While at the House of Bishops, I am catching up on the blog posts. It is a beautiful and blessed pilgrimage. Over the past week, you may have noticed the information and communications flowing from the Offices of the Diocese. The staff of the diocese is intent on serving you. Thus, we have released our purpose as the Office of the Bishop and Office of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania: “To proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and build the Kingdom of God by serving the clergy and laity of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.”
Because the Brandywine pilgrimage had an early Monday morning start, Fr. Richard Morgan kindly suggested that I stay at his home. I learned of his extraordinary cooking skills and when he offered dinner; of course I said yes.
Upon arrival, I immediately was taken by 7-year-old Frances who was hanging from the banister. She looked at me and said, “Hello Bishop.” I said “Frances, that is a long drop” and she kept on swinging. From then on we became friends. Fr. Richard and his family are a joy. I would like to thank his wife Ruth for her hospitality and patience in explaining gardening to me. Thomas for the use of his shower, Esther for sharing her artistic talents, Briney for our mutual love of politics, Kate for her sense of fashion and the same color hair as my family (rich red) and of course Frances. I awoke with the great voice of Frances asking in the hallway “is the Bishop awake, is the Bishop awake.” We now have a pen pal relationship. I also want to note that Fr. Richard is an excellent and creative cook and a brewmaster.
St. John Glen Mills
We departed early for a meeting with the clergy at St. John Glen Mills. The drive to St. John through the countryside is breathtaking. It provided a time for the appreciation of the natural beauty of SE Pennsylvania. As you know, I am from the southwest which has a unique beauty. Rolling hills combined with the sunrise and wildlife was sacred; I counted my blessings. We were scheduled to begin our day with Morning Prayer, and I love starting my day with Morning Prayer. There is something about our faith tradition and Morning Prayer that is fulfilling. It is particularly our own and deeply spiritual. We hearken back to the need to have an ongoing conversation with God. It just feels right to begin the day with Morning Prayer.
After Morning Prayer, the clergy of the deanery shared a time of fellowship and breakfast. We also had an extensive question and answer session. The clergy of the Diocese is faithful and devoted. During the meeting, we discussed a range of topics including convention, parish funding, mission, clergy deployment and how we move to build the kingdom as a diocese. The sense of unity and purpose was motivating. As an aside, the tea, scones and home made clotted cream were exceptional. Following the clergy discussion period, I had the opportunity to spend time in a private conversation with Fr. John Sorenson. A benefit of the pilgrimage is meeting privately with the faithful clergy of the diocese. We concluded our clergy meeting and private discussions and moved toward Advent Kennett Square.
I would like to acknowledge the work of Fr. Sorenson and St. John Glen Mills for their dedicated work in Guatemala as part of the companion diocese work. They have transformed lives both in Pennsylvania and Guatemala. Finally, I had an “envisioning” discussion with the Rev. Jill LaRoche Wikel. The envisioning discussions are where we mutually dream aloud. The discussions are about what we dream things can be (and will be) in the diocese rather than the obstacles we face. Thank you Rev. LaRoche Wikel for the envisioning discussion. We can transform the world (and our Diocese) and do things in the name of Jesus Christ. Visit St. John at http://www.saintjohnsconcord.com
Advent Kennett Square
The second pilgrimage stop was at Advent. The campus of the church is pristine. It makes me proud that our churches take pride in the physical appearance of the campus. It was beautiful. I was told by a friend and mentor Priest that if we take care of those places where we worship the Divine, people will believe we will take care of them. I often imagine people seeking a church and what questions do they have when to drive up into our churches. What are the first impressions? Are the grounds being tended? Is the grass mowed? Are the weeds pulled? And the trash picked up? Are the bathrooms clean? Is the nave uncluttered? Are we friendly and welcoming? Do we care about the community? Will you care about me? All these questions are important. However, many families with small children seek a safe, clean and welcoming place for their families. I can say that Advent answers all of these questions affirmatively. From the grounds to the memorial garden, there is great pride and tenderness taken in the facility.
If you notice in the pictures, a beautiful sign that contained various handwritten greetings was placed over the entrance. I have kept the sign, and it is now part of my pilgrimage keepsakes. Advent Kennett Square has a centralized location that the Offices of the Diocese and the Diocese as a whole can use for programmatic efforts. As with other churches, we can hold office hours at the church, training (anti-racism and trafficking), deanery meetings and various other gathering opportunities. Both Rev. Nancy Hauser and Rev. Greg Wilson spoke with enthusiasm of the various ministries occurring. Moreover, they were eager to offer the use of the facility and connect Advent to the Offices of the Diocese. Working together is how we build our internal community and from this position of a diocese, we build the community in our midst.
Finally, we had a grand time determining the source of a chirping sound in the daycare section of Advent. In my OCD mode, I had to find the source. I then attempted to alleviate the chirping by pushing the silence button. It was the wrong move, the entire alarm system engaged. A piercing sound filled the church. Warning - don’t ask me to fix alerts.
Advent Kennet Square is another one of our “launching pad” churches where we can touch the world. Visit Advent Kennett Square at: http://www.adventks.org
St. Christopher’s Oxford.
The next stop on the pilgrimage was St. Christopher’s Oxford. As we drove up to the church, I was greeted by my dear friend Dr. Mary Ann Mertz and the lay leadership of the church. St. Christopher is a parish that is intentionally attempting to meet the world through mission and ministry. Dr. Mertz and I have had extended conversations how to touch the world’s pains; poverty, racism, human trafficking, unfair labor practices.
I was also taken aback when I learned that the center for many of the KKK’s activities is located less than 10 miles from the front door of the parish. When we go out and bring peace and touch the pain of the world, when we include all those on the margins, is where we build the Kingdom. The belief in walking with one another is our incarnational theology. It is significant and indicative of who we are as a people of God. St. Christopher has worked to move out into the world and build the Kingdom of God through walking with our brothers and sisters in Pennsylvania.
I had the opportunity to sit with members of the parish and learn of the long-term plans for growth. We walked the beautiful campus (which was also immaculate) and began to visualize the future. I had the opportunity to tour the sanctuary that is currently under renovation (moving spaces and installing a hearing impaired loop) and spoke to the general contractors on site. The work that is being undertaken is not simple repairs but an intentional construction dedicated to assuring access and community integration. The simple changes that are occurring are opening new doors to the surrounding community. On our path to visit the building site, I stopped to “smell the flowers.” In front of the sanctuary is a plot that contained numerous flowers that were in full bloom. The pure beauty of butterflies, flowers, greenery, and life. It epitomizes who we are as Christians; new life.
I was reminded of our charge - if people tell us that the Church is dying - tell them they are wrong. That message is not consistent with our belief in the resurrected Jesus Christ. We believe in the truth. The Church is not dying if we believe that Jesus lives.
In straightforward and profound ways, we are changing the narrative in the diocese. In each place that I visit, it is a “can do” attitude. Churches such as St. Christopher moves forward in the world preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. Visit St. Christopher's Oxford at: https://stchrisoxfordpa.wordpress.com
Ascension is a parish where the operative word is dignity. Whether through missional outreach or the ongoing youth programs, Ascension works to develop programmatic efforts that address the individual needs of the community and congregation. Their work epitomizes the gifts and charisms of our smaller churches; while small they can address different spiritual and pastoral concerns. The church is flexible and adapts to the needs that come upon their door.
It is important that we take a moment to recognize their growing music program. Four years ago, they installed an organ that sustains the music program. A wealth of talent and knowledge joins in the life of Ascension. If you have not had the opportunity to engage with the music program, I encourage you to visit with Rev. Kapurch
Ascension is one of the churches in our diocese that is continually revisiting and working to meet the needs of the community. Ascension collaborates with other churches in the Deanery to provide pastoral care, sacramental needs, preaching, and support. As we build our resources and support structure for our churches from the offices of a diocese, we will work to meet the needs. The Office of the Bishop is journeying with you and each of our churches to adapt, dream and to allow our churches to grow. I made a commitment to Rev. Kapurch that we will find a priest placement program. Part of the thinking of this program is to place transitional priests in smaller parishes. It would accomplish two objectives - train priests and allow our hard-working parish priests the opportunity for sabbatical and rest. Visit Ascension at: http://www.ascensionparkesburg.org
Please go to the diocesan website and view the discussion that occurred at Ascension regarding the joint mission projects. It is enlightening and informative. https://vimeo.com/180791827
St. John’s Compass
Our next stop in the pilgrimage was to St. John’s Compass. While many have stated that St. John’s Compass was a bit of a long drive, once again I disagree. It is all relative. We are a diocese, and the relational connection is who we are as brothers and sisters. The work of you, acting as a Diocese builds the Kingdom of God. I think of the evangelists of the early church, 30-40 miles was an important step. We at your Diocesan Office will drive any distance at any time to serve your needs.
Over the previous four weeks, we have worked with St. John’s in their process for calling a new priest and the entire transition process (including a letter of agreement). A transition process is one of the essential services of your Diocesan Office, and we will walk with you through each step. I would like to congratulate the Rev. Dr. Nina George-Hacker. You are in our prayers and have our support.
I found it a joy that the leaders of St. John's took time out of their day to meet with me in the middle of a Monday afternoon. They were quite clear that they are engaged because they care about the message of Jesus Christ, the church, and the diocese. I was overjoyed at the history of the church. Far more inspiring was the discussion we had regarding the growth of the church. Many asked questions about youth ministry, missional outreach and the hope for the future. This is a church with generations of familial ties. They want to extend the invitation to others in the community to join this beautiful place to worship our Lord.
I thoroughly enjoyed the envisioning process.One parishioner pointed out that St. John’s compass is on the “King’s Highway” where we follow the road to the King. Also, St. John’s is the “compass” for the community. This is a great way of looking toward the future and how words turn into marketing and marketing turns into building the kingdom. Thank you for building the Kingdom. Visit St. John's at http://www.stjohnscompass.org
St Mark’s Honeybrook
The last (but certainly not the least) was the visit to St. Mark’s Honeybrook. As we drove out to St. Mark’s and ascending the hill overlooking the valley, I cannot help but imagine how hopeful St. Paul felt when he knew that the followers of Jesus Christ were proclaiming the gospel in small corners of the kingdom. This church has persevered for years. I am proud of the work they have undertaken in the vineyard. Rev. Wilkinson met me and gave me a tour of the grounds. In the sanctuary, our history and the history of our forefathers was proudly displayed.
This congregation has been built over generations by our brothers and sisters who live in the area. I learned of how our great Episcopal heritage has flourished in the midst of constant change. We toured the parish hall and learned of the imaginative ministries that have been initiated out of St. Mark’s. I spent time in private conversations with Rev. Wilkinson, and I am thankful for her ministry at St. Mark’s. Visit St. Mark's at: http://www.stmarkshb.org/#/
There was one disappointing aspect to our pilgrimage. Fr. Richard drove me past the diocesan warehouse. In short, I was appalled that we would allow a building to exist in this condition in a community. It was overgrown with weeds; doors had fallen off the hinges, and it is in a severe state of disrepair. We are better than this, and we need to act like the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and we will (we will!) be better caretakers in small towns.
We concluded a long, beautiful day in the same manner in which we started. Prayer and a meal. The Deanery held a meeting at Good Samaritan, and we began with the beauty of Evening Prayer. We had an opportunity to pray and share a meal adjacent to the chapel. After the meal, I took questions from the Brandywine Deanery. We are truly a family intent on changing the diocese. I looked upon the faces of hope, love, and faithfulness. We are united in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. It was a long and good day. I once again left hopeful in sharing our prayers for the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.
I am blessed to serve you as your Bishop.