The Rev. Martha Ishman will retire on December 31 as canon for transitions after 13 years on the bishop’s staff, but not before being honored at the Dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York’s recent convention.
To mark her tenure, Bishop Sean Rowe named Ishman the diocesan partnership’s honorary canon pastor during an online presentation.
“Our diocese was the recipient, though not always a gracious recipient, of your considerable gifts,” Rowe said. “As for me, I have listened to and, dare I say, relied upon your counsel and wisdom. More than once you have reminded me in the darkest of times that, ‘Satan always oversteps his bounds, and Jesus always prevails.’
“Your manifold spiritual gifts and your willingness to access them for the building up of the body of Christ is nothing short of remarkable. I mean it when I say that I could not have done it without you.”
Ishman, who began her service in the diocese at St. Clement’s, Greenfield, served as Rowe’s canon to the ordinary from 2007 to 2016. She will continue as vicar of St. James, Titusville.
A 1998 graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary, Ishman says she has always been passionate about small churches.
“Even in seminary, while everyone chased after the shiny bright objects of new techniques and big churches, I sought opportunities to discover how church could best be church in the context in which they found themselves,” she says. It remains true today.
“Small churches are embedded in their communities and in many ways are too resilient to fail. But with well-formed clergy leadership, these congregations can be a powerful voice for change. We have seen, and continue to see, that when clergy cast a vision for the kingdom of God, we get closer to it.”
Working as the diocese’s transitions minister gave her the opportunity to bring other priests with a passion for small churches to the region. “Bringing folks to the diocese that share this same passion for the people of God in this place has long been a vital way to shape and transform the diocese as a whole,” she says.
“I have learned from my colleagues in other parts of the country what works and what doesn’t. Here in Northwestern Pennsylvania, we have been bold enough to try many different configurations of ministry and continue to do so. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t. However, it has been my experience that when a congregation honestly engages this self-reflective process, the rewards have outlasted the difficulties.”