Sunday, January 22, 2017

Week 10 of the Come and See Pilgrimage. Bucks County.


(Before I begin this post, I would like to assure all that I have not forgotten one church.  Not a single one.  I am behind but no one is forgotten.  I will catch up!)

Angels in our midst.  A friend and I were having lunch, and the topic turned to the pilgrimage. He asked a profound question as to the charism and identity of individual churches.  He asked: “what are the angels of the place?”   He was referring to Walter Wink’s discussion on the “angel of a church.”  Wink writes that the angel of the church is the sense of both personality and vocation that reflects where a congregation has come from, where it is going, and what it is like to live within the spiritual life of the place.  

My friend asked probing questions such as: Do the angels of the churches seek progress? Do the angels find peace, seek support and encourage accord? This time together caused me to reflect on each place I have visited and the angels of the diocese.  I found myself discerning “what are the angels in the midst of our diocese?”  

Yes, throughout our history, there have been instances of conflict and tension.  At times, there have been cases where we cannot distinguish the presence of angels.  Uncertainty about the positive Angels of a place has been a part of every religious institution, but it does not define us.  We have a rich and moving history.  A history of growth, transformation, progress and faith.  Angels are in our midst; as a diocese, in our churches and through each one of you.   Despite the seeming pressures of the world, there is a holiness in our sanctuaries and our people.  

I can say that there are good angels all among and around us.  A favorite author wrote that: “The night itself is, in a sense, an angel and a messenger of God’s protection. Sleep is such a great gift; we know this fully only when we are sleepless or have to stay up all night.”    I would paraphrase and say that our community and the presence of sacred interaction with one another signifies the presence of angels. 

As we go through this week, take the opportunity and stop and be still.  Allow the mystery of Christ to surround you and summon those sacred angels in our midst.  Either through a community, family, or our church; look for the angels that are among us.  Over the next year, you will read and hear of my “sacred spaces of transformation.” It is where we as a people of God move forward into the community and touch the world in the name of Jesus Christ. 

The next stage of the pilgrimage was a drive north to Bucks County.  As always, I enjoy my time with Dean Michael Ruk.  Our conversations range from theology, liturgy, and diocesan growth.  During this pilgrimage, we discussed a pressing “misconception” regarding the churches in Buck’s County.  The perception is that there is a distance between Philadelphia and Bucks County. 

I would like to change this perception.  The congregations and churches of Buck’s are integral components of this diocese and an essential part our life.   Through the pilgrimage, some of the churches in transition mentioned the difficulty in finding supply priests to serve in Bucks (and other places).  We are working on easing the numerous hurdles some of our churches (vestry’s, altar guilds, etc.) endure when seeking supply priests. 

I have found many of our priests, and retired priests are willing and eager to serve at an altar.  We need to be proactive and we are responding to this need.  The Communications Team is creating a real-time interactive web page.  A retired or supply priest will place dates of availability on the internet, and a church can look and see what priests are available.  The church and priest and the church can interactively schedule with one another.   All this without going through a paper list, repeatedly calling, leaving messages, waiting, etc..  

We are intentional in creating a team concept as a way to serve the clergy and laity of Diocese of Pennsylvania.  I am grateful for all those who serve in the Diocesan Office and their faithfulness is changing how we approach ministry.  We are continually striving to be responsive and thus being ministry servants.  I look forward to building up the Kingdom with for years to come.  I am grateful for their work.   I also want to thank the staff of the Cathedral for being part of this important team.   

ST. PAUL’S DOYLESTOWN 

The drive through Bucks County was lovely.   The trees were resplendent, and it gave me the opportunity to take in God’s creation.  Often, I am rushing past the beauty of the earth.  I focus on the last email, the latest crisis in theology, or worrying about not making the next green light. Instead, I enjoyed the beauty that surrounded me.  Fr. Michael was gracious and he drove, so that I could be present to the magnificent creation called southeast Pennsylvania. 






I need time in silence with God, and after the initial rush of the transition as Bishop (still occurring), I find I need to make even great space for God and prayer.  I need time sitting in silence with God.  Fr. Michael navigating through Bucks allowed me to sit and watch the magnificent beauty of creation.  We arrived at this beautiful church called St. Paul’s and were greeted by Fr. Gerald Collins who is serving as the Interim Rector.  

St. Paul is currently in the process of seeking a new rector and Fr. Collins has guided the congregation through the call process.   Fr. Collins has a welcoming personality, large smile, and expansive hug.  It was a warm and moving way to begin the pilgrimage day.  As we entered the parish hall, I met by Mary Ann Gosnell the Rector’s Warden.  She was on her way to work and stopped by to say hello.   

Upon entering the parish hall, a group of parishioners welcomed our pilgrimage with lively conversation.   We spent time discussing the importance of St. Paul’s in their lives and the surrounding community.   When I hear groups of “pundits” state that churches do not have a place in society, I eagerly point to the community of St. Paul.  They believe our church is important and they give to the life of the parish. 






The community of St. Paul has a lively and engaging spirit.  The congregation knows who they are and how to meet the community.  They are centered in Jesus Christ and work to bring the face of Christ to Doylestown.  I love their openness and eagerness to spread the Gospel.  

If you have the opportunity, please read the history of St. Paul’s.  The founding of this congregation was because of one woman named Elizabeth Pawling Ross.  Back in the 1840’s she was the only Episcopalian in Doylestown and rode by horseback once a month to receive Holy Communion in Germantown. 

The faithfulness of Ms. Ross is moving in that she sought Christ and needed Christ.  No distance or hardship kept her from seeking Jesus Christ.   We need to tell the story of Ms. Ross again and again.  When people speak of being “too busy” to attend church, let’s show them the faith of not only Ms. Ross but also the faith of the congregation at St. Paul’s.










The campus of St. Paul’s combines the past and present. Over the past 25 years, major renovations have occurred that included a new entry, parish hall, classrooms, a chapel, offices, music rooms, choir rooms, and columbarium.  It is an extraordinary place.  Moreover, the architecture of the site is different from any other I have encountered in the diocese.  It is unique and stunning.  Each section of the church holds various elements that flow into one another.  The sanctuary is sacred and has a sense of place.  

The stained glass windows are deeply set, the roof has a unique structural design, and the colors are warming.  This reminds me of pilgrimage churches I have encountered throughout my life.   I would like to point out the unique elements in the church.  Tiles are local, and they give the feeling you are walking on the ground from which they were created.  







The cross over the altar is one of the most beautiful I have encountered.  It has vibrant and profound colors and classic orthodox design elements.  It is beautiful.   Moreover, there is beautiful religious artwork throughout the sanctuary.  It is meditative, restorative and healing. 


As mentioned earlier, St. Paul’s is in the process of calling a new Rector.  This is an extraordinary opportunity for a dynamic Priest because it has all the foundational characteristics of an emerging church.  It has a deep history in the community, a sense of identity, an active outreach program, beautiful worship, and the ability to dream.  Visit St. Paul's at: http://www.stpaulsdoylestown.org

TRINITY BUCKINGHAM

The second stop was at Trinity Buckingham.  The church is at the crossroads of major thoroughfares in the county and attracts a diversity of those seeking Jesus Christ.   As usual, I was running late since I have a tendency to linger and ask far too many questions and seek out small details about each congregation.  This inquisitiveness does not lend itself to being “on time.”  Luckily, Dean Michael kept a tight schedule and was regularly checking the scheduled arrival times.   Trinity is centrally located between New Hope and Doylestown and is less than one hour from Philadelphia on I-95.  



As with all of our historic churches, Trinity has a rich and diverse history.  Services were first held in the summer of 1837.  According to the history of the church, it was said that the first services took place outdoors near the historic chapel.  Both the chapel and sanctuary are life-giving.  One can worship in either of the structures and find a sacred space.  As we walked the grounds and entered into the sacred spaces, I could feel the presence of the Divine. 



We were met by a group of parishioners who had some great coffee and desserts.   I would like to thank The Reverend Dr. Nancy Burton Dilliplane for changing doctor’s appointments and coming into the church to meet with Fr. Michael and me.   Trinity is a good and holy place, and I would encourage members of the diocese to take the short trip to Buck’s and experience worship at Trinity.   






The community epitomizes the meaning of a worshipping family and is working on internal spiritual development while externally shaping the world in the image of Christ.    This desire is evident in their liturgical offerings, the community engagement and the welcoming embrace for all who enter for prayer and worship.  



A meaningful part of this community involvement is the ability to use the parish property for outside events.  The participants told of the great success of renting Faith Hall for various community functions including weddings, baptisms, graduations and birthday parties.  It has an expansive kitchen and seating capabilities. Space can accommodate up to 166 guests.

It is important to emphasize the role of Trinity Buckingham Academy.  The school is an important way to proclaim our calling to the greater world.   The school provides the best Early Childhood education, formation and life experience for the preschoolers in the area.  The school has been part of the Trinity community for over 50 years.  




Taken from it’s website, it has a focus on Christian Education, a monthly chapel program for children (where parents are welcome), small classroom size, it is licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Division of Private Academic Schools and all lead teachers hold Pennsylvania Certification in Elementary Education or Early Childhood Education.  If you have friends or family in Bucks County, I will encourage you to have them tour the Academy. 

Finally, I was pleased to hear how the church offers Centering and Contemplative Prayer.  I used to teach Contemplative Prayer, and it is an important part of my prayer life to spend time in silence.  It leads me deeper into scripture, liturgy, and life.  Trinity hosts their Bible study in the library between 10:00 – 11:30 a.m.   It is open to the entire community. Stop in and break open scripture.  Encourage a friend to join in the bible study group - you may be surprised if they take you up on the invitation. 







As we were leaving, I learned that Margaret Mead is buried in the cemetery.  Each step we take is filled with history, discovery, and learning.  With each day and each stop on the pilgrimage, the beauty of this diocese continually reveals itself.  Visit Trinity at:http://www.trinitybuckingham.org

HOLY NATIVITY

Fr. Michael and I set off toward our next pilgrimage destination.  I learned that Holy Nativity was hosting a lunch, so we were eager to reach the destination.  Holy Nativity was formed as an intentional community with the outreach to families.  This intentionality also included a less structured and formal church that would easily integrate families into a eucharistic service.   



I was told that the present church was built in 1988 and less than 20 years after the dedication, Holy Nativity achieved parish status.  I read the website, and the welcome is beautiful: “We continue to welcome and include people of all ages and backgrounds. We strive to nurture and inspire one another, and all whose paths we cross, to follow more intensely heeding Christ's great commandments to love God and all our neighbors. We do this through worship, fellowship, learning and growing in our faith, reaching out to those in need both near and far, and working to spread God's peace and compassion in our community and world.”

As for lunch…..I love soup, and we were served soup.  Some of the best soup I have tasted.  I am not kidding; it was delicious.  More importantly, the fellowship and discussion regarding the future of ministry were deep and engaging.  Those who were at the luncheon want to make a difference in the name of Jesus.  What is more, they want to offer their church to the world.  I once again was filled with a sense of expectation; our future is bright in the diocese.




During the conversation, I discovered various forms of outreach at Holy Nativity.  The church is seeking to make further inroads into the life of Bucks County.  Currently, they are collecting food for the Bucks County Housing Group and preparing meals for Aid for Friends.  This small and family based parish is always discerning methods of effective outreach.

At lunch, I kept commenting the soup was delicious.  I was informed the congregation specializes in soup and the congregation sells the soup as a fundraiser.  Holy Nativity is currently selling the following selections during the month of January.  They include (1) Butternut Squash- a seasonal favorite for your holiday table- vegan and gluten free; (2) Minestrone- a thick soup made with vegetables, white beans, pasta and kale; and (3) Split Pea soup with ham –a thick soup made with dried peas and ham. Gluten free.   Please, do yourself a favor and contact Holy Nativity and purchase some of the soup.






I want to take the time to recognize Rev. Lisa Keppeler who has led this congregation.  I love her heart and her way of walking in the world.  She always has a smile and retains some of her native Hawaiian ease that she shares with everyone that she meets.  There is an ease and concern which transcends simple interactions.  She is genuine. 



I want to relay a story of Rev. Lisa that occurred during the walkabouts (can you believe that next month it will be one year in which the walkabouts occurred).   We were at Trinity Ambler, and I had just left one session.  As I was walking out of the sanctuary to the next room, this Priest pulls me to the side, looks me in the eye and says:  “I like you, you have what it takes, but don’t ever say the Diocese of Philadelphia again.  I want you to be called.”  I had no idea I said Diocese of Philadelphia, but she cared enough to correct me, and I am thankful.  
    



We concluded our time at Holy Nativity by touring the Memorial Garden.  The memorial garden was a project of the parish, and it is peaceful, comforting and has a Franciscan beauty.  I would like to return and find time to sit and pray in the garden.  While walking through the garden, I was reminded of the old spiritual “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”  Visit Holy Nativity at: http://www.holynativitychurch.org

TRINITY SOLEBURY

Fr. Michael left Holy Nativity and ventured onto one of the largest and engaging congregations in the diocese. Driving up toward the Trinity campus, I was taken by the natural beauty and the integration of the architecture and the natural surroundings.  Everything on the property seems to flow naturally into a creational design.  It is striking and in can serve as a model for church landscape and architecture.  






Trinity is a congregation of history, life, and rebirth. As with the history of many congregations in our diocese, the founding of Trinity was born out of both need and faithfulness to Jesus Christ.   Lizzie and Mary Jones began holding a children's Sunday school on a local farm.  I am taking the following from the history “In 1860, the Rev. William Griest from Buckingham incorporated this small group as Trinity Solebury Chapel. In 1876 ground was broken for their chapel, and during the following years, traveling priests and seminary students provided part-time clerical services. Horse sheds were built about 1900, and the benches in the church were replaced by gated booths (in use until 1951). 






In May 1998, the church buildings burned down and the church itself severely damaged. For two years, services were held in the New Hope/Solebury Elementary School gymnasium across the road and the school's classrooms used for Church School.  During the years in the gym, the congregation kept growing as it eagerly watched the construction of the new church; the first service was held there in June 2000. That fall Trinity Day School moved into its six new classrooms. The old church was renovated and is now the Chapel for smaller gatherings.”




I mentioned that Trinity has a beautiful integration of liturgical and landscape architecture.  Both sanctuaries have the sacred feel that leads one into prayer and centeredness.  In one space there were materials for silent worship and evening prayer, while in another we have music and our beloved Book of Common Prayer.  The ancient and the new, the familiar and the sacred, the love of Christ all in one place.  In a few moments of silence, I was able to envision a contemplative service in the historic sanctuary and the amazing voices of our Anglican tradition in the new sanctuary.  Both provide the bridges for people to enter into the heart of Christ.  This is evident in their vision statement which says:  “In communion with the Spirit and one another, we are called to recognize the spiritual lives of every member of Trinity to assist one another in finding our ways to enrich, and nurture our spiritual practice, and to develop our ministries in the world.”







I have to point out two sacred points in the sanctuary.  One is the altar, and the other is the organ.   The altar designed and finished by Mira Nakashima Yarnall. The description of the altar says that “massive slabs of cherry are joined in a powerful, yet a wonderfully simple expression of God’s presence. A gift of the artist.  The inspiration for the Trinity Altar comes from other notable altars created by the Nakashima Studio, particularly the great Peace Altar at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. This extraordinary altar, along with the other “tables for peace” located in sacred settings on six continents, were gifts of the artist’s father, George Nakashima, to express and inspire man’s “love for his fellow man.”  While this accurately describes the altar, it does not adequately describe its beauty.  You have to see it in person to take in the magnificence and the artistic design.  





The second sacred touchstone point is the organ.  It is striking and a one of a kind instrument.  I had the opportunity to hear the exceptional choir master Timothy Harrell play the organ.  I sat and listened to the perfection of this beautiful art.  After playing this extraordinary instrument, I was enlisted to assist in “fixing” a note; which involves lifting and moving behind the organ.  Needless to say, I was of little help and found myself cringing that I might break something.  In short, I did not want to touch a thing.  It was a joyous way to conclude our tour of the sanctuary.  








One cannot describe Trinity without speaking of the warm, lively and engaging staff.  Stacie Fuchs and I discussed communications (she does exceptional work), and I was blessed by her extensive knowledge of the various mediums and the understanding of the need to communicate over a multitude of levels.  




Finally, I have come to deeply appreciate my friend Richard Vinson.   Over a short time, I have grown to value his knowledge of the church, his experience and his willingness to engage in various ministries.  We are working on developing an active recovery ministry which is an essential ministry for the health and wellness of all our clergy.  He is a blessing to the church and the diocese.  Visit Trinity at: https://www.trinitysolebury.org  

ST. PHILIP’S NEW HOPE

As the day was ending, Fr. Michael drove to his home and his church St. Philip’s in New Hope.  Since this was my first visit to St. Philip, Fr. Michael was kindly reminding me that regarding “physical structure” this was one of the smaller churches in the diocese.  However, the physical size of St. Philips is no indicator of the faithfulness and heart of the congregation.  






I am always concerned for the spiritual, mental, and physical being of all the priests and deacons in the diocese.  I asked to see his office and rectory.  As a Bishop and a diocese, we must care for our clergy.  Healthy clergy correlates to healthy churches and congregations. We pulled into his combination office and rectory, and it is comfortable, inviting and well designed.  One could tell the monastic influence on Fr. Michael with the beautiful icons and his reading material. 







A group of parishioners from St. Philips was awaiting our arrival, and they have a joyous spirit.  I cannot adequately express the happiness in my heart, as I walk into a room filled with smiling people.  It affects everything we do, it influences our conversations and moves us into living as a Christian community.   

My brothers and sisters at the church warmed my heart.  You could sense their desire to live a full Christian life - and they are doing it.  I was also touched by their repeated requests to become further involved in the life of the diocese.  They have a powerful voice, and I look forward to greater involvement in our mutual journey.  These are good and faithful sojourners with their eyes on Christ. 

Our time at St. Philip was not centered on growth, rather, they shared how the congregation is impacting New Hope and Buck’s County.  What is more, they shared innovative ideas for growth.  They invite people to use the space; they invite people to share in the worship, they invite people seeking the sacraments of baptism and marriage to be part of the community.  Moreover, they not only invite - they create a place at the table. 

St. Philip’s is known in the community for readings, concerts, speakers and other events of spiritual, artistic or cultural interest.  Many people who are seeking Christ or simply seeking grace the doors of this loving and accepting community.  In a small old school room, the work of building up the Kingdom is occurring.  In many ways, it is a microcosm of the work we are undertaking in the church.  One person at a time, one heart at a time.  




I felt at home at St. Philips as it reminded me of the small adobe churches in the Northern New Mexico of my youth.  The only thing missing were 14,000-foot mountains in the background.  The history of the church states that St. Philip’s Episcopal Church has been serving people in since 1921. The church building was originally constructed (circa 1810) as a one-room schoolhouse. It was known as “the Philips School” because the land had been donated by a local family of that name.  The congregation has preserved the history, and any of the school’s original features have been retained, including the dais where the schoolmaster’s (or mistress’s) desk sat.



In 1921, the old Philips School was purchased by the Diocese, and the mission in New Hope was established. Between 1921 and 1943, the chapel served not only the local community but also the nearby Holmquist School for Girls. St. Philip’s shared clergy with Trinity Solebury until 1954 when it became a separate and self-supporting church under the canons of the Germantown Convocation.  In 1958, the membership of St. Philip’s established the “Friends of Saint Philip’s,” a non-profit corporation, and purchased a small house nearby for use as a vicarage and meeting place. In 2012, the church opened a new parish house at 10 Chapel Road.


Outreach is large and generous at St. Philip.  These are a few of the activities at the church:  
Blessing of the Delaware River (Baptism of the Lord) A good way to connect with the environmental movement; Happy Hour Ashes to Go;  a Lenten prayer walk  taking pics of various parts of the community, post them, and pray for them each day; Contemporary Stations of the Cross through town; Pride Service and Pride Parade; Community Labyrinth Day on Earth Day; Bra Drive During Breast Cancer Awareness Month; Blessing of Cars (Elijah the Prophet Day-July 20); St Michael's Day with the Police; St. Luke's Day with Medical Professionals; and the Community Sock Collection during Christmas Season.  It is a good and holy place and cannot wait for my official visitation so we can celebrate together.  Thank you for blessing me with your love.  Visit St. Philip at: http://stphilipsnewhope.org

I bid farewell with a knowing I could not wait until my return to our growing churches in Buck’s County.  I took one the last look at the labyrinth in the front of the church and thought of all the prayers that have been prayed.  I said one last prayer as I drove back to Philadelphia.  There are beautiful angels in the Diocese and we are blessed to be lifted by them.  I am equally blessed to serve as your Bishop.