Thursday, April 30, 2009

SD Bishop Candidates on Experimental Worship Language

Floberg, Tarrant and Stebinger affirmed that an authorized liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer should be the principal Sunday service in churches, and that any experiments beyond that should be with the Bishop's permission. Dunn left more room for Sunday experiments, but also affirmed the need for a bishop's permission. All noted that church history has times of change and exploration of worship language - Tarrant said there are "times of expansion and times of contraction" in the church's accepted language about God.

Floberg had a thoughtful response which took worship language in a missional direction. Speaking of efforts to create an interlinear English/Dakota service book, Floberg spoke of the search for a suitable English equivalent for "Grandfather", a traditional Dakota name for the Godhead. The term is understood in Dakota but in English would cause confusion and distortion of the Trinity. His team settled on the Biblical term "Ancient of Days." The principles Floberg offered were sound: find language that builds "convergence" among the faithful and find "common terms that maintain creedal faith."

Stebinger and Tarrant both made a good point about how they would weigh requests if elected bishop. Both made it clear that authorized experiments in language or liturgy must come up from a congregational effort, and not as the agenda of an individual priest.

Dunn talked about having used ten different liturgies with his bishop's permission. He did not mention the uncanonical practice of communion-without-baptism, and nobody asked. He offered a strange justification for experimentation - "We can't hurt God." While I would agree that God isn't going to be "damaged" by anything goofy we do, God can certainly be offended by misdirected worship, angered if lesser agendas are given divine status, and grieved if people for whom Christ died are led into falsehoods.

The question of worship language is important in this bicultural diocese. The effort to build faithful Christian liturgy that is enriched by various cultures without making the Gospel subordinate to them is a great opportunity and a noble undertaking.

SD Bishop Candidates offer some honest answers to challenging questions... but there are gaps

Please forgive the tightly packed paragraphs. I am finding the formatting on Blogger most frustrating and my efforts to put lines between paragraphs or indentations are not "taking." Will be away from the computer much of today, but hope what follows is helpful.

Good news: every effort is being made to maximize the number of questions asked and to get responses from all four candidates. The "walkabout" event in Sioux Falls last night went a full three hours, alternating questions from the floor with written questions submitted on cards by those in attendance.

Several hundred people were present, so there was no way to get to all the questions. But some important things were asked that gave good insight into the candidates.

After laying out some very short, common sense ground rules, designed to maximize Q & A time, the moderator asked the candidates one starter question:

Why do you feel called to be Bishop of South Dakota?
John Tarrant gave the only satisfying answer: people had approached him two years ago, but he had dismissed the idea. But as more people came to him, he submitted to the possibility of "the Holy Spirit speaking through the church," and allowed his name to go forward. His approach is, "I will be elected if it is God's will," and he made clear that he would stay on as Rector in Pierre if not elected.
Douglas Dunn, as I warned in earlier posts, simply played to his local upbringing. He said he is called to be Bishop "because South Dakota is home." He mentioned "Fr. Bob" (his dad, a priest in the diocese) with glances around the room to see who was responsive to the name drop.
John Floberg spoke of his "call to serve among Native American people." While it was positive to hear a confident statement of his God-given gift, the answer raised two questions about electing him bishop here. 1) He's already fulfilling his calling quite wonderfully right where he is, so why move? 2) He might have come off as over-specialized, when South Dakota's leadership need is more diverse.
Peter Stebinger didn't express a strong call, either, saying that "the Plains are a place that feel like home" and noting some attractive possibilities for lay ministry development and bicultural ministry. He also spoke of being "stale" after 25 years in one parish. While I agree that "stale" can be God's nudge to move on, it doesn't answer the affirmative issue of, "Why here?"
People in attendance asked questions about youth ministry, use of technology to help with growth, pastoral support of clergy and other issues. The candidates tended to have the same general responses for these and some other questions.
But there were a few questions that were challenging and which yielded revealing answers.
What is your view of the resurrection?
Stebinger offered the most decisive and welcome answer. "I passionately believe in the physical resurrection of our Lord on Easter Day." He went on to say that "a metaphor is not enough" and shared that, as an Examining Chaplain for the Diocese of Connecticut, he had argued for requiring would-be clergy to affirm the fact of the resurrection ("But I was overruled.")
Tarrant started strong but then took a strange turn. He noted, as he did several times during the night, that his theology flows from the Incarnation, the fact that God's Word became flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus Christ. He seemed to be building a bridge from that to the reality of the resurrection, but then began an uncomfortably vague series of statements like, "his disciples experienced him" and "God takes what appears to be death and brings life." Not his best answer of the night.
Floberg, who offered some amazingly clear theological answers to other questions, didn't do so well with this one. He got into a confusing riff on the Biblical idea of "latter days," then touched on the presentation of Jesus as "the second Adam" - which works well with Biblically informed people but not with a building full of Episcopalians. He spoke of "looking to the future to see who God is calling us to be." All in all, a confusing response.
Dunn used church code to deny the fact of the resurrection. Jesus is risen "in people for whom he is alive." In a diocese where the mission is going to require supernatural help from God, this was very bad news.
How do you deal with inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church (in particular ordination of clergy and blessing of same sex unions)?
Floberg gave the strongest and clearest answer. "The faith that I carry is the faith I was taught through the Bible. All people can be part of the church... but the church must speak with clarity for ordinations and blessings, so I am opposed." He went on to say that the only way he would change his mind would be through a persuasive Biblical case - "If it is there, I haven't heard it yet." He said plainly, "I will not be bullied into change." He spoke of the need to find "a common faith language in the church," which agrees with the diagnosis of denominational problems in the State of the Church report for this year's General Convention. One informed lay person said to me, "I think this is the only candidate who could go to the House of Bishops and come back with his beliefs intact."
Dunn said that his parish moved from "cautious" to "embracing" of allowing gays and lesbians to be ordained as clergy. He wants to wait on same sex marriage "until it is the law of the land."
Stebinger said, "If a community puts a person forward, and that person is approved by (the diocese and bishop), they should be ordained and allowed to serve in any diocese of the church. Although same sex unions are legal in CT, he does not permit them in his parish because "at this time it would fracture the congregation."
Tarrant noted that same sex unions are simply not legal in South Dakota. As to ordination, he affirmed the traditional position that it is behavior, not orientation, that matters. But beyond those two points, he said "I don't know where my mind is on this" and "I don't have a sharp answer for this." This presents a worry about how Tarrant would function in the overheated climate of the House of Bishops or if pushed by activists locally.
What would you expect of Confirmands?
(a question submitted by a group of teens in attendance)
Dunn said he would "Ask them who Jesus is" and expect them to be able to tell their answer to the Bishop before Confirmation.
Floberg said he would look for "a mature confession of the faith," admitting that confirmands haven't "arrived" but know "how to get there" by prayer, knowing the Biblical message (and how to read the Bible for actual content), and being part of a "multigenerational community of believers" (not just an isolated youth group.)
Tarrant said he would look for evidence that their clergy and lay sponsors had taken the confirmands through a sound course of study, and that he might come up with "ten questions" of basic Christian knowledge that they should be able to answer during the Bishop's visitation.
Stebinger reaffirmed the Prayer Book standard of "a mature affirmation of Baptismal vows." He related that one year, he had given a class of eleven teenagers the choice of declining to be Confirmed it is wasn't personally meaningful to them. "They all refused. All have since chosen to be confirmed." He would want confirmands to be able to tell him why their faith is personally important. He also talked about the need for congregational sponsors to be selected well in advance and to take part in faith discussions with candidates.
What didn't get asked
There were no questions about the leadership direction of the Episcopal Church, and how the candidates would deal with the conflicts and substantive changes in that are likely to emerge at General Convention this year. This is a big gap for a diocese that draws half its operating budget and money for Reservation ministry from the national church.
There were no questions about how the candidates would deal with conflict or dissent.
The questions, with the exception of the one about the resurrection, did not draw out clear priorities and leadership directions from the candidates. They tended to pass the microphone and say, "I agree with what the others have said." As one of my lay people reacted to the event, "This didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. Do they disagree with one another on anything, or do they disagree with our culture about anything?"
Most of the questions asked for opinions - there was little to nothing about actual evidence from the candidates' ministries. Dunn is getting away with the argument that his parish's innovations are "things to draw people into the life of the Lord, " when in fact his parish has lost close to 125 attenders since 2002.
My impressions and opinions
It is my hope that some of these unasked questions will come up at the other walkabout venues. The locations are a good mix of city and rural and spread around the state, so some different perspectives are likely to emerge. But communication in SD is slow and difficult. There are areas with little to no internet access or cell phone coverage. With the election coming up May 9th, it is unlikely that there will be sufficient time to "compare notes" and get a complete picture of what the candidates are about.
While Tarrant had the best answer to the "call" question, he seemed overwhelmed by the pointed questions about resurrection and homosexuality in the church. I found myself worried that he might not be up to the conflicted state of the church. On the one hand, he will give all sides a fair hearing. On the other, the Episcopal Church has been damaged by gentle bishops being ground down by activists. So while I know that Tarrant would treat me well, I worry about how the church would treat him and what that would do to the diocese.
Stebinger came up a few notches in my estimation. Although I found his answer to the "call" question rather arid, his answer on the resurrection was like water in the desert. And he seems consistent about resisting radical change until there is wide consensus in the church, refreshing change from the reigning Episcopal Church madness. At the same time, he could turn around and say, "General Convention has declared this or that agenda to be OK, so we have consensus and full speed ahead!" He's clearly on board with the activists as to implementing an LGBT agenda, just at a slower pace. And I don't know that his consensus building approach, which works very well in the closeness of a parish, would translate into the vastness and diversity of this diocese.
Floberg has so many good qualities in terms of real experience. But he's not a polished communicator. Some of his answers were right on target and others were confusing. He has the clarity of faith and love of people to be a good and decisive leader in this setting. But he's also a down to earth, "lunchbucket" kind of guy, and Episcopal snobbery (yeah, it's real) might work against him. He has the most experience of direct work at the national level (which a bishop has to do), but he doesn't do a good job getting that across. Of the four, he is probably the best representative of this region to the national church.
Dunn (or at least his parish) embodies a terrible Episcopal problem: altering the belief and practice of the church to "reach people," while all the evidence shows that the alterations drive away existing members without reaching those outside the church. It is unlikely that his congregation's dramatic loss of people will ever be mentioned in this pre-election process. He smiles, jokes and plays up his SD roots. His answers to questions are the most general and jargon-laden.
In short discussions and eavesdrops after the event, my overall impression is the same as what appears in the State of the Church report. People are in clusters of the like minded, without a common faith language or sense of what the church is about. We are not good "followers," so it is very hard to raise up leaders. The denomination is, as The Episcopal Church Foundation put it a few years ago, "incoherent" when it comes to leadership. Because of this, it is hard to even identify criteria by which to rank the candidates.
Tarrant would be the kindest pastor and best unity builder within the diocese.
Floberg would be the most stable and most reliable representative of the diocese within the national church, and probably the most effective at reanimating Reservation congregations.
Stebinger knows the most about congregational development, which is good for the "city" congregations but not always welcome in other settings. I told him, "You're the one I would most like to have drinks with to chat about church growth."
Dunn is a very nice man by all accounts, but a prescription for chaos. Issues of closed, "in group" leadership, conflict-avoidance and the negative impact of national church innovations are real here, and Dunn would likely amplify all three.
Keep up your prayers for the candidates, their spouses and the diocesan team that are travelling for five consective days and nights, for the convention delegates who will be voting, and for the candidates' home congregations in this time of waiting and uncertainty. And pray for the whole state of Christ's church - we need it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Great Dogs of the Bible

Well, actually, you won't find 'em. Dogs were considered grungy scavengers in the cultures that wrote the Bible. The Lord himself tells us of good Samaritans, good tax collectors and good prostitutes - but he doesn't build any parables around good dogs. A Bible word search for "dog" yields grim portrayals.

This came up today with some parishioners as we looked at the upcoming lessons for "Good Shepherd Sunday." Someone asked, "Are we like sheepdogs when we do the Shepherd's work?"

Despite the lack of good dogs in Scripture, I liked that idea. In its shepherding analogies, the Bible usually reserves the term "shepherd" for religious leaders, so "sheepdog" isn't a bad description of lay people who share and expand the shepherding work. In healthy congregations, you find lay people reaching out to the lost, guiding others toward spiritual care and provision, protecting the flock (especially by the work of prayer) and going after folks who are wandering off. It doesn't mean that the shepherd doesn't do these things, but good leaders train and empower others to share the work. This is what Christ the Good Shepherd does with his "under-shepherd" apostles. So perhaps the under-shepherds need to pay more attention to fielding sheepdogs.

If you've ever experienced herding breeds, you know that their instincts are in their DNA. A Border Collie that's never seen a sheep will keep its master's kids from running out in the street, for example. That's another nice application of the "sheepdog" idea - the good qualities practiced by devoted lay people become part of a congregation's DNA or culture.

All symbols and metaphors have their limits. When it comes to shepherds, sheepdogs and flocks, what's important is that all find fulfillment when they stay under the care and guidance of Christ, THE Good Shepherd.

(That's our dog chewing on a bone. Not sure what work she represents.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Single, Bicultural Diocese Seeks Good Shepherd for Lasting Relationship

He looked a lot like the New Mexican shepherd in this photo. But he was a wood carving at a folk art exhibit I visited decades ago.

The display featured Santos, carved figures expressing Catholic faith through a Southwestern art style.

The one that caught my attention, and of which I've not been able to find a picture over the years, was called El Buen Pastor - "The Good Shepherd."

El Buen Pastor stood out from the other Santos and also from other traditional representations of Jesus.

He was different from the other Santos because most of them were painted in bright primary colors. He was unpainted. Just plain wood with some natural staining from the oil of the hands that shaped him.

He was different from other "Good Shepherds" in Christian art. They always cast Jesus as a spry young boy or, even as a bearded man, handsomely gentle and certainly European as he carried a lamb to safety. El Buen Pastor was squat and thick, his shoulders hunched and his face notched with lines that conveyed both age and pain. The lamb across his shoulders was certainly one of hundreds or thousands he had retrieved over many years out in the elements. His features were distinctly and unapologetically Indian.

I always remember El Buen Pastor when John 10:11-18 comes up in the Church's readings, as it did today in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and will next Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep... El Buen Pastor was not so much "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" or the glorified, victorious Christ to come. He was the One who suffered and died under the burden of those he saved.

...The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-- and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep... El Buen Pastor was so aged and hobbled that he couldn't run away if he wanted to. He wasn't just hired to spend time with the sheep; his life was spent on them.

It is a good time to think on El Buen Pastor as the Diocese of South Dakota seeks its 10th Bishop. One challenging passage of the Bible, I Peter 2:24-25, joins the roles of Shepherd and Bishop in the suffering Savior himself:

He personally bore our sins in His own body on the tree , that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have come back to the Shepherd and Guardian (the Bishop, episkopos) of your souls.

Coming back to John 10, we see the rugged work set out for our next Bishop (or any Bishop in the service of El Buen Pastor),

...I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father... The Shepherd/Bishop has to be close to God and close to the people - and both will demand much of him.

...And I lay down my life for the sheep... A marriage is not fulfilled by the wedding ceremony, and a Bishop is not made complete by an election or a consecration service. He fulfills his role through the investment of his life, becoming a living sacrifice in the care of God's people.

...I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice... A Bishop must be an evangelist, announcing Good News that turns others toward Christ. This is not just "adding members to the church," but bringing people close to Jesus, training them to recognize Christ's voice in their lives. And those of us already in the church can be a hindrance, as we demand the Bishop's attention for our internal needs. He will suffer our excuses and grumbling if he leads us to go out and find others.

...So there will be one flock, one shepherd... He must seek to unify us in Christ, often having to fight the wolf packs of our sin-stained egos, lurking in snarly factions. He must increase the authority of Christ in the church while all other claims, including the Bishop's own, must decrease.

...For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father." He must model for us the way of Christ, obeying God's direction into painful places while holding onto the assurance of God's love.

Pray for our next Bishop, that he have all he needs to be Un Buen Pastor. And pray for us all, that we grow in ability to recognize The Good Shepherd's voice.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Despite an activist court in Iowa, non-traditional "marriage claims" start with "Straight" America's behavior

Traditional marriage advocate Jennifer Roback Morse comments on the Iowa Supreme Court's imposition of same-sex marriage. Her summary:

Advocates of natural marriage, as opposed to genderless marriage, believe that society needs marriage to be a child-centered, gender-based social institution. We have been arguing all along that same-sex “marriage” will be a gender-neutral institution, in which children are only a peripheral concern. When the Supreme Court of Iowa established same-sex “marriage” by judicial decree, they proved our point for us.

While I agree with her analysis of the sorry activist court decision, I want to add a perspective:

Same-sex and other non-traditional marriage claims did not appear out of nowhere. It was heterosexual America which began redefining marriage as a temporary arrangement to meet individual adult needs.

Folks argue about when this started. Most will say "the sexual revolution of the 60s," but I've also heard good arguments that the divorce rate began a steady climb with the dissolution of hasty WWII marriages. (Maybe even "The Greatest Generation" had its flaws, totally understandable for human beings caught up in some of history's greatest traumas). It was conservative icon Ronald Reagan who, as Governor of California, signed the disastrous "No Fault Divorce" idea into law, throwing more fuel on the funeral pyre of the traditionally committed family.

No, it isn't "gays and lesbians tearing down traditional marriage." Straight America did the damage with its cavalier divorce and remarriage patterns, its habit of "living together" despite the evidence that these arrangements are unstable, its treatment of children as cute but disposable accessories, and other awful trends. Most of all, men and women rejected a Christian vision of marriage as a "vocation," a God-given and God-serving role with greater impact on the world than that of clergy and other "religious" vocations.

Yeah, the LGBT activists want symbolic victories. But many gay and lesbian folks who are "out" in mainstream society have little enthusiasm for marriage. Nor do many younger straights. They've seen - no, they've suffered - the selfish chaos of my Baby Boom generation and what some African Christians rightly condemn as our "serial polygamy."

As a Christian, I believe in the Biblical and traditional teaching of marriage as a lifetime vow between one man and one woman. But heterosexual society has ignored that model for some time. So we should not feign shock when gays, lesbians and other groups claim marital status on their own terms, at least in the secular realm.

The disgrace of Churches seeking to bless the self-centered chaos is another editorial altogether.

SD Standing Cmte. will not reveal vote on controversial Bishop candidate - THIS is why the profile of our next bishop calls for "COMMUNICATION"

The nominee for Bishop of Northern Michigan needs to get a majority of consents from all Diocesan Bishops and Standing Committees of the Episcopal Church. So far, the numbers are not running in his favor and even "progressive" bishops have voted against him for altering the language of the baptismal liturgy and preaching a message that is more about his Buddhist involvement than Christianity.

Meanwhile, South Dakota's Standing Committee will not say how it is voting or, at this point, when it will meet. The calendars on display today (4/25/09) at the Diocesan website and in the current diocesan newsletter do not give any upcoming dates for Standing Committee meetings. The SC met last week, but might not have voted on the consent issue as it had much to do in preparation for South Dakota's own upcoming Bishop election.

Speaking of which, the Diocesan profile for the new Bishop lists "communication" as a desired quality. That is good news, as the profile was developed with much survey and forum input from around the diocese. This need was named by the clergy and people.

The tendency toward leadership by unresponsive "in group" is one of several systemic problems the incoming bishop will need to address.

Really, be honest. Ever read a Gospel?

The church calendar celebrates St. Mark, author of the shortest and probably earliest Gospel, on April 25th.

Mark's telling of the words and deeds of Jesus has had a big impact in a couple of the churches I've served. At one, it opened up the men of the church. After a short study of Mark, several admitted to really thinking about Jesus for the first time. Several stay-at-home dads began attending church with their wives and kids. New energy flowed into the congregation.

Here at Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls, this month saw the close of an 8-month study of Mark, conducted by small groups of church members meeting in homes. Already, there are deeper relationships, new ministries emerging, and profound hunger for more study.

Mark wrote for Christians under duress. A recent Chicago Tribune feature picked up on this, exploring the use of Mark as the Easter message in communities facing economic upheavals and other problems.

If you've never read a full account of Jesus' words and deeds, try out Mark. It is only 16 chapters, and moves briskly. You can read it in one sitting if you are motivated or if you are just trying to kill an evening.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A prayer for my generation of Episcopalians, and the wreck we've made of the Church.

Paul, First Letter to the Church in Corinth, Chapter 3

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human?

Lord, we value our own egos and causes above you. Like infants, we treat you as a magical story to fulfill our desires. We are jealous and quarrel, because we cherish no common Gospel - just a bunch of conflicting tales to tell. We accept and promote those who justify our own sins and biases. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is not growing among us. We sow to please our selfish desires, not the Spirit.


What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Lord, we think too much of ourselves and we play favorites. We put mere human personalities in your place. We've lost sight of each other's gifts and can't work together. With no common purpose, we do not serve you. Our church is not growing or building up - it is withering and falling down around us. Yet we deny the obvious and continue in foolish ways.


According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

Lord, we have not taken care. We have squandered what we inherited and set up a flimsy facade that hides you from people who need your salvation. We make them look at us when they are seeking you.


Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

Lord, we have built with the "hay and straw" of ideology, sensationalism, emotionalism and self-interest, while we distract ourselves with "pretty things" in church. Already, our shoddy work is burning down around us. How fortunate we are that you are merciful and loving, and can save us from our self-made death traps.


Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Lord, have mercy on leaders in the church and help them to hear this warning. The Episcopal Church is not being destroyed from without, but from within. Please help those who are deluding, scattering and discouraging the people. Help them see their great risk and bring them back to faithful work in your service.


Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’, and again,‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Lord, our generation believes its own press releases. We believe that we know more than those who walked with you and preached you at great cost. We believe that our generation is uniquely gifted and entitled - that we define you rather than belong to you. We follow those who boast of their intellect, or "spirituality," or "health," or some other human quality. We call ourselves "thinking people" while parroting slogans. We call ourselves "healthy" while questioning the sanity of any who disagree with us. We call ourselves "inclusive" while driving away all who are unlike us. We call ourselves "peaceful and just" while we inflict our pain and rage on the people we are sent to serve. We are no better than the world, and we seek the world's approval and clutch at its fading treasures.

Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Lord Jesus Christ, by your cross and precious blood you have redeemed us. Save us and help us, we humbly beseech you O Lord.


For my own part, I confess to having promoted falsehood, especially in my first years out of seminary. I confess to the vanity of thinking myself more intelligent than the faithful, when I was simply mouthing ideology I'd not bothered to explore. I confess to having driven faithful Christians out of the church with my bloated clergy ego.


I confess to the vanity of thinking that my generation, in affluence and safety, had reached some higher understanding of Jesus than those who had suffered great hardship and loss for his name. And I confess to looking down my nose at simply faithful people who didn't know all the jargon of my caste.


I confess to cafeteria morality in my Christian years, ignoring teaching that was uncomfortable and twisting other teachings to rationalize my self-serving behaviors.


I confess to having adopted "the party line" at times, simply to advance my "career" in the church. And I confess that I contributed to the polarized mess that the church is now by my own undisciplined, hypocritical actions.


I confess to not identifying and resisting manifest sin and unfaithfulness in the church, in order to claim the label "tolerant" and get approval.


I confess that I have not accepted the justice of bearing the consequences of these and many other sins. I have, upon returning to the Gospel, acted as if I'd never departed. I confess to the harsh way I've gone after some who are caught up in sins I should understand and approach gently. I confess that I've feigned "shock" at a compromised church when I've been among those who have compromised it. And I confess that I've expected God to "make it all better" for my sake rather than "make me over" for Christ's sake.

Out of gas for now. May God have mercy.


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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

UPDATED! Any helpful material for a Christian on Earth Day?

Despite the Bible's affirmations of the goodness and renewal of God's creation, Christians get a bit ambivalent about Earth Day. We want to give thanks and we want to live up to our responsibility for tending what God has given, but get close to Earth Day and pretty soon you're hearing stuff about "Gaia" and nature romanticism and all kinds of over the top stuff that is weird and, frankly, "religious" in the least appealing sense.

But I'm happy to say that one of my parishioners has co-authored Narnia and the Fields of Arbol, The Environmental Vision of C.S. Lewis. It is an interesting exploration of Lewis' well known Christian works, along with personal letters and other material that show his immersion in the natural world and some common themes with environmentally concerned writers of the same period.

David O'Hara is a Professor of Greek and Philosophy at Augustana College here in Sioux Falls, and badly damaged because I often grab him instead of a reference book when I have a question about New Testament Greek. So have a heart. Check out the book.

UPDATE: see the comments below and also thanks to Karen Boyle for these good links.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why Candidate Dunn's "Communion Without Baptism" Doesn't Match Our Bishop Search Profile - and a personal plea from yours truly

It is hard for me to understand how candidate Douglas Dunn, from a "communion without baptism" parish, got into the mix here in South Dakota. One commenter on an earlier thread had a good insight - our diocese has a limited budget, and this translated into lack of travel funds for visits to the candidates' parishes, which in turn allowed key information to remain undisclosed.

"Communion without baptism" is yet another practice dumped on the church without benefit of church-wide discussion and certainly without agreement. It means inviting unbaptized people to receive the sacrament, in direct violation of Episcopal Church Canon I.17.7, "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church." It is often justified as a way to "bring more people into the church," but candidate Dunn's parish has lost significant attendance over the last several years. It is another innovation where the promise of growth and renewal puts stars in our eyes, only to later fill them with tears as decline and stagnation are the real outcomes.

"Communion Without Baptism" is NOT our common practice of sharing the sacrament with baptized members of other Christian traditions. We are talking about a complete innovation, so controversial that even some very "liberal" Episcopal leaders and liturgical scholars have warned against it. It is a violation of longstanding Christian teaching and practice, a disaster for relations with other churches, and, frankly, a betrayal of ordination vows by clergy who do it.

These concerns are very real in our South Dakota Bishop Search profile. I want to highlight a key section, and explain why it should stand against the election of someone who practices Communion Without Baptism (CWOB) - in this case, candidate Doug Dunn.

Part III: Our Prayerful Expectations

Finally, in Part III, we look at our expectations for the person who will accept the call as South Dakota’s Tenth Bishop and fulfill this trust in obedience to Christ. Our backdrop is the history of Bishops in the National Church and in South Dakota, while our focus is on the words in The Book of Common Prayer.

These expectations state that the new Bishop...

...Will encourage and support, as Chief Priest and Pastor, all baptized people in their gifts and ministries. Our Bishop will nourish our people from the riches of God’s grace, praying for them without ceasing, and celebrating with them the sacraments of our redemption.

Notice, please, that the sacraments take their meaning from Christ's redemption of a unique group of people, called here "the baptized." The sacramental minister - "Chief Priest" - of the diocese is its bishop. CWOB betrays the understanding of the church revealed in Scripture, long standing Church tradition and our practice of both in the Book of Common Prayer. It radically misrepresents the meaning of Holy Communion.

Will guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.

The bishop-elect, at his consecration, must swear to do this. Notice the strong word, "guard." Faith, unity and discipline are all betrayed by CWOB. Conscious and direct violation of Canon Law makes candidate Dunn unfit to take this vow.

Will share with fellow Bishops in the government of the whole Church...

The bishop is the face of our diocese in relationship with other dioceses, and a representative of the Episcopal Church to the wider Christian community. CWOB is an affront to those relationships.

We look for a Bishop who is a Spiritual Guide and Teacher, a Community Leader and Bridge Builder, and an Experienced Administrator...

CWOB is bad spiritual guidance. The Bible itself warns that unworthy reception of Communion is spiritually harmful. CWOB is bad teaching, because it ignores Scripture, tradition and reasoned reflection upon them, thus throwing out our unique theological approach. And as you can tell from my post and the link I shared above, CWOB does not build bridges - it can, in fact, burn them.

Let me make a plea here. It takes a few paragraphs to express, but I want you to have a look, primarily if you are here in this diocese. (Or you can just scroll down to the end if you are impatient).

The polarization in the church and the world is painful. For my part, I have been working to stop being such a thorn in the diocesan foot. I can't share all I've been doing, because some of it involves personal visits with people and these don't belong on the blog.

Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls is a place of growth and vitality. It has much to share. Our Lord himself warns us not to "hide our light, but to share it and bring glory to our Father in Heaven." So I want to step back from some of the feuding that has set in and find more ways to contribute positively to Christ's work in this diocese.

Members of Good Shepherd are going to be part of the prayer team supporting the election in Pierre on May 9. In fact, we have been praying for the Nominating Committee, Standing Committee, Convention and Candidates in our liturgies. Members of my congregation have been asked (and have accepted) some supporting work for the upcoming walkabouts.

All that being said, my plea is that you not throw an explosive controversy into this diocese. We need healing and building. CWOB is radically unacceptable and, without betraying any confidences, I can tell you that this is true for more clergy than just Tim Fountain. Please take this seriously as you consider your vote or discuss candidates with your congregation's delegates - candidate Dunn is not consistent with our diocesan profile and will be a source of controversy and division.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Links to South Dakota Bishop Candidates' Statements and My Analysis

The Diocesan News (pdf) has the candidates' full statements.

You can read my analysis of

Bishop elections in the Episcopal Church are long, grinding affairs for all involved. Please pray for the candidates and their families. Pray for their current congregations, for whom this becomes a time of uncertainty. Pray for the Diocese of South Dakota. Pray for the Church.

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Today's Sermon and a powerful quote from Archbishop Oscar Romero

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter
Fr. Timothy Fountain

Why does Jesus show up for Thomas? Why did John write letters and Luke record the Acts of the Apostles? John tells us the motive in his Gospel:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The best proof that Easter is true is in lives filled with Christ. This has been true from the first moments of what we now call “the church.” The living Christ is recognized where people live for Him.

We hear this in The First Letter of John:
…this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us-- we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ….if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

We see it demonstrated in The Acts of the Apostles:
With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them…

I’ve been touched by Easter truth in recent weeks here at Good Shepherd:

I recognized Jesus when members of this congregation brought dinners to my family, to lighten my load as I preached through Holy Week.

I recognized Jesus when the many folks who worshipped on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday shared a deep silence as they left the services.

I recognized Jesus at the Great Vigil of Easter when the people boomed out their first “Alleluias” with volume worthy of a sporting event.

I recognized Jesus Tuesday night when the Vestry got more energetic the later it got in a very long meeting – they gained joy and enthusiasm as they took on specific work to help us all “put Jesus first”.

I recognize Jesus every time our home Bible study participants share how much they’ve come to appreciate one another and how much they look forward to their times together.

This witness – your witness – is so important today. Our world, our nation and even our churches are polarized. People cannot find unity and peace. Consider these quotes from the amazingly, painfully honest State of the Church report, published by The Episcopal Church in preparation for this summer’s General Convention:

"64% of Episcopal congregations acknowledge having some kind of conflict over the ordination of gay clergy. And most of that conflict was of a serious nature… 40% indicated that some people left…"

"…the patience and the ability to understand clearly (are) diminished… the concept of herding into particular groups, for or against a particular descriptor, is a common result."

"We often struggle with the ability to articulate our identity. We often struggle with our relationships with each other."

"…under 20% of our congregations report active evangelism programs…"

Do you hear that? Where we live for things that are less than Christ, we don't have the living Christ to share.

The church needs congregations like you. The world needs people like you who put Jesus first, in word and deed. Church and world need the proof of Easter, because only in the supernatural truth of Easter can they be saved from all that seeks their destruction.

I give thanks for you in this Easter season. The problems of the wider church have gotten the best of it, but Christ is greater than all the problems, and I recognize Christ in you and in congregations like you. The institutional church, as we know it today, will die. But Christ is the one who comes out of the tomb, with new life to share.
May we all give thanks that the One who lives forever chooses to share His life with us, and may we share His life with others.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"If we are worth anything, it is not because we have more money or more talent, or more human qualities. Insofar as we are worth anything, it is because we are grafted on to Christ's life, his cross and resurrection. That is a person's measure." --Archbishop Oscar Romero, March 4 1979
He was assassinated a year later.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

SD Bishop Candidate Peter Stebinger

Good Stuff:

He expresses a conciliatory, patient leadership style. “My personal style is one of consensus and bridge building within the community, be it parish or diocese. I believe that because we are all one in the Body of Christ there is an underlying unity which can be achieved if we take enough time to listen to each other. Within my parish, we have wrestled with some of the most contentious issues facing the church. We never moved forward until a consensus had been achieved.”

He seems realistic about what this means. “This does not mean that everyone agrees or is happy with the outcome, that would truly mean that the Kingdom of god had come, but rather that all voices have been heard and all agree that this is the will of the community to move in a certain way.”

And he is willing to actually exercise leadership to support this model. “If we are unable to achieve a common mind, then I will not allow us to move forward; we continue the dialogue for as long as it takes. As part of that process I continue to be in dialogue with everyone who is involved. It is my job…to ensure that no one feels outcast, even if they hold a minority opinion…”

This is consistent with the perspectives expressed on his parish website and in his writings. I find a certain comfort in his approach. It sounds like the way things worked in the Episcopal Church in less polarized times. Make room for consensus, with the Book of Common Prayer establishing boundaries. Allow room for differences and do not force a direction without broad consensus. His parish site summarizes the real middle way, which involves taking from both Catholic and Protestant sources (not “splitting the difference” between any two opposites).

He calls The Diocese of South Dakota “one of the gems of the Episcopal Church…the only truly bi-cultural diocese…” (although North Dakota, where he ran for Bishop at one point, might also claim this).

He comes from a multicultural upbringing and has a collaborative ministry with Christians in Kenya and the U.S.

I suppose it can go either way depending upon one’s taste, but his are the answers of a thoughtful, reflective man. His style tends toward academic, and his answers seem well thought with little of the usual church jargon.

Question Marks:

The issue of his interest in the Dakotas can cut against him as well as for him. There is some perception that he has been “running for bishop” here before there was an opening, making regular appearances at events and then returning to the East. His daughter coming from Connecticut to be ordained a priest in South Dakota in order to serve in Massachusetts is strange – it conjures images of winks and secret handshakes.

And although he writes with confidence, his book on church growth seems more a product of the parlor than the field. Again, he’s been 25 years in his parish, and it has grown modestly and incrementally to not much larger than Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls. Not to blow my own horn, but I’ve led three churches from double to triple digit Sunday attendance in much less time, including taking one from 150 ASA to over 300. So there’s an experienced part of me that says, “This candidate has some good thoughts but oversells his experience.” The fact that he’s written a book on church growth for General Convention is odd – there are much more accomplished church planters, developers and growers out there with more experience to share (and no, I don’t see myself in that elite company, but I know them when I see them.)

While I like his emphasis on healthy congregations and his admission that churches of several types can grow, his book takes the position that “conservative” churches grow only by aping “megachurch” techniques (Episcopal code for “insincere gimmicks”), while “liberal” churches grow by reasoned inquiry. This seems like editorial rather than research and I could go around the country pointing out all the contradictory examples. And it raises the red flag that in his consensus building efforts, churches like mine will be outside looking in because we don’t fit his theoretical model. As I said, it is a matter of style – some academics are gentle and thoughtful and others can become your worst enemy if you don’t conform to their concepts.

So I wonder if Stebinger can summon the positive passion and deal with the messiness of the work that will be needed to renew a diocese like South Dakota:

"I know not what trials await you. The Church which is now so keenly alive to the wants of this poor people may grow cold. The first fervor of Christian converts may pass away. Old heathen habits may reassert their power. You may even have to say to some of your flock as St. Paul said to Christians in his time, 'Lie not to one another. Let him that stole steal no more.' The bad men of the border may excite savage hearts to deeds of blood. The government may again forget its plighted faith. You may have to stand alone, and breast the anger of the people in defense of the helpless. In the darkest hour look up to Christ your King. Better men than we have labored and died without seeing the harvest. Thus Greenland and Iceland were won to Christ. It is yours to work and pray and die. God giveth the harvest. You go in the name of Christ. You bear the seal of His authority. You have His promise, 'I am with you alway.'"
(Bishop Whipple’s charge to Hare, from Howe’s biography.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

UPDATED: SD Bishop Candidate Douglas Dunn

This is the first profile to draw some comments. Please check them out.

Good Stuff:

Of the four candidates, he’s the one who has been given props for “Sense of Humor,” which was an element of our Diocesan profile!

I like his response to questions about Mutual Ministry, because he uses one of my favorite Biblical approaches. Dunn’s thinking on leadership and ministry is “grounded in St. Paul’s image in I Corinthians of the Church as the Body of Jesus Christ, Jesus being the head and all of us as connected and related to each other in him… having every spiritual gift and blessing (needed) to carry on the ministry that God desires and expects from their community.”

He presents an interesting and refreshing take on the Church and social issues: “The Church has traditionally addressed issues by passing proclamations and resolutions… They may give our consciences a bath, but generally end up on a shelf… there are three levels of approach to social concerns and moral choices… First, the local community is the place most in touch with its own needs and issues… Second, the wider community can contribute… Third and ultimately, Christian responsibility is in the mind and heart of the individual Christian…free to say, “I choose to do something about it… The world can be changed, especially when all three (local congregation, wider community of faith, and personal responsibility) come together.”

Question Marks:

There are many.

Some of Dunn’s answers seem breezy and superficial. In his three priorities, he leads off with, “I have a commitment to youth and young adult ministry” – but then invokes a list of hypothetical ideas, vaguely about the Bishop interacting with youth during annual church visits. Yes, the profile calls for youth emphasis, but this answer seems tailored to meet the profile rather than tell us much about candidate Dunn.

Dunn presents very little for in-depth consideration. It is impossible to find Dunn's sermons, newsletters or much else. There is a lack of detail in his answers and a lack of public communication that raises a big red flag, especially when our Diocesan profile lists “Communication” as a highly desired quality in the next Bishop.

A worrisome implication arises from the way Dunn explains one of his other priorities, “unity.” He conspicuously omits traditional Episcopalians or “conservatives” from his list of groups deserving inclusion. Meanwhile, one of the national church’s most militant lesbian activists operates from Dunn's parish and his assisting priest supports that agenda as well as advocating for abortion. A red flag: might his light, cheery presentation cover for a more aggressive “agenda”? He serves closely with the staff of a diocese (Colorado) which has not handled conflict well, losing many people and spending large amounts on lawsuits, "church trials" and other unhealthy approaches to disagreement.

He's also advocating "Churches Uniting," which
represents just one end of the church spectrum. This raises concerns about his ability to build unity within this Diocese.

In the last few weeks, the Episcopal Church has released a substantial self-analysis, with strong statistical and survey evidence showing the amount of conflict and membership loss accelerated by gay/lesbian activism in the church. Because of Dunn's South Dakota family origins, one worry is that people's votes will be uninformed by research of the facts and based on name recognition. There are many well intentioned lay people who look back to the church's better days, and the appeal of a family name from a happier time can't be denied. But to elect a candidate based on his old family ties and then discover him carrying a factional agenda would be a setback for this Diocese, which is already suffering all the problems documented in the State of the Church report.

The biggest worry with Dunn is the Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) of his Denver parish. It was more than 300 in 2002, but has fallen to about 180 since then. That is a terrible decline, and a big red flag. Our Diocesan profile speaks of bringing people back into our churches, and for whatever reason the opposite has happened where Dunn currently serves.

Can Dunn, like the first Missionary Bishop of South Dakota, represent the true middle way of apostolic faith and apostolic order, or is he among the clergy who have redefined the middle way as something extreme?

“But the Episcopal Church has its distinct calling and we must have a right self-confidence. We should give liberty to all and should have no hesitation in claiming it for ourselves. Influences from the ultra-Protestant world, which in some quarters in Japan have perhaps overborne us in the past, should be resisted and we should boldly, though generously, hold aloft apostolic faith and apostolic order, bearing the double witness against extremes on both sides of us which has been historically our calling.” (quoted in Howe’s biography of Hare)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

SD Bishop Candidate John Floberg

Good Stuff:

John Floberg is kind of a “sleeper.” I did not know much about him, but his candidate statement reveals much that is impressive.

For bicultural ministry, Floberg has by far the strongest background and record of achievement of the four candidates. He has been immersed in bicultural ministry for almost 20 years, and since 1991 has served three D/Lakota congregations on the North Dakota area of the Standing Rock Reservation (it extends into South Dakota as well). He says, “I am glad to see the word ‘multicultural’ rather than ‘cross cultural.’ It is my experience that the church often acts as part of the dominant culture. That translates in ministry as doing something ‘to’ others rather than ‘with’ others. The Church has also had the tendency to be doing its work, worship and business in a Western way rather than finding news strategies that work between us.”

This bicultural awareness is evident in his proposals to use funerals (which are a big part of Christian work on the Reservations) and “setting up camp” at Tribal gatherings as a means of pastoral visitation in place of the “annual congregational visitation” (which is more the norm in White/city congregations).

He has been active in raising up clergy vocations among both D/Lakota and Sudanese congregations in North Dakota. His investment in the Reservation people has been recognized by appointments to both State and Tribal Suicide Prevention Task Forces. He has been active at the national level in Episcopal Native American ministry.

Floberg’s three priorities are on target for the needs of South Dakota, and his understanding of ministry is healthy:

1) Congregational Development – “I see the broad development of sustainable and innovative ways of doing ministry. Our ministry is not primarily to a Congregation. Our ministry is a partnership through them into their community.” That is a breath of fresh air in a denomination often caught up in internal matters.

2) Youth - “In many of the reservation communities about half the population is under twenty.” The diocesan profile here calls for investment in youth, and Floberg brings that. “On Standing Rock we have developed resources, ministers and rapport with nearly 250 youth each year to be involved in our summer camps, contacts, weekly bible studies and clubs…developing a vital and relevant faith by providing young people with mentors.”

3) Mission over Maintenance - “The resources necessary for ministry to be accomplished are varied. Money alone is not the answer.” He has a good understanding of people as the primary resource, and says, “’mission’ is what needs to be addressed and ‘ministry’ is the way we address it.”

One of Floberg’s strongest traits appears to be a well developed understanding of the role of the Bishop. Floberg has worked on the national and diocesan level for some time, and this seems to have provided thoughtful insight into just what a Bishop can do effectively. “It is the stewardship of the Bishop to keep a Diocese focused on Christ’s ability to make the Church a place of hope and vitality…the Church can be a place of mission and not simply maintenance in every community… Episcopal leadership is about the ability to live, work and perform well with the variety of people and organizations that are in a Diocese. It is effectively accomplished when a Bishop is concerned about being the Pastor for all and keeping that part of the work central. The Bishop’s work is to honor the gifts and understand the mission that is presented to particular people, groups or ministries, through order and organization…Leadership is visibly fulfilled when it is multiplied. The Bishop recognizes, equips and works with and among the people… A chief serves the people within the village and unites one village to the next, all part of the holy family.”

And he understands that a Bishop’s work is not just diocesan management: “Leadership in the Church has an Apostolic nature. It is rooted and grounded in the confession of the Faith as delivered through the Apostles and understood through the study of Scripture and the ages of the Church’s life.”

Question Marks:

Floberg has energy but energetic people can be abrasive. Right off the bat, he’s proposed moving the Bishop’s base of operations from Sioux Falls to Pierre. Whatever the merits of the idea, it seems odd to drop such a big idea in a candidate statement rather than through wider “stakeholder” discussions. So, the question of Floberg’s ability to work collegially (especially with congregational clergy) comes up.

A second concern is whether the diverse ministry needs in South Dakota are the best fit for Floberg. He is in a position right now that really makes excellent use of his gifts in a primarily Reservation-based ministry. Can he be an effective leader to city congregations and build bridges between them and the Reservation churches?

Can he emulate the first Missionary Bishop, and build a unified ministry here?

AFTER ten years of service primarily to the Indians, Bishop Hare received in 1883 a tangible expression of the confidence of the House of Bishops through a change in the limits of his jurisdiction so that they came to correspond virtually with the limits of the present State of South Dakota. For Niobrara, in the title of his jurisdiction, the name of South Dakota was substituted. The change was a clear recognition of a new situation. The towns settled by whites in the eastern part of the state had grown too important to remain, as they had been, a mere adjunct to the diocese of Nebraska. The more recent white population in the Black Hills, along the western boundary, was already separating Bishop Hare's work into two important divisions—the Indian and the white. The new arrangement merely made a geographical unit of all the work for Indians and whites which fell naturally to Bishop Hare's charge. It was a change which he greeted with entire satisfaction. This was expressed in his Annual Report for 1884, when he wrote, "We shall cease to be Missionaries to classes or races, and be Missionaries to men." (Howe’s biography of Bishop Hare)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

SD Bishop Candidate John Tarrant

Good stuff:

As I have confessed in earlier posts, I have a certain measure of positive bias for this candidate. He has been respectful and responsive to me over the last few years, when many clergy and leaders in the diocese were engaged in shunning and gossip. So I am thankful for him.

His parish has grown in Sunday attendance, stewardship, lay and community ministries.

I’ve heard him preach a couple of times – he’s refreshingly joyful and humble in preaching from the Biblical texts.

He articulates three priorities that are realistic to the role of bishop and responsive to diocesan reality here:

1) Deployment of lay and ordained leaders – “the bishop should play a key role in affirmation and support of leaders.”

2) Reconciliation – “Bridging the gaps between different groups within the Diocese (Native American/White congregations, parishes/missions, liberals/conservatives, west river/east river, affluent/poor, etc.) should be a priority.”

3) Reaching out to the poor, the vulnerable, the hopeless, the disenfranchised.

He is capable of stating and staying with a vision, a strong plus for anyone called to lead a geographically scattered and diverse organization like this diocese. Tarrant frequently explains his positions and priorities in terms of “The Kingdom of God.” His statements are salted with that image, for example “The overriding challenge is to use Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God as the plumb line to measure all of our ministry as a Diocese,” and “We cannot fully live the Kingdom vision without each other.” The recent national State of the Church report confessed that Episcopalians are in conflict and have no common spiritual language, so Tarrant’s ability to develop such language here could be a plus.

Tarrant has done some great work developing ministry that joins his White, city congregation with Reservation congregations. He’s done this with great energy (“I drove 550 miles on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day officiating at five different Churches”) and great humility (“I know I have much to learn and have grown to depend on the wise council of those in the Niobrara field who have much they can teach.”)

He has a welcome understanding of the potential and the limits of Mutual Ministry – “The overriding goal is to help all in the faith community to more fully live their baptismal vows and build the Kingdom of God. It should not be seen as the ‘cheap’ (money saving) way of doing ministry, but rather a way of equipping those who have gifts to exercise their ministry.”

His reflections on leadership are refreshingly grounded in Jesus, as revealed in Mark 10:42-45 and John 15:15. He believes that the leader must serve the people, set a godly example, and maintain an open relationship with those who share the work – he quotes Jesus’ elevation of the disciples from “servants” to “friends.”

I really, really liked his statement of time and energy priorities: “I know that there are time restraints on a bishop, but choices need to be made based on what is most helpful to enhancing the health and mission of the Diocese. The care and nurture of the leadership of our congregations I believe to be the key.”

Question Marks

How will he go about “reconciliation”? He says, “Listening, listening, and more listening…hearing people’s stories and telling our own, putting faces to the pain and the joy will go a long way toward understanding.” For many veterans of the church conflicts, "listening" brings worries of
a pre-planned outcome. In the national church, it usually means the advance of an agenda, with the built in assumption that one “side” is right.

On the other hand, Tarrant has modeled respectful listening when I have shared my thoughts and frustrations with him and has tried to establish common ground.

The other question is how Tarrant will function in the conflicts of the National Church. The conflict over the gay/lesbian agenda, as the National Church itself now admits, has damaged congregational ministry all around the denomination. Since Tarrant says, “We cannot fully live the Kingdom vision without each other,” I would like him to articulate his view of the positive, needed contribution of Biblically traditional Episcopalians to the denomination. Can we serve in diocesan leadership? Can clergy from places like Trinity Seminary or Nashotah House be called to the diocese? How will Diocesan organizations respond to concerned clergy and congregations? Some specifics are needed to put flesh and blood on his generally good intentions.

Can he make a place for some of the same Biblical authority exercised by Bishop Hare in the early days of the diocese?

Within a few years the divergence between the law for Christians and the laws of South Dakota became more and more apparent. On Bishop Hare's return from Japan and China in 1892, he wrote to his daughter-in-law:

. . . "The rain, the deaths and, worse than all, the scandalous divorce mill which is running at Sioux Falls, with revelations of the silliness and wickedness of men and women, have made my return home a very gloomy one. I despise people who trifle with marriage relations so intensely that the moral nausea produces nausea of the stomach. I have a continual bad taste in my mouth. One of the family, after cultivating our church in Sioux Falls and playing the role of an injured woman, has turned a disgusting somersault. She was accompanied by her adviser, so called, by name, whom she married at once upon her divorce, and it turns out…
She gave $1,000 to put memorial windows…in the cathedral. They are here, but I won't have them…the flaming placards of a low circus. (from Howe's biography of Hare)

All SD Candidate statements now available

They are in the current Church News (pdf).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Maybe we should thank God for the "Decline and Fall of Christian America"

First off, Newsweek's coverage of Christianity is shallow and has an agenda.

But let's be clear that by many measures, "Christianity", even in a very superficial form, is no longer the source of national consensus. So at that level Newsweek is right.
The Good News in this Easter season is that "Christianity" - not religious formality but sincere, sacrificial following after the living Jesus - stands up and thrives when not leaning on cultural props. This came up in two lessons today:
Peter's sermon in Jerusalem (Acts 2:40-42) says that life in Christ is radically out of step with surrounding culture. The result is a very basic yet thriving church. And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Jesus himself tells us that the true benefit of following him will not be found on the world's terms. In fact, his presence will be a distinct contrast with the culture and the times. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
On the world's terms, the times will be more challenging for those who follow the Way of Jesus. For those of us who've been in a comfy American church, there will be more sarcasm, social rejection, public ridicule of our beliefs and misrepresentations of who we are. (A recently aired TV comedy had a character convert to Christianity, then take part in Nazi-style book burning). We face the very real possibility of "hate crime laws" written to stifle Biblical preaching and gut the First Amendment.
But it is in just such a climate that the first apostles spread the Good News of God's love, and brought many people to new life. The work is harder, but the rewards are more precious and of more lasting quality.