The Orient Express

Bill Irwin dies at 73; first blind hiker of Appalachian Trail
By Richard Evans

As a former part of the long distance hiking community, I had a chance to meet Bill Irwin, who had the incredible courage and audacity to hike the Appalachian Trail as a blind man in 1990.  As I took up backpacking after breaking my neck in 1991, he was an inspiration to my own goals and dreams.  Mr. Irwin passed away on March 1 as we were electing our provisional bishop.

In this season of Lent, I'm drawn to stories like this, especially since one of the most challenging parts of the Appalachian Trail passes right through the Diocese of Bethlehem.  When we drive through the Lehigh Tunnel on the Turnpike, we are passing directly underneath the Trail that runs from Georgia to Maine.  Many pairs of hiking boots are worn out and replaced in Pennsylvania with hikers often complaining that we Pennsylvanians employ rock sharpeners to slow their progress on the rugged rocky path.

Mr Irwin hiked with his seeing eye dog, Orient, and together they became known as the Orient Express.  I won't recount his entire story.  You can pick up a copy of "Blind Courage" if you'd like to learn more, but I will excerpt a few comments from this article in the Washington Post:

Bill Irwin dies at 73; first blind hiker of Appalachian Trail

“When I was a sighted person I was an alcoholic, a dropout as a husband and father, a guy who lived only for himself,” he later wrote in the publication Guideposts.

“The first clear-eyed thing I had ever done was as a blind man, when I asked God to take charge of my life,” he wrote. “I had never spent much time in his vast outdoors, but after I quit drinking I couldn’t get enough of it. I learned wilderness skills and became the first blind person to ‘thru-hike’ the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. I made a point of telling fellow hikers about the God who guides me.”

"He said he became sober in 1987 and developed an intense devotion to Christianity. The first verse he learned was from Corinthians: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Along the way, Mr. Irwin would stop at grocery stores and laundromats to buy provisions and wash his clothes. He would also talk to local children about God and promise them personalized copies of the Bible if they agreed to read a verse a day.

“By the time I got to Maine I had furnished over 500 Bibles for kids along the way,” Mr. Irwin said.

Can our burdens be any greater than those Bill Irwin overcame?  Blindness comes in many forms but through Christ we can orient ourselves to the Light.

Rich Evans

[Rich Evans is a former Certified Public Accountant and Certified Management Accountant. He is a member of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Mountain Top where he serves on the vestry and finance committee. He is also a member of the Diocesan Council and the Incorporated Trustees. His ministry is helping parishes with their audits.]

Mary could get you out of jail – and put you in

Bill Lewellis
The Morning Call, Feb. 18, 2012

When I was growing up in a small town in Schuylkill County, a strong woman was my hero. Before folks heard the word, Mary was a feminist in the Forties.

She kept Port Carbon, except for a few contrarians, Republican. In nearby Pottsville, she had a patronage job, matron at the county courthouse. I never had the nerve to ask her what the matron did.

She knew every judge, lawyer, bureaucrat, policeman and politician in the county. And they knew her. In Port Carbon, Mary was your network. She could get you out of jail quicker than a lawyer could.

Mary had a big heart. She and Vince had no children of their own, but they raised a few. None bore their name. Billy came to live with them when he was eleven after appearing in juvenile court on a petty theft charge. Mary happened to be sitting in the courtroom. Billy’s parents told the judge they couldn’t handle him. The judge said he’d have to send Billy away. They called it “reform school,” in those days.

“Judge, you can’t do that to this nice boy,” Mary said. “What can I do?” the judge replied. “I’ll take him home,” she said. She did. She and Vince raised Billy until he enlisted in the service.

That would have been enough to make Mary my hero; but she also did something for the women of Port Carbon that no man could have done.

My parents operated a neighborhood tavern in Port Carbon for some 35 years. That’s where I got the scoop. After I was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, my mother quipped that she may have already heard more confessions than I ever will.

Domestic violence, wife battering, may have been every small town’s dirty secret. The word in town, however, was that if a woman was abused by her husband she should call Mary. Mary went to the house, She’d go jaw to jaw with any man, confronting the abusive husband for the jerk he was. Her language was vivid. I’d love to supply samples. The confrontation often ended with the husband spending the night in jail. Mary could get you out of jail – but she could also put you in.

Some women didn’t call Mary. Some felt they had no economic alternative. Some feared that something worse might happen to them later. Some stayed in the “relationship” for what they called religious reasons. It was difficult to convince some that God did not want them to be abused.

One of my favorite readings is from the Book of Isaiah: Thus says the Lord who created you, who formed you: [Hear this word the Lord speaks to each one of us.] Be not afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God… You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you… Be not afraid, for I am with you…

Hear this word of the Lord… hear it in your mind and heart: You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.

[Canon Bill Lewellis, [email protected], a retired Episcopal priest, served on the Bishop’s staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for 24 years and on the Bishop’s staff of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for 13 years before that. He has written hundreds of columns for newspapers and collaborated with Jenifer Gamber in the 2009 book, Your Faith Your Life: An Invitation to the Episcopal Church.]

Imagine you're down to your last $1000? Would you make it?

Urban Ministries of Durham, NC, developed an on-line simulation game called  SPENT to demonstrate how you would fare if you faced the decisions many working poor face daily.

At the beginning of the simulation, you’re unemployed and have only $1,000 left in your bank account. You need to get a low wage job and attend to life’s necessities—food, shelter, childcare, medical fees. The simulation is a reminder of the difficulties encountered by the working poor.

Play SPENT by clicking here or at

posted by Andrew Gerns

Temporary shelter for the homeless in Bethlehem churches

To: Lehigh Valley Episcopal Churches
From: Craig Updegrove, St. Andrew's

As you may be aware, several years ago, Bethlehem Area Churches took on a mission, to provide temporary shelter for the homeless during the winter months. This year will be no exception. This letter is to make you aware that this system began again on December 15 and will continue until March 31.

Every night, a host site or two will provide this mission service to the homeless. We not only provide shelter, but we also give them a warm dinner, companionship, play games with them, and watch movies with them. This mission has transformed each congregation and person involved.

To help continue this mission, I ask for your help. On average, a church needs around eight volunteers each night to execute this mission effectively. This puts a lot of volunteer strain on each congregation. I would like to ask if anyone from your congregation would like to assist any of these churches. Volunteer hours are readily available.

Volunteer opportunities vary. We have people that will just cook the meal, serve the meal, stay overnight, serve breakfast, cleanup in the morning, or just sit and talk to our guests. This is truly a transformational mission and is needed by you to help in Bethlehem.

If you would like to help in other ways, you could donate personal care items, clothing, food, or cash donations to help these congregations to defray some of these costs.

If you or anyone in your congregation are interested in volunteering, please contact Craig Updegrove at 484-892-1589 for more details.

On a related matter, see Community must respond to deaths of homeless, an op-ed in The Morning Call, December 17, by Gary Millspaugh, executive director of the Allentown Rescue Mission.

Background on the ministry of Bethlehem churches to the homeless:
Jan. 13-19: Still no room for the homeless in Bethlehem
Jan. 19: Lehigh Valley Episcopal churches help homeless during cold snap
Feb. 5: Finding room for the homeless in Bethlehem

Jan. 13: Trinity Bethlehem organizes churches to shelter homeless people from the cold
March 9: Express-Times editorial

The newSpin blog has a search box that many might find useful. Scroll down on the left.

Mittens and gloves to warm the homeless and hungry

[From Marcie Lightwood]

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The Trinity Soup Kitchen in Bethlehem, where I work as a social worker, traditionally gives gifts to our poor and homeless guests at Christmas time. This year, we have received many beautiful hand-knit scarves and hats from local knitters, but we have no gloves or mittens to give.

I am asking if you could please pick up a pair of gloves or mittens on your next shopping trip and donate them? We need more gloves for MEN than for women; we serve probably 2 women for every 3-4 men at the soup kitchen. We only have a few guests who are children.

Any kind of new glove is fine; some like plain knit gloves or mittens; others want them insulated or waterproof. The homeless folks love mittens, or gloves with the mitten fold-over.

You can bring them to Trinity Episcopal Church, 44 E. Market Street in Bethlehem, drop them at my home, or at the WDIY studio where I will have a box set up. You can call me to arrange pick-up. If you work at a place that can have a collection box on premises, please let me know.

Please feel free to forward this to people who have warm hearts.

We need about 250 pair of gloves, total, and any excess will be kept for guest needs through the winter.

Happy holidays to you, and thank you.

Marcie Lightwood
1334 Club Avenue
Allentown, PA  18109
484-767-2908, [email protected]

Bethlehem churches' efforts to shelter homeless during winter months commendable

An Express-Times Editorial – Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Temperatures are starting to climb, most snowbanks have melted away and those of us here in the Northeast are beginning to trade our winter coats for light jackets.

Ah, spring! It's a time when we are no longer forced to cope with crippling snowstorms, ice-covered roads or chapped skin.

And it's also the time when the homeless among us aren't quite as vulnerable as they were during the bone-chilling days and nights of winter.

Recently Express-Times reporter Lynn Olanoff took readers inside a church-based effort in Bethlehem that provides shelter for the homeless from January through March.

Continue reading "Bethlehem churches' efforts to shelter homeless during winter months commendable" »

Hearing criticism as applause

Father Dan Gunn, rector of of St. Stephen's Wilkes-Barre, wrote the following note today to parishioners and others on his mailing list. It is a model for turning potentially bad news into good or, as he states at the end, hearing criticism as applause.

Dear All,
A Blessed Ash Wednesday, to you.
I hope you have seen the stories in the local papers the past three days.  Here, here and here.  I think this is good news for us.  The reporters have been balanced and reasonably accurate.  For the record, I went down to Reach this morning and was greeted with a chorus of “Good morning, Father!” and even inquiries of when the Ash Wednesday Services were scheduled.  (Jokingly, I asked them to go out to the street and assault someone so we could be in the paper again on Thursday.  They all declined.)
I have spent a great deal of my time in the past few years trying to make certain that Reach is operated in an appropriate manner.  If you read the articles in recent days you will hear a great deal of innuendo and speculations.  In four years I have only found one needle, 3 drug packets (I have them in my desk), and a couple dozen beer cans.  I would love to say that there had been none of these items, but I live in reality.  Downtown Wilkes-Barre is an inner-city, and that comes with all the problems of such a place.
For those of you who read the local papers on-line as I do, please scroll to the end of the articles and read the posted comments.  The overwhelming majority of the feedback is POSITIVE toward St. Stephen’s and Reach.  One person even said that we are the one church that “practices what we preach.”  Another said that we are the only church open and active during the week while others are locked and guarded except on Sundays.
One of my mentors tells me that this sort of press is good press, and better than any advertisement we could buy.  I tend to agree.  Please if you or any of your neighbors have questions direct them to me.  I will be happy to respond as I am able.
It is times like these when I think about our brothers and sisters in Kajo-Keji (maybe because I was there this time last year) and wonder where would our critics want to send them?  They’re uneducated, poorly clothed, poor and black, suffering from years of mistreatment.  Our mission, though at times needing critique, is true and good and right, whether in Downtown Wilkes-Barre or in Africa.  We are truly an International Parish: we need to tell others about our good works.  Just as we welcome Bishop Anthony in a few days, we welcome Kevin whom I met in the basement of Boscov’s today who asked me to bless the cross he was wearing around his neck and say a prayer for him, too.  We are known by our deeds, whether they be acts of charity or music or liturgy.  We are a dynamic church and God bless those who think and say otherwise.
Finally, Rabbi Ed Friedman, whom you have heard me speak of often, said that “You know you have reached a new level of maturity when you can hear criticism as affirmation.”  He went on to say that “criticism is an act of pursuit.”  This is true for individuals and parishes.  In the past few days I have heard an abundance of affirmation.  I have also felt pursued.  Can you feel it?  Can you hear it with me?
In peace,


Posted by Bill Lewellis

Helping the Homeless in Allentown

New Bethany Ministries, which has attacked the homeless problem in Bethlehem for nearly 25 years, has the final $250,000 it needs to launch its first project in Allentown. At a news conference Monday, community leaders announced the funding that completes a $460,000 plan to turn a former Grace Episcopal Church building at 112 N. Fifth St. into a group home.

[snip, snip, snip]

Renovation of the three-story Allentown building is expected to begin in April and a midsummer opening is anticipated. It is to include the six rooms, a living room, kitchen, dining area, three bathrooms and a laundry facility. The top floor will be used for meetings. Grace Episcopal, which sold New Bethany the building for half its value, had used the building for an AIDS outreach program until its funding was cut. The Lehigh County Conference of Churches, which administers programs for the poor, will choose who will live in the group home. The coalition of 140 area churches will provide rent subsidies and social services. Grace Episcopal Church, which is next door to the future group home, will also provide services.

[snip, snip, snip]

New Bethany offers single-occupancy units at other locations: 10 in Bethlehem and 13 in Coplay. It also offers temporary housing in Bethlehem, serves nearly 200 lunches a day and provides other services. New Bethany is also planning a $2 million hospitality center with laundry facilities, showers and affordable housing at the shuttered Our Lady of Pompeii Catholic Church in south Bethlehem. New Bethany is scheduled to close on the property April 1.

New Bethany Ministries, community operated, is owned by the Diocese of Bethlehem.

Read more.

––posted by Bill Lewellis
from a story in The Morning Call, Feb. 2, 2010

Trinity Bethlehem organizes churches to shelter homeless people from the cold

By David Howell

More participating churches and new grants have been welcome news for the dedicated people who provide shelter for the homeless in this unexpectedly severe winter. The emergency sheltering program, coordinated by Bethlehem’s Trinity Episcopal Church, is in its second year. It began in 2008, when Trinity Soup Kitchen staff discovered that there were no emergency shelter beds for people in Bethlehem during a particularly cold period, and people were in danger of freezing. This year, the weather made it necessary to start on December 6 in the Forte Building in the south side of Bethlehem rather than on January 1 of the new decade when churches originally planned to open their doors. The program is scheduled to conclude at the end of March.

Continue reading "Trinity Bethlehem organizes churches to shelter homeless people from the cold" »

Making sure homeless children get to school and have school supplies

Russell "Rooster" Valentini is the ''homeless education liaison'' for the Allentown School District and the regional coordinator for the state Department of Education's homeless children's initiative. His daily work (shall we say ministry?) includes making sure homeless children get to school and have school supplies.

[The next three paragraphs are taken from a feature in today's Morning Call.]

As the homeless education liaison, he has an office in Allentown because that is where most of his work is. But as the state's regional coordinator, he also provides technical services to all school districts in Lehigh and Northampton counties.

''Around here, we talk about him as if he's an angel; not to be dramatic,'' [Allentown Salvation Army executive director Dave] Williams said. ''His commitment to the women and children, the vulnerable women and children, is something very hard to find. He sees the women and children as his own.''

Valentini works with about 600 students a year. Last year, 12 percent lived in motels, 46 percent in shelters and the rest with relatives or friends. The worsening economy has not increased his numbers. He has always dealt with families hit by waves of bad luck (layoffs, missed rent payments, no health care) and others who have subsisted on welfare for generations. ''Public assistance is a dream stealer,'' says Valentini, who writes poetry that often centers on his work. ''These children I deal with have never seen anyone with success of work experience.''

Read The Morning Call's feature (Sunday, Jan. 3) about Valentini here.

Early in 2009, I wrote the following on the newSpin blog. Valentini and a parent responded. See their comments below that blog post.


Bill Lewellis, Communication Minister/Editor (1986), Canon Theologian (1998)
Diocese of Bethlehem, 333 Wyandotte Street, Bethlehem, PA 18015
Website, Blog, Email (c)610-216-2726, (w)610-691-5655x229, (h)610-820-7673
Be attentive. Be intelligent. Be reasonable. Be responsible.
Be in Love. And, if necessary, change. [Bernard Lonergan]

Tutu urges leaders to agree on climate deal

via (Click for video)

"If we don't get it right we are all done for," Archbishop Desmond Tutu says of efforts to combat climate change.

"This is not crying wolf. This is the only world we have. If this world disappears, whether you are rich are poor, whether you are free or oppressed the fate is the same for all of us."

The 78-year-old cleric was speaking to CNN's Becky Anderson from the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen.

Out in the Silence at Stroudsburg High School

The Stroudsburg High School Student Diversity Council’s Gay-Straight Alliance will screen the PBS documentary Out in the Silence on Thursday, November 12, in the high school auditorium. Out in the Silence (57 minutes) chronicles the controversy that began after the announcement of filmmaker Joe Wilson’s wedding to another man ignited a firestorm of controversy and a quest for change in the small Pennsylvania hometown he had left long ago. Drawn back by a plea for help from the mother of a gay teen being tormented at school, Wilson takes viewers on an exhilarating journey through love, hate, and understanding in rural America. The documentary explores the struggle of being a gay teen in a small Pennsylvania town and the bullying, controversy and challenges that he experiences. It challenges viewers to rethink their values and helps close the gaps that divide communities. Read more here.

Continue reading "Out in the Silence at Stroudsburg High School" »

$250,000 awarded to Grace and New Bethany for group home project

$250,000 grant awarded to Grace Episcopal Church Allentown and New Bethany Ministries Bethlehem to work together on a group home project in Allentown

Grace Episcopal Church, Allentown, and New Bethany Ministries of Bethlehem received a Federal Home Loan Bank grant of $250,000 for a project they have undertaken together –– the renovation of a vacant building in Allentown that will be used as a group home for chronically homeless individuals. The grant was awarded on October 16.

Continue reading "$250,000 awarded to Grace and New Bethany for group home project" »

A Matter of Pride ... in the Park

A Matter of Pride
By T. Scott Allen

Scott Allen and Andy Gerns welcome visitors to Pride in the Park

On Sunday, August 16, parishioners and clergy from six congregations plus a few retired clergy staffed an information/welcome tent on behalf of the Episcopal Church at Pride-In-The-Park, held annually at Cedar Beach Park in Allentown. The largest Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered (GLBT) gathering in Northeastern Pennsylvania, it drew an estimated 5500 people this year.

Handing out flyers listing many Episcopal church’s and their contact information as well as Sunday service times, the tent volunteers spoke with many GLBT people and their allies who were seeking spiritual communities or wanted to tell us how glad they were we were there. The tent was emblazoned across the front with a banner which proclaimed “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!”

Continue reading "A Matter of Pride ... in the Park" »

How many people can you feed on a lawmaker's $158 per diem?

[Posted by Bill Lewellis]

A column by Christopher J. Kelly of The Times-Tribune, Scranton
July 26, 2009

[snip, snip]

It was quite a haul - 155 items in all. Took two shopping carts to wheel it out to the car.

"A lot of folks are going to enjoy a wonderful meal as a result of this little venture," the Rev. Canon William Warne said as he closed the stuffed trunk.

Canon Warne is pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Green Ridge. The Episcopal congregation has an open-door outreach program that includes a soup kitchen that feeds the homeless and families who struggle to get by in even the best of times.

Canon Warne and Fran, his lovely wife of 45 years, met me at the Weis supermarket in Clarks Summit on Thursday morning to conduct an experiment in evangelical economics. The object was to see how many hungry Pennsylvanians we could feed with what each of our esteemed state legislators has the freedom to waste daily.

What money can buy.

[snip, snip, snip, snip]

World Mission Draft Report

Posted by Kat Lehman

Draft report encourages Episcopalians to re-evaluate mission

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church Center staff issued a 27-page draft report on world mission June 26 in response to two questions posed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

• What is the primary motivation for global mission?
• How do we practice global mission strategically in the 21st century?

"They are questions that continue to engage us," said Jefferts Schori in an interview when asked if the draft report adequately answered the questions. "This is a good beginning and meant to stimulate greater discussion."

The draft report includes a brief history of Episcopal global mission, estimated 2008 international mission expenditure figures ($22.9 million), the 2009 projected budget for international mission and geographic breakdowns of where the money is spent.

The $24 million projected 2009 budget for Episcopal International Mission, which includes all mission work outside the United State, is broken down by area: Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) (60.6 percent), Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) (33.3 percent) and United Thank Offering (6.1 percent).

To read the whole story, go to Episcopal Life Online here.

Allentown Weed and Seed needs continued state support

Allentown Weed and Seed needs continued state support
Op-Ed, The Morning Call, June 18, 2009
By Phyllis Alexander, Weed and Seed coordinator for community development.

Revitalization activities, such as Weed and Seed, are the smartest strategies for investing in communities. The data reflect this. During the last three years, the Weed and Seed employment counselor who works out of Grace Episcopal Church in downtown Allentown and who focuses on center city residents has helped more than 300 residents find full-time employment with benefits and brought in more than $6 million in salaries to the economy of our poorest neighborhoods.

Weed and Seed is a rather strange name for a program that saves the state taxpayers millions of dollars a year. The name does not convey the importance of this program, which weeds out crime and seeds opportunities in our most desperate neighborhoods.

Perhaps that is why Weed and Seed is misunderstood and undervalued by our legislators in Harrisburg. Perhaps that is why, despite a proven record of saving millions of taxpayer dollars a year, Senate Bill 850 completely cuts the state's support of this vital and successful program.

Continue reading "Allentown Weed and Seed needs continued state support" »

Finding room for the homeless in Bethlehem

By Dave Howell
February 5, 2009
[Updated February 12 and 18. Find updates below this story]  

    The recent cold weather has been a burden for all of us. For the homeless of Bethlehem, it has been a threat to their survival.
    Trinity Bethlehem’s Soup Kitchen is a five-day-a-week stopping point for many of Bethlehem’s poor. Since its beginnings twenty-five years ago, it has come to provide more than a hot lunch.
    Deacon Liz Miller, Soup Kitchen Coordinator, has become a guide to providing socialization for the often isolated clients, as well as bus passes, over-the-counter medicine, baked goods, assistance with medical issues, and housing assistance. Since last fall, social worker Marcie Lightwood has also been helping the guests. And Bethlehem Bishop Paul Marshall has been providing counseling twice a week.
    A crisis arose this winter when the Allentown Rescue Mission and the Sixth Street Shelter for Women were filled, and homeless Soup Kitchen guests could not find a place to stay indoors. One homeless client without resources was suffering from cancer, while another had an injured foot. Word went out on “Bethlehem of Pa,” the interactive internet list of the Diocese of Bethlehem, while Trinity rector Mother Laura Howell, Deacon Liz and Marcie Lightwood began many phone calls looking for help.

Continue reading "Finding room for the homeless in Bethlehem " »

Still No Room For the Homeless in Bethlehem

The following conversation, slightly edited, took place on "Bethlehem of Pa," our diocesan internet list, between Tuesday, January 13, and Monday, January 19, mostly between Jan. 13-16. It resulted in several Episcopal churches in the Lehigh Valley opening their doors during the day and overnight to shelter people from the cold. The subject line: Still No Room For the Homeless in Bethlehem. David Howell of Trinity Bethlehem, a free lance writer, has agreed to write a story for Diocesan Life based on this lengthy source material and interviews he will arrange.

[Updated February 14. Find updates here.]

Tuesday, Jan 13, 8:32 pm
From Laura Howell
, rector, Trinity Bethlehem
Friends, we have a problem. It's cold out and getting colder.  By Friday night, it will be zero degrees.  And there is no place for the homeless here except on the streets of Bethlehem.  All the shelters in the Lehigh Valley are already full.  Where are people to sleep?

At Trinity Bethlehem, we have been spending hours calling everyone we can think of--sometimes more than once--to get help.  But the mayor of Bethlehem is too busy to talk with us.  Northampton County officials suggest we have a meeting in the spring to deal with the crisis.  The police won't consider letting the homeless sleep in the parking garage to get out of the worst of the weather.  The Red Cross suggests warm grates and doorways.

Continue reading "Still No Room For the Homeless in Bethlehem" »