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Cover Photo: mosaic by Rowan and Irene LeCompte, one of six mosaic murals in the Resur rection Chapel at the National Cathedral
C O N T E M P O R A RY (happening or beginning now or in recent times)
KO I N O N I A
(the Christian fellowship or body of believers)
Compiled and edited by T h e R e v. D r. Jo h n To l e s and T h e R e v. S e a n E k b e r g
C o p y r i g h t © 2 0 2 1 S h e r w o o d Fo r e s t P u b l i s h i n g. A l l r i g h t s r e s e r v e d .
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THE ALPHA Fr. John and Fr. Sean
A SCHOOL FOR THE LORD’S SERVICE The Rev. Caleb Roberts
DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS Interview with The Rt. Rev. Andy Doyle The Episcopal Diocese of Texas
RESURRECTED VISION God’s Work Beyond Our Walls
A NEW PERSPECTIVE Interview with The Rt. Rev. Phoebe Roaf The Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee
HIGH ON LIFE A Survivor’s Story of Courage and Hope
SPIRIT ON THE PLAINS Interview with The Rt. Rev. Poulson Reed The Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma
LET US PRAY A School of Prayer
SEMINARY SPEAK: SEMINARY OF THE SOUTHWEST The Very Rev. Cynthia Kittredge, PhD. Dean and President of Seminary of the Southwest
THE CRANKY CATECHIST The Rev. Daniel P. Strandlund
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The Alpha The great land run took place in Oklahoma on September 16, 1893. On the following day, the first service of the Episcopal Church was held in the newly founded town of Enid. We’ve been worshiping here ever since. I’m not sure how many rectors came before me, but I am honored 1
to have been the one called to serve here. As with most churches within any denomination, our history, at times, glows with the glory of God; at other times… not so much. However, we have always been good neighbors to our community,
attempting to care for those in need and equip the saints to carry on the work of God. You can imagine, then, that I was a bit miffed when the local paper ran an op-ed piece titled: Episcopal Leaders on Church’s Groundhog Day Nightmares (Dec. 16, 2020). What had we done to be the recipients of such negative press? Turns out, we were not alone. The author was just another blowhard with a nationally syndicated column attempting to sell ad space—and the local paper (owned by an outfit in Alabama) simply wanted a piece of the pie. I gave them my opinion in a letter to the editor, but I couldn’t let it go. It seems that every time the parochial report data is published, we end up being publicly depicted in gory images and charts—a ‘coming soon’ trailer to the movie, “The Death Throes of the Episcopal Church.” The data that is presented in these articles and reports is accurate, but I don’t believe for one second in the final outcome as predicted by these writers of denominational obituaries. So, I decided to try to prove them wrong. That’s where my friend, Sean (and let’s face it, everyone needs at least one friend–and really only one– who wears linen trousers and guayabera clericals) entered the project and Contemporary Koinonia was conceived. That’s my part of the story…
The Rev. Dr. John Toles
As visions of Die Hard danced through my eyes, and the words I’d been writing seemed to bleed together in one disjointed ‘message’, my phone chirped. “Please tell me the Rapture is happening. That would at least explain things a bit better. Tribulation, indeed.” Alas, it wasn’t. Instead, it was a text from a friend up North—well, North Oklahoma—who’d had an epiphany. He wanted to start a project that would showcase our beloved denomination while simultaneously sharing information with other people in TEC. I’d like to pretend that my jaded and addled mind made my mouth spout curses in response. Another project was not something I needed—not something anyone needed—was he crazy? Yet, my soul responded. Of course I wanted to do something new! The doldrum of Covid, the stress of the election, the naysayers’ words of imminent doom? Something had to happen to offset this dumpster fire, and this idea seemed like a potential balm to the burns of the past year. We began talking on the phone and texting back and forth. We mapped out areas of the church and regions of the country that we wanted to highlight. We picked a name. And you know what? During this eleven-month process, I found myself rejuvenated. I was excited (and still am) about the ministries we’d encountered, by the responses of the Bishops we interviewed, and by the hope-filled message from a beloved former professor-turned-dean. Turns out my stodgy, zuchetta-wearing, cassock-adorned friend up North had done me a solid. He’d inadvertently invited me to see Jesus in places I’d never looked, and feel new hope for this aging Church that I love. I hope our endeavor does the same for you. We’re not dying.
It’s around 6:00pm, five days before Christmas. I’m prepping for yet another online service. And seriously thinking about getting a degree in cinematography. Or directing. Or doing voice-overs for cartoons. Anything but what I’d, and all of my clergy friends, had been attempting over the last year. 2020: The year of, “Let’s try everything we can to keep it together and not go insane in the process.”
We’re being reborn. And we’d like to share those stories with you. This is where Contemporary Koinonia begins…
The Rev. Sean Ekberg
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P h o t o b y K e n t a r o To m a o n U n s p l a s h
A School for the Lord’s Service: The Catechism and the Mission of the Church By The Rev. Caleb Roberts Introduction It would be difficult to arrive at a better definition of the mission of the Church than the one found in our Catechism: “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”1 It would be even more difficult to argue with it. What Christian, after all, could not be moved by such an aspiration? The instinctive appeal of this definition is perhaps that it names the problem that afflicts the human condition in the solution it proposes. If people need to be restored to unity with God and each other, then that need could only suggest that they do not have such unity at present. Just look around! As Herbert McCabe observed: ...the sacrament (or mystery) of union with God and the unity of all mankind are not meant to be two separate things. The ultimate unity of people is only to be found in God, and the real God is only to be found in unity 3
between people. It is just because we have not reached the point of unity, just because we are still alienated from each other, that our picture of God keeps slipping into falsehood and idolatry, so that God becomes for us the God of our class, our nation, our race or our time, the tutelary deity, perhaps, of the ‘free world’. It is because we have not reached unity in God who is love that our unity is less than the unity of all mankind.2 McCabe’s claim that there is a mutual relationship between our falsehoods about God and our alienation from each other points to the essential function that the Catechism serves in the mission of the Church. That function, however, might not be as immediately apparent or as resonant as the mission itself. The very word “catechism” can evoke connotations of the arcane and the antique, with perhaps even a hint of the disciplinarian. For those of a certain generation, it might call to mind the mandatory recitations of the parochial classroom or Sunday School from an era that has long since passed. What-
ever the associations, it is not uncommon for Episcopalians to look upon catechisms and other doctrinal statements with some degree of ambivalence -- even those that we claim for ourselves. After all, if the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity, then what could be more of a hindrance to that unity than unnecessary dogmatic diversions? Hence the intent of the inaugural issue of this journal, which is to provide an introduction to the Catechism that is found at the back of the Book of Common Prayer, where it appears under its primary title as “An Outline of the Faith.”3 Considering, however, that the Catechism itself is already an introduction, this intent at “introducing the introduction” is a rather peculiar one. It suggests that there is something about the form and function of the Catechism that -quite apart from its content -- is in need of clarification in the mind of our church at present. If our mission of attaining the unity of the human race strikes us as so obviously commendable as to need no further justification, then what may require some explanation is how our unity with God is not only the precondition of our unity with each other, but is somehow contingent upon our actual beliefs about God. Nevertheless, it is crucial that we grasp the vital function that the Catechism serves in the mission of the Church. Its subject matter is none other than the mystery of salvation that has been revealed to us by God; and the acquisition of the knowledge thereof is an essential aspect of one’s restoration to unity with God and neighbor in Christ. You could even say that if we want to pursue the mission of the Church, we could start by learning the Catechism. Initial Challenges In keeping with the traditional format of a catechism, our “Outline of the Faith” consists of a series of questions and answers that summarize the central doctrines of Christianity, organized under several headings. I have been tasked with engaging two of those headings in particular: those pertaining to “The Church” and “The Ministry,” respectively.4 As might be clear already, however, there are challenges to be confronted here. It won’t be enough to simply expound upon the various claims the Catechism
makes about the Church and its ministry, because what’s at stake here goes well beyond the specific content of the Catechism. We are prompted to ask prior questions about what exactly this “Faith” is that the Catechism presumes to outline. One particular challenge to be faced is that to inquire into the relationship between the Faith outlined by the Catechism and the mission of the Church is to already assume that such a relationship does, in fact, exist at all -- an assumption that many would find doubtful. That is, it is far from self-evident that “faith” is something that possesses objective content, let alone something that could be articulated in a text such as a catechism. Instead, “faith” is often seen as something that pertains primarily, if not exclusively, to the private life of the individual believer. Faith is construed in terms of the believer’s subjective assent to that which is deemed personally agreeable. And, again, that’s only if it can even be construed at all. Indeed, one frequently finds that whatever it is that people designate by the word “faith” can ultimately be reduced to an ineffable gesture: “faith” as the expression of a generic religious impulse, common to all people, if only exercised by those who happen to participate in a chosen “faith community.” The divine source of faith is thereby lost, as faith becomes a purely human act. Such a conception of faith effectively forecloses the possibility of a catechism. Because, even if a believer were to render the fullest possible assent to the content of their chosen tradition, faith as such would still remain neatly separable from the content as proposed by that particular tradition. According to this conception, to suggest even the possibility of an “Outline of Faith” is to commit a category error: faith simply cannot be outlined, nor is it constituted by the dogmatic content to which the believer assents. Faith is form without content. Any relationship between one’s faith and the particular content of a religious tradition is therefore merely incidental, as faith is defined not in terms of the contours of a tradition, but in terms of the voluntary act of the believer’s will. It is the prerogative of the believer to forge a relaionship between faith and tradition where none would otherwise have existed. 4
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In short, any relationship between faith as such and the content of faith as proposed by a catechism is up to the arbitrary discretion of the individual believer. Alternatively, the believer is likewise free to dispense with this relationship altogether, if they so choose, since faith is in no way dependent on dogmatic content in the first place.5 It’s hardly a surprise, then, that the ineffability of faith so often goes hand in hand with the inscrutability of faith. Faith is not just conceptually distinct from its content, because the distinction itself is essential to the ideological maintenance of the modern subject. Faith must be emptied of content so that the content can be subsequently furnished at will, according to the preference of the individual believer. Faith and its Outline Having engaged this initial challenge, we can now ask what the “Faith” that is outlined in the Catechism actually is. To answer this question, I propose two particular claims about the nature of faith: (1) that faith is supernatural in origin, being a gift of God that is infused into the believer by grace; and (2) that the content of faith is objective in nature, having been revealed by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Together, both of these claims are significant because they remind us that faith is not something that is generated from within ourselves. It is not a purely human act. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “those things which are of faith surpass human reason, hence they do not come to man’s knowledge, unless God reveal them.”6 But while there are several of these “things which are of faith” to be found in the Catechism, they all ultimately cohere in a single thing, a single object, which is God. The various propositions about God to which we assent by the act of faith are functions of our knowledge of God that God has made possible by revelation. According to Bede Frost, the Christian revelation “is a communication of the knowledge God has of Himself, which knowledge is His life, made visible and accessible to man that he may become a participator in that Life and Love which God is….”7 Faith, therefore -whether considered as the truth that has been revealed or as the virtue by which we know that truth -- does not pertain to one “fact” among the others that is known in the same manner as
the others. Because the object and origin of faith is God, the reception of faith is necessarily transformative. To quote Aquinas again, because faith comes “from some supernatural principle moving [us] inwardly” -- which is God -- when we assent to matters of faith, we are necessarily “raised above [our] nature.”8 The reception of the virtue of faith lifts us into an entirely different mode of being human; it entails the reconstitution of the individual altogether. Put another way, if the content of faith does not come to our knowledge unless God reveals it to us, then this knowledge is of an entirely different order than our knowledge of things that are intelligible to human reason alone. It follows, therefore, that this elevated knowledge of faith is only possible in terms of an elevated form of life itself. The fact that the Outline of the Faith is an initiatory text confirms this point, moreover, because it presupposes that the context in which one acquires the knowledge therein is their conversion. The catechumen who is preparing to enter into the mind of the Church is preparing to enter into participation in the divine life. And, like the reception of faith, this participation into which they will enter is also transformative, for it is only entered by renouncing “the world, the flesh, and the devil” as one begins to be conformed to the pattern of Christ. Faith arrives from God as a judgment, accompanied by specific indictments on the distorted forms of life that the new believer has hitherto maintained. And this is why, according to Oliver O’Donovan, neither divine revelation nor the gift of faith come upon human life “as though it provided a perfectly acceptable foundation to which a further level of understanding can be added.”9 While human beings were created with the innate capacity to know God by faith, it is that very capacity that has been damaged by sin. Hence the urgent necessity of our conversion. And it is the Catechism that presides over the initial process of our refashioning, particularly with regard to the intellectual dimensions of our faith. The Social Exercise of Faith While the virtue of faith resides in the intellect and pertains to the knowledge of God, the exercise thereof also requires an act of the will
which moves the intellect to assent to that knowledge10. It was therefore inevitable that our discussion of faith would eventually address our conversion and the particular habits and forms of life that characterize the faithful. Because faith “is always the unified response of mind and will”11 -- i.e. because it is always “faith working through love”12 -- the exercise of faith will always involve more than intellectual activity alone. “Faith working through love” actually looks like something: faith is an activity that has identifiable features, which stand in stark contrast to what came before. These identifiable features of the exercise of faith point us to the inherently social dimension of both faith itself and the Catechism which outlines it. The Catechism is a social text that only makes sense in terms of the Church that produces it. It does not propose a set of mere propositional statements that are abstracted from the life of the Church. Rather, the Catechism depends upon what Rowan Williams calls “the irreducibly social nature of knowing and learning”13 -which itself is a function of the irreducibly social nature of being human. “Knowing, discriminating, is learned by participating in a communal life,” Williams adds, while “communal life,” conversely, “is a life of shared speech and shared symbols.”14 When communal life becomes elevated into the divine life by grace -- that is, when communal life becomes the Church -- this basic feature of human language and knowledge alike persists. “Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.”15 So, the Catechism is only a social text because
the Church from which it comes to us is a social body. Indeed, it is the social nature of faith that serves as the basis on which the Church’s ministry is exercised. Holy and Apostolic: The Catechism on the Church and its Ministry Having established the corporate character of the Church, it is now possible to consider some of the Catechism’s claims about the Church and its Ministry. According to the New Testament,
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Church is the Body of Christ: the primary context in which we become “partakers of the divine nature”16 who await our “share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”17 And this is just another way of describing the holiness of the Church. As the Catechism puts it, the Church is holy because “the Holy Spirit dwells in it, consecrates its members, and guides them to do God's work.”18 Founded upon the holiness of the Church, the Catechism becomes enlisted as an essential instrument of its mission. The Outline of the Faith is one of the many means that the Holy Spirit uses to guide us in faith and practice. When Aquinas said that the virtue of faith proceeds from “a supernatural principle” that works within us and raises us above our nature, he was only talking about what God is always doing in the Church anyway. For the Holy Spirit to dwell in the Church is simply to infuse the life and activity of God within and among its members: the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is what enables us to assent to the matters of faith and what guides us to “do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.”19 Which is to say that the ministry of the Church’s members is a function of the divine character that God has bestowed upon them. The Church is therefore more than a merely human institution, though it is of course at least that. As E.L. Mascall says, what constitutes the Church is neither “the psychological forces of moral and emotional attraction between its members” nor even “the psychological forces of moral and emotional attraction between its individual members and Christ.”20 In either case, the unity of the Church that would result “would be a purely human one, in the sense that it would be constituted simply by the acts of men, even though those acts were made by them in response to the redemptive work of Christ.”21 Such unity would have no account of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within the Church. In any case, it is this divine
presence that, as Mascall concludes, serves as the: ...unifying principle which, while it works in men and binds them both to one another and to Christ their Lord, has supervened and still supervenes upon them from outside themselves and unites them in a way beyond anything that their own activity could achieve.22 While the Church is constituted by the divine activity of the Holy Spirit within it, it is nevertheless inseparable from the humanity of its members and, ultimately, of Christ himself. The Church performs its ministry in the world just as Christ did during his earthly life. Hence the
significance of the Catechism’s claim that “the Church is apostolic, because it continues in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles.”23 The apostolic character of the Church is what not only sustains its ministry throughout history, but also helps to correct the persistent error of individualism already described above, which imagines that faith is a private matter that the believer possesses apart from the Church. By contrast, says Michael Ramsey, “the New Testament asserts...the importance, to the individual member or group, of realizing that the one Body existed before his own conversion and has one continuous historic life in which he is called to share.”24 Thus, the Catechism can be seen as one of many points of access into this one continuous historic life. Rather than being merely a set of abstract propositions, detached from the life and ministry of the Church, it summarizes the faith that informs that life and ministry while also guiding one’s entrance into it. Finally, the preceding analysis of the holiness and apostolicity of the Church can helpfully illuminate the Catechism’s subsequent claims about the ministry of the Church. As would be expected given the questions that are posed in this section, the corresponding answers are mostly descriptive. They list out the four categories of ministers in the Church -- “lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons”25 -- before highlighting the unique characteristics of their respective ministries. But there is a conspicuous repetition to be seen in the descriptions, in that each ministry is ultimately the same, regardless of order: “to represent Christ and his Church.”26 While there are differences in the particular ways in which each order conducts its ministry, they are all nevertheless performing what is essentially a singular activity. Furthermore, the Catechism also makes clear that the shared ministry of the Church, whereby all the ministers work “to represent Christ,” proceeds from the shared duty of the Church that is binding upon all Christians, which is simply “to follow Christ.”27 The members of the Church find themselves forever situated between their duty on one side and their ministry on the other -- where both sides are simultaneously occupied by Christ. When we look outward onto the ministries to which we are called, we see only the Christ whom we are to repre-
sent; when we look inward onto the duties to which we are obliged, we see only the Christ whom we are to follow. Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me.28
It is precisely this exclusive orientation of Christian ministry and duty to Christ that brings us back to the objective nature of the faith that has been given to us by God. The identity of the Christ whom we are to both represent and follow as the ministers of the Church is not merely the ideal projection of our highest aspirations, however laudable they may be. If Christ were such a projection, then the Catechism’s description of the Church’s ministry would be purely self-referential: “Christ” would function as a euphemism for what in reality would be little more than a noble human endeavor. But the centrality of Christ as the ultimate standard of the Church’s ministry only holds insofar as Christ’s identity is that of the divine Son; and our recognition of that identity is only made possible by the divine gift of faith. “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us,” says St. Paul, for “our competence is from God.”29
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Conclusion To begin bringing things to a close, we can see that for the Catechism, there is no dichotomy between the divine and the human character of the Church, any more than there is a dichotomy between the divine and human natures of Christ. The Faith that is outlined by the Catechism is itself predicated on the unity of God and humanity in Christ, which is the unity that defines the mission of the Church. Its content, therefore, is not an optional accessory that’s available alongside a purely formal and individualistic faith, but rather is definitive of that to which the virtue of faith assents. Our reception of the Catechism’s instruction is an essential part of our unity with God, for knowing the truth of God by faith is quite simply what our unity with God is. And if, as McCabe argued at the beginning, “the ultimate unity of people is only to be found in God,”30 then we are already on our way to fulfilling our mission simply through our formation in the Catechism. It’s not just that the Catechism happens to contain a good explanation of the Church and its Ministry. Rather, it is a good explanation precisely because it performs an act of its ministry by itself; its very existence testifies to the Church as “the pillar and ground of the truth,”31 upon which the mystery of our unity with God and the unity of the human race will be established. Admittedly, much of this essay struck a rather polemical key, but such a defense is necessary given the degree of uncertainty about the relationship between the Catechism and the Church’s mission -- if not between doctrine and mission themselves. If that relationship is less than intelligible for us, it is only because we have detached our unity from God from the mission of our unity with each other -- or, perhaps more accurately, because we have conflated our unity with God with our unity with each other, however we might define that unity in the here and now. But so long as the unity with God is simply identified with whatever provisional unity we might pursue in exclusively human terms, such unity will inevitably be idolatrous. And not only that, but it will merely impose yet another alienation among us -- it will compound our disunity -- and it will be all the more seductive because of its ideological pretension. The Catechism, along with the entire teaching office of the
Church, is one of our surest safeguards. It gives us the vocabulary of the faith that has been delivered to us and the grammar of the ministry whereby we deliver it to the world. The Catechism therefore presents to us, in most vivid detail, what St. Benedict understood so well: that the Church is to be “a school for the Lord’s service.” And fortunately, it will be the inward operation of the Holy Spirit within and among us that will earn the passing grade: in a word, the salvation of the human race. ✠ Endnotes BCP, 855.
Herbert McCabe. “Holy Thursday: the mystery of unity.” God Matters, 78. 2
This is perhaps one of the foundational assumptions behind the phenomenon of those who describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” 5
Aquinas. ST II-II, Q. 6, A. 1, co.
Bede Frost. “The Dogmatic Basis of Moral and Ascetical Theology.” The Theory and Practice of Penance, by Priests of the Anglican Communion, 100. 7
Aquinas. ST II-II, Q. 6, A. 1, co.
Oliver O’Donovan. Resurrection and Moral Order, 89. 9
Aquinas. ST II-II, Q. 4, A. 2, co.
Rowan Williams. “What is Catholic Orthodoxy?.” Essays Catholic and Radical, 12. 13
Aquinas. ST I-I, Q. 1, A. 8, ad. 2.
2 Peter 1:4 (RSV).
Colossians 1:12 (RSV).
E.L. Mascall. Corpus Christi: Essays on the Church and the Eucharist, 3. 20
Michael Ramsey. The Gospel and the Catholic Church, 43. 24
The Hymnal 1982, #370.
2 Corinthians 3:5 (RSV).
1 Timothy 3:15 (KJV).
Works Cited The Book of Common Prayer. Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979. McCabe OP, Herbert. God Matters. Continuum, 1987. Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologiae. The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, 2012. The Theory and Practice of Penance: By Priests of the Anglican Communion. Ed. Hubert S. Box. SPCK, 1935. Mascall, E.L. Corpus Christi: Essays on the Church and the Eucharist. Longmans, 1953. Ramsey, Michael. The Gospel and the Catholic Church. Cowley Publications, 1990. The Hymnal 1982. The Church Pension Fund, 1985. O’Donovan, Oliver. Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994. Essays Catholic and Radical: A Jubilee Group Symposium for the 150th Anniversary of the beginning of the Oxford Movement 1833-1983. Ed. Kenneth Leech and Rowan Williams. The Bowerdean Press, 1983.
The Rev. Caleb Roberts serves as the rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Ponca City, Oklahoma, where he came after serving previously as the curate of Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church in Champaign, Illinois. He was born and raised in Oklahoma City, however, and was thrilled to return to his beloved home state. He attended Oklahoma State University for his undergraduate studies, where he met his wife, Julie, on his first day on campus. They now live in an old farmhouse in Ponca City with their three children, Alice, Charles, and Clive. After discerning a call to Holy Orders, Fr. Caleb earned his MDiv at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX. He was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Ed Konieczny of the Diocese of Oklahoma in December 2016 and to the priesthood by Bishop Dan Martins of the Diocese of Springfield in July 2017. In his spare time, he enjoys reading out on his front porch every night, no matter the weather (he sits under a heat lamp during the bleak midwinter) along with writing, cooking, and creating music.
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DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS A N I N TE RV I E W W I TH TH E RT. RE V. A NDY DOY LE E PI S C O PA L D I O C E S E O F TE XA S
The interview took place on Thursday / February 11, 2021. 12
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Hello, Bishop. Thanks for taking time to be here…well, on Zoom. I’m going to ask you some questions about the Church, the Outline of Faith, Netflix, and maybe some random questions for follow-up. Thanks, glad to be with you. I think, given that some people may not know anything about you, what are some things you think would allow them to gain some insight into who you are? What makes Bishop Andy, Bishop Andy? Well, I’m a creative person who enjoys new things and experimenting. I like to dive into subjects deeply for my own preparation for ministry; I enjoy running down questions and seeing where the answers take me. I love conversation. And then, as you know, I’ve got a family; I have two older daughters and a wife, Joanne. We enjoy getting away to the mountains in the summertime, and I fly-fish and camp. Also, I have boxed (pugilism, not packing)—I took boxing for years, but I don’t do that anymore. So, I just like to try new things as I am a very curious person. Thank you…also, I won’t be starting a fist fight with you anytime, soon.
(Laughs) It’s been a while—over two years since I’ve been boxing—but I enjoy it a lot. You have all these cool hobbies! (Thinks about getting out, more) So, tell me about your ministry. How did you get into it? What did that call look and sound like? I grew up in the church, and my father was an Episcopal priest. Church was home and life. I would say that like many of us, there are pictures (of me) as a child in full regalia—chasuble, stole, cross—celebrating funerals for animals that had died, according to the burial rite in the 1979 prayer book. So, church was just an enmeshed part of my growing up. That naturally led to ministry as a young person, as I participated in youth during the 80’s. As I grew older, I was fortunate to have quite a few clergy who thought I should consider ordained ministry— they pushed and pressed on me. For a while after considering the call, I had a difficult time discerning between my father’s ministry and what would be my ministry. That was complicated by the fact that my Dad left the ministry after multiple discipline issues; but I found my way…I just kept coming back to it. I really had an experience of desire and call to be at work in the church; to the sacramental life and the rule of life of an ordained person. Joanne helped me to see that pretty clearly and
there’s a whole story that goes alongside, but I would just say that I wouldn’t have gotten here without people in the community, and my wife supporting me and asking me to consider life as a minister. I ended up serving and going to Virginia (Virginia Theological Seminary). After graduation, we moved back to Texas where I served two churches (curacy and then first call), and ended up wondering why I was in priestly ministry. Then I realized I held gifts for conflict mediation and healing for congregations, so I did a lot of study around that work and ended up being called to Canon to the Ordinary. At that point, my goal was to be Canon to the Ordinary forever. That was my goal. That just gives you a sense that, you know, it’s a bumpy ride. Everybody has their own journey; for me it was really enmeshed with family and church, moving from the Church’s home to an understanding of Christ’s cruciform life given for me, into a broader sense of missional life together, which is what I enjoy now. So, you’ve moved from the conflict-resolution to missional aspect of the church, which is what seems to be a natural transition from Canon to the Ordinary to Bishop. Where did you serve as Canon to the Ordinary?
Here. So, I’ve been Bishop for twelve years— I’m in my thirteenth year now—and I served as Canon to the Ordinary for five years before that. I’ve been in this Diocesan Office for seventeen years. And before this, I served six years in a restart church-plant with two years curacy before that. Wow. So, Virginia Theological Seminary was your only time away from Texas? Yeah, I was required to go there because I had grown up in Texas, and I lived in Mexico for three years, but in a life lived in Texas, that’s not very long. So, I went to college in Texas…I’m a rooted in Texas-type person. And the diocese is so large—there are 57 counties, tons of different kinds of churches…you can experience a whole life of ministry here, as if you would in two or three diocese somewhere else. It’s a diverse place in that regard. Would you say it’s like, ‘pick a church’ and you can pretty much find the one you’re looking for? You could find it: We have lots of small churches and very large churches and everything in between. (His eyes light up a bit) We have an Indian congregation, Sudanese congregation, Latin-X congregation, Spanish-speaking con-
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gregations, Mixed, Islander, historically Black…you name it, we have it.
“But, at the end of the day, there was really one conversation that changed it all.” That’s impressive. Let’s take it back. You’ve served two churches, you have engaged and learned how to deepen your strengths in conflict resolution, you’ve restarted a church, and then you move into this call to Canon to the Ordinary; I’m assuming you did this under Bishop Claude Payne? No, actually it was under Bishop Wimberly. Bishop Payne was my Bishop when I graduated from seminary—Bishop Benitez is the one who sent me there—then Bishop Wimberly hired me to Canon to the Ordinary. I see. You’ve done all these things, you’re
Canon to the Ordinary at this point, you’re hanging out in your office and you have your feet under you—you’ve got the five years of experience—you kind of know ‘what’s what’. And then someone comes to you and says, “Hey there Canon Rev. Andy, (he smiles), we think you should be Bishop. What was your reaction? Running? Hiding under the desk? Closing your eyes so they didn’t see you? (Chuckles) I have found that thinking about churches and vocations, once you’re ordained, is very similar. So, the kind of kind of decision-making I went through to discern Canon to the Ordinary versus the other parishes was about the same. The call to the episcopate was more like a call to the priesthood, so I had similar behaviors. I had a large group of people who were asking me to
put my name in; I had assumed that somebody else would be the next Bishop and I would serve that person as Canon to the Ordinary. But, at the end of the day, there was really one conversation that changed it all. It was with Curtis Almquist from SSJE, who is a long-time friend. He was in town for a clergy conference in Texas, and I’m a member of the society—The Fellowship of St. John—so we had some time to spend together. Joanne thinks the world of him. We were having coffee one day, the three of us; at one point, I had to go get some water; in that time, Joanne told Curtis that he had to do something because I was ‘flip-flopping’ on this Bishop thing, and that people wanted me to stand for election. When I came back, Curtis crossed his arms and leaned forward on the table and said, “Andy, I don’t know what you’re doing, but this is not healthy for you. God didn’t ask for you to be the Bishop of Texas, God asked for you to put your name in to be the Bishop of Texas.” And so, I felt like—because I trust his wisdom on discernment— that I had to trust that God was going to be part of this, but that I wasn’t necessarily going to win. I needed to be more comfortable with that than the other…and so that’s what happened. It’s good to have people to help with discernment. There’s a question in the consecration service of a Bishop that asks, “Have you been so persuaded…”; is that how you would say you were persuaded? Yeah. I would say that I was persuaded that God wanted me to put my name in, and when I was elected, I was persuaded that they wanted me to be their Bishop. Well, after all of that, you’ve become a Bishop, you’ve been a Canon,
you’ve been a Priest. There’ve been changes throughout your ministry, from aspirant to bishop. You’ve run the gamut of Episcopal ‘titles’…at least most of them. What was it like for this most recent change—the change from Fr. Andy to Bishop Doyle? Was it ontological? Please describe what that process was like.
“I think there’s a process of ‘becoming’…” Well, I don’t know how you or other clergy experienced it, but in mine it was very much like becoming a priest. You have an idea of what the priesthood is: you’ve been trained for what it is, and maybe you’ve seen some of what it’s like in the four years prior to ordination, but you still don’t really know what it is you’re going to do and how will inhabit the office of priesthood. So, the formation that happens in the beginning is just very steep as you sort out how to be the priest you’ve been called to be. And then there’s the part that comes in the next few years, which is something like, ‘Well, now that you’re comfortable being priest, what kind of priest will you be and how will you live that life? Will you be a college missioner, a rector, an associate, a church planter, a hospital chaplain, military chaplaincy…what form of priesthood have you been called into?’ And I would liken it to that kind of discernment. I had been Canon to the Ordinary so I knew the job—I knew what the job looked like at least—and then Joanne said, “Why don’t you go look and see how many nights the Bishop Diocesan is away from home.” So, I went and looked, and counted, and that helped me to know how Bishop Wimberly did it, but it didn’t inform me how I would do it. I think there’s a process of ‘becoming’; you’re ordained like priests and deacons, then consecrated and made a bishop, but there’s a becoming to it. My sense is that I’m still in that process of becoming. Every day I wake up and say, “Huh, so this is how I’m going to be Bishop, today (he laughs).” Sometimes it’s study, and sometimes it’s being a Bishop in being in a pandemic. I think there may come a time when that ‘becoming’ stops, but that may be the time I should stop being the Bishop. 16
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Or at least Bishop in your current context… Yes, I have a trajectory and a time that ends my season as Bishop of the diocese and I’m attentive to that, so we’ll see…
“…at the end of the day, the Church cannot be something objectified by us, it has to be something that God intends…” You’ve talked about who you are in the church, and your growth over the years. Page 854 asks us, “What is the Church?” So, I’m going to ask you, what is the church to you? I believe that the Church is the sending out of people, by God, to ‘go’—in that apostolic sense—to ‘go’ and to multiply blessing and peace in the world on behalf of God’s social imagination. I say that because I think at some point you have to determine what your hermeneutic lens is going to be for answering that question. We can talk about the academic, ecclesiological, missiological, institutional, business, sociological, and/or historical views, but at the end of the day, the Church cannot be something objectified by us, it has to be something that God intends. The Church has to aspire to be that before anything else. I’m struck after twenty-five years in ministry with the question, “Is our theology big enough for the world we are in contact with?” How do you define the Episcopal Church within those confines? I think the short-hand answer, which is very popular right now, is that we are the arm of the Jesus Movement. But I think we have to understand who we are and what we’re about by looking back at scripture and not at history. If we did that, what we would see is that God is about inviting people to go out on God’s behalf from the very beginning. The story of the Tower of Babel, for instance, is a story where—from our Jewish 17
brothers and sisters’ perspective is a little bit different than what we as Christians understand— there is a sense of people not going, but rather people gathering in one place. I grew up learning that story as one wherein people wanted to be like God, so they built this big tower. But in the Jewish tradition many Rabbis teach that they weren’t fulfilling that call, the one that would be Abraham’s to go out into the world and to multiply God’s blessing; they were gathering in one place, so God sends them out. If we begin with that understanding, we don’t see Pentecost as a reversal of something that is part of our tradition in the story of Babel, but rather a continuation of God’s desire that we not all be the same. That we go out as God’s blessing into the world. Pentecost is a continuation of the ministry of Babel whereby we echo this idea and notion of multiplying across the difference of human variety, God’s gospel proclamation. And therefore, if we actually think of the Reformation that way, we don’t see something that’s happening historically and/or theologically due to human shifts around wisdom and knowledge. Instead, we might actually say that the reformation is another moment of God’s continuing to send us out into the world to be a blessing; and that in the end, we fit within the great arc of apostolic ministry. So, when we take that view, then we would say, “Ah! Well, Episcopalians have actually been called by God to be Episcopalians, to do the work within our tradition which begins in the reformation and has evolved from that”, but that (our work) is actually meant as a very important part of the constellation of multiplying God’s blessing in the world. We could parse that out a little bit and say, “Let’s talk about immigration.” Well, I can promise you that when the Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and UCC’s bishops stand there in all their interfaith difference and say, “You have to treat all people with dignity,” that is quite a witness—instead of just one church standing there and making that call alone. In that light, I think we have to understand that the Episcopal Church is a gift into the world of mission and ministry; that in serving our communities, we are doing the work God intends us to do.
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“I don’t think that my radical self believes that Baptism is a rule of life— I think that Baptism is an acceptance of God’s grace and acceptance into God’s family.” Speaking of bishops, you have quite a few working for you in the Diocese of Texas; other places only have one bishop per diocese. On page 855, it asks, “What is the ministry of a Bishop?” From your context of a multiple bishop diocese, how would you answer that question? Ultimately, the bishops’ work is the continuation of our mission; it’s apostolic. I think we’ve decided that apostleship only belongs to the bishops—that’s not true. Every disciple Jesus had was turned into an apostle by the Holy Spirit and sent in God’s name to speak on God’s behalf in the world. That means that the Baptismal life isn’t about becoming a follower so much as it’s about someone willing to become an apostle. My work is the life of apostleship; to hold that mission and ministry in front of us, to pass on the very best of our tradition to the next generations. To take care of the order of the church—that’s an important part of our work—doesn’t just mean structures and institutions. I see order as mission, as experienced through evangelism and service. So how does the Episcopal Church within our Anglican family do that uniquely? That’s my work. Preaching and teaching and shaping is my work, in particular, but it’s also done so alongside everyone else. It reflects what we are all supposed to act out in our lives. Consider that as a bishop I have particular things that are given to me as part of my rule of life; that’s why I’m ordered. I don’t think that my radical self believes that Baptism is a rule of life—I think that Baptism is an acceptance of God’s grace and acceptance into God’s family. And that we hope that we might live out some of the best parts of who we are as church, as baptized Episcopalians in particular, which is quite unique, actually. But I don’t think that’s a rule of life. Why it isn’t is because there’s no accountability to it; there’s no canon that governs 19
the life of laity in the life of our church. A rule of life requires communal accountability in a way and that’s what ordered life is about. These orders model work we are all supposed to undertake. I would defend the three orders of ministry as individuals who have chosen a life under the canon and rule of the church to do its work. But I don’t define the work of the church by the canon. We all have something else we’re supposed to do; it’s a little bit like Jesus and the Sabbath. We are not meant for the canons—the canons are meant to serve the mission and the order of the church as it undertakes it. I do think there are unique pieces that we forget as an organization, or a particular type of Christian community; but that piece of life is only one small part of the uniqueness that is the Episcopal Church and the Anglican communion. You speak about mission quite a bit, have you continued on with Bishop Payne’s “Maintenance to Mission” in your own way? Well, I think that Bishop Payne’s Reclaiming the Great Commission is a fascinating text. Because I know him well, I think that the starkness of “Maintenance to Mission” was important at that time because we were pretty stuck in maintenance, completely. I’m not sure that we’ve exited much of that, to be honest with you, but I would say that maintenance is important. You can’t have a Jesus Movement without structure. So, you have to have some structures that support the ongoing life, and there are plenty of denominations that don’t have structure. We have to understand, again, that our canons (our structures) are given to us as part of who we are uniquely are as Episcopalians—as Anglicans by the way, because we share a lot of those structures globally.
“I still think we’re in the midst of moving from 1950’s models of service into a new way of engaging community and community need, and we see that as an integral part of doing evangelism as well.” Now, I do talk about mission a lot. I understand the mission to be God’s mission and not the
mission of the church. So, we, like Ian Douglas, would say that God has a mission. That mission is a mission of reconciliation with the world that Christ comes to reconcile through the cross; and that mission has a Church, and that the Episcopal Diocese of Texas takes on a portion of Church’s role on God’s behalf within our context. How do we do that, we would say? Well, we do that specifically through evangelism and service—instead of using the word outreach, using the word service from the prayer book. I still think we’re in the midst of moving from 1950’s models of service into a new way of engaging community and community need, and we see that as an integral part of doing evangelism as well. That has everything to do from welcoming and being an attractional church, to being a missional church—one that goes out. We think there are different models ‘being’ and undertaking the mission of evangelism, just as we think there are different models of the mission of service under our purview. But that’s how we talk about it in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas; mission encompasses mission and service. With the regard to mission and service, what are some of the ministries within your diocese that excite you? That are really making a difference?
communities in which we are investing. I want to say that we have determined that most of our resources that don’t go toward the wider church and wider Anglican communion—which we do a lot of in the form of our assessment—are applied toward mission, service, and evangelism projects.
“It’s a time of miracles.” I think that the gift of the Spirit is one of creativity. We see that abounding across our diocese; whether that’s authorship or arts and painting, or creative work in the community. For instance, we had a congregation do ‘hope signs’ for their community. They made them and gave them out to people. It can be a small token of a sign of God’s love, like those signs for people, to serving thousands of others during the pandemic through a food truck which is part of a congregation of Northeast Houston. Or maybe it’s a small congregation in the middle of nowhere that has gone and ensured that every week they go and participate in a food drive fund where they give about five hundred dollars collectively to the ministry of feeding those in need within their small town of about ten thousand people.
That’s very hard because there’s a lot of hopeful work that is taking place in our community. I would start in broad sweeps. Our engagement in community helping clinics and churches move from healthcare to health is pretty amazing—granting about thirty-five million dollars a year into the community. On top of that, during the pandemic, we’ve given another fifteen million dollars to communities in aid; right now, we’re in the process of helping people understand the importance of vaccination and are participating in convening a group of funders across Texas to help with vaccination going on. Other things include twenty-one active campus missions—which is up from eight; we have eighteen church plants—we plant three a year, and those are pretty traditional types. And then we have more than ninety missional 20
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Where is this? It’s a little church in Hearn, Texas. They also found out that the City Council was literally having fist fights. So, they began to serve them dinner before city council meetings; now they’ve raised $150,000.00 for a community center…that’s a church of fifteen people. We spent two thousand dollars in the form of a grant, to work with a rural community development specialist to help them see how they could change the church. Nandra Perry is the Bi-vocational priest there. And then there’s amazing things like the hope and healing center at St. Martens that sees over 700 people a week for counseling and therapy. We’ve had AA and Al-Anon programs that have
gone online that our churches helped so that they’d have a place to meet. It’s a time of miracles. I say this a lot: Miracles are not the things…not the work…not the ministry… They’re the moments that people open themselves up to God’s possibility, and before they know it, they see God’s power, love and mercy moving through them into the world. That’s the miracle! And from my vantage point as a bishop, I get to see it and name it and point it out…it’s a lot. Church on the Move is one of my favorite ministries from your diocese, as well as Soul of a Musician, which I stole and moved up here to Oklahoma.
Right! Right! And the Logos Project around poetry and creative arts; the eco-theo around that conversation in relationship to Logos. The amazing ministry that is happening at a congregation in Houston with young adults is also focused on the arts…it’s all exciting.
(He smiles) So right now we’re watching The Mentalist, but we just finished 154 episodes of Elementary.
but I just don’t know that that’s going to happen. My plan is to retire in 2031. So, I have a number of years yet to go. I’m currently working on a Ph. D in England—my emphasis being on the Theology of the Buffered Self in Anglicanism. My plan is to move to Colorado with my wife. If the bishop there wants me to help out, I can help out. But my hope is to continue my writing and spend more time with people around the world/country based upon the topics that continue to interest me. I’m hoping to stay engaged in the wider conversation about the church and its mission.
It’s SO GOOD.
Do you have a DMin?
It was good. My wife doesn’t watch this with me, but I’m almost done with “The Haunting of Bligh Manor” and “Hill House”. Then we watched “Long way down,” “Long way round,” and “Long way round”.
Nope, just my MDIV. I’ll end up with a Masters of Philosophy at the end of the year, and the PhD. after four years.
Let’s have some fun, again…What do you binge-watch on Netflix?
Is that the one about Ewen McGregor? Yeah. It’s pretty good. So, what do you do for fun? Well, I collect vinyl, hang out with friends…and recently I’ve gotten back into camping. I used to do that a lot, and so I’m doing it again. I have a pretty systematic way of living my life in terms of work and family: I have seasons of the year wherein I do things. Not unlike you or anyone else in the church, there are seasons that require us to live a particular way. But on a weekly basis, I love watching movies, reading, writing, tinkering with something, whether it’s albums or art…I like to draw and paint still. You do? That’s actually what I was trained as; my degree is in painting and drawing. So back to it… Knowing that clergy rarely retire, but find something ‘else’, what’s next for you? I have an idea of what I want to do,
I’ve watched too many people in ministry allow the ministry to completely overtake their whole lives. I just don’t think that’s healthy. Even the best ministries that we’re called into do not fulfill our own requirements for Sabbath and creativity. So, I think you have to find and nurture that part of our life in this work, whether that’s outside playing golf or going on spiritual retreat. I just think people get the nourishment of creative and recreative activity in a lot of different ways. I mean, for too long we’ve thought that it all had to be kind of monastic in nature; but I find that there are lots of ways to engage re-creative action and that the work of re-creation is more important perhaps than just doing life in one way. Re-creation and recreation are key.
“There is a dependence upon the local people in their context to do their work; and for us to honor that work they choose, as a diocese.” With the pandemic in mind, and piggybacking on self-care, how is the House of Bishops engaging the issue of vitality within congregations on a broad level and how are you taking that into your own diocese? I think all the bishops are deeply engaged, but I also think there are bishops who are struggling 22
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due to the pandemic. So many bishops were consecrated and then immediately put into a pandemic without any sense or understanding of what regular church-life looked like, from the perspective of a Diocesan Bishop. It’s been a very difficult time for a variety of bishops in the house, for many reasons; it’s all over the map. What is happening is that there a large number of retirements; elongated tenures are becoming rarer in the house, which is going to become an interesting problem, long term. Because it takes a while, as you and I discussed earlier, to get your ‘sea legs’ in the work. I think there’s just a lot, just like for all of you (clergy), going on right now. Just like the rest of the church, we’re all trying to figure out what’s going on and how best to resource congregations. So, the questions for us have become, “How do we resource congregations? How are we honest about the interdependent work that we have between diocese and congregations? Congregations are ultimately responsible for their life and their ministry; is the diocese’ responsibility to prop up dying ministries, or is the diocese’ work to support congregations as they live and die, and then are reborn?” There is a dependence upon the local people in their context to do their work; and for us to honor that work they choose, as a diocese. There are a lot of questions about what does ‘resourcing a congregation’ look like that we may not have time to answer. Are there people who want to see new work happen? Yes. Are there people finding new leaders in existing congregations, trying to breathe new life into them? Yes. And then there’s old models being utilized, still. Those are all choices. I want to be really clear: I think the world of my fellow bishops. I just think we’re all in different places, struggling with how to undertake our work; answering that question is difficult. But we don’t believe that there’s only one way of providing pastoral ministry to a church—we believe in lots of ways! So, we are engaged in developing resources that provide for a breadth of clerical mission. So, contextual vitality…. Yeah, Yes! Well, and it’s interesting, right? Some23
times the context is one of struggle. Again, do we ask the question: Did God give up on the context? Probably not; as far as I can tell…I haven’t read that part yet… …“And God said close your church!” …Right. (chuckles) Does that mean we need to find new models and new ways of doing things? By all means. Does that mean that we’re dependent upon local leadership? YES, it does. There are actually things we agree to do as Deacons, Priests, and Bishops and we are held accountable for doing them. But, as far as I know, you and I cannot hold the people accountable to do anything. We can guide, but ultimately, they’re going to do what they’re going to do. So, we have to do our part to support them. Thanks for your time today, Bishop, and your answers. I know these are trying moments in our lives and some of this is just being made up as we go… Do you have anything else, any final thoughts you’d like to share? Thank you so much Sean for the opportunity to speak about the church and its mission. I am grateful for your new enterprise. When the church is healthy there is a birth of renewed creativity and conversation. I see your project as a part of our overall health. I truly believe that a healthy community of believers shares its
learnings for mutual growth. I don’t always get it right. I am always and everywhere better in conversation with the baptized, deacons, priests, and other bishops. I look forward to hearing what others have to say. We are as a church always better when we sit, talk, and listen. ✠
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RESURRECTED VISION GO D ’S WORK BEYOND O U R WA L L S
“THAT WORD ‘US’ IS THE BIGGEST MIRACLE OF ALL.”
REV. NANDRA PERRY, PH.D. / Vicar, St. Philip's Episcopal Church
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Hearne, Texas is a tiny historic church right off Highway 6, about 30 minutes-and-a-world-away from Texas A&M University. Founded in 1871, the church came to Hearne with the railroads and has been worshipping in the same spot ever since. However, by the time I arrived as a bi-vocational priest-in-training in 2014, both we and the town had seen better days Like many small towns and churches across America, Hearne and St. Philip’s were in what we politely call ‘decline’ although ‘a perfect storm’ might be more apt description. The contributing factors to that situation were the usual ones for communities like ours, if somewhat more dramatically arrayed. In 1990, Hearne made national news as one of only six towns in the United States unable to sustain a Walmart. The store closed its doors on New Year’s Eve of that year after driving most of the shops in the downtown area out of business. Years of economic downturn and racial strife followed, placing schools, the downtown area, and city government in crisis. By the early 2000s, St. Philip’s was in crisis as well, with a membership of three, then a bit later, two people. So irregularly were the doors open that most people in town believed the church to be closed; indeed, the diocese did consider that possibility. But God wasn’t quite done with St. Philip’s. Around 2011, our beautiful jewel-box of a sanctuary caught the eye—and ultimately captured the heart—of a parishioner from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Bryan, TX, 20 miles away. He joined the church, volunteered to lead Morning Prayer on Sunday mornings, and—along with his wife—was the catalyst for our re-organization in 2014 as a missional community of St. Andrew’s. I arrived on the heels of this development as a postulant in my second year of local formation for the priesthood. It was the hardest and best imaginable field work. I had no experience and we had almost none of the accoutrements of Episcopal church-per-usual: no choir, no regular musician, no vestry, no budget, no altar guild, and no secretarial help. Stark as this situation may sound, it was in fact a gift. Having essentially died, we were in no position to aspire to anything less than a miracle, and we were ready to release
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whatever we needed to live in hope of resurrection. We put our heads together with a little clutch of people from St. Andrew's and decided that, instead of focusing on all we had lost, we would trust that our dying church was planted in a community where God was already present and bringing about new life. What if our first calling was not to restore Episcopal church-as-usual, but simply to join God there? So that is what we decided to do. With help from a diocesan grant, a small group of volunteers from St. Philip’s and St. Andrew’s trained to become facilitators in the Texas Rural Leadership Program, a sixweek curriculum in Asset Based Community Development offered by Texas A&M’s School of Agriculture. We (rightly) believed TRLP’s emphasis on asset-based thinking would offer a boost to a community in dire need of some good news about itself. The plan was to train a diverse group of local people to map and then leverage Hearne’s assets to solve problems, promote sustainable growth, and mentor new leadership. Each class we trained would have one year to execute a class project of their choosing for the betterment of the community; and each class would provide leaders to train the next class. St. Philip’s would host and facilitate the program with no strings attached. Our
primary goal wasn’t to recruit new church members or even to help the community (although both things happened). It was to discover where the work of resurrection was happening in our community and then to participate in it in any way we could. For the foreseeable future, this work—plus the simplest possible Sunday worship—would be our whole life together as a church. When our first TRLP class finally launched in 2016, after over a year spent getting to know people in town and recruiting, I had a list as long as my arm of projects I hoped the class would pick. Hearne was a food desert with a housing shortage; a nearly empty downtown with failing schools; no nearby hospital; insufficient mental healthcare; and no functional transportation network to get people to services across the county line. However, because TRLP is focused on asset mapping and also on servant leadership, my scarcity-based outsider perspective was blessedly muted. As I dutifully wrote down everything that our participants identified as assets in their community, a different view of Hearne emerged. For all its problems—and in some cases, because of them— Hearne was still a real place. It wasn’t just a collection of housing developments and stores, but a community with a history where everybody knew everybody else and could be counted on to help at need. “There’s a lot more to Hearne than all that junk you see on the news,” said one participant. They began to tell stories about all the fun they’d had in Hearne as children when the downtown was lively enough to support community-wide events. “We should have a festival downtown!” said another participant. In the end, a festival is the project the class chose—not a feeding program or a downtown revitalization plan, a tutorial for school children, or any number of other projects we tossed around that I might have chosen as more practical or achievable. I have never been so delighted to be proven wrong. In 2018, the first annual Hearne Crossroads Hometown Festival (now its own nonprofit) drew upwards of 3000 people. Finally, Hearne was in the local news for something good! But that was just the most obvious
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evidence of what was, in fact, a slow-motion miracle that began unfolding in the two years that it took to make the festival a reality— a wonderful reality that continues today. Our work together on the festival gave us all a sense of pride in our community and built our capacity for pursuing even bigger dreams together. One TRLP member ran for city council and is now the communications director for a newly thriving chamber of commerce. Another member transformed the old post office into a bar and restaurant that has become a favorite community gathering spot. Yet another person began facilitating monthly community meetings where people could learn about local resources or discuss difficult local issues. The next TRLP class wrote a grant for a community health center that recently hired its first director. As for St. Philip’s, we have found new life alongside our neighbors. Through our work with TRLP, and later Holy Currencies, we gained only a few new members. Our ASA is currently 16. But
we have literally hundreds of friends, and that network has allowed us to become the hub of shared ministries we could never pursue on our own. Over the years, we have stood alongside our friends at city council and community meetings when a peaceful or prophetic presence was needed. We volunteer regularly with the Chamber of Commerce and the local library. We are the keepers of a Hearne Timeline and oral history project that we bring to all the many downtown events the Chamber of Commerce hosts. We host quarterly meetings of church leaders working together to address food insecurity among our children, and a walk-up food pantry that is supported by local giving. When the pandemic hit, we leveraged our network to provide rent relief to neighbors and to deliver daily hot lunches and curriculum packets to school children whose working parents could not make it to the elementary school pickup line. Together, we raised thousands of dollars for out-of-work families and delivered week-day lunches and weekend food backpacks for over a year, transforming our parish hall into a temporary distribution hub for our regional food bank. Zoom worship and a stronger online presence have brought us new friends from all over the country, all of whom now support our community work. We are currently discerning how to live into an even more expansive vision of St. Philip’s that includes not only neighbors who will never enter our sanctuary, but also people who have never been to Hearne, or even to Texas. In October of this year, Hearne will celebrate its 150th anniversary. There will (of course!) be a festival, and St. Philip’s Hearne Timeline will be a featured exhibit. For St. Philip’s, the Hearne Timeline has become something of an icon of how God has transformed us over the past five years. When we first arrived in Hearne, we wanted to do something about all the problems we saw in town—racial division being one of the bigger issues. But first, we had to help Hearne throw a party. In the process, we formed the relationships and learned the skills we needed to become the trusted keepers of Hearne’s story. When we tell the hard parts of that story—the story of the slave graveyard under our feet, the story of the sharecroppers who worked the cotton bottoms, the story of the battles around desegregation—we have the privilege of contributing to God’s healing work in our town. We do this work not as outsiders, but as neighbors who are also being healed of our own prideful isolation from the larger community. Hearne’s story is our story. We know that now. Five years out, Asset Based Community Development is no longer something St. Philip’s offers to our community. It is instead a core spiritual practice, our way of being with each other and in our community that keeps our focus off what we don’t have and instead on what God is doing among us. And that word “us” is the biggest miracle of all. Having died to the dream of a full sanctuary, St. Philip’s has been resurrected into an old/new vision for the parish that is Hearne. We are learning to proclaim and participate in the work of God beyond our walls, and that never-ending work is the goal of all we do. ✠
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A NEW PERSPECTIVE A N I N TE RV I E W W I TH TH E RT. RE V. PH O E BE ROA F E PI S C O PA L D I O C E S E O F W E S T TE N N E S S E E
The interview took place on Friday / March 19, 2021. 31
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Good afternoon, thank you for joining us. BP: Of course, happy to be here! If you don’t mind, why don’t we start by you telling us a little bit about yourself; what would you like for people to know about you. I’m a child of God—it’s my most important self-identifier. I think my journey within our beloved Episcopal Church is really a testament of the importance of communal discernment. Because I never—as a girl growing up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas—thought that ordination was a possibility. My own experience has mirrored that belief. It was really a series of three congregations and three different dioceses, when I was a lay person, over the period of fifteen years, asking me, “Phoebe, it’s so obvious that you have a calling to ordination,” that got me to even launch on this crazy-amazing journey. So, it’s never too late to start over, to utilize your gifts and skills for the greater glory of God. Also, to have a community of faith to walk along with you in your discernment journey is so important.
“I don’t have any memories of a time without God” 33
So, I guess other than that, I would say that I’m very blessed to have friends and family who love and support me. I have been navigating this second year as a bishop in West Tennessee, in the midst of a global pandemic, with hopefully a measure of humility and mutual/communal discernment to make the best of what has been a challenging set of circumstances. How did you get into the ministry? What did that call sound like? I was always an active person in the church— I’m a fourth generation Episcopalian. Born in March and baptized in June, I don’t know anything other than the church. I don’t have any memories of a time without God. As a highschool senior, I was the president of our Diocesan EYC—which actually used to be called “The Episcopal Young Church Men”. After college, I was very involved as a lay reader and vestry person. I taught the J2A program; was active in outreach; altar guild…so, I really thought my calling was as an active and involved lay person. As I’ve said, it took three congregations to convince me that God might have ‘other’ plans in mind. Finally, around the age of forty, I decided to start the discernment process. I was living in New Orleans at the time, and the Diocese of Louisiana had never ordained a black woman. I
was pretty sure the answer would be ‘no’, so I thought I could then say to all the people who had been talking to me about ordination, “Okay, I tried it, the answer’s no, so you can leave me alone now (laughs).” But, of course, that wasn’t the outcome. I have to say that God was absolutely right: This call has been the most amazing, rewarding, enriching, difficult, frustrating, challenging thing that I’ve ever done…
“It was an interesting way to start that way—much like those persons from NYC during 9/11. We all felt it.” Which churches did you serve prior to becoming a bishop? Well, before I answer that, seminary is an experience that I’d like to talk about. In August 2005, I packed up my entire life, ended my law practice, and traveled to Alexandria, VA. This was right before hurricane Katrina hit—so as soon as I arrived, none of the phone numbers
back home worked and I was a little isolated. Needless to say, that three years was challenging, and it was tough for everyone from Texas, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and especially Louisiana. It was an interesting way to start that way—much like those from NYC during 9/11. We all felt it. My seminary experience started off in a somewhat traumatic way. The priests serving in that area were exhausted by the time I graduated, due to the myriad challenges they faced. My bishop, The Rt. Rev. Charles Jenkins, really wanted everyone to come back, post-seminary. So, I returned in August of 2008 and accepted a call to be the associate rector of Trinity in the Garden District for the following three years. I started off as the number three priest there, under the senior associate and the rector. I moved up to become the senior associate, eventually. Where did you go from there? After my first couple of years, I began to understand that my job there was to support the rector and their vision—they were the ones who had to deal with fallout, they were there to cast that vision, they were called to lead the
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congregation. A year and a half in, I really felt that I had the skills to be a rector. I wanted the challenge of being in the chair; I wanted to help a congregation to figure out what their vision could be and what it looked like to live into the future in new ways. When you’re an associate, you’re very much carrying out someone else’s vision—which is the way it should be. So, I was fortunate enough to become the rector of St. Philip’s in the Diocese of Virginia. Trinity was a large CEEP Parish of two thousand members. St. Philip’s was much smaller— maybe three hundred and fifty members. It was an historically black congregation; that was a whole other experience. Trinity was 97% white and St. Phillips was 97% black. So…was there any difference in culture between those two churches? (We both laugh) Yes. While black folk certainly are not a monolithic group—we disagree on many things, we have a variety of opinions—I was able to use a set of shortcuts unavailable to me prior to that call. There were certain things I could say in sermons or meetings, because there wasn’t an issue of race—everybody was black. While people held a variety of political viewpoints and theological perspectives, everyone had experienced racism. They certainly knew what
“When you’re in a position of power and privilege, and when it is a socially respectable thing to be part of a denomination, then it becomes more of a box-checking exercise on Sundays as opposed to the question of, ‘Are you willing to have your heart broken open and transformed to be more and more into Christ’s likeness?’” 35
that felt like. I didn’t have to do as much explanation or justification as I sometimes had to do elsewhere; our white brothers and sisters just don’t have the daily lived experience of what it’s like to be African American in the American context, particularly in the American South. So, yeah, there were definitely some differences in culture, to say the least. One church had never had a black person as a priest, another had never had a woman. In that eleven years, I experienced quite a bit of challenging ministry. You’ve spoken about serving a predominantly white church, you’ve spoken about serving a predominantly black church. In the Outline of Faith in the Book of Common Prayer, page 854, it asks, “What is the Church?” So, two part question: How do you define the Episcopal Church within the confines of the Church? (Opens prayer book) To me, the Church is the people and not the building. It’s the people of God gathered together in community—the Episcopal Church is just one manifestation of what that looks like. I do think there is a role for various denominations because different people connect with God—or draw closer to God—in varying ways. Some people will connect with God through their intellect; other people will enter into relationship with God through their emotions. I don’t think either is wrong; I simply believe that there are different perspectives. Another thing is that some people prefer a participatory worship experience where the worship itself is almost a release—a catharsis. Others may lean toward the need for a reverential service; the feeling of awe and reverence, the solem-
nity helping them to draw closer to God. The wonderful thing about the Episcopal Church is that we’re the via media. So, on any given Sunday, you will see all of those various ways of connecting with God, and expressing oneself through worship, present in varying congregations. I love that about our Church. I do, too. The second part of that question is this: How does the Diocese of West Tennessee fit into that definition? I heard the Most Rev. Michael Curry say that, “In some ways it can be a blessing that the Episcopal Church in the 21st century is no longer the church of establishment.” I think what resonated from that statement within me was this: When you’re in a position of power and privilege, and when it is a socially respectable thing to be part of a denomination, then it becomes more of a box-checking exercise on Sundays as opposed to the question of, “Are you willing to have your heart broken open and transformed to be more and more into Christ’s likeness?” And because the Episcopal Church—at least in the United States—has been the establishment church, it has been overwhelmingly white from the beginning. The era when there were more African American Episcopalians occurred prior to the Civil War, when the enslaved persons who worked for whites who happened to be Episcopalian had no choice but to worship in our church. When the war ended, they voted with their feet and left in search of other denominations. So, I would say that TEC in West Tennessee really mirrors that sense of white establishment at its roots. Over time, more working-class folks have joined, as well as people of dif-
ferent racial/ethnic backgrounds, but they are still very much at the periphery. Remember, however, that I’ve not been here long as a Bishop and therefore—due to Covid—haven’t had the opportunity to visit every church due to shutdowns. But from what I can tell so far, we very much fit the model of so many of our dioceses where the Episcopal Church membership does not reflect the communities of which we are a part. The community tends to be predominantly black and brown, and not as affluent. But when you look at our folks, it’s a very specific demographic.
“I’m not white…obviously…, I’m not a man, I’m not a mother, I’ve never been married…I’m not anyone that our church has traditionally seen as having gifts or qualities that lend themselves to that particular office.” Thank you for that. Let’s switch gears… please talk about how you were ‘so persuaded’ to become a Bishop? When people started asking me about potentially running for bishop at around seven or eight years into my ordination, I was like, “Are you freaking kidding me? No. There’s nothing about that particular call that I want.” I ended my law practice in part because I love pastoral care, I love being with people in their walk with God, I love being present with the sacraments…and it’s a privilege to be the only nonfamily member in the room when someone takes their first, or their last, breaths. That’s sacred and I love that, Sean; and I knew that instinctively, being a bishop was going to be much more administrative and a lot less handson with the pastoral ‘stuff ’. And looking at our church, if you open up the dictionary to what a bishop looks like, you’re going to see a Frank Griswald or Peter James Lee. I’m not white…duh…, I’m not a man, I’m not a mother, I’ve never been married…I’m not anyone that our church has traditionally seen as having gifts or qualities that lend them36
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selves to that particular office. So, I was like, “No.” But then I considered two things: First, it had taken me almost fifteen years to accept the call to ordination and so my friends and spiritual director were all saying the same thing: “You have a history of ‘missing the boat’ and taking too much time with these things, so should you really be trusting yourself ?” (We both laugh) And the other deciding factor was when Jennifer Baskerville Burrows was elected Bishop in Indianapolis. When she won, to be the first black female Diocesan, I thought to myself, “Perhaps my church is ready and can use my gifts and skills, and even my perspective as something that is valuable. If she hadn’t won, I never would’ve agreed to enter an election process—it would’ve seemed like an exercise in futility. Additionally, I had been at St. Philip’s for seven years. I didn’t want to fall into complacency and I had started discerning what the next ‘thing’ looked like—whether that would be a new ministry or a new way of doing things. I certainly hadn’t entertained the prospect of being a bishop before then, but I was in a period of discernment. That being said, it was actually the consultant from the Presiding Bishop’s office who called me and asked if I’d be interested. For those in your readership who may not know, the Presiding Bishop’s office is involved when a diocese is looking to elect a new bishop. They provide a consultant who works alongside the search committee on the Diocesan level. Because, in my case, my predecessor had been the bishop for eighteen years—if you haven’t had an election in eighteen years, things have most likely changed and there may not be institutional memory from the last election. So, I literally received a ‘cold-call’ from a woman with a very heavy Tennessee accent who said, “You don’t know me, but I’m the consultant for the Presiding Bishop’s office and I’m working with the West Tennessee Diocesan search committee for the upcoming bishop election.” I said, “Wonderful, I’m sure I can give you some names of some great folks who would do well there!” She replied, “Well, that’s great, but I’m actually calling about you. I believe you have the gifts and skillsets to be the next bishop of West Tennessee.”
When I read the profile she later sent, I started to believe that I could do this. I decided to open myself to the process, and not be tied to any outcome. I wanted to learn about the process, but I also wanted to walk through it with others and be present with them and make some new friends, as well. That’s a really long answer, but back to the root question, “Are you persuaded…” During the six months after I was elected, I spent a lot of time in prayer; I mean, I was praying before that, too, but after I won—and I was as shocked as everyone else when I won— I intentionally spent time in prayer. I also spent eight days prior to the consecration in silent prayer, a practice I try to do every year. I did that, among other things, to be able to answer that question faithfully, that I could answer that I had ‘been so persuaded’ due to that work and prayer. I knew it wasn’t just about me, but I also knew that with God’s help, I had a shot to live into this call in a way that would be pleasing to God.
“I knew it wasn’t just about me, but I also knew that with God’s help, I had a shot to live into this call in a way that would be pleasing to God.” Was there an ontological shift, a change that occurred within you, post-consecration? BP: It’s actually very interesting. This was my third ordination—or third moment of changing orders—and I have to say, Sean, that I was the most present and the least nervous during this than my ordination as deacon and priest. I hadn’t anticipated this in advance; there was a real sense of calm that day. I’m not married, no kids, so I was alone the night before the service, but I felt at ease…and at peace. That was a good sign for me. Several folks gave me great advice, too, that I have relied upon greatly. One thing they said was, “Phoebe, they elected you. You don’t need to be something you’re not. Be you, with your authentic self…trust yourself. The other piece of advice was that, in this call
in particular that can be a challenge to me, one has to take the long view. As a rector, you think five years in advance. As a bishop, people wanted to remind me that things don’t change quickly—it takes more than two to five years to change a diocese. It helped me to remember not to get frustrated. There was a quote that I heard recently during an anti-racism training, that I’m paraphrasing, “Transformation occurs at the speed of trust.” If you don’t have trust, then transformation is less likely to occur. The time I spend with each congregation occurs annually, at best. They don’t know me yet, so it will take a bit longer to build that trust; that’s the mindset that I’ve been moving toward in order to grasp the scope of this work.
“Transformation occurs at the speed of trust.” What do you miss most about parish ministry? What do you miss the least?
African American women in the Diocesan Bishop role within our church? Yes, that’s right. After her consecration in April, Paula Clark will be the sixth black female diocesans. That’s all happened within a threeyear period. [Note: her consecration was postponed until August 2021 for health issues.] Beautiful. What’s fun look like for you? I love live music. Being in New Orleans so long, it’s hard not to love music! I’m also a football fanatic—I actually have to be careful with whom I watch football due to the Fan Phoebe vs. Bishop Phoebe personalities. (we both laugh). I enjoy going out to dinner with friends, too. Normally, I love to read, but with Covid brain and Zoom stuff, I haven’t been able to do that. I typically like to read two or three books at a time, though…
I definitely miss the intimate knowledge of my flock. I remember knowing who was struggling with what, and also who was at the highest points of joy. I miss that. Seeing those faces approach at the altar rail and holding that deep connection is something inexplicable and sorely missed. In terms of what I don’t miss? You know, I really love my staff—they’ve become my congregation, in addition to my clergy. I would say that, on a day-to-day basis, I have a core group of folks who are dedicated to helping me cast a vision and build an infrastructure of what the church looks like in the 21st century. System work at this level can’t be done as a parish priest—I was much more in the weeds at the church. The moments in parish life where people said things like, “I can’t believe you said that in your sermon…” or write you a nasty letter, or threaten to pull their financial support because of a hymn; I don’t miss that at all. Granted, those things will still occur on a higher level, but now I am allowed the opportunity to employ creative juices that I wasn’t able to prior to this. There have been so many changes within the church over the last few years, and many that are still occurring, Thanks be to God. Am I correct in understanding that you are one of five 38
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What’s on your nightstand, right now? “After Whiteness” by Willie James Jennings. Recently, I finished a book about Ida B. Wells, which I loved. I also read “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness” by Austin Channing Brown. That’s a powerful book which was read by the VTS board, as well. A spiritual autobiography by Frank Griswold, and an amazing book on Howard Thurman—a series of essays written by people who knew him or were inspired by him—called “Anchored in the Current: Discovering Howard Thurman as Educator, Activist, Guide, and Prophet” edited by Gregory Ellison. Howard Thurman is someone for whom I have deep respect, an amazing mystic and theologian. I believe he was the first black man that was Dean of the Chapel at Boston University Divinity School. And, of course, he was a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and led him to the readings of Mahatma Gandhi, as he had met Gandhi during his pilgrimage in India. So those are the books I’m really enjoying at the moment…
“We embrace the mystery of it all, as well as the questions that come, and I think we have so much to offer.” Thanks for that list—hopefully our readers will pick some of those up. Moving topics, what would you say your chief goal as Bishop of West Tennessee is, in terms of discipleship and making disciples? If you think about yourself as a parish priest, there is always a tension between the amount of time you spend on the folks who are already part of your flock versus baptizing and confirming new folks. I love the Presiding Bishop’s description of himself of CEO: Chief Evangelism Officer. I completely agree. When I was in the election process, I looked at the numbers of this diocese over the last ten years; I noticed that the number of baptized and confirmed Episcopalians had diminished while the population of the geographical area had increased. That’s a missed opportunity! I want to invite more people to consider the Episcopal Church. I think we have a phenomenal liturgy. I think 39
that—while we’re far from perfect—we’re honest about the tough conversations, willing to engage them, even though we know we don’t have all the answers. We embrace the mystery of it all, as well as the questions that come, and I think we have so much to offer. So, there’s a part of my job that is centered on evangelism, in every town that I visit. Some of my people may say that they’d like to see me spend more time with already baptized persons within their congregations, but to them I’d say, “Y’all already got this.” I’d rather spend time in the public square, which is a tricky thing to navigate. We had a great opportunity last Fall when the Daily Memphian and the University of Memphis were starting a community-based radio station. It wasn’t dependent on advertising, and they wanted to focus on Memphis music; they were also looking for a handful of radio talk-shows. They approached us and asked if we’d like to host a talk-show! Called “Faithfully Memphis”, airs every Thursday morning from 8:00am-9:00am on WYXR 91.7 FM and that has been a fantastic evangelism tool. It’s been a great way for me to get to know more about Shelby County and for Shelby County to get to know a little bit more about our diocese. Tell me about your diocese? How many parishes, institutions…? The history of this diocese is that the whole state of Tennessee was one diocese from the mid 1800’s. Beginning in the late 1970’s, people began to talk about splitting up the state into thirds. In 1982, West Tennessee became a diocese and then a few years later, East Tennessee became a diocese. The middle of the state remained ‘The Diocese of Tennessee’. West Tennessee, my diocese, is the smallest of the three. We have twenty-nine churches—there were more in 1982, but time and attrition have seen the closure of some of those over the years. We have about 8,500 Episcopalians in our churches. We have St. Columba, our camp and conference center; Thistle and Bee, a subsidiary of Thistle Farms; two non-diocesan Episcopal Schools, St. Mary’s (all girls K-12), and Grace St. Luke’s (K-8th). We also have St. George’s independent school; they still have an Episcopal ethos but are not connected directly to the diocese or the church. Those are our main Episcopal institutions.
You have a lot of time—allegedly—due to not having an immediate family in-house. How do you create healthy boundaries so that your time isn’t mismanaged or overtaken? One of the ways I’ve done this is to carry two cell-phones. One is personal, the other is for the church. If I go on vacation, then I’ll leave the ‘work’ phone at home. Another way is being faithful about taking vacation. I never leave that time ‘on the table’—it’s so important to take that time for personal renewal. That’s such good advice. We’ve covered quite a bit, but I do have two more questions for you. You’ve talked about evangelism within your context, and the church there. In the Outline of Faith, there’s the question, “What is the mission of the Church?” So, what does that mean to you? How does your diocese live into that, how do you live into it, and what are your dreams concerning mission?
“I don’t believe myself above anyone else—I don’t like the notion of a top-down hierarchy— so I prefer to work alongside others, while also recognizing and utilizing my own authority.” I think Jesus is the mission of the Church— per our Presiding Bishop—is to invite people into the loving, liberating and life-giving relationship with Christ. I don’t mean to diminish others’ views, but for me the way, the life, and the truth. I want to invite people into conversation, not condemn them. In order to do that, we have to be willing to share our relationship with Jesus and how it’s changed our lives. It requires a lot of vulnerability, as Brene Brown states, to be willing to share our story and then actively listen to others and invite them to share theirs. Then we can find the
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points of connection, and if there’s a place within our context, maybe I can connect them with a parish, a ministry, or an institution within which they may find a good home. I consider myself near the center of the wheel, so to speak. I’m a connector, because I like a round connection piece. I don’t believe I am above anyone else—I don’t like the notion of a top-down hierarchy—so I prefer to work alongside, while also recognizing and utilizing my own authority. The main way I do that is to connect people to one another. That’s a model that works best for me, due to how relational I am and how small this diocese is; it works well. For instance, when lay people call me and ask to go to coffee, I can say yes—I love being able to do that. I’m available to more of my clergy and laity due to our Diocesan size. If someone reaches out, I respond. It’s a way to remind people that I’m an evangelist; I think if we’re going to grow, it’s important to encourage baptized Christians to claim their place in the structure, rather than depending upon clergy to do everything. We live in a world that needs all Christians, not just ordained ones, to step out and bring people to Christ.
“Well, I think the church is just a microcosm of society.” Agreed! I’m going to ask one more question and then invite you to give a final statement. I would be remiss if I didn’t ask this and invite you to shine light on this area. You are a black woman, you are in the Episcopal Church, you are a leader, you are a pioneer—how do you find the church now from your perspective as a black female leader as opposed to when you entered? Well, I think the church is just a microcosm of society. The same people—our neighbors— find their ways into church on Sunday just like everybody else. All the issues of racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia; all of those issues find their way into our halls just like they do everywhere else—that’s just our reality. I think that anybody who is not a cisgender heterosexual man has issues—and even some of them have struggles. But if one deviates in any way from that archetype, then it’s hard perhaps for people to envision someone 41
who has never occupied a leadership role, outside of the ‘norm’, to take those positions of leadership. And maybe part of that is fear. But I’m not sure, because I’ve never been anything other than who I am. I will say that those issues are still alive and well in the church, and that the church is beginning to wake up. Dur-
ing General Convention in 2018, in the height of the #metoo movement, the bishops carved out a space for people who had been wounded—women who had been wounded by the church—to share their ainful stories. That wouldn’t have happened in previous generations. I also think the church is reckoning with racism in the fact that VTS, the Dioceses of
Texas, New York, and Maryland all have set aside resources for restitution and reparation. We are serious about grappling with these things; I’m thankful that we’re getting to have the difficult conversations that earlier generations, even when I entered into the process of ordination, wouldn’t have been willing to have but now they are. And I think, as you mentioned earlier, that the whole Episcopate is being rethought. I can tell you that if you speak to some of the cisgender male bishops, even they are saying that the system is broken. But they realize, too, that we have to change. We have to be in relationship with everyone, and the model of bishop as “lord” or “stoic” doesn’t work anymore. I don’t have all the answers, so collaboration is more important than ever now. Quite a few of the new bishops are also operating under this new way of being together, and it’s changing the face of the church for the better.
“We live in a world that needs all Christians, not just ordained ones, to step out and bring people to Christ.” Thank you for that. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share before we say goodbye? I am a person, just by disposition, that sees the glass as half-full. I do hold hope in God. I think the Church is undergoing transformation; I think it won’t look the same as it has in the past, in the near future. That may be a source of pain for some—including myself, as I’m a life-long Episcopalian. In a sense, moving to something different is scary and hard. It’s also time. Bishops who are willing to ask hard questions, as well as the young folks, give me a great deal of hope. The young people are pushing us to make the church a place to live the way Jesus desired—not just a place to ‘do what we’ve always done’. When we start seeking faith, knowledge, reconciliation, and true faith, I think—with God’s help—we will be the church we were meant to be. ✠ 42
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HIGH ON LIFE
A S U RV I VO R ’ S S TO RY O F C O U R AG E A N D H O PE
“LOVE FILLS THIS HOUSE. SOMETIMES IT JUST WALKS BY, LIKE A SHADOW.” —DELRIO LAWRENCE
By: EYELEEN FARMER / Founder of Thistle and Bee
Delrio Ann Lawrence once likened “the life” of street prostitution to being in a ditch. “I’ve been in the ditch the majority of my life,” she said. “That was a mean ditch—I’ve been stepped on, talked back to, robbed, and beat up. I didn’t have anywhere to run to. Sometimes you don’t want out of that ditch. But I got tired.” And so, when she learned about Thistle and Bee, a long term residential treatment program in Memphis, Tennessee, Delrio was ready. In fact, she was fiercely ready to do whatever it took to change her life. I met Delrio on a Tuesday afternoon in the spring of 2019 as she stepped off a Greyhound bus from Nashville. Bethany Hanczor, Thistle and Bee’s Clinical Program Director, and I were there to meet her and take her to the residence that would be, if all went well, her home for the next two years. Before that, she had been at a mission house for several weeks after a police officer found her on the street, sick and disoriented, and walked with her to the mission. Later Delrio would tell us the officer had to have been ‘a guardian angel’ who encouraged her along the way to ‘walk by faith, not by sight.’ She was sure, after more than twenty-five years on the street, this was her last chance. She was 52 years old. No woman ends up on the street because she dreamed of being a sex worker when she was a little girl. She ends up there when the circumstances of her life foreclose her options. It may be growing up in an environment of toxic stress—poverty, sexual abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse. Or it may be a runaway getting picked up by a trafficker and forced to meet a daily quota. Or, in an alarming trend over the last decade, an internet perpetrator luring a vulnerable girl or woman into a supposed romantic relationship which turns into a nightmare. In any of these, or in a multitude of other scenarios, the doors of so-called “choice” get slammed shut. In Delrio’s case, her future was sabotaged by growing up in a household of eleven kids and an absent father. She described her family as very poor. When she went to kindergarten there was no money for shoes, much less school supplies. She didn’t make it past elementary school. Delrio was introduced to illegal drugs at 13. She had her first baby at 14, the year her own mother died from complications of alcoholism. Within a few years, her drug use would escalate from marĳuana to cocaine to whatever she could get her hands on. There would be five more unplanned pregnancies, five more children. In the absence of a reliable support system, adequate education, or legal work history, Delrio turned to prostitution to support her addiction. She was unable to care for her children and in and out of jail multiple times. She was often homeless. Always she was looking for the next fix. Dope, she would tell you, was her pimp. Over the years, Delrio had tried four times to kick her drug habit but had mistakenly
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convinced herself she could do it on her own. Likewise, many times she had wanted to get off the streets, but selling her body was the only way she knew to get the money she needed. From all that which she endured—on the street, in jail, in relationships that turned abusive—Delrio learned to be a survivor. I helped found Thistle and Bee in 2016 to help women who have survived trafficking, prostitution, and addiction, thrive. Inspired by the remarkable work begun in 1997 by Episcopal priest Becca Stevens in Nashville (thistlefarms.org), a small group of volunteers in Memphis committed to bringing that proven model to our city. The approach is multi-faceted and designed to address the complicated problems chasing some women, who desire to turn their lives around inevitably face. With rare exceptions, survivors present a history of childhood trauma. This sets the stage for substance abuse, broken relationships, poor coping skills, legal problems, and untreated medical and mental health issues. The result is shattered self-esteem and a loss of hope that things can ever be different. When a woman enters the Thistle and Bee program, she is given the gift of time and space to focus on what she needs to heal. Along with two years of free housing in a home-like setting, there is a comprehensive program of wrap-around services grounded in 12-Step recovery and a variety of trauma-informed therapeutic interventions. Most women also need medical, dental, and vision care. As she begins to heal, she will work with the clinical team to identify goals for a future after Thistle and Bee. If she has minor children, for example, recovery of custody may be her major goal. If she is on parole, settling legal issues and paying off debt will be a priority. For some, getting a GED or taking courses at a community college will open possibilities that had previously seemed out of reach. After six months in residence, women are eligible for part time employment in Thistle and Bee’s social enterprise. Once there, they acquire marketable skills and, more importantly, the dignity of earning an income while doing purposeful work within a supportive setting. Honeybees are at the heart of Thistle and Bee’s social enterprise. Bee colonies, located at multiple sites in and around Memphis, provide women with the opportunity—under the guidance of a trained beekeeper—to learn to care for the bees and harvest the honey. Along with other products made by survivors, the honey is sold at farmers markets, in retail stores, and online.
When Delrio was first introduced to our bees, she was afraid of them. As is true for many survivors, she was afraid of a lot of things. Trauma does that to people. Whether it is a physical act of violence or a psychic dismembering of the soul, a one-time event or a slow simmer of repeated, hidden assaults, trauma tends to create a chronic sense of overwhelm. Coping behaviors needed to survive can harden into self-destructive patterns that are seemingly irreversible. Interrupting those patterns so that women can begin to imagine a different ending to their own stories is the goal toward which the Thistle and Bee team is always working. Recovery for the women of Thistle and Bee is difficult. The courage required to face the terrors of the past can hardly be overstated, as is the heroic patience in weathering setbacks as the slow process of healing progresses. It is deep, soulful work. On more than one occasion I’ve heard Becca Stevens quote an African proverb that goes something like, “If you want to destroy a village, rape the women. If you want to heal the village, heal the women.” As that healing happens, it spreads beyond the single life of an individual woman; it seeps into the lives of her children and her extended family. It will impact relationships she will make later and communities that become a part of her life. Her healing plants the seeds of change. Most weekday mornings at The Hive, there is a meeting called ‘Circle Meeting’. The women gather around the dining room table along with a few staff members. Sometimes interns, volunteers, or a board member will show up, too. To start the meeting, the leader for that day lights a candle and asks, “Why do we light a candle?” Someone— or everyone—answers, “For the women out there still suffering; and for the children who had nothing to do with our madness.” Then the leader reads a brief reflection of her choosing. Anyone who has something to say in response can do so. Circle Meetings
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are profound in their simplicity. It’s not that the readings or the responses are always momentous. But sometimes they are. One day when I was present for a Circle meeting, the reading (which I have forgotten) was something about pathways. Several people responded, and then Delrio said, “This (recovery) is the path I chose. I’m still going down this path. It’s a good path. I asked God to show me, and now I’m not lying, or stealing, or tricking. I chose to leave all that behind me. My old life was hard, but I didn’t care. I loved dope more than I loved my kids, more than I loved anything. But now I love this path. I want to tell this to women all over the world—somebody will love you. Somebody will love you. I can say today I am no longer a slave.” Delrio had been a program participant for less than a year. She still had a long way to go, and there would be many challenging bumps in her road. She almost left the program more than once. But as Bethany observed, “Even though she was experiencing all the hardships of recovering from generational patterns of addiction, poverty, gang inPhoto by Behzad Ghaffarian on Unsplash
volvement, and incarceration, she was shining. She was being the light. I know of no one who has experienced a deeper transformation.” I chose to write about Delrio, not because her story is the ‘best’ survivor story Thistle and Bee has to share. Each woman I am privileged to know has her own story that is just as remarkable. I chose to write about Delrio because she is so clear about wanting to share her story. When I asked her if she wanted me to use her real name, she said, “Yes! I’m proud of my recovery!” For some of the women, having a voice is deeply empowering. In May of 2021, Thistle and Bee held a graduation ceremony for the first women to complete the two year residential program. Despite all the necessary Covid-19 precautions, it was a joyous celebration. Bishop Phoebe Roaf offered the Invocation and Benediction. There were speeches and a candle lighting ceremony and the presentation of diplomas. The graduates had been asked to say something if they wanted to. Delrio took the microphone, and in her brief remarks, somehow managed to make everyone there laugh and cry. When she was through, her sisters from The Hive stood up and started clapping. Then everyone stood up to give both graduates a standing ovation. Later, Delrio would say of that day: “It was like I was new in the world. God gave me a chance to start over. And now I have some kindness in my heart. Today I don’t have any reason to use. I no longer need to be high to laugh, to be happy. I’m high on God and high on life.” The women I am privileged to know at Thistle and Bee keep me in a state of astonishment. They have suffered much. And yet. In their bravery and openness and strength, their capacity for forgiveness and tenderness, they represent for me the women in the ancient stories of our faith: the Samaritan woman pleading for living water, Rachel weeping for her children, Mary of Magdalene announcing the Good News, and so many more. I know that grace is real and that resurrection happens all the time. ✠
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THE THEOLOGY OF BEES The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others. – John Chrysostom For more than a thousand years, many monastic religious communities have raised and cared for the honeybee. Not only have the apiaries been used to produce honey as a social enterprise, but the beehive has become a religious symbol and metaphor for the body of Christ. One of the unique characteristics of bees is their natural drive to work together for their common thriving. A single bee cannot survive on its own, but instead plays a specific role in the community. It is the role of the queen – or the God bee – to give birth to new life. That is her only role. And there can exist only one queen in a hive. It is the others that work to sustain this new life, and to sustain our lives through pollination. This is an image for the work of the Kingdom of God, one that has been used by the church for as long as monastic communities have kept bees. And it is the role of Christians today to nurture the life that God has created. The Rev. John Burruss, Rector, Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Birmingham, AL and founding board member of Thistle and Bee
Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash
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SPIRIT ON THE PLAINS A N I N TE RV I E W W I TH TH E RT. RE V. PO U LSO N RE E D E PI S C O PA L D I O C E S E O F O KLA H O M A
The interview took place on Tuesday / August 24, 2021. 51
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Good morning, Bishop, and thank you for meeting with us today. As a fairly new bishop, you may not be known by many in the wider church. Please tell us a little about yourself. I’m glad to be here, and thank you for asking me to join you today. As you know, I’ve been in this role as Bishop of Oklahoma basically since the beginning of the pandemic. For the first few months, I served under my predecessor Bishop Ed Konieczny as the Bishop Coadjutor. I have since become Bishop Diocesan, those two roles spanning seventeen months at this point. I grew up in the Episcopal Church in Virginia. My mother was a church organist, so we were always in the church building. I sang in church choirs and experienced the hospitality of various churches around the diocese. When we were kids, my brother and I would accompany our mother to those churches; she would practice and we would play. The church is a great place to play as a kid! Whenever there were others present, they were so kind and generous to us. While I felt connected formally to the church—baptized, confirmed, etc.—that sense of welcome extended into the hospitality that I mentioned. Yet, no matter how connected I felt within the church, I certainly never imagined 53
that I would become a priest, much less a bishop, at that time. It simply wasn’t on my radar, at all.
“It was really during that time as a young adult that I was drawn very strongly on my own to the church of my childhood.” Nevertheless, I had a complete Episcopal upbringing. I attended Episcopal schools from K-12, then went off to college, at the University of Virginia, and had some an experience of not being active in the church, much like many young adults. You’re a product of Virginia from birth to college degree? Yes, the only divergence (chuckles) was my seminary education—I graduated from Yale with a Master of Divinity. You almost got the trinity of Virginia… we both laugh… Are you married? Yes. My wife Megan and I have been married for sixteen years. We have three young boys—13, 10, and 7.
A bishop with three boys under eighteen… That’s right…there’s never a dull moment in the Reed household, these days. That’s my beloved family. Megan is from Alexandria, VA, a stone’s throw from Christ Church, so we both share a love for that area. What was your experience after college, in terms of faith? It was really during that time as a young adult that I was drawn very strongly on my own to the church of my childhood. I had a variety of powerful experiences of faith that helped me to recognize what I was meant to do with myself, and what God had in mind for me. I entered into the ordination process, shortly thereafter. I since have served in a few different churches. St. John’s in Denver was our first church; I was called as the curate there. Shortly after, I became a canon of the cathedral, and then eventually was named sub-dean of the cathedral—overseeing the dayto-day operations of ministry in order to free up the Dean to focus on a variety of high-level dean ‘things’ which he did extremely well.
It was great fun, I had the best time there, on a number of different levels. As a Rector of the church, we were one legal entity—church and school together—so, every day I was able to do things related to typical church-life such as preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and leading worship. But every day I was also able to be involved with the goings-on at the school. I taught third and fourth grade religion at the day school. I absolutely loved that. We had chapel three times per week, that we would lead. My two clergy associates and I were the chaplains, so there were quite a few opportunities for us to engage with the kids.
Where did you go after that? After seven wonderful years with the cathedral in Denver, we moved to Phoenix, where I became the Rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church. It also had a day-school, pre-k through eighth grade with five hundred students. The church had an average attendance of two hundred to three hundred wonderful people. Big place. How many were on staff at the school? I believe it was somewhere between seventy-five and eighty people, with usually around five hundred students. That’s impressive, to be the Rector of a large parish and also an administrator of such a large staff and school. 54
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Did your boys attend that school as well? Our boys did go to school there, which was fantastic. They were still at the age where they thought it was ‘cool’ that dad was the rector and also lead chapel and teach them in class. I’m not so sure they’d feel the same way now (laughs), but it was a special experience with them. Every day was a full and wonderful day within the church and the school. It was a blessed time for us as a family in Arizona. You served ten years there, pretty much the gold standard of duration these days. Well done! So, total, you served two churches prior to becoming a Bishop? That’s right. In ordained ministry, I spent time at both locations for a fairly long duration. But it was wonderful and I loved both experiences. Has the ordained life been your only vocation? No, no. Before ordained ministry, I did several things. Mainly I taught English while concurrently attempting to figure out what to do with myself. During the year, I taught in Connecticut at Quinnipiac University; when summer arrived, I taught at Choate School. But I was simply trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was one of those persons who didn’t really have it ‘all figured out’ at a young age. I seem to remember looking around and thinking, “Oh my goodness, what do I do next?” So, I taught for the next few years, while singing in the choir at church and leading some Sunday school classes. It wasn’t too long after that when I began to feel the call toward ordained ministry. What did that call feel/sound like to you? While the call I felt unfolded over a period of years, I succinctly remember it vividly in one event. I had been involved for a number of years in my church in Connecticut. One particular Maundy Thursday, after singing in the choir and being present in that liturgy, the moment came. There—as always—was this wonderful moment to be present in the blessed watch over the sacrament that had been taken to the altar of 55
repose. The line, “Could you not watch with me for one hour,” had struck home, and so I took that opportunity. I was in silence, very late at night, at that chapel. I started pouring my heart out to God. I remember praying, “God, I don’t know what I am supposed to do with myself; if you’re there, I’d love to have some guidance.”
“I have never been a bishop in the church without a looming pandemic.” My experience was certainly not a response heard out loud—yet, this still, strong voice echoed within my heart that left me feeling as though God desired for me to be a priest. Having that experience on Maundy Thursday, I went to the church and found the rector on Good Friday, the next day. On Good Friday, you went and found the Rector? You know that’s the perfect time to ask? (We both laugh) Yeah, on Good Friday, the perfect time to ask, as you said… I walked up and asked him if he could spare a few minutes to talk. He graciously led me to his office and said, “What’s going on?” I explained to him that I had experienced this profound sense of call and that I believed that God meant for me to be a priest. I remember he had this look on his face, and he picked up the phone. He called a couple of different people, as I remember it, and said to them, “Poulson finally figured it out.” That’s funny. And so, as it’s been throughout my life, I was apparently the ‘last to know’. It had been mentioned to me over the years, yet that moment was when it finally had sunk in. I’m a little slow that, way, sometimes, when God is trying to tell me something. And to be honest, it was the same type of ‘being the last one to know’, when I was discerning the call to become a bishop. Well, at this point you’ve become a priest. You’re in ministry prior to becoming a bishop, at All Saints in Phoenix over a decade. There’s a line in the Outline of
Faith that asks, “What is the Church?” From your priestly perspective, in hindsight—and I’ll ask you this again in a moment with different parameters—what was the Church, to you? The Church was many things. Chiefly, it was the gathered faithful of God; and it was also these folks who were connected to it in a variety of ways. I tend to view it in terms of concentric circles. In the middle, we have the gathered, baptized faithful of God. Those who had been part of that church, whether recently or for a number of years. Either way, they had engaged and were central to the life and vitality of the church. They worshiped on Sundays and Wednesdays; throughout the week, they volunteered in various ministries; they were present within multiple aspects of the church’s life. That was the core of the body, being nourished by those many facets of church life.
Then, even further out, there were people who maybe came a scant few times a year who believed All Saints to be their home, too. I think part of what I learned with that experience at that church and school was that the church is certainly the ‘core’ that we think of. Yet, the church is so much more than we think of in terms of church membership—the weekly attendees. Because, if we asked those other people mentioned earlier, they’d say, “Absolutely. That’s my church.” Certainly, we
Beyond that, lies the second circle in this set, who were part of the church in different yet very important ways. Within this realm resides the school community. Of course, some had a dual affiliation, being both members of the church and parents/ teachers/administrators of the school. The others, however, weren’t directly affiliated with the church; yet, if you would have asked them if they had a faith community, they would simply say, “Oh, yeah. All Saints. That’s my church.” Whether tragedies struck or joyful moments presented themselves, those people would seek All Saints as their home. 56
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exist for them as much as we exist for those who are there every Sunday. You heard the call. Did you immediately run? (Laughs) Towards or in the opposite direction? All kidding aside, when I had that sense of call affirmed by the moment we spoke of earlier, it came with a momentous sense of relief, and a deep sense of excitement. I had been running for so long from that call, that it felt right to turn and accept it, allowing said relief. I wanted to run toward it as fast as I could. At this point, you’ve been articulating a vision for the church from a priest perspective, doing it for many years. Quite suc-cessfully, as it seems. How have you experi-enced the change from priest to bishop, especial-ly stepping into the episcopate during a pandemic? What’s it been like as a new bishop in this strange era?
“I have been inspired at every step by the way that our clergy have responded to this pandemic.” It has been a wild seventeen months since stepping into this role. A very blessed time to be certain, but also a blessed challenge. Up to this point, I have never been a bishop in the church without a looming pandemic. My entire experience has been shaped by this pandemic. That has been very difficult in terms of the lack of relationship building and human connection. How have you found ways to engage, then? To do those things? I’ve certainly made use of the technology available. Zoom, in particular, has been a vehicle by which much of that desired connection has taken place. One of my favorite exercises is a gathering of our clergy on zoom. It began as a weekly occurrence, meeting together and discussing not simply church-related issues, but life issues. It has been an extraordinary means by which I’ve been able to engage and connect 57
with my clergy sisters and brothers. As time has gone forward, we’ve moved to a monthly meeting, yet it continues to serve as one of my favorite moments during the week—just being with them. I can’t imagine how disconnected I’d feel with them, were it not for those zoom calls. All that is wonderful. Yet, not having that interpersonal connection has certainly been difficult. I decided, due to that, I couldn’t stay away from the churches. In September of 2020, I initiated ways in which that deep longing to be in person with folks around the diocese could be realized. We started with small congregations. I visited our tiniest places, every Sunday. It was a great way to get to know the people of the diocese, and it also allowed me an opportunity to ‘see’ Oklahoma in those drives. We have quite a few small churches, so there were many of those moments. What do you mean by ‘small’? Sometimes it would be four people. Sometimes six to ten; with others being up to fifteen. Yet, all of those places had less than twenty people at each location. Yet, it was a sacred experience to be out there with those folks; confirming, preaching, celebrating the Eucharist, meeting with people after worship. Part of what I’ve discovered along the way is that this is, by far, my favorite piece of being a bishop. Interestingly enough, I’m an introvert. Because of this, I’m quite tired afterward, but it is completely worth it. Like I mentioned, it is my favorite part of this—being with my fellow Christians and getting to know this beloved diocese more and more. Your passion lies with being alongside your people, then. I love, love, love that. Early on, I made the choice to do this and I am grateful for it. We have had protocols in place—masks, distancing, sanitizer—to mitigate as much potential danger as possible; it’s fairly easy to socially distance when there are only six or seven folks, though. It felt quite safe, and that’s how I began to know the diocese. Small, then medium, then larger congregations. Being vaccinated helped ease those concerns of infection even further, which allowed me more frequent visits, even during the week. 58
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Another piece of this, not to be understated, is the amount of incredible clergy within this diocese. I have been inspired at every step by the way that our clergy have responded to this pandemic; I have tried to be supportive of them in every way as they traverse the unknown. How many Episcopal churches are in the Diocese of Oklahoma? We have sixty-eight congregations, in all different sizes. Sixty-eight is a large number, given that you are the only bishop in this diocese. I assume it’s impossible to visit every single church during a calendar year… (Laughs) Well, not with fifty-two Sundays available. Fortunately, we do have some places that I can visit during the week. Just recently, I had the opportunity to visit one of our two campus chaplaincies. It was a fantastic time with them.
How many campus chaplaincies do you have? We have two. One at Oklahoma University and one at Oklahoma State University. We have some wonderful full-time chaplains in place at each. But, with only fifty-two Sundays in a year, it takes the better part of two years to visit every institution in the diocese. But, part of what helps with this is that I have a fantastic Canon to the Ordinary in the Rev. Canon Eric Cooter, who also travels to places that I’m unable to visit right away. We also just added a new Canon for Congregational Vitality—the Rev. Canon Steve Carlsen. Both Eric and Steve, as I mentioned, are both on the road. They’re in different congregations three out of the four Sundays per month. That means there’s always an opportunity for contact with the diocese throughout the year. My ministry from the very beginning has been one ‘on the ground’. I love the part of this ministry that occurs right here—I’ve fallen in love with this place and its people. Through what you’ve said, your mission seems to be focused on being with churches. In the Outline of Faith, the question is posed, “What is the Mission of the Church?” From your perspective, and first, what is the mission of the Episcopal church, at large?
“What I’ve utilized is a known, ancient, and simple formula of: Pray, Learn, Serve, and Connect.” Next, what does that look like in the Diocese of Oklahoma? 59
For me, the ministry of the church comes down to reconciliation. It’s that reconciliation of ourselves to God in Jesus Christ. It’s then that reconciliation that forces us out into the world to bring God’s message of reconciliation to those persons in places of division, wherever we find them. These may be located in family life, politics, etc. I think the mission of the church is to proclaim the sense of ‘bringing together’, of that reconciliation. As it is God’s mission, so it becomes ours as we are the hands, feet, eyes, ears, and mouths of Jesus Christ—the Body of Christ. I believe this to be true regardless of level. Whether occurring at large, in a diocese, or even within a particular congregation, that’s always our mission. We attempt to achieve that mission, with God’s grace, in a variety of ways… For a number of years, I’ve thought about the practices of that mission. What I’ve utilized is a known ancient and simple formula of: Pray, Learn, Serve, and Connect. If the mission of the Church is that reconciliation, then one way
of thinking about our Christian practices is that we are called to pray together; to be steeped in the Holy Scriptures, applying them to our communal lives; called to serve the vulnerable and those in need; and we’re called to connect— to connect with God, with those in need, and with any others we encounter. That’s a fairly simple framework within which we can endeavor to better articulate and embody God’s mission in terms of implementation. We are more likely to be open to God’s grace and to that mission to which we are called, through those four ancient practices of pray, learn, serve, and connect. Speaking on this holy mission, is there a particular ministry in your context about which you are excited? There are many ministries here that excite me and it’s difficult to pinpoint just one. But, one thing we’re working on in the Diocese of Oklahoma about which I’m particularly excited is the Spiritual Direction course. This is led by the Rev. Canon Susan Joplin and was developed 60
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over the past year. Essentially, we would like to have a trained spiritual director—clergy or lay— in every single one of our sixty-eight churches, eventually. I’m someone who has benefitted from the practice of Spiritual Direction; having someone who can be the person who is a companion, a truth-speaker, and spiritual guide through the years is unspeakably valuable. Having a person like that in our congregations, who isn’t necessarily their priest, will be something extraordinary for the growth of our people. Most of our parish priests are incredibly busy, exceptionally gifted in many areas. Yet, they don’t always have the time to meet regularly as a spiritual director. I believe that this endeavor will fill that gap. In general, what we need are well-trained persons who have been carefully vetted, who can operate as spiritual directors in their places of worship. These folks would help with discernment, they would help teach the vital practice of prayer, and even facilitate group settings within the congregation. A trained spiritual director can work with a congregation to help them discern the mission that God is calling them toward. I am of the belief that a group of trained spiritual directors in each of our churches will be a transformative experience for the whole of this diocese.
And of our world.
“This was but the start of building bridges as part of God’s healing power to connect…” Is there anything else you’d like to highlight concerning your diocese? I think another thing that excites me is our continued work around racial reconciliation. If our ministry of the Church involves reconciliation, then clearly racial reconciliation is a large piece of that. Recently in Oklahoma, we observed the centennial anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre. That moment gave us a chance in this diocese to begin some important work. Part of that work was to connect with the historic Vernon AME Church in Tulsa, which was one of the only black-owned and operated buildings that survived the massacre. It was partially destroyed—being burned from the fires—and yet remained standing, a place wherein people hid safely throughout those violent hours. After the immediate violence, Vernon AME stood as a beacon for the surrounding community and remains so to this day. As part of our commemoration of the Tulsa Massacre, we worked closely with Pastor Turner and Vernon AME to raise money—through the Bishop’s Appeal—for renovations of their kitchen. They practice an incredible feeding ministry in their neighborhood, one that began at the onset of Covid. But the money raised was also utilized toward the building of a prayer wall, a place of pilgrimage where people can go to learn about the race massacre and to pray for racial
reconciliation and healing. We raised over one hundred and sixty-four thousand dollars for that effort. There was a touching and sacred ceremony around the time of that anniversary, wherein we dedicated that wall, together, in the name of God. This was but the start of building bridges as part of God’s healing power to connect to those places of hurt within our diocese, our State and our nation.
“But, as a church, we must remember that we don’t come at things from a political standpoint, but rather a Gospel foundation.” In what other ways is your diocese striving toward racial reconciliation? For quite some time now, we have facilitated sacred ground groups in our diocese. We have had a history sending our youth out, embarking upon a pilgrimage that takes them to places where they can learn the history of racism within our country and be changed for the better from that education. This is certainly not a new theme in Oklahoma, but alongside the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, this mission of racial reconciliation has taken on a renewed sense of urgency. I look forward to seeing its further development in the years to come. We don’t ever want to shy away from these conversations. While they are often uncomfortable to have, this is where we are. We must learn from the past in order to affect the future. Our history in Oklahoma, in particular, is one that is difficult and painful. We don’t ever dare shy away from this; sometimes we do so because of our discomfort. But, as a church, we must remember that we don’t come at things from a political standpoint, but rather a Gospel foundation. How do we tell the truth? The truth of what has been, what is, and how do we invite God to inspire and lead us into a better future for everyone? Beautiful. While that work is rarely fun, it is holy; I know I speak for many when I say thank you for leading the charge, and continuing that work here in Oklahoma.
Speaking of fun, do you have any? What do you do to unwind, to have fun? I do! I have fun with ministry, and that’s important for me to highlight—I love what I do and I’m having a great time doing it. But, yes, I do have fun outside of so-called ‘work’. Most of that involves doing things with my family. One example is concert-going with my wife, Megan. She is a classically trained tuba player as well as a music teacher. I’ve never even heard of that—and I’m a musician!
“It seems like a small thing, but it is vital and life-giving to us.” It’s true! It’s a real thing! She’s a wonderful instructor and player. In that regard, we love to attend the symphony and opera when we can— Oklahoma City having an especially talented Philharmonic. Also, for many years Megan and I have developed a pattern wherein we have lunch together on whatever day off I have. This habit of having lunch together has been life-giving for us; during the pandemic, it has been a little more difficult to manage, but we’ve stayed true to it. Instead of going to restaurants, we’d order take-out and bring it back to the house, sharing that invaluable time together. Now that we’re vaccinated and things have opened up, we’ve truly enjoyed venturing out and getting to know the community while also sharing with each other and continuing to grow our relationship, even after all of these years. It seems like a small thing, but it is vital and life-giving to us. Movies, sports? You are in Oklahoma, after all… I love sports—more than Megan, I know. I am a huge fan of basketball, and I’m excited to be a new Thunder fan. Even if they aren’t so good, right now…(laughs). When I was in Phoenix, the Suns were terrible, and now that we’ve left, they of course made it to the championship. So, my hope is that now that we’re here, the Thunder will rise! I also enjoy football—but I’m very careful about remaining totally neutral in 62
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my allegiances, here. Much like with my children, I plan to root for all of our institutions with equal enthusiasm. And finally, baseball is a love of mine. We have always attended baseball games as a family, no matter where we’ve lived, and we are excited to continue that practice with the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Even when I’m driving around on Sundays to various locations around the state, I’ll listen to sports’ programs rather than spiritual podcasts, just to keep up with what’s going on. You spoke about being a Bishop in the pandemic. We know that Covid isn’t going away, so to speak, so what do you hope for in the future? What does the return to some sense of a new normal look like, to you? Part of what I’ve been hearing from various medical experts is just as you said: Covid will likely be with us forever. However, I am also hearing that we can expect to see a gradual diminishing of its effect upon us. Eventually, we will get to a point that sees less widespread infection and death that we’ve witnessed, thus far. My hope is that, at some point along the line, we will notice that things will begin to seem more ‘normal’ whatever that entails.
“Because as long as there is God, there will also be Church, as Jesus Christ is with us to the end of the age.” What do you think the impact will be on the congregations within your diocese? I don’t know the impact, exactly, of course. But part of what concerns me is this: Human beings are creatures of habit. We have had a very long period of time where we have been—in varying degrees—thrust out of our church-going habits. In Oklahoma, most of our congregations have continued to worship in person. While those numbers have been small, our churches have also offered online opportunities for worship. With the Delta variant, we had to pull back in some cases, yet again. I think my main concern is what people will do 63
when it is safe to return. People being creatures of habit, as I said before, have fallen out of the practice of attending church. I wonder what will have been lost and what will change as a result of these new habits. Will we be smaller in number than we were before? And internally, what will it feel like to our folks as they return? Will there be a sense of underlying fear accompanied by a skittish reaction to others while convening in those groups, again? Yet, on the other hand I hold great hope. The reality is that the Church will always be with us, because God will always be with us. I don’t ever worry about the Church failing. Because as long as there is God, there will also be Church, as Jesus Christ is with us to the end of the age. Whatever challenges we may face in the future as we rebuild and rebound, we know that the Church will be there. The language of Nehemiah of ‘let us rebuild’, which we are using for our Diocesan Convention this year, is inherent to our particular context. I think that we will be rebuilding here in the Diocese of Oklahoma for some years to come. It has taken us awhile to battle this pandemic, and I believe it will take at least as long—if not longer—to rebuild. But, as the saying goes, perhaps we will be able to rebuild, improving upon that which was before. Our use of technology has been a useful tool in evangelism during the pandemic and I believe that it forced us out of an old model into a hybrid of new and exciting ways in which to engage multiple people. People that weren’t necessarily touched by our ministries prior to the pandemic. There are lessons learned from this time that have shaped our understandings of the possibilities to come, and can aid us in the age to come. Do you have any final thoughts for us, today?
“…the congregations are where God is most active in touching people’s hearts.” I think part of what I have realized as I get around to different congregations is that the absolute heart and life of the Church is found there. It can sometimes be the case that, within the Diocesan offices, we can get caught up in a
wide variety of different things that are certainly important in their own way. Yet, the bottom line for me has always been and will continue to be, how do I support what’s occurring in the life of our congregations and institutions? That’s where life is happening and where people are being changed by God. The local communities are our lifeblood. My hope is always to focus on that—on the congregations where the most important ministry is happening, out there on the ground. It’s easy to lose sight of that in the broader contexts. But the congregations are where God is most active in touching people’s hearts. That must always be at the center of who we are and who we encourage. An honor to be with you today, thank you so much. It was my pleasure. Bless you and thank you, too. ✠
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LET U S P R AY A S C H O O L O F PR AY E R
Photo by Behzad Ghaffarian on Unsplash
“GO FORTH AND SET THE WORLD ON FIRE.” - ST. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA
By: THE REV. CANON SUSAN COLLEY JOPLIN and THE REV. JANIE KOCH
Within each of us, deep in the interior of our souls, a space exists. This space, at times vast and seemingly endless and at other times tiny and remote, holds the entirety of our potential movement on this earth. Breathing and moving and shifting and responding, this space watches the movements of the planet, the movements of the people, the movements within the mind and heart. This precious and powerful space contains the breath, the Ruah of the Holy Spirit. This mighty breath breaks the cedar trees of Lebanon; it whispers in the fragile darkness to a frightened child. A message of hope. And, it was in this space that the breath of God whispered to a Spanish soldier from Loyola in the early 1500s. The Holy Spirit planted a desire for deeper devotion inside that man, whispering a charge to change the practice of spiritual intimacy with the Creator. Wounded in battle and allowing his broken body to recover at his family home, this soldier—Inigo—spent much of his time doing only what he could: Read. Within his readings and studies, Inigo began noticing that various genres influenced his interior sense of well-being. If he filled his mind with stories of vainglory, they led to daydreams of his own inflated self-importance, leaving him feeling bankrupt in his soul. If, however, he filled his mind with stories of how the Saints put their energy into glorifying God, his daydreams left him uplifted in spirit. Inigo named this a discernment process, providing guidance about how from moment to moment we follow the grace of God in our lives or go against the grain of grace. The recording of his own interior process became, for Inigo (who was to become St. Ignatius), his life’s work. The refinement of the discernment process as a system of deep growth became The Exercises. This work was so important to him because, as he claims in his Autobiography, these exercises profoundly help and heal the soul. Upon Inigo’s death in 1556, this system of spiritual growth had already begun to spread throughout Europe and eventually ventured into North and South America and Asia. Over four hundred years after St. Ignatius of Loyola developed his Exercises and founded The Society of Jesus — also known as the Order of Jesuits — a gentle group of Carmelite nuns established Villa Teresa School in 1933 in what is now Midtown, Oklahoma City, on a beautiful tree-lined campus on the corner of Dewey and Classen Drive. The School thrived through the years as many generations of Oklahoma families attended the beautiful school creating poignant memories of both the compassion of the Carmelites and their dedication to Ignatian training. Many years later in 1981 on the Villa Teresa School grounds, the Carmelite nuns invited the nuns of Red Plains Monastery, coupled with Roman Catholic lay leaders Mary Diane Steltenkamp and Kathy Payne, to an overnight silent retreat. This quiet gathering
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of faithful individuals would ignite the flint of passion for Jesus Christ by using the system of Exercises birthed by Ignatius of Loyola over four hundred years earlier. The purpose of the 1981 silent retreat was to ponder the question as a community of the faithful: “Shall central Oklahoma provide the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to all people, both Roman Catholic and Protestant?” At the end of the Retreat, the answer overwhelmed their hearts with a resounding, “Yes!”
That answer came from a deep history of relationships built on the foundation of Ignatius and his teachings. The Carmelite nuns, as well as those from the Red Plains Monastery, had a deep friendship with the Rev. Dr. John Futrell—a Jesuit leader—who had family connections to Oklahoma City. Futrell provided powerful training to the nuns and many others. One student of Futrell’s training was the Rev. Dr. Bob Gardenhire, who later established Heartpaths—a center of spirituality in Oklahoma City. Heartpaths has been a thriving ministry, training spiritual directors and cultivating other matters of the soul for four decades. Thus, the Ignatian movement took root in Central Oklahoma. The movement grew by word of mouth. During the late 1990’s, enrollment in the Exercises as a spiritual discipline blossomed up to fifty people each year. By the early 2000s, enrollment in the program grew to seventy individuals annually. In 2005, during what I initially thought was an accident, I stumbled upon the Red Plains nuns during a retreat led by Sister Benedicta Boland. I picked up a brochure advertising the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Through research, I discovered these were the actual Exercises presented in a thirty-two week format rather than the traditional thirtyday retreat. Appreciating the longer time frame in which to immerse myself in this beautiful system, I immediately signed up. Little did I know at that moment that being introduced to the Exercises would be life changing for me. Never before had I received such in-depth, concrete instruction on so many forms of prayer. Every day harbored continuing spiritual growth as I plunged into affirming encounters with God; God’s light shining forth and lighting up my soul. The Exercises provided a structure and a discipline that my parched soul longed for, and my heart leapt in thirsty response. I didn’t dare keep this to myself, as I whole-heartedly believed that the Episcopal Church could benefit from learning about these Exercises. With Sister Benedicta as my mentor, I organized and lead the Exercises at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and later at St. Augustine’s. From 2006 to 2015, about eighty Episcopalians took part in the thirty-two-week Ignatian prayer exercises. It seemed that most everyone who engaged with the Exercises had life-changing experiences and wanted more. So, in 2016, I began leading the Exercises for those who were postulants to holy orders; in 2018, we moved the program into the Aspirants’ year, as part of their discernment process for Holy Orders. In good Ignatian fashion, I noticed my own heart burning for this process to deepen
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one’s relationship with God at the Diocesan level. Conversations with Canon Tony Moon, Canon Michael Durning and now retired Bishop Ed led to the establishing of The School of Spiritual Direction with the sole purpose of training passionate people as guides in the ways of spiritual awareness. The cornerstone of this new School would be the Ignatian way of life. Added to that, my own training in the advanced Teilhard de Chardin understanding of the Exercises, my work in the Quaker system of Clearness Committee as a means of getting to the essence of our soul’s desire in making decisions, the work of Parker Palmer, and learning drawn from my five-year Spiritual Director training through the Roman Catholic Archdiocese with Mary Diane Steltenkamp were to be influences in the School. With Oklahoma’s Bishop Poulson Reed’s blessing, the first term of the School went into session in January, 2021, and I was named Dean of the School. Our first class, the Class of 2022, has been one of life’s true blessings. And in December of next year, our diocese will have developed twelve of its own trained spiritual directors — eight clergy and four laity — to bring a greater depth of spiritual presence within our Oklahoma churches. The establishment of the School, steeped in history and prayer, is a story of attraction to this flame of Christ that warms our souls, igniting in others the opportunities to share their experiences into a burning consciousness of love and faith. Through the School, it has become possible to offer the Spiritual Exercises to our diocese. Entirely unsure how many would engage in this new program, I was elated when fifty-two precious people enrolled in the Ignatian Exercises 2021-2022. All six regions as well as twenty-four Episcopal churches in our diocese are represented. Additionally, Episcopal churches in both Idaho and New Mexico and denominations outside the Episcopal Church are engaged as well. With our students being trained as Ignatian leaders, I eagerly anticipate a broadening of our own experience into more blessed complexity and an evolving spiritual depth for our diocese. Because of the enormous response to this program, Christians in the Diocese of Oklahoma have become spiritual leaders in their communities. I am called by God to this work, to fan this ever-growing flame, and to collaborate with others building their own flames of spiritual growth nourished by the blaze of God’s Holy Spirit. And, as my husband and I prepare to move into a newly built flat on the hallowed grounds of Villa Teresa, where the Ignatian life began in Central Oklahoma forty years ago, I am honored and humbled to continue this precious work.
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S E M I N A R Y S P E A K
An Interview with The Very Rev. Cynthia Kittredge, PhD. Dean and President of Seminary of the Southwest
When you first place a foot onto Seminary of the Southwest’s grounds, it feels like you have stepped into another world. Nestled within the hustle and bustle of Austin, TX, this hallowed space emanates a sense of serenity. Hundreds’ year-old live-oaks cluster together, their sprawling limbs reaching out to welcome any who enter into their domain. As the breeze whispers through their leaves, you can hear the promise of something better ahead; an oath to shelter you while you are formed into a new creation. The grounds echo with the footsteps of those who came before, and its path urges you forward into the world of formation, education and community. Throughout all of this, one thing becomes quite clear: Once you enter, you’ll never be the same. The following interview took place on March 5th, 2021. Dean Kittredge, thank you for taking time to talk to us, this morning. To start off, would you tell us a little bit about yourself? I'm the Dean and President of the Seminary of the Southwest. I was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church when I was 27, and it's as a priest that I understand everything I do: teaching, visioning, leadership and even my practices of creativity - they all ‘live’ under this tent of being a priest. I knew early on that I wanted to teach and to be involved in theological enterprise as part of my priesthood. After I finished my MDiv, I did doctoral work at Harvard Divinity School. It was a long, convoluted, roundabout story, but I eventually graduated with my doctorate and was called to be on the faculty at Seminary of the Southwest in 1999 to teach New Testament. I moved my family, my husband, and three children to
Texas from Massachusetts. That was the beginning of an amazing journey to a community where I could use all the gifts I had and develop new ones. I knew it would take every bit of my heart, soul, and mind to be a priest in that community and a professor. I love this place. After graduating from seminary, where did you go? Between when I graduated from seminary and when I started my doctorate, I was a hospital chaplain. I worked in parish ministry and had two babies—I did my doctoral work about five years later. Did you ever take a Cure after your ordination? Yes, I was a full-time assistant to the rector at a parish outside of Boston for two years. Later on, I served in a small church in Massachusetts for five years while I was also teaching at Holy Cross. What was your experience like as a parish priest? I loved it; I really loved parish ministry. People think that I left the parish to go to seminary, and that's not how I see it. I see the parish as my roots. I’m always rooted in the parish in everything I do. I particularly like pastoral care and preaching. The bishop who was my mentor at the time really encouraged my academic gifts. He said that I should use the gifts I had—gifts not held by everyone—to do the thing that I need to do, which was to get further education and be prepared to teach. He was very affirming of my academic call.
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I didn't see it as being ‘called away’ from anything. Was it discernment of a new chapter rather than simply a next step? Yes, it was how I could use my gifts to have the biggest impact on teaching priests, teaching preachers, and teaching biblical theologians. And what a gift you’ve been. Moving from Boston, Massachusetts to Texas, was that a culture shock for you? It was very dramatic and a bit of a culture shock. We were established in Massachusetts,
comfortable there. My husband is from Massachusetts, and I'm from New York; we had generations of family there. I was embedded in my parish and knew everybody's grandmother and grandchild, so at the time it seemed very dramatic to move to Texas. There's a lot of regional misunderstanding in the country—I don’t know if you know that— so some people didn't understand how we could be moving from New England to Texas. Getting to the Seminary to Southwest in Austin was one of the most exciting, wonderful and world-opening experiences of our family. Vocationally, for me it was an incredibly tremendous gift.
How old were your kids at that time? They were 13, 10 and 7. You stepped out of parish ministry where you knew everyone. You've been working to complete your doctorate. Now, you have moved with your family and find yourself in a new place without as many distractions, so what was that first year like? A huge priority for me and for my husband was getting our kids settled. We put a lot of effort into getting them to school; getting them new doctors for general needs; helping them find friends to play with; searching for camps to go to; and contacting tutors to get them settled. We had one daughter in eighth grade, so it was an experience getting her ready—we put a lot of effort into that. One thing that was especially helpful was becoming members of the Church the Good Shepherd. We joined that church as a family, and we instantly had junior choir, acolyte duties, Sunday school and confirmation opportunities. That was a really important thing. A big part of it was getting our kids settled. For myself, it wasn’t my first full-time teaching job, but it was my first full-time job that had all the dimensions: advising and administering and working with other colleagues. I had to figure out the place. Another thing that I was learning was what an Episcopal seminary was. I had taken courses at Episcopal Divinity School such as canon law and classes on the prayer book, and had friends there. I didn't know the ethos of an Episcopal seminary; particularly one as studentfocused as the Seminary of the Southwest. Harvard Divinity School is built around the egos of the professors; Seminary of the Southwest is constructed around the needs of the students. I know that sounds very stark, but in general, that's not far off the truth. Just getting to know the rest of the faculty, learning how to be a
colleague, learning from my colleagues—I learned a tremendous amount from my colleagues in Bible and liturgy, and history and theology—and learning the rhythm of so much chapel! Figuring out what that was all about, seeing the value of that, those were the things I experienced. There is a lot to learn to get acclimatized to the environment of the seminary. It was immediately evident to me that I was at the right place, and immediately evident that I was making a difference. I was doing a good job. Even at the beginning, I was doing a pretty good job. I love the students and remember every single one of them since 1999. That’s another huge aspect of the joy in my life: having and knowing the students over the course of their ministries, watching them prosper and grow, and be amazing in the work they do. To be in relationship with people over a long period of time is extremely gratifying. Did you hold aspirations of becoming the Dean of a seminary? Yes, I did. As a matter fact, I had a bit of a revelation around 2006. I was a candidate for a teaching job at another institution. Martha Horne was a guest at the seminary—she was giving a talk to the board—and I picked her up from the airport, took her to school and heard her presentation. We had known each other quite well, but I heard her talk, and I realized that I aspired to be involved in theological school leadership. I had felt that nibble in 2001 when I was on the search committee for the new Dean of the Seminary of the Southwest, after Dusty McDonald retired. It was then that I realized that that's what I wanted to do. I told people my goal, and I tried to acquire the experience that would prepare me to do that at some point. I felt called to it. You said earlier that one of your greatest loves is the students and the fact that you do care for them in a pastoral way, but that you also enjoy seeing their careers flourish and then flourish in the vocation… so in the Outline of Faith on page 854 it says, “Why is the church described as apostolic?” In your context, how does our seminary create apostles, in your opinion?
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We form students in community, and the community involves course work, chapel, advising, peer relationships, meals, and celebrations. We send the students out to be the kind of creative, courageous, pastorally and culturally sensitive pastors that God calls them to be. We get students that come in that are, in general, very creative and have so much potential; then we give them a little bit, and they go out and they develop even more. We hope that some of the core values and emphases we've had at the seminary are embodied in those graduates, for example, the values of conversation, mutuality, and respect.
Ideally, our graduates evangelize powerfully, sensitively, and humbly. We continuously do the important work of trying to articulate what those values are; we try to think about how intentionally and effectively we are doing it, and if what we’re doing is effective or not. The idea is not to ideologically coerce people. I think that's one of my major convictions. It’s not supposed to be an ideological immersion, it is supposed to be an invitation into a community of conversation. Would you like to say anything about the specific ways in which the seminary facilitates the formation of the leadership it sends out? The faculty and leaders try to model it. We’re imperfect, but we try to model a certain kind of pastoral leadership. We aim to encourage the leadership and gifts of our students by allowing them to take quite a bit of initiative. There are not layers and layers of permissions that you have to get to do something new—or to make something new—at Seminary of the Southwest. That's the kind of initiative that we would love to see and love to encourage. I like to say that we try to teach the Christian and Anglican tradition in ways that people know it so well that they can improvise in new situations, and in situations that call for innovation and adaptation. Again, that’s not completely achieved in three years, but that continues to be the aspiration. It is foundational? Yes. You have to know who you are and be confident in that. You also have to know how the sacraments work and how theology works, and then be able to do that in your own context. You talk about Chapel and about enabling people to be able to adapt what they're doing in worship. Please say a little more about how you prepare students to do that. You remember the chapel program when you were there. It tended to be quite predictable, and that predictability is the intention of Nathan Jennings, the liturgics professor here, and also to have room for student creativity. But the primary purpose for Chapel—as
it's ‘not really community’ in their mind. Well, it is. That's actually the way parish communities work, too. There’s some accountability; there’s some responsibility. I try to talk about community at the Seminary of the Southwest without completely lapsing into paradisal perfection images, because we all know that it's not that. Still, there is something very special that happens within our community. Nathan articulates it—is for spiritual formation: formation of community and formation of the person. The experience of corporate morning and evening prayer, as well as Eucharist, is very formative for our students. Those experiences teach us in ways that aren’t solely non-rational and right-brained, and it ‘does’ something to you. Now that I’m President, many of the ways that I relate to students occur through Chapel. I’ve been teaching more often lately, but I hadn’t been teaching regularly for several years. Therefore, chapel leadership, preaching, presiding, and attending chapel services alongside the students are all significant ways that I get to know them. I wish I could explain how it works. You really get to know people when you are with them in chapel…saying the Psalms, receiving the sacrament and hearing the word. You learn how to form community by becoming part of one. Would you agree with that? Hopefully, ideally, the way that community works for students is a model of how they can convene community when they leave. Although it's not perfect, and people do get frustrated with certain things: tuition is raised, or people don't get the house they want, or something happens that is disappointing. When these things occur, they’ll say, “This isn’t really community.” Or if someone has to leave, then
What do you think is the biggest transformation, start to finish, that you see in your students? Increased self-awareness, in a positive way. We really try to work on that, and I think selfawareness is one of the most important qualities and dispositions of a priest; being aware of your impact on others, being aware of what's going on within you and how it might affect your relationships with people. You get some practice with that at seminary through your peer relationships, your faculty relationships and through the advising and evaluation processes. Nobody really enjoys saying, “Are you really aware of this impact you're having or the way you're acting?” But it's that kind of intentional feedback that allows people to grow within a trusting relationship. It is the acquisition of a vocational pastoral identity. People come in and they’re a lawyer or a waiter or a teacher or anything else, and they leave and get ordained. They have a different vocational identity, a different sense of purpose and sense of vocation. Again, I wish I could say exactly what all the pieces are that go into making it happen, but those are the biggest changes. Beautiful. Speaking of changes, what is the seminary up to these days? What’s been happening? I've been Dean since 2013. That’s now eight years and a couple of things have happened in that time I want to emphasize. One is the
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growth and professionalization of the counseling program, which received CACREP (Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs) accreditation, and now has five full-time faculty—a significant dimension of the ministry of the Seminary of the Southwest. Another opportunity for students at Seminary of the Southwest is the Masters in Mental Health Counseling; the specialty of that degree at the seminary is spiritual integration. The graduates of the program are educated in all the areas that allow them to pass the licensing exam in Texas. They are able to integrate and understand the way that peoples’ spiritual commitments and faith commitments affect their well-being and their healing. That program has been a major addition to the seminary. The presence of the counselor educators as part of the faculty has positively impacted the culture of the faculty as we meet and do our work together. It has been a really positive development. The other piece is the expansion of the Iona Collaborative, which is our local formation resourcing program for both local formation and continuing education in dioceses. That also has expanded. Founded by John Lewis, the collaborative is currently directed by The Rev. Nandra Perry, PhD. Rebecca Hall is the Programs Director. I think there are now 29 dioceses involved in the Iona Collaborative—a very exciting extension of the formational ministry of the seminary. Something I’m quite proud of is the fact that we just completed a $20 million-dollar capital campaign. The campaign’s proceeds will increase the endowed scholarship, pay for the land that was purchased out on the other side of Duval, and provide funds to build a 21st-century teaching complex where the library and old classroom building reside. The renderings are beautiful, and we’re just in the process of getting construction estimates and moving into design development for that project, which is slated to begin construction this summer. We hope to be completed between a year and a
should I choose Seminary of the Southwest?” What would you say to them?
What will that do for the Seminary of the Southwest in terms of growth?
The Seminary of the Southwest is uniquely positioned to form leaders for the church of the future. It is in the middle of a booming American city and in a border state with emphasis in Latin-X studies. We have more and more attention to antiracist pedagogy and curriculum. I say “more and more” because that's part of our ongoing strategic plan as we move forward: A very intensive formational atmosphere for students where you will get a lot of attention, and where your unique gifts are really encouraged and developed. In the bigger schools, it's easier to fly under the radar; but at Seminary of the Southwest, we really give a lot of attention to student formation.
It will positively impact community life. There will be gathering spaces and social spaces in a way that aren't currently available. It will also allow study space separated from the social space. The area between the buildings will be landscaped to create a terraced patio area. The computers, electronics, and audio/video capacity will all be brought up to current standards. There will be studios to record, as Photos: we do a lot of recording for classes and for the JOHN SMITH Iona program. There will also be places for public events such as poetry readings and small musical groups and things like that. The architecture of the building will be inviting, becoming more visible in the neighborhood. It’s going to be a very different vibe from what we have now, which will allow us to broadcast and make our materials accessible around the world. You think about it as a physical space, but it's also a broadcasting hub, a communications hub, and a place of contemplation. There’s going to be new classrooms, a learning chapel, a bookstore and even a café. It's going to be quite remarkable. Are there any houses or apartments being built during this phase? Those are in the plans and they were originally part of this campaign, but the cost is prohibitive to get all those things built with the $20 million, so the housing renovation and housing rebuilding is going to be a future campaign. What would you say the Seminary of the Southwest’s greatest strength is right now? Its faculty, its sense of mission, its outward facing, courageous, world changing mission. I love that answer. As our time comes to a close, I have a final question for you: Those who are seeking holy orders will ask: “Why
And it's really fun! It is the most fun of all the seminaries, in my opinion, and I'm pretty sure I'm right. Celebration is a core value and we do a lot of celebrating, in a very sociallyresponsible, clean and good way. The faculty has done quite a bit of work surrounding addiction and recovery, so we’ve been intentional about the way in which we ‘celebrate’, making it safer and healthier. Do you have any final thoughts you'd like to impart? I think that the coronavirus pandemic, the reckoning with race, and the revelation of our political, social, and epistemological divides has only made the message of healing and redemption of Jesus Christ—through the Christian Church and through its Episcopal version—even more needed in the world. As much as parish budgets are declining and through all this narrative of decline, the Gospel continues to be compelling and incredibly effective in the world. There continue to be people called to proclaim that message, and theological schools like the Seminary of the Southwest, and the Seminary of the Southwest in particular, are shaping and guiding and encouraging those vocations. It’s a wonderful way of life and a life-giving path for those that are called to it. Thank you for your time, Dean Kittredge. It’s wonderful to spend time with you, today. God bless you, and God bless the Seminary of the Southwest. ✠
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Human Nature Q. What are we by nature? A. We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God. Really, we’re pretty terrific. Q. What does it mean to be created in the image of God? A. I just said: it means we’re really pretty terrific. Well, most of us. Some people have gone off the deep end, if you know what I mean.
The Cranky Catechist: a Very Sketchy and Condensed Outline of the Faith, as Told by Episcopalians
Q. Why then do we live apart from God and out of harmony with creation? A. You know, that’s a good question. I think harmony with creation is great. My church used to have a community garden but it just sort of fizzled, I think. I’m not really sure. I wasn’t really involved with it. Creation is just so dirty, you know? I mean, others were into it—and that’s great! Creation stuff just doesn’t, you know, feed me. I’m a bit more traditional. The Trinity Q. Why do we speak of God as the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? A. I’m sorry, I thought this was like an intro level kind of thing. Q. Oh. Right. Okay. How about this: what do we know about God the Father? A. He created the world! Did a marvelous job, too. Love the Creator God. I mean, calling Him Father is cool with me if that’s your jam, but I prefer “Creator God.” Some of that traditional stuff doesn’t work for me. Q. What do we know of God the Son? A. You mean Jesus? Jesus is wonderful. I love Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not like one of those super Jesusy Christians or anything—I never have been—but really, he was a wonderful man. Q. What do we know of God the Holy Spirit? A. It’s so spiritual. Like, so spiritual. It’s just that feeling you get, you know? Sin and Redemption Q. What is sin? A. Nope.
Q. Um, okay. How about this: how does sin have power over us? A. No really, let’s move on. Next question. Q. Okay, let’s try something else. What is redemption? A. What God gives to everyone! Redemption is great! Q. But what are we redeemed from, then? A. NEXT. QUESTION. The Sacraments Q. What are the sacraments? A. Let’s see…There’s baptism, communion, confirmation, the thing where you become a bishop, the blessing of the animals, rally day, and…hmmm…oh, the Advent Calendar! Q. What is grace? A. You mean works?
The Church Q. What is the Church? A. I know this one! It’s the Body of Christ. Q. What is the ministry of the Church? A. Be nice. Don’t be tacky. Jesus was nice, but he was never tacky. Q. Why is the Church described as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic? A. I kinda like to think of us as Catholic Light. Ha! You get it? You know because, we’re sort of like Roman Catholics but we’re also— Q. Yes yes, I get it. Thank you for coming in. A. Oh, so we’re done? Q. Thank you for coming in. A. And also with you! See what I did there? It’s a whole thing. Did you get it? You got it. Say, is there a Whole Foods around here? ✠
Q. What are the two great sacraments of the Gospel? A. Finally, an easy one! Christmas and Easter. Next! This is fun! The Holy Scriptures Q. What are the Holy Scriptures? A. The Bible. Q. Yes, but what are they? A. They’re a book. An inspired book. Lots of good nuggets in there. “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” That’s one of my favorites. Q. Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God? A. I didn’t call them that. You did. Q. Okay. A. … Q. Moving on: how do we understand the meaning of the Bible? A. I’ve always felt it’s really just about whatever it means to you.
The Rev. Daniel P. Strandlund lives with his wife, Lucy, in San Marcos, TX. Daniel is the Vicar of St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church in Buda. His youthful, cheery exterior is regularly at odds with his spirit, which is quite frankly that of a much older and crankier man. He loves dogs, and thinks we'd all be better off if we'd just listen to our grandmothers.
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Almighty and everlasting God, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift: Send down upon our bishops, and other clergy, and upon the congregations committed to their charge, the healthful Spirit of thy grace: and, that they may truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy blessing. Grant this, O Lord, for the honor of our Advocate and Mediator, Jesus Christ. Amen.
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