Political reconciliation still allows for dissent – Bishop Sean

Political reconciliation still allows for dissent
Bishop Sean Rowe – The Morning Call, Nov. 14

In the days after a presidential election, the news is full of public figures talking about reconciliation. Leaders of all kinds are pledging to put a divisive campaign behind them and work together for the common good. Church leaders like myself are particularly given to these sort of sentiments. They appeal to our pastoral instincts and allow us to imagine that we are what the prophet Isaiah called “repairers of the breach.”

It is difficult to oppose reconciliation. Jesus said peacemakers were blessed, and as a Christian, I certainly want to be on his good side, but before we strike up a rousing chorus of “Kumbaya,” I hope we will pause to make sure we understand that real reconciliation requires deep self-examination, an ability to acknowledge both when one has been wronged and when one has done wrong, and the willingness to behave and communicate in new ways. Reconciliation is not a synonym for the silencing of dissent.


Sean Rowe

Many voters saw this election as a choice between the lesser of two evils. While I don’t find that characterization useful — there are no perfect people, and hence no perfect candidates — it is true that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton was especially well thought of by much of the electorate. But the country has made a choice. The time for comparing his flaws to hers is over. The time for looking squarely at the person whom we have elected to the highest office in the land is at hand.

Nothing about Mr. Trump’s campaign suggests that he has any interest in uniting our country. He has repeatedly made racist and misogynistic comments for which he has not apologized. He stoked rage against dark-skinned immigrants and refugees — rage that is already resulting in increased reports of hate crimes across the country. And he refused to condemn the worst excesses of his supporters.

It is possible to argue that, despite these flaws, it was morally necessary to vote for Mr. Trump. But it is not possible to argue that voting for him absolved him of these sins. So what does it mean to “reconcile” with such a person? How much repentance or self-scrutiny is it possible to expect? These questions are especially pertinent to white Christians like myself because we provided the votes that elected Mr. Trump.

As a Christian, I believe that every person is created in the image and likeness of God, that God loves each of us passionately and that God wills that we love one another. We are called to love people whose views are profoundly different than our own, even those who espouse bigotry and hatred. To the extent that “reconciliation” means caring for all people, taking their concerns seriously, working together when we can find common ground, put me down as pro-reconciliation.

But if we truly believe that all people are created in God’s image and likeness, then we have a duty to resist any attempt to exclude people from our common life or from the protection of our laws based on race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. And those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition have to be faithful to the unbroken scriptural teaching on caring for the poor and the displaced.

Real reconciliation will require us to follow the examples of Old Testament prophets. They took as their task not so much offering visions of the future but warning their leaders what would happen if they were not faithful to God’s laws. They aspired to be the consciences of their nation. Sometimes that meant working closely with secular rulers, but sometimes it meant standing against them and paying the price. Jeremiah, as you may recall, was lowered into a muddy cistern and left to die by the king’s son.

I am not asking anyone to get themselves tossed down a well, and I hope to stay dry myself. But we must be prepared both to swallow any resentments we might have when the opportunity arises to work together for the common good, and to stand up for the most vulnerable members of our society if they become targets of the new administration or its most extreme supporters.

The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe is bishop provisional of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem and bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

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.]

PA Episcopal bishops urge passage of non-discrimination bill

Jesus commanded us to love one another, and he listed no exceptions.

BETHLEHEM, February 11, 2015 — Bishops of the five Episcopal dioceses in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania today called on the state legislature to pass the Pennsylvania Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in employment, housing, and other public accommodations.

The bishops who signed the letter are:
Bishop Clifton Daniel, 3rd, of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, which includes Philadelphia
Bishop Robert R. Gepert, of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, which includes Harrisburg
Bishop Dorsey W. M. McConnell, of the Diocese of Pittsburgh
Bishop Sean Rowe, who serves both the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, which includes Erie, and the Diocese of Bethlehem, which includes the northeastern quarter of the state

The text of the letter follows:
As bishops of the Episcopal Church and citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we urge the state legislature to pass the Pennsylvania Non-Discrimination Act (HB/SB 300).

The proposed law would prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in employment, housing, and public accommodations such as hotel lodgings or restaurant service. It would also preserve existing protections that insure faith communities have sole discretion in determining whom to hire and whom to include in their religious rituals.

Our support for the Non-Discrimination Act is rooted in our faith. Sacred scripture teaches us that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore must be treated with dignity and respect.  As Christians, we follow a savior who spent much of his earthly ministry among the cast off and the cast out, and we are called to advocate on behalf of the vulnerable and the marginalized. Jesus commanded us to love one another, and he listed no exceptions.

Were we not Christians, however, we would still support the Non-Discrimination Act. One does not have to profess a particular faith to understand that there is no justifiable reason to fire, evict or deny services to a citizen of our commonwealth based on considerations such as sex, race, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. It is simply unfair.

The Episcopal Church has struggled faithfully for more than three decades to reform its own discriminatory policies and practices toward LGBT people. In that struggle we have come to understand what was already obvious to some of our fellow citizens all along: that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are gifts to our families, our friends and our communities. We are richer for their presence, and it is past time for us to acknowledge that we share a common humanity and therefore must be equal in the eyes of the law."

Yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend Clifton Daniel, 3rd, Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania
The Right Reverend Robert R. Gepert, Bishop Provisional of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania
The Right Reverend Dorsey W. M. McConnell, Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh
The Right Reverend Sean Rowe, Bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Bishop Provisional of the Diocese of Bethlehem

Diocesan Staff Structure, Roles, and Responsibilities

Progress Report
January 13, 2015
Bishop Sean Rowe

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

As we begin 2015, I am glad to report that we are making progress in reorganizing the diocese to align our staff, resources and structures with the work we need to do to become a more spiritually vital, financially healthy diocese. The staff has been restructured, the listening process led by Episcopal Moment has concluded and we will soon issue its report, and later this year, the diocese's governance bodies will consider strategic planning issues and possible improvements to the diocese's governance structures.

I am grateful to the lay and clergy leaders across the diocese who have committed themselves to the work that lies ahead. In particular, the diocesan staff is working to foster continued change, and I invite you to be in touch with them when they can help support your congregation's ministry and mission:

The Ven. Rick Cluett
610-691-5655, ext. 227 ・ rick@diobeth.org

Rick returned to the diocesan staff in November to assist me by serving as the diocese's chief of staff, advising me about the development and implementation of diocesan policies and programs, visiting and worshiping with congregations to support their ministries and missions, and assisting clergy in their ministries. Read more about Rick's role.

The Rev. Canon Anne Kitch
Canon for Faith Formation and Transitions
610-691-5655, ext. 222 ・ anne@diobeth.org

Anne assumed this new role in December. She will be working to foster ministry networks across the diocese, to support congregations in transition, to support lay leadership training, and clergy wellness, and to oversee the discernment and ordination process.

R. Bruce Reiner
Comptroller and Assistant Treasurer
610-691-5655, ext. 230 ・ bruce@diobeth.org

Bruce manages financial, tax and insurance matters, and can help congregations with parish administration issues and parochial reports.

Dan Charney
Stewardship Missioner
610-837-4613 ・ dan@diobeth.org

Dan works with congregations that want to reinvigorate their stewardship programs.

Adam Bond
Missioner for Communications
610-703-3374 ・ adam@diobeth.org

Adam is working to streamline and consolidate our diocesan communications, which we expect to relaunch in the next few months.

The Rev. Canon Jane Teter
610-691-5655, ext. 228 ・ jane@diobeth.org

Jane is the chaplain to the diocese's retired clergy.

The Rev. Canon Bill Lewellis
Communications Minister/Editor
610-393-1833 ・ bill@diobeth.org

Bill is the editor of the diocese's DioBeth newSpin blog and newsletter.

Nanette Smith
Administrative Assistant
610-691-5655, ext. 222 ・ nanette@diobeth.org

Nanette supports both my ministry and Archdeacon Rick's, and also manages information about clergy and parish administrative assistants.

Cindy Bakos
610-691-5655, ext. 223 ・ cindy@diobeth.org

Cindy manages the diocese's accounts receivable and billing and New Hope grant funds.

As we continue to celebrate the season of Epiphany and the light of Christ among us, I believe that here in the Diocese of Bethlehem, we are making progress toward being an even brighter source of God's love and grace in our communities. Thank you for your continued support and commitment to our ministry.

Sean Rowe (The Rt. Rev.)
Bishop Provisional

Same-sex marriage ruling 'a step toward justice,' says Bishop Sean Rowe

Episcopal bishop calls same-sex marriage ruling 'a step toward justice'
Bishop Sean Rowe: Same-sex couples are "a blessing to their communities, neighbors and friends."

ERIE, May 21--The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Bishop Provisional of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, released the following statement on Judge John E. Jones III's ruling that Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional:

"Today is a joyful day for Pennsylvanians who believe as I do that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in our state. These couples work hard, raise children, volunteer for good causes and pay taxes. Pennsylvania would be poorer without them, and I am pleased that Judge John E. Jones III has moved them one significant step closer to equality under the law.

"The Episcopal Church has struggled faithfully with the issue of same-sex relationships for more than three decades, and in that struggle most of us have come to understand that same-sex couples and their families are blessings to their communities and to their neighbors and friends. Like opposite-sex couples, their love draws them more clearly into fidelity to one another and service to the world. Like opposite sex couples, they are signs and sacraments allowing us to see the boundless love of God more clearly.

"I am aware that faithful Episcopalians in the Dioceses of Bethlehem and Northwestern Pennsylvania disagree with me on this issue. I want to assure them that our dioceses will remain places where people of good conscience can differ charitably and remain united in the hope and healing of Jesus Christ.

"After reflection and consultation, I will write to both dioceses with guidance for clergy who want to officiate at same-sex marriages. For today, I am grateful to live in a state that has taken a step toward justice."

The Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem comprises 63 congregations in the 14 counties of northeastern Pennsylvania. To learn more, visit www.diobeth.org.

The Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania comprises 33 congregations in the 13 counties of northwestern Pennsylvania. To learn more, visit www.dionwpa.org.

Provisional Bishop Nominee Sean Rowe

Bishop Sean Rowe

Bishop Sean Rowe wasn’t looking for more to do. He was already the leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, father of a now-17 month old daughter and deep in the throes of his doctoral dissertation when he got a call from Bishop Clay Matthews. Matthews, bishop for pastoral development in the office of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, had a proposal for him: how would he like to become the provisional bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem while remaining bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania?

The Standing Committee in Bethlehem had already embraced the idea of calling a provisional bishop to lead the diocese through a period of reflection on its future in the wake of the retirement of Bishop Paul Marshall, and now Matthews wanted to know if Rowe was interested in the job.

“It was entirely unexpected,” Rowe remembers, “Out of the blue. But the more I explored it, the more I felt a sense of call. What spoke to me about it was the opportunity to work collaboratively with another diocese, to experiment with a different model of ministry. The church has talked a lot about that, but someone has to take the plunge.”

Rowe is not one to “Lone Ranger” a decision, he says, and so he took the offer first to his wife, Carly, a longtime Christian formation professional, and then to the Standing Committee in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Somewhat to his surprise, he discovered that they liked the idea too.

“I thought it was a kind of challenge that was just out of left field enough and just hard enough that it was probably of God,” said the Rev. Adam Trambley, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon and secretary of the diocesan council and diocesan convention. “It seemed to me that Northwestern Pennsylvania was in a place that the bishop could take on that challenge and that he has the gifts that are necessary to help the Diocese of Bethlehem to get through the challenges it is facing.”

With the backing of those who mattered most to him, Rowe agreed to be the Standing Committee’s nominee for provisional bishop at the diocesan convention on March 1, 2014.

“The Diocese of Bethlehem has a history of generosity and a willingness to try new things,” Rowe says. The diocese’s partnership with the Diocese of Kajo-Keji in South Sudan, where it has built seven schools and a theological college, is particularly impressive, he adds, and the small parish collaboration encouraged by the Under One Roof program is precisely the sort of initiatives the church needs to explore.

“The clergy and the leadership have some energy and ideas and I am looking forward to collaborating with them in the next chapter of their ministry,” Rowe says. “It seems like there’s a sense of desire and willingness to engage mission, and I am excited to meet them and take the next part of the journey with them.”

The feeling is mutual, says the Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns, chair of the Standing Committee in Bethlehem and rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton.

“Bishop Sean is at once a thoughtful listener and an engaging personality. When we first met him in person, we were struck by how closely he listened to us and also how quickly he connected with everyone in the room.”

“We knew from both his leadership style and what the people of Northwestern Pennsylvania have accomplished so far in his episcopate that he has the leadership and pastoral gifts that we need to make the most of this transition.”

If his nomination is confirmed, Rowe says, he will arrive in northeastern Pennsylvania with a simple plan that begins with listening. “My approach is working in ways that are highly collaborative with lay leadership and clergy leadership,” he says.  “Building a college of clergy, a true collegia, is really important. In Northwestern Pennsylvania, I try to meet with clergy individually on a regular basis and meet as a group twice a year for two days at a time. So we are meeting four days a year face to face, all of us, exchanging ideas and talking about mission and ministry.”

Rowe, who has been Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania since 2007, was the youngest bishop in the Anglican Communion upon his election and remains the youngest bishop in the Episcopal Church. He grew up and went to college in the diocese he now serves, and went directly from college to Virginia Theological Seminary in 1997.

“I was one of a handful of people under 35,” he recalls.  “They were at a bit of a loss. There were literally faculty who had not taught students that young. But it wasn’t until I heard people say ‘He’s going to be the youngest priest in the Episcopal Church’ that I thought it was something unusual.”

Despite his youth, Rowe was elected president of his class and president of the student body, and became deacon-in-charge of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Franklin, Pa. at 25.

“It was just this wonderful place to go,” he says. “Thanks God I had a corps of lay people who taught me how to be a priest. They sort of loved me into the priesthood. They mentored me.

“These were people who have prayed twice as long as I had been alive. I had no illusion I was more spiritual or knew more about what was going on than they did. They really taught me priest craft. They taught me and I just sort of sat at their feet for a few years.”

After just seven years in Franklin, Rowe was elected bishop of the diocese on the first ballot, getting two thirds of the votes from both orders.  “I don’t think the diocese was trying to make a statement about wanting a young bishop,” Rowe says. “It was a vision of hope for the region, trust in a compelling vision of what it could be if we tried.”

In seven years as a bishop, Rowe says he has learned a few things that should serve him well if the Diocese of Bethlehem confirms his nomination on March 1. “I try to engage the work from a highly relational place, and to realize that change in a diocese can be slow in coming, even slower than in a parish. Rebuilding trust takes a long time. It doesn’t just happen. Leaders have to act in ways that are trustworthy and have integrity over a long period of time before people believe that yes, they are indeed worthy of trust.”

Rowe has won the trust of people in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and developed a strong corps of clergy, many of whom came to the diocese after he became its bishop. He also set a standard for openness and transparency that has been praised across the church in handling sexual abuse charges against one of his deceased predecessors, the Rt. Rev Donald Davis, who had sexually assaulted young girls.

Trambley describes Rowe as “deeply spiritual and a man of real prayer.”

“Whatever challenges there are, are going to be steeped in real prayer and real discernment,” he says. “The other thing is that he really loves his people and cares about all of the people that he is working with at a deep level. So even difficult decisions are made with the long-term best interests of everybody at heart. He’s not afraid to do what needs to be done, but he is going to do it in a way that actually loves and cares for people over the long term.”

As a leader, Rowe has “a real sense of vision,” Trambley says, but has “a certain degree of flexibility and creativity about getting there.”

While logistical arrangements are still being made, it appears that beginning in August, the Rowes and their daughter Lauren will move back and forth between Erie and Bethlehem, spending two to three weeks at a time in each diocese.

Carly Rowe, who will be leaving her job at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Erie, says she is looking forward to getting to know people in the Diocese of Bethlehem. She sees her role in the family’s new endeavor as  “the relationship person, the bridge builder.”

She says that people in the Diocese of Bethlehem will find her husband to be “intense, but in a good way,” and “very accessible.”

“He is one of those people, he believes so strongly in the Episcopal Church and what the Episcopal Church is all about and he is always looking for ways to do things better,” she says. “What’s the long-term mission strategy? How are we going to be as a denomination 50 or 100 years from now?”

“He’s just super committed to everything the Episcopal Church is about.”

Photo reprinted with permission from Times Publishing Company, Erie, PA. Copyright 2014.