Episcopal bishop brings Lenten message of hope to McKeesport
By Jennifer R. Vertullo
Published: Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, 4:11 a.m.
In his first formal visit to McKeesport, the Right Rev. Dorsey W.M. McConnell spoke about the impact of hope and faith with parishioners of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church.
Consecrated in October as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, McConnell has spent his Sundays traveling among 37 parishes across 11 counties.
“Until you've been to a community, it's hard to connect with the residents and what's going on in their lives,” he said. “As a parish priest, you get to know the people over years.”
McConnell sought to relate with McKeesporters on Sunday with a Lenten service, luncheon and casual conversation.
“We need to be taught by the people who are in local communities about the needs of those communities,” he said. “You are the ones who have lived here, in some cases for generations, and you know what's going on.”
Parishioners shared their concerns for McKeesport, identifying physical needs such as jobs and housing, as well as a less tangible regard for neighbors and the law. Some spoke of the city's message campaign to teach the concepts of respect, dignity, hope and love through positive reinforcement in local schools, households and churches.
McConnell said it may seem like a stretch to compare McKeesport's post-industrial lull with the civil war-torn villages of eastern Africa that he has seen through mission work. But in a way, he said, the two are similar because the root problem is hopelessness.
“If people have no hope, they assume life cannot change,” McConnell said. “How does the church start to affect that?”
Whether bringing younger members to the church or encouraging participation in special events, parishioners said it's simple to send a positive message by letting out the word of God.
“I don't want to paint a negative picture of McKeesport,” said Ethel Balas, a former city resident and McKeesport Area School District administrator. “McKeesport has hope.”
The Rev. David L. Kinsey said he wants St. Stephen's to be a shining example that church is not about a location or a building, but rather about the community that fills it and takes its word into the streets.
“I want people to leave here with a song in their hearts, asking, ‘To whom can I take the message I learned today?'” Kinsey said. “We are here as servants, and we all have a ministry somewhere.”
McConnell said the local ministry may be about teaching McKeesporters, no matter what their faith, that they have value in God's eyes.
During his sermon, the bishop said the key to keeping with the will of God is remembering who you are in Him. If individuals don't value themselves, he said, they have no reason to understand the value of anyone else.
“That's why there is no fear, no shame and no respect,” McConnell said. “It goes across the board.”
Speaking on a traditional Lenten gospel regarding the temptation of Christ during his fast in the Judaean desert, McConnell said Lent is about realizing that God's vision is greater than individual, mortal temptations. He said the superficial sacrifices made during Lent, such as abstinence from chocolate or alcohol, provide a gateway to understanding the ability to resist temptation.
“I would hope we are giving up something like uncharitable thoughts, malice, pride or fear,” he said “The resolutions we make to give up the small things during Lent are a window into giving up the deeper things, the self-absorption.”
In today's society — not in McKeesport alone — people may be tempted to take what they perceive to be an easier life of crime and violence because there is an immediate reward through survival, McConnell said.
He said church-goers should be active in teaching people there is a greater reward in God.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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