Speakers We Have Heard in the 2018-2019 Season

January 22, 2019: Rev. Canon Kirk Berlenbach

Know Jesus, cha

ECCP President George Voxburgh presents certificate of appreciation to Howard Storm

January 22, 2019: Rev. Canon Kirk Berlenbach

March 19: The Widows Corporation

John Miller, Treasurer & Executive Director, Widows Corporation

ECCP Chaplain Nicholas Bisaccia, Membership Chair Robert White, and The Reverend Sherry Deets, Chaplain of The Widows Corporation

Members of the Episcopal Church Club of Philadelphia (ECCP) learned about an organization within our diocese that many of us had never heard of, but that predates the establishment of the Episcopal Church and even the United States. That organization is the Widows Corporation, or to give its full title, The Corporation for the Relief of the Widows and Children of Clergymen in the Communion of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Widows Corporation was founded in 1769 and thus is celebrating its 250th anniversary this year.

John Miller, Treasurer and Executive Director of the corporation, introduced the presentation and then turned it over to the Reverend Sherry Deets, Chaplain of the Widows Corporation and Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Trinity, Coatesville.

The Widows Corporation was founded to care for the widows and orphans of Church of England clergy in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. It was later split among those three states, and after the American Revolution, it came under the auspices of the Episcopal Church. Currently, the corporation serves the five dioceses in Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Bethlehem, Central Pennsylvania, and North Western Pennsylvania). The corporation provides highly subsidized life insurance to clergy who enroll. It has expanded to provide family grants that entitle the families of deceased clergy to need-based financial assistance.

More recently, the corporation established the Fund for Clergy and Clergy Family Wellness to encourage healthy lifestyles and to prolong the lives of policy-holding clergy. Also, a Spousal Death Benefit has been added, payable on the death of a spouse or acknowledged life partner of an enrolled cleric.

The Widows Corporation recently produced a video, “Clergy Family Wellness: The Questions.” This video has been presented to clergy, and the ECCP luncheon presentation represents the first time that it has been shown to the laity. The aim of the video is to raise awareness of issues facing the families of clergy and to facilitate an exploration of ways in which parishes and the larger church might be of assisting in easing the burden. The video presents discussion by eight individuals, including clergy, clergy spouses, and bishops. To accompany the video, the corporation has prepared discussion guides for clergy and family members, as well as for vestries, search committees, and congregations. Among the questions are those of the role of clergy spouses and families in parish life and the setting of appropriate boundaries to respect the privacy and limit the burdens on spouses and families.

For more information on the Widows Corporation, please visit its website at www.TheWidowsCorporation.org.

Know Jesus, change the world. Proclaim the Gospel. Empower the Congregations. Address the pain of the world. That is the mission described by The Reverend Canon Kirk Berlenbach, the Canon for Growth and Support in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, at ECCP’s luncheon on January 22 at The Acorn Club.

Canon Berlenbach spoke on his innovative work for the diocese. He is tasked with helping congregations to look beyond their walls to facilitate community involvement and connection, assist them in developing creative ministries that connect with people who might not otherwise attend worship, and make the best and fullest use of their buildings and other assets.

Before joining the diocesan staff, Canon Berlenbach was rector of St. Timothy’s Church, Roxborough for more than 14 years. Before that, he was assistant rector at St. Alban’s, Newtown Square. Before entering parish ministry, he worked in behavioral health and as a hospital and hospice chaplain.

Canon Berlenbach related how St. Timothy’s Church put up outdoor signs to promote the use of parish facilities to outside groups. One reaction from a community member was, “Oh, is that still open?” The message taken from that is that churches need to show their communities that they offer attractive activities and facilities to draw people in.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania is a historic diocese in a historic church. This means that many church buildings are old, with implications for building maintenance, heating, and the like. As a result, parishes may see their facilities as an albatross. Part of Canon Berlenbach’s task is to help the parishes see their facilities as an asset. He notes that churches used to be important centers of community life. He asserts that parishes should reclaim that legacy, even if doing so is not exclusively for ourselves. We need to overcome territorialism and fear. If we do not, the church we may fear losing to strangers will instead be lost to closure.

Canon Berlenbach urges parishes to engage with their communities. Important aspects include learning the needs of the community, learning what resources already exist to meet those needs, cultivating partnerships, and becoming a visible and active presence in the community. There can be multiple points of entry to the church, including unconventional activities: hosting cooking classes, gardens, common interest groups, even new businesses. It is important that these are open to and appeal to the community, not just the church. In opening parish facilities to community groups, it is important to see them as community partners.

In concluding, Canon Berlenbach said, “We must be willing to dream big and to let go of our fear of failure, and more importantly, of our territorial instincts, because it is not our church—the Church belongs to God, and no matter how great our commitment to it, it is not ours. It is the Body of Jesus Christ. As part of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, we in the Diocese of Pennsylvania have an incredible opportunity, if we but let go of our fear and move forward in faith.”

“Future Shock: Is the Episcopal Church Headed for Extinction?” That was the provocative title of the luncheon presentation on December 11, when Donald V. Romanik addressed the Episcopal Church Club of Philadelphia. Mr. Romanik has been President of the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) since 2005. Since taking the helm at ECF, he has stabilized the financial and administrative infrastructure; led the organization through a comprehensive and ongoing strategic planning process; developed and nurtured new programs that help Episcopal communities of faith engage in visioning and planning, develop leadership and raise financial resources for ministry and cultivated new partnerships and collaborations throughout the Church.

Romanik is a strong advocate and proponent of lay leadership and the ministry of all the baptized, and frequently writes and speaks on topics relating to leadership and resource development for Episcopal organizations. He has worked to develop new models of lay-clergy partnerships and effective leadership teams to revitalize local congregations, respond to God’s call in new and meaningful ways and help transform the Church.

Romanik presented a number of cautionary facts:

  • Between 2016 and 2018, church membership has declined by 6%.
  • As of 2017, 1.7 million people were members of the Episcopal Church.
  • In the Diocese of Pennsylvania, average Sunday church attendance averages 12,000.
  • All mainline Protestant denominations are facing the same declines, and the percentage of Americans who identify as Christians is declining.
  • Currently, only 55% of active Episcopal priests are in traditional, full-time roles.

Despite current trends and patterns, Romanik concludes that the Episcopal Church will indeed survive. He notes, however, that the Church will change significantly. Among the changes:

  • Clergy formation and training is changing, and we will have fewer seminaries.
  • We will have to adjust to the fact that current clergy retirements exceed the number of ordinations.
  • Romanik predicts that the Episcopal Church will come into full communion with other denominations, in particular with the Methodists. He also notes that the role of bishops may change.
  • There will be a greater role for lay leadership.

What kind of parishes are growing? Romanik notes the following characteristics:

  • Vibrant worship
  • Having more than one priest
  • Knowing why they exist
  • Willingness to change and incorporate new members
  • Effective Christian formation for children

In sum, while the Episcopal Church faces important challenges, we will survive and evolve to better minister to a changing world.

December 11: Donald V. Romanik

“Jesus is the Real Deal.” That was the message as the Episcopal Church Club of Philadelphia kicked off its 2018-2019 season at The Acorn Club. The speaker, the Reverend Howard Storm, delivered a strong testimony to the reality of Jesus.

Storm related how his father returned from World War II feeling cheated of four years of his life. He came back to pursue wealth and power. During his childhood, Howard went to Sunday School but not church. He felt that, “Smart people don’t believe in God.” He believed that he could look down at everyone else with contempt. Storm described himself as an avowed atheist and very aggressive. He said he was “as unpredisposed to meeting Jesus as anyone.”

All that changed when, in Paris on a tour with art students, Storm had a near-death experience. Far from the image of bright light and tranquility that some people have described after near-death experience, Storm said that he had been to hell. Since then he doesn’t talk about that. However, he says that he came face to face with God and spoke with Jesus.

As a result, after 20 years as a studio art professor at Northern Kentucky University, he became an ordained minister. He is currently pastor of Zion United Church of Christ in Cincinnati, Ohio.

His message to his ECCP listeners was that God wants honesty, and Jesus wants us to better than we are doing. Storm stated that Jesus loves us more than we love our own grandchildren. He urged his audience to live a life pleasing to God. The church, he said, is a sign of the Kingdom of God, but it is not the Kingdom of God itself.

Storm has written a number of books, including My Descent into Death, which recounts the events that changed his life and their aftermath.

ECCP President George Vosburgh presents Certificate of Appreciation to Howard Storm

October 9. 2018: The Reverend Howard Storm