07 March 2011

The Hopes and Fears

The Diocese of West Missouri has just ordained and consecrated its eighth Bishop in Apostolic Succession. On Saturday, 5 March, Bishop Barry Howe handed the diocesan crozier (symbol of diocesan authority) to the newly consecrated Bishop Martin Scott Field. In that moment, the authority was transfered, and Bishop Field became our Ordinary (this is a term which designates the Bishop of a Diocese). I was there -- as were all the clergy of the diocese -- except those who were ill or away on assignment. Several hundred laypersons from around the diocese, Bishops from a number of dioceses and honored guests from other faith traditions filled out our numbers at the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott-Muehlbach Hotel in downtown Kansas City.

In the nearly 33 years of ordained life, I have been canonically resident in three dioceses -- which includes my current residency in West Missouri. In 1989, we elected and consecrated a bishop in Central Florida. I was on the Standing Committee and liturgical planning committee for that moment of diocesan history, when John Howe became the Ordinary. In 2000, I was a runner-up in the election in Northern Indiana and was President of the Standing Committee and Dean of the Cathedral (St. James) when we consecrated Edward Little as our new Ordinary. Since the Cathedral was host, I was involved in that planning (though the actual consecration took place in the Basilica on the Notre Dame University campus).

This time, I got to bear witness without much involvement in making the event happen. My role was as an occasional, very background advisor -- when called upon. This suited me well. This change of Bishops comes at a time when I am in my own transition of authority. It was good to be present, to pray and to listen intently to the words of Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Shori as she, the Co-Consecrators and other Bishops laid hands upon Martin to make him a Bishop.

During the moments leading to the actual Prayer of Consecration and the exhange of the crozier, I reflected deeply on the Gospel upon which I would be preaching at St. Andrew's the next day. Yesterday was the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. The Gospel assigned for this Sunday is always the Transfiguration of Jesus from the Gospel for the Lectionary Year. Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of a small mountain, where those disciples witnessed the true nature of Jesus as he was flanked by Moses and Elijah (representing the Law and the Prophets). In larger scope, this would set the stage for a journey that would lead the Disciples of Jesus to become the Apostles at the Day of Pentecost. Much had to happen in between these events that would prepare these folks to become what we now call the Apostolic Community. As the Apostles were coming to the end of their times, they laid hands upon those who would replace them as the bearers of the Gospel and carriers of an emerging faith tradition. Thus began the Apostolic Succession. In the sacramental traditions of Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, this succession has come to us unbroken.

So, my reflection on our particular moment of history engaged the reality that I was seeing the hands of the Apostles on the head of Martin; and the hand of one Apostolic Leader give over authority to a new Apostolic Leader. Transfiguration of a true nature was happening in our midst on that Saturday at about noon.

Everyone has hopes and fears when leadership changes. I have lost count of the number of times the questions have been posed to me: What kind Bishop will Martin be? Is Martin liberal or conservative? Does he side with larger parishes or small parishes and missions? And that's just three of the many questions. They are all, in essence, well-meaning and reflect serious concerns or anxieties on the part of Episcopalians and those who may, in some way, be affected by the work of the Episcopal Church in our diocese. I offer some thoughts by way of general response.

I have been the Rector of the smallest parish in a diocese and am currently the Rector of a parish that, on any given day, is the largest in a diocese (our Cathedral and St. Andrew's seem to run neck-in-neck in this regard...only the current parochial report will reflect who edges forward). I have been the Rector of two parishes somewhere in between in size (called "Program Parishes" in our work). Each parish system is different in its needs, concerns and development of both mission and ministry. One is not better than the other. My experience with each has been both valuable and a blessing. Each congregation worked hard to live into its fullest expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its community and in the larger diocese.

Bishop Field has had a lot of experience. While much of that experience has been with smaller churches, he has been at this long enough to know that a diocese needs all its congregations -- large and small -- to create and maintain a dynamic faith community. I trust the Holy Spirit to work through Marty to make that balance a reality.

I have long ago become weary of the political nomenclature used in the Church. I truly don't care whether Bishop Field is liberal or conservative. That spectrum slides around like crazy anyway and is a slippery slope at best. Those terms raise fear and anxiety in folks, which is unfortunate. My sense is that Marty will be a "big tent" Bishop. Diversity creates a balanced community and one that is both honest and accountable for the well-being of all its people. Every Christian who is Episcopalian needs to feel safe in the diocese and in his/her parish. Anything less is not the truth of the Gospel. Further, constant dialogue and speaking our truth in love allows us to grow and develop the Truth that is the fullness of life in Christ.

Will I disagree with Bishop Field? At some point, I probably will. Such is only a natural part of human community. The truth here is that, for me, I will never cast judgment upon him, nor will I function in any way that is disloyal to his rightful authority as my bishop. One can critique without casting judgment. Jesus had harsh words for those who judge others. If one disagrees with another, integrity demands that one goes to that person and works through the disagreement in an atmosphere of love and trust. My hope and sense is that Marty is a man of integrity.

Someone said to me last week that I am probably not so much invested in what will happen with our new Bishop, since I am on the threshold of retiring from parochial ministry. Not true in the least!! Retirement does not remove a priest from life or activity in his/her diocese. In retirement, Bishop Field will be my Bishop, and I will respond to his call for action or input as needed or requested. Even in retirement, a priest is one under authority to his/her bishop. Perhaps I will have even broader voice, since I will be speaking for only myself and not on behalf of a congregation. That remains to be seen, since I have never been retired before.

I had a wonderful time of bidding farewell to Bishop Barry Howe three weeks ago over a long lunch. We have been friends for 30 years, and we have had an easy, open dialogue throughout those years...and especially in my years in this diocese. I look forward to what is ahead and in developing both a personal and professional relationship with Bishop Field. Right now, I am working on the transition to retirement on 30 June, and he is very busy getting to know the daily life and needs of his new diocese. All will happen in God's good time. Personally, I am content in the moment.

Love in Christ,

Fr. Fred+

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