Sunday, August 21, 2016

Frankford to Germantown. Notes from the journey. Come and See....Week 4 Part 1



Come and See.

This week was an intense and revelatory week during my pilgrimage.  It epitomizes the “Come and See” Diocese of Pennsylvania.  The following post will be long and fascinating.  So much so that I will break it into two posts.   I visited 13 Churches this week.  I had the opportunity to experience the outward and community focus of our ministries.  It is important to realize that our work is out in the community.  We go out and share the Good News, and then invite each of you into tour sacred spaces to share the Good News.  Coincidentally, I read an article that described the most common factor for the decline in a church attendance.  When you have the opportunity, please read. 


Jesus sent people out into the world.  The Great Commission is to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  To teach all that Jesus has taught and remember Jesus is with us always.

St. Mark’s Frankford 

My pilgrimage began at St. Mark’s Frankford.  I left the office at nine a.m. and used my Waze navigation app.   It was an exhilarating and exciting ride; construction blocked as I approached St. Mark's.  The construction caused a series of left and right turns down streets, and I was determined not to get lost.  I kept the bell tower in view and navigated toward the sacred space.  I felt like a bit of Caspar keeping my eye on the star.  


As I finally navigated onto Frankford Avenue, I was immediately bothered by the elevated train tracks.  They ominously loomed over the street and cast a dark shadow over the neighborhood.  It seemed like entire the street was an underground avenue.  I pulled into the parking lot and was greeted by Fr. Jon, Deacon Phil, the Sexton, and his daughter. 


There is a majestic beauty of the sanctuary.  Upon walking in it reminded me of the great cathedrals with the stained glass and intricate wood and stone carvings.  You have to tour the facility.  It is a respite from the world that awaits outside the doors.    As usual, I wanted to know the history of the place.   The Church and Frankford plays a unique role in the Civil War.  There are plaques to those who served that line the walls.  If you go, ask about St. Mark’s and Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.  







Fr. Jon encouraged me to take the wooden steps up to the bell tower.  Fr. John played the bells by hand controls.  There is a flurry of activity within the walls of St. Mark’s.  It is an accurate representation of ministry among our Galilean road. Practicing Roman Catholics whose ministry was displaced by the closing of their church run a food pantry at St. Mark’s.  A clothes pantry in an adjoining room had volunteers sharing needed essentials.  















I found a Baptist Minister and Episcopal Priest jointly leading a noon service that included singing, psalms, and reading of Scripture.  I have a fondness of old hymns and in my honor, they sang “In the Garden.”   I sat with my brothers and sisters, and they all represented the community;  the lost and the found, the rich and the poor, the hurting and the healthy; the sick and the seeking.  Tears flowed in the room for different reasons, yet the tears fell without regard to status or journey. 






While at St. Mark's I reminded that a building of this size requires continued maintenance.  We cannot defer maintenance and at the same time serve the pressing needs of a community.  As a diocese, we can discern creative methods to keep our facilities in good order while serving the world.  After exploring the building, speaking with the ministry leaders,  Fr. Jon and I enjoyed a bowl of soup with those who attended the service.  We then prepared to drive the streets of Kensington and Frankford.  


Over the weekend, I was warned that Kensington and Frankford is a notoriously rough neighborhood, in Philadelphia; the police department crime statistics confirm the perception.  Fr. Jon took me to the backstreets, the dead end streets, the dealing heroin homes, the corners of prostitution.  I was able to view personally the pain that wracks the area.



In a short time, you could not help but notice young girls were picking at their faces consumed by the use of meth walking along the street.  Our brothers and sisters are struggling with withdrawal as they slowly push strollers carrying their young babies. In many ways, a look of hopelessness is etched on their faces.   Our brothers and sisters are living in horrific pain and are lost; we are called to this place.  They purchase drugs or sell their bodies to feed this evil that consumes their lives.  I was once told by a mother whose son was in the throes of heroin addiction that drugs are the devils eucharist. 




Above 2 photos by J. Stockbrid


As I watched this pain, as I looked into the faces of these precious children of God, I thought of how they were once small children; at one time needing someone with beloved smiles and hope.  They are someone's daughter, they are someone's son, they were once a baby reaching out for someone to hold them.  They are now reaching out in many ways. As I moved to the next meeting, I kept Fr. Jon and Deacon Phil in prayer.  They love the community and "our" children in the streets.  I thank them for going out into the world in love and the name of Christ.  We are blessed by the ministry, and I bless them. Come and See St. Mark's at: http://www.stmarksfrankford.org


Christ and St. Ambrose (Cristo y San Ambrosio)

The next stop on the pilgrimage was Christ and St. Ambrose (Cristo y San Ambrosio).  Christ and St. Ambrose is another one of our mission churches that are proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in the community.  It is a mission that is full of love, life, and vision.  Upon entering the building, I was greeted by a rush of hugs and cheers.   We moved in conversation from English to Spanish and Spanish to English. 















Each member excitedly expressed their love for the community and their love for the Episcopal Church. In the sanctuary, I listened as they expressed their desire to grow, spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and their pride in their neighborhood.  While touring, I was a bit distracted each time we passed the kitchen.  They were preparing a traditional Puerto Rican lunch, and I wanted to spend all my time in the kitchen.  However, it was not meant to be because they wanted me to see all their work - it is great and missional work.



They want to grow, and they will grow.  They are economically innovative.  We toured a home they own and are currently renovating for lease.  They are developing a business plan to purchase homes adjacent to the church, at a low cost, restoring the space and providing quality housing to neighborhood families.  In the process, they meet a community need while enjoying an economic return.   I toured the parish office that is being used not only for administration but outreach and economic activities.  In one large room, they have rented space to a community outreach organization that will use the space for the next five months.  



On the third floor, they had a music studio with computers that young artists can use for mixing music, creating music and videos.  A member of the congregation is a music professional, and he assists the community in artistic and recording ventures.  In one part of the studio, they have installed a screen print shop where kids can make t-shirts.  



I was taken to the basement that has been converted to a full fledged boxing gym.  The church has installed stationary exercise machines, a professional size boxing ring, heavy training weights.  The church has become the local gym for the youth in the community.  Once again, the church stepped out to meet the needs of the community.   The congregation would like to identify youth programs and integrate teens and young adults into the mission.  Their hope is infectious, and it is working.  They want to become a “parish” within five years.  There is no stopping them with Jesus by our side.   





I finally, made it back to the kitchen and told Maria - let’s eat!  The food was marvelous, the community is heartwarming, their faith gives me joy and their love of Jesus Christ cannot be adequately described.  They want people to "Come and See" their faith and "Come and See" their church.  



Come and See Christ and St. Ambrose (Cristo y San Ambrosio) 


Free Church of St. John

Following our time at Christ and St. Ambrose, Fr. Jon continued the tour of Frankfurt and Kensington.  As a Diocese over the next few years, we must confront poverty.  Straightforward and direct.  We must act and reach out to the pain in our community. 

I met Fr. David and the Vestry at the Free Church of St. John.  Important historical facts:  (1) Named the Free Church because it was the first church in Philadelphia not to charge people for the use of the pews; (2) Scenes from Rocky 5 were filmed in the Rectory.  The Free Church is another of our historic congregations that were neglected.  No, it had fallen into absolute disrepair and neglect.  Canon Deming has been resolute in assisting and building up the congregation.  








When I arrived, I heard reports that the Vicar was living in a rectory without heat or fans.  The church could not obtain oscillating fans nor receptacles to place the trash.  My first question is: “is this how we treat our clergy and congregations.  To assist one another is why we are a diocese!”  Over the last year, the church has rebuilt the sacristy, cleaned and patched the sanctuary, removed graffiti from the building, cleaned the trash in the land behind the church and renovated all of the bathrooms.  They are having garage sales where they spend only $52 and make $860.  I like the return on investment and creativity.  Simple steps in building the congregation.








I was told that they have worked to remove the humidity that is destroying the floors.  Last month they removed 1000 gallons of water due to the moisture.  It is a labor of love and faith, and they have transformed the building.  Also, they have cleaned the rectory and installed new doors.  They have hung the history of the church and point with pride to our Episcopal faith tradition. 

I had to laugh.  I was told that someone broke in and took the Bishops Chair.  They stole my chair!  I guess someone needed it more than I do and we hold them in prayer. Free Church is another of our congregations that want to rebuild and grow outward and reach into the community.The congregation would like to purchase the land adjacent to the church to expand their outreach.   The goals are to create a place for the community, with a park and playground. 



Their grand dream is to purchase the school next door.  The church owned the school next to the church and sold the building 30-40 years ago to the school district.  The school is now closed and left vacant.  They want to purchase the school, and I told the congregation I would go with them to make the petition.  Never be afraid of losing what you don’t have!  This congregation and with others do not focus on what they cannot do - they want to grow.  Their attitude of building and growing is another example of the theology of abundance.  

I was also impressed by their programmatic approach.  They have classes for members of the congregation.  One of the most impressive was a construction/remodel class for single mothers.  In this way, single mothers can do their repairs with the assistance of the congregation.  Women are teaching women about construction.  Everything to changing a faucet, remodeling a bathroom of fixing, and fixing heater; this is empowering and uplifting  Any technical help from professionals in the diocese would be greatly appreciated.  






Finally, they had a request that broke my heart.  The congregation needs to rebuild the Vestry, and most of the congregation is relatively new.  Fr. David stated that he needs Episcopalians to serve and the problem is that a majority of his new congregation requires reception or confirmation.  I asked, “what is the problem?”  They said, “A Bishop is not scheduled for two years.”  Not a problem.  I asked they contact Linda Hollingsworth and to schedule a visitation on Wednesday evening in the next month.  I am there! Linda Hollingsworth - schedule it.  They shouted out with joy.   They should not have to cheer.  Making that extra effort is what we do for one another, and I will work tirelessly for you.  We are on this journey as a beloved diocesan family. 



I can promise you that no church, no congregation will be neglected or left to fend for themselves.  We are a Diocese that will take care of one another.  Come and See the Free Church of St. John at http://www.freechurchstjohn.org

Annunciation 

I had to call in advance because I was running late from my appointment at the Free Church and had to drive from Frankfurt to Annunciation near Germantown.  Encountering traffic at 4:30 p.m is not fun.   I drove up Lincoln Drive and met a beautiful setting and church.





In the next few weeks, you will hear more about the purpose of the Office of the Diocese.  It is serving the congregations of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.  The reason I am restating our mission is that when I entered the meeting, I was greeted with smiles and a warm welcome. Some had taken time from work to attend the meeting.  This was an important meeting to the congregation and I was blessed. 





However, during our initial conversation, I once again noticed some hesitancy (as with other churches).  I stated that a goal of the entire diocese including our committees includes the ability to speak out and have our voices heard.  We have lost the sacrament of listening.  We need to create a safe place where you will not worry about being attacked or judged.  I encouraged them to express themselves, and they took a chance and spoke out.





They also felt the honest need to express their distrust of the diocese and standing committee.  This was good and transformative.  I asked why and they reiterated the past. We have to honor them and the need to express their feelings.  It is real and I am glad we discussed this painful period.  I encouraged them to envision a new future.  A future where we have a new narrative; one of hope, one of growth, one of safety and trust.    My commitment is a safe place where we can journey together.  Once we began to trust one another, we began to envision the future.  Where we can look at our churches and have the diocese become a resource rather than a hindrance or obstacle.  We must explore how to serve the community rather than only close a church.  




We live as a community.  During our discussion, we discussed youth programming, food cupboards, marketing, and evangelization.  I felt a sense of unity and bonding.  I want to thank the community of Annunciation for the willingness to step forward and take the hand of this Bishop and walk forward into the future.  We will do great things “together.”  This is a congregation is ready to grow and step foward in building outreach.  The staff at the Offices of the Diocese 




Grace Epiphany.

My next stop that day was a 6:00 community SUPPER at Grace Epiphany.  The SUPPER program is a remarkable outreach celebration where parishes work together as a community to serve the community.  The concept is brilliant and simple.  Yoke the deanery parishes and host a supper.  Invite your congregants and the surrounding community and eat. It included participants from different denominations.  It sounds innovative, sounds community building; it sounds like Christianity.








I would like to acknowledge St. Martin’s in the Field for building this event and sharing with fellow deanery parishes.  It is also an outreach that various deaneries can emulate; a simple meal that filled the church hall with laughter.  I was once again enjoined to serve - I work cheap!  I was assigned the dessert table.  I am not a fan of desserts. However, if you place me near the bread or potato table, you are in trouble.   It was also fulfilling to see that everyone worked together to set up, prepare the meal, eat, and clean up.  All were servants, and all were served.










After we had served the meal, I spent time with Fr. Naz Javier.  Fr. Naz is employed full time and serves the congregation full time.  He is creative, loving and cares about the community.  He is another example of the servant priesthood that will continue to build the Diocese.  When I asked how we can assist Grace in their work, he said: “find me an intern and a grant writer.”  Ok, staff start searching for an intern and grant writer.  As for the rest of the diocese, if you know an intern who wants to do some serious kingdom building and a grant writer who intends to walk the journey - call the diocesan office of Fr. Naz.  





I returned home around 9:30 that night and could not sleep.  I was excited and moved and felt incredibly blessed to walk this journey.  Each of these outreach projects are small steps that make a difference.  We do not need grand ideas or outreach programs.  We need small steps that touch the lives of people.  Small steps like singing on midday afternoons, small steps like teaching single mothers how to repair a sink, small steps like inviting teens to use the gym in the basement, small steps like cleaning the sanctuary, small steps like having a community meal.  Small steps that lead to the kingdom.  Come and See the great steps and kingdom building at Grace Epiphany http://graceepiphany.org



I am incredibly blessed to serve as your Bishop.
May the peace of Christ go with you wherever He may send you.