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

Trinity Bethlehem Soup Kitchen Report

January 2015
The Rev. Elizabeth Miller, Deacon
Marcie Lightwood, Social Worker

The Soup Kitchen at Trinity is a community – Trinity’s “second congregation.”

More than 150 people eat lunch together each weekday, served by a team of volunteers that number 55-75 over the course of a week.

Volunteers are essential to the work that the soup kitchen does. Each day there is a head cook and usually 5 – 7 others who chop vegetables, assemble salads, make dressings, prepare fruit salad, cook main dishes, make up plates, serve beverages, make coffee, carry trays, and wash dishes. The preparations begin at 8:30 a.m. and lunch is served noon to 1:00. Cleanup is usually done by 2:30 in the afternoon. That is a compact and fast-paced work day for a large handful of people, but it is not everything that happens.

Each day, a different volunteer drives to Fresh Market in the Promenade shops to pick up donated groceries. Some of it is used in the noontime meal, but most of it is taken home by our guests from tables set up and supervised by another set of volunteers. That assures us that our friends have nutritious food to eat at home as well as for lunch with us.

The Trinity guests can access non-food needs through the social worker. There are several volunteers who help with that aspect of ministry. Some help give out shampoo, OTC pain relievers, cough drops, razors and sanitary needs. Many businesses and congregations have set up drives to collect grooming products and winter accessories to benefit the poor and homeless people we serve.  Once a month, the women of St. Anne’s bring clean, sorted used clothing for guests.

It is by faith that we continue to operate. God is good, and we have a few generous donors: A few parishioners who give monthly and holiday gifts, one of our neighbors sends in $50 a month, and a former parishioner who lives out of state who joyfully gives several thousand dollars a year.  There are several angels from around the Diocese of Bethlehem and the rest of the community who regularly support the work of the soup kitchen. We hold an annual benefit concert, when talented community musicians give of their time and talent and an unnamed friend of the soup kitchen matches all ticket sales. The anonymous foundation continues to support us, although for a lesser amount. We applied to the United Way for funding in 2014 and although we were not selected, we were encouraged to apply again. Our finances are always cause for concern.

Second Harvest Food Bank has been carrying us by not billing us the usual shared maintenance fee and giving us as much of a share of the mixed grants they receive. Our volunteer cooks often have to await the arrival of Fresh Market produce so that they can make salads and fruit to serve. We are stretching every dollar in this way by not buying food, but using donations immediately. The soup kitchen is also in need of a new van. The old one is 15 years old and is no longer safe to transport heavy loads of food from the food bank and other donors. Please join Deacon Liz in her prayers that somehow we can obtain a safe and usable van before the end of this winter.

Partnerships with other organizations add to what we can offer our guests.  Students from Moravian College School of Nursing, Cedar Crest and Northampton Community College  serve guests in ways that contribute to their coursework, often providing educational workshops on health concerns. Moravian Academy students, our neighbors, donate apple pies in the fall, holiday goodies, and make bag lunches for our guests to have over weekends. Students from Northeast Middle School brought in nearly 200 blankets. The charity knitters groups and other knitters generously give many, many hats, mittens and scarves to keep folks warm. The brownie troop and the associated Girl Scouts have donated diapers needed by families with young children.

The ministry to our guests is one where success is difficult to measure.  Feeding 150-170 people a good meal every day is one measure. How we affect lives is another. We feel really good about Jeff, who last year had a three pack-a-day cigarette habit and weighed less than 100 pounds. We talked to him over the course of a few weeks when Deacon Liz and Marcie took him to doctors and hospitals. Because he knewthat we cared about him, Jeff cut down to six to eight cigarettes a day, and with the help of nutritional supplements we gave him, he has regained both his health and 35 pounds.

Leanne was evicted from her apartment, lost all of her ID, exhausted her available money, ran out of medications, stopped taking care of herself and began a descent into failing health and homelessness. Deacon Liz and Marcie Lightwood took Leanne to the hospital and doctor’s visits, visited her during a prolonged stay, helped get her into a programmed shelter, got her replacement identification cards, and help her manage her money. After a very rough two months, Leanne is back to functioning.

Sometimes the help we give our guests means we will not see them again. We have helped folks get boots for work so they could get good jobs and support themselves. As a result of those experiences, the social worker obtained several gift cards to Payless Shoe Stores so that we could quickly meet that need should it again arise. Many times we provided clothing vouchers so people could get the clothing they needed to work.

We have spent endless hours on the phone to advocate for client needs. We have helped folks get into apartments, get telephones, sign up for medical benefits and check on employment options.

And what is the best thing we do with our second congregation? We celebrate! Every holiday is celebrated with special food, entertainment and decorations. The Trinity Soup Kitchen is a community, a place where those without family and friends can come and be a part of something warm and special. It is about so much more than food.



What Should we Do?

Sermon by Father Daniel Gunn
Advent 3 (16 December) 2012
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral, WB

May we seek Truth together in humility.  Amen. 
Today we arrive at the third Sunday in Advent.  This is supposed to be a day of rejoicing with Mary.  It is supposed to be a brief respite as we anticipate the advent of our Lord.  Thus we hear the voice of the prophet Zephaniah telling Zion to “Sing aloud” and “shout . . . rejoice and exult with all [our] heart.”  And today’s Epistle bears much the same message to Paul’s pet congregation: “Rejoice always, again I say rejoice” he says.  Yet we should take note how these lessons of joy are juxtaposed with the Gospel, which probably better tells where we are today.  In that Gospel we hear the voice of John the Baptist seemingly condemning us, and so we ask as those who came to hear John, “What should we do?”  In fact, I would wager that we are filled with many questions today in light of the events of this past Friday.  I am speaking, of course, of the cold murder of 27 people, mostly children, in Connecticut.  This horror is in many ways no worse than the other mass shootings we have witnessed in recent years, but to many it feels worse.  Before asking “what should we do,” we are compelled to first ask, “Why?”  If God is good, then how and why would God allow such evil to exist as we witnessed this past Friday?

Questions of this nature belong to a branch of theology called Theodicy which examines why a good God allows evil to exist.  Many better minds than ours have grappled with this, and came to unsatisfactory conclusions.  Some have said that God is not all benevolent; others that he is not all powerful, still others have tried to explain how all goodness could coexist with evil by saying that because God is good evil must exist to prove his goodness.  While still others have speculated that God limits God’s self thus allowing evil to exist.  I have read and studied them all, and find that every answer falls short.  Ultimately there are no satisfying answers and we are left with the paradox that two things can be true at the same time: God is good and evil exists.  All other attempts to explain become straw, and so we fall upon our faces before that good God and ask for mercy, forgiveness, and peace.  We humbly pray that God would deliver us from evil.

Forgive me my soapbox moment: If I had my way today I would call for a moratorium on gun sales, but having grown up around guns I know this alone is not the answer.  Guns are but one symptom of a greater problem.  What I do pray for is that we will get beyond our romance with weapons and in every way possible work to end our culture of violence.  The fundamental message of John was for the people to change their ways.  In a word: repent.  What should we do?  Repent.  It is in the act of repentance that we change our culture.  It is in the act of humbling ourselves that we change our world.  It is in the act of growing to love our neighbor as we love ourselves that change our culture.  And may we teach that love and humility to each other as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Many of us will object, “I have done nothing wrong.  I didn’t kill 20 children.  Why should I repent?”  And we hear the voice of John crying out to us in the crowd: Bear good fruit.  Inasmuch as we participate in our culture in any way and in any part, we are called to repent.  The redemption of the world depends on the action of one person, Jesus the Christ, that is the message of Christianity.  It still depends on the actions of individuals—each of us.  Ending violence in our culture begins with you, and it begins with me.

Last week I was watching that hard-hitting news program called The Colbert Report as the anchor interviewed Sister Simone Campbell, the organizer of “Nuns on a Bus.”  Sister Simone explained the mission of the Church and of every Christian.  She said we are called to “Touch the pain of the World.”  Even before the events of this past Friday I was moved by her words.

So where is our hope today?  Our hope lies in the love of a God willing to live among us as one of us.  Our hope is in the fact that our God was willing to “touch the pain of the world.”  Our hope is in the fact that evil will never conquer good, darkness will never conquer light, and violence will lose to peace.  When we ask like those in today’s Gospel whose hearts were piqued: “What should we do?” we have the answer already.

In these thoughts may we find truth.  Amen.

Diocesan Life for July/August 2011


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Workers of the world, incorporate!

Op-Ed by Brian Pavlac
Citizens Voice, Wilkes-Barre
Published: June 25, 2011

Unions are dying in America. Their percentage of the workforce has declined from about 32 percent 60 years ago to under 12 percent today. Many of those that remain are under assault, especially since new Republican governors have targeted public employee unions.

Some of the death of unions results from many people seeing unions as unnecessary. In the last half of the 20th century, governments have indeed spread some of the benefits of unionization to the public by legislating protections of paid holidays and vacation, minimum wages and overtime, safe workplace conditions, etc.

Increasingly, though, unions are not naturally declining, but being murdered. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, corporate executives, and their political allies who have never liked the power assembled in union activity are more motivated than ever to finish them off. Many conservatives hated the recent successful bailout of GM and Chrysler because it allowed the auto unions to survive. Businesses have also deliberately moved factories and offices to states and countries whose laws and customs limit unionization.

Why are they trying to kill unions? Laissez-faire economists say that unions make us less competitive in international markets (although most of our competitor industrialized nations have higher rates of unionization). Corporate executives say the high union wages and benefits cost too much (although corporate profits and executive salaries are now at near-record high levels while median household incomes remain stagnant or in decline). Governors say public unions are bankrupting their states (although lack of tax revenues in an economic slump is more to blame). Libertarians condemn unions as evil socialist collectivization.

True, unions use collective bargaining to empower workers who as individuals would be in a weak position to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Is that so bad?

Unions indeed arose more than a century ago because too many businesses used to exploit workers. As the industrial revolution geared up, business leaders often put profit before humanity. Sound business policy was to pay workers too little to survive, as a lethal poverty prevention measure called the "Iron Law of Wages." Owners could feel virtuous, while they reduced the surplus population (in the words of Charles Dickens). Early industries, supported by governments, opposed any and all efforts of workers to unionize.

In 1935, the American government finally supported unions with the Wagner Act. While that law and the National Labor Relations Board it created supports unions in name, it creates all sorts of difficulties for unionizers. Meanwhile, governments still often side with corporate interests over the workers.

And now the Supreme Court has dismissed a class action suit against Wal-Mart, further preventing workers from acting together for their rights, even without unions.

Maybe unions are too weak to survive these days. Yet, the wealthy interests of capital should not have a monopoly in the marketplace. Instead, I suggest that workers create a voice using the tools of capitalism.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em! Since the economic and political powers-that-be despise unions, workers should instead incorporate. Then these new worker corporations will sell the services of workers, in turn negotiating, signing, and enforcing contracts, and making profit, for their own benefit.

Ironically, the modern corporation is also a collectivist organization. Governments first created them by law a century and a half ago, as a new way to structure economic enterprises, increasingly replacing the traditional family firms and partnerships. Corporations are artificial people, financed through capital collected by selling stock, run by professional managers, who are, in turn, supervised by a board of directors. Unlike normal human beings, corporations might never die - as long as they continue to make profit, they might exist forever.

What else are corporations but collectives of stockholders and managers who then employ workers to provide goods and services?

I've been inspired by ads I've heard lately proclaiming the advantages of incorporating, even for individuals. Some states, like Wyoming or Delaware, offer ease of incorporation, lack of corporate taxes, and lax regulation and supervision. And we all know how much businesses and the courts respect contracts with other corporations!

I'm not a lawyer, so the incorporation of workers and citizens to better recognize their interests may not be easy or possible. If the current laws allow it, then someone can find a way; if new laws need to be passed, the corporate interests may stop this idea from moving forward.

Either way, I see no alternative to the growing dominance of American society by the wealthy and well-connected armed with their lawyers and accountants. If our society continues to favor artificial profit-making corporations over quality of life for genuine individual human beings, then only corporations will be our future.

Workers of the world, incorporate! You have nothing to lose, but your humanity. The courts, politicians and businessmen are already taking away your dignity and livelihood, anyhow.

[Brian A. Pavlac is a professor of History at King's College, an Episcopal Priest, and the author of "A Concise Survey of Western Civilization: Supremacies and Diversities throughout History."]