Nothing else compares to Jesus Christ. Not soccer on Sunday mornings, a new car or the latest technological device; we are claimed by Him. Imagine the possibilities if and when all our prayers and our work comes to life. God is everywhere and in everything. Let’s be courageous.
WASHINGTON MEMORIAL CHAPEL
During the week as part of the pilgrimage, I had the opportunity to visit Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge. There is a profound sense of our faith tradition tied to the history of the United States. Along with Christ Church, our places of worship evoke something deep in our lives. In my opinion, Christ Church and Washington Memorial are both significant holy places and national monuments. We need to promote them and encourage people from around the world to visit.
Christ Church and Washington Memorial Chapel have as broad a spiritual meaning and national identity as the memorials in Washington D.C. What is more, they are as much a place of national gathering as The National Cathedral and they are in the Diocese of Pennsylvania.
I walked through the sanctuary and listened to the detailed description of our history written in stained glass. I looked upon the seal of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, the prayers of George Washington and then attempted to fully embody the hopes and prayers of those years at Valley Forge. If you have a strong interest in the history of our diocese, please visit the Bishop White Library.
I want to express profound gratitude for the time of Gardiner Person former Rector's Warden and currently the President of the Board of Directors of Washington Memorial Heritage. The Heritage is the Chapel's historical association, 501 (c) 3, that works with the various patriotic societies. His knowledge of the Chapel and sense of history is a gift.
I also visited the Cabin Shop (with food and a gift shop) and the Book Shop. I am in strong support of this place of national worship. I would like to thank Rev. Roy Almquist and the Rev. Dr. Karl Krueger for shepherding this important diocesan and national treasure. Special thanks to the Carillonneur Doug Gefvert who climbed the tour and played the Carillon for me.
Please join me for Evensong on Sunday, September 11 at 4 p.m. to commemorate 9/11 at Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge. Please visit Washington Memorial Chapel at: http://wmchapel.org
Fr. Koshy Matthews had a full day of pilgrimage scheduled. However, I had to cut it three hours short. In moving to Philadelphia, I have to find doctors, dentists, and dry cleaners. Yes, in that order. A dear new friend assisted in securing the services of a physician and a last minute appointment opening appeared. I immediately telephoned Fr. Koshy’s and explained the need. He was kind and reworked the schedule, and I was able to say “yes” to the doctor.
Fr. Koshy’s Home
My unexpected morning encounter was the expressway into Phoenixville. With the traffic and the inability by others to properly merge onto 76, I had ample time to pray. I followed my GPS app and arrived safely at the home of Fr. Koshy. It is a beautiful home, and one can immediately feel the warmth and prayers. As my usual spiritual practice, I asked blessings on the home as I walked through the front door. Fr. Koshy’s wife Susan and his Senior Warden Ms. Retta (Henrietta) Sparano greeted me with warm embraces. Retta’s father grew up in the Rectory of St. Peter’s as her father was the priest for many years.
Oh, I had an incredible Indian breakfast. I was enthralled by Fr. Koshy’s description of his home in Southern India and the beautiful story of St. Thomas in India. We also had the opportunity to discuss the great work he is doing at St. Peter and the Valley Forge Deanery. He is diligently working to build support systems for the clergy in the deanery, a community of congregations and healthy relationships with the offices of the diocese. It is relational, it is incarnational, it is who we are as a Christian family.
Our work as a diocesan staff is to turn the pyramid “upside down.” In the past, the telephones at Church House were answered as “The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.” No. You are the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania; we now answer the phones as “The Offices of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. We are here to serve you, and we have to model being servants to each one of you.
CHURCH OF THE EPIPHANY
Our first stop was the Church of the Epiphany and after stellar parallel parking by Fr. Koshy (I did not believe it was possible). I received a warm hug and smile from the Rev. Beth Hixon. I had the opportunity to speak with Rev. Hixon’s grandson who immediately informed me that Epiphany has two Pokemon stops. I am always astounded by the precision and detail of children. If you have not the opportunity to spend time with Rev. Hixon, please do so. She has a gift of expressing and then realizing hope and abundance.
The church was filled with eager parishioners who wanted to ask questions, share stories and express their vision for Epiphany and the diocese. We spent a good hour, and it seemed that every 5 minutes a new parishioner would walk through the door and joined the conversation.
The questions from our time together were wide ranging. From ministries to new approaches to attract youth to Epiphany.
The encouraging part of the conversation was the need to move out into the neighborhoods and the surrounding community. While all agreed it would take effort, the need to go into the community and “ask what they need” is the catalyst to growth. We moved the discussion from welcoming people into the church to going out and inviting them into the life of the parish. It is the difference from reaction to action.
At the end of the discussion I toured the nave, preschool and Rev. Hixon asked if I had noticed the sign out front. In fact, I did see the sign but in a way that was different from what Rev. Hixon had intended. When Fr. Koshy and I drove up, I did see the sign and how it stood out. I thought that the church had done a great job in signage (of great importance to me). We walked out front, and she pointed out “come and see” featured prominently. I almost fell off the steps. It is beautiful and carries the scripture that has been foundational during my journey in the episcopacy.
You will do an extraordinary job of building the Kingdom in this diocese Rev. Hixon. We have to change the perception that what we do does not matter. We are not a scattering of churches; we are the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. Come and See. Please visit the Church of the Epiphany in Royersford at: http://www.epiphanystar.net/site/Default.aspx?page=1
CHRIST CHURCH POTTSTOWN
Fr. Koshy kept a tight schedule, and he was within 3 minutes of the appointed time to close the meeting. We hurried out the front of the church and were off to Christ Church in Pottstown. During our drive he spoke of the unique economic and social challenges that have affected this part of the deanery As with other communities, the issues of homelessness and crime are topics for church engagement.
Upon entering, I was greeted by a parish hall brimming with Episcopalians overflowing with joy and faith. I was scheduled to bless the windows in the church hall (rediscovered after being hidden for numerous years). I quickly grabbed a stole, a book of occasional services, water and immediately settled into prayer. We recited the blessing and then sat silently for a few moments. The spirit rushed into my heart when I was asked to pray over parishioners for healing. Prayers for healing in the name of the Lord are powerful the spirit is always present.
After prayer, it was a bounty of gifts; I was presented with cookbooks, prayers shawls, a cooking apron, and history of the church. Following the presentation, we discussed the growth and future of the church. Christ Church is in a search process and has been shepherded by the Rev. William Rex who has worked to empower the laity.
I was pleased that those in the room did not speak of scarcity, they are discussing how they utilized their gifts for creating a beloved community. One talked about the fact that although they were a mature community, they decided to create ministries that meet the needs of those in their 50’s and 60’s. The new vision included social activities and events at the church. They are taking their faith and planting the seeds of community.
They were speaking of the need to the surrounding area and how they can continue to grow. Deacon Robin Robb asked that I join her in understanding the violence that affects the outer boroughs and invited me to walk the High Street to fully understand the conditions. She also asked that I share a meal with the hungry and dispossessed served by Christ Church. I am going to do it. As I walked the streets of Kensington with Fr. Jon, I will be there with the community of Pottstown.
I was able to tour the sanctuary. It is a holy placed filled with prayers. I saw where the stained glass windows that I just blessed were “hidden.” I then walked to see the newly created memorial garden on the west side of the church. In short, their congregation spoke with pride and hope. In this supportive community, the spirit is flourishing. In Pottstown, we are spreading the word of Jesus Christ. Visit Christ Church Pottstown at: http://www.christpottstown.com
THE HILL SCHOOL
Since the day was cut short and I was scheduled to drive to 38th and Chestnut, Fr. Koshy and I had lunch and a tour of the Hill School in Pottstown. I had the pleasure of meeting The Rev. Dr. John Houghton who serves at the Chaplain of the school. A distinguished scholar, Rev. Dr. Houghton serves on the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Diocese of Pennsylvania. His knowledge and love of the school are rooted. Hill reminded me of the historical schools that have formed thousands of young students in our faith tradition.
Along with The Rev. Anne Confer Martens who is a 2002 graduate of Hill, we learned of the spiritual formation at the school as well as touring the chapel at Hill. It was a time of remembrance as the students were reporting for the 2016 fall term. Thank you, Rev. Dr. Houghton and Rev. Confer, for your ministry among the students.
I am catching up on the tour. I am always reminded that we belong to the Episcopal Church and it make our journey meaningful. We belong to the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and it means something. We follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and He is everything. I am blessed to serve you as your Bishop.