mountains:  No cell signal. (at least for Verizon customers.)   We had a few panicky moments trying to figure out what to do and finally arrived at the church.  “No, drive on,” I told my husband.  “That’s not the right church-  there’s no parking lot.  Janis said that there was a parking lot.”  Uh. Lesson #2:  That was the right church.  Parking lots in the Northern Tier aren’t necessarily paved.  This one was a grass pasture across the street from the church.     We finally found our party at the trail head and after some apologies for tardiness and our seemingly city slicker mistakes, we headed out.

Lewis Russell, an All Saints’ parishioner and hiker extraordinare had planned the hike and mountain top eucharist with Mother Janis.  Lewis’ passion is hiking and he has shared with me his stories of hiking the AT and the way that he ministers to others on the trail.  He has a ministry of prayer and opening the scriptures to folks on the trail.  I love that.   We prayed at the trailhead and began our gentle 3 mile out-and-back.    As we hiked we enjoyed each other’s company, the extraordinary beauty of the early spring day and the sights and sounds of God’s creation.  We saw turkey scratch, budding trees, tiny wildflowers in bloom, hawks circling overhead and one big, scary bear print in the mud.  Besides Lewis, the other leader of this hike was the ever-joyful, loveable Wayne Yskamp, Janis’ husband who, in camo pants and pink camo doo rag provided color commentary, rural know-how and general merriment.  You cannot be anywhere with Wayne and not be in a great mood.  Wayne is a treasure of the Northern Tier.

When we reached the half way point, we stopped at a little outdoor “chapel” and Mother Janis pulled the Eucharistic elements out of her pack.  She had made two bandana-stoles for the occasion and compiled a really wonderful service using prayers from the brothers at the Society of St. James the Evangelist (Cambridge, MA) and the New Zealand Prayer Book. (I bet that she’d be willing to share this service if anyone would like to use it.)  We prayed, read the scriptures, broke bread and shared God’s holy meal.

On the way down, we split into two groups-  one that returned the way that we had come, and another that followed a more “adventurous” path, led by Lewis.  I tagged along with the “adventurous” group, and we found ourselves at the top of the Denton ski area, peering down “Avalanche Hill.”  I was glad to be in hiking boots and not on skis.

We enjoyed a quick pizza lunch back at All Saints and then it was time for fishing.  Truth be told-  I was a little anxious.  I had a brand-new, first-time-out –of-the-box fly fishing outfit given to me as a consecration gift by my staff and I could not imagine how I was going to gracefully manage wetting a line on my first-ever fly fishing outing. (I’d brought my spinning rods in case I chickened out.)  But the Lord- and Janis- provide… and my fly-fishing-guardian-angel was revealed to me in Dr. Pete Ryan, a parishioner of Christ Church, Coudersport who is a fly fishing expert, member of Trout Unlimited and director of Healing Waters, a program that takes disabled Vets out fly-fishing and gives them the healing benefits of enjoying nature, fishing, and the therapeutic wonders of the outdoors.  Pete is a saint.  We spent more than an hour on “dry land” training and he patiently explained all of the bits and pieces that a beginner would need to know. (10 and 2, paint the wall, use the hammer…. etc.)
I ended up doing some fly-casting (plenty of work to do to “refine my form”) and some spin casting, as well.  And… we left all of the fish in the pond.

The congregations of All Saints and Christ Church were waiting on the porch of the parish house when we returned from our expedition.  They were gracious to allow their bishop in her fishing clothes and muddy boots into the house and around the table.  We had a wonderful meal of home-baked beans with slabs of bacon on top, corn and green bean salad, brown bread, pasta, jello salad, brownies, pineapple upside down cake… the usual amazing array of things that come with a covered dish supper.

What a day.

We climbed into the car and made our way back to Wellsboro, eager to rest up for a day of church at St. Paul’s and a regional confirmation service.

God is good.

(for a report from Day #1 of the Northern Tier Immersion Experience, scroll to the entry just previous to this one.)

*this is an edited version with some corrections made.