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Articles & Sermons - 2011 

The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe , Bishop of Iowa 
 
 
2011 Newsletter Articles:
Other Years:





From the Bishop - December 2011
Bishop’s Address at All Commissions’ Day, St Luke’s Des Moines

17 November 2011

 
Who can tell me what statement stands on the desk of every staff member at the Diocese Center? It is “In Mission with Christ through each and all”. This is the year in which we emphasize the final phrase “through each and all”.

It is remarkable that we have reached this section in the Strategic Plan in which we focus on Shared Ministry, or working through each and all. It was in fact the first insight as we put the plan together based on your survey answers in 2007. It shaped the title for the overall plan – “One Church, Many Locations”.

I truly believe that the Holy Spirit has been guiding our efforts to live into our baptismal call to be in mission with Christ. Now we have to see how we can include one another in this.

“Each and all” – “Shared Ministry”; first of all, let it be noted what the foundational nature of Shared Ministry is. In St Paul’s second letter to Timothy he urges Timothy to study to show himself approved of God as a coworker with Christ. From the moment of our being poured into Jesus Christ at baptism we share in His death and in His resurrection. This is our identity as human persons who follow Jesus Christ. Our presence this morning means that out of that merging of our oneness with Christ, special callings have come from God – certain passions born of gift and interest, or even of personal and communal circumstance, and they manifest themselves in particular forms – global mission, a desire for the oneness of the Church, youth or the development of young people as Christian leaders, the formation of our minds and hearts as set upon God; the gift and celebration of our diversity as human beings of various backgrounds and the call to respect each other across the human race; the Stewardship of God’s creation and our own creations of places for worship and for service, as well as other incarnate manifestations of our faith and sense of mission.

These are the ministries which your Commissions represent. They all stand tall on the fundamental ministry of Christ which we share primarily with Him through His gift of the Holy Spirit. From these ministry passions we find our companions – those like us with whom we share ministry, who fill out for us the icon of Christ in the world of which each of us is but a part, or a mosaic piece.

I grew up with the song “it only takes a sparks to set a fire going, and soon all those around are lit up in its glowing”. Currently I am reading the “Black Banners”, the story of Al Qaeda – an intensely passionate committed group of men passionate for a cause without fear or boundary. I was reminded of a sermon I once heard in my Romania days, that God has more pleasure in a militant atheist than a lukewarm believer. These are tough words to swallow but they were an interesting perspective from a Christian whose persecution for Christ came from those very same atheists.

I could not help but ask myself where I was during those same years while Al-Qaeda was growing its network, in the 1980s and 1990s. As they huddled in their safe homes and training camps in Somalia or the Sudan and Afghanistan, I realized that I was in fact starting out as a priest. I was gathering with a much less intense group at St Barnabas’ Church in Eagle Rock but who were just as enthusiastic about making a difference in the world by developing ministry shared with Christ. What we do together has impact beyond ourselves. It is our part in putting evil in its place.

This year we are invited to connect our Commission passions to a much wider circle – that of the whole people of the Diocese of Iowa. I believe that we began this process at the Diocesan Board level. At our retreat which was completed just last weekend, we opened up to the ministry passions that move us individually. We heard each other’s story of mission and received each other as inspired – literally Spirit indwelt or in-breathed – followers of Christ, who reflected the life of God in Christ in their own reflections and who were eager to act for change.

I would encourage you all to take some time – perhaps at your first gathering beyond this one – and get to know each other at that level. This is getting to know each other at that level of ministry passion. This is getting to know the each of the all through whom God is at work.

But then, pass it on. For all of us come from congregations which sit in Chapters around the Diocese. Share ministry; uncover God’s coworkers at the local level and see how you can be a resource to them and be resourced by them.

The plan itself offers ways to do this, specifically on pages 8, 9 and 25. I encourage you all as Commission members to look up those sections, and seek ways to apply your reading into practical outcomes. I urge you to do the same within your own congregations and in the congregations associated with you through the chapter. You can point the way for others to follow.

One way to reinforce our focus on shared ministry is ironically through my decision NOT to treat you all as single units or self standing congregations, trying to get to you all in one year, but to spread the visitation cycle out over two years, and incorporate times when we gather as chapters for both teaching and confirmation. 

As I say, I am going to spend two years ( at least through to the beginning of Advent 2013) to visit the Diocese, thus about one on every four visits will be designated as a regional event – based at one congregation in a given chapter, with a weekend planned for ministry shared by all the other members of the Chapter. It is an opportunity to encourage Shared Ministry of an Episcopal visit.

Finally, let me say that there’s another element to all of this, which runs just beneath the surface. Our mission effectiveness depends heavily on our sense of identity, and in fact our identity spells out our mission.

Yesterday I heard an account of the way God led the Diocese of Lexington in Kentucky to embrace more fully the ministry of their smaller churches in the Appalachian mountains. It is a wonderful story of grace and creativity though not so remote or exceptional from our own stories.

The Episcopalians in that region said to the Diocesan staff and Bishop “We are not like the folk around here; there are about 6:1 snake handlers than Episcopalians in these parts!” The rejoinder however was: “That may be so, but think of what you do bring that is unique to you – the broad and intelligent way you read and reflect on the Scriptures; the way you see Jesus in the middle of his struggle with the religious authorities; the liturgical and historical expressions of worship and the beauty of God; the prophetic message of the social Gospel which you emphasize; the welcome you offer to those cast out by other religious groups – divorced, gay and lesbian, people still wrestling with issues of faith. In turn the Episcopal Church needs you who identify yourself as being among the poor, because we know Jesus is among you and you bring Him to us and He challenges us through you.”

This is probably tomorrow’s sermon as we look at Matthew 25: 31 onwards.

Shared Ministry is each of us and all of us. You represent focused passions for ministry but your goal is a common one – to fulfill this Mission of yours with Christ – through each and all. Leave more than a little of yourselves in each congregation of which we are comprised as a Diocese. Everyone has something to share, for ministry is Christ’s ongoing life in and through us all. We just need to be creative, open and daring in how we pass it on, and to partner our strengths and let Christ who is always in mission, be through each and all.

Bishop Alan Scarfe, Diocese of Iowa

(Commissions represented at the 2011 Commissions Day include: Church Property, Architecture and the Allied Arts; Lifelong Christian Formation Oversight Committee; Multicultural Commission; Commission on One World, One Church; and the Youth Ministry Development Team.)




From the Bishop - November 2011


Thank you for a wonderful Convention. I always know when I have been in a place where God has been palpably present because there are no words with which to respond. I returned home to silence and to allow silence to linger a little into the late afternoon. Eventually I succumbed to the seesaw experience which is watching our University football teams play back to back! That too can reduce you to silence but for quite another reason. You might call it shock and awe.

On Sunday afternoon I was at the Cathedral with a small group which was engaging Richard Giles, the Convention keynote speaker and the Cathedral Sunday preacher, on deeper issues of liturgical renewal. By Tuesday we were asking where do we go from here?

That is an important question. For those not present, there were small and large changes that were carried out at the Convention Eucharist, such as the sharing of the priest’s stole as a symbol of the shared authority of the priesthood of the assembled body, which is Christ in us, or more startlingly, the altar brought forward and freed from the altar rail, with the subsequent opening up of the space around it for others to crowd in on the Sacrament of Bread and Wine, or the taking of the Word down to the people to be read and preached among them. Change brings discomfort; it can also bring a new way of seeing God, the space we inhabit and ourselves in God’s presence. That is what happened for me.

At one point in the Convention, as I was saying goodbye to the youth conference participants, one of them shouted out “keep it fresh, Bishop” – a new greeting in my experience, I must say. Later one of their leaders came up to me and said that we had indeed kept it fresh, referring to what we did together at convention. Nothing, however, could match what a few of us witnessed, after the main congregation left the Cathedral back to the Convention on Saturday morning. The Dean had suggested that one way of acknowledging that this has been a year of protracted absence for me as your bishop, and a good time for reconnection, was to invite any who would like to come and pray with me at the end of the service. And so we did, and so you came; but not just for a laying on of hands and a formulaic response, but with specific needs or joys and for definite prayers of the heart.

I want to thank all those who stayed to share their inner thoughts for prayer in trust. What a way to be welcomed home. I am grateful too to the Dean for such a glorious idea; and to the people of the Cathedral for opening up, quite literally, the space of their sacred memories and moments that we might all see God from a different light and angle, and be blessed in the vision.

I have already begun to hear from a few of you who have returned home with a twinkle in the eye for keeping it fresh – perhaps sharing your stole, placing the Word among you, even a gleaming eye on the pews and altar rail! We will follow up with some guided liturgical audit in the months ahead. I look forward to hearing how some of you have already begun to experiment with your liturgical space. Remember the important question: how does the space in which you worship express who you believe yourselves to be as the people of God? May I also invite you to widen the inquiry in preparation for the meaningful conversations we anticipate will be happening as we seek your input into the Strategic Foci for the next few years? At Convention we started that conversation by asking: “Imagine you are talking with someone who is unfamiliar with your congregation; briefly tell a story that shows your congregation at its best; (and) name that asset.”

Thank you for bringing your bishop home. That is the story I will tell, and the asset I name is the one I experienced through you and in you: God’s love.

+Alan


Diocesan Convention Eucharist 
St Simon and St Jude, 29 October 2011

 
 
Ephesians 2: 13-22; John 15:17-27

There are lots of voices coming at us today and throughout this Convention. We have been shifted into some different space – even our most hallowed and sacred activity – our worship of God – is being challenged; challenged last night; challenged physically, visually and I presume therefore emotionally this morning.

I can hear – even in my own spirit – the cry “Can’t we just leave things alone?” at least for the moment.

But think for another moment of our themes: recasting assets, recasting vision; pulling down the old house and planting the derelict ground.

“But – that’s tradition!” we might say. Yet does it really get any easier the closer we move back to the tradition?

Feel the urgency and passion of Paul’s words to the Ephesians. There is real division in the camp. There are those who are near and there are those who are far off. There’s the original chosen of God and there’s the newly chosen of God. Is God replacing one with the other?

No! God is drawing them together into one body through the cross. Or, to look at it from John’s point of view in his Gospel – listen to the words of Jesus: “the servant is no greater than the master”. Therefore IF they hated Me, they will hate you; IF they persecuted Me, what do you think they will do to you?”

Who are “they”? The ones among whom Jesus brought change that transformed life as they knew it.

Jesus brings change, but the change He brings is not insignificant. It’s not moving pews around and replacing thee and thou with “yo dude” which in itself is now ancient. It is a change of such significance that 1) God’s reality is revealed and no one can hide any more from God’s purity and right justice; and 2) everyone is exposed as a sinner. No one has an insider status – except for the fact that God calls all Beloved Children!

IF opening up this liturgical space helps us see God more clearly and at the same time helps us see ourselves in a truer light and see each other more closely and lovingly, THEN it is a good change.

So I must ask this question – what is God building in your community? What is God building in you? Does it result in greater openness and clarity? Does it confront you with your true self even as it reveals to you God’s love and engaging character? And does it so set you up that your very sense of justice and truth and belovedness irritates the living daylights out of everyone who wants to keep hiding in dark places, behind closed doors, or imposing vestments, or sealed off edifices? All of which shout to the people around us “outsider!” “You don’t belong!” And how could you belong?

I will never forget the vestry retreat discussion at St Barnabas Eagle Rock in which we talked about the outreach being carried out through the renting of our parish hall to various groups. We had two Head Start programs for about 40 families, the local boys scouts, the gay and lesbian ballroom dancing group, an AIDS support group and AA. We provided a community meal which was a high point of the homeless social calendar; and we ran an alternative High School for gang members and high risk young people. It was sufficient for our church to rent space to the community in this way, but we never considered what it would mean to become a place where we could all meet God together, and I don’t think we ever really tried because we would not put our worship style and emphases in the hands of those who were far off but whom God might draw near.

I would never have thought that we would have much connection with St Simon and St Jude. It is interesting that they are probably the least known of the Apostles and therefore have every right to be the ones who remind us of this community of belonging which is called the Body of Christ.

In fact we have connections. On my sabbatical I wanted to visit Gillian Mantle and also see where Bishop John of Brechin was laid to rest. So we had a lovely trip to the family parish which was an old parish well established in the Tudor times, and still linked with the Lord of the Manor, whose ancestors occupied a section of the graveyard. Gillian took me to John’s gave which was appropriately placed among the nobility. I say appropriately placed, because that is what our custom would tell us. I wondered a bit however about the considerations of a son of a priest who worked so much of his life among industrial working men and women of Dundee, and who counted among his gospel passions the ministry of worker priests.

Nevertheless we picked up the key from the local vicar, who on finding I was on sabbatical wanted to tell me about his sabbatical research tracking the journey of Simon and Jude. So there is our connection, dear friends, through Bishop John, his local vicar and another’s sabbatical. These connections are what Christian life is all about. In the end no one can hide because the Gospel, being good news, aims at shedding light into every corner of life. God pulls things together; God never stops drawing people together; whether we can sign on for a particular Covenant or not, the real truth is that our covenant is already in place and it is written with the spirit upon human hearts regardless of what we write on a piece of paper. God pulls us in especially against that current or tide we love to perpetuate, by which we separate ourselves into our factions and groups.

How do we get back in sync with God? Paul suggests three words – “through the cross”.

Whatever keeps us isolated in our pockets of specialness needs to die upon the Cross of Christ. This is self-offering – not an invitation to offer one another up to death which we are all eager to do. The question is, who will go first?

One of my favorite prayers comes from Morning Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen”

Isn’t that what God wants to build in your community? Some will hate you for trying – but others will thank you and find the God they had thought had abandoned them.

If Episcopal identity means being able to create the open space to see the reality of this truth – then let us move from here an excited people, a privileged people – a people through whom with Christ as the cornerstone God can build the new Jerusalem, where those afar and those near are brought together as one, where all our distinctions cease and God alone is all and in all.

So yes, move the furniture out of the way. Arrange it how you like until you can see such a vision of God that tells you who you are and what the community is that God wishes to build through you.

Amen. 


Bishop’s address  - Diocesan Convention 2011
October 28, 2011


“Quo Vadis?” seems to have been a favorite question of Walter Righter, the seventh bishop of Iowa. Walter, who died on September 11th this year, will feature a bit in this address, as I believe is only fitting. Nancy Morton said that he was always twenty years ahead of his time, which means we are probably in Righter time now. I was struck by his comment that he wished that his fifty years of active ministry were beginning from the days of his anticipating retirement. Of course, Walter left what many would call his best for last, finally provoking the church by his prophetic eye for change, not as a Diocesan but in the semi-retired hazy days as an assistant bishop in Newark. I suppose that is when a bishop is actually most dangerous – no real responsibilities except that burning passion for the ministry of Christ and being ready to take your chances with God eye to eye on any courageous decision you may make in those classic days “when you are old and wear purple”! There is time for us yet, Chris!

In preparing to honor Bishop Righter at his memorial service, I read all his bishop’s addresses. I found myself awake early one morning, shortly afterwards, detailing the various common echoes of insight and expectation regarding ministry with the people of Iowa. Certain threads are still dangling, perhaps to be tied up in our day, or to be transitionally woven into a new fabric which we are all making together in Christ’s Name.

I have always thought that Iowan Episcopalians had nothing to lose in being exceptional and peculiar in our way of expressing the wondrous nature and ministry of Jesus Christ. If there is one thing I hope we take away from this Convention with our theme of Episcopal/Anglican identity I pray it be precisely that. God’s creation is varied beyond our imagination, so why should faith be homogenous – of one color or texture? That may sound a bit like the provost of the new Claremont-Lincoln School of Theology in California with its interfaith curriculum and integrated student body. But in the early days of reformation, we forget that the idea of a Book of Common Prayer was that diversity of thought could exist within a common frame of prayer. Pitch the tent broadly and there is room for all shades and humor of Christian experience reflecting the diversity of human temperament.

Walter would refer often to the small numbers of Iowan Episcopalians, and rather than see this as an obstacle, he would say that it gave us license to follow our passion for God in a unique way. He was conscious of being an outsider in a state where the population remained steady in terms of mobility. This too was a means for outreach because it gave us a special sensitivity to the plight of those newcomers who were finding their way to the state through immigration. Hispanic ministry, I believe, would be a major part of a contemporary Righter episcopacy.

The purpose of the Second Mile – his multi-year campaign for evangelism and formation – was to pursue what we are seeking to emphasize in this one year of our strategic plan – to have a people who know their tradition and who can articulate their faith to others. His capacity for openness to the changes in liturgy, women in ordination, and eventually to the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the full life of the Church was foreshadowed in his early days as a parish priest where we learned that he doubled the size of his congregation by inviting the then segregated black Episcopal community in his town to join his church. We can do no better than continue this vision of humanity’s broadness and acclaimed dignity.

This has been a year in which we as a community have lost a few dear members who epitomized such breadth of compassion for their fellow human beings. I think of Dottie Carpenter, Mary Burlingame, Bobbie Whitmer, Esther Walters, Shirley Cruse, Hovey Tinsman, Lynn Flowerday – to name but a few whose lives touched us beyond their local communities and spread across the Diocese. It is hard for any community to lose such a large number of stalwart disciples in such a short period of time. We are however assured of their rest in the presence of the Resurrected One, and we know that the life of faith passes on from generation to generation.

If we seek proof of that, we need look no further than at our Youth delegation and the completion of another year of outstanding ministry of our young people. This year the good work of the YMDT has begun to flow into our state universities, as young people I was privileged to confirm in their Junior High years are entering College. When the youth of The Episcopal Church gathered church-wide in Minneapolis for the Episcopal Youth Event, the Iowa delegation manifested such a bond of unity that those from other dioceses were convinced they must come from one local youth group. They were shocked to find out that they in fact had come from all over the state, many from small congregations. It is testimony to the constant work of Lydia Bucklin and the YMDT members. The Youth Ministry Development Team is made up of youth and adult representatives from each region of the Diocese. They plan their year in an annual retreat shortly after this Convention, often providing an event of Diocesan scope for almost every month.

In my sermon during the recent commissioning and ordaining of members of the Ministry Development Team in Calvary Sioux City, I asked the rhetorical question: What makes for a revival in any congregation? My answer to myself was three-fold: becoming attentive to the need you see around you; hearing God’s call as to whom shall God send and saying “here I am send me”; and knowing that the capacity to respond will come from the grace God provides in Jesus Christ. I said that the ministry and mission of the Church is straightforward. It is “Jesus made real in our own day through those who like you receive God’s grace and then manifest Christ’s life to the world of hurting people who need what He brings to all”.

Now I realized recently that one of the defining elements of the Episcopal Church from early times in the United States was that it did not identify well with such pietistic personalism in matters of faith, as I have just described. It makes me wonder if I have spent much of my time speaking Greek when I thought I was speaking English! I know however no other way to explain what we are doing as Church – whether it is expressed directly as I have just done, or through the agency of the sacraments and within the boundaries of our ordered ministry life, or in baptismal covenant terms. Our faith has to touch us personally and in a transformative way. All of us are called as witnesses of a God who in Jesus Christ makes death and resurrection a living reality of how we face life from beginning to end; and we are a people possessed by the Living God.

I have spent quite some time this year in unexpected quiet. Half of it I admit was planned – through the sabbatical – but the other half was completely unanticipated – one of those happenstances of being mortal with body parts which as Canon Ron Osborne once said to me “are a bit of an overachievement on God’s part” – i.e. way too sophisticated it would seem for their practical purposes! We would probably just stick a couple of PVC pipes together, and have at ready hand, replaceable parts.

In that quiet however, I seem to have read quite a bit of Thomas Keating, of Centering Prayer fame. What is remarkable about Keating is that he really believes God is in us! And that God does not need much cooperation on our part as far as the usual application of our emotional and mental energy to become manifest through us. In fact, God prefers silence and for us to learn self-offering! Now some of us like that idea more than others. But what I want to stress is that as the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4: Grace is allotted to each of us by Christ, and that is the power of God which the Church harnesses to do God’s mission. Being an Episcopalian is to see Jesus in a particular light in society and follow what we see. But we have to move our feet and open our mouths and do more than paint red doors and put out a welcome sign.

I want to talk a bit about my time in Swaziland. Two things struck me about our brothers and sisters there. First, people are hungry for answers to life’s issues. They look for holy moments and holy people, and they expect Christian people to be grace carriers of blessing. In that sense there is an openness that invites God to work. I visited a hospital in Siteki where the head teaching nurse is an Anglican. She took me round every ward where we would stop and hold public prayer for the doctors and patients. I went into the AIDS clinic and was asked again to pray for the doctors and patients. Next thing I knew there was a line of AIDS counselors – as if in a church procession waiting for the reaffirmation of vows! They asked for the laying on of hands and a blessing. As I walked away to my car, a woman came running from the laundry. She was an Anglican and had heard a bishop was on campus, and wanted God’s blessing through the laying on of hands.

I want to ask two questions about this: Is it that we are too sophisticated that we have lost our hunger for and our dependency on grace? Or is it that God works most fluently among the poor and needy and we have just built our churches in the wrong places – we have followed the money trail because we thought that was the only way to build Church? How is it that we can’t finance a deacon’s new vision such as the Micah Project in Sioux City to provide a one stop center for the poor and unemployed, building on their experience over years of deploying social services? How is it that when our congregations get caught up in the world of the working classes, or seek to offer their love to those caught in human trafficking, all I seem to have to do is send them notices about their diocesan asking being behind?

These are naïve questions. But where is freedom if what I did in Swaziland would get me arrested or thrown out of hospitals in the United States?

I brought one word back from the House of Bishops in Ecuador where we heard about the contemporary manifestations of liberation theology, and were reminded that the Church has differing priorities in other provinces within The Episcopal Church, and sometimes even within a given Province as I have been reminded further during a recent visit to the Standing Rock reservation. So what was the word? It was the word “trapped”. Are we trapped; hemmed in by our culture’s values based on our economic choices? I am trapped. I am trapped by my own personal economic choices for my family as they spread across the globe. I am very conscious of my own sense of being economically trapped. I am very appreciative of the salary increases within the 2012 budget after years without any, but they too reflect how we are trapped. The apostle Paul said that the Gospel worker was worthy of their hire, but at the same time he found his freedom through tent-making. Most of us are as much creatures of indebtedness as the next person. And I wish we could talk more openly about this. We may not be able to see our way to living out Acts 2:42, but perhaps we ought to try and engage in trust the principles expressed by “having all things in common”. We are trapped by the way we finance this Convention. With the issues raised by the new mandates for a church-wide health insurance, we are trapped by the inadequate provisions of our society bumping up against our desire to be just and fair as an employing institution. These were things barely considered by the early church, and yet it is no coincidence that church history is full of holy women and holy men who at a time when there were no institutional agencies for the common welfare of humanity gave themselves to the sick and the poor, to children and education, revealing the compassion of their God.

Walter Righter would give us figures which would indicate exactly what percentage of our income is true giving. He would look at the totals for pledge and plate and divide it by the average Sunday attendance or the number of pledging households and do the math as Ron Paul would say. Those figures for last year would bring us to a figure of $ 1765 per average Sunday attender, and half again if we were to consider communicants.

Everything we do as Church is set within the context of incarnate faith and material life. At the upcoming 2012 General Convention I know we are going to be talking about wealth distribution and economic fairness from a Gospel perspective. We are way behind the Lutherans and Roman Catholics on this, and some would say behind the secular Occupy movement. Everything we do is also within the context of our global setting which our life in the Anglican Communion provides us. This is the direction the conversation about the Anglican Covenant needs to be going – building more on how we can work together even in differences rather than how to police one another. As an advocate for human rights and religious freedom in Communist lands, we would talk about the balancing act required for the development of policy. There would be the need for courage but it would also have to be tempered or companioned by discretion. Again we might wish that things could unfold with simplicity. And yet in the Communist days, both qualities had to be worked side by side. I suspect the same balance will be needed in our current economic justice struggle.

The church in Swaziland enjoys the building of churches. But they are always multi-purpose – day schools and orphan food stations during the day, clinics and gathering places for communities, including AIDS support groups at night, and worship spaces at the weekends. This is a simplistic outline, but it represents a broad sense of their use of space. What about our buildings? A small group of congregations have been willing to look into this question together with members of the Episcopal Building Fund. Through a process called “recasting our assets” members of St Andrews Des Moines, St Anne’s Ankeny, St Thomas Sioux City, and Grace Charles City have undertaken very serious and realistic appraisals of their community as a mission institution. They have been asked to recast what they see – regarding their place in community, their use of their buildings, and the mission of God as they can participate in it. For St Thomas that has meant the creation of a toffee making industry using their kitchen facilities; but they have also renegotiated their presence in the neighborhood by being willing to take over a derelict piece of land which is now home to 52 garden plots. St Andrew’s has also seen the potential of their catering facilities, but at the same time have decided to refurbish their old pre-school building, once the “mother church” of St Andrew’s, and have given it over to the Darfur Community in Des Moines that has needed a place to call home, as well as a worship center. The people of St Andrews raised money for their new professional scale kitchen while tithing ten percent towards the new space for their Muslim neighbors. I am so impressed with their efforts that I want our offertory from this Convention to go towards the St Andrew’s Center.

Others of you are doing similar thinking on your own. When it became absolutely essential to repave the parking lot at the Cathedral here in Des Moines, the people of St Paul’s recast their assets. They realized a vision of a lot which would include elements of ecological improvements, creating a rain garden but with a walking labyrinth and an outside chapel in the floor of which every congregation of the Diocese is represented in stone. One action – the needed redoing of the parking lot became a four pronged mission venture – addressing the environment, offering lessons and opportunity for prayer practice to the downtown passersby, providing teaching opportunities to other downtown schools especially the Pace authority next door with troubled youth, and bringing worship into the public square. This is Episcopal Anglican identity. Our sense of mission from God includes our incarnate selves as well as words written or spoken. Evangelism in word and deed is our baptismal promise. Our music, our worship, our willingness to take on the difficult issues of social discourse, our refusal to draw the lines that exclude but our propensity to draw them more broadly to include– these accompany the Scripture we declare, the witness we present to a Divine Love which refuses to separate from us, the prayers we offer, and the praise and thanks we give to God, and the generosity of compassion we submit ourselves to be challenged and provoked by.

It is all about a Love that will not let us go, and again if Walter were here he would have us break out and sing that wonderful hymn, “O Love that will not let me go” though I suspect that is a hymn from my Methodist days. It may be too emotional or sentimental a tune for Anglican tastes.

In a year in which I took time off, and then time decided to take itself off from me, I don’t really have a litany of your achievements to lift up. In many ways the reports you will be hearing and seeing at this Convention will stand alone. What I have to lift up however is even more impressive. When I left on sabbatical, we had four mission pots simmering on the stove. The first concerned our planning into the future as it was time for a new Strategic Planning Focus. For this past year, the Task Force has met and will be telling you more during this Convention. They will gather information across the Diocese through holding meaningful conversations – a technique of the Asset Based Community Development process. Secondly, as we had reached the end of the first cycle of ministry development teams, I invited a group of educators and ministry developers to review and revise the curriculum. They have been faithfully about their task this past year. The third group is the Lifelong Christian Formation Committee which this Convention set up last year; and finally the Haiti Appeal under guidance of Jeanie Smith for which we have received wonderful accolades from The Episcopal Church at large.

I trust that all of these activities are evidence of our ability to widen our diocesan leadership. I told the clergy at our May Conference that as I reflected on my entering into the episcopacy eight years ago, I realized that it was a natural tendency to grab hold of the various reins dangling before you as you went forward into this unprecedented experience of a steep learning curve. However, as I had now reached what I could foresee as a half-way point, I want to walk out of the episcopacy over the next few years increasingly letting go of the reins and broadening the shared aspect of our ministry together. If all of this is Christ ministering among us, and us participating in Him through our rootedness in baptism, then at the end of the day the Body needs to be at work in its entirety. We are all enriched by increasing our capacity to understand the concept of Diocese as incorporating sixty two communities of faith and every one of their members. I live with this concept every day because I am a Christian person in an Episcopal setting, not because I am bishop, even though I admit as bishop I get a better reminder of the reality, thanks to my life and workplace being among you. I hope we will explore all this in distinct earnest in the days ahead as the Strategic Plan leads us into “Shared Resources”.

Before I return to the second aspect of life among the Swazi Christians which I have not forgotten about, this is a good place to acknowledge how fantastic it is to work with the people who share space with me at Mills House. This year beyond others, they have come together expecting to be working through a sabbatical, only to find that they had to dig deeper and go further through the post heart attack period. In fact there is no fixed time frame for the latter as it involves lifestyle changes which include the ways I address my work and ministry. The sabbatical in fact helped prepare for all of this. Recently as I was thinking about where the strategic planners might take us, I realized that we have developed such a good sense of team at Mills House that this same group of people could regroup, do whatever would be needed in retooling itself, and offer support for whatever new direction might be asked of them. Such flexibility, resourcefulness and self- donation is a great gift to us all.

As we think further of staff, this year Pat Genereux finally decided what retirement meant. He has retired from the Disaster relief work he coordinated so well for us through the crisis days of 2008. We are very grateful to him for stepping right into it at such a vital time, and guiding us for these past three years. As a Diocese too we need to recognize that this is the last Convention for Glenn Rankin as our Diocesan Secretary. Glenn will be retiring next year from parish ministry as well, but this would be an appropriate time to give thanks to God for him and his tremendous gift to all of us in Christ’s Name.

The second insight from my time in Swaziland was the Church’s sense of being one. On the wall of the new Church building in Mpaka is a plaque – probably the only plaque that will bear my name from my time as a bishop – which reads that Christ Church was dedicated by the Bishop of Iowa. They chose the name because of the prominent leadership that has come, from Christ Church Burlington and Christ Church Cedar Rapids in particular, in developing the Swazi Companions, and thus acknowledged our bishop and the people of Iowa. We are one in their eyes, but so are they in the eyes of one another. Thus it is on Thursday afternoons that members of the Mothers’ Union in Father Charles Kunene’s church of St Luke’s would pile into a truck and drive up into the mountains until the dirt roads ended, and the grass tracks were strewn with rocks, and then walk the rest of the way to bring Christ to their sick or elderly neighbors. They also took a visiting bishop with them. In their numbers (up to fifteen at one time) they brought the Church with them. They did not act alone, but brought a group. Nor are they ashamed to sing and engage the homebound in worship. They would bring corn meal, and soap and diapers. I did this with five or six different congregations and priests. The blessing was mine. Let me tell you that my Thursdays are open if you are willing to invite me.

See the need; hear God ask who shall I send; tell God you are available to be sent; and grace will be given.

I am always proud and honored to be your bishop. It is always a grace undeserved. It is only right that such grace has spawned produce gardens as at St Thomas’ and here in West Des Moines at St Tim’s. The creativity of our clergy is only matched by that of our people when you step forward to take such leadership. In this coming year in which we look at what it means to share ministry resources I hope we will look more deeply at what it means to minister in teams, regionally and together. I would love to see the revised Ministry Development process adopted by every congregation as a way of creating ministry leaders, strengthened by the active presence of the clergy. I would hope that we could work on building trust to this end, using material on that subject which the diocesan staff is presently developing, based on our study of the work of Stephen Covey Jr.

I think shared resources will mean for some congregations a renewed look at how to do ministry in clusters as the economic realities set in. I look forward to the work of leadership which will come from the Stewardship Commission for whom this is really their year for impact as they launch a revived Alleluia Fund with its potential for strengthening the existing support from our endowments for youth and young adult ministries, training new leaders and supporting the episcopate; developing resources for new initiatives and increasing our potential for global ministry. On my travels I want to identify the resource creators among us and get you to start thinking together for the good of the whole.

Even though I am aware that every Episcopal search process in Iowa has said that you expect to see the bishop once a year in visitation, I must say that this will not happen in official visitations for the next cycle. I am planning a two-year cycle for 2012 and 2013, but I am designating eight or nine visitations each year as chapter or regional cluster gatherings. I will call clergy to gather at such times, following our time with a more general invitation for teaching and sharing with the laity. The weekend will culminate with a regional confirmation on the Sunday morning at the designated congregation. I read of Walter’s 25 district visits and wondered how he did it.

This past weekend I made a visitation to Sioux City. St Thomas’ hosted the confirmation service on Sunday morning, and though they did not have any confirmations, I confirmed members of two other chapter congregations. The same occurred in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul with members of All Saints Indianola being confirmed there right as I returned from sabbatical.

As I reference All Saints, I recall how a couple of years ago Ron Osborne asked if he could explore a new congregation start in south Des Moines or in Indianola. He had a couple of stipulations – first the bishop could not get too involved; I have never understood what that meant; second, the community must be allowed to grow with some flexibility and freedom for it would probably not look like a traditional congregation start; third, he only wanted us to set aside $ 15,000 for the whole thing. At this Convention, we have received our newest community – All Saints, Indianola – and they haven’t really spent a dime of their allotted $ 15,000! Because of Ron’s health, clergy have assisted from other places but it is a community developed congregation. Ron recast his vision and worked with the assets the community offered. As long as it perceives needs, and is willing to be sent, and realizes where its grace comes from, I believe it will grow.

The real question for us is how hungry for God are we really? Are we as hungry as the people around us who are looking? Episcopalianism is our style; Jesus Christ is our Way our Truth and our Life. Let us decide what comes first. It is not a question of one or the other – it is both and. For it is in that lens of our faith tradition that we see a clarity about who Jesus is, and that is whom we offer to others.

Finally as part of the Task Force on the Strategic Planning, Catherine Quehl-Engel wrote the following:

“Hoping we can expand future trends in an asset based way, i.e. what we Episcopalians are good at..(Note that.) The future will continue to have these needs and interests:

• Growing trend in scientific research of neurobiologists, psychologists, social workers and others embracing spirituality as an important part of health care – includes contemplative prayer, role of silence, meditation, rosary, slowing down (think of the work already being honored by Trinity Iowa City by the University Hospitals)

• Young people as well as middle aged and older folk are being drawn toward the counter cultural contemplative. They need to realize that they do not need to go to the Eastern religions. Many don’t know that Christianity has this deep tradition as well

• Care for the older folk. Don’t assume this is being done by the mega churches. They tend to market to the younger families.

• Commitment to theological depth and permission to ask the big questions, and to make room for mystery and ambiguity. In a UCLA study 70% of students and faculty say they quest for a greater sense of meaning and purpose

• At some point our culture’s growing incivility will grow weary and seek middle way solutions as is foundational in our Anglican history, theology and ethos;

• Government cannot do all the good; we must maintain our commitment to the poor and the other places where Christ dwells in the margins

• We are open to interfaith understanding and dialogue. The world hungers for more interfaith bridge building. Young people crave it and are attracted to Christian traditions which are. They want to know how to be a healing peace in the world

• Young people long for the beauty of God and the mysterious. Ash Wednesday is the largest attended service on campus. They like concepts like repentance, self-examination and fasting.

Catherine ends with “hope that helps”.

And I hope that helps us join with Jesus who according to Matthew, “made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses. And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is rich but the laborers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers to his harvest.”

We may be shaped by history over time, but let us not let it hem us in. Let us take what is the finest about us, the things God uses time over time to disclose the Good News through us and let us release God’s Love to those who are around us, lifting our voices in prayer to the Lord of the harvest, while at the same time we answer His call to send us, thus being the very answers to our own prayers. Thank you for being the people of God you are, and for the enormous prayerful love you have shown Donna and me this year. Above all continue to show it to one another. You all are God’s beloved to whom Christ has allotted great grace, and through whom God has many lives in need to transform.




From the Bishop - October 2011


We are all familiar with the poem entitled “Footprints”, in which we are called to imagine a walk on the beach with Christ, and two sets of footprints merge into one. Later Christ explains that that was the moment he began to carry us. One alternative version has Christ inviting us to walk in His footsteps. It makes me wonder what room we have in our community for those invisible or silent moments, when we either need to be carried by others or to walk where someone else is cutting the path. In a parish where I attended as a young adult, I will never forget the Sunday morning the Rector stood before us and said that he had run dry spiritually and that he had nothing to share with us that day. It was the beginning of an invitation to walk with him in a way we had not anticipated nor experienced before. Ministry was predominantly expected to flow in one direction. Even in mutual ministry environments I must say that I have not seen such honesty or courage. We are after all professionals, and professionals learn to distinguish between the personal and the vocational. 

My boyhood pastor once told me that as a budding teenage minister of the Gospel called to serve God, I had to learn how to manage personal faith growth issues internally while sharing and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ outwardly. There is a lot of truth in that; but it is not the whole truth. Jesus’ instruction to shut the door behind us and pray in secret to our Father who sees in secret might be interpreted as following on those lines. I believe it is vital that we don’t allow our own “stuff” to get in the way of our ability to be present in ministering to the other. In that sense we come to serve and not be served. There is a hidden conversation with God that goes on behind the scenes. Yet the whole of the Christian experience is carved out within the life of a community, and we have to find ways to honor that reality, as well as be nurtured by it. 

That Rector in the story above opened up his office, and invited us to join him for prayer. We would sit in silence mostly and often experience intense encounters with the holy. They were moments that had their time and their reason, and were probably unrepeatable. I know some of you enjoy times of word study with other pastors, especially the Lutherans. There is a discipline in the regular gatherings that cause you to pause in the midst of the busyness. Moreover, there is a discipline of humility in the submitting of yourself to the collective wisdom of the gathered community. 

This need runs through the whole system. My gathered community has been those with whom I work closest at Mills House. One of the greatest gifts I gave myself was the decision to find ways in which we drew out of each other the reality of our faith journeys. As a staff we relate chiefly out of our faith and Gospel passion rather than our administrative functions. It has taken time for that to develop. I would like to see that perspective be more evident in all aspects of Diocesan affairs. How can we allow Christ to enrich our times of planning and deliberating; to truly be able to say “it seems good to us and to the Holy Spirit” because we have felt the Spirit at work even in our duty? Personally and more recently there is a shift in this aspect of my day by the very decision to give my mornings over to more private study and prayer.

I have always however found other ways of mutual nurturing. For a number of years I would travel monthly when possible to spend an evening with the Ministry Development Team at Creston, which though we did not prevent Creston from deciding to close, nevertheless provided a place of shared ministry together which was life giving. I found the same with the evenings spent with the people of Trinity Ottumwa in 2010 during Lent and Eastertide. It is how I want to spend more of my time in the years we have ahead of us together. We all need to find places to receive us and where we can explore our faith lives in relative safety and openness and over a consistent time period. None of us can “deliver” alone. We hit dry spells; we have times we need to be carried by others; and we need to carve out the time to let that happen. 

Every time a person steps into a pulpit, it is a collective experience. No one goes there alone. The whole community is present IN the pulpit as well as in the pews. It is easier perhaps to sense this at the altar. Many times as a Rector I used to run to the altar especially when the sermon experience failed, and I think it was precisely because there I knew I would find words and a Presence that remind me of the larger context in which I, and we, all belonged. We are always surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and that is not to mention angels and archangels. But it is the living human witnesses – the sharers of the faith, co-lovers of Jesus the Lord – we must learn to cherish and turn to first. We are here together on earth to bring one another into that heavenly place. 

+Alan


The death of Retired Bishop of Iowa, Walter C. Righter on September 11

September 12, 2011

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Yesterday as the nation commemorated the innocent dead of 9/11, our own Walter Righter, seventh Bishop of Iowa, slipped in among them, adding the mark of his own death to that already significant day. Walter served the Diocese as Bishop from January 13th, 1972 until his retirement on December 31, 1988.

During one of his last Diocesan Conventions in Iowa he summarized his episcopacy as he listed significant things that had occurred during the time he led the Diocese of Iowa:

Ordained women were placed in cures; the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Iowa; we enjoyed exchange visits of clergy and lay persons with the Diocese of Brechin and opened up the companionship with the Diocese of Swaziland, where rectories were built as part of a three-way companionship. He cited the raising of $1,500,000 for mission and ministry, as well as the restructuring of Mission and Ministry. Diocesan assets were doubled, and long range planning became part of the program and budget planning process. He provided oversight for the re-writing of the canons and constitution in inclusive language, urged parishes to undergo management by objectives.

He encouraged Iowans to serve on the National Council of Churches, and on the Standing Committee on Ecumenical relations. In Iowa he participated in the development of the Agency for Peace and Justice, and was proactive in providing for active programs to deal with the farm crisis. Abroad he worked for the poor and underprivileged in Scotland, built a theological center in Central America, and supported the episcopacy in the Philippines. He began the Morris Fund which helped countless young people and children, as well as made physical and program improvement at the Diocesan Episcopal Camp and Conference Center. He worked to correct systemic injustices in Iowa, especially by raising money through the Responding in Mission and Ministry campaign.

While these were the things that he cited publicly, we all have other memories as we give thanks to God for his life and inspiration. Historically he will be best known for the trial he had to endure for the ordination of a partnered gay man, an action ahead of its time, and for which he was eventually found not guilty of the charge of heresy. The Presiding Bishop has written: “The Episcopal Church can give thanks for the life of a faithful and prophetic servant. He proclaimed the gospel for more than 60 years in this Church, through trials and great joys. His ministry will be remembered for his pastoral heart and his steadfast willingness to help his church move beyond old prejudices into new possibilities.”

Personally, I have always appreciated Bishop Righter’s kind notes and encouragement over the years, making me always aware of his ongoing care for the people of Iowa and that we continue to care for each other well. On my election he wrote, “another Yorkshire man for Iowa!” noting that he had a grandfather from Halifax, eight miles from my hometown of Bradford. Yorkshire is where the English grow the blunt stubborn!

The funeral service will be held on Thursday September 15th at 11am at Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I have asked Bishop Epting to represent the Diocese of Iowa on my behalf, as I travel to the House of Bishops in Quito, Ecuador this week. Condolences may be sent to the family care of Mrs. Nancy Righter, 204 Williamsburg Lane, Export, PA 15632.

Plans for a diocesan service in Celebration of the Life and Ministry of Bishop Righter at the Cathedral Church of St Paul are being formed.

+Alan Scarfe
Bishop of Iowa


From the Bishop - September 2011


This year September 11th falls on a Sunday. It is also the tenth anniversary of that dreadful day. In her pastoral letter to mark the day, the Presiding Bishop describes well what we all remember.

“Americans experienced the first large non-domestic terrorist attack on our own soil, a reality that is far too much a present and continuing reality in other parts of the world. We joined that reality in 2001. All Americans live with the aftermath – less trust of strangers, security procedures for travelers that are intrusive and often offensive, and a sense that the world is a far more dangerous place than it was before that day. Our own nation has gone to war in two distant places as a result of these events. The dying continues and the world does no seem to have become a significantly safer place”.

We know those in this diocese who lost family members and for whom any regular public marking has to feel like an intrusion into their grief. Few contemporary events however have shaken the psyche of this nation, or had such a profound impact on our way of life. We cannot let the date pass without ongoing reflection. The questions it raises continue to seek answers. Closure has not come with the killing of Osama bin Laden. In fact the celebrations around that event only further concern many of us. It seems, as one filmmaker has noted, that the conflict has only been widened by our various responses, especially the treatment of prisoners and the use of torture. A whole new generation on all sides over this past decade has grown up with distrust and ethnic hatred sown into their hearts. All of this is in spite of the efforts among many of us to become more appreciative and knowledgeable on Islam or on the peoples and cultures who embrace it. It is to the Church’s credit where we have supported and led the way in this approach.

As the Presiding Bishop goes on to say, “Yet we believe there is hope. People of faith gave sacrificially in the immediate aftermath of the plane crashes, trying to rescue those in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, trying to subdue the aggressors on the plane over Pennsylvania, and reaching out to neighbors and friends alike on that apocalyptic day. Clergy and laity responded to the crisis in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania, and prayer services erupted in churches and communities across the nation. St Paul’s Chapel, near the site of the Towers, opened its doors to the emergency responders and volunteers appeared with food and socks, massaging hands and praying hearts. Volunteers continued to staff the Chapel for months afterward and prayers were offered as human remains were sought and retrieved in the ruins of the Towers.

Church communities in many places began to reach out to their neighbors of other faiths, offering reassurance in the face of mindless violence. That desire for greater understanding of other traditions has continued and there are growing numbers of congregations engaged in interfaith dialogue, discovering that all the great religions of the world are fundamentally focused on peace”.

Nevertheless, if it is also true that the conflict has widened and is in danger of feeding itself further along new generational lines, we have a lot more work to do. That is one reason why many of the ten year markings across Iowa on Sunday, September 11, will be inter-faith in nature. They will be global in scope; and they will focus on peace. I draw your attention to the various services being planned in your area, some of which are listed below this article.

I have also received requests to change the lessons for the day’s use in our regular Sunday Eucharist. While the Gospel reading for the day is very appropriate, some of you have asked to the readings and prayer for peace, and I am glad to oblige. It is also why, when we look at the educational offerings built around the day, I see themes that not only promote peace, but also seek to understand Middle Eastern cultures, and to think through a theological and spiritual response to terror, and to the consequences of being a nation which has experienced a decade of war. The Iowa Religious Media Resource organization is offering a number of titles along these lines. The idea is not to mark one day, but to use it as an incentive to transform and challenge our minds and hearts over a longer period of time. Again I invite you to look at those offerings as presented.

The increased accessibility to novels and films that seek to bring the viewpoint of people from the Arab world to our attention is a further way of correcting the imbalance by which often culture has flown in one direction, often led by commercial interests. It may be ironic that one such commercial endeavor, Netflix, actually encourages this broadening of cultural awareness by its excellent and easy access to foreign films. Trade routes have always opened civilizations up to one another, but there was greater integration when traders traveled on foot and conversation was an integral part of building relationships. Films and novels can help keep this going for our day.

One of the earliest interviews from Tripoli, as the city was falling to the Libyan National Transitional Congress, was a young woman who was feeding video to CNN. She had obviously captured the attention of the anchor woman who from her studio in Atlanta wanted more and more direct reporting. She asked the nineteen year old what excited her about the events unfolding. Her hope was that they as a people could become like America – “free as in America”. That such a perception also exists is another aspect of marking the painful decade that is passing. Freedom is a multi-layered concept. Our soldiers who are returning from the conflicts which came out of that day, have sought to uphold our most immediate and common definition of the word as we understand it nationally. Jesus Christ had words to say about freedom too. He said that “the truth shall make you free”.

I think back to one of the initial questions provoked by the shock of 9/11. “Who could possibly hate us so much?” We are still seeking to answer that question with a sincere spirit of truth seeking. Our freedom however depends on our ability to hear the truth telling by others, not just ourselves. I see a place or role for the Church in such a situation. It is not easy, nor popular. It may shield our joy and halt our pride, and it hinders our desire for revenge. Why was it important to God to tell us to love our enemies? What did God know about our tendencies when badly done to? How did God guess we might even be tempted to use His Name as our capacity as Church grew to fuel nations and empires?

Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount about the expanse of love provides us with choice every time we suffer distress, whether it is going through airport security, or feeling the annoyance of having to pay attention to people whom we wish would fade into the background, or perhaps when we have to recognize that this is not Kansas anymore, and that there is a complicated world out there which claims equal standing to our own.

The choice always before us as disciples of Christ is to allow our lives to be challenged by His words as directly intended to transform us and our community, or to let them, too, fade away into an empty background until we find need of Him again – to promise eternal life, or let me, once more, off the hook, or to help me feel more special than the next person.

9/11 was a pivotal moment for humanity. Whenever evil engages human beings in such senseless destruction, then that much more does good seek to move us to compassion. We can choose to offer the courage of Jesus to the world by following His commandments to love. We can hear once more as though for the first time the words of our shared heritage from Psalm 23, which were quoted to a priest by a grandmother who had just lost her grandchild in the Twin Towers, as in her grief she read with halting emphasis, “I WILL FEAR NO EVIL.”

+ Alan

From the Bishop - August 2011  


For my birthday this year in May, I received a humorous card which made reference on the inside to reaching that age when, as the card said “this could be the year you start blurting out your ailments to total strangers”. I suppose that is because there does come a point at which your body refuses to be ignored and insists to be paid attention to or it threatens to ruin your day! Mind over matter is not quite so automatic. Despite the card, I was not quite willing to accept the sentiment at the time. And I’ll try, in spite of today’s offering, to resist the temptation of using my public forum as a way of sharing my health issues. It is not easy however, as there is genuine and kind concern on your part, and an invested curiosity and minding on mine. There are also some fascinating insights in this new world of the heart that I have entered.

For the past five weeks, I have been introduced to the concept of one’s MET level. MET levels are measurements given to various human activities and help mark the metabolic energy expended. For example, laundry and housework is given a three MET level; basketball and football along with other team sports stands at a 10; running exerts about an 8; gardening, snow shoveling runs around a 5 or 6. In each session of rehab, I am taken through my paces on treadmill and exercise bike to push up the MET level in preparation for a stress test this next week. Gradually the goal has been to move through to one which might include running, but certainly removes from me all the excuses I might want to make not to do the household chores.

Being of a theological turn of mind, I have begun, however, to think of the MET levels that might relate to Church: what would be the level for example of officiating at the Eucharist, or preaching? One easy one would be the MET level for carrying my vestments and unloading my car on a visitation? (That one is particularly for the deacons to ponder). I have quickly realized that some MET levels have nothing to do with exercise or energy generated, but relate to stress. What is the MET level of the next email I am about to open, and is there any way of preparing for that? Of course, the answer to that question lies within myself rather than the e-mail or its sender or subject matter. I just have to look at the words I use to describe my day – for example, I attack my e-mail and the pile of correspondence which builds up on a regular basis. I want to make sure I am on top of things, beating problems to the punch! Even, “let me pray about that” can turn competitive (I’ll get God’s answer, just you see).

Of course, this is one expression of the curse of our humanity. And as the debt ceiling debate goes on while its participants are sandwiched on TV between images of the terrible drought victims in the Horn of Africa, it is not hard to see quite a few more. In all of this confusion of values and frustration with power, can we chart MET levels that are helpful to our life in Christ and which might help us grow in grace step by step and intentionally, with visible results? I think I may have come across one in my morning readings.

In “The Kingdom of Love and Knowledge”, A.M. Allchin writes about Rupert Davis’s history of Methodism in which Davis describes the seven characteristics typical to movements of spiritual renewal. They seem to me to make a good MET chart for our communities of faith as instruments of God’s revival in transforming human society. Allchin writes “they are briefly: 1) a whole hearted acceptance of traditional Christian doctrine with the conviction that such doctrine is useless unless verified in life and experience; 2) a strong emphasis on the personal relationship of the believer with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour; 3) an equally strong emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit; 4) a serious attempt to embody life in Christ in actual groups and communities of committed men and women; 5) a desire for the proclamation of the Gospel to all humankind; 6) a concern for the material well-being as well as the spiritual needs of the poor; 7) a tendency to bring together lay people and the ordained in new structures of shared life and ministry.”

While Allchin uses Davis’s seven characteristics as a jumping station to consider their manifestation in the broader world of Eastern Orthodoxy and in particular the Desert Fathers like Symeon the New Theologian, I want to present them to us as a manifesto of what makes for renewed faith. You might want to stand the pointers on their head, and name each one its own MET level and thus apply them to the formation or discipleship process going on in your congregation and in your own individual lives. Reaching MET level 7 would make us strong indeed. We might even want to add a couple more.

I hope we will come back to consider these measurements of the Spirit. At least their preoccupation will keep me from “blurting things out”... or not.

+ Alan


From the Bishop - July 2011

First, let me thank all those who have kept me in your prayers during the immediate aftermath of my heart attack last month. I am grateful for all the cards and letters of support I've received recently.

As the cardiologist was showing me the various blockages in my heart – the chief 100% blockage high up on the right coronary artery stemming blood flow to several secondary and tertiary arteries to the lower right side of the heart which provoked the attack on Memorial Day – he also indicated that our hearts have unique features which reflect their individual histories. In one sense I was fortunate to have been in such good shape for my heart had over time developed its own capacity to maintain a good pumping action even as the lower section was damaged and was incapacitated by the attack. Its future was to scar over and be isolated by the rest of the organ.  Alternative routes had probably formed overtime by my relatively consistent exercise. It was the very healthy action of the rest of my heart that gave him confidence to take no further action.  Ironically I was told that a younger me might not have survived.

Medication, diet and exercise – in that order – and of course an alerted self-awareness linked to “lifestyle” are the chief remedies for healing.  A good proportion of post trauma inquiry is aimed at one’s mental health. Depression, sense of failure or letting self and others down, are part of the picture in sufficient numbers to find their way onto the initial post-hospitalization surveys and literature.  I acknowledge that I have been dealing with “making the list” of bishops who have suffered health issues which reflects the impossible aspects of the profession.

Paul wrote about “being poured out as a libation”, and that is a huge part of our vocation as Christian people and especially where much is given and much expected, among leaders.  The emptying of ourselves, the spent life is highly valued among followers of Christ who Himself survived only three years in the public eye before He took up His cross. His forced removal was because of who He was and what He had to say and what He stood for thus provoking evil to its ultimate response, and, in contrast it has to be said that very few of us ever manage to make a bi-line let alone a headline!

I am not sure what will come of all this. It is a call both to slow down and speed up at the same time. One thing I did not realize as a post heart attack phenomenon was that, as reported by those who suffer sudden life threatening events “your life flashes before you”, in my experience in recuperating, my life has certainly come before me, but in extreme slow motion. Some of the new patterns of my sabbatical have been helpful in capturing this.  No doubt it is all part of the reordering of priorities related to the lifestyle part of rehabilitation along with diet and exercise.  There is a vocational question here also.

Who is the real adversary here? Where is the resistance to health and prosperity, to the abundant life which may also be the spent life or the life emptied out in service? It lies within and without, as it always has.  It has been very helpful to be in the middle of a daily reading series of Thomas Keating’s works which was given to me for my sabbatical. Keating is familiar for describing the adversaries of our true selves as that which falsely seeks to promote a happiness built on control and personal security. For June 29th  – the Feast Day of St Peter and St Paul – he writes “Part of life is a process of dropping whatever role, however worthy, you identify with.  It is not you. Your emotions are not you. Your body is not you.  If you are not those things, who are you? .....The ultimate abandonment of one’s role is not to have a self as a fixed point of reference, .... it is the freedom to manifest God through one’s own uniqueness…..To be no one is to be everyone. To be no self is to be the true Self. To be nothing is to be everything. For Christians it is to be a kind of fifth Gospel: to become the word of God and manifest God rather than the false self, with its most emotional programs for happiness and attachments to various roles, including the most spiritual”.

Whatever it will mean to be your Bishop in the years ahead, it will include this vision of being a Fifth Gospel, the proclaiming of God’s good news which we all uniquely express personally and communally.  That we are also seeking to explore what this means in having the faith handed over to us in the mystery of the Anglican Episcopal tradition is also important.  In May, as I was seeking to re-enter life in the Diocese, I found myself in several places calling for congregations to take themselves as believing people “more seriously”.  By that I meant to take God’s view of them as Beloved and precious more seriously, and let their sense of vocation grow from that mutual self-understanding.  In fact what I am inviting everyone to experience is your own “heart event” by which we all begin to learn, as yet another one of my recent morning writers, Cynthia Bourgeault, describes “to see through the eye of our heart”. 

+Alan



From the Bishop - June 2011


In a few weeks, a remarkable family will go on pilgrimage from Iowa to Ireland, England and Wales. They are journeying with more than fifty singers and dancers, and together will bring “Heaven and Earth” to those who receive them. I am referring, of course to the Allaways, and among their company will be dancers from the Pointe Academy, run by Elizabeth Adams and her husband Hank, and members of St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, along with singers from First Christian Church and others from Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois. You could say that through them, all of us are taking Heaven and Earth back to its Celtic home. It is a metaphor which preaches far beyond its own context.

“Heaven and Earth” is a choral celebration of true life stories set within the framework of the liturgy of the Eucharist. The music itself is inspired by the Celtic tradition from which the stories also come. But I am gripped by the concept of “Heaven and Earth”. At a time when the trip could be scuttled by an overly exuberant Icelandic volcano; when the favorite conversational piece of the British – the weather – is becoming a frighteningly unpredictable and devastating proposition, there’s a place for connecting heaven and earth.

Some do it in the cause and effect scenario of the Psalmist or the prophet. Even the hard-nosed world of journalism is sitting up and taking notice, as they run out of cliché interviews and speak of weather events of “biblical proportions”.

While meteorologists are not ready to make links with specific weather and climate change, there is still a sense of the planet trying to “shake us off its shoulders” like irritating insects. This is hardly the relationship God intended for the various parts of Creation. We have over-dominated and underappreciated God’s gift to us of life on this fragile yet precious home.

I recommend the recent documentary movie “I AM” for a more hopeful reality check on all of this. We are in serious danger of missing the point of God’s gift as we eat away, and stake our claims – choosing as the film states the mistaken way of competition over against cooperation and connectedness.

Is it heaven that taught us this way of being? Is this seeking God’s will on earth as it is in heaven? The director of “I AM” calls it a sign of our mental illness. I often think we are called of God to bring people back to their right minds, but how can we do that when we are as much participants in the madness as everyone else?

What, in contrast, is our call? First, it may be to go on pilgrimage with “heaven and Earth” even with our roll on bags and having to ask forgiveness for our carbon footprint to make this happen. The small group from Iowa is seeking to connect using multi media – music, story -telling, extending hands of friendship. For others of us it will express itself in determining to put some time aside to muck out in Joplin when they are ready to receive us, as well as find some extra giving from what we might put aside. Some of our young people are in Rwanda or the Sudan opening them to life transforming experiences at personal cost.

For all of us it means becoming the I AM God invites us to be: penitent and remorseful for the way we compete rather than lift one another up; yet committed to learn how to renounce such ways and to broaden and embrace our neighbor; recovering God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus’ teaching on competitiveness over against cooperation is quite clear. It is expressed in the command to love our enemies, to forgive as we are forgiven, and to learn the way of the Cross as our gift to our generation. Even as there was celebration of the death of Osama Bin Laden, I could not help but go back ten years when my small church in Eagle Rock was opened in response to 9/11 for daily prayer, and every page of prayer requests was topped with his name. It was a name that stuck in the throat but had to be forced out into God’s presence.

We Episcopalians in Iowa are small enough in number that we can resolve to let God transform us. What I mean by that is that most people do not know we exist, but that can be its own gift. It allows us to live in new ways beyond popular religion and to try out God’s unequivocal call as Disciples of Christ.

As the many gather at the chosen sites of our Iowa pilgrims in Ireland, England and Wales, there is the hope for lives to be changed as they are invited to a place which opens heaven and earth to each other even in our lifetime. This Church – you as Church -always are asked to live at that eternal crossroads, that junction where the two meet. Jesus brought you there and invites you to open your eyes. He calls you to be the restorer of streets to live in – the very streets on which we live but also the streets we see dust blown and broken apart in the Middle East or in developing Africa, as well as on the streets whose well-kept look and towering buildings mask the numerous well kept secrets of human need, and of the hidden consequences of the struggle the madness of our competitiveness produces. Jesus also calls us to be reconcilers of nations, agents for peace in the world. And if on your way to seeking these things, someone asks you who sent you, your ”I AM” is to say – I AM that I AM sent me.

A newsletter addendum


Over these past few months we have simply lost too many people, relatives, friends, and pillars, in their generation, of faith leaders. They leave an aching hole in the fabric of God’s Church in Iowa, and on earth in general. It raises the question to every generation – who then will go for us? On whose shoulders will their mantles fall? For while we claim that for those who die in the Lord life is changed not ended, we also need to claim something similar for ourselves who are left behind in our grieving. In fact heaven and earth seem to compete in moments like this, rather than cooperate. We are robbed of their light and love and life. Yet life is changed not ended even for us who remain. The promise of God as the healing is embraced is as one of ongoing cooperative hope. The power of the resurrection includes our own need of new life and often the very memory of those who we have lost is the agent of such renewed energy and deepened love. This is the mystery of faith. It why we declare weekly :Christ is died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” And with Him stands the whole company of faith both in heaven and on earth. For God calls again and seeks the faithful, bold child who will declare: “Here I AM, Lord. Send me!” And send me now! For I see that it is now my turn to step forward where your saints have trod, and to do your will on earth as it is in heaven: to transform competitiveness until all that remains is the communion of saints.

+ Alan



Easter Sermon given by Bishop Scarfe in Manzini, Swaziland 

Bishop Alan Scarfe's Sermon at University of Swaziland, Manzini, Swaziland 
Easter: April 24, 2011 


Readings: Exodus 14: 10-15:1; Ezekiel 36: 24-28; Zephaniah 3: 12-20; Romans 6: 3-11; John 20: 1-18

I call this moment
the thin space of our liturgical year. The Celts who received Christianity in the British Isles and preserved it during the Dark Ages of pagan invasions, believed that there were people and especially places where God’s Presence was particularly palpable – you could almost touch God. I visited a few of them a couple of months ago during my time in Wales. One was St David’s cathedral. A friend had suggested that this was a “thin space” and so I admit that I went hunting for it! Now I believe that may be against the rules. You are supposed to stumble across such places. 

Well I found myself in a chapel behind the High Altar and yet walled in between the High Altar and the Lady Chapel. Suddenly I felt the presence of God in that strong way. I looked around and there was an ancient chest placed on a shelf in an opening in the wall right behind the High Altar, and by it there was a plaque that read: “This chest contains bones believed to be of St David and St Justinian”! 

I must say that when I visited the burial place of Bishop Bernard in Siteki, where they are building a structure to enclose his tomb, there was a similar sense of thinness in the making. Of course there are also living people who make God very close to us. For it is in us that God really likes to dwell.

Liturgically, God comes very close to us on this day. Sitting in no light until the Paschal new fire is lit, and the Paschal Candle is burning; taking our only light from that same source, we continue our patient waiting – by sitting in vigil to read God’s story of dealings with us, even if the sun has been up for some time. You are a people who understand vigils.

All of this contributes to drawing us nearer to our God, and closer to how it must have been for the frightened disciples. Their lives as they had known them had died with Christ quite literally. What were they to do now – but hang on to his words which they did not really understand. That too is why we baptize even in this time of waiting and darkness. For we recognize that we have reached a point where our lives have had to die to self.

The women – to return back to the Gospel for a moment – did what was so natural to them. They took care of the details. I once heard of two men traveling by train. They entered into conversation about their marriages. One was not having such a good experience, the other claimed to have achieved marital bliss. “How have you achieved that?” said the other man. “Well, we have learned to divide up our chores. I look after the big questions, and she handles the small ones”. “Like what?” the other asked. “As I said – I look after the big issues – whether there will be peace in Libya and Syria; how long will the recession last; and will we ever send a human being to Mars. My wife looks at the small questions like where will our children go to school, what shall we eat today and how we balance the family budget?” Does that sound familiar to some of you? The men were huddled in the upper room, and the women went out to finish the hurried job that two men, Nicodemus and Joseph, had done two nights before in preparing Jesus’ body for perpetuity, for its long journey into the shadows.

Then shock broke out. The stone was rolled away, the body was gone and it seemed that the last indignity had been carried out on Jesus’ body by his adversaries. It had been robbed and desecrated. How low could they go?

They called for the disciples and Peter and John came running. Whoever had stolen the body had been awfully particular – the linen sheet and the head covering were folded up and placed neatly in the tomb. If I dare speculate rather irreverently, I would suggest it shows that Jesus was well brought up by Mary and Joseph, for even in his resurrected state, he made his bed! 

But where was the body? John tells that they still did not understand the Scriptures that he must rise from the dead. They were at the very junction between heaven and earth. They were at the very place where heaven had touched earth. It was too thin for them to take it in.

Before we continue with the Gospel, I want us to take a moment and think through all the readings we have heard today. For I believe that from each of them, we can see the steps God takes to bring us to walk from death into life.

First, we read of the crossing of the Red Sea. The Israelites grumble at the predicament Moses had created for them. An Egyptian Army was at their backs and a vast impenetrable Sea before them. “Why did you not leave us alone? We’d rather have served the Egyptians as slaves than die here”. Thus they discounted God’s promise, God’s invitation to become God’s people. Yet all God wanted from them was to turn up. God’s first step in bringing us to God’s new place is for us to be willing to turn up. As a parish priest, I often would hear people complain about the absence of their favorite hymn from the service, and when I asked which hymn it would be one we sang the week before when they weren’t there! God needs us to turn up, be present. We must be willing to stand in that place where the old ways are impossible to turn back to and you are absolutely dependent on God’s new ways. This is not exclusive Judeo-Christian territory, for the Syrian people are doing that right now with their government. We must turn up for God to act; turning back produces nothing.

In our second reading, we learn that to such a people, God will change their hearts. God will make them open to the Spirit. An awareness of spiritual values and spiritual power and discernment is offered in this gift of a heart of flesh from that of stone. We can afford to love with such hearts. The resurrection makes all things new. Those who die to self in baptism are given new hearts of love for God and one another; and it is the godparents and the parents and the whole congregation’s responsibility to nurture the growth of this new life and heart of flesh which God has changed in this baptism today in Jesus Christ. To nurture bitterness or un-forgiveness , to harbor past hurts and desire for revenge, to close in on oneself to protect from further harm is to keep the heart of stone. It is to prefer the slavery of Egypt to the promises of God. God invites us to risk the future through trusting the gift of a heart that feels again. 

So God seeks us to turn up so that God can change our hearts. The third reading from Zephaniah mentions that God also seeks to change our sense of self. God offers dignity to a despised people. God changes shamed people into a people of praise and renown. “If God be for us”, said the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 8, “then who can be against us?” You are my Beloved, God is saying, and if we are God’s Beloved then no one can separate us from that love. This is the new identity of the resurrected people of God. 

Fourthly we move onto our Epistle reading for the Eucharist. In Romans chapter 6, Paul reiterates all of this by linking it directly with our baptism. Yes, we died to self but in Jesus resurrection power, we rise to a newness of life. We are alive to God.

And finally, the last word lies with Mary. She stumbled into the thin space of the first Easter. For, she did not go away disturbed and confused from the garden as the two Apostles did. Her grief hurt too much. She hung around and gave in to her sorrow. She turned up and her heart was one of flesh not stone, and she was about to receive a new identity as she heard her name spoken by the Risen Lord. Her heart of flesh was alive and well, and she wept at the loss of her Lord’s body. And in that very moment of weeping – in the exercise of her love – she stumbled across Jesus the Risen One. Yes, the first to see Him was a woman, and the Church has still never caught up to that reality or its significance.

Bishop Meshack, during his summer trip to Iowa, raised this point – that the first apostle was a woman, Mary Magdalen, a penitent prostitute. If one of the characteristics of an apostle is that they were witnesses of the resurrection, then she was the first among them. What does that tell us about the nature of our God? And what does it infer about the distance the Church has yet to travel to catch up with our God?

So linger, my friends, around the tomb. Linger where God has called you to show up. Know that He who has promised, is faithful. And the One who raised Jesus from the dead will not only raise our mortal bodies on that great day of our resurrection, but gives us the power of that same resurrection to make men and women new as we live out our lives. We are dead to self and alive to God; dead to self and alive to Divine Love; dead to self and alive to God’s Kingdom of peace, truth and justice; dead to self and alive to live in that thin space between heaven and earth where whoever calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved. Receive your new heart and your new name, and a new sense of being, a sense of being a people of the Resurrection. Amen. 



A Holy Week message from the Bishop

[April 20, 2011] I woke up this morning, (Wednesday in Holy Week) with the notion that my sabbatical had ended. Holy Week has taken over, demanding its own attention and exclusive reflection. That I am able to do this in the company of the University congregation at the University of Swaziland near Manzini is certainly different and unique to my experience, but there is a sense in which we all, throughout the world, close down business as usual, including our personal sabbaticals, and are invited to walk with our Lord on the way of the cross. For Swaziland this means discovering the consolation of the cross after a week of state violence in putting down peaceful protests, and detaining civic leaders. Chief among these from the perspective of where we are celebrating Holy Week is the President of the University Students Association. He is not only in prison but charged with possession of explosives, a charge which most consider with great skepticism.

Consider the images that make up our Gospel narratives for this week – Christ facing the shaming which came before the cross itself; God’s choice of the lowly to confound the great; and God’s ability to take an instrument of shame and death, and turn it into the way of life. Today we engage the lurking presence of one who will betray and, tomorrow, one who will deny. All these characteristics come to play when people seek genuine freedom even in peaceful ways from authorities for whom control is paramount. Time stretches over two thousand years, and yet we see that we have not moved on from the days when even those who believed in Christ were fearful of the ones who could throw them out of the synagogues. In their own turn, the chief religious leaders decided to remove Christ because the Romans might be provoked to destroy the temple and the nation. Everyone passes on the blame, and so we have engaged in that game for as long as human civilization has existed.

Yet to such a world, God offers a newness of life. God uses the evil we conjure up and turns it to His good. The scapegoat becomes the Redeemer; and death itself cannot hold Him. Shame can be turned on its head by shaming the mighty by uplifting the lowly and changing the framework for leadership and vision, giving voice where it is not expected.

Whether we are in Iowa or in Swaziland, London or Tripoli, this is what seeks to focus our thoughts over the next few days. I was asked by Church Times to write about the theological significance, if any, of the fact that the United States does not permit a public holiday on either side of Easter, neither Good Friday nor Easter Monday, while professing to have so many believers in Christ. My article will appear in the edition on Maundy Thursday for those of you who love to engage in internet reading. Swaziland certainly gives public vacations for both those days. And so we continue to gather each day this week, until early Sunday morning when we will combine the vigil with baptisms and the Easter celebration. Among the candidates will be the Bishop’s own grand-daughter and grand-niece. In addition to this, I have been asked to lead the Swazi clergy and lay ministers in the renewal of vows on Thursday morning.

So even though remaining geographically apart, we come together as we celebrate these next few days. I feel that I am in transition to returning home, and I pray that we are all being made ready for the second part of our journey together “in mission with Christ through each and all”. I want to thank you for your prayers for the people of Swaziland over these past few weeks, and thank you for your prayers for Donna and the family as we embrace the loss of her sister Denise. I have been only too conscious that we are not alone in suffering losses over these past few weeks. We find, however, that it is precisely for these times that we declare with utter confidence that Christ is risen indeed, and even though we die, yet in Him we live. 

+ Alan 



From the Bishop - April 15, 2011
 

 
The three day protest in Swaziland ended after the second day but was declared a success by the organizers. The violent reaction of the police and army was said to have proven the protesters’ point about the repressive nature of government and the need for change, and it also received attention from the International community. Most of the action remained in Manzini which is 35 kilometers from where I am staying, but about one hundred teachers were intending to march in Mbabane from the headquarters of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers but found themselves surrounded by police, locked themselves in to avoid any brutality. It took negotiations by the Archdeacon of the Western Region of the Anglican Church, Beke Magongo, who must have been on the spot, to ease the situation and get the teachers on their way home. I heard of a group of teachers who were stopped on Tuesday traveling to Manzini and the police loaded them onto their vehicles and cynically drove them miles into the forest where they simply let them go to find their own way back to town without any public transport! All of this makes for a sensitive context into which one enters Holy Week. 

+ Alan



From the Bishop - April 13, 2011


Today marks the second planned day of protest by the Labor Unions of Swaziland, including Teachers and Nurses. The marches which are scheduled for three days have been preceded by extensive police and army activity – manning road blocks between Mbabane and Manzini, the two largest cities, and then at strategic junctions beyond Manzini with the south and the east. While mostly waved through, I was stopped twice on my travels, once while coming back from a church function. It is considered unusual for a bishop to be stopped at all. On the second occasion, I was with the Diocesan Social Development Director and his wife on our way home from dinner, and we were asked to leave the vehicle while it was closely searched. 

April 12th was the first day of the protest march, and initially it was intended as a three pronged protest in Mbabane, Nhlangano and Manzini. In the end it was decided to center it on Manzini which has also made it relatively easy for the police and army to cordon off most approaches to the city and in fact turn back protesters in their bus loads to their points of origin. Nevertheless the march, though intended to be peaceful, provoked police and army violence in reaction to protesters throwing stones. Several leaders of the Unions, including the Nurses and Teachers Unions and the President of the Student Union were detained on the eve prior to the march. A water canon was dispensed on the marchers yesterday along with tear gas.

The Swaziland Council of Churches of which Bishop Mabuza is the Chair, has issued a statement affirming the rightful cause of the protests in terms of their call for a multi-party political system, and the need for change in leadership, but they affirm the principles of non-violent protest and a limited police response simply to protect businesses and by-standers. Further details are available online if you were to look up the Swazi Times, as I know several of our Swazi Companions do. So far it is estimated that sixty people have been detained in the action. 

Where I am staying is Mbabane and the town was very quiet yesterday. Clearly people were lying low who had not tried to go to Manzini. Police and some Army are out in large numbers, on most street corners, and my residence is just up the street from the Police Headquarters. The protests have been joined by South African unionists who are blocking the main border post into South Africa, which is the one we usually cross when coming to Swaziland from Johannesburg. They are allowing transport to come and go but have handed in a petition to the King supporting the protesters’ cause, and saying that they will begin a blockade if not receiving some positive response in fourteen days. As I selfishly count forward I realize I am intending to cross that border home on day 13!

What the Church does in a situation like this is difficult to say. One approach is to seek the King’s ear and play a reconciling role while not underplaying the importance of the demands for a freer democratic process. I preached in the Anglican Church of St George in Manzini on Sunday to a full church, and we reflected on how the authorities – from that moment on, says John – planned to kill Jesus after he had raised Lazarus from the dead. What is it about good men and women that causes the authorities to be threatened and to react irrationally and excessively in violence? 

My remaining schedule includes traveling through Manzini to Lomahasha for a huge confirmation on Sunday, but more directly to gather with lay leaders in Manzini on Saturday. I am also scheduled to take Holy Week service up to Easter Day at the University Chaplaincy outside Manzini. With the University having been ordered closed and the students told to go home (many seen on TV leaving with large suitcases, so perhaps not just for a few days), I am not sure what that does to our plans. I am told the Chaplaincy is a congregation which includes members beyond the University population, and so things may still go forward.

Of course, the march is intended for three days which would end it on Thursday, but there was also mention of them refusing to move until their demands are met. With talks of new protests in September, however, it may be that idea will not be sustained, and the city might be open again by the weekend. Church leaders think that the protest is already beginning to wane on this its second day, mostly because of the successful cordoning of the city. So we are planning for a full and blessed Holy Week, including the Renewal of Ordination Vows on Maundy Thursday morning.

It all adds texture to your prayers, as we remember our Companion Diocese and our sisters and brothers in Christ who have to make significant decisions in their social and civic ministries in the days ahead.

+Alan



From The Bishop - March 30, 2011


I am sitting in the office of Suzanne Peterson in Bishopscourt, the residence and offices of the Archbishop of Cape Town. Because of our companion relationship with the Diocese of Swaziland, we pray every day, of course, for the Primate of the Southern Africa province. So there are no strangers here. Suzanne was the first female priest ordained in Iowa in 1977 serving principally at St Paul’s, Des Moines. For many years, however, she has ministered in South Africa and is currently, as you may know, the Public Policy Officer for the Archbishop. As I wait she is busy polishing off a letter to the Mayor of Cape Town in response to a dreadfully tragic fire which killed three adults and six children, all Anglicans. It seems to have been a tragedy that could possibly have been avoided. 

Back in Swaziland, there are many such tragedies
that could be avoided. And the Church seeks to be as vigilant as it can. This past week my donated truck became a taxi as I drove a truck bed load of Mothers’ Union members along the “off-road” roads up into the mountains around four parishes. Along with their priests they bring Church to those who because of infirmity or the terminal prognosis of AIDS, can no longer come to Church. Some people were not Anglicans, but were fortunate to be neighbors to Anglicans and so were given a visit. We are greeted by the caregiver – sometimes a young teenage daughter, often the mother or wife; we enter into the home to sit on the mats spread out on the floor, sometimes in a darkened space blackened by the aftermath of an open cooking and warming wood fire; and suddenly transform the place with lively praise. I have decided that African singing is itself a fractal. Whether you are listening to a huge choir or to a dozen members of the Mothers’ Union or even a couple of parishioners sharing reserved communion with an elderly parishioner, the sound is the same – just as soaring and as transcendent.

After prayer they turn to me
to offer a word of encouragement from Scripture, or they invite me to say something to lead into the home communion. Our time together ends with the extensive expressions of gratitude to and by all concerned, and we set off to the next place. From the solemnity and compassion of the encounter, there is a shift to playfulness as the women (some in their mid- seventies) bounce around in the back of the truck. I am just astonished that they can climb up into the truck over the wheel with such deftness. At times the truck gets stuck or we have to find innovative ways of making a three point turn. There is the occasional hitchhiker who piles in with the women. It all adds to the experience of the day. One day the Church Warden would be phoning around as we traveled, finding others to whom we should go. The priest expressed gratitude that the sun goes down at nights, fearing that there was no limit to the warden’s passion.

This was no special outing because I was with them, but a weekly or bi-weekly event for which they were happy to have me tag along. It made the gathering on Sunday all that special, though, as we were able to announce our trek during the week. At the parish of St Matthias in Ezulweni, I noticed the large number of young people and mentioned that they seemed too old to come for the children’s blessing, but not old enough to have been confirmed and therefore receive Communion. They responded by coming out for their own blessing. They then honored us all with a mini Gospel concert they had prepared for the day.

After my brief respite in Cape Town, for the next ten days I head to the South and then to the East of Swaziland, culminating in the celebration of the dedication of the new building in Mpaka which has been well supported by the people of Iowa. It is not an easy time in the Diocese of Swaziland nor in the country. One segment of the population talks about an “uprising” announced for April 12th. I am not sure that one actually announces dates for uprisings. I would imagine they best happen unannounced! And as you may expect, the Army and police have also announced that they are ready! I might stay indoors and let the day play itself out, but your ongoing prayers would be appreciated for everyone, especially Bishop Meshack.

Generally this is a peace-loving and hospitable people. In one homestead, a grown daughter who was looking after her aged mother after she had lost three brothers to AIDS, went away after communion to return with a magnificent lettuce. She insisted that I take it to my host even though I understood that it was her last remaining lettuce in the garden! These are experiences that haunt you and humbly direct you to deeper prayer. It is unforgettable, and barely describable.

This intensity has been relieved a little with the four-day visit to Cape Town to see Suzanne and the Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. I was able to visit Robben Island and see where Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 in prison. As Suzanne says, it is remarkable how anyone can walk out of such a place and decide to lead people to a place of reconciliation, to decide that enough suffering has already occurred and there is no reason to perpetuate it out of any spirit of revenge. That is a miracle of grace made even clearer when you see the limestone quarry where daily work damaged his eye sight, or the three by two paces which marked his and all of the prisoners living and sleeping quarters.

The guides at the prison are themselves former political prisoners. They spoke in the first person of their experiences. Each of them thanked us as members of the global community for helping to bring their freedom! In the famous words of Desmond Tutu memorialized in the plaza where the four South African Nobel Peace Prize winners are honored: “A person is a person through other people.”

I can already feel that these next few weeks are going to require a delicate balance of emotion, as I continue to walk alongside the Swazi Anglicans in ministry and yet grow in eager anticipation of my return among you. It is my prayer that the Spirit who has been doing a good work in us all will in the days ahead direct and uphold us in the service of Christ.

+Alan



From the Bishop - St. Patrick 2011
Sabbatical transitions


This evening I set off for the final segment of my time on sabbatical. I fly to Swaziland until the day after Easter. I will also spend a few days in Capetown at the end of March. Last evening I celebrated the Eucharist at St Andrew’s Church in Holborn, which is a congregation whose main service in on Wednesday evening in response to ministry among the city workers of inner London. The liturgy was a suitable way to transition into this active mission part of my time away. Tomorrow I will be met by Charles Kunene’s familiar face and go straight into a teaching workshop on Saturday for the lay leaders of the Western Archdeaconry and the Cathedral Parish. We will be discussing ministry development as the baptized people of God. On Sunday I will be preaching at Charles’ parish church of St Luke’s. 

The following weeks will unfold into a pattern of Monday – off, a couple of days in a particular Archdeaconry visiting the sick, the widows and orphans, interspersed with occasional clergy days (on their responsibility for the development of all the baptized in ministry) and other lay workshops for the remaining Archdeaconries. On Sundays I will be preaching in a parish in the Archdeaconry where I will be visiting. I look forward to this with a strong sense of anticipation. It is an extraordinary opportunity for mission that Bishop Mabuza has granted me. On April 9th we will be dedicating the new multi-purpose church building at Mpaka, which became an joint vision of our Dioceses after the 2004 trip. 

I hope to spend the evenings back continuing the writing project I began in Wales. All in all I have been amazed at the many things that have fallen into place. It will take a steady re=entry to the Diocese to capture the visionary details which might be helpful to our life together in Christ’s mission. As someone in Wales said – asking about the blessings of my time there – “you will really see them come to fruition when you return to your Diocese”. Of course, I expect that deep benefits of the Spirit actually endure and sometime don’t actually surface except over years, not weeks or even months.

One thing that such a time away shows is that the world continues to rush along at a pace difficult for any of us to keep up. The images of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami are as vivid here as in Iowa. The Libya crisis is probably more acutely felt in a place like Europe than in the United States, and especially to be in Malta where 18,000 evacuees had already arrived when Donna and I were there last week. A guide on one of our boat trips kept telling us how Libya was 200 kilometers away – the first land mass south from Malta! 

How do we respond to all of this? How do the temptations faced by Christ also represent potential temptations to us who want to be relevant, spectacular and in control? What is clear is that which we have spoken of when facing our own disasters a couple of years ago, we prepare for life’s whens and not ifs. One thing we can do is make decisions for focused responses as we have done along with the rest of the Episcopal Church to contribute to the relief needs in Haiti over these past few months. Mother Teresa would say that she spotted one terminally ill outcaste, brought them into a place of dying with dignity, joy and love, and continued one at a time. It is the only way for all of us as we face the onslaught that our global news transmits to us. Our limitations are also apparent, especially as we consider for example the lack of quick and hoped for response to the resistance fighters in Libya. Similarly, no one can look upon the Japanese crisis and not recall how at one time, we actually generated such devastation upon them. Life has a way of coming around on us, and so we must bring ourselves to stand in the presence of the Eternal One who sees all, remembers all, and yet promises to make all things new.

Always thank you for the blessings of this time. I begin to look ahead to our time back together in mission with Christ through each and all.

+Alan

Welsh National Team
rugby jersey 
From the Bishop - March 2011
 


There couldn’t be a more appropriate spot to be on March 1st, than in Wales whose patron saint David has his day celebrated on that date. I am told the children go to school dressed still in their national costumes, though some contemporary accommodation for the boys’ reluctance to wear britches and a white shirt has been made as they are allowed to substitute it for a Welsh national team rugby jersey! If you have experienced the singing of the Welsh national anthem before such a rugby game, you know why that is considered a good alternative. 

March 1st is always a day of celebration for me, as it marks my arrival in Des Moines to become your bishop. I will never forget sitting around the back of the Cathedral with my friend John who had driven from Los Angeles with me, wondering about the times ahead. Of course, I had also fallen on Iowa’s equivalent to a national rugby event, as it was the weekend of the State Wrestling Championships! I did not realize how grace-filled was our obtaining two unreserved rooms for the weekend.

The question dogging me on this sabbatical time has been “ So what is your sabbatical about?” One priest told me about his tracing of the steps of St Jude and St Bartholomew to their beheadings in Asia. All I could say was that I was in some ways retracing my own steps. Not I hope to such an auspicious outcome. 

House where Bishop Scarfe is staying 
in Laugharne, South Wales
The view from the porch
Being shriven, however, is to be expected on a sabbatical
. I chose to take the opportunity to encounter God, however that would occur, in the solitary opportunity afforded by my friends’ home in Laugharne, South Wales. Some had suggested various religious communities for this experience, but I felt like the convenience of my friends’ absence in Australia, and my need of a place was too synchronistic to turn down. I had intended to “blog” but found this idea too intrusive for the nature of the exercise. So please forgive me for the lack of detail or ongoing communication. You have always remained at the heart of everything that has been going on as I take this time away.

As I reach the halfway point of the sabbatical, things are changing in emphasis. I have been taking trips to see old friends and my own family during this time, but these were always set within the context of whatever the ongoing conversation with God was about. I have been surprised in particular by the way one unexpected invitation to reunion has re-opened up the world of the Church that suffered under the weight of the Communist regimes. Powerful testimonies have been published, many by relatives of people who lived in the Siberian camps, and which are now being brought to light through the ongoing work of colleagues who have continued their travel in this region of the world, teaming up with Russian Christian researchers to tell the story of faith in the Gulags. I know it will connect with the experience which is before me of working alongside the people of God in Swaziland for an extensive time from March 18th through Easter Day.

The people of Swaziland have arranged a five week schedule of parish work in the various Archdeaconries, as well as four-hour sessions with lay leaders in their four regions of the Diocese, and six-hour long Clergy days. The focus of the teaching time together will be baptismal ministry development, but enriched by some new reading and reflection I have done particularly on how we carry out Christian formation in leadership with a closer appreciation of our catholic tradition. It is my hope that the material presented to the Diocese of Swaziland may be a fitting Diocesan wide study perhaps in 2012, filled out, shaped and sharpened by the responsive insights of the Swazi people.

My other emphases during the time of reading have dealt with social issues – particularly some accounts of the witness of the Church in certain places to the homeless and the mentally ill, as well as to the homeless and the possibility of inviting them to renewed dignity through community and purposeful work. I have also reacquainted myself with the history of the Civil Rights movement, especially from what one biographer called the years of the “sacred mission” from 1955 – 68, and have read a challenging work on our contemporary societal pattern of mass incarceration of African American youth. I have been grateful for those who sent me books to consider on my sabbatical. Your instincts were rightly discerned.

As I write this, I share with you also in prayer for the people of Christchurch, New Zealand, whose Bishop, Victoria Matthews was my Indaba Group Leader at the Lambeth Conference. Originally consecrated as a bishop serving in Canada, she was just about to make her transition to become Bishop in Christchurch after Lambeth. Others in our Diocese have links with clergy and people in New Zealand, and we might want to think about how we can reach out in hospitality and care for them. I am also watching, as you are, the unfolding popular revolutions in North Africa, and in particular the conflict in Libya.

While here the commentators are calling it the “Arab Revolution”, I suspect this is a safer description than one which might have more global repercussions; for the main players have been the urban poor and the educated underutilized graduates who have come together in an incredibly bold act of defiance against oppression. This could happen anywhere in resistance to other forms of oppression. All you seem to need is a facebook and a twitter account and brave friends to summon. Even in the “moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobble streets silent and the hunched, courters’- and -rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeback, slow, black, crowblack, fishing boat-bobbing sea” (Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood, Laugharne’s favorite son), we are only a satellite dish and a broadband away from it all as are you. 

Finally and above all I have wanted to take this time to step back and look again at the office to which you called me. I brought the profile of the discernment committee which you developed in the search. I also transcribed notes which I took from the time traveling around the Diocese in October 2002 and am astonished how those observations still have relevance today. They are a testimony of your truth telling as much as anything else. It is good from time to time to polish the mirror through which we see darkly. I look forward also to sharing things face to face. 

There isn’t a more fitting way to end than that which St Paul gives us in today’s readings from 2 Corinthians: “And as for you, it is plain that you are a letter that has come from Christ, given to us to deliver: a letter written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, written not on stone tablets but on the pages of the human heart . It is in full reliance upon God, that we make such a claim”. (2 Corinthians 3:3-4,NEB)

+Alan 



From the Bishop - January 2011


One of the elements of our identity as Episcopalian Anglicans is the ecumenical dimension. In 2011 we celebrate ten years since the signing of the Called to Common Mission with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). I have made reference to the joint work we are exploring in social ministry with the Lutheran Services of Iowa, and we welcomed LSI representatives to the Diocesan Convention banquet. I envision many other possibilities for liturgical celebration and joint gatherings being explored where you are locally as well as on a broader level.

First, however, on the agenda for the celebratory year is a joint education endeavor in January. The Trinity Institute holds its annual Conference on January 19-21, 2011. Its theme is “Reading Scripture Though Others’ Eyes”. Some of you may want to go to New York for the full experience, but most of us can enjoy the benefits of this Conference by attending one of the three regional sites to which the Conference will be transmitted on the web. They call these events “Webinars”. It is real time participation in listening to the guest speakers, and then engaging in conversation through local facilitators with those who have gathered with you in your region. The presentations begin on Wednesday evening at 4.30pm and run from 8am to 4pm on Thursday and Friday.

Lead presenters for the 2011 Trinity Institute are: Walter Bruegemann, who needs no introduction; Teresa Okure, professor of New Testament and Gender Hermeneutics at the Catholic Institute of West Africa; Mary Gordon novelist and writer whose most recent work of non-fiction is “Reading Jesus: A writer’s encounter with the Gospels”; and Gerald West, who designed the bible studies for the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and is professor in the School of Theology of the Kwazulu Natal University. They are joined by panelists: Steed Davidson, Eric Barreto, Amy Meverden and Mary Callaway. Fuller biographies can be found on the Trinity website.

The webinars are being hosted at St Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Sioux City, St John’s Lutheran Church in Des Moines, and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Bettendorf. The registration cost is $ 25 per person (meals are not included). All members of the Episcopal Diocese and of all three Lutheran Synods in Iowa are invited to register online (https://secure.siteoncall.com/events/register_online.php?event=281) by Wednesday, January 12.

I am grateful to David Assmus of LSI for his initiative in suggesting a joint education venture like this. I know that some of the Episcopal and Lutheran clergy already come together in weekly bible studies. This will be a great opportunity to bring lay and clergy together from both Churches around a common educational task.

+Alan 



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