Bishop Sean's Ash Wednesday letter to the diocesan community

Ash Wednesday 2015

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
Today we pray together the familiar words of the Book of Common Prayer:

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.” (BCP 265)

Lent is meant to be a time of preparation, a time of focusing our minds and hearts on what God has done for us and what God intends for us. The Scriptures tell us what God has done for us, but the question of how we should respond to this tremendous gift can be hard to answer. So many of us approach Lent wondering what we should “give up” or “take on” to enter into the spirit of this holy season and to draw closer to God.

I don’t have an answer. Or, rather, I don’t have your answer. But when I meditate on God’s holy word, as the church asks us to do, I notice that after 40 days in the wilderness, 40 days of fasting, praying and wrestling with temptation, Jesus returns to the world he has always known, and this is what he says:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
— Luke 4:18-19

As you prepare to observe the holy season of Lent, I invite you to meditate with me on how we as individuals and as a people can bring good news to the poor, to consider whom we ourselves oppress and how they can be set free, and to join with me and with the other members of our diocese in proclaiming in words and in actions the year of the Lord’s favor.
+ Sean

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe
Bishop Provisional

Bishop Sean Rowe: Use Lent to become 'fully alive'

[Published in the Wilkes Barre Times Leader on Ash Wednesday]

The Christian season of Lent, which begins today, is a hard sell. In the darkest, coldest season of the year, the church calls people together to put a smudge of ashes on their foreheads, remind them that they are going to die and turn to dust, and suggest that now might be a good time to repent of their sins and amend their lives.

Unlike a Presidents Day weekend car sale, Lent doesn’t promise big financial savings. Unlike the opening of baseball’s spring training camps, Lent doesn’t reassure us that the pleasures of spring will soon be upon us, and that all we have to do is wait. Yet there is more to Lent than a command to eat your spiritual spinach.

Only seven short weeks ago, many of us made New Year’s resolutions. We were going to eat less, drink less and exercise more. We were going to seize control of our runaway schedules, screw up our courage and confront that challenge that we’ve been putting off, maybe for years. New Year’s resolutions are a kind of repentance – the word in the original Greek means “turning” – a deliberate decision to live some part of our lives in a different way.

In their way, New Year’s resolutions aren’t that different from the practice of “giving something up” for Lent. Irenaeus, a second century theologian, wrote that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. Weighed down by work or financial anxieties, health issues or pressing family concerns, few of us are as fully alive as God intends us to be. On some deep level we sense this, and so we make resolutions and fast on things such as sweets and alcohol.

But I am sure that I am not the only person to wonder whether getting out of bed on a cold morning to exercise, or letting a tempting tray of food pass me by untouched, is worth it. Are the things I do to become more fully alive, to become the person God is calling me to be, actually working?

The Bible offers some surprising and conflicting guidance. Jesus certainly fasted and practiced self-denial. The 40 days of Lent are modeled on the 40 days that he spent in the wilderness after he was baptized by John. Yet the prophet Hosea says that God desires “mercy, not sacrifice,” and Hosea’s words made such an impression on Jesus that he repeats them to those who criticized him for counting outcasts and sinners among his disciples.

I take this to mean that God is not interested in sacrifice for its own sake. The fact that you’ve gone 40 days without a Bud Light doesn’t make God smile if the way you treat your family, your neighbors or people who live on the margins of our society makes God weep. Our disciples and resolutions are effective if they help to deepen our awareness of God’s love, clarify our sense of the things that God is calling us to do, and make us more willing to serve God and one another

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t go easy on the sea salt-and-vinegar potato chips for the next six or seven weeks. But we shouldn’t confuse means with ends.

The prophet Micah had a ready answer for those who asked him what kind of sacrifice God wanted from them. Was it rivers of oil? Thousands of rams? First-born children? No, Micah says. God wants you “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

If you are better able to do these things on Easter Sunday than you are today, you will have made good resolutions and had a holy Lent.

[Sean Rowe is the provisional bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, which includes more than 10,000 Episcopalians in 60 congregations across Northeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and Hazleton. He is also bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, headquartered in Erie.]

Grace, Kingston Rector imposes ashes in a novel way

By Joe Jackloski
In Wyoming Valley,  this heavily blue collar and service work area, picking the proper time for Ash Wednesday service is a challenge, and there are some, like nurses though faithful, simply can't find the time to go to Church.

Fr. John hit upon a novel idea. He would impose ashes on such souls on their way to work by standing on the sidewalk in front of Grace Church. Fully 15  of our Parishioners took advantage of this, but here's where it gets good.

Nurses at the nearby Geisinger Clinic, seeing this, began to line up too, perhaps 20 of them.
And a bedridden neighbor, not a Parishioner, saw this and called the Church office to see if Fr.John would come to her home.

Then Jane Ritsick, a Parishioner, called.  It seems when she told her fellow workers at the Saxton Pavilion (a large outpatient medical facility)  what Fr John was doing in front of the Church, they wanted in!   So Fr. John trundles the mile or so to impose ashes on an eclectic band of the Faithful of several denominations, 60 in number. They were ever so grateful, there are already plans to repeat this next year.

Then of course was our usual evening Eucharist at which our usual half hundred people showed up.

With a little novel thinking, at the end of the day nearly 150 people number had shared their Lenten commitment.

Kudos Father John.


See also WaPo/RNS column by Lauren Winner here.

And Episcopsl News Service on "Ashes To Go" here.

And some sharing on Ash Wenesday services here.

'I Think He Colors his Hair"

by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Scranton
on Ash Wednesday 9 March 2011

I heard it the other day.  Someone said, “I think he colors his hair.”  And there he was for all the world to see.  A seemingly quiet, unassuming man whose ends were a sort of medium ash brown, and whose roots were as white as a newly-fallen snow in downtown Scranton.  “I think he colors his hair.”  There he was, unmasked, a man different from what he appeared to be.

You know that you can tell the truth, and you can use the truth to hurt people.  That’s got to be sinful.  And you can say out in the open what we all know to be true and to the detriment of the person involved.  That’s got to be sinful, too.  You don’t have to live very long or travel very far before you realize that most of us can observe, most of us can unearth, a lot of truth that is hurtful.  We can wield the truth as if it were a weapon.  But in most of our lives there is a lot of truth that we aren’t facing.  There’s a lot of truth about ourselves that we aren’t coming to terms with.  That’s got to be sinful, too.  And it would be hurtful for anyone to urge that truth upon us.  Anyone would be devastated to be told that he is doing something in some area of his life that is very like dyeing his hair.

Today is the day that begins the season when we try to undo a self-deception or two, when we do something very like letting the roots grow out.  We let vanity go, and we let God do the make-over.  We put ourselves in God’s hands, in the hands of Reality Itself, and ask that the truth remake us, reshape us, so that we may more closely resemble God’s truth that lives in us already.  It is the season when we accept that it is God who made us and not we ourselves.  It is the season when we face our dependence on God for our creation and preservation, as well as our redemption and salvation.  To return to that reality, to that relationship with God, we do what we have to do to keep it whole, to keep it intact.  And what we do may concern that funny business about the money.  It may have to do with pretending to pray and pretending to serve God.  It may have to do with exercising our bodies or our minds.  It may have to do with that person not our spouse whom we have on the side.  It may have to do with eating more rather than less if we haven’t been able to accept the waistline God has given us.  It may have to do with tiny and numerous selfishnesses so petty as to seem unmentionable but gathered together may be enough to weigh us down, keeping us from rising to new life in Christ.

Whatever it may be, the point is to let God, God’s reality, in, into our lives.  This is the day for a right beginning, a new start, confident that the God who made us is the God who wants to see us redeemed and wants to see us saved.  Whatever we do, whatever we want, we can let the reality that is God in.  And that requires honesty, an honesty disarming in its force and keenness.  We have to put away the dye, and take on the truth; put away the hypocrisy, and take on humility; put away the self-congratulation, and put on the praise of Christ.