Summer

Dear St. Stephen’s Family and Friends,

Vickie and I were driving home from Mackinac Island this past week when Vickie looked at me and said, “Can you believe it’s almost June?”  My answer was “no!”  Yet, here we are a mere five days from the beginning of June.  What a nine months this has been.  Beginning as an “arranged marriage” between a community and a priest, by your graciousness and our common commitment to believe what St. Stephen’s has and is capable of becoming, we have worked this past year in those very directions.  I’m very grateful for the welcome, openness, hospitality and love you have shown me.  Please know that those feelings are mine for you as well.  Serving here is an answer to prayer.  Back to the date!

The date of June 1 is significant because I return home to Barrington on May 31 and, except for two scheduled visits to St. Stephen’s over the summer, return again after Labor Day.  Originally this time off was due to the necessity of running a coffee shop on Mackinac Island, Michigan.  Now that we no longer have the shop, the time will be spent in other ways.  My original covenant with the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and with Bishop Sean is nine months a year, September 1 through May 31. Since technically I work for the Diocese and since that covenant is still in place, this means, with a few exceptions, I’m off for the summer.

What will Vickie and I be doing?  First, because we’ve been gone from our home the past five summers, our domicile is in need of serious attention.  We’ve got several significant projects that we will be undertaking along those lines.  Second, we have a trip to Ireland in June.  Third, we look to spend a good deal of time with our children, their significant others, and our extended family.  Like Erie, the days between Memorial Day and Labor Day are precious and special in the Chicago area and we hope to enjoy them for the first time in six years.  And finally, time to rest up and get ready for another program year with all of you.

Next week’s Voice of Vision will focus on how our life will continue on all fronts over the summer in anticipation of an exciting fall.  Again, thank you!

Love and Blessings,

Alvin

Sitting Vigil

“When your heart is breaking for someone who is broken, but your words can’t reach them and your love can’t save them, ask the angels to go where you cannot; to whisper into their heart what their ears cannot hear; we love you, we’re here, you’re not alone.”

When Vickie and I returned to Barrington on Wednesday, April 26, we went immediately to be with our friend and their families who were sitting vigil for their husband/father.  They had begun the climb for Machu Picchu in Peru when her husband suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.  After surgery and a time of hopeful recovery in Lima, he eventually was flown back to Rush-Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago where his family was told that he had no chance of recovery.  He was moved to hospice care where he has been slowing dying for over a week as I write this on Wednesday, May 3.  They are dear friends.  We’ve been visiting regularly.

Few experiences in life strip us down to the essentials more than sitting vigil with someone who is dying.  Existence becomes razor focused.  All that seemed to matter a few days ago becomes window dressing on the essentials of human existence:  breath, love, family, friends, time, suffering and more.  Work pressure disappears into the rhythm of keeping watch day and night.  Matters of existential urgency are consumed by the spirit of eternity.   Those in vigil become acutely aware of life, hoping deep in their souls that the loved one will somehow continue indefinitely while facing into the reality of death and the knowledge that they/we can’t have it both ways.

Behavior changes unfold.  Showers aren’t needed everyday.  Clothes become “lived in”. Chairs become beds and two hours of sleep a luxury.  Surrounded by a community of family and friends, food appears randomly and abundantly.  There is a story of one friend who brought six vanilla lattes because she didn’t know what else to do.

No pattern governs life except the reality and comfort of the dying.  We might rarely hold the hand, look a loved one in the face, and sit still when all is well, but in vigil these moments are gifts as the human soul seeks to record all that is unfolding in order to remember forever; seeks to forge a connection that will sustain the surviving loved one, because, as Jesus said before his own death, “where I’m going you cannot come”.  And each moment encapsulates the dilemma between suffering and freedom.  Life has an intrinsic and focused purpose.  Life has meaning.  Life has value.  Everyone counts in a vigil.  Awareness becomes a sensitivity to each, silent nuance of the environment.  Time seems to slow down and so do those of us who surrender to the vigil.  For some, there is prayer of words.  For some, there is prayer of actions.  For some there is no conscious prayer.  For some God is a comfort.  For others God is a question mark.  For some God is irrelevant.  But I wonder:  God is love and where true love is found, there is God.  Hover above a vigil of loved ones where love is present and God is there.  God doesn’t need recognition.  God simply shows up in a myriad of undisclosed ways including a peaceful death.  But then, that’s my belief and comfort.

Fr. Al Johnson
Vicar – St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church

Property Improvements and Updates

We at St. Stephen’s have been blessed by our founders with a wonderful piece of property and a beautiful building. Recently, some serious events involving our light fixtures, electrical panel and generator have made it obvious that our wonderful building and property need some attention. Some work is necessary because the building is 50 years old, and some because some maintenance has been deferred. The Bishop’s Committee has compiled a long list of projects, and with a lot of work on Claire Wachter’s part, has approximate costs for completion of each.

In consultation with Bishop Sean, we have decided to move forward with projects that will total approximately $100,000. This is by no means the entire list of what needs to be done, but will address the most urgent. The Bishop’s Committee has appointed a Property Committee to manage these projects. At least two, and preferably three bids will be obtained for each project. Authority to choose a bid and let a contract will remain with the Bishop’s Committee. The money to fund the projects will come from our Property Fund and from the gift left to St. Stephen’s by Jean Mertens. Additionally, we have applied for a Diocesan grant and will also welcome contributions from parishioners specified for these projects.

The list of approved projects includes:

  • Replacement of two electric panels
  • Replacement of Exit signs with battery operated units
  • Replacement of the flat roof with a new roof with improved drainage
  • Replacement of current fluorescent light fixtures with LED lighting (requires fewer fixtures and less energy to power)
  • Replacement of ceiling tiles (many are stained and / or broken)
  • Improve internet reception and wifi to all areas of the building
  • Upgrade the kitchen with a three basin sink and backsplash to allow for application for a yearly food license from the Health Department
  • Paint and replace deteriorating facia on building exterior
  • Tree trimming and removal of evergreens along the north boundary of the property to improve the tree health and prevent loss of trees

A more detailed list with approximate costs will be posted on the bulletin board in the hallway outside of the sanctuary. As bids are accepted and work is scheduled, we will be communicating to all of you when the work is to be done, who will be doing the work, and the dollar amount of the contract.

Please feel free to speak with any member of the Bishop’s Committee, or Claire Wachter with any questions or concerns you have. We are all excited to see these improvements and updates completed!

Cindy Willis
Bishop’s Warden

1070 Dutch Road, Fairview, PA 16415 * 814.474.5490