Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-8
My brothers and sisters, I have often read this scriptural passage during times of change. As we know, transitions can be stimulating, invigorating and interspersed with fraught moments of anxiousness. As a Diocese, we are slowly moving through one of those times now, and I wanted to reassure you that each time we move forward as a community, the steps are based on prayer, thoughtfulness, intentionality and the belief that Jesus Christ is with us on the journey.
Over the course of the last ten months and on my pilgrimage, I have been intentional in listening to your hopes, concerns, and prayers. In the process, I have learned about you and the Diocese. More importantly – I have learned from you. Over the course of my Episcopacy, each day, I will continue to listen and learn. This reflects my sacred commitment to be a servant and shepherd, and to have the joy of serving Jesus Christ.
Now is a time of gradual, thoughtful and deliberate changes in the Office of the Diocese. They are steps toward building up the Kingdom of God, so you can proclaim the Good News. I read and re-read the profile developed by the search committee of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. The Diocese expressed the desire for a Bishop to walk with this beloved community through careful, deliberate and organic transformation; to generate hope for building up the body of Christ through collaboration; and to have the willingness to be bold. We are attempting to live into that calling.
I have often heard from my fellow Bishops that the work in which we are engaged takes three to four years to take root. We are preparing the field, so that you can plant and nurture the seeds. This leads me to share some exciting news of additions and transition in your diocesan office. We have been prayerfully discerning the work of the Offices of the Diocese to reflect our call as servants. We are learning to be servants just as the Lord taught Israel in the servant songs in Isaiah (42-53). We only have progressed by sharing with you and by serving you.
Through creative visioning and responding to the needs; we have developed three exciting positions. They are Congregational Life and Re-Development, Support and Resources, and Innovation and Community Engagement. The posts were grown by refocusing and retooling existing positions and do not increase the budget. More importantly, the faithful priests who have assumed these roles have responded to the call of diocesan servant ministry. These positions will work as a team with shared responsibility and overlapping focus.
In the coming months and years, this team will serve all of our congregations: small, medium, and large; mission and parish. Each of these dedicated servants will reflect our call to build up the body of Christ by empowering each congregation to proclaim the Good News of Christ. Please call them, engage them and pray with them. We will be out in the congregations working to empower and prepare. Through faith, creativity, support, sharing resources, envisioning and journeying with you we will work to build a dynamic, responsive model of spiritual engagement and church growth.
This leads me to share some exciting news of additions and a transition in your diocesan office. We have been prayerfully discerning and working to reorganize the work of the Offices of the Diocese to reflect our call as servants to the congregations of the Diocese.
We welcome the Rev. Canon Kirk Berlenbach as Canon for Innovation and Community Engagement. As Canon for Innovation and Community Engagement, he will emphasize work with congregations to facilitate community involvement and connection, assisting congregations in developing creative ministries, and aiding congregations in making the best and fullest use of their buildings and other assets. Guided by the mission of the Diocese, the Canon for Innovation and Community Engagement will provide the leadership, management, and vision necessary to support the life and ministry of the parishes of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.
A native of the Philadelphia region, Kirk has served as Rector of St. Timothy’s, Roxborough since 2003. During that time, the parish has grown younger, more diverse and financially stable. It has also greatly expanded its mission work and community outreach, establishing a community garden, home brewing club, partnership with local synagogues and the local hospital where he provided chaplaincy services.
In addition to his parish work, Kirk has been heavily involved in Diocesan governance and served as an officer on the boards of several community organizations. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Hamilton College, an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Master of Social Work from Rutgers. Prior to parish ministry, he worked in behavioral health and as a hospital and hospice chaplain. He also served at St. Alban’s, Newtown Square. He loves reading, music, gardening, craft beer, and studies Aikido, in which he holds a second-degree black belt. Kirk is happily married to Rebekah Sassi, who serves as the Director of the Riddle Memorial Hospital Foundation. They have three teenaged children.
Canon Berlenbach says, “I am extremely grateful to Bishop Gutiérrez for this opportunity. I look forward to laboring with him and the rest of the staff as we bring God’s Kingdom into being here in our great Diocese.” He will start work at the Offices of the Diocese on August 1.
We also welcome the Rev. Canon Betsy Ivey to our full-time staff. She is making a transition from part time Director of Youth and Family Ministries to a full time call as Canon for Support and Resources. As Canon for Support and Resources, she will emphasize support to congregations, development and oversight of a diocesan resource clearinghouse, and the development and oversight of a system that provides resources to diocesan congregations through a diocesan missional ministry. Guided by the mission of the Diocese, Canon Ivey will provide the leadership, management, and vision necessary to ensure that the Diocese has a youth and young adult ministry that strengthens and assists our diocesan congregations.
A native of Harrisburg, Betsy has lived most of her life in the Germantown section of Philadelphia where she and her former husband raised their two daughters. After a two-year curacy in Central PA, during which she served as Assisting Rector of St. Andrew’s in Shippensburg, PA, Betsy served as Rector of St. Simon the Cyrenian from 2015-2017. During that time, Betsy restructured and streamlined the administration of the parish allowing the parish to add ministries that serve the children and youth, transient persons, and the elderly in the Point Breeze community of South Philadelphia. She, also, began the restructure of the physical plant which will accessibly join the worship space to the parish hall, the center of parish fellowship and outreach.
In addition to her parish work, Betsy was involved in Diocesan governance having served on the Nominations Committee, the Commission on Ministry, the Cathedral Chapter, and the Anti-Racism Commission. She holds a BA in History from the University of Pennsylvania, an M.Div. from Lancaster Theological Seminary, and Masters in Sacred Theology from the General Seminary. Prior to parish ministry, Betsy was an executive in Commonwealth Government for the Office of Inspector General. She loves reading, jazz music, the arts, traveling, the beach, cooking (she is a Foodie), and good wine. Betsy has four grandchildren and a labradoodle named Noah.
Canon Ivey says, “Matthew 20:28 resonates with me. I believe I was put on earth to serve people. And, it is a blessing to serve the people of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.”
Finally, the Rev. Canon Nancy Deming will continue ministry as part of the Offices of the Diocese, transitioning from Canon to the Ordinary to serve in her first assignment at Christ Church, Media as interim rector. Canon Deming will also serve in the important role of helping build up transition ministry in the Diocese by serving in an honorary, voluntary capacity assisting the Bishop and Canon for Transitions in identifying, recruiting, and further developing the ministry of interim Priests.
I would like to thank Canon Deming for her faithfulness and dedication. Her work as Vicar at St. Gabriel’s and work in the Diocesan Office has helped prepare the field for the work to come. While we will miss her daily presence in the office, we know of the good work she will do in the name of Jesus Christ. We bless Canon Deming, knowing that she will not be far. She has our deep gratitude.
In closing, I would like to thank the Standing Committee for their faithful call to ministry. With each step, we have been partners in this call to serve the Lord. I have sought their counsel and advice. They are a blessing to the Church. We are also excited about Canon Ivey and Canon Berlenbach. Both are faithful, intelligent, devoted, spiritual and hard working followers of Jesus Christ. They will tell a beautiful story of hope.
During this time, I ask that you journey with the staff as we grow into our new configuration. Pray for our strength, give us the blessings of patience and the ability to make mistakes as we envision a way to live into our calling as servants. We will make mistakes, we will stumble, but we will always prayerfully remember that our mission is to serve you and not self. I also have made a commitment that we will not rush; we will be trusting, calm, and deliberate. We will let the Holy Spirit do his work on God’s time. I recently read that transformation requires memory fused with a new context and a heart of discovery.
I would like to assure you that change in the Church is healthy. Indeed thoughtful change is expected, and change is necessary to build up the Kingdom of God. We are transformational people.
We believe in the power of the resurrection, and that God is always faithful. You are part of this exciting transformation. It is our community; it is our home. We trust in the belief that: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8.) Let’s pray together, continuing to trust that God is with us. Then let’s pray again.
Together, we will live into the beautiful transformation that comes through Jesus Christ.
Your brother in Christ,
Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez