Come and See the Diocese of Pennsylvania… (PS. Don't forget to "like" each of these churches on Facebook and follow on Twitter.
Our Come and See Diocese is life giving and transformative. I cannot explain how blessed that I am to be serving you as your Bishop. As mentioned last week, the blog post is the second in the series from Week 4. I included a link that was highlighted in part one and find it is an important reminder for every church.
The Great Commission is to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus sent people out into the world to do just that, and we are to teach what Jesus has taught. It is important to remember that we are the vehicles in the 21st Century. This is our Great Commission and to know that Jesus is with us always.
My first trip down I-95 south was an enlightening experience. The driving in New Mexico is one to be experienced - no knowledge whatsoever as to the purpose of a blinker, texting while driving 120 mph, etc. However…this is something new. Indy car racing in a short distance, cutting in between cars with inches to spare, and of course the honking on the freeway. Interesting. Why is there such difficulty merging? Why only two lanes on the Schuylkill?
Aside of I-95, I am at a loss for words for a narrative that was pervasive throughout my pilgrimage through lower Bucks County. It seems that long ago Buck County was designated a far off and foreign land. Thus, perception becomes reality; it was too far to integrate fully into the Diocese and thus a history of being forgotten. Now we will change things together. I will make a commitment - the Churches, congregation, clergy and family in Bucks County will never be forgotten. We will journey with you and be by your side. From this day forth you will see me, the staff of the offices of the Diocese of Pennsylvania and your fellow Episcopalians. It is our call to help one another and build this community called the Diocese of Pennsylvania. I find it difficult to comprehend that to some it is an effort to drive 1/2 an hour. Can someone explain this thinking? OK, enough of my rant, we are at a place of new beginnings. Jesus is making all things new. A new time and a new place.
I was greeted by a familiar response. “It is unusual to see someone from the Diocesan Office. Usually, a visit by a diocesan staff member or a call from the diocesan office means that something went wrong or that they were in trouble.” You will see us all the time. In fact, I hope you get tired of seeing us. Redeemer is a congregation that has had to move forward without support. I am in awe that you have continued to preach the gospel while at times journeying without feeling the backing necessary.
It is a fascinating complex that contains a library modeled on the library of President John Adams. Adjacent to the library is a home that has served a dual purpose. A residence, a rectory/librarians quarters. Finally, it evoked memories of the Diocese of the Rio Grande. In my old diocese, there are numerous Episcopal churches built in this style. It is as if someone dropped a small English country church into small town Pennsylvania or New Mexico. It just feels right.
I had the opportunity to greet members of the congregation and meet with the Priest in Charge. We explored the past, present, and future of this church. I see great hope. We discovered that there is a growing Episcopal community in the adjacent town that needs a place to worship. We will mutually find out how we reach out to the community and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Outreach is a place where we can journey together, and the resources of the Diocese are vital.
When I speak of resources; some may immediately think of monetary resources. At times, financial resources are necessary. However, we must think creatively and differently. I am emphasizing intellectual and professional resources that are plainly abundant in the diocese. In Bryn Mawr, Center City, Media and all corners of the diocese are attorneys, bankers, planners, government officials, teachers, retired professionals, caretakers, people who have something to share. There are individuals in every congregation that would like to offer their talents. Either they do not know who to contact or have never been asked to contribute their talents. I need you. Please contact me and we will align need and skills. It is building the Kingdom of God. We can join and help the smaller churches. Smaller churches have something to offer large churches. Let's do this.
Finally, we will assist with the resources on liturgy, letters of agreement, stewardship and outreach. I cannot wait to help strengthen this small but promising church.
I thought I would have a bit of extra time, so I took a chance. I need to obtain a Pennsylvania license plate, so I decided to go to the Motor Vehicle Department. We were close to receiving the Golden License. I had everything - old license, passport, original social security card, rental agreement, pay stub. Well, I was told that the lease agreement did not have my apartment number on the agreement. If I had two pay stubs instead of one - I could obtain the license, but it was not to be. Although I had every conceivable document and proof of identity known to the civilized world; it was no. Come back later. I said many prayers. The public servant was doing his job. Did I say I recited numerous prayers asking for patience and we left? I will take two pay stubs next time. Noticing my need for deep, deep, deep prayer and the corresponding inability to drive after the experience with the Motor Vehicle Department, Fr. Michael kindly offered to drive. Thank you, Fr. Michael - we were off to St. James in Bristol.
St. James, Bristol
St. James is an exciting church. I say it is exciting regarding the history, facility, and possibility. I call churches such as St. James “launching pads for ministry.” The church is one of the precious gems that can attract people due to its unique character and can reach out to people. It is action and prayer, prayer and action. Come and See.
I learned that in 1690, George Keith, an Englishman, and former Quaker, appealed to the people of Bristol to embrace Anglican worship. In 1702, he returned to England to study for Holy Orders and after ordination, he was sent to Bristol as the first missionary dispatched by the English Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. On land given by Anthony Burton and John Rowland, the first church was built and consecrated on the feast day of St. James the Greater, July 25, 1712. St. James was the first church in Bristol (the third oldest town in Pennsylvania after Philadelphia and Chester) and the only Episcopal church in Bucks County for 119 years. St. James is one of the ten founding parishes of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.
The interior of St. James reminds me of the Virginia parishes, the historic altars with the curved lines and simple liturgical emphasis. St. James also had a flag of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. I did not know these flags existed and was elated the flag was proudly displayed. I need to find one of the flags. They also have a history of the church written on three wood panels.
|St. Jude - wonder why|
I had the opportunity to spend time with Rev. Marlee Norton. She lives a life what a majority of our Priests in the “new church” are encountering; dividing her time between two churches while working to build up the congregation all while serving as preacher, pastor, auditor, financial wizard and management. (Ask her to tell you the story about my wife at the consecration). It is hard work. However, she works to envision the myriad of possibilities. We discussed how the diocese could support the small and medium-sized parishes and the sharing of ministry. The essence of the discussion was intentionality and substance.
Part of the discussion was once again reaching out to the surrounding community while inviting the larger community onto the grounds of the church. Can the diocese assist in marketing the history of the parish? Yes. Can we work together to correlate the history of the parish to the need for tourists and community events? Yes. Can we work together to create a walking history tour for visitors? Yes. These are important discussions that we will continue. The staff of the Office of the Diocese is ready. I would like to envision something new. Let's do it together. Visit St. James at http://www.stjamesbristol.org
Grace is also a historic church and another example of the abundance in the diocese. The church was founded in 1831. I am always moved and encouraged by the profound history of our diocese. At times, I wonder if we fully realize the gifts we have. Let’s not take it for granted. Imagine the prayers upon prayers that have built this spiritual bedrock. We have the theology of abundance. Let’s build the theology of hope. In reading the history of the Church, the narratives tells that in 1826, the town of Hulmeville, “engaged” Eliza Randal to teach a private school for several prominent families. Ms. Randal was an "earnest, devoted and energetic" member of St. James Episcopal Church School in Bristol, which was part of the American Sunday School Union. In the 19th century Sunday School was one of the primary structures available to provide a basic education for children, especially those who worked during the week. About this time (1828-1830), The Rev. Richard Hall, Rector of St. James the Greater, began to hold services in the School House in Hulmeville after Sunday School.
If you read their history, we have the same call in this day and place. We are called to go out and open the hearts and minds of families in many ways. Through our liturgy, outreach, Sunday school programs, and presence in the community. I walked through the sanctuary and the parish hall. A place where we have the potential to build upon all the great activities currently occurring at Grace. The sincere heart for people and passion for the Gospel. I looked to the East and noticed a beautiful rectory being used as a rental. The grounds show the pride of this congregation. Together, we take those tentative steps outside of our comfort zones and go out into the world. The Diocesan Office is looking forward to working with Grace. Check back, and maybe we can learn new things. Visit Grace at http://www.amazinggracesince1831.org
St. Paul, Levittown
The visit to St. Paul was brief. We had the opportunity to tour the grounds and walk briefly through the sanctuary. I would like to spend time with the congregation and envision the next steps. This congregation is an example of where we can become creative and yoke ministries. I have included pictures and look forward to my return visit.
All Saints, Fallsington
All Saints is a picture book church set in a picture book community. You drive into Fallsingtown and feel the history. Stone homes line the narrow roads and lead to a center founded by Quakers (with an active Anglican/Episcopal presence!). I love the history of All Saint’s and how it was founded. In 1876, Mary Ann Williamson, a devout Episcopalian, and philanthropist was determined to establish an Episcopal presence in Philadelphia. We are told she lived on Pine Street in Philadelphia and spent her summers in the cool respite of Fallsington. During her trips, she often brought orphaned girls with her to spend time in the “country” and enjoy leisure activities, fellowship, and worship. She provided a chance for the girls to have “a respite from their stressful lives while providing mentorship and guidance.” These girls became the Fallsington chapter of the Girls’ Friendly Society.
As we arrived on the grounds of the church were greeted by members who were working on a beautiful rectory. They were preparing to place the rectory on the rental market. It is a great place to live. They were also cleaning the church and organizing the BCP's for Holy Eucharist. I toured the Rectory, and the congregation has worked to fix the house and has installed a new kitchen, painted and repaired the entire home. The wood floors alone are original and evoke a period long past. Additionally, they were beautiful The property has a nursery and potential for growth.
What is impressive is the belief that this church will continue growing. I was told of the community events, the liturgy and the desire to become a destination church. As we discussed the future, my brothers and sisters are not tired, nor discouraged. They are ready to grow and proud of All Saints. No obstacle is too big or problem insurmountable. I asked how the diocese can continue to support the congregation. My brother and sisters were direct; they needed signage. The property is set back from two roads and removed from traffic. We need to work with the township and historical commission to determine how we can increase signage and visibility. If there are bureaucrats who are stalling the process, I will go personally and sit in their office. I would also like to explore how the diocese can provide marketing expertise and support. All Saints is another one of our churches in Bucks County where we can engage in community discussions as to the presence of our church and create a tourist destination. We will bind together economic develop, tourism, faith, and vitality.
On the way out of Fallsington, I made Fr. Mike stop so I could read all the historical markers. He understands what I have put my beloved family through on our vacations (stops at every historical marker). Poor man. He smiled and acceded to my continued requests, and we stopped. I discovered that William Penn worshiped and preached at the meetinghouse. Maybe a few of you can join me in the fall and return to All Saints and celebrate the richness of this sacred place. Visit All Saints at http://www.allsaintsfallsington.org
This congregation is ready to explode. As I drove into the parking lot, I could not help but notice the extensive grounds and how the architecture is different from any Episcopal Church I have visited in the Diocese. It has a 1970’s design that works for the setting. The church has extensive and modern areas for community meetings, children’s ministries, and the administrative tasks. I walked into the sanctuary, and it reminded me of a parish that I served while in the Rio Grande. The sanctuary lends itself to arranging the space for various liturgies - evensong, contemplative prayer, and the Eucharist. It is organized in a semi-circle, and I can envision college students holding an evening Compline, or a youth group sitting on the floor sharing the Eucharist. It has endless possibilities.
While on the tour, I had the opportunity to reemphasize that the Diocese exists to serve Incarnation. I have said this throughout my tour and will say it again. As your shepherd, I believe a shepherd should smell like the sheep. I want to journey with you and walk with each congregation. You are not alone. We are here with you. We talked about the transition process and how we can be of support in calling a new Priest. As we explored the limitless potential of the congregation, the idea of yoking ministries and congregations was an enlivening topic. How can a team of Priests serve two or three parishes? What are the charisms of a place that will attract families or the elderly? We have the resources to impact the work We also had a serious conversation in selecting an interim and permanent Priest. I would like to reiterate that none of our parishes have to rush into calling. We need to work together discern, align the church with the Priest. At times, it is not a good fit. Our churches cannot rush only to fill the pulpit. We need to slow down, and the diocese will work to find the right priest for your congregation.
I was excited in that I asked about the baptismal font. Did you know that this was the font in which William Penn’s father was baptized? I was once again historically jumping for joy. I began attempting to place the font in Fr. Michael’s car but it was not to be. As we were walking out to the car, I visited the outside chapel, labyrinth, and columbarium. In the midst of the major intersection, outside in front of the church, you could sit and pray. What more could you ask for from a church? Visit Incarnation at http://www.incarnationepiscopal.org
St. James, Langhorne
We completed the tour by visiting St. James. I was fortunate in that I visited the facility on Friday and was scheduled to share in the Eucharist on Sunday. On Friday we sat in the office of the Rectors and discussed the various ministries. I learned of the unique opportunities of each of our individual churches.
St. James has a large rectory converted into a rental home as well as having a second home on the property. The rental of the rectory can be a blessing and a time for reflection. Smaller and medium-size congregations face the choice of a rental income which can assist with the budget. If they choose to continue renting the rectory, the homes come with repair cost, maintenance and overall landlord issues. The discussion of having a rental is a cost analysis item and a point where the diocese can walk with you and assist with professional advice and support.
Adjacent to the church is a flourishing pre-school. The rooms in the preschool were being prepared for a new school year. I could imagine the children running through the halls. I also heard great stories of Rev Barbara’s trip to South Africa and her fast and furious dash with a black and white rhinoceros.
On Sunday I once again ventured east on 1-95 and the traffic was a bit easier. Upon arrival at St. James for the 10:15 service, the parking lot was filled. I was greeted with a grand welcome and hugs. I find it joyful that everyone I have met is warm and embracing. When elected, many told me that those in the “East” would be removed and closed to displays of warmth and affection. Not the case. Everyone in this diocese is filled with good cheer.
Teens were preparing to serve as acolytes, and we fist bumped. Children were running through the Narthex. I was also moved with the charism of the church. Everyone is welcome. Sharing in the most Holy Eucharist were people from all ages, abilities, and dreams. There were prayers of thanks for those that have been healed. Once again, I thought of the abundance of ministries and life in the diocese. I had the opportunity to meet the congregation after the service and learn about their lives and faith. Visit St. James at http://www.stjameslanghorne.org
The pilgrimage continues to be a truly transformative experience. I love spending time with you as your Bishop.
I left St. James filled with immense optimism as I headed south on 1-95. No concern of traffic or merging. I am truly blessed to be your Bishop. Thank you. This is our Come and See diocese.