The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa
Convention Eucharist Sermon, November 2007
Convention Address, November 2007
One Church Many Locations(Diocesan Strategic Plan), May 2007
Statement in Support of Civil Rights Legislation, April 2007
Easter Day 2007
Easter Vigil 2007
Isaiah 66:18-23; Ephesians 3:7-13; John 1:9-18
Thank you for coming back! (After last night’s U2Charist). We all know the common maxim, “be careful what you pray for.” You know how it goes—we pray for patience and an irritating person comes into our life, all set up by God!
Well I have always thought that an equally interesting statement is to “be careful with whom you pray!”
Patron saints can have a profound impact on congregations; just as Feast days that fall around the time of a Convention can influence a Diocese.
I once led a prayer tour around my home parish of St. Barnabas’, Eagle Rock, and had some interesting experiences. The prayer team did not particularly know the layout of the Church, which doors we used to come in and go out and that sort of thing, but we stopped to pray at a particular spot by a door. Someone in the group said, “I feel a peculiar spirit of deception here.” I said, “Oh, this is where people exit after the service and shake my hand and tell me what a nice sermon!”
Well, we moved on and removed a couple of flags which were obscuring a stained glass window. The next day we found out that that window caught an exceptional and brilliant amount of light. Any guesses as to who was in the window? Of course, we uncovered and rediscovered St. Barnabas. He even began to outshine St. Paul whose window was on the other side of the sanctuary.
So there was St. Barnabas, the son of encouragement who gave Mark a second chance even if it offended Paul to do so, the true patron saint of that congregation. When I first met this congregation, they told me that they suffered from a sense of collective low self esteem. A while later that was very not so. In fact I would say that their middle name was encouragement. I believe we live into our patron saints partly because we hear their story more often than most.
So a Diocesan Convention which falls around All Saints or is befriended by Richard Hooker might be assumed to acquire an identity that is as Anglican as they come on one hand, and as foundational in terms of baptismal ministry awareness on the other. There certainly is a call to comprehensiveness that covers all bases.
So what happens when a new feast day is added? Since the 2003 General Convention, William Temple has dropped in on our celebrations from time to time. And already this is the second time we have chosen to pray with him.
What rubs off on us? What of Jesus and the Spirit does he remind us about or influence with?
On a weekend where we are considering “The Great Turning—God’s earth—God’s people,” it is Temple’s powerful attachment to the incarnated Word of God that catches our attention. Readings associated with his day speak of our way of knowing God through Jesus Christ as the Logos of John’s Gospel, and as the mystery hidden before the ages in God now made known to the Church, according to the letter to the Ephesians. I added Isaiah, with its promise of revelation to all the nations, as an appropriate Hebrew Scripture.
Temple in some ways takes us back to the questions that might come straight from a political thriller like Watergate, not only what do we know about God and how, but WHEN did we know it?
The writer of Ephesians and John make much use of the word grace in their response to these questions. Paul writes of the grace given to him to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. John writes of the grace upon grace revealed in Jesus Christ.
We know what we know about God and salvation because of grace. It has been shown to us out of God’s profound love for us—let there be no mistaking that reality. “You did not choose me. But I chose you” are the words of Jesus in John 15. And that is the way it has always been.
This is the answer to the question of how we know. It is the gift of God, the grace of God, the choice of God to reveal God’s self to us in Jesus Christ. The “what” of our faith is found in things like the Creeds and the Lord’s Prayer—two things we might be able to commit to memory and to our hearts as long as our minds are with us.
But when did we know all this? That is an important and perhaps deeper question. For, that is the moment when we know that we stepped from darkness into light. That is the instant we actually fell in love with Jesus Christ, or became aware of our love. That is what attaches us to Him for ever, and though it may fade, it is a moment which will never leave us, for He will never leave us. In fact over times, one moment becomes many moments, and even a life journey.
Praying with Temple then is to learn to pray with someone who highly values that God initiates the welcome. God steals our egotism from us by the demonstration of His self-sacrificial love in Jesus Christ on the cross. God presses in on our self-centeredness with God’s own image of cruciform love, and refuses to take no for a response.
Temple is not a great law man. The law came through Moses, and that is okay and good. But grace and truth has come through Jesus Christ. For the law can over proscribe. It does not always have room for the diseased of body or mind. It can only offer ritual steps for restoration, and even then may leave us totally outcast from the holy community.
On the other hand, grace and truth look into the heart of each one of us and sees the whole person, finding room for us to stay around while the saving effects of grace and truth transform us and restore us into Christ’s own image. He never leaves us out of his sight and presence.
Is this soft on sin? I don’t think so. Rather, there is a sense of reality for who of us can stand perfect in every way before God. While we enjoy explaining one another’s particular sins, which of us can stand perfect? “I am the least,” says the Apostle Paul, “but grace was given to me.” “No one has seen the Father,” claims John, “but the Son has revealed Him” or made God known through grace upon grace.
So when did you first know that grace was given to you? How have you continued to know it? When did you stop believing it all depended upon you or your correctness and discovered the joy of believing and knowing it was all dependent on God’s love and grace? If we pray with Temple for a while, as a Convention of God’s beloved people, I believe we will learn to become bearers and those who experience the boundless riches of Christ that Ephesians speaks of.
At Convention we remember the whole body of Christ gathered as the people of the Diocese of Iowa, and we have untold examples of God’s grace, and of God’s people who know not only what they believe but when that faith came alive in them. We also give thanks to God for grace experienced through those who have passed on.
This past week our community of faith gave back to God one of God’s precious gifts. Twenty one year old Brandon, grandson of Wanda and brother of Matt, died. He suffered from a rare disease which shrunk his muscles over time leaving him in pain and disfigured. He had outlived his doctors’ prognosis by eight years. He never let his illness be his focus. I confirmed him in my first trip to Trinity, Waterloo and we spoke of his ambition to become a graphic designer. He was continuing through school to the very last.
He had signed up to be a support person for the Waters of Hope project and after his death it was revealed that he had asked that any memorial monies in his name be directed toward the children of St. Augustine’s orphanage and school in Mpaka. At his funeral, Mitch told a story of Brandon’s time in hospital over May 1—he asked for candy because he wanted to make baskets for the younger children with him in hospital.
I am sure he did not consider himself perfect, and probably his family could provide evidence to that effect, but he experienced grace, and refused to let things overwhelm him or have the last word. Rather, the last word was to be fashioned into that image from glory to glory which is the destiny of all of us. His last word was to be spoken not about himself, but about other children whom he considered not only in greater need than himself, but in special need to see the love of God demonstrated towards them in more than words.
If I was to be asked if God was at work among us fashioning us according to His will, I would say without reserve—absolutely! If I was to be asked if we are recipients of grace upon grace as the people of God, I would say—absolutely. Yet if I was asked if we spend enough time just hearing our stories of God’s grace among us, rather than our lesser preoccupations, I would have to say—absolutely not!
I memorialize Brandon because his life which has just changed, not ended, leads us to a moment—this very moment—when we can say through such a life witness that we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the grace that greets us to be recipients of God’s revelation and leads us to become respondents to God’s Love.
It is to such a life and experience Archbishop Temple would desire for us. So be careful not only for what we might pray, but with whom we pray.
Part I - Shared Resources and Strengthening Congregations
In April 2008, we will celebrate five years together as bishop and Diocese. The anniversary falls on a Saturday, and will be part of the Christian Formation Forum. I hope we will be able to gather in good numbers to give thanks, and to find strength from God for the next five years. What we intend to do in terms of ministry direction for those five years are before us today in the Strategic Plan, and I have built my address around each of the four focus areas of the Plan: Shared Resources for Ministry, Strengthening Congregations, Preparing the next generations of faith, and exploring and asserting our Anglican Episcopal identity.
The call to ministry and mission is always God’s initiative. It comes as part of every person’s baptism. The apostle Paul speaks of “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” by which he sees the Church as carrying the living presence of Christ into each generation. When Andrew told Jesus that the Greeks were looking for him, he prompted the usual non-sequitur from Jesus that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone.” In other words, He would reach the Greeks, but not in his physical person. Others would bring Him there. Those who would be baptized into His death and raised to a new life in Him would bear His Gospel and His presence to Greece and to the uttermost ends of the earth through the urging of the Holy Spirit in them.
This year’s Convention theme is The Great Turning. It is a phrase which comes from the concerns for the sustainability and renewal of the earth. It speaks of turning over the soil and preparing it for seeding. In ecological terms it means re-turning the planet to its fertile self, and turning the people of the earth to one another and to our Creator. Stewardship stands at its center: stewardship of God’s creation and of God’s people, but also the stewardship of a penitent heart turned from darkness toward the Light of the World, Jesus our Lord.
Part of modern humanity’s efforts at repentance is found in the Millennium Development Goals. These eight noble purposes for humanity, yet not so noble because of their absolute urgency and necessity, have been a part of our ministry for several years now. I remember how the work of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation was just being envisioned at my first House of Bishops in March 2003 by Jeffrey Rowthorne. As foci for mission, they have gripped the imagination of our Church and this Diocese as I believe we shall discover in our sharing over these two days. We are assisted in this by our strong partnership with Swaziland, through which God provides us with human faces for our sense of commitment and global awareness. I will speak further of this relationship as we consider our Episcopal-Anglican identity.
Last year I wondered out loud whether we found it easier to share resources with people beyond the Diocese than we did inside the Diocese. Jesus said that when we give alms, we are not to let our right hand know what our left hand is doing. He also commended the widow’s mite over the calculated donation of the wealthy Pharisee. The 2006 Convention accepted the new formula for diocesan giving presented by the Task Force on Strategic Planning called the “Stewardship Share.” It was based on the common priorities presented in the multi-level surveys carried out throughout the Diocese. Those priorities showed your desire to be worshipping communities, preferably led by stipended clergy. Stipended clergy were seen not only as sacramentalists, but also chief evangelists in your communities. I hope we can shift that emphasis in the coming years for the job of evangelist falls on each one of us. It is what Jesus does.
With the new formula, we shrunk the gap between what we were asking for in the Diocesan budget and what we might pledge to the budget. In that sense it is a truer reflection of our budget reality. It reveals the risk to which we are all exposed as a Diocese when our congregations are unable or unwilling to meet their fair share. I understand the unable. Every congregation has its cycle of ups and downs and sometimes has to reflect that financially. I have increasing difficulty, however, with the unwilling—especially if that unwillingness relates to General Convention 2003. It is time for us to say that the protests have been heard, and that the withholding of funds has hurt our potential for mission as a diocese. I also believe that the Communion as a whole has begun moving toward a much more positive way for reconciliation and allowance for our differences. I also remind us all that we have never in all of this time pulled back from our common mission in Jesus Christ. This is true of the Episcopal Church as it is of us as a Diocese.
This year our Diocesan budget is unusual because it is being presented with a $52,000 deficit. As such it may actually be non-canonical. The Ways and Means Committee and the Board of Directors want to know what we all intend to do about this as a community. If we were to agree to make our national asking fully, then we are looking at a $92,000 deficit budget. For while our national giving has increased for 2008 by 5%, the asking increased by 25% because of assessing unrestricted endowment monies which we have used for mission purposes to jump start ministry development and to offset monies lost by withholdings. Assessing endowment monies used for mission initiatives and not just general programming is a policy which you may know I have opposed in our own diocesan affairs, and with the new diocesan formula we only impose a potential 10% increase annually from 2008 onwards. While supporting our fullest possible contribution to the Episcopal Church budget, I am applying that same approach to the national asking.
It is clear that without the national increase, and without the continued practice of withholding income, we would have a balanced budget. It is time to reconcile and move on together. I do not know what else there is to prove. When we have no real means of disciplining each other as a Convention, how do we address the situation? When the majority of the powers that be in the Communion tell us that they believe we have heard their concerns and acknowledge how much we have heeded their requests, it is time for reconciliation.
This is not about losing members. The Diocese of Iowa has made a modest increase in membership this year after twenty plus years of straight losses. I hear reports of congregations growing in our cities and towns, including those at both ends of the theological spectrum. God is using this Church for God’s mission, just as God uses any faithful, committed and devoted people who say “here I am, Lord, send me.”
Nor is it about losing and winning. In fact we are trying to move into a place beyond winning through the reconciliation conversations of the Windsor Group. I am grateful to those brave members who have been willing to place their vulnerability as people of faith into the hands of others with differing opinion on where the Church is today. It has not been easy for them to do this, but they have tried, and all for the sake of talking to each other as mutually respected members of the Body of Christ.
Shared resources are as much about all working together as members of Christ in God’s common mission. How do we affirm each and all in that assurance of mutual respect?
A common budget is one such statement of mission. The Great Turning includes our relationship to one another expressed through our finances, and I am grateful that more than 75% have stepped up to meet your Stewardship share. I also believe we can work towards fuller compliance.
Shared resources mean more than money. It leads into the goal of strengthening congregations. The Strategic Plan describes many options: developing a balance between centralized ministry and ministry stemming out regionally from various centers. Growth plans that work in one congregation can be shared or adapted for another. St Timothy’s, West Des Moines took the Diocesan BAGS process and applied it with adaptation to their setting. Christ Church, Cedar Rapids is taking the ministry team concept and is reworking it for a large congregation applying it for the creation of ministry teams for specific ministry service areas such as seniors and young families.
The Ministry Development process for congregations is now in place in ten congregations, and more clergy have stepped forward to become coaches for the teams leaving us with less need of regional missioners as part of diocesan staff. Willa Goodfellow continues to oversee all of this, and will include theological education in her portfolio midway through 2008 when Tom Gehlsen increases his parochial ministry. He will continue his good work as Deployment officer.
I still see commissions and task forces of the Diocese becoming the natural vehicles for the spreading out of the load of ministry across the whole community. For example, the Multicultural Commission, newly organized only last year, is already developing anti-racism trainers, and the presence in our congregations of new clergy members such as Roman Roldan of Trinity Cathedral, Davenport, Vincent Bete of St Anne’s, Ankeny, and Anne Scissons, the new vicar at St. Paul’s Indian Mission will, I hope, prepare us for broader multicultural ministry as in their own persons they represent Hispanic, Filipino and Native American peoples respectively It is only a matter of time before we see this Convention reflect the increasing diversity of our Church and our state. I would also like to encourage an increasing development of mission work together as multiples of congregations through the Chapters.
A committee and commission that have combined resources and sprung to life this year has been the two groups that deal with property and architecture. Members have been proactive in visiting congregations with building needs or innovation plans. St Mark’s, Maquoketa moved ahead thanks to their UTO grant, demolished their parish house and are erecting a parish hall which will double as a community center. Church of the Savior, Clermont, another UTO recipient, also received help from their big sister in California and has begun renovations. Look for their invitation to join a work party next summer, as they work on creating some indoor plumbing.
Shared resources and strengthening congregations come together when I consider the importance in the near future of raising capital funds for new congregational ministries. Today we welcome the first new congregation in our Diocese in twelve years. The faculty and students of Northwestern College under the leadership of priest Karen Wacome have formed the Church of the Savior, Orange City. They come to us today to incorporate into the Diocese. Their witness is testimony that young people are finding Christ as He is being made known among us—even young people raised in a different Christian tradition which perhaps no longer rings as true for them as in their childhood. Yet where will they gather, once the opportunity to meet on the campus runs its course? Are we able to support their search for a more permanent center? What about our witness in Dallas County or in the Cedar Valley corridor—in those places where Iowa is seeing strong demographic growth? And, what can we say about the all important purpose of redeveloping congregations? As we enter the first year of our strategic plan, I am asking that the Congregational Life Commission re-envision itself as a consultant body choosing to work with perhaps two or three places at a time in potential redevelopment.
Capital gifts could readily fund our diocesan-wide theological education system, the E-Seminary. In September we received a bequest from a long-term Diocesan servant, Margaret Altekruse, who died earlier this year. Margaret had long been our ERD Coordinator. I asked the Board to place up to $125,000 into an endowment start for the E-Seminary in Margaret’s name. The E-Seminary continues to be an important way we share theological education, and with the advances in computer technology, we are asking how it would be to move our media bases away from the ICN, which tends to still leave us scattered in our smaller communities, to find the resources to equip every congregation with their own interactive media/computer center for education and communication. The technology might be too expensive right now, but we will give it thought. The same educational offerings will be made, but the staging areas may change, though probably not in the near future.
Vocations are another source of sharing and of congregational strengthening, as God provides the unknown and often unexpected callings for our mutual benefit. In September I ordained John Doherty to the diaconate. He was the twenty-second person I have ordained in the past four years. All but two are ministering in the Diocese. By this time next year ministry Development teams will have begun to be commissioned and ordained, and the first fruits of one answer to a shifting ministry paradigm will be before us. Other paradigm shifts will come before us as we study what it means to be a mission-shaped Church.
It is appropriate here to mention two important initiatives that are aimed at strengthening clergy in the Diocese. The Task Force on Clergy Wellness has put a lot of work in this year in an effort to rollback the inevitable increasing costs of health insurance. With solid support from Bob Joy and Anne Wagner, the Clergy Wellness Commission investigated a number of plans, and settled upon a version with a high deductible with a Health Reimbursement Account. A two-line reference in a speech cannot capture the work involved in the investigation and decision-making process, nor can it do justice to the work that is going to be involved as we live into it. We expect that General Convention 2009 will be tackling this problem nationally, and we see the present change a temporary effort to stay expenses. The second initiative begun this year is Fresh Start. Every clergy person who has undertaken a transition or change of call in the past two years was asked to participate in a mentoring and support group. It is a two-year commitment, and I appreciate the congregations for allowing their clergy time for this important program.
We are currently facing what I see as Phase One of an extensive clergy transition process, as a number of us reach retirement age. This year alone we have said farewell to David Titus, Leon Pfotenhauer, Bruce Blois, Peter Sanderson, Mel Lowe, Netha Breda and Fred Burger. Some have become ready supply, others have moved out of state, and become supply somewhere else! God has been good to us in bringing some fine replacements, but they will all be missed. At the Diocesan staff level, Warren Frelund moved to Wyoming to take on a call which expanded his congregational development ministry. We also experienced a couple of heart-breaking losses in the death of Dick Osing and of Eric Johnson. These men were pastors and teachers to all of us, and we will have an opportunity to remember them specifically in our prayers tomorrow and through resolution of Convention.
Finally under this heading, I want to mention the importance of communications and youth ministry. This year, our two part-time Youth Missioners, Diane Bjorklund and Sue Genereux, surprised each other and all of us by resigning in one week unbeknownst to each other! In their two years working together they have expanded the geographical scope of the youth network through their leadership, bringing consistent training through Godly Play and J2A to a greater number of congregations. Through focusing on a few Diocesan-wide events they have helped gather young people including taking parochial trips such as the February ski trip in Dubuque and the Pine Ridge reservation camp program of Ankeny and offering them to a wider number of youth. Happening weekends have become part of the Diocesan program, and we hosted the National Happening Committee this past spring. At the February Happening which I attended in Mason City, we were all snowed in, and so parents who couldn’t get home followed the program, slept on the floors or couches and received graduation crosses at the end!
Children from every corner of the Diocese, especially those with only one or two peers in their own congregation, have found a youth program that has worked for them. New initiatives such as the Bishop’s Day at the Cathedral in the middle of August brought 150 people together. Together with the YMDT chairmanship of Wanda Stahl and Sue Frelund, the Missioners have been able to place increasing organizing responsibilities on the Youth Ministry Development Team.
Diocesan coordination remains an important role in youth ministry, and we give thanks to God for the grace to see God’s gift to us when Lydia Kelsey interviewed and was hired for the new position. Lydia also brings the perspective of campus ministry to her role, as well as a passion for summer camps. I believe that she will build on the sharing role of ministry with the YMDT and will help tie in the resources of our larger populated congregational youth ministries to the broader and more scattered constituency of the Diocese as a whole. While still thinking about young people, I want to acknowledge the new ministry of Raisin Horn as University of Iowa Chaplain, as well as that of Maureen Doherty who is reaching out to students at UNI. This year also saw the retirement of Julia Easley as University of Iowa Chaplain after 17 years. Jim Tener continues at ISU.
I am also asking Lydia to assume new duties in communication next year, as Nancy Morton retires at the end of this year. Nancy has been our newspaper person for twenty years and has decided that it is an appropriate milestone at which to retire. She will remain as recording secretary for the Board and is available to us for advice and writing assignments. If anyone exemplifies thinking outside the box, it is Nancy. We will miss her ability to prompt us to consider the unexpected. Her editorial wisdom has prevented many a public outcry as she has taken my statements and asked gently, “Do you really want to say this that way?”
As much of a devotee I may be of Bonheoffer’s idea of an institution-less church, we will always need to balance Church visible and Church invisible. I know where ministry mostly happens—at the local level. But at the same time we are not Presbyterian. As Episcopalians we know that we do not minister as isolated units, and as Bishop it is my calling to remind you all of one another, and especially of the greatest among you to serve the least. Our blessings on the local level are to be shared, just as our needs are to be shared. This way Jesus in all of us is honored. It is He that makes us interdependent in our mission because we function as His body. So we must continue to strengthen each other as we share with each other. This continues to take funding and personnel. It will continue to assume shared resourcing, where the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, and the widow’s mite outshines wealth’s largesse, and where we are all in the last day mere servants who have done what is expected of the redeemed to do in gratitude for God’s grace. Amen.
Part II - Next Generations of Faith and Anglican Episcopal Identity
The most exciting section of the Strategic Plan for me is that which covers “The Next Generations of Faith.” These past few months Ellen Bruckner has led the Diocesan staff in a study of a manual entitled “The Mission Shaped Church.” It is the product of the Church of England’s efforts to re-imagine its mission. Central to its theology of mission is the statement that, “the Church does not have a mission which we ask God to bless, but God has a mission for which God uses the Church.” It is one of a number of church growth tools we have been looking at as a staff.
At this time I would like to invite the staff to stand. Over these past few years we have grown beyond our individual functions so that everyone, in some way or another, shares in direct ministry with congregations or in a pastoral capacity. You know about Tom, Willa, Ellen and the Youth Missioners’ ministries among you, but you need also to know that among the core administrative staff, no one just stays behind a desk. Everyone travels as part of their ministry: Bob with the BAGS presentation and planned giving, Julianne with clergy care and ordinations, Nancy to keep pace with the exciting projects which we all need to read about, Elizabeth as a key person and colleague to Catherine Quehl-Engel at the greatly expanded Ministries Retreat, and Anne as Diocesan Convention Coordinator, Property Manager and BAGS presenter in the Southwest and South Central regions. What we have sought to draw out of one another is the Christ-passion for the Gospel community which we serve as a Diocese. Each one also serves as a liaison or convener for a Chapter.
Like many of you I am a convert to Christianity. Jesus Christ entered into my life and redirected my future. I am convinced that He seeks to do that with all of us and with all of humanity around us. Jesus said that the fields were white for harvest and that we should pray to the Lord of the harvest to send the laborers. Our mission field is multi-generational. It is not just the next generation of younger people, though by God’s grace we need to work very hard there, creating opportunities not only for them to own the faith for themselves, but also for the exploration of opportunities to serve and lead. Yet we also keep in mind the older generations of baby boomers coming off their active lives to embrace retirement. Furthermore we are becoming a state of greater diversity. New workers fill our factories, fields and our hospitals from other lands, and a new wave of Diaspora from Africa and Asia is upon us. Iowa is receiving its share. It is estimated that 71% of the population live with no religious affiliation. The same number stays away from church, especially as they catch us fighting between ourselves. We must not think Lutheran Church of Hope captures them all!
While we have breath we are called to share the Good News. And as Episcopalians, we have our own market share waiting to hear our invitation. How is that invitation to be couched? This Convention is filled with one of our methods of engaging people with Christ’s good news to the poor, what our Presiding Bishop calls deed-evangelism. Our baptismal covenant asks us if we will engage in evangelism through words and actions. We seek to combine both and by the compassion expressed through our willingness to provide the basic needs of human survival as far away as Southern Africa, and as immediately close by as our own community’s shelters and food banks, we speak volumes about a Christ who so loves this world that He has given His very life for us. The ministry of food sharing which came out of St Alban’s, Davenport which is now picked up in a number of other places, exemplifies this combination. The people of St Albans have been very conscious of the importance of inviting people who come for food to find that which can also satisfy their inner hunger. Nor are we alone in learning how to give our faith away or tell our stories of faith.
That the people of Swaziland will be teaching us evangelism this coming year, and have entrusted to us one of their finest priests in Charles Kunene, hopefully for the next two years to share in our ministry development work, underscores the major characteristic of the Episcopal Church working in communion with other Anglican churches. Next year marks the fortieth anniversary of the Diocese of Swaziland and we are invited to engage in evangelism there next October, with the expectation that a visiting team share in a similar event in Iowa in the future.
At this point I recognize Melody Rockwell, our Global Missioner, David Oakland of One World One Church, Terry Shiveley, the Diocesan-wide Swazi Companions Ministry, and Ron and Toni Noah, our ERD Diocesan Coordinators. Add Judith Jones, Helen Keefe and Willa Goodfellow with their Central American connections, Peggy Harris and her Sudanese ministry, and the two young women who are ministering in the Ukraine and in the Congo from St Anne’s, Ankeny, you get a sense of the outreach of this wonderful Diocese. Our combination of word and deed evangelism, through global relationships is a mark of our identity as Episcopal Anglicans.
Nothing that might be determined formally at the highest levels of the Anglican Communion is going to stop this mutual ministry across the oceans. My time in Spain for the Walk to Emmaeus Consultation between African Bishops and Bishops of The Episcopal Church further strengthened this conviction. What I did learn there was that on the whole, we American Bishops have a long way to go before we can match the incredibly brave statesmanship of our African counterparts. And that the Gospel demands that of us.
Locally however, work on the orphan school at Mpaka, shared further with the Diocese of Brechin, our plans for the Waters of Hope project, and the expansion of relationships which might take us to the Sudan, Mt. Kilimanjaro, or to Central America, help us live into the incarnated mission of God with us. These projects are moving ahead full steam, and assistance with medical needs—AIDS and dental supplies—advances. You can add to this list the incredible work of Katie Mears of Trinity, Iowa City who went on a trip to New Orleans from Grinnell College and really never returned as she is now the head of the housing rebuilding program of the Diocese of Louisiana. Or consider that more than fifteen work parties have gone from Iowa to assist there. A special mention goes to St Timothy’s, West Des Moines, who has involved me in their post-Katrina work parties by asking me to pray them off at 5:00 A.M. on their semi-annual trips. And when I sleep in they wake me up and then wait for me to get there!!
This is how preparing the next generations of faith joins up with our particular identity focus as Episcopal Anglicans with our strong sense of incarnated mission. And I know I have not captured half of what we are all doing.
Through partnerships, we are being encouraged to think and plan beyond ourselves. This spring we heard of the impact of the draught in Swaziland, and within three weeks responded by raising $40,000 to present in connection with the Presiding Bishop’s memorable visit. We know how to share ministry and resources when called upon.
We also know how to conserve when challenged to do so. This year Sarah Webb and members of St. Luke’s, Cedar Falls introduced us to the concept of becoming “Cool Congregations.” They have raised our consciousness to the imprint of our carbon footprints as a people. The Scarfe family was evaluated recently by the Webbs, and I must say that we do quite well as long as we stay in our home. Once we step out of the house, we wreak havoc on our environment by our traveling. Sarah has enrolled ninety congregations of various denominations into programs to ameliorate their carbon footprint.
As ecumenical partners, we have enjoyed common mission relationships with the Lutherans. A couple of our congregations are very dependent on the opportunities afforded by the “Call to Common Mission.” It is our hope in 2008 to bring clergy and congregations together with local Methodist Churches, as our two Churches enter more deeply into a time of interim Eucharistic sharing. This is a process which we hope will advance to mutual recognition of ministry and what we call full communion, perhaps by 2012.
Elizabeth O’Connor wrote a great book entitled “Journey Inward, Journey Outward.” She addresses the balance of our spiritual lives as people who are always sent by God outward, but are also invited by the same God to a journey of ever-deepening inner spirituality. The trick is that we are called to do both at the same time. The conversations that we enjoyed this year with our Presiding Bishop, whether at the public forum or more intimately among clergy at the Clergy Conference, presented to us a person seeking to follow that balanced path. Our talks among ourselves around the issues of the Anglican Communion, which we called “Communion Matters,” also indicated a community of people seeking to embrace balance in a time of cultural and political polarization. I know that we all take our faith with immense seriousness. I know also that we take our role in society seriously. Why else would we work so hard at learning how to spot signs of racism, domestic violence, or ways to keep our children safe? As the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his sermon in New Orleans during the House of Bishops, and I paraphrase, “the sign of a righteous city is where the children play safely in the streets and the old men and women can sit around and talk.”
If we gain a vision of what manner of people God seeks us all to be, then we will be able to proclaim the Gospel so that the next generations of faith, including those who had already given up on any hope that God could make room for them, would hear and see themselves included among us. Let us not limit ourselves only to the religious who play musical churches, but go after the ones who always catch Jesus’ eye—the woman at the well, the leper, Zacchaeus up the tree, the woman taken in adultery, Levi the tax collector, the fishermen and mourning widow, the one who needed his sins forgiven before he could get up and walk, the girl as good as dead, the woman shuffling forward for God’s crumbs—and who are all probably to be found online at any time of day or night and would find us online if they could!! If we could train our eye to look as He looks, and our heart to love as He loves, I am sure that there is no telling what marvels God’s Spirit can do through us as One of God’s myriad “Churches in Many locations.” And I pray to be a bishop who accompanies you on that journey and begins to see the fruit of such a harvest.
God bless you. As always, to use the words of St Augustine, it is an honor to be “a bishop for you,” and “a child of God with you.”
The Day of Pentecost, 2007
The disciples had little idea what to expect as they obeyed Jesus and waited in the upper room for His promised gift of the Spirit. “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” What happened on the first Day of Pentecost continues to transform the world, as Christian communities are empowered by the Holy Spirit down the generations to both be witnesses to Christ’s forgiving death and His liberating resurrection, and to be servants of His incarnate Love as we fulfill His call to be seekers of justice and peace.
In Iowa we are not exempt from the call, nor are we exceptions to the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. But what to do, and where to begin? And how can we generally do things as one Church in Many Locations?
Since convention 2005, a Task Force of the Board has been asking, and listening to your sense of the Spirit’s leading, and we collected your information about ministry needs and priorities. You made specific comments, which were reviewed directly. So today, I am delighted to send you as a way of response, the first Strategic Plan since my time as your Bishop. It is to be used as a guide and planning tool for every level of ministry participation to help guide us through the years 2008 through 2012.
There are four overarching Ministry areas – which reflect what many see as the key places for our ministry energy, both together and as individual communities of faith. They are: Strengthening Congregations – the healthy hearts of God’s Mission in Iowa; Building the Next Generations of Faith – the intentional invitation to all to become people of faith and service; Affirming Episcopal/Anglican identity – the understanding that our tradition has unique ways of expressing and doing God’s Love in Jesus Christ; and finally Shared Ministries – the acknowledgement that as the Body of Christ, our ministry is mutual and interdependent and God works best through us all in concert, sharing our resources.
The “plan” is not a how-to directional guide. It is a compendium of possibilities arranged around the four major ministry areas. The key part, from my viewpoint, is the Worksheet entitled “Strategic Discernment” and the accompanying step-by-step guide. It is on this worksheet that we invite you at every level of ministry to write out your own goals, plans of engagement and measurements for success. These levels of ministry may include an entire congregation, a vestry or Diocesan Commission or Bible study group, a Choir, Finance Committee, or Diocesan Ministry Development Team -- whatever your configuration, no group large or small is exempt from this possibility.
The strategy is to be doing this collectively across the Diocese in our own time and pace, as the Spirit leads. The four major ministry areas will act as guide and guard rails. Each of the next Conventions (2009-2012) will be thematically focused on one of the four areas, starting in 2008 with a concentration on our overall dedication to Christ and Christ’s Mission. At my annual visitations, I hope your engagement with the Plan will be a major part of our conversations together.
On the Day of Pentecost, Jesus put His Church in motion to be in mission with Him through each and all. We are the recipients of the faithful dedication of generations that have come before us who have built us into a generation of faith. The Church’s voice and mission energy is needed today like no other. We are privileged to live in the best and the worst of times. We see the whole world laid out before us in great details through our electronically created global communication. God will not accept that we did not know the conditions of things as we are asked how did we express our gratitude for God’s love and obey the command to love as we have been loved. This is a call to carry out that command as One Church in Many Locations as the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa.
Bishop Alan Scarfe's statement at a press conference that was called by Interfaith Alliance of Iowa and Action Fund representing more than 30 faith leaders and organizations statewide that support adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Iowa Civil Rights Code.
While The Episcopal Church continues to find itself a minority voice in its own global Anglican Communion, and still has divisions within its own people, regarding the formal authorization of blessings of same sex unions and the appropriateness of partnered gays and lesbians in the highest ranks of the Church, we are able, nevertheless, to manifest greater unity when it comes to seeking civil rights for gay and lesbian persons.
On March 29, 2007, the worldwide leader of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, said: "The commitments of the Communion are not only to certain theological positions on the question of sexual ethics, but also to a manifest and credible respect for the proper liberties of homosexual people, a commitment set out in successive Lambeth Conference Resolutions over many decades."
The Episcopal Church in its June 2006 General Convention reaffirmed "its conviction that Homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens and calls upon our society to see that such protection is provided in actuality."
The Iowa legislature has a historic opportunity to ensure that such equal protection of the laws on housing, employment, vocational education, on the job training, and credit accessibility be provided for all Iowan citizens without discrimination on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
At the heart of The Episcopal Church's understanding of our covenant with God through Jesus Christ - our baptismal covenant - we declare that we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. In serving all persons we believe that we serve Christ in them without discrimination or prejudice. Christ's own preference for the poor and the marginalized of his own day, persons often excluded from full participation in the religious community of their time, encourages us to follow His example. That opposition to such inclusion still comes from religious sources in our day continues to be an occasion for sadness and a call for renewed courage and faith.
Granting human rights to all of God's people should not be a matter of political partisanship or religious competition, but is something we all need to accomplish together. I am glad therefore to lend my voice to the urging of the passing of this bill. With all that faces us as a human race in terms of climate change, the efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger, the need for a new way of dealing with international strife beyond the specter of war, this removal of discrimination is one small action that is more than doable, and frees us to move on to other things.
"0 God who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (The Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer, p. 840)
Easter Day 2007
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Des Moines
It goes without saying that the resurrection stands at the heart of the Christian faith. It demonstrated to the apostles that this Jesus whom they had followed and whom the religious authorities of their day had crucified was none other than the Son of God – demonstrated by the fact that he was raised from the dead. Of this they were witnesses because he appeared to them!
As the Son of God – which they understood to mean God coming among them in human form – He was to demand of humanity absolute devotion and complete obedience. What he had to say about God and our relationship to God; what he had to say about human relationships with one another; what he had to say about the true nature of worship and the religious life of the Sprit – all of these things required our full attention.
And finally, His very birth, life among us as a servant, and His death told us volumes about the nature of our Creator God and the values of the God in whose presence we all live, whether we acknowledge it or not.
His birth was among the lowly and the poor – there were no classes of people too humble for him to identify with them. None were ignored or untouched by His presence. He identified with all.
His life of healing, confronting evil, and offering signs of the Kingdom of God having come near for everyone –men and women, rich and poor, widows and children.
His death was at the hands of others, especially a religious kind of others – an innocent sacrifice and perfect example of trust in God – “into your hands I commend my spirit” were his ultimate words – that He fulfilled in one action all the efforts of religious ritual and practice to make us at One with God – with our sins forgiven and our estranged relationship with God reconciled through His personal offering.
And He had invited us all to trust in His death as being for us – an opportunity for us to die to ourselves to live for God and God’s loving purposes, by creating holy actions such as baptism for our own spiritual death and resurrection, and establishing the eucharist, by which we are reminded that His sacrificed and broken body and his blood bring us healing and forgiveness.
All of this, of course, we recite today. And every time we gather on Sundays, it is precisely because Sunday is the Lord’s Day – the Day Jesus first Rose from the dead, and appeared to His disciples!!
In His resurrection – his life continued into eternity and down the ages we cal history. Yet in so doing he was more than a person in history to whom a birth date and a date of death would be assigned. For death could not hold him, and we are witnesses to that fact.
The apostles did not ask to be witnesses. They did not expect to be such witnesses and to such an event. But they were, and ultimately they gave their own lives proclaiming what they had seen, and what it all meant.
The apostles were witnesses also that because Jesus died and was risen – they lived with a unique historical perspective. History for them included the fact that a human being died and was risen. Something extraordinary had happened in their lifetime that had never happened before and will not again.
History had an open end, it could not completely be predicted within only its own terms. And all who became believers in Jesus Christ lived with this perspective. But not only believers but everyone who would come to the light of day.
Another world had broken into this world. A world to which Jesus ascended and from which He had come and would come again.
And a world that seeks to transform this world – the world of men and women by the power of the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.
Christians are invited to live in the strength of that same resurrecting Spirit.
So today – in a few moments- I invite you who are to be confirmed precisely into that deeper relationship with God through the Holy Spirit.
It is not just to a community of people you come – to follow or complete rules of membership – but into a connection with the Kingdom of God through an infilling of the Holy Spirit. It is into a deeper embracing of history as we understand and experience it.
“Strengthen your servant with your Holy Spirit. Empower for service and sustain all the days of their life.”
The apostles gave the rest of their lives declaring all of this. And that we sit here today means one of two things – we have heard them loud and clear and we no share their witness and experience – somehow, some here, sometime the same risen Christ has appeared to us or God has allowed Him to appear in some form before us, to become more than a word to us, and invited us to live within His Holy Spirit.
Or, we are this day in a new way or for the first time hearing and seeing such a witness and such an invitation offered to us personally. That for me, I hear Christ has come, loved, died and is risen. For my sins or burden of imperfection He offered Himself, and for my eternal purpose and prospects He offers new life through faith in Him.
St Paul sums it all up this way in his words to the Colossians, “If you are raised with Christ – set your minds on things above.” In other words – live out of a perspective that this world is not all there is – and find the freedom such a reality provides.
Take risks to embrace the impossible. Be ready to question the priorities and values of a closed system that believes that this world is all there is, rather than let a broader perspective cause you to become disengaged with this world. Become more keenly engaged because it is what the love of God compels you to do, and your larger perspective provides greater freedom to do so.
And what is more, loving, caring, healing, feeding, sheltering, sharing reconciling, saving – is everything Jesus called us to do both in his actions and his words. And as the Son of God, what He asks we must do!
In the end Christianity is not about religious and institutional Church. As much as our rituals and formal gatherings help keep us oriented to the essentials of our history and faith – it is good. When it becomes an end in itself it has lost its purpose.
For Paul goes on to say to the Colossians, "for Christ is my life.” Not an example of a good life – “MY LIFE.” He is all wrapped up in Him; hidden in Him.
This is God’s ultimate goal for us all. Set your mind on things above in this sense – be fed, led governed by His Spirit and aspirations that Christ is our life! Our very reason for being, our very source of joy and delight, our very resource of limitless possibility. This world has problems but it is carried in a broader frame of reference, and from that frame of reference we can bring to it the relief of God’s own resurrection power.
Christ is Risen. Alleluia! A message for my rejoicing! A reality for this world’s salvation!! In every sense of the word.
Easter Vigil 2007
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Des Moines
On Wednesday evening I visited Trinity Church, Waterloo as part of my Holy Week pilgrimage, and participated in their service of Tenebrae. In one hour and fifteen minutes we recited a dozen or so psalms, heard nine lessons and watched as 15 candles were reduced to one, and then finally even that single candle was taken away.
Suddenly in the darkness a thunderous noise startled us all, and the Christ Candle returned to be the single light to light out way out of the sanctuary in silence.
Tonight the process is reversed. We begin with one solitary Candle – the Paschal Candle- lit from natural fire, and its glow we listen again.
The light is shared among us – all our candles or tapers having come from this one new light – and again through readings and songs in place of psalms, the pieces of our faith are steadily put back together.
This IS the night. There is NO OTHER like it throughout the year, not even Christmas or New Year’s.
We remind ourselves of our origins – that we are created and none of us had anything to do with our own creation. It was something received.
We remind ourselves that God’s breath gives life, and without it we are dried bones and have hearts of stone.
We remind ourselves that we are born not for solitary lives but for community – that for each of us there was a welcoming party – our mothers for sure, but also our fathers on the whole, and maybe our grandparents, and if we were very fortunate even our church family, our family of faith rejoiced at our birth and began preparations already perhaps for our baptisms.
And we remind ourselves that even if we entered this life without any fanfare, unexpected, unwanted, resented even, God saw our appearing and delighted in us, and the angels rejoiced with Him.
Hard to imagine for those on the corners of our earth these days, but even so everywhere. It is so; our faith says it must be so and in that very belief is our life’s mission and that if we would ever perfectly grasp it would burn within us until this truly becomes One world with One Church.
Nothing ever asked of us is not already modeled by our Creator God.
I sometimes wonder about Christ’s own consciousness as it returned to Him in the darkness of the tomb. There had to be such a moment – a where am I moment? As death was swallowed up in resurrection life. What did he first see or hear? Who greeted Him? Was it the angels at the door of the tomb? Yet suddenly the light flickered back on, the heartbeat returned, and I have to think the angels were overjoyed as the Father whispered “Peace be with you” into Jesus’ ear.
We need to try and enter into these things. I know that nineout of ten times I move too fast, or become too full of distractions surrounded by too much noise and busyness to hear such things. I say nine out of ten for I now that there are the occasional grace-filled moments of deeper reflection. This night is one of them.
And so we treat one another with liturgy as we worship and give thanks for the blessedness of our God. Tonight’s liturgy is extraordinary. It always leaves me with a spiritual hangover for Easter morning. In fact maybe it ought to be our only Easter celebration going on from the early morning into the beginning of the new day, letting liturgy and life blend together.
It is our time to greet each other as we come alive – awake to our new life in Jesus Christ.
In Bucharest, Romania, the Orthodox Easter carries you through the night. It is an extravagant affair, staring close to midnight and taking you deep into the early morning hours. At its liturgy’s conclusion, the streets are filled with candles held by thousands of worshippers. Especially notable especially in the communist days were the young people – huddled in doorways, laughing, talking, playing, greeting strangers with the news that Christ is risen – and the response indeed – in truth he is risen. They would seem set to wait out the night so that the light of their Christ candles can be accompanied by the glow of the light of the rising sun in that first Easter sunrise.
What an image – Christ’s light flows into the sunlight of our normal day, making his light that enlightens every one coming into the world blend with the light that lightens every day. It creates with it hope for another year.
It is why we bring light back in the form of the Paschal candles during the rest of the year especially for baptisms and funerals – for our coming ins and our going outs of our regular existence – capturing the reality that Christ’s light fills up everything and everyone, and darkness can never snuff it out. It illumines the corners where evil likes to lurk, and exposes all to the true light of Divine Love.
Dare we enjoy this night to the full? Dare we carry Christ’s light within us until it lightens our everyday existence?
Dare we measure all things by its brilliance, its permanence, its overwhelming potency for changing things, its capacity to expose and reveal truth?
Dare we see its connecting rays? Not only in terms of our own daily lives, but in the fact that one source of Divine Light lightens everyone who is come into the world? And we are caught in the same glow?
And dare we thus let it be our guiding light – to a path that will not settle until everyone is captured in its true glory that is God, who is in Jesus Christ the very light of the world and our own light?