Saturday, December 24, 2011

December hauntings

by the middle of December - I had so many things looming at me. Toys for Tots (how was I going to manage the distribution???) CEO food order, cleaning out a space for the homeless shelter, Clothing Closet donations, food storage, freezers needing to be repaired, wanting to be in NC to help my mom put back the living room and move out the furniture from the dining room for contractors to repair floor and paint.

A song kept haunting me - just the first few words, but I could not grasp what it was. I couldn't find it on my CD's, when I finally got a chance (or remembered) to look. I knew the version I wanted was by Mannheim Steamrollers: Veni Veni, I finally found it on itunes, downloaded the entire album (my copy I realized was a cassette) Listened to the song I had been looking for, but it wasn't quite right. Beautiful song, but not what had been haunting me.

So many families signed up for toys, 250 children, needed two cars to pick up food at CEO warehouse, including produce (tangerines, onions, carrots, broccoli, cut/packaged fruit) cleared out minor items from the space for shelter, luncheon with the ladies, Lessons and Carols service, updating Facebook, Youtube.....

That's the song!! Listening to the whole album I heard the song, grabbing my cell I checked out the name... Of course. I hadn't needed Veni, Veni (O Come, O Come) I needed to hear:

Still, Still, Still
one can hear the falling snow.
for all is hushed, the world is sleeping
Holy Star it's vigil keeping.
still, still, still
one can hear the falling star
Sleep, sleep, sleep
'tis the eve of our Savior's birth
the night is peaceful all around you
close your eyes, let sleep surround you.
sleep, sleep, sleep
'tis the eve of our Savior's birth
Dream, Dream, Dream
of the joyous day to come
while guardian angels without number
watch you as you sweetly slumber
dream, dream, dream
of the joyous day to come.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Meditations - Anne Kitch

Expectant in Bethlehem
Advent Meditations 2011

by Anne E. Kitch
First Sunday of Advent
November 27, 2011

Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come . Mark 13:33

I’m not ready.

The morning rain carries with it the edge of cold to come. The air sighs with sadness at this turn toward winter. Advent is upon us and neither my house nor my spiritual life is prepared. Earlier this week I was looking forward to a lovely meditative day of clearing away the detritus of fall, unwrapping the family crèche, making our Advent wreath. I have had the candles for the wreath for months. My friend and I bought them on a golden summer afternoon as we strolled through small town shops and artist studios. She led me to the hand-dipped candles that she buys every summer for her own Advent wreath. I bought some too, choosing with care, enjoying the exquisite colors. I remember this moment now, when my wreath is not ready and the quiet meditative day to reflect and prepare is long since beyond my reach. Life happens.

I’m not ready.

I remember another morning when I stood by the front door, my suitcase already in the car and a large plastic bin on the floor in front of me. I was sure I could fit one more item into it. I was about to leave to lead a retreat and I was overwhelmed by the certainty that I was not prepared. Despite all the work I had put into it, doubt lingered. More candles? Another book of prayers? A change of shoes? My husband gently held me in his arms. “Perhaps you are not ready. Or perhaps you could look at it as if you have been preparing for this moment for your entire life.”

I’m not ready. I have been preparing for this moment my entire life.

The testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:6-7

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Meditions from Anne Kitch

Expectant in Bethlehem
Advent Meditations 2011

by Anne E. Kitch
Saturday of the First Week of Advent
December 3, 2011

Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:23-24

“I want to get the clean water.”

“What about food for school children or mosquito nets?”

“Let’s help the kids in school.”

My oldest and I are pouring over the “Gifts for Life” catalog from Episcopal Relief and Development. This has become an Advent tradition for us. The donations we make to ERD will become Christmas gifts for the teachers and coaches who have mentored my children.

My daughter is the instigator of this particular practice of giving in our house. Several years ago, when I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she looked me straight in the face and said, “All I really want is world peace.” I decided to take her seriously. The Gifts for Life catalog had just arrived in our mailbox that day. Some coincidences seem rather well timed. I suggested she could act for justice and peace in the world by choosing to provide water or food or mosquito nets to children who really needed them. She responded with enthusiasm.

Yet it was not I, but rather an entire community that taught my daughter to be a giver. A parish that held an annual Living Gifts Fair. A church school teacher who introduced a lesson on wants versus needs. Her own generosity.

Her generosity continues to refresh me, like a mountain stream.

Find the Gifts for Life catalog online at the Episcopal Relief and Development website.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas trees given away in West Pittston

Dear Bakery Friends,

On Saturday evening, Trinity West Pittston's grounds turned into a Christmas tree lot as we invited our neighbors affected by the September flooding to choose a Christmas tree or wreath to brighten their holiday.

About 60 families came by to choose from an assortment of trees and wreaths delivered fresh that day from a nearby tree lot. With the sounds of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" filling the air and ample supplies of hot chocolate and cookies baked by parishioners from Trinity and the Episcopal Church Women's group from Prince of Peace in Dallas, we tried to make our guests feel welcome as they chose a tree.

For some, getting a tree freed up money to use on other things. For others, it replaced an artificial tree that was lost to the flooding. Many of those who stopped by told tales of losing not only their trees but all their Christmas decorations which were stored in basements or garages that took on water during the flood.

One woman shared how she thought her tree and ornaments were okay because they were stored on high shelves in the garage and well above the flood water, but when she went out to get her decorations she discovered that the flood water had toppled the plastic storage tubs containing the decorations from the shelves into the water. Someone who probably thought they were being helpful hosed off the boxes and put them back on the shelves but didn't open them or clean what was inside, and all her decorations were ruined. "I was so upset. We had so many nice things and they were all caked with mud and mold," she said. This woman was able to choose from some Christmas ornaments and lights donated for those affected by the flood and took home not only a tree but some things to decorate it with. "It might be a Charlie Brown tree without enough ornaments, " she said, "but it will still feel like Christmas."

We were initially surprised by how many residents chose wreaths instead of trees, and saddened to learn that the reason was that many of them were living in circumstances that just don't leave room for a Christmas tree. Some are living in cramped trailers, and many are still living in one room in a hotel or with relatives or friends. One woman said she couldn't take a tree because her house doesn't have any floors -- the entire first level had to be stripped to the support beams to eradicate mold. "I don't have any place to stand a tree, but I can still remember Christmas when I look at my front door," this woman said.

Our neighbors also had the opportunity to browse a selection of new and gently used clothing and salon beauty products provided by Covers of Love, a local non-profit that heard about our efforts and asked to join us, as well as some of the clothing and bedding donated by St. John's Hamlin during our furniture distribution. We also had more than 80 cases of water and a dozen cases of bleach sent to us by Churches of Christ Disaster Relief and a selection of Christmas ornaments, toys and new household items donated by Trinity parishioners, as well as some of the gift cards collected at the Diocesan Convention and sent to us afterwards by other churches. Our neighbors were pleasantly surprised and very grateful to receive so much help when they thought they were only getting a tree.

Over and over, we were thanked for still being there when others have moved on. But the thanks didn't warm our hearts as much as knowing that about sixty families will have a merrier Christmas right when they most need to take a moment to step away from stress and loss and feel the spirit of Christmas around them. "If you weren't giving these away, I wouldn't have stopped working on the house tonight to run out for a tree. I don't know if I would have ever stopped," one man accompanied by two grade school aged children told us. "We're going to decorate this and have cookies and milk under the tree before bed. Tonight, we can just forget about the flood and think about Christmas."

Our thanks to Ciampi's Greenhouses for assisting us with a good price on the trees and for donating the wreaths; to Father Earl Trygar, his wife Helen and the parishioners of St. Mark's Moscow for the generous cash contributions towards the purchase of trees; to the ECW at Prince of Peace for the beautiful trays of homemade cookies, as well as the candy canes and small gifts we were able to hand out to the children who visited; to the Churches of Christ for the water and bleach; and to all of you who contributed gift cards that we were able to share. Our neighbors are grateful for the help you are all providing, and we are grateful for your support as we continue to try to ease their burdens. Our parish Community Resiliency Team will meet soon to discuss the projects we've just completed, assess the needs we've learned about and plan new ways to help. We'll keep you posted -- please keep our neighbors and our efforts in your prayers.

Janine Ungvarsky
FLOODCare Coordinator
Trinity West Pittston

P.S. We were also fortunate enough to have a video journalist from local television stations FOX56 and WBRE stop by during the evening to film a report that ran on the 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts. The text of that report can be found below. The attitude expressed by Ms. Edwards is very typical of what we hear from our neighbors: they are doing without so much but are very grateful for what they do have and for any help they receive.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Letter from Father Daniel - from December newsletter

As I have for several newsletters now. I find it hard to focus my attention on one topic. I want to rant about the Penn State scandal; I want to rant about the encroachment of popular culture on our Advent Season; I want to tell you of the wonderful opportunity you have with Ten Thousand Villages; and finally I want to tell you about my renewed desire to return to Kajo Keji. Let me see if I can briefly talk about them all.

I am appalled by how much the Penn State scandal has lost its focus. The issue is not that Coach Joe Paterno was fired, but that he, and all the others, did not call the attention of the authorities to the fact that a child had been molested. As one who is not an avid sports fan, I can't understand hero worship in this sense (Even Gore Vidal doesn't deserve such deference(He said tongue in cheek.).) As a priest I find it even harder to understand. I am under an obligation to report such abuse if I even hear a notion or it, which by the way, makes hearing Confessions even harder for both me and the penitent. We need to keep the "main thing the main thing." I do not apologize for offending anyone. "JoePa" is not a victim, but he did facilitate the activities of a potential predator. Now that this is out of the way, let me move on.

The Advent Season approaches. W will hold my usual rant against the commercialization of Christmas, as most you you know already. I will remind you that this is the season to prepare our hearts to receive Christ again. I especially emphasize that it is the time to receive Christ, not the baby Jesus. Jesus could only come once: Christ can come to us again, and again. Think about that.

The next reminder that I want to give you is that this year we are again hosting Ten Thousand Villages. This is a unique opportunity to purchase fairly traded merchandise from around the world. Since we know that most people purchase Christmas gifts, we thought that Advent would be the obvious time to host the fair. You can shop with us knowing that at least 90% of your money will go directly to the person who made your item. The other 10% will go to a local charity. You can't say that with any commercial store.

Finally, I want you to know that i have a desire to return to our brothers and sisters in Kajo Keji. I have talked with Bishop Paul about this and he encouraged me to contact Bishop Anthony. Bishop Anthony said that he could use me in the College and elsewhere. I will continue to pray about this, and I ask you to join me. Short-term missionary work can be useless or productive depending on it's focus. When I was 15 years old I helped clear a mountain-side which began as a playground and became the foundation for a school in Ecuador. But I have known other instances where short-term mission work was little more than sightseeing. If I return, I want to make something worthwhile out of it.

In these thoughts may we find truth. Amen

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bishop Paul's Diocesan Convention Address

Convention Address, Oct. 7, 2011
Bishop Paul V. Marshall
Diocese of Bethlehem
Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

To enjoy each other and grow together in the Lord
I greet you with joy and affection as we gather again for convention. It is good to see new faces and to welcome back those who have moved back into the Diocese.

Those of you who are new or who are coming to our convention for the first time will notice something a bit unusual about this gathering. The time we spend debating and discussing resolutions is not particularly long. We put our energy into being together, in praying together, in eating together, and into learning together. The gathering is one piece, so there is no discount, so to speak, for skipping the eucharist or not having dinner.

So if you are here for the first time, please do not think of this as a two-day vestry meeting, but rather like a small and discrete camp meeting. Our goal is to enjoy each other in the Lord and to grow together. Every group has only so much energy, and by long tradition we spend ours in this communal way.

The King James Version of 1611
You will also notice that our scripture readings at all services are from the King James Version of 1611. It is the foundation of the modern translations we use in all our parishes; it served our ancestors very well. We gratefully remember at this Convention that “God’s word written” can only reach us if someone translates it. We remember how the 1611 translation gave shape to the thinking and language of every English-speaking person, usually without their knowing it. We remember that it was, as all memorable English Bible translations must be, an effort at Christian unity. All of that said, it is also just fine to sit back and enjoy its language.

Scanning a few headlines of the past year
A lot has happened since we last met, much of it joyful, some of it challenging. Let me just scan the headlines of Diocesan Life for you.

We have entered full Communion with the Moravian Church in a wonderful service, and have had ongoing work sessions together with the Moravians and Lutherans.

We were able to celebrate full Communion with Lutherans and Moravians in this very room last spring at our Chrism Mass, a first for the United States.

In the coming months there will be a chance for our three churches to get together for a hymn festival. I hope you will be there.

On November 6, we will have our first-ever joint Eucharist with the Methodists as we move toward healing the most unnecessary division in Protestantism. It will be here in our Cathedral at four o’clock.

This year we have also celebrated the consecration of a new St. Peter’s church in Tunkhannock, high above the waters that have done their structure so much damage in the past.

With assistance from New Hope, St. Luke’s in Lebanon has opened “My Father’s House,” recycling old space to serve those who need shelter.

Just a year ago Trinity Easton opened a new kitchen to assist them in serving their community, a renovation done with the support of the United Thank Offerings. These are your sacrificial dollars at work.

Just a month ago there were in several places in the diocese carefully planned and well-attended interfaith services on the anniversary of 9/11. I hope that in some way we can continue the rich contacts with local Muslim and Jewish groups represented in those services.

All the news has not been welcome, however. As you know, there have been devastating floods in our northern tier very recently, and sadly there are weather people who say that major floods may be coming more than once a decade in the near future.

Diocesan House responded to the flooding in our northern tier before the waters crested, both with immediate help and calls for your support. I am grateful for the other responses that came from so many parishes and individuals throughout the diocese, but I am, and hope you are, particularly grateful for the leadership the clergy in the north have generally taken in getting aid and comfort to those whose lives have been seriously disrupted. Perhaps the area hardest hit was West Pittston, and both Trinity Church and Fr. John Major have displayed deep Christian compassion to their neighbors in an outstanding way. I am also grateful on your behalf to the Rev. Maureen Hipple and Canon Charles Cesaretti, who are coordinating our relief efforts in the north, and to Father Daniel Gunn and others who brokered a hotel full of furniture for those restarting their homes. The names I mentioned are those I recall, and I know there are many others.

You have the opportunity further to support our relief efforts through the collection tomorrow, and also by responding to the spontaneous call that arose among convention delegates to bring gift cards that can aid people buying home supplies or just having a little time away from the sludge and mold. Either act of kindness can be done in the future too, as this will be a long process.

The threat of annual flooding, as I said, now exists. Our corporate effort to be prepared is being led by Canon Andrew Gerns. We are going to have coordinated disaster response plans in place and ready to go before the end of the year.

Additionally, I have asked for and received a $25,000 grant from New Hope to be in place for immediate response to traumatic need; that will be a front-money fund we can draw from at the very moment it is needed and then replace as donations arrive.

Finally, two representatives of the Diocese are in conversation with Episcopal Relief and Development seeking funds to aid those whose lives need to be rebuilt. The response from New York has been positive so far.

A high number of our clergy are ill, and I ask you to keep them in your prayers. Sometimes both they and their spouses are simultaneously ill. Please remember especially Cal and Pam Adams, Craig and Robin Sweeney, Jim Stevenson, Charles Kapps, Ralph and Jean Roth, and Judith Krieger. There may well be others.

Similarly, I know I speak for all of you in expressing condolences to Marlene Hartshorne at the death last week of her husband Robert. Marlene has given many years and countless hours to the work of the Episcopal Church Women and to our partnership with Kajo-Keji.

A final note in the debit column. Trinity and St. Philip in Lansford chose to close rather than to merge with one of the near-by parishes. I don’t agree with this choice, but together with the Standing Committee I must accept it, and with the Trustees will see that Trinity’s resources continue to work for the mission of the church. Bishop Jack did a superb job in helping the parish tie up emotional ends in their closing service on Labor Day weekend.

The Share Save Spend approach
What can we give our culture in times of economic distress? Twice now the diocese has had the opportunity to work with the Financial Sanity program offered by Nathan Dungan, an inspiring speaker and truly good human being. I am happy to report that the Church of the Mediator made his material part of their confirmation instruction. The “Share Save Spend” approach he teaches to all generations gives people practical ways both to manage their money and to develop realistic values for their family. If your rector hasn’t told your vestry about this opportunity, you might remind him or her that they have the book. It is a sign of hope to do offer courses like this.

Parish administrators and secretaries
Speaking of reminders to vestries. Once again this summer we had a luncheon for parish administrators and parish secretaries. We do this each year primarily so that these workers, who do so much to keep each parish running and so often represent it to the community, know that they are valued. Some few, however, couldn’t attend the lunch because they could not get support to be there. I think that planning for this no-cost event for 2012 would be a simple way to let these essential co-workers know that they are valued—and to give them that message “on the clock.”

Our Renewal Assemblies
The best part of the year for me has been working on and attending our Renewal Assemblies, which began at this convention last year. Watching the enthusiasm with which lay people in particular got together to be with other Christians and to discuss their faith was a great encouragement. I am grateful to all who made those events possible. We will have time tomorrow for some small-group discussion to get ourselves in gear for the November assembly.

Tightening our diocesan budget
As we deal with economic realities, we have again tightened the budget, and are trying to do so without dropping our level of service to parishes. Even on the volunteer level, we are doubling up. The Finance Committee, for instance, also functions as the Personnel Committee, with a few additions. Similarly, I must express my gratitude to the Archdeacon for taking on the ordination process and the deployment system in addition to his many obligations. Also, our new youth missioner, Ellyn Siftar, is simultaneously missioner for youth and young adult ministries. Canon Charles Cesaretti is serving as interim Congregational Development missioner until we have resources to make a permanent appointment. Both Ellyn and Charles bring us shots of creativity and energy that have already borne fruit.

Bishop’s Day with Kids … and the Beatles
In Ellyn’s note to me reminding me to announce the change in her responsibilities, she added: “Don’t forget to say something about the Beatles.” That something is that we are making a shift. Next summer, the Bishop’s Day with Kids will be held in two locations and it will be a day for children and their families—and for anybody else who enjoys being with children. There will be a theme from a Beatles song you all know and love, but I am going to let you wait for it. Will it be Yellow Submarine? Magical Mystery Tour? Stay tuned.

Parishes trying something new
Speaking of fun, last year we adopted a resolution that each parish try something new, whether big or small, to support the spiritual formation of its members and the surrounding communities. Canon Kitch and the Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation received reports of 65 new things that were tried in our parishes. They ranged from new ways to study, to after-school events, to new organizations, pilgrimages, and experience in directly feeding the hungry. Thank you to the commission for prompting us in this direction and thank you to all the people who responded creatively.

Our youth’s commitment to New Hope
In a time when very large institutions may or may not be keeping their promises and commitments, it is refreshing and inspiring to see that the Youth of our diocese have kept their pledge to the New Hope campaign, and in fact paid it a year early. They raised a bit over their commitment of $7,000, and have designated it to provide desks and chairs in one of the schools we have built in Sudan. While you will hear more about New Hope tonight, I want to emphasize the character that our young people have displayed in keeping promises in a time when not just the economy, but enthusiasm is contracting.

Contracting of the economy and our enthusiasm
And that is where I want to spend the remainder of this address. Everybody has a personal theory on what has gone wrong in this country and in the global economy, and as we enter an election year that discussion will only intensify. As a culture we seem to find relief is redistributing blame, as though that settled anything. I have another concern.

My job means that I meet and talk with people daily, mostly but not entirely in the church. I also get to watch how parishes and vestries, and a least two educational institutions behave.

I have concern about the extent to which some people seem to feel overall discouragement, a lack of energy or enthusiasm for even free gifts, a disinclination to joy. Even more troubling, I regularly see fear. Fear of being an unemployable elderly person living and dying in poverty. Fear of having nothing left to pass on to descendants. Fear of letting go when it is time for others to be in charge. Fear that one’s life has been or may be ruined, or far worse, that one’s life has been meaningless. That kind of fear leads to moral and personal paralysis or unattractive behavior. If it is all meaningless, we might feel why bother, why behave?

Our church ignores those fears at our peril. Our pastoral duty to our members and to those whom our message reaches is to acknowledge that some people are feeling very bad right now, and that many if not most people feel uncertainty and may have low expectations for life. One of the most important things preachers and all those who bear Christ into the world can do is listen to the distress around them, and give a clear signal that it has been heard. This is especially hard to do when fearful people act out, individually or corporately, but it is essential that we try.

Making a difference in time of fear
We also have something to say to each other as Christians believers that makes a difference in a time of fear.

On Sunday we shall again hear that very familiar portion of Philippians where St. Paul simply tells them to stop worrying and start praying and then reminds his hearers of two things. The first is that he knows how to be rich and how to be poor; he knows how to be full and how to be empty. Like the Christians in Southern Sudan, he knows how to be the same person regardless of his circumstances. Like most people, I will go to my grave believing that rich or poor, it is good to have money. But St. Paul’s more important belief is that each of us is much more flexible than we might think, and that happiness is not and cannot be a function of income. Happiness is a function of personal integrity. Again, there is nothing at all wrong with aiming for success, but our present circumstances do us the favor of reminding us that the goals of our life need to be a little more substantial than relative wealth.

Personal Integrity: not since John Lennon and Princess Diana can I remember a death bringing forth as much reaction as we have seen to the passing of Steve Jobs. There was a man who has seen failure and success. How many of his speeches do not say that the important thing in life is to do something that you love, something that gives meaning, something that expresses your integrity?

My favorite is from his 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford: “Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

There is no reason not to follow your heart. I believe that is when the joy comes. Joy comes when individuals follow their hearts rather than dimly remembered parental voices about what they should have achieved. Joy comes when churches follow their mission rather than their fears. Joy comes when we make sure to live each day.

These thoughts are not bromides in my opinion. Steve Jobs lived for some years under a death sentence, and spoke from that reality. St. Paul wrote some of his most inspirational lines about attitude from the grim reality of a damp and dark dungeon. You know, the lines in Philippians 4 about staying focused on whatever is good, honorable, and so on. We will hear them on Sunday. His advice to the Philippians is also advice to individuals and churches in our time who may feel fear, discouragement, crippling ennui, or the temptation to become a curmudgeon.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me
The apostle’s punch line is what I would want you to take home. If you remember anything from this convention, anything at all, remember that St. Paul ended his words of encouragement to very anxious people with this: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

It makes a difference when we are working at a task to know that somebody will appreciate our work, that somebody values our efforts, that somebody knows that the hard parts are really hard. It makes a difference to be able to recall somebody’s face smiling as we take our first steps or play our first piano recital, or get ready for our first heart surgery. It makes all the difference as we think about our approaching death that there is someone who has passed from death to life and waits for us on the other side of death to welcome us, someone who encourages us every step of life’s way. That Someone is Jesus Christ, in whom we live and shall live.

My message to the convention this year is quite simple:

(1) These are demanding times and we must continue to care for each other in every way we can, patiently, letting our gentleness show.

(2) The times also give us the opportunity to clarify or perhaps discover our deepest values and then be sure those values are what we pursue.

(3) The times give us the ultimate gift of reminding us that we can do all things, all things, through Christ who strengthens us.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

St Francis of Assisi

How did the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, with a taste for a high-spirited lifestyle and a solider end up a Saint?
The path that St Francis had originally been on led to an extravagant lifestyle and than to a military career, but even than his heart was beginning to change and to look at everything with a new set of eyes. Giving all he had to a poor man, is part oh his story and than praying in a church, hearing a voice saying " my house...." choosing than to forgo all wealth and his family, Francis wondered the hills worked in a monastery for a time. After many trials he and his followers known as the Friars Minor, were given the little chapel of St Mary's by the Benedictine Order in Assisi. With his example and the example of his fellow monks, women also denounced wealth and embraced poverty Clare, and than her sister Agnes were the first to be accepted into the order of the Second Franciscan Order of Poor Ladies. Eventually with the order growing and expanding the simple rules of the order needed to be revised. This transition of simple, familiar, and unceremonious ways to a 12 Rule edict which stressed obedience, chastity and especially poverty. This new rule was not an easy change nor one that appeared overnight, Francis stuck with it to see that his order was not swallowed up or dissolved.
Christmastide was a favorite feast for Francis and toward the end of his life he encouraged the emperor to make a special law that men would provide for the birds of the air and the beasts as well as the poor, so that all may rejoice in the Lord's birth.
Francis died in his beloved Porziuncola,the chapel where his vocation was revealed to him.
To all St Francis showed humility and an all-embracing sympathy.

From playboy to solider to Saint, from a frivolous life to one that embraced all of creation.

the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Moods n Tudes

I have to admit, when I found out that the Fair had not canceled last night's activities I was annoyed. I had been watching the 24/7 coverage for little over an hour (I had been watching it earlier but due to remote batteries dying -I shut the TV off, stuck on the shopping channel, it was a sanity move). Watching for even that short a time, my anxiety level was high, and anything that seemed frivolous was an intrusion, and not welcomed. During the news shut-off I was working on a power point presentation of all the events at St Stephens, than I watched more news. When it came time to pack up and head over to Dallas for the Fair my frame of mind was not pleasant to say the least. Crossing over the Susquehanna on the Cross Valley the view of the river swollen, expanded beyond the regular outlines was sobering. The levees were by and large holding, flooding existed but not to the level and devastation of Agnes, Floyd -or even Katrina. For that we can give Thanks, and in giving thanks - helping those that are facing extensive flooding in what ever way we can.
Once set up at the fair (internally quietly grumbling) people came by, seeming blithely unaware of the close brush and uncertainty of the flooding. And maybe they were but that wasn't the point of my being there. The point of being at the fair was to be a presence to the people that came to the fair. Just as we are a presence at 35 S Franklin Street, or at the grocery store, bookstore, work and wherever we are in our daily lives. To be where we are to where people are - physically, emotionally, spirituality.
When we are allowed back to 35 S Franklin Street (current predictions are late this afternoon to tonight) I will be there for the first service, and I will be there Monday morning to check out the food pantry and clothes closet, for any water damage in the basement - than our doors will be open, to serve those in need. Until than - I will be at the fair handing out balloons. Has my mood improved?
Yes, considerably, because to quote that great philosopher "Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon"

Debra Kellerman

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rachel's Last Fund Raiser

ok - So I'm being lazy ...... but it is a wonderful article and lesson we can all use.

Op-Ed Columnist
Rachel’s Last Fund-Raiser
Published August 10, 2011

Perhaps every generation of geezers since Adam and Eve has whined about young people, and today is no different. Isn’t it clear that in contrast to our glorious selves, kids these days are self-absorbed Facebook junkies just a pixel deep?

No, actually that’s wrong at every level. This has been a depressing time to watch today’s “adults,” whose talent for self-absorption and political paralysis makes it difficult to solve big problems. But many young people haven’t yet learned to be cynical. They believe, in a wonderfully earnest way, in creating a better world.

In the midst of this grim summer, my faith in humanity has been restored by the saga of Rachel Beckwith. She could teach my generation a great deal about maturity and unselfishness — even though she’s just 9 years old, or was when she died on July 23.

Rachel lived outside Seattle and early on showed a desire to give back. At age 5, she learned at school about an organization called Locks of Love, which uses hair donations to make wigs for children who have lost their own hair because of cancer or other diseases. Rachel then asked to have her long hair shorn off and sent to Locks of Love.

“She said she wanted to help the cancer kids,” her mother, Samantha Paul, told me. After the haircut, Rachel announced that she would grow her hair long again and donate it again after a few years to Locks of Love. And that’s what she did.

Then when she was 8 years old, her church began raising money to build wells in Africa through an organization called charity:water. Rachel was aghast when she learned that other children had no clean water, so she asked to skip having a ninth birthday party. In lieu of presents, she asked her friends to donate $9 each to charity:water for water projects in Africa.

Rachel’s ninth birthday was on June 12, and she had set up a birthday page on the charity:water Web site with a target of $300. Alas, Rachel was able to raise only $220 — which had left her just a bit disappointed.

Then, on July 20, as Rachel was riding with her family on the highway, two trucks collided and created a 13-car pileup. Rachel’s car was hit by one of the trucks, and although the rest of her family was unhurt, Rachel was left critically injured.

Church members and friends, seeking some way of showing support, began donating on Rachel’s birthday page — — and donations surged past her $300 goal, and kept mounting. As family and friends gathered around Rachel’s bedside, they were able to tell her — even not knowing whether she couldn’t hear them — that she had exceeded the $47,544 that the singer Justin Bieber had raised for charity:water on his 17th birthday.

“I think she secretly had a crush on him, but she would never admit it,” her mom said. “I think she would have been ecstatic.”

When it was clear that Rachel would never regain consciousness, the family decided to remove life support. Her parents donated her hair a final time to Locks of Love, and her organs to other children. Word spread about Rachel’s last fund-raiser.

Contributions poured in, often in $9 increments, although one 5-year-old girl sent in the savings in her piggy bank of $2.27. The total donations soon topped $100,000, then $300,000. Like others, I was moved and donated. As I write this, more than $850,000 has been raised from all over the world, including donations from Africans awed by a little American girl who cared about their continent.

“What has been so inspiring about Rachel is that she has taught the adults,” said Scott Harrison, the founder of charity:water. “Adults are humbled by the unselfishness of this little girl.”

Yet this is a story not just of one girl, but of a generation of young people working creatively to make this a better world. Mr. Harrison is emblematic of these young people. Now 35, he established charity:water when he was 30, and it has taken off partly because of his mastery at social media. (He’s not as experienced in well-drilling, so the wells are actually dug by expert groups like International Rescue Committee.)

Youth activism has a long history, but this ethos of public service is on the ascendant today — and today’s kids don’t just protest against injustices, as my contemporaries did, but many are also remarkable problem-solvers.

As for Ms. Paul, she’s planning a trip on the anniversary of her daughter’s death next year to see some of the wells being drilled in Africa in her daughter’s name. “It’ll be overwhelming to see Rachel’s wells,” she said, “to see what my 9-year-old daughter has done for people all over the world, to meet the people she has touched.”

Rachel Beckwith, R.I.P., and may our generation learn from yours.

Monday, July 25, 2011

RSCM schedule

The Royal School of Church Music, 200 plus choristers from the ages of Nine to Seventy Nine and from all over the United Kingdom and United States will be at St Stephens this week.

"Psallam spiritu et mente
I will sing with the spirit and with the understanding also"

Monday July 25:
6:45pm Instructed Evensong
(at King's if there's bad weather)
Tuesday July 26:
5:00pm Choral Evensong
9:00pm Sung Compline
Wednesday July 27th
5:00pm Choral Evensong
9:00pm Sung Compline
Thursday July 28th
7:30pm Faculty Recital
8:30pm Sung Compline
Friday July 29th
5:30pm Choral Evensong
Saturday July 30th
9:00pm Sung Compline
Sunday July 31
10:30am Pontifical Choral Eucharist
Bishop Paul Marshall, Celebrant & Preacher
3:30pm Festal Choral Evensong

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mary Magdalene

Today is the day set aside for Mary Magdalene, the first to see the resurrected Christ. The woman who was healed of seven (7!!) demons. What kind of demons they were we are left to speculate - mental illnesses maybe? Depression, psychosis, autism, dementia certainly are demons even today. Those demons are real enough, so are fear, pride, stubbornness and many more. Mary Magdalene went from battling demons to being the first to bear witness to the resurrection. We don't know how she was healed, but we do know her response: she traveled with him and the disciples and provided for them from their own means. She lived what she experienced and heard:

Matthew 25:35- "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’"

Her final act of caring for her savior was to anoint his body after his death. She was where her savior was (or where she believed him to be) at the tomb, to do the last act of caring that she could - regardless of the association being there would mean, regardless of soldiers, temple guards, or a large stone. She knew where she needed to be and what needed to be done.

May we all live what we have heard and do what we know needs to be done.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Everybody knows your name.......

"Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.
You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows
your name."

Remember those lyrics? Cheers was about a bar where people hung out, talked about nothing and knew they were welcomed.

Not much different than REACH drop-in center was. Was because as of July 5th it was closed as the drop-in center for homeless, and those that had no place to go during the day. A place where they were known, by name. Where their troubles were not unusual. A place they were welcomed and looked for.

Isn't that what we all long for, what we as human's need. We join gyms, clubs, the Y. We attend churches, meetings, stop at favorite bars and restaurants. We look for places that we are welcomed, known and are known by our name.

The only thing that separates us from a group of people that may include the newly separated from abusive partners, recently released from prison, former foster children who have “aged out” of the foster care system, returning veterans, the unemployed, the addicted, the disillusioned, the lost, the delusional and the desperate is a safe place to stay during the day.

There by the grace of God...............

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Some thoughts on Plans and Interruptions

God never ceases to surprise me reminding me of the old saying "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." The first event I mentioned during a recent homily. During the Stations of the Cross I was thrice denied the opportunity to carry the cross. This wasn't a malicious denial, rather an act of encouragement and support. I was so moved be this that my only response was to find a a way to literally lie before the Lord and take in God's goodness and love. The second humbling event happened while I was taking Communion to a parishioner who had been admitted to an assisted living facility. I was told by a staff member that she was still at lunch and that I could find her in the dining room. Upon walking in immediately two hands went up motioning for me to come over to their table. I went over introducing myself and clarifying that I was an Episcopal priest, not Roman Catholic. I explained that I would be happy to offer Communion, but I did not want to misrepresent myself. One woman replied, "Communion is Communion isn't it?" I was humbled. I prayed with them and gave them Communion. In the end two others also joined in.
These two simple, yet humbling happenings reminded me that God wants to surprise us if we are open to it. A senior priest once told me "The work of the Holy Spirit is most discernable in the interruptions."
Are you willing to have your plans interrupted?


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Holy Week Services

Holy Week Services

April 17 Palm/Passion Sunday
10:30am Start in the Parish Hall for Palms and Procession

April 18 Monday in Holy Week 6:00pm Eucharist

April 19 Tuesday in Holy Week 6:00pm Eucharist

April 20 Wendesday in Holy Week
noon Ecumenical Service
6:00pm Tenebrae

April 21 Maundy Thursday 6:00pm Eucharist/Agape
9:00pm Minor Vigil begins

April 22 Good Friday noon Ecumenical

6:00pm Eucharist - The Rt. Rev. Paul V. Mrshall, Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem, presiding

April 23 6:30pm Eucharist Great Vigil (Baptisms)

April 24 Easter Sunday 8:00am Eucharist
10:30am Eucharist

Friday, April 8, 2011


Returning to my Episcopal roots several years ago has had a profound effect on my spiritual journey. For instance  I can no longer imagine going from the exaultation of Palm Sunday to the joy of Easter Sunday with out traveling thru the Valley of Death. From Hossanna to Alleluia without hearing Crucify Him. From triumph to awe and wonder without the despair of loss and confusion. That is Holy Week 7 days. Not 2 in 7  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pottery Auction article

Pottery for poverty Published: April 3,2011
Hoping to throw a curve at poverty, potters and parishioners of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Wilkes-Barre have crafted and painted approximately 50 clay bowls for the upcoming Bowl Auction on April 10. The event is a live auction that will feature a variety of hand crafted wares from numerous contributors.)

Now marking its fourth year, the auction has grown into a labor of love for those involved. Using pottery to fight poverty, congregation and community members unite to raise money for REACH, a ministry of hope and a last resort for those in need. To date, proceeds raised have been $700 to $1,000 each year.

The Bowl Auction is the brainchild of Debra Kellerman, a Bear Creek Township resident, and member of St. Stephen's congregation.

Her commitment to the cause, which is housed at St. Stephen's, is evident.

"REACH helps people at the margin," she said. "The organization is the last hope for those who have very little hope."

Kellerman is also a potter. She has been studying pottery for the last 10 years. In a recent conversation, Kellerman told how her interest in pottery led to the annual community project.

Always intrigued by the John Denver song, "Potter's Wheel," Kellerman's curiosity was further peaked by an advertisement for pottery classes displayed on a music store wall. She signed up for the classes and has been throwing, firing, glazing and painting clay ever since.

The idea to hold a bowl auction was the result of a chance meeting and an abundance of bowls.

Five years ago while at the Luzerne County Fair, Kellerman met a potter from the Dallas area. She was impressed to learn that he donates proceeds from certain bowls sold in his shop to the Back Mountain Food Pantry.

Inspired by the potter's actions, and thinking of the extra bowls she had on hand, Kellerman decided she wanted to do something similar in Wilkes-Barre to help the community. She approached the Parish Life Committee and was happy to receive a great deal of their help.

Preparations for the project take about six weeks. Several weeks prior to the auction, after Sunday service, a bowl painting event takes place at the church. As one of the finishing touches in preparation, children and adults paint donated clay bowls.

Kellerman said the painting event has become so popular that by the third year, more adults participated than children.

In past years, organizers purchased commercially made bisque bowls ready to paint. This year however, the bowls were handcrafted from raw clay by Kellerman, her instructor, Jean Adams, of the Wilkes University Ceramics Studio, and fellow potter, Christine Pocono.

When Kellerman decided to craft the bowls herself, she consulted with Adams, who offered to help. Forty bowls were needed. Pocono heard about the endeavor and offered her help, along with 75 pounds of white earthenware clay.

On a chilly Saturday morning, the three friends got together and produced 52 thrown bowls ready to be bisque fired. Glazes used on the bowls were donated by Susan Barry, a recent addition to St. Stephen's congregation. Barry also offered to help the children paint bowls.

Kellerman said donations for the upcoming auction will come from varied sources. Stoneware bowls will be donated by the Wilkes Pottery Continuing Education Class. Adams will donate a functional pottery piece and Kathy Redmond has added sculpted pieces to two of the earthenware bowls.

To add diversity to the selection, potter Lyn Carey, owner of the earth and wears shop in Dallas, will donate a few pieces of stoneware jewelry. Mary Lou Steinburg, a local artist will contribute a fused glass piece and parishioner Wayne Harley will donate a few hand turned wooden bowls.

The Bowl Auction will be held at 12:30 p.m. April 10 in St. Stephen's Parish Hall, 35 S. Main St., Wilkes-Barre. Registration which costs $2 or the donation of a dry/canned good begins at noon.

Kellerman said she hopes this year's auction has 60 or more people bidding. She would like the proceeds to beat those from previous years.

Speaking about all the large number of services REACH provides for those struggling with poverty, Kellerman voiced her concern about the possibility of the organization losing state funding if the current budget passes as is.

Passionate about the importance of REACH to the community, Kellerman said: "It's not just handing out money and saying, have a nice day, it's also saying, what else do you need?"

Passionate for her craft and happy her talent and skill can benefit others, Kellerman said fondly: "My mother always said I liked playing in the mud."Rebecca Brandreth, 4, of Kingston, paints pottery for the REACH auction.

To view all photos and read more:

Monday, March 21, 2011

The woman at the Well

This is one of my favorite stories, has been for a long time. Not only did Jesus sit and wait for her to come to him, she went back to her village and brought others to meet Him. The first woman "preacher"?? As a baptized Christians we are called to show Christ to others. We don't have to have extensive programs, a huge stage, or fancy lighting. We only have to say: Come, see the man who knows me. Not the man who knows about me, many people can know alot ABOUT someone, but that doesn't me they KNOW you. Jesus KNEW the woman and told her, he answered her need: Fresh, Living, Eternal, water long before she asked, or maybe even really knew herself. Christ waited for her, than let her bring others to Him.
I found the questions and observations below on a Lenten resource page, the link is below and I invite you to check it out and see for yourself

The Woman at the Well
The Third Sunday of Lent - The First Scrutiny - John 4:3-42
Why did the Samaritan woman come to draw
water at noon, the hottest time of the day?

Did she want to avoid the times the other women
in town came to the well?

What are the places in my life where I am
embarrassed, where I avoid interaction with

What are the noon day wells of my life?
Can I imagine Jesus approaching me there?

Jesus tries to reveal his thirst to her - perhaps
his thirst for intimacy with her - but she puts
him off. She's not worthy. It won't work. When
he offers to satisfy her thirst, she puts him
off. He can't satisfy what she needs, at least
with this well, and without a bucket.

From the Online Ministries, CREIGHTON UNIVERSITY
Visit the Online Ministries site: Praying Lent.
In addition to this resource for Lent, there are many
others to support our journey through Lent.
And, there is a Lenten Daily Prayer for each day of

How do I put Jesus off, with excuses, with
problems, with barriers? I don't have time; I
haven't done this before; my stuff's too
complicated; I don't know how to find you in this

When he shows her that he knows her, she knows
she's in the presence of someone special - perhaps
the one she has thirsted for all her life.
Do I let Jesus show me that he knows and
understands me?

Can I find the words to say he is the one I have
thirsted for all my life?

The grace will come when I see that I have been at
the well a long time and have long been
thirsty. When I can name the new thirst, the
Water that now satisfies that thirst, I can
overcome my remaining resistance to trust. When
I see that Jesus reveals himself to me by revealing
me to me, thereby showing me my need for him as
Savior, I will rejoice and tell the whole world, too.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

When Grace Strikes

"Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It happens; or it does not happen. Grace happens."
This quote from a sermon by Paul Tillich, the theologian is something I am taking to heart this week. Those of you with pets know of the great pain I speak of. We had to put our dear Wellington to sleep after a valiant battle with cancer. While he may have lost his battle with cancer in the end he truly won because of how he spent his last year. We were able to provide him with a loving home in his last year. A loving home full of dog treats, adventures in the woods, long walks and a nice big queen size bed to sleep on.
I'll repeat the quote. "Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness." It is now that I realize the grace I need is already within me sent from God above. All I need to do is tap into that grace. It's that simple. While I still have moments of profound sadness, the grace I have been given helps me to realize what a gift Wellington was for our family. And what a gift we were to him.
A sermon given at St. Stephen's a few months ago had to do with the subject of faith. I quite regularly ask for faith in my daily prayers as I'm sure many of us do. And I truly believe that when we ask for faith, God most willingly gives it to us. But how are we to know that we have faith unless we are tested? That was the whole point of the sermon and it's something that has been at the front of my mind whenever I ask God for anything.
A dear friend sent me an e-mail this week with her interpretation of faith. It's remembering that no matter what, God is in control of the situation. He loves us more than at times we can comprehend. Accepting the situation is called faith. Faith that God knows the desires of our heart and wants the very best for us. When you have nothing left, you have to trust God. While at times I may not fully understand why Wellington is no longer with us, God does. It's letting that grace in that allows God to take control and heal my broken heart. It is in my humble opinion that this faith and grace work hand in hand.
I will close with this final quote for you readers to think about: "Faith is like stepping off a cliff and expecting one of two outcomes - you will either land on solid ground or your will be taught to fly."*Barbara J Winter
Matthew C. Thomas-Malani
March 4, 2011
In memory of Wellington Brooks, beloved dog
May 2004 - March 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"What if outreach was welcoming in?"

This comment by Rev. Susan Richardson of Christ Church, Philadelphia stopped me in my tracks, my mental tracks anyway, think about it?
If instead of seeing someone as an outreach opportunity, we merely welcomed them in. In to a building, In to a relationship, In to a service, In to a conversation, In to _________fill in the blank. How than would we see them, how than would we talk to them, inter-act with them?
Does Wal-Mart have an idea how to do it right and have we missed the point, or have we just gone off track a little.

"Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." Romans 15:7

If for a week a month or just a day, Welcome, you belong here.

For the full video on the ministry of Christ Church; watch this video

Transforming Churches - Christ Church, Philadelphia from The Episcopal Church on Vimeo.

It's Bowl Painting time - well soon anyway

Bowl Painting 4th Annual on March 27
We are doing something slightly different - myself (Debra) and two friends(Jean Adams and Christine Pocono) will be hand throwing ALL the bowls to be painted by the kids and the adults - there will be 40 bowls done this way - come early to paint your bowl.
The auction will be held on April 10th,along with the painted bowls there will be other pottery pieces done by these and other talented ladies bring your family and friends to share in the fun and excitement of this event which will benefit REACH