Sunday, October 02, 2016

Come and See. Week 6 Part 2. Valley Forge: Deacon Dennis, St. James, St. Peter's, St. Paul's, Christ Church and St. Jude/Nativity



Each day that I serve as your Bishop, I am reminded of the wonderful Lord and Savior we have in Jesus Christ.  I see it daily and is evident in our work, our faith, and our mission.  This week I am sharing reflections on Week 6 of our Come and See pilgrimage.  We spent the day in the Valley Forge Deanery, and it was filled with excitement, meals, laughter, and community. 

I departed Center City early in the morning (I-76 continues to be the bane of my existence) so to arrive in Phoenixville for breakfast with the staff and vestry of St. James Collegeville.  I find that I am learning the highways and byways of our beloved community. However, I often rely on my GPS.  As I was nearing Valley Forge around 7:45 a.m., and I had the opportunity to behold the breathtaking beauty of the Pennsylvania countryside.   As I turned a corner, the clouds were low on the horizon and covering the rolling hills, while a light fog hung against the rising sun.  It was beautiful.

I was in the midst of alternating with prayer and listening to a book on Audible; I noticed a large orange construction sign.  The sign stated the road was closed for construction near the turn off to Valley Forge.  In the State of New Mexico, I know every short cut.  In Pennsylvania, I am not up to speed in the short cut department.  Being the wise traveler, I flipped on my trusted GPS.  I was confident this marvel of directional technology would guide me promptly to my destination.  Quickly I discovered I was wrong.  Three consecutive attempts and I was in the same place; sitting in front of the construction sign.

Somehow, someway the GPS “guided” me through three different routes and three adjacent neighborhoods.  After three circular attempts and 20 minutes, I was in the exact spot. You can imagine my frustration.  Remember, I am a process and order personality.  I am rarely late.  I do all in my power to avoid being late. As my father used to say “if you are 5 minutes early - you are late.”   I called Fr. Koshy and apologized profusely.  This call did not change the fact that I could not find a route through Valley Forge to Collegeville.  

BREAKFAST WITH VESTRY OF ST. JAMES COLLEGEVILLE

I decided to head west on the interstate with the determination to force the GPS to find a way to Collegeville.  In rationalized that headed west, the GPS would eventually reprogram and find the appropriate route.  Finally, the GPS reprogrammed, and I was back on track (or on my way to Collegeville).  I was only 15 minutes late for the breakfast and our family at St. James was gracious and welcoming.  They had ordered breakfast so I ordered my favorite meal of one sunny side up egg and white toast with butter (All American). 





We immediately engaged in a broad discussion regarding the parish.  Many of the attendees had taken time off from work to attend this breakfast, and we did not want to waste time.  In our discussions, I learned of the outreach ministries of St. James.  The congregation has increased in attendance since calling Fr. Mike Soward as their Priest.  My brothers and sisters from St. James spoke with excitement of my tour of the parish, and they were passionate about the long-term plans for the growth of the church.  I emphasized how the diocesan office is retooling our ministry and becoming the servants of the congregations.  I stressed my belief that a “shepherd should smell like the sheep.”  For the next 21 years, I will be among you and St. James. I do not want to spend my time sitting behind my desk; I want to be with you.  Often, I receive a look of surprise when I make this statement; yet it is true.  As your Bishop, we will share in our journey.  Moreover,  I will not only journey with you; the entire staff is committed to doing the same.  Canon Shawn Wamsley is initiating a visitation schedule and will also walk with you.  You will find that a member of your Diocesan Office and the staff of the Bishop is available and will assist in any and all things. Each day we will work to build our sacred connections with you.  



I was pleased with the conversation at breakfast.  Each of us at that table agreed that it is a new day in the diocese.  A place where we will work together, trust one another’s intentions, speak with respect without worrying about negative repercussions.  A Diocese where will be transparent in our work and words.  In short, we will strive to live as a community that believes in Jesus Christ and as a result, epitomizes his love.  I want to thank each one of you for building a community of disciples and friends.

ST. JAMES COLLEGEVILLE

Fr. Mike and I jumped into his car for the short drive to St. James.  The church is blessed with a large tract of land and owns three corners of a busy highway.  The church is located in an optimal location for evangelization and outreach.  On the west corner are the Outreach House and the large tract of land (including a community garden).  On the southeast corner are the church and parish hall while the cemetery and museum/old schoolhouse are located on the northeast corner. 








As we parked near the Outreach House, many parishioners were working on the land and in the Outreach House.  The activity focused on preparing for the distribution of food, toys, and supplies. Four or five dedicated parishioners were tending a tree and collecting the branches that had fallen during a storm.  I had the opportunity to speak to the parishioners working in the Outreach House and noticed that each carried great smiles.  They were smiling because they belonged to a faith community that cares.  They serve God and the community of  St. James.  These servants represent the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania to the world.  Their lives and work transform lives and communities.  Their ministry epitomizes our “come and see diocese.”

I found that the history of the Outreach House is deep-seated. At one time it was called the Glebe House.   I am told General Washington planned portions of the Battle of Germantown inside the study of the house.  The entire church property is steeped in American History (another treasure in our diocese).  Over the years it has been used as a Rectory and in its current incarnation is now a missional center.  It is the hope of the Office of the Bishop and our communications team to collect and catalog information about all the historic sites on our properties (Michael K - are you listening? I need you).  We need to publish and promote our part in the development of American history.  If you have ideas how we can promote this through tours, literature or videos - let us know. 







In observing the work of the Outreach House, I noticed that there is an emphasis on dignity.  The pantry is designed where people from the community come into the building and feel like they are shopping and not receiving outreach services.  The House is filled with shelves, an emphasis on light, and contains a large selection of everyday items.  The Outreach House has a room so children can receive or purchase (for a small, small amount) books or toys.   

On the day  I toured the pantry and store, the Outreach House was preparing for the next day of scheduled distribution.  Thus, I did not have the opportunity to meet our brothers and sisters who shopped at the pantry.  I promised Fr. Mike, I would work at the pantry during their regular business hours.  The work at St. James is evangelization; we are meeting the needs and becoming servants.  The operative word at this church is dignity. 

Fr. Mike and I walked across the street and toured the church.  The sanctuary is filled with light and has a welcoming presence.  The previous night they held a memorial service for a long time member of the church who had transitioned into the arms of our Lord.  They pointed out that they had left her choir robe in her usual spot in the choir stall.  A simple remembrance of her life and her many contributions to the St. James community.   The symbolism and grief were poignant, moving and sacred.  We silently said a prayer for the departed. 







The historian told that for over 300 years, St. James has been an anchor parish for Anglican and Episcopal worship.  The church (mission at the time) was founded by missionaries from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.  There have been various church buildings on the property, and the current sanctuary was dedicated in the 1840’s.

We walked across the street and toured the old schoolhouse and museum.  The facility is lovingly cared for by the congregation and tours are available to the public.  I asked to see the mound where 150 soldiers from the Battle of Germantown are buried. The cemetery also holds the remains of John Vanderslice who earned the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. 






I enjoyed my time with Fr. Mike. He has energy, faith, and commitment.  His vision is to build the kingdom of God and include everyone.  He has an innovation and is willing to be creative with programming and mission.  We spoke of dreaming together, supporting one another and working as one body.  You will hear me say it again and again - the church is not dying.  A dying church does not reconcile itself with my thought or belief in a resurrected Jesus Christ. 

What is evident is that St. James holds their history with particular regard and they promote the history to the community.  Moreover, they hold their faith sacred and wanted to spread the gospel.  They evangelize with a love, intensity, and faithfulness that is moving.  This congregation is growing by sharing.  Visit St. James at: http://www.stjames-episcopal.org/default.asp?sec_id=140007125

ST. PETERS PHOENIXVILLE

Fr. Mike and I returned to Fr. Koshy’s parish of St. Peter’s.  Lunch was scheduled with members of the St. Peter’s vestry and congregation. Before lunch, we planned to visit the noonday meal ministry.  As I walked through the building, I felt that St. Peter’s is a church that transports you back in time.  It is as if an old country church from England was lifted up stone by stone and carried to southeastern Pennsylvania.  The church has long hallways, massive blocks, beautiful stained glass and wide stairwells.  It is beautiful, and you can smell the prayers.  






We entered the lower level and were greeted by members of the ecumenical community preparing lunch for the clients. The clients were mostly men interspersed with four women who reflected a long and hard journey through life.  In their beautiful faces, it was evident that you could see the scars of life.  A young man with two small children, (3 years and one year) entered the building.  The one-year-old was in a stroller and three years old seemed scared but acted bravely.  He gently brushed his blonde hair back and looked around with hesitation and strength.  My heart was moved as I looked into his young face.  I was praying that in no way did he suffer from pain, hunger or heartbreak.   

As I watched the father and his young children in that spacious room, I am reminded that suffering and poverty have no specific race, social designation or age requirements.  Poverty and exclusion affect each one of us - some directly and others morally and spiritually.  As a church, we have to touch the pain of the world and meet people where they are in their journey.  This father and his two young children have been in my prayers daily.  Please, keep St. Peter’s in your prayers as they host a weekly breakfast and lunch ministry as well as growing their food pantry.  








It is important to note that St. Peter’s has an active worldwide missional program.  The parish emphasizes the need to address human trafficking and expand the Episcopal global mission.  Fr. Koshy has spent time working in El Salvador with a focus on violence and the crimes committed because of political conflicts. The focus of the El Salvador mission is “to share and connect with the native people, gain knowledge of their culture and country and to walk with the El Salvadorans in solidarity to form a sustainable, brighter future and higher quality of life.”

St. Peter’s has an excellent clergy team composed of Fr. Koshy, Fr. David, Deacon Joe and Deacon Dennis.  I teased Fr. Koshy that he is taking all the talented clergy - he smiled and agreed.  It is wonderful that all the clergy and laity are engaged in various aspects of mission and ministry.  One task of building the kingdom is to serve God and one another.  This mission and belief were apparent in our luncheon together.  



During our lunch, we spoke of what it meant to be apostles.  We were all in agreement that we are all the apostles to the world.  We are the hands, feet, faith and voice of Jesus Christ.  In the 1st century and the 21st century, the laity are real the evangelists in the world.  Each one of us can build the kingdom through our words and actions.  We can influence people in your homes, offices, grocery stores and church.   It gives me hope to hear the willingness to spread the Gospel message.  My thanks to Vincent Giancaterino who owns several local restaurants.  He provided the food, and it was delicious.  

It became apparent to all at the luncheon that Kingdom building is taking small steps that include forgiving, welcoming and loving.  Throughout our conversation, we spoke of building the Diocese and how we can take our work into the world.  I was moved by the pride they have in their church and the Diocese of Pennsylvania.   The work we are undertaking in the name of Christ is significant.  It’s going to take all of us working together; hand in hand, step by step.   One member of the congregation came up to me and said: “Come and See how we the people of the Diocese are changing the world.”  It was music to my ear. 






After lunch, we toured the church.  I took a particular interest in the stained glass.  There was one panel that was uniquely beautiful; the window dedicated to St. Polycarp.  I believe at present; it is my favorite stained glass panel in the diocese. I had to take a picture next to the esteemed St. Polycarp.  (my namesake). 




Upon departing the sanctuary, Fr. Koshy asked that we tour the former Rectory located next to the Church.  St. Peter’s is renting out the rectory to a community health organization that provides professional medical services to the community.  The offices bustled with activity.  Doctors, nurses, counselors and technicians moved from room to room.  I entered one examination room and on the wall was a picture of the majestic Organ Mountains in Las Cruces NM.  It was a sign from God that we are transcending worlds.  This ability to be creative in rentals or rectories is another example of the creativity and economic potential for our churches.  I keep saying - let’s dream together and we will do great things.  Visit St. Peter's at: http://saintpeterschurch.net

ST. PAUL’S OAKS

Deacon Dennis was assigned to navigate the rest of the pilgrimage.  He had his GPS ready and assured me of his knowledge of the area (I am incredibly gullible).  I felt secure! (more on this later).  Our next stop was St. Paul’s Oaks and a visit with Fr. Dan Olsen.  I met with Fr. Olsen in his office, and it was delightful.  I expressed my hope for our collective journey and how I will show my love for this congregation.  I would like St. Paul’s and all our congregations to know that I am always here for you. No matter the issue, time or season - I am your Bishop.  We have a special and sacred journey, and we will walk together.  







In this Diocese, we must prove through our work and lives that no one will be excluded.  No exclusion based on opinions, theology, traditions or differences.  The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania is a diocese where we will work together and respect one another.   We will live together, worship together and work to hold sacred one anothers traditions and theology.  We can disagree on various issues, but it is my prayer we learn to live in holy tension and keep one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.  Together we will create a safe space where everyone can speak. We will worship with one another, we will love one another, and this will be a place where everyone belongs.  Visit St. Paul's at: http://www.stpaulsoaks.org

Fr. Dan, I look forward to our journey together. 

CHRIST CHURCH OLD SWEDES

Deacon Dennis directed the next stop on the pilgrimage; he did well.  Christ Church has great potential regarding the facility, grounds, and congregation.  The issue the church faces is the location.  However, nothing is insurmountable.  The church has been in existence close to 300 years.  The modern era will not beat this congregation.  I believe challenges are opportunities to make things new, and to succeed.  In crisis and through challenges, we will show our faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ.  One challenge for Christ Church is signage; we will work with the congregation to create a signage improvement plan.  I promised the community the offices of the Diocese would work to purchase one or two signs for the surrounding highways. 






Furthermore, I would like to work with the State of Pennsylvania to address access and parking issues.  We will go to the local government officials to discuss solutions.  I have found that most government employees (I was one) are dedicated workers who care about the community. They have many responsibilities and are understaffed and do not know of the issues impacting businesses or churches.  We will go and initiate the discussions and make them aware of the impact of poor planning.  







Christ Church is a historic property.  In fact, it is one of the first congregations in this Diocese and nation.  The congregation has undertaken extraordinary work to renovate the sanctuary, parish grounds, and church hall.  The hall is available for rental, and there are specific efforts to initiate outreach into the community.  The congregation has invested in air conditioning (what is this with the lack of air conditioning in Pennsylvania?).




We discussed the need to partner on marketing.  One of the ways your Office of the Bishop and Diocesan Office can assist congregations is to fund a marketing effort in local publications.  The Offices of the Diocese will also plan three communication days, (in various locations), so that we can help smaller congregations with the communication efforts.  All these improvements are paths to evangelization.  Evangelization is a good word. 




In our sacred conversation, we spoke of the importance of continuing to develop Education for Ministry and various education programs for the laity.  As we redesign the Commission on Ministry, it is important to recognize that “ministry” includes the Priests, Deacons, Chaplaincy, and Laity.  It is the ministry of “all” the baptized, and we will work to equip, educate and empower all to go out into the name of Jesus Christ. I would like to thank Fr. James for his work and tireless ministry. 

Finally, we spoke about how we can use our lives to change the world.  The world is missing "meaning."  People are desperately seeking something and do not know what they are seeking.  Thus, they attempt to fill their lives with stuff.  However, nothing seems to satisfy the emptiness.  What many in the world are missing is Jesus Christ.  As apprentices of Jesus, we have the capacity to influence and change the world.  We can bring out the best in people; this is what we are called to do.  To bring out the best in people is what the faithful of Christ Church want to do.  We must now step forward together.  



ST. JUDE AND NATIVITY

Well, I have to compliment my excellent navigator and friend during the trip to the Valley Forge Deanery.  As I mentioned earlier, it was Deacon Dennis Coleman.  Simply, he is wonderful, and I love him.  We laughed, bonded and shared our dreams for ministry.  If all our deacons are as loving and faithful as Deacon Coleman, we are in great shape (I have found this to be the case).  We have the best Deacons in the church.  I will argue with any Bishop in the Church on this fact.  The only problem with loving, laughing and sharing is that we did not pay attention to where we were going.  Is this sounding like a familiar theme? 


Deacon Dennis told his wife we would be at St. Jude in 5 minutes - that is what the GPS said.  However, for some reason, we pulled up into St. Luke’s Germantown.  Have you ever been in the wrong place, knew you were in the wrong place and attempted to rationalize that you were really in the right place?  We drove around the corner, looked for his wife’s car.  Looked at one another searching for some hope.  No, we were going to be late for the meeting with the vestry at St. Jude and the picnic.  Well, to say I did not drive a bit over the speed limit is not honest.   I knew what I was going to do - blame the deacon!  Dennis - it is all your fault. 
















Needless to say, Rev. Jude Meckling, was kind and understanding (especially since Deacon Dennis played the perfect foil).  I blamed everything on his poor navigation skills.  Luckily, the Valley Forge Picnic was joyful, fun and they had fried chicken.    I love fried chicken (I married a Southern girl).  I spent time meeting my brothers and sisters in the Valley Forge deanery.  We have energy, hope and the transformative love of Christ.  The picnic and my brothers and sisters helped remind me of the true meaning of community.  Visit St. Jude and the Nativity at: http://www.stjudeandthenativity.org/?view=mobile












There is one picture that I have to share.  Rev. Meckling told me that this kind lady rarely makes it to church since she is in her mid 90’s and has suffered through various health setbacks.  She was insistent that she attend the picnic because she wanted to meet the new Bishop.  She held my hand, and we hugged.  I was fortunate to meet her and hold her hand. 




After the picnic, we entered into the beautiful sanctuary and shared stories before Compline.  I learned that Elvis once attended a service at St. Jude’s/Nativity. Compline was led by the laity of the congregation.  It was profound and moving:

 Psalm 31  In te, Domine, speravi

1    In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;
         let me never be put to shame: *
         deliver me in your righteousness.
2    Incline your ear to me; *
         make haste to deliver me.
3    Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, 
         for you are my crag and my stronghold; *
         for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
4    Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, *
         for you are my tower of strength.
5    Into your hands I commend my spirit, *
         for you have redeemed me,
         O LORD, O God of truth.



This is a great week.  Suzanne and Jude will fly in for the weekend and I will be with my beautiful wife and my precious son.  If my sister in law is reading the blog in Waco - Linda, I love and miss you.  See you at Thanksgiving.  Keep sending your ideas for building this beautiful and hopeful diocese.  I am blessed to serve as your Bishop.  Come and See what we are doing in the great Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

There is a wonder in Christ, that we are a part of something larger and greater.  Imagine the possibilities when they come to life.