236 Gather at Renewal Assembly

Prayer, Bible Study, Group Discussion
By David Howell

We all have a different idea of what renewal means; for Episcopalians, it centers on renewing our faith and our work.

On February 19, at six locations around the diocese, clergy and lay members met for renewal assemblies with the theme “The Call to Prayer and Discernment.” These meetings, part of the work of the newly renamed Committee on Congregational Renewal, featured a video created by Jeffrey Kemmerer of Grace Allentown.

Bishop Paul opens the video by asking, “What is God calling our church to be?” and explains that the Renewal meetings are an outcome of last October’s Diocesan convention.

He then initiates a conversation with Father John Francis of Christ Church in Reading about personal prayer. Francis says, “Silence allows God to speak to me. Some prayers allow the mind to become silent. It keeps the voices in our minds at bay. The intention is on God’s word and God speaking to us. God is thought of being ‘up there’ and huge and powerful. People don’t understand how close God can be.”

Francis says he devotes one hour in the morning and one hour at night to personal prayer, following Morning and Evening Prayer.  The reader may be wondering, as some did at our assembly, “How can he do that?” Francis says that with prayer, “Your body rests along with your mind, and things go more smoothly throughout the day.”

In one of the small discussion groups that followed the video, Father Abraham Valiath of St. John’s, Palmerton, said, “The real problem is finding time. Nobody has the answer.” But he added, “The more time you spend with the Lord, the more time you feel that you have. Active prayer is the most active tool to have joy in your heart.”

Bishop Paul then speaks with Mother Laura Howell of Trinity Bethlehem about corporate prayer. Trinity has Morning and Evening Prayer on weekdays and Centering Prayer on Sundays. Howell says that these small gatherings “feed the body, mind and spirit. People know it is going on, even if they can’t attend,” she says. “It gives a sense of community and connectedness,” adding, “a true Christian can never be alone.”

After the group discussion, participants were led in a Lectio Divina Bible Study, a tool that could be taken back to use in their parishes and personal lives.

The Lectio Divina Homepage (http://lectio-divina.org) describes this work as,   “reading which is sacred. Ordinarily lectio is confined to the slow perusal of sacred Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments; it is undertaken not with the intention of gaining information but of using the texts as an aid to contact the living God. Basic to this practice is a union with God in faith which, in turn, is sustained by further reading.”

At the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Mother Hilary Raining said at the introduction to Lectio Divina: “We are feeling a hunger to be fed spiritually. Lectio Divina is a sacred mystical discipline. It helps you connect with the wisdom of the past. It creates a relationship with God. God wants to speak to us, and God will speak to us if we only let it happen.

“The key to this practice is to listen. Its calmness and peace can turn off what Thomas Merton calls the ‘monkey mind,’ the constant chatter that separates us from the divine presence.”

After some extended prayer time with the “Dry Bones” text from Ezekiel (37:1-14), small group discussion followed. Noonday prayer included the Litany for the Mission of the Church. After lunch, closing announcements and future steps concluded the four-hour renewal assemblies.

Following the meetings, Bishop Paul wrote: “Those lay and clergy leaders who hosted, led Bible and prayer times, and in general kept things going, are the subjects of my thanksgiving prayers. In particular, I am grateful to many, many people for this day. The staff has worked literally over-time. I am deeply grateful for the hundreds of volunteer hours that have gone into the event, to the leaders and members of the Congregational Renewal Committee. In particular two Charleses come to mind. Father Charles Cesaretti and Charlie Warwick have invested themselves in this event with body mind and spirit.

“Most of all, I am deeply grateful for all of you who attended these regional meetings. I took some photos that I will treasure, but what will remain in my soul was the person who told me, with some moisture in their eyes, that "the Word of God was truly present today."

The six sites for the Assembly were Christ Church, Towanda, and the Trinity Churches of Carbondale, West Pittston, and Pottsville, and the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem.  There will be a follow-up session, led by Fr. John Francis and Mo. Laura Howell, on Personal and Corporate Prayer at Diocesan Training Day on April 2.

The video can be seen online in two parts at http://www.youtube.com/user/InformationAtDIOBETH, or without a split at: http://vimeo.com/diobeth.

 [Dave Howell, a parishioner at Trinity Bethlehem, is a free-lance writer.]



New locally commissioned hymn to celebrate Christian unity

By David Howell

Three center city Bethlehem churches have joined together to commission a new hymn.  Moravian Seminary, Trinity Episcopal Church, Salem Lutheran Church, and Central Moravian Church have asked noted hymn writer Brian Wren to pen a new hymn to reflect the joy of their union. The new work will debut March 11 at Moravian’s College’s Foy Concert. Brian Wren will be in Bethlehem to present the Weber Memorial Lecture. (See below)

Bethlehem is the focus of an historic event as the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the largest U.S. Lutheran church) and the Moravian Church in North America celebrate full communion agreements that allow the three bodies to share clergy and minister together in significant ways.

The Rev. Dr. Steve Simmons, director of Moravian’s Continuing Education program, writes, “A good new hymn may surprise and delight us with its theology, poetry and music. Sung often, it can lull us into inattention, or surprise us with sudden relevance. With this in mind, Brian Wren, one of the most significant and popular hymn writers of our time, will introduce some of his own recent work, as well as new hymns by Richard Leach and Shirley Murray, and invite us to converse about them and sing them. In the process, he will discuss the history, practice, and future of congregational singing in a time of rapidly changing styles of worship.”

Dr. Wren says, "Perhaps one or two will catch our imagination and become familiar enough to express our deepest needs and beliefs, yet still be able to surprise."

Wren Dr. Brian Wren studied at Oxford, taking degrees in Modern Languages and Theology, including a D. Phil for work on the Hebrew prophets. After ordination, he pastored a Congregational church in Essex, served as consultant to the British Council of Churches, and worked in the student-based world poverty campaign, Third World First. Since 1983, Brian has followed a freelance ministry, helping worshippers, ministers, educators and musicians to improve skills, and deepen spirituality. Recently retired as John and Miriam Conant Professor of Worship at Columbia Theological Seminary, he currently lives in upstate New York with his wife Susan Heafield, a United Methodist pastor.



Weber Memorial Lectures in Pastoral Ministry
Surprise Us by the Words We Sing: New Hymns to Sing and Ponder
March 11, 2011 (9:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.)
Foy Concert Hall, Payne Campus, Moravian College
Free, but registration is recommended.
3.5 CEUs
Visit here for more information or to register: http://www.moravianseminary.edu/conted/Spring11/weber.html