Church Outside the Box – Recap

By Richard Evans
July 20, 2014
As posted on Bakery

About 30 of us gathered at St. Peter's in Hazleton yesterday to discuss the challenges we face in our parishes under the gentle guidance of Peter Pearson.  In some ways it felt like a renewal assembly, but with a broader scope and more heft. 

Agent 007 of the Millennial Generation: Bond, Adam Bond, gave us powerful testimony about what many in his generation have experienced as they came into adulthood post-2000 and how and why the Church might fit into their lives.  His audience sat rapt while he explained the root of the cynicism that pervades his age group.  I would not even attempt to summarize the journey he took us on.  It was one of the most powerful, erudite and emotional performances I've experienced in quite some time.  I would hope he will find larger venues for his message.  The Convention perhaps?  We all need to hear and embrace his message.

I won't rehash the event, but I would like to highlight a few of the special moments I experienced.  Our noonday meal was made part of the third rite Communion, and each of us passed the fresh-baked bread to our neighbor on the left.  Then after the pot luck meal was finished, we did the same with the chalice of wine.  For me as a layman, this was a novel and powerful way to receive -- and give -- Communion.  I would like to see this practice used more with appropriate sized groups such as this.  Unleash the fire of the Holy Spirit!

We make many friendships in our meetings around the diocese, but meeting a true kindred spirit is something to cherish.  It did not take very long in the presence of Addison Bross to feel his light shining into my soul.  If nothing else happened at St. Peter's but the precious moments talking with Addison, I would consider the day a smashing success.

My only regret was that the meeting lasted only 4 hours.  For me, the agenda was a bit ambitious, but I'm sure the conversation and the quest have only begun, so we shall travel on this journey together to wherever it leads.  May we find more Pilgrims along the way!

A final thought:  How refreshing to be part of a grassroots initiative.  I think of the diocese as a chain with 59 precious jewels attached to it. Our laity and clergy have unbounded expertise and energy and I fervently believe that a diocese prospers best when talent and initiative throughout the diocese are nurtured and allowed to thrive.  I think of a great symphony orchestra.  It needs a conductor, but the glorious music can't happen without everyone's passion, commitment and expertise.  In the new Diocese of Bethlehem, I hope we can capture this attitude.  Let us empower every member of every parish to feel the freedom to think big so that we may recapture the energy and direction so that we may best glorify our Savior and love one another!

Blessings,
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.]


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.

Blessings,
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.]


Like a prolonged Lent of six years

[Posted on Bakery by Richard Evans, March 5; uploaded to newSpin, with permission, by Bill Lewellis]

My friends,
I found the Episcopal Church about 15 years ago in Florida in an attempt to break away from the walk in the desert that comes after a divorce -- and what an oasis it has been!  I was fortunate to find the best pastor I am likely ever to meet, and he took the desert once inside me and gave my life renewed meaning in Jesus Christ.  Father Jim Shortess is with God now, lifted high by his own faith and the many lives he saved for Christ.

Just a little more than 13 years ago, I ran in a marathon, one of the great physical challenges in my life.  I had trained for it rigorously on a beautiful 5 mile course that looped around a chain of lakes in Maitland, FL.  The only variety in my training was whether I would run the loop once, twice, three or four times in a training session.  The run always ended where I parked my car at the Methodist church on the lake.  It had an outdoor worship space right on the lake.  It became a habit of mine to finish by stopping at the kneeler directly overlooking the lake and giving thanks while endorphins were still pumping through my body.  Each visit made me feel at peace with God and his glorious creation!

About 6 years ago, my financial and professional life burst apart in the great recession.  Trying to rebuild my net worth after divorce and parental duties and for a rapidly approaching retirement, I had earlier turned to real estate.  All was well until the housing crisis hit, and in Florida, it hit hard.  All of a sudden, my retirement plan was in ruins.  So back to Northeastern Pennsylvania with nothing but a car, a computer and a few personal possessions.  And back to living with Mom after all these years away.  And back to the weather that would make my arthritis agony.

Those who have come to know me in the last few years might not guess about my exploits as a marathoner, or my love of nature and backpacking, especially on the Appalachian Trail, because you watch me hobble along with my arthritic neck and hip and overweight frame, prevented from doing the hobbies I love so much.  So much has crumbled away in what I might have imagined my life to be about at age 60, but I am not sad.  It would be great to have health insurance and have my problems attended to, but I do not despair.  It would be nice to have enough money to file for bankruptcy and rebuild my credit rating, but there is more to life than a credit score.

In some ways, the last 6 years have been like a prolonged Lent for me, but I do not feel the privation as much as I feel sculpted by those desert winds of change, seeing the excessive parts of my former life blown away as so much dust, exposing an inner core of simplicity and peace, knowing that with Christ, our walk in the desert need never be a lonely one.  My focus is greatly narrowed, and in the simple life, I find so much wealth!

I walk among you, my fellow diocesan brothers and sisters, and all of the things I have lost in one sense are restored in another.  I am no longer employable in the traditional sense, but you allow me to serve on the Council and the Trustees and help with your parish audits.  I can no longer walk more than a few hundred yards, but together we embark on the most sublime journey.  I no longer can afford the finer things in life, but in worshiping together, I have found those precious rewards money cannot buy.  I had to leave lifelong friends in Florida, but I'm greeted by so many hugs at our conventions! The blessings in our Lenten journey together are greater than any material objects of desire.  Be not afraid: let the desert winds of Lent sculpt you!

Optimistically,

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.]