Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Well, it’s all over but the shouting – that is if we shout at the reception and closing dinner tonight.

The business of the Fall 2014 meeting of the House of Bishops is concluded. We had our Town Hall Meeting this morning, which is an open mike format. The high points were thank you’s for prayers and support given during times of personal and family hardship since our last meeting. We actually do that for each other and it helps.

In the business session we took up various questions including a resolution to support the Anglican Church in Hong Kong where the political situation is complex and shifting. We also took up the question about how best to work for peace in the war torn Middle East and offer support to persecuted religious minorities especially Christians. Instead of formal action on our part, we agreed to pass on messages to the Archbishop of Canterbury through Bishop Katharine who is talking with him next week.  Various other matters of business were addressed, but nothing newsworthy.

This afternoon I attended a discussion with members of the task force on marriage. It was an opportunity to offer input from our different diocesan contexts on both the liturgy and theology of marriage.

At this point, I am tired! But I have 90 minutes of downtime before the reception. I plan to use it to continue e mailing transition officers as a way to beat the bushes for candidates for priest openings in Nevada.

Tomorrow, bright and early, I take a shuttle to the airport and fly away home.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Can systems change?

I am self-conscious that I go on so much about what a wonderful group of colleagues I have in the other bishops, how kind and supportive they are, what a sane, gentle, and caring group I encounter each time we meet.

But it was not always so. Back in the bad old days I kept my distance from bishops, even when they were solo. As for when they gathered in a pack, I’d have sooner hung out with a pack of wild dingos. So I don’t know much first hand about those days. But I am told that it was bad.

There were times when one faction of the bishops refused to stay at Camp Allen with the others. That faction held their own separate worship services rather than receive communion with the rest. Bishops would stand on opposite sides of the room shouting insults at each other. This did not happen during the main era of seceding congregations and dioceses. The era of bishop rancor was what led up to it the fracturing of the Church. For better or worse, bishops do lead. That dysfunctional group of bishops led us into chaos. Of course, there had to be good bishops in those days. I am sure there were excellent bishops among them. I knew some of them and admired them. But the group as a whole was, as I am told, not playing well together.

I remember when one of the leading left wing bishops and his arch enemy, one of the right wing bishops, retired within a short while of each other. Rather than stop fighting, they went on the road together continuing to duke it out for the entertainment of churches around the country. I am not sure but I think this may have coincided with the popularity of The Jerry Springer Show.

Today, things are different from that as the night from the day. But how did the change happen? Yes, of course, some of the hotheads retired and went away. But that doesn’t always change things. Usually when one troublemaker leaves, another arises to take his place. So the departure of the difficult bishops may have created the opportunity for change, but it did not guarantee it.

I am told that Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, with his contemplative spirituality and devotion to the discipline of conversation, undertook a specific program to change the way the bishops behaved. We went from sitting in straight lines with seats assigned according to seniority to sitting around tables with the same small group assembled for three years at a stretch. We began to meet more often. The College For Bishops worked on building relationships among the new bishops coming in, and connected the new folks to veterans as we were assigned first a 90-day-companion and then a bishop coach for our first three years. I don’t know what all the changes were or when they were made. But I am reliably informed that there was an intentional plan to change the way the bishops related to one another. We now have a network of personal relationships that bridges differences of theology and politics. We work well together and my life is the better for knowing these good people.

As the tenor of the House of Bishops has changed, it seems to me that a different kind of people are seeking the office. A different kind of people are being elected. How that happens is a mystery. But I observe it to be true. We are more measured, balanced, temperate in speech and action than many of the bishops in decades past – not all of them certainly, but many of them, the ones who grabbed the headlines.

The point here isn’t to praise the current team. It’s to say that a bad system became a good one through intentional action. With Bishop Griswold’s leadership, continued by Bishop Katharine, we decided to change.

Could a congregation do the same? I have seen it happen there too. I have seen a congregation that has been swimming in its own rancorous bile for years decide to get healthy. It takes some action steps, some intentional work. It doesn’t change all at once. It takes time, patience, and determination, but it can be done.

There is no one right way to go about it. I think Gilbert Rendle’s Behavioral Covenants In Congregations is a great guide for starters.  I believe the practices and principles of broad based community organizing can change how people treat each other in a congregation. Others agree. http://www.ucc.org/news/community-organizing-to-help.html In fact, there is a short and easy book on how to do it, Michael Gecan’s Effective Organizing For Congregational Renewal. http://www.amazon.com/Effective-Organizing-Congregational-Renewal-Michael/dp/0879463848/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411386465&sr=1-1&keywords=Organizing+for+congregational 

I am intrigued that our new Archbishop of Canterbury is going around the world having a one-on-one meetings (the basic building block of community organizing) with each of the Primates of the Anglican Communion before he calls another Primate’s Meeting. It looks to me as if Archbishop Justin has got it. I confess I sometimes slam my head against the wall in frustration over how hard it is to get our people in Nevada to sit down together one-on-one and just talk. We want to make speeches and send out e-blasts, anything but relate eyeball to eyeball.

Our best turnaround in a parish has been led by a priest trained in Christian conflict transformation at the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. http://www.lmpeacecenter.org There are other models that invite relationship building – the Indaba Process, World CafĂ©, Appreciative Inquiry, etc. I don’t know that any one model has all the answers. But what I do know is this: a group can change how it functions. Old habits can be broken. New habits can be formed. The bishops have done it.

As I look at some of our congregations that have been stuck in bad habits, relational vices that may even have seeped down into them from the bad influence of the bishops in decades past, I wonder which of those congregations might decide to give up their familiar rancor and misery to try something new, something like becoming the Church the New Testament calls us to be, the kind of community worthy to be called the Body of Christ, a community that looks like Jesus, heals people instead of wounding them, and ushers in the Kingdom of God.


This morning we heard presentations from the Primates of Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. In Japan, Christians are less than 1% of the population but the Primate believes they can nonetheless be the light of the world. He attributes the smallness of the Church there, in contrast to Korea where 35% of the population is Christian, to the Church’s complicity with the government’s aggressive policies in the 1930s and 40s. The thrust of Anglican mission in Japan is peacemaking, which begins with repentance. I am struck by the courage of the Church in calling on Japan to repent of its violence in history. What if the Church in the United States did that? I don’t know that I could be so bold. I am struck that living on the edge, as the Church does in Japan, makes them daring, not timid.

In Korea, Christianity has more people, but Archbishop Kim believes that interdenominational strife prevents Christians from being the kind of witness that is needed. The Anglican Church of Korea is the principal Christian voice for the poor and marginalized. The political situation is dicey as tensions between North and South implicate American military power, which casts an unhelpful shadow on our Church there, especially when they try to speak for peace and reconciliation.

It was good to see Archbishop Edward Malecdon of the Episcopal Philippine Church. I have met him several times before. He spoke movingly of the EPC’s struggle to become independent of us, and even more movingly of their advocacy for human rights and justice. Some of our bishops there, including Bishop Wannadag of Nevada’s companion diocese of Santiago, have received death threats for their stands against human rights violations. He also spoke of their aggressive work for community and economic development. When I visited Santiago, I saw that half their diocesan staff are community and economic development workers.

I regret that I cannot tell you much about the afternoon because it was a closed session for candid discussion of three matters: the report of the Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church (restructuring), the task force working on theology and liturgy of marriage, and the search committee for the next Presiding Bishop. I can say that table discussion of restructuring taught me a lot about how TEC works so that I better understand where some of the stumbling happens; the discussion of marriage was personal and deeply heart-felt; and the nominating process for the next PB is moving right along.

Thanks to cyber technology and multi-tasking, I got a little Nevada work done on the side. The UNLV Legal Clinic has a client who is a human trafficking victim who just had a botched, disfiguring implant job. They asked me to help find a doctor who would try to repair the damage without compensation because there are no resources. We have a couple of promising leads thanks to good people in our congregations.

After the day’s work was concluded, I bought myself a Chinese Book of Common Prayer to add to my collection, and then had a glass of wine with the Bishop of Montana as we swapped tales and compared notes on our somewhat different, somewhat similar parts of the Wild Wild West.

One more day to go. I confess, that though this has been inspiring, edifying, and informative, I am ready to be home.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Last night I had dinner with one of my closest friends among the purple siblinghood, Prince Singh of Rochester. This HOB has not been the occasion of my customary bourbon bacchanal. But Prince helped me put away some of the double oaked Woodford Reserve that I’d brought all the way from San Francisco for the occasion.

Today began with Holy Eucharist at Good Sheppard, Taipei. It was a lovely bilingual (English/ Mandarin) service celebrated with solemnity and grace. We sang Cwm Rhondda. There is something about Asian voices singing a Welsh hymn, especially in Mandarin. The depth of faith in this congregation was palpable. Somehow seeing the same structure of the Eucharist observed in Taipei that most Episcopal Churches observe in the United States was beautiful in its unity, and reinforced for me why it is such profound thing to practice the spirituality of common prayer instead of reworking the liturgy to express what we personally happen to be feeling at the moment. See http://bishopdansblog.blogspot.tw/2014/08/6th-epistle-to-nevadans.html

After Eucharist, we had dinner in the courtyard. I sat and conversed with Keith and Suzie Whitmore of Atlanta. I told them the stories of the last attempted cross burning in Macon and how Sr. Megan Rice is now doing time for exposing the security vulnerabilities of our nuclear arsenal. They were a great audience, and told me things of much more practical importance, like how hard it is to get tickets to Packers games.

The afternoon session put bishops and spouses together to discuss the spiritual lessons of this whole Asian experience. Some of us who had been skeptical about it have become believers.

Then came the Fireside Chat. Sorry folks, that part is confidential. But I can tell you it was all good. No plots to subvert the faith or undermine the laity.

As darkness fell, the tropical storm arrived with impressive winds and drenching rains. I had the good fortune to dine with Bishop Katharine and her husband Dick. We talked of nutrition and recipes. We told stories of colorful characters in Nevada. We learned a lot from each other and I felt my life made better by knowing these good, funny, and brilliant people.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


When my wife and I first told an Episcopal priest we wanted to join the Church, he acted a bit befuddled by it. He said, “Well, we don’t have a bishop right now.” It wasn’t the warmest of welcomes, but it did give me a hint that there was something I needed to learn about the Episcopal Church. There were some things for which bishops were required. But why? When that diocese called a new bishop, it was a big deal. But still I wasn’t sure what it was about.

Since then, I have encountered all sorts of hostility to bishops qua bishops, not that they were individually overbearing or oppressive, but simply that they were bishops. I recently read a Face Book post from an Episcopalian who loves General Convention and thinks the Church would be perfectly fine if we could get rid of the House of Bishops. Some of us just don’t like having them around. But what exactly is so offensive about bishops remains unclear. We make them necessary. We name our Church “Episcopal,” which identifies us by the fact that we have bishops. But a lot of us would like to see them driven into the sea -- despite our choice to join a Church that identifies itself by the very name “Episcopal.”

I later learned in Church history that the Puritans, who were committed to eradication of the episcopate, called bishops “pompous, pretentious, popish prelates.” The anti-bishop sentiment is part and parcel of our Calvinist-Puritan heritage, which in turn is linked to democracy. So Bishops are associated with Catholicism and Monarchy – two targets of knee jerk opposition.

But what are Bishops really? The office of Bishop is described in the New Testament, for example I Timothy 3: 1. Traditionally Catholics have read the New Testament as prescribing three orders of ministry: Deacons, Priests, and Bishops. Protestants have insisted that “Bishop” and “Priest” were interchangeable terms, referring to the same office. Who knows? It is quite possible that different Biblical authors used the term with different meanings and that the structures of congregations in various places differed in New Testament times. But early on, at least by the time of St. Ignatius of Antioch (35 – 98 CE), the three orders of ministry were solidly in place. His Epistles, written on the road to his martyrdom in Rome, are the first texts setting out the role of the Bishop in the Church.[i] See particularly his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans:

Since Ignatius’ day, the proper role of Bishops has been unity. Catechism at BCP p. 855. We are called first to personally symbolize and embody unity and second to work practically to form and sustain unity within the Body of Christ. I call it a cruciform unity extending one direction in time and the other in space.  We symbolize our unity through time by the practice of apostolic succession. Our pedigree, however flawed, extending back through time as we are made bishops by the previous bishops who became bishops in like manner represents the continuity of the Church from Jesus to the believers of today.

Apostolic succession is the symbol part of unity through time. But the reality of continuity through time is the continuity of the mission. That’s were it takes more than a pedigree to make a bishop. The crucial second part of our task is practical, functional. It is to remember the faith and the mission of the apostles, that is to say the Great Commission, the Creeds, and the teachings of Jesus, and to keep that faith and mission front and center in the attention of the Church. There are always fads and fashions coming and going in Church circles. We like something new. And that is fine. It keeps us fresh and alert. It adapts the Church to the culture just enough to make sure the culture can understand what we are saying and what we are doing. That is all good. We need inventive people to innovate. But we also need the stodgy old bishops to keep telling us of “the old, old story of Jesus and his love.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0aiahIo8Sw

This House of Bishops meeting in Taiwan puts me in mind of our role of creating and maintaining unity through space. Here I want to start with one of the four symbols of the bishop’s office,[ii] the crosier or staff. It has taken on different symbolic meanings through the centuries. But there are two theories about the origin of crosiers. One is that we were just copying the staffs carried by pagan Roman augurs while they were predicting the future. But I favor the other theory. Priests and deacons did their ministry in their own local communities. They were pretty much planted in place. But the bishops were always on the road. They travelled from town to town visiting existing congregations and planting new ones. They carried walking sticks for purely practical reasons and the sticks came to symbolize the nature of their ministry.[iii] Today, bishops go from place to place to connect the people in each place with the people in all the other places. My job is to remind Episcopalians in Elko that there are Episcopalians in Pahrump and vice versa. A bishop is a weaver, a spinner, a networker, a message bearer, a matchmaker.

So why do bishops meet with each other? I bet you’ve guessed it. We connect the dioceses to each other. It isn’t so much with programs, projects, and governance decisions as with names, faces, and stories. In the hallway, the Bishop of Haiti says to me, “Have you heard from Guillene?”

“I just know she has a field placement,” I say.

“She is in the process now,” he tells me.

Guillene is a young woman from Le Beaux in the mountains of Haiti. I met her there on a mission trip years and years ago. Our parish sponsored her thorugh college and I have been her confidant as she struggles to become a priest in a place where women are new to priesthood. Her bishop is happy to tell me good news he knows I will be glad to hear.

On a coffee break I approach the Bishop of Louisiana and ask him if he knows which New Orleans parish Nevada Barr worships at. I tell him about her novels and her book of spiritual reflections. He says he’ll track her down for me. I want to invite her to speak at an event someday.

The new Bishop of Fon du Lac tells me about an issue in Native Ministries there and I tell him about my experience here. Related to the whole queston of how we work things out, I also tell the story of how we bishops used the African Indaba process to break our gridlock on same gender blessings in 2009.

I ask the Bishop of Chicago for permission to celebrate, preach, and teach at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in his diocese. Our niece and her family worship there, the  book group has read God of Our Silent Tears, and the rector has invited me to visit. The Bishop of Chicago gives me permission and a warm welcome. I ask the Bishop of Milwaukee permission to preach and teach at Nashotah House seminary. He says I don’t need his permission (I don’t need it. I just want it.) and extends a cordial welcome including to get together socially.

I happen upon the Bishop of Missouri. Over lunch, he tells me about their experience in Ferguson during the troubles so far, and what he foresees down the road. It isn’t just a story in the newspaper now. It is about real people, our people.

The Assisting Bishop of Atlanta brings me greetings from members of my former parish, St. Francis, Macon. We talk over how things were there in my time and how they have been since. Talking with him leaves me feeling good about my time there. The parish is doing well.

Several bishops ask me how it’s going in Nevada and I tell them about the things that were hard in 2014 but how those very same things look hopeful for 2015. They nod and share helpful stories from their experience, affirming my sense that we are doing ok.

The bishops network in little sub groups. At HOB we meet officially in table groups during sessions. I am sitting between Texas and Alaska this time. The College For Bishops classes go out to dinner as a class. I am class of 08. We decorate the head and tail of an otherwise devoured sea bass and take pictures of it. Over the course of a year, the bishops of each Province meet. (I am Province 8). The Bishops of Small Dioceses meet. Support groups (mine is the High Desert Bishops) meet. Bishops with common interests, like Bishops United Against Gun Violence, meet. And so we are networked to each other and bridge our people across the miles, the mountains, the forests, and the deserts. – even the oceans.

There is a lot poured into this container we call episcopacy. It all has to do with unity, with relationship – a matter on which all of us, the bishops included, are a bit ambivalent. Sometimes it would be so much easier to “go our own way.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpX9OKS2yQk
That’s natural. Christianity sees Reality as a proliferating diversity (to borrow a term from the deconstructionists); hence, the natural, even healthy, impulse to go our own way, to kick against the traces.  But Christianity sees Reality as diversity that dances within an essential unity. The bishops are responsible for the unity in the Church. We are the nagging reminders of our connection to each other including those inconvenient people we have gone before. We are connected, connected, connected. And that sometimes constraining connection is our lifeline.

[i] Contemporary Epistles by St. Clement of Rome do not so much describe the role of the Bishop as exemplify it. When the still-rowdy Corinthians had deposed their priests, the Bishop of Rome at least claimed the authority to challenge them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Epistle_of_Clement
[ii] The four symbols are crosier, miter, ring, and pectoral cross.
[iii] Later when Emperor Constantine legalized us and we became the Roman Empire at prayer, the crosier came to represent authority as the staffs or scepters carried by Imperial officials represented their power. Later, after the Fall of the Roman Empire, in the Western Church we rather softened and sentimentalized the symbol into a shepherd’s staff.