Changing the World … One Child at a Time

 

13645188_10154163660212931_1386543424646728103_nAs school is starting around Western New York, I have been reflecting on the way that our Diocese is making a difference in our world is working with children over the summer.  The Eaton Reading Camp sponsored by the Diocese has completed its second summer, as has the Children of the Book reading camp at St. Luke’s, Jamestown.  St. Paul’s Cathedral conducts a reading camp through the Say Yes Buffalo program and St. Matthew’s, Buffalo hosts a Say Yes Buffalo camp that the neighboring Methodist church runs.

One of the most wonderful moments of my entire ministry as a Bishop happened last summer.  I was in the basement meeting room of our Diocesan Ministry Center, sitting at a piano playing songs that many of us remember from childhood.  Songs like “Twinkle, twinkle little star” and “Go tell Aunt Rhody”.  I was surrounded by children from the City of Buffalo and teenagers from Virginia and New Jersey.  They started off a little tentative, but by the end they were singing along.  The children were participants in the Eaton Summer Reading program and the teenagers were spending a week on a Mission Trip helping with the program.

So many studies show that a student’s reading level by the end of Grade 3 is a direct indicator of whether or not they will graduate, which is to say that children reading below level when they are nine years old will not graduate when they are seventeen years old. This is true because the end of Grade 3 is a time when children shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Study after study also shows that the ability to read and to understand what is read is the fundamental skill needed to escape from the cycle of generational poverty.

The research is clear: summer enrichment programs positively impact the reading levels of children living in poverty. If young children’s reading levels are able to be improved sustainably it can break the cycle of poverty because it will set them up for further success in school, high school graduation, and provide them with the ability to obtain better paying jobs. The better the education of the parent, the better the education of the child who will be able to live above the poverty line. In fact, intervening on the elementary level with a focus on reading can have a generational effect on the healing poverty of families.

One of my favorite stories about the impact we can have comes from the first year of the Eaton reading camp. On the Friday of the next to last week of the program on their way home on the bus, the children all on their own got out the books they had been reading on all week and started to read them.  The bus monitor held her breath, but they kept reading all the way home.  The bus monitor sent us all an email that evening with the subject line, “They were reading on the bus!” The picture of those children reading on the bus is one of my favorites.  It is an icon of changed lives.

Success is hard to measure, but we have some data and some stories.  It is clear to me that breaking the cycle of poverty one child at a time is perhaps the most important things that the Diocese of Western New York has ever done.

St. Luke’s, Jamestown, St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Matthew’s, Buffalo and all of the people from all of the congregations who are helping with Eaton Camp are changing the world, one child at a time.

 

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My Statement on July 8, 2016

candleOnce again our hearts break.
Two more African-American men have been killed by police officers.
And now five officers in Dallas have been struck down as they attempted to keep the peace during a rally protesting police violence and honoring those dead black men.  Several other people who were part of the peace rally have been wounded.
We try to make sense of this to ourselves and our children, and there is no logic, no sense, no explanation.  We face an epidemic of violence for which it seems there is no cure.
There will be candlelight vigils and memorials this weekend–like the vigils in Ferguson and Baltimore, in Paris and Brussels, in Charleston and Orlando. It would be easy to admit our weariness, to say, “Why bother?  A candlelight vigil will not bring back those who were killed. A candlelight vigil won’t shield anyone from a police officer who misuses his service revolver, or from a crazy person with an automatic weapon.”
But by those candles we signify God’s grace and hope in the world.  We believe that there is an alternative to the dark night we are living through.  They are the symbols by which we say that “there is a better way, and we are here to make that better way come to pass.  We will not give up. This nightmare is not where we want to be, as people of faith or as Americans.”  It is important to come together to make that powerful statement.
I invite your prayers for the dead and for those who must go on living without them.  I invite your thanksgivings for the first responders who protect us at the cost of their lives.  I invite your action to support sane gun legislation.  And I invite your commitment to eliminate racism from our society.
Racism is the original sin of the United States, the nightmare that haunts our dream of  equality and justice, the ugly branding iron that has scarred every one of us, both black and white, from our nation’s beginnings until today.  This is our heart of darkness.
God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be neighbors to all–not just those who look like us or think like us or worship like us. That is God’s commandment, the God who created all in God’s image—black, brown and white, women and men, gay and straight together.
In this very dark time of anxiety and fear may we be models of love, patience and strength, just as Jesus was, knowing that the light will outshine the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
In Christ,
+Bill
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Explore, See, Ask, Learn

I was pleased and honored to receive, along with Bishop Richard Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, the first Excellence in Ecumenism award from the New York State Council of Churches.  I continue to be surprised and delighted by the impact that Bishop Malone and I are able to have in raising the issues of equality, economic justice and inclusion.  Neither of us anticipated the impact that our joint pastoral letters would have in our own region, let alone the State of New York.

The award was presented in Albany, which gave me an excuse to do something that I really enjoy, sightsee.  My family will tell you that I am an incurable tourist.  I like to visit places, especially churches, and see and learn and ask questions and explore.

I took Canon Cathy Dempesy-Sims and the Rev. Vicki Zust with me to Albany and in the morning before the awards luncheon we did the tourist thing in Albany.  We went to the First Church of Albany.  This is a Dutch Reformed Church that was, the first church in Albany.  We also went to Old St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, the New York Statehouse and the Cathedral of All Saints’, the Episcopal cathedral in Albany.

One of the things that struck me on this trip was the overwhelming hospitality we experienced.  We had not made prior arrangements to visit most of these places and yet everywhere we went we were welcomed and people went out of their way to make us feel as if we belonged.

The experience at First Church was particularly striking.  We literally rang the church’s doorbell at 8:45 in the morning.  The person who came to the door didn’t know us and when we introduced ourselves and said that we wanted to see the church, didn’t tell us to make an appointment. Didn’t ask us to wait while he found someone to show us around.  Didn’t even ask any questions to make sure we were who we said we were.  He just let us in, turned on the lights in the sanctuary, showed us where the bathrooms were, put a note on my car so we wouldn’t get a ticket or have to pay for parking and let us explore.   What would happen in your congregation if three complete unknowns from out of town rang the doorbell at 8:45 on a Thursday morning?

First Church is a great example of how an historic church can balance honoring and maintaining its history while doing modern, inclusive and active ministry.  Next to the framed letter from Theodore Roosevelt renting a pew in the church is a basket of “pocket prayer shawls”, small knitted squares that people can put in their pocket or purse to remind them that they are being prayed for wherever they go.  The church has a drive in worship service in the summer along with traditional worship in their very traditional sanctuary (the pews still have doors and numbers and plaques marking who used to own them).  Honoring the past while serving the world of the present is the balance that we are all striving to seek.

The experience of welcome and hospitality at First Church was repeated on all of our visits.  We were allowed to walk into the State Assembly Chamber and through the gallery outside of the State Senate.  We walked into St. Peter’s Church and saw the Queen Anne silver and the historic windows (and signed the guest book right under Bishop Malone, who had visited the church about an hour before us).

I encourage everyone to explore the treasures hidden in plain sight in all of the places that you travel this summer.  Explore, see, ask and learn.

Posted in Current Issues, Ecumenism, Miscellaneous, Reflection | 1 Comment