Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Photo Op a Comin'

The Niobrara Convocation takes place in Fort Thompson, South Dakota June 21 - 24.

This once proud event was formed to gather Lakota/Nakota/Dakota Episcopalians once a year, and even served as a kind of second Diocesan Convention at times.

Like all things TEC, the event is a shadow of its former self, with smaller and smaller attendance and more and more aged attendees.

This year's event will have "several guest Bishops and other dignitaries in attendance including the Rt. Rev. Frank Griswold, the former Presiding Bishop. We are expecting a large number of people..." (this from a letter circulating in the diocese).

Look for this to be another piece of the current TEC media campaign. We had Rowan Williams on Time Magazine, Katherine Schori with Bill Moyers, and all kinds of favorable stuff in the mainstream media.

Look for photos and inflated claims of "a diocese where half the communicants are Native Americans!" But as we showed here, the diocese exists mainly on paper. There are 92 churches, but only 2,300 in church on Sunday... many of the Reservation Chapels have no functioning congregations. Fort Thompson, the host congregation for Convocation, had a 2005 ASA of only 19 (yes, nineteen).

Mission Vicars (compensated by funds from a large TEC grant) come and go through a revolving door, discouraged by isolation and by their only ministry being funerals and drive-by baptisms. TEC's insistence on '79 Prayer Book norms (Holy Eucharist with a priest as the only valid worship) undid traditions of lay leadership that had been strong on the reservations.

Perhaps the most telling comment came last winter at a meeting of the Diocese's Eastern Deanery. A Native American delegate stood and said, "We need you to get your spiritual message back. We have our traditional religion, and can go back to that. You send us priests who want to do scholarship funds, but we have tribal government money for that. We need Vicars who want to bring the Christian message."

He received a smattering of polite applause and some throat clearing. The meeting then turned back to a discussion of what properties might be sold to fund Diocesan needs.


Chip Johnson+, cj said...

. We won't even mention one such vicar who was (and is still) willing to go, non-stip, to serve the need.

. The Niobrara Convocation still uses the translation of the BCP from 1859 into Dakota, (it hasn't been deemed important enough to translate since then) and the hymns were translated in 1893, and still in use in the Wakan Cekiye Odowan with the last reprint in 1981, so they feel a bit 'left out' of the polity and practice of the Episcopal Church in South Dakota.

. As mentioned, the insistence of the Mass as the principal service removed any reason for continuing attendance when there were NO priests provided to allow for worship in the 'new' manner, even on a monthly basis.

. The strong lay reader activity, with regular attendance and participation every Sunday at most of the chapels, missions and preaching stations, fell by the wayside as the once vibrant congregations sat back and waited for the priest to do it.

. Can the Niobrara Convocation (which predates the Diocese of South Dakota by quite a few years, BTW) regain it's prominence in the daily lives of those living on the reservations in South Dakota and Nebraska? Not unless there is a strong moving of the Spirit of God, and a relaxation of the strangle hold on tribal minstries by the diocesan office.

oblate-bca said...

I get the feeling this is a publicity move by the diocese to get people to show up for Convocation. "Come meet Rt. Rev. Frank Griswald, get his autograph, yada, yada, yada." What next...PB Schori at Convention? Heaven help us!

Chip Johnson+, cj said...

If memory serves, she is invited to the convention. I will be sure to attend...not...since I am no longer able to participate in the Church of my birth.