The following is from that report.:
"...read two letters from Bishop Robertson regarding the Ministry on the Pine Ridge Mission. Both letters concern the viability and presence of the Episcopal Church on the Pine Ridge Mission and both offer an (sic) new and different vision for the ministry on the Mission...
'...Effective the first Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2008, the following actions will be implemented...
...The churches of Christ, Red Shirt Table; St. John's, Oglala; Epiphany, Wolf Creek; St. Andrew's, Wakpamni Lake; St. Thomas, Manderson; St. Barnabas, Kyle; St. Timothy's, Potato Creek; St. Alban's, Porcupine; and Inestimable Gift, Allen, will be closed and property disposed of according to Diocesan Policy.'"
Bishop Robertson and the Diocese faced a hard decision. I've blogged about the low attendance and lack of church cohesion on the Reservations. The Diocese is combining some congregations on the Pine Ridge and the nine that are closing had very low attendance. This is the kind of decision a diocese must make sometimes, and it is thankless and painful work.
That being said, a few questions need raising:
- In April, Bishop Robertson himself stated that Episcopal Church budget cuts were costing South Dakota the financial means to support a Reservation Vicar (a missioner to a regional cluster of churches). The Episcopal Church is spending into the millions of dollars (although it won't answer requests for specifics) to sue Christians who dissent from TEC's departures from Biblical and traditional Christian faith. So, the question hangs in the air: Is the lawsuit policy of TEC's New York bureaucracy cutting out ministry to some of the poorest people in the United States? Are efforts to grab up suburban church buildings being subsidized by the "disposal" of Reservation churches?
- We White folks tend to romanticize Native Americans, but they have plenty of common human foibles. Tribal/clan identities can fuel feuds and grudges. It has been known for some time that several Pine Ridge leaders (mostly Oglala Lakota) and the Bishop (who is Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota) have been squabbling or estranged (gee, sounds familiar). There are many struggling congregations in South Dakota - why did the Pine Ridge take the hit?
- The rush to "dispose of property" does not pass the smell test. I've sat in plenty of clergy meetings here where priests argue for giving this or that piece of the state "back to the Lakota." Heck, that's probably right based on the treaty-breaking that snatched the land. But when push comes to shove, TEC is there to cannibalize property for its own use. No thought of, "Let's give this to the people of the Pine Ridge." Why don't "justice" and "Millennium Development Goals" apply to TEC property management decisions?
And of course the screaming issue is that TEC is closing more churches. TEC can't evangelize. TEC can't develop Christian communities. TEC is dying by attrition with no converts, no births and no intergenerational transmission of faith. TEC is getting rid of - even suing - the clergy and lay leaders who have the best track records in evangelism and congregational growth.
TEC's tale just gets shabbier and shabbier.