I was at the church for a Commission on Ministry meeting to discuss how to organize all the Commission’s documents and information on the diocesan website.
On my way in I spotted Bob, who was there for an event in the parish hall. Our interaction was limited to waving to each other as we headed in our separate directions. After my meeting I took some moments to pass the time of day with a few volunteers clearing up after the event. I was headed towards the door when I noticed Bob coming towards me. I stopped. He walked up to me, shook my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “I miss you. I miss you. I miss you and your family. If there is anything I can do, let me know.” Very simple, and also very moving.
Bob was not only being kind and genuine; he was also providing an excellent example of what evangelism can look like in The Episcopal Church. He shows how we can reach out very simply and with few words and yet still have an impact on the lives of others around us.
What we do need to change is our propensity for being reserved and hiding our light under a bushel.
Elsewhere in this issue you’ll find an account of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s recent Revival in Pittsburgh. The events being held in West Missouri on Saturday and Sunday, May 6 & 7 will be somewhat different to those in Pittsburgh, and we are calling our events ‘Awakenings’. There are similarities, and these events are tied back to Bob’s example, as we found out at February’s Evangelism Workshops. At the workshops we were shown that Episcopalians can be evangelists, and really we don’t need to change much to do so. We just need to carry on the work we do in the community, and the quiet works of help and love we give to friends, family and those we encounter along the way. What we do need to change is our propensity for being reserved and hiding our light under a bushel.
When you are serving in the community tell them which church you go to. Want something really simple to do? Follow the example of St. Stephen’s, Monnet. They took a diocesan advertising grant and invested it in St. Stephen’s tee shirts, so that wherever they go and whatever they are doing, they are taking their church with them and introducing it to people. Have printed calling cards for all your members is another simple thing to do. When you are working in the community, be proud to be Episcopalian. Tell them about the church you attend. Don’t be shy! Welcome questions about your church; answer them. Tell them about our wonderful music, our moving liturgy, fellowship and the way in which we welcome everyone. If people are interested, invite them to join you at a service. Keep it simple, and it will be painless.
Gary Allman is Communications Director with The Diocese of West Missouri
My article for this issue is a medley of information about things just finished and things upcoming. At the end, I’ll add a brief word about why –– theologically speaking –– all this matters.
Diocesan Council on Retreat — In January, from the evening of Friday the 20th through the afternoon of Saturday, the 21st, the Diocesan Council went on retreat. Now, I don’t know if this was the first time this group has ever gone on retreat, but it’s the first time in my episcopacy.
Why is this important? Well, first, there are weighty tasks laid before the council and significant decisions to be made. We are at a crossroads in time as a diocese. The cultural, financial, and structural paradigms in which we have lived and moved and had our being as a diocese appear no longer to be serving us well. Therefore, we are now in a time of reconsidering everything about how we “do church”.
The Diocesan Council has embraced the need to face this reality. All members are unanimous in their resolve to seize the day; to consider what must be considered; to analyze, to prioritize, and not shirk from tough decisions; and thereby to do the vital adaptive work that is before the council, the work in which every member of the diocese must share.
In the very near future, maybe even before you receive this issue of Spirit, you will be receiving a communique from the Diocesan Council that shares more about the retreat and our way forward as a diocese. Watch for it (or go back to it)!
Evangelism Workshops are a huge success — Two workshops (or evangelism training events) were held in the diocese in February. I hope you already know of them and even attended one. Thanks to the people, clergy, and staff of our Cathedral and of St. James’, Springfield for hosting, respectively, the northern Kansas City area event on Saturday, February 18 and the southern event on Sunday, February 19.
In my opinion – apparently shared by most if not all who attended – each workshop was a tremendous success. My sense is that attendees want more of this kind of preparation and kind of empowerment for carrying out the mission God has given us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. We will look to see what can be done to enable more events like this in the future.
We, as a diocese, have invited our Presiding Bishop to visit, speak, and challenge us and our communities to “awaken” to God’s call to reconciliation with all people as well as with our Creator. That’s why we are calling the main events:
“Awakening the Spirit in West Missouri”.
The Presiding Bishop is coming — Of course the Evangelism Workshops were not stand-alone events. They tie into and are preparatory for the visit of our Presiding Bishop, Michael Bruce Curry, who will be in West Missouri May 5-7. By now you should be familiar with the events being planned: one in Kansas City and one in Springfield. If you aren’t, watch the diocese’s website for full details. We, as a diocese, have invited our Presiding Bishop to visit, speak, and challenge us and our communities to “awaken” to God’s call to reconciliation with all people as well as with our Creator. That’s why we are calling the main events “Awakening the Spirit in West Missouri”. Our day, our society, this world, calls for The Episcopal Church to be the Church God needs it to be. It is time for us to awaken, to quicken, to be stimulated to the tasks of boldly being salt, and uncovered light, and a visible, shining city on a hill. I look forward to being stirred up by Bishop Curry, one of the most powerful speakers of our time.
Once awakened, I hope and pray that we will be bold in our ministries. Why? You see, I believe that we, The Episcopal Church, are a different kind of Church, and we have an authentic word from God and a time-tested faith to share with our time. We do not avoid the big questions of our day; instead, we invite everyone to examine the question and find answers together, in an atmosphere of acceptance and love, and covered with grace.
So, make plans to rally ’round the Presiding Bishop, to show our spirit as part of the Jesus Movement, and to have a fun and meaningful day together on May 6 or May 7.
The Rt. Rev. Martin Scott Field (Bishop Marty) is the eighth bishop of The Diocese of West Missouri.
The old church tradition of the revival received new life in the Diocese of Pittsburgh Feb. 3-5 with a distinctly Episcopal feel. The emphasis was on both sparking individuals’ faith lives and a commitment to show the love of Jesus beyond the four walls of their churches. Anchoring Episcopal revivals in the needs of the world was a constant theme of the weekend.
“Episcopal Church, we need you to follow Jesus. We need you to be the countercultural people of God who would love one another, who would care when others could care less, who would give, not take,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said during his Feb. 5 sermon at Calvary Episcopal Church in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
For those who think the words Episcopal and revival don’t go together, the size of the crowds, the depth of their emotion and Curry’s insistence begged to differ.
His prayer for this and subsequent revivals, he said during one of his four sermons, is that they will be the beginning of “a way of new life for us as this wonderful Episcopal Church, bearing witness to the love of God in Jesus in this culture and in this particular time in our national history.”
Curry’s Pilgrimage for Reconciliation, Healing and Evangelism in Southwestern Pennsylvania is the first of six revivals being planned with diocesan teams in different cities around the country and the world this year and in 2018.
“I want to suggest this morning that we need a revival inside the church and out – not just in the Episcopal Church. For there is much that seeks to articulate itself as Christianity that doesn’t look anything like Jesus,” Curry said in his Feb. 4 sermon during an Absalom Jones Day Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross. “And if it doesn’t walk and talk and look and smell like Jesus, it’s not Christian … and if it’s going to look like Jesus, it’s got to look like love.”
Curry said the revival of the church, centered in God’s love, is not about a church rejuvenated for its own sake. The church’s revival must spill God’s love out into the world “until justice rolls down like a mighty stream,” he said, echoing Micah. To do that, a revival must channel the emotions of the moment toward something bigger and lasting, Curry said during a news conference. “It is about claiming new and authentic and genuine life. That’s true for our nation, true for our world. We must find better ways to live together, to care for each other, to care for our society and to care for our global communities,” he said.
“We who are followers of Jesus believe that the way of love and the way of Jesus is the key to doing that. But, we join hands with people of other faiths and people of goodwill – anyone who wants to help us end what so often is a nightmare of poverty and injustice and bigotry and wrong and violence, and realize God’s dream of true harmony and peace and justice for everybody.”
The six revivals will vary in design, according to a recent press release, but most will be multi-day events that feature dynamic worship and preaching, offerings from local artists and musicians, personal testimony and storytelling, speakers, invitations to local social action, engagement with young leaders, and intentional outreach with people who aren’t active in a faith community.
The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Creation, is organizing those efforts, along with a team including Consulting Evangelist for Revivals Carrie Headington and Evangelism Associate Emily Gallagher. The planning for each begins with asking diocesan members what the good news of Jesus looks like in their communities. Pittsburgh Episcopalians discerned that the good news would help them cross the divides of their area, build relationships with neighbors of different traditions and start reconciling with each other, Spellers said during the news conference. Thus, that was the theme of the Pittsburgh gathering.
She and others will return to the dioceses after the revivals to work with Episcopalians to cultivate a group of leaders who have new abilities, new relationships and a new common purpose to further enact Jesus’ love in their communities.
“Hopefully, Pittsburgh – not just the diocese but the city and surrounding communities – will look different. And they’ll feel like there was a church that showed up, not only to talk about good news but to be good news,” she said, describing the hoped-for outcome. Episcopalians will understand that they have grown into being new leaders of the Jesus Movement, she added.
Curry’s call for reconciliation and healing first rang out Feb. 3 during the opening event, an ecumenical service of repentance and reconciliation at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Hicks Chapel.
“I am more and more convinced that Jesus came among us to show us how to become more than simply the human race,” Curry said. “He came to show us how to become the human family of God. And, my brothers and my sisters, in that is our hope and in that is our calling.”
God is calling Christians to a deep and radical sense of repentance, Curry said. The world needs such a manifestation of Christianity, he contended, because it will lead to a desperately needed reconciliation among a litany of ethnic groups and even among “red folk and blue folk,” referring to the nation’s political divisions. Finding ways for Republicans and Democrats to discover common ground echoed through Curry’s sermons.
The congregation greeted Curry’s words at the seminary with murmurings of assent, shouts of agreement and, soon, drum rolls and keyboard riffs from the Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church choir, whose members also sang during the service. That audience participation was hallmark of all four of Curry’s sermons during the weekend and it included the Presiding Bishop leading every congregation in song.
Curry sounded a theme that would echo throughout the weekend: Christians must be people of compassion, people of goodwill, people who dare to live the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ words in the Matthew 25:31-46. For instance, he said, people setting social policy or enacting legislation ought to measure it by the core Christian value of “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Twelve leaders and senior pastors from local Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and African-American churches gathered with elected and civic leaders and members of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for the service that many called a historic commitment to ecumenical conversation. The revival began with a revival of the clergy’s commitment to their ministry. Pittsburgh’s Roman Catholic Bishop, David Zubik, began a 10-part confession based on the Church of Scotland’s Ministerial Challenge of 1671, lamenting clergy’s attention to the business and accolades of the world. “We have been unfaithful to our own souls, and to our sisters and brothers; unfaithful in the pulpit, in fellowship, in discipline, in the Church,” Zubik said.
Curry met the next morning with some of the youth of the diocese at Holy Cross in the struggling Homewood West neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Telling them that they were growing up in a time of complex change, he said technological progress is important but “progress as a way of love, progress in living, progress in learning how to live together in all of our differences and varieties may be the ultimate progress that will make the difference for us all.”
After the breakfast meeting, Curry went upstairs for a rousing Absalom Jones Day Eucharist in the packed nave. During his sermon, the Presiding Bishop continued his call for Christians to act out of the selfless love exemplified by Jesus on the cross rather than “unenlightened self-interest.”
Saying that the “way of love can save us all,” Curry asked the congregation to imagine how legislatures, corporate boardrooms, schools and health care in America would be different if they were approached “not by what I can get out of it but how it serves the common good.”
“We are talking about a revolution of values,” he said, having left the pulpit to preach from the center aisle. “Revival means to give life; it’s resurrection. Imagine our country, imagine what we would say to the immigrant and refugee, imagine what America would say to the rest of the world, imagine what the rest of the world would say to us if that way of love became our way.”
Heading to the end of his sermon Curry told the congregation: “Don’t be afraid to be people of love. Don’t be afraid to stand up for the name of Jesus. Don’t be afraid to reclaim this faith again. And don’t you be ashamed to be an Episcopalian.”
As an Episcopal sort of altar call, Curry invited people to sing “There Is a Balm in Gilead” in which Christians are told that it does not matter if they are not good at preaching or praying. Instead, they should simply tell someone else about the love of Jesus. “As we sing, in your own way I invite you to recommit – or commit – yourself to following the way of Jesus, to being a part of his movement in this world,” the presiding bishop said.
Curry returned to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary that afternoon to welcome Episcopalians and others from across the diocese for a conversation billed as “Bridging Divides and Healing Communities” and aimed at beginning to form relationships among individuals and churches in hopes that they can work together to address hopelessness, poverty and addiction in local communities.
Kim Karashin, Pittsburgh’s Canon for Mission, told Episcopal News Service before the conversations began that the “best case scenario” for the gathering would be that people agree to meet again to talk about these issues but that this gathering was about getting to know each other. “We’re not going to move the needle without building relationships,” she said.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who joined in welcoming people to the conversation, said later during the news conference that Pittsburgh is a divided community needing this sort of training in conversation to cultivate leaders who can step in during emergencies and try to move people into productive ways of acting.
“Pulling a community together only happens with things like this,” he said. “You have to be pro-active; you can’t wait until something happens. It’s taking these actions that will help build those bridges that we speak about.”
The last day of the Pittsburgh revival featured two Eucharists: the first at Calvary Episcopal Church, and the second 40 minutes away at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, McKeesport, in the economically struggling Monongahela River Valley south of Pittsburgh. Representatives of nearly three dozen Episcopal congregations gathered at St. Stephen’s to support “The Mon Valley Mission,” which is a new effort to revive the faith and well-being of the river communities.
Curry used the morning’s gospel story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well to tell the McKeesport congregation that God pushes people to build bridges between people who society says are enemies. In their conversations at the well, Curry said, both Jesus and the Samaritan woman learn something about each other and themselves. Moreover, the woman discovered within her the image of God and she experienced the love of God as being active in her life, he said.
The service ended with Curry commissioning all 320 people in attendance to be disciples sharing the good news of Jesus.
The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.
It’s an affair of the heart. You meet these compassionate people doing good things. You want to know them, to understand the faiths that give their lives meaning. They are not Christian. You remember what Jesus told us about a Good Samaritan who worshipped in a tradition other than His own.
Such people are the best answer to the question, “Can I learn about other religions without watering down my own Christian beliefs?”
I’m old enough to remember the days when folks were warned, and even prohibited, from worshipping with others. We’ve come a long way toward tolerance, but we have a long way to go before we see religious pluralism as a gift, not a problem, a blessing, not a threat. The political use of religious prejudice darkens the world and demeans the religious urges in every human being, and deprives us of many of God’s gifts.
“He who knows one religion knows none” declared Max Mueller, a 19th Century scholar of comparative religion. To make the same point, I slightly paraphrase Rudyard Kipling: “What knows he of England who only England knows?” We understand our own country better by traveling abroad. We know our own town better by having visited other places. We grasp our faith more securely by encountering and learning from others.
Anglican T. S. Eliot wrote what many regard as the most profound Christian poem of the last century, “The Four Quartets.” Eliot read several languages, including Sanskrit. His poem draws upon not only Christian mysticism but explicit Hindu teachings to illumine both.
I thought I knew what church bells meant. Bells routinely say, “The service is about to begin.” I heard them here; I heard the cathedral bells in Europe. In fact, I had the job of ringing a chapel bell when I was a student.
But as a young man visiting Japan, at a Shinto shrine, I saw a child swinging a rope with a striker at the high end to hit a gong. I learned that the noise was intended to awaken kami, the divine, so that kami would pay attention to the devotee. Paradoxically the noise awakens the devotee to the presence of kami. What seemed like a silly, even superstitious, act of waking kami was in fact how kami awakened the devotee.
In a fresh way, I saw that the church bell does not merely call us to church, but also can awaken the presence of the sacred in us; the bell is not just an external ringing but also an internal resonance. It is not a Pavlovian alarm compelling us to go somewhere; it is rather a signal awakening us from self-centered slumber.
Let me move from that childish awakening to three examples of how my Episcopalian faith has been enriched by knowing something of other traditions.
1. Christianity and Buddhism
Perhaps one of the most important sustained interfaith dialogues of our time was begun between Christian and Buddhist monastics. What two religions could be more unlike? Christianity proclaims a Creator God while Buddhism instead speaks of Emptiness, the Void, with no beginning, no Creator, only ongoing, interrelated processes, none of which rules without being ruled. Even more strange is how the two faiths understand personhood. Christianity assumes we are individual souls, each with one’s own eternal destiny. Buddhism denies the soul as a separate and everlasting personal existence.
With such striking contractions, what’s there to talk about? The monastics discovered they could talk about their experiences. From such conversations, the Christian practice of Centering Prayer has been rediscovered.
While the language and images differ in each tradition, the differences themselves illumine the similarities. When Meister Eckhart (1260-c1328) said, “I pray God to make me free of God,” was he pointing to the Buddhist experience of the Void? Is the Void a way of being alert to the dangers of defining and limiting God by our own conceptions? Does this bring us back to that enigmatic answer when Moses asked for God’s name, and God said something like, “I will be what I will be”? Can we look at our own scriptures in a new light?
As for the Buddhist teaching that the self is empty, consider Philippians 2:7: “Jesus emptied Himself” that he might reveal God’s glory. If Jesus is our model, then must we not also empty ourselves? Can we use Buddhist skepticism about selfhood to advise us to look at our tendencies toward self-centeredness?
2. Christianity and Confucianism
I like to think that the Anglican style is a Confucian form of Christianity. Both traditions lay importance on education and emphasize the unifying beauty of ritual as a way of honoring and experiencing the sacred.
Some years ago, I was in San Francisco during a Chinese New Year parade. Large inflated plastic sages bowed endlessly from pulled strings like giant puppets atop the floats. That’s the problem with Confucianism, I thought: insincere show, people being polite even when they despise each other.
But I’ve come to see that sometimes acting with courtesy can arouse a more generous attitude toward others. Even if we are moody, observing the forms of etiquette guards against offending others and thereby protects us from others reacting against us. We don’t want to infect our friends with disease; why infect them with the vagaries of our emotions? (Of course, those closest to us deserve to know how we are doing, but we don’t have to tweet it to everyone we’ve ever met and hope to meet.)
Social and liturgical rituals do not depend upon transient feelings. Rituals remind us that feelings are for feeling, but we need not make decisions based on them. Rituals enable us to practice the way we really want to be. The sharing of God’s abundance with others in the Eucharist is a model for how we want to live our lives, beyond our momentary failures to perceive God’s constant grace.
Confucianism became rigid and unable to adapt to changing environments. It is an object lesson for us to be sure that our rituals remain living expressions of Christ’s love, and not dead letters and futile forms, monuments which have lost meaning. Yet the impulse of Confucianism remains salutary.
3. Christianity and Islam
Our Christian indebtedness to Islam is untold. Here l can only hint of why it can help us renew our own faith.
In today’s culture, Christianity has often become a form of narcissism, sometimes expressed as “I believe in God, but I don’t need a church for me to know Jesus.” But we also believe that the Church is the Body of Christ. United as one body, our life together forms us into the life of Christ to do God’s will.
We together create or destroy the social conditions for the kind of life God wants for us. No major religion today is clearer than Islam that we as individuals affect each other. Sharia, so terribly misrepresented in the media, is really the directions for a society of justice and peace. Islam’s teachings about how we best relate to each other can enable us to recover insights within our own tradition that strengthen our faith and witness.
By making friends with those of other faiths, we also refresh the wisdom and the heart of our own.
Vern Barnet’s latest book is Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire. He previously wrote for The Kansas City Star.
Even as unfounded fear accompanied anticipation of the year 2000 (recall the hype around Y2K), the Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota commissioned a work of sacred art in 1998 to mark the dawn of the new millennium. Their desire to create an enduring work of beauty was realized when a team of artists and calligraphers under the direction of Donald Jackson, principal scribe to Elizabeth II of England, copied and illuminated the Saint John’s Bible. It was a lifelong goal for Jackson to complete a fully illuminated manuscript of the Holy Scriptures. This intersection of monastic community foresight and the imagination of a dedicated artist resulted in an exquisite work that will be admired long after our lifetimes.
An anonymous donor has made a gift of the entire seven volume heritage edition of the Saint John’s Bible to Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral. This exact replica copy of the original 1,127 vellum pages of the Saint John’s Bible is the first illuminated manuscript of the entire Bible and Apocrypha created since before the Reformation. In a spirit of ecumenism it uses the New Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible. Unlike our usual Bibles in which the Apocrypha is bound separately, the “inter-testamental” books of the Apocrypha are interspersed within the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) according to Roman Catholic usage.
Since November 2015 the Cathedral participated in A Year with the Saint John’s Bible, when it was entrusted with the care of two strikingly beautiful exact replica volumes: (1) the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles and (2) The Pentateuch, or Torah, comprising the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Funding for this exhibition was made possible through a gift in memory of former Senior Warden, Charles N. “Pete” Seidlitz, Jr. A gift from the Bebe and Crosby Kemper Foundation provided resources for creating a secure and attractive space for display of the Bibles in the former cloakroom outside the Common Room and opposite the Cathedral Bookstore.
This is a work for our times. In commissioning the creation of the Saint John’s Bible the monks of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota specified that its illuminations would reflect the contemporary world. Sprinkled throughout the illuminations contained in the Bible are direct references to the world at the beginning of the twenty-first century. A satellite image of the Ganges Delta is used in a panel illuminating day three of the first Creation Story in Genesis. The double helix of DNA is incorporated in the brightly illuminated genealogy of Jesus that opens the gospel of Matthew. An image of the Twin Towers rendered in gold leaf adds depth to the illuminated page interpreting the breadth of divine forgiveness contained in Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son. Forms borrowed from other traditions such as Jewish and Koranic art, Middle Eastern and South Asian textiles, and prayer mandalas adorn its pages. This is a work that acknowledges the plurality of our times.
In keeping with long-standing illuminated manuscript tradition, the flora and fauna depicted throughout the Saint John’s Bible are native to Collegeville and the northern Great Plains of North America. For example, the page containing the longer ending of Mark’s gospel depicts a stalk of common milkweed displaying the full life cycle of the endangered Monarch Butterfly.
The Saint John’s Bible is a significant addition to the art of the Cathedral and helps fulfill the Cathedral’s mission as a resource center for the Diocese of West Missouri and the Kansas City community. A group is being convened to develop policies and guidelines for sharing the Bible with other churches and institutions. After the other five volumes are delivered to the Cathedral in February (Historical Books, Wisdom Books, Psalms, Prophets, Letters and Revelation) a celebration is planned featuring speakers from St. John’s University, Collegeville to lecture on this masterwork and its creation.
The monks intended that the Bible be shared, used liturgically, and handled. It is designed to allow for both a visual and tactile experience. Viewers can leaf carefully through the pages, provided one has thoroughly washed hands with soap and water to remove oil and grime. As much as possible since November 2015 an open page of the Bible related to the day’s lectionary readings has been displayed at the front of the Cathedral nave during services. The Bibles are used in adult formation. Their images serve well for contemplation in visio divina, an amplification of the Benedictine practice of lectio divina, the intentional and prayerful listening to Scripture. In the Easter season one of the books was loaned to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for use during the Great Vigil of Easter and at Pentecost. An area high school borrowed them for a program in the school’s library.
The beginning of A Year with the Saint John’s Bible at the Cathedral in 2015 was accompanied by great fanfare and ceremony. It was Kirkin o’ the Tartans Sunday when a large number of Scottish Presbyterians were in attendance. It was also the penultimate Sunday of the Church Year when the Collect of the Day used is:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Following the praying of the Collect that day, the Gospels and Pentateuch were carried in procession by two men in kilts, accompanied by bagpipers, drummers, and a flock of children. One of the book bearers’ parents had made a significant donation to the St. John’s monks to help pay for the creation of the Bible. This was our Christian take on the Jewish observance of Simchat Torah, the day that marks the end and beginning of the annual cycle of Torah reading when the sacred scrolls are carried during the synagogue liturgy. It was also a visual reminder that a Bible in the English language was placed in “every church and chapel of the realm” as a first act of the Sixteenth Century Reformation in England.
We at the Cathedral are looking forward to sharing the hand-written and colorfully illuminated pages of the Saint John’s Bible, lively resplendent in gold leaf, with our sister congregations in the diocese. This is a lasting resource that presents a living Word to inform and shape our faith especially as we navigate these changing and unsettled times.
The Very Rev. Peter DeVeau, has served as Dean of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral since 2012.
Who is called to be a deacon? The fluid and organic nature of the diaconate, an ancient order of ministry renewed in the latter part of the twentieth century as a separate and equal order, can make this a difficult question both for individuals feeling a call to ordained ministry and for others in the church who support them in the discernment process.
The ordination rite for deacons in The Book of Common Prayer (pp. 537-447) is a good place to begin learning more about our current understanding of diaconal ministry. In particular, the Examination on p. 543 spells out the expectations of deacons.
While deacons are assigned to serve within existing parish structures, they serve directly under the Bishop. Deacons serve people who are easily overlooked in our world, while at the same time calling others in the church to serve people who are hungry, sick, alone, or helpless in any way. Deacons serve as a sort of bridge between the church and the world, bringing Christ and his redemptive love to the world, and interpreting to the Church “the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.”
For many in the Church, deacons are most visible when carrying out their usual liturgical role during the Eucharist. Deacons proclaim the Gospel, prepare the table for Eucharist, assist in distributing the elements, and dismiss the people to go and serve in the name of Christ. In many parishes, deacons lead the prayers of the people or write the prayers.
While the deacon’s liturgical role does assist the celebrant, the primary reason for these liturgical duties is to serve as a reminder of the diaconal service to which all baptized persons are called: evangelism, feeding the hungry, praying for the church and the world, and serving in Christ’s name throughout the week.
Potential deacons will be found among faithful members of the Church who worship regularly, but they will be more focused on what is happening outside of the church walls than they are on the internal workings and issues of the church.
Susanne Watson Epting’s book Unexpected Consequences: The Diaconate Renewed looks at the diaconate’s history in the Episcopal Church to help us understand the role of deacons today. The deacon’s role as interpreter of the world’s needs, concerns, and hopes to the church is key to understanding contemporary deacons. Deacons are called to be prophetic voices, calling the church to live into the promises of God’s kingdom by advocating for people in need and leading us to compassionate justice and reconciliation.
The website for the Association for Episcopal Deacons offers several resources both for those in discernment and for ordained deacons. Exploring the website can help you understand what diaconal ministry looks like on the ground.
If you or someone you know is discerning a possible call to the diaconate, you might find especially useful a document from the School for Deacons in Berkeley, California: Seeing the Deacon in our Midst by Roderick Dugliss. The Venerable Bruce Bower, Archdeacon for The Diocese of West Missouri, Canon Steve Rottgers, or Bishop Martin Field can provide you more information and insight into how deacons function in The Diocese of West Missouri. Additionally, the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry offers a two-year program of study to help equip you for this vital ministry.
The Rev. Betsy Bennett is Archdeacon of the Diocese of Nebraska, a BKSM Instructor, and a Member of the BKSM Board of Directors.
As we worked together at Saint Mary’s Downtown Outreach Hunger Relief Program, my dear friend and one of my mentors, Deacon Leslie Hoover, would give me support and encouragement by saying from time to time, “You are a deacon; do you hear me, Kevin? You are a deacon.” This was before my ordination and while I was in formation at Bishop Kemper School for Ministry. I found the classes and the formation process a challenge that made me work harder and deeper than I had ever worked at anything in my life.
Unfortunately, we recently lost Deacon Leslie after a long and difficult illness. I learned a lot by watching how she treated others. Deacon Leslie showed no partiality to any person rich or poor. She just loved serving people wherever she found them. I also witnessed how her life changed many of the lives around her. It was her gift to comfort others in their affliction.
I find it ironic that the only thing I have ever been good at is talking to people, particularly talking to people while I was waiting on tables in restaurants. I used to think those were not very useful gifts. I have since learned to use my gifts in my vocation as a deacon.
Deacon Leslie allowed me to give the homily anytime I wanted at our Saturday morning prayer service at Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City, Missouri. Then she would let me just wander around the dining room talking to people, clearing tables at our community meal after the prayer service. I did that for a few years with her.
Now I am ordained a deacon, and by the grace of God, I am still a servant of that church. I preach a fair amount, usually once a month at one of two parishes in Kansas City, Missouri. Bishop Marty has assigned me to serve two inner-city parishes as deacon. It takes the cooperation of two very special, selfless priests, the Very Rev. C. Patrick Perkins, Rector of Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church, and the Rev. Chas Marks, Priest in Charge at Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Church. We work together to provide a rich worship experience for our parishioners. I like the arrangement.
My outreach and community ministries are a combination of my ministry outreach from Saint Mary’s to Saint Augustine’s and some other activities. I continue to have a presence in both parishes. I use my daytime hours to serve the community volunteering for VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), an AmeriCorps project. I work at MINDDRIVE as the program coordinator. This is not a lucrative position, but it pays me a stipend set at the federal poverty level for one person. I am also an active volunteer with Saint Luke’s Hospice. I see one family, one day a week for a few hours, which lets the primary caregiver have a break and run errands outside of the home. I am also a volunteer court advocate for CASA (juvenile court advocate program) I have one case currently as a CASA.
Why do I do what I do? I do it because God called me to do it. That is what I would like to encourage any person in any church to consider.
Do you feel a call or a stirring in yourself that you would like to share with others? Do have the capacity to stand at the doorway of the church showing the world the way into the church? Do you have the will to stand at the door of the church and show those inside the world outside? Do not wait for all of the stars in your life to align before you respond to a call.
Being a deacon sometimes means sacrifice and a lot of work. Most of the time, no one but you and God has any idea what you have done, what you do, and what it cost you to do it. For me, being a deacon means giving to others because I love God.
If you have thankfulness in your heart and you want to express it in a radical and profound way of love, consider an offering of yourself to the ministry of becoming a deacon.
Christ calls us to the memory of Saint Stephen as a model for what it is to be a deacon. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and when he said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts of the Apostles, 7:55-60). Now let us go forth in the name of Jesus Christ to love and serve the LORD.
The Rev. Kevin White serves as deacon at St. Mary’s & St. Augustine’s, Kansas City, Missouri
The Association for Episcopal Deacons suggests that there are approximately 3,000 deacons in our church. I am one of those deacons. No one can be more surprised by that fact than am I.
My call? God did not whisper into my ear six years ago. I was nudged by parishioners at my home church, St. Andrew’s in Kansas City. First one person, then another, and then another. Mine was a call from the congregation, in the tradition of the Church from olden times. Finally, I could not find a reason to say “No, not me”, and I began the process toward ordination. That’s not a very flattering or satisfying story, but it is true. Looking back, saying “yes” to God was the best decision of my life. I have no doubt that I was born to be a deacon in the Episcopal Church.
I knew that I wasn’t being called to be a priest. I didn’t feel the need to bless or to consecrate the elements. I was a servant. I wanted to help usher others over the threshold into serving those in need. I was called to be a deacon.
Like many, I approached my training at Bishop Kemper School for Ministry (BKSM) with trepidation. I didn’t have a deep theological background and with an education in engineering and finance, I had not written many pithy papers. Could I do the work and develop the skill set to do the important work set before the Sacred Order of Deacons?
What I found at BKSM were like-minded people. “Regular” folks who felt the same pull towards the Church. People from all walks of life. People who felt called to do His work. People like me. Not only did I write pithy papers, but my faith was developed and my heart molded. After all those weekend sessions and papers, I can’t say that I recall much about church history or some of the other esoteric subjects, but it was absolutely formational for me. I found God and developed my faith at BKSM. The relationships formed were every bit as important as the class work.
Here are some important things I’ve learned about the diaconate during (and post-) my BKSM training.
Being a deacon is not just about dressing up on Sunday morning! In fact, I’d offer that participation in Sunday services is maybe 10% of the deacon’s role. It’s great to proclaim the Gospel (with gusto!) and to set the table and to dismiss the congregation. But the real work of the deacon is that of leadership. We deacons are to identify challenges and needs in our community and then to lead others into addressing those needs. Bishop Marty likens us to “bird-dogs” who go on “point” and say “Look! Look at this problem!” and then we are obliged to lead folks toward the solution. We don’t just serve, we lead!
As a deacon, I do less serving than I did before I was ordained. I didn’t expect to experience this when I began “the process”, but the fact is that the deacon’s job is one of leadership…not just one of “serving”. We all get great satisfaction from serving others, yes? The deacon’s role is to offer the gift of servanthood to the whole congregation so that they, too, might offer, receive, and accept that gift of loving and serving those in need.
Being a deacon is hard work. Again, it’s not just all about Sunday services. If one is truly living out the diaconate, his or her heart is going to get a workout. Hospital visits, funerals, Eucharistic visits to the housebound, mentoring inmates who are alone and suffering, engaging people at the soup kitchen, chaplaincy work, etc. No deacon’s heart is big enough to carry the suffering in this world, but we try. Having ordained friends to work through others’ pain has proven to be invaluable.
If you or someone you know would make a good deacon, I invite you to reach out to me. I would love to share more with you about my experience.
The Venerable Bruce Bower is the Archdeacon of The Diocese of West Missouri
The Bishop Kemper School for Ministry (BKSM) offers a two-year program of study for future deacons. This coursework covers scripture, ethics, history, preaching and a wide array of practical ministry topics. Students typically take 10 classes a year for two years, from August-May. Prospective and new students are also encouraged to attend New Student Orientation in July. Detailed information is available on BKSM’s Certificate of Diaconal Studies web page.
On Saturday, June 24, BKSM invites current deacons, prospective deacons and all those in the church who are supportive of diaconal ministry to attend an exciting exploration of the call of deacons today. This one-day workshop, Transforming Church and World: The Ministry of Deacons Today and Tomorrow, features four helpful sessions:
The Deacon’s Job Description;
The Deacon’s Life;
Collegiality with Your Priest; and
The Prophetic Voice of the Deacon.
BKSM will present information about its Certificate in Diaconal Studies as well. The fee for this day-long workshop is $50 per person, which includes meals. The registration deadline is Friday, June 16. You can find the workshop agenda and register on the BKSM website.
I have been a priest in The Diocese of West Missouri, both active and retired, for nearly thirty-five years. So, I have become familiar with many of our congregations and their various ministries. St. Michael’s Episcopal Church is one of those. Granted, I saw it mostly from a distance until I became their Interim Rector early in the fall of 2016.
St. Michael’s is certainly not one of our larger congregations with an average Sunday attendance of less than 100, but they are some of the hardest working folks I have ever seen in the Church. This hard work is reflected in every area of their life and allows them to see God at work in the deeper recesses of the soul. Given their size, the amount of their outreach ministry is especially noteworthy and almost beyond compare.
Our Food Pantry is open twice a week for whoever needs it – no pre-qualifications or vouchers needed. Our Necessity Pantry is open twice a month, voucher needed, and provides almost any of the basic necessities of life that you could think of. Did I mention that we also operate a clothes closet on the side, striving to keep clothes reflective of the current season? All of this serves about 250 families or just over 700 people each month. It is an amazing and a wonderfully graced ministry of the Lord!
In the middle of December as we opened the doors on our Necessity Pantry, our annual Christmas Toy and Winter Hat Ministry also went into full gear.
Let me explain. Although a good number of folks at St Michael’s contribute toward this ministry financially, spiritually, and physically by working at the Necessity Pantry, the lion’s share of the work on this is done each year by Cecelia Carter. Cecelia is the one who gathers together our delegated resources, both those we have raised and those she has brought together. This year, for the Christmas Toy Ministry, those resources have approached $2000, not to mention all the toys which were just brought in by folks. Because of God’s grace working through Cecelia and the people of St. Michael’s, we were able to give out hundreds of toys to families who would have had nothing under the tree otherwise. This is a labor of love for Cecelia and none of it would happen without her.
Let me tell you just a little bit about Cecelia. As a youngster, she recalls the times that the only Christmas she ever really experienced was from donations being given to the City Union Mission. She will tell you the story about how one of the gifts she longed for was a Bible and that years later she happened to be at a dinner party where one of the guests commented about a young girl he had come across years before at the Mission, and that all she wanted for Christmas was a Bible. The two, as it were, were finally reunited. Much of her working life was spent as a social worker at the City Union Mission where she found herself involved with much the same sort of thing. She was always trying to find toys for children at Christmas. She continues to live life with a soft, gentle soul and a longing for the Lord. She found her way to St. Michael’s in 2011. It seems now as though that was a path led by God. She first began collecting toys to distribute through St. Michael’s when Mother Pat Miller (the rector at the time) made announcements about families using our Food Pantry having additional needs for Christmas. And then it began, as God placed it upon Cecelia’s heart to act.
Christmas toys ready for collection at St. Michael’s Supplied image
Cecelia Carter with a selection of winter hats. Supplied image
Cecelia Carter with a selection of winter hats. Supplied image
The first year toys were collected just for children up to five years of age. Gradually the age began to rise as both Cecelia as the folks at St. Michael’s saw the larger need. This ministry now offers toys for children up through age sixteen. To begin with, Cecelia did all of this by herself and actually guarded it from others. But she has learned to open herself to God’s grace as well as this has become more and more a ministry of the body of Christ gathered at St. Michael’s. Cecelia is still very much the one in charge though.
The amazing thing is that parents, when they come in, don’t take the toys you think they might take. Greed does not seem to be the motivator for the majority of those we serve.
The Rev. Dr. Douglas P. Johnson is Interim Rector at St. Michael’s, Independence.
Effective July 1, 2017, Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) will award up to 30 hours of academic course credit to BKSM students and alumni.
This agreement is the first of its kind for BKSM and recognizes the high quality and academic rigor of BKSM courses. It enables its alumni to more easily pursue a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) or other graduate degree program.
The agreement is not limited to those pursuing an M.Div. degree. Any BKSM graduate or student who has taken courses for credit may submit their BKSM transcript for review to determine the exact amount of transfer credit at NTS.
The Very Rev. Dr. Don Compier, BKSM dean, praised this new relationship, saying “NTS offered us a most generous articulation agreement that recognizes the academic excellence of BKSM and provides for acceptance of all of our courses for academic credit at NTS. This partner seminary is a pioneer in pursuing the same affordability and accessibility to quality theological education that BKSM embraces.”
Dr. Josh Sweeden, NTS’s associate professor of church and society and academic dean designate, said, “NTS is delighted to enter an articulation agreement with BKSM and is confident the collaboration will benefit students and mutually strengthen our learning communities. Part of NTS’ mission is to be a resource to the church, and in a time when the church is more commonly defined by difference and division, we are excited for the way this relationship highlights cooperation and our shared commitments to theological and ministerial education.”
Compier agreed, saying “This agreement is a splendid example of true ecumenical spirit and genuine Christian hospitality.”
Compier has long been acquainted with NTS. He attended Nazarene Theological Seminary in the 1980s and has maintained good relationships with faculty and administrators there ever since.
This articulation agreement is not the first relationship between the two schools. NTS generously provides BKSM students and graduates access to their excellent library and the many online resources available to them. Additionally, BKSM counts one member of NTS’s faculty, Dr. Andy Johnson, among its instructors.
The Rev. Casey Rohleder is a Communication & Outreach Specialist with Bishop Kemper School for Ministry
The two organizations share a common heritage as ministries of The Diocese of West Missouri and have worked closely together since Bishop Spencer Place opened its doors in 1995. Under the terms of the affiliation agreement, effective December 19, 2016, Bishop Spencer Place, its employees, management and board of directors are part of Saint Luke’s Health System.
“This agreement formalizes and enhances a long-standing relationship between two organizations deeply committed to providing high-quality care for Kansas City’s senior community,” said Saint Luke’s Health System President and CEO, Melinda L. Estes, M.D. “In addition to being a very natural alignment between our two brands, this also will provide residents with increased access to services, greater efficiencies and better coordination of care between physicians and Bishop Spencer Place caregivers.”
Bishop Spencer Place has offered distinguished retirement living to the Kansas City community for more than 20 years, providing residents with vibrant independent living and a full spectrum of on-site health care including assisted living, skilled nursing, rehabilitation and private caregiving services. The formal affiliation will allow Saint Luke’s to provide a seamless continuum of care to Bishop Spencer Place residents as well as offer the potential for expanded services in the future.
“We are excited about the opportunity to officially become part of Saint Luke’s Health System,” said Steve Seggerman, Bishop Spencer Place CEO. “We have worked together so closely for so many years, I think many people assumed we were already affiliated. This formal agreement will allow Bishop Spencer Place to continue providing care to our residents with the full support of one of the region’s most trusted healthcare providers.”
Kristin Dittmar is Communication Coordinator with Bishop Spencer Place.