Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Social Risk Of Hats In The Great American West

Heading out of Reno on my way to Elko, dressed in my Elko-appropriate Western attire, I stopped at the truck stop in Fernley for road coffee. In the fast food section, there was a genuine bona fide cowboy. Old, weathered, droopy mustache, the real deal. I noticed he was watching me. I felt pretty good. I was passing. He thought I looked like one of the guys. As I walked past him, he mutterd a word of advice, "hat's back-ards."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Happy B-Day St. Martin in the Desert

Happy 2oth birthday to St. Martin's in the Desert. Two decades back, two good Episopalians in Pahrump were driving over the hump to Las Vegas for Sunday morning church. They had an accident, and that persuaded them it was time for Pahrump to have its own church. They started one in their home and invited friends. They later invited the diocese to send clergy support -- Mike Garrison, Richard Henry, Curt Edmonds, Mary Bredlau and others. Eventually, they started growing their own clergy locally just like they make their own wine out there in the desert. I know: desert wine doesn't sound right,but it is just great -- like the desert clergy.

The congregation outgrew the Lunsford home, so they built a small church. They outgrew the small church so they built a larger church. We consecrated it just last year.

This year we celebrated the big 2-0 anniversary. We sang Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus; I Love To Tell The Story, and other hits of faith. Priests and deacons from the old days came to the reunion. The house was packed.

St. Martin's does bang up evangelism and community ministry -- especially to the youth and children of Pahrump regardless of where or whether they go to church. St. Martin's is one of the major supporters of Galilee in the diocese. Folks who live so near Death Valley know Tahoe is worth a drive. They also throw a good party in the old church which now serves as their fellowship hall. It's happening out there, people. At this rate, they may be having to build again before long.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Things I Previously Forgot To Tell You

Dave's Automotive in Fallon also sells boxes and aluminum carports. Moreover, they rent trucks. If you return your truck five minutes late for a good reason, they will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid charging you for an extra day. They also sent me a card thanking my for my $30.12 worth of business. You can spend more than that filling your gas tank anywhere but do they send you thank you notes?

Sierra Joe's in Dayton is unpretentious, clean, and accommodating. The sign says they have a Turkey Burger and a Jalapeno Burger, but they will actually put jalepenos on your Turkey Burger if you ask.

Dayton has a Starbuck's and I am a faithful member of the Starbucks family. I used to be the de facto chaplain to Starbuck's in Macon. They know what I want before I ask at 2 Starbucks in Las Vegas. I never pass the tres sophisticated Starbucks at Keystone & 7th in Reno -- but in Dayton, I go to Makin' Coffee. No glad handing perky greetings. Nothing slick. No way could you think you are in Seattle. But the coffee is first rate, the decor has a darkish Northwestern countercultural charm, and the people are kind. There is a sensitivity bordering on sadness there. And on the wall is a reflection by a single dad whose teenager committed suicide. Makin' Coffee is the real deal.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Service To Children

The Ever Flowing Stream article below is about a ministry that is dear to my heart and has been endorsed by our recent General Convention as a mission priority of the Episcopal Church. CIS is not yet statewide, and some of our churches partner with schools in other ways. CIS is expanding. This is the largest such partnership opportunity and the one that offers us the best way into giving children a chance in life.

An Everflowing Stream
Amos 5:24

EC 2/05 Confirms care for the needs of children as a priority of the Church and urges the President and Congress to make funding for children’s care a priority

Communities in Schools

Communities in Schools is a non-profit organization that provides support to children of all ages by ensuring that they are successful in school, are safe, healthy and able to learn. By empowering students to stay in school and achieve their highest potential, Communities in Schools of Nevada is preparing children not just to survive, but to thrive.

As the nation’s largest dropout prevention organization, CIS brings caring adults into schools to address the children’s unmet needs. The result is that teachers are free to teach, and students—many in jeopardy of dropping out—have the opportunity to focus on learning. And when a child can successfully learn, he or she can stay in school, prepare for college, for a career, and ultimately for a better life.

Communities in Schools of Nevada has identified the many different reasons for a child to be unsuccessful in school and has implemented programs to service each of those needs. Homelessness, hunger and health are big issues in many schools. CIS created a program that sends home backpacks filled with food for the child and their family so that having a nutritious meal is one last thing to worry about and the kids can focus on school.
CIS has also built two health clinics on school grounds that are open to any child in the Clark County School District, absolutely free of cost. Now parents don’t have to worry about how they are going to afford healthcare, and children who were distracted in school because they were sick, or couldn’t see the blackboard, or had a toothache, are now relieved of that pressure and are free to learn.

Communities in Schools of Nevada also offers a mentoring program called the Fellows Academy in the middle and high schools. CIS, along with school administrators, identifies as-risk youth who may be on the path to dropping out or just not doing well in school, and empowers them to learn so that they are empowered to achieve throughout life.

Children who are hungry or homeless or at-risk in some way have certainly never had the opportunity to experience something as amazing as a week at Camp Galilee. It is our hope that the $16,000 needed to fund the camp can be raised so that these children can participate in this wonderful experience.

Please help CIS reach their goal of ensuring that children in Nevada are given every opportunity so that their first focus can be school and reaching their fullest potential in life. There will be more information at the Diocesan Convention, where CIS Nevada State Director, Louise Helton, will be speaking.

(This article was written by Abby Wagner, Marketing Director for Communities in Schools of Nevada, 702-770-7611. For information about the Nevada Social Concerns Network contact millsr007@aol .com)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Kids Say The Darndest Things

My kids are no longer kids but mature young women. They still say the darndest things though. I was headed back from my weekend visit to St. Mary's/ Winnecucca UMC and called my younger daughter, the California army wife, to check in.

I told her about my time in Winnemucca, but she was amused by the name. "It's named for a famous Paiute Chief," I told her. Evenutally, I learned she thought I had been saying:

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Inevitable Happens At Last

It finally happened. After 19 months, the inevitable. Today, I pulled the diocesan car (still held together by duct tape) into a parking space at the Gold Country Inn in Winnemucca, the space beside a 4 x 4 pick-up with Utah plates and “R E I Drilling” on the side. I parked, opened the door, and stepped squarely into a substantial pile of equine excrement.

There was grace. This morning, while hurriedly dressing to get to McCarran Airport, I considered wearing my usual airport sandals with the Velcro straps. But I reconsidered. “One cannot go to Winnemucca in Velcro sandals,” I thought -- rightly. So I was wearing my boots from Nocona Boot Company in Nocona, Texas – home of best all round rodeo cowboy Larry Mahan. I may be a drugstore cowboy, all hat and no cow, but those boots come in handy.

Now the flashback: Last Saturday, I spent an arduous but productive, exciting, hope-lifting day in Reno with the Strategic Planning Team. They did a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) Analysis of the Diocese, then developed an action plan for evangelism – ways the diocese can help parishes share the gospel in their communities. Good stuff. Great team. Thanks to Darrell Spencer for making it happen.

Then Linda and I drove to Incline Village for the next day’s visit. But there was no room in the Inn anywhere in Nevada near Incline. So we went to King’s Beach. There was only one place with a vacancy and it was nowhere Joseph would have taken Mary. So it was on to Tahoe City, California. Desperate we stopped at a place that was not so much a motel as a group of tourist cabins – Morelatos Lakeshore Resort. The desk clerk was a young lady from Russia. Actually she looked like she was from an early Bond movie. Her name was Olga and she had an accent to match. If I were more of a Sean Connery or even a Pearce Brosnan, she might have called me “James” and we would all be in a lot of trouble. As it was, I was just the old country parson. She told me all about studying public relations in college back home in Russia and how she was here for an advanced program in PR. I told her all about being bishop of Nevada and she gave us a discount. It was a very nice place but there were no lampshades. Incongruous. We spent the evening watching one of our favorite films, Men In Black.

The next day was a landmark occasion. We consecrated the church building at St. Patrick’s. The congregation has been worshiping there several years. But this year they paid off the mortgage so we could consecrate it as holy and wholly unencumbered ground. This frees St. Pat’s to devote half its income to community ministries (following the good example of St. Christopher’s, Boulder City) and become in Fr. Jim Beebe’s words, “the church for others.”

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hope That Has Gotten Me Through My Worst Days

"The pity and love which make men revolt against suffering and evil were implanted in them by their Creator, who must be at least as good as His creatures. The evil in the world is there to be overcome, and it can be overcome. Love is active in the world: and who put it there? One day love will have the irresistible power it deserves to have." -- Hugh Marin, The Faith Of Robert Browning

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Romans 12: 2 "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds."

Our family has been negotiating a lot of change the past couple of years. Moving from the Georgia rainforest to the Mojave Desert was the first shift. Being bishop of a diocese is a world apart from parish priesthood. Linda has gone from a well-settled position directing the legal writing program at Mercer School of Law to teaching Property and Wills, Trusts, and Estates at UNLV. Daughter Emilie changed her life roles from daughter and student to mother and social worker. Daughter Katie went from Georgia student/barista to California army wife. Our heads are still spinning.

It isn’t easy – but I’ll tell you what it is: It’s life! And it’s all exciting! Life moves. It shifts, changes, adapts. In one of my favorite novels, Zorba the Greek, a young accountant responds to the plans of the volatile old miner, Zorba, “But isn’t that a lot of trouble?” Zorba replies, “Trouble? Life is trouble. Only in death is there no trouble.” Zorba didn’t shy away from the trouble of life’s adventure. He embraced it in a spirit we Americans don’t even have a word for – but the French do – joi d’vivre roughly “the joy of life” – not just when it goes smoothly, but delight in the whole roller coaster ride of living.

Jesus was about life. “I came that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.” So Jesus was about change. He turned over a lot of tables and raised a lot of eyebrows. He changed water into wine; sinners into saints, illiterate fishermen into globetrotting evangelists. Paul called that transformation. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”

The Christian life is ongoing transformation, growing “from glory to glory” Scripture says -- “growing into the full stature of Christ.” This is the tension for churches. We have two natures. On one hand, churches are human institutions. Human institutions exist to keep things as they are. They institutionalize the status quo. On the other hand, churches are the earthly dwelling of the Holy Spirit – an irresistible hurricane of change. The Spirit moves in each of us to transform our individual lives. The Spirit moves in the Church to change the Church. The Spirit moves through the Church to change the world.

Our diocesan mission statement says God calls us “to transform our communities.” But are we doing that? I say this in all gentleness and love. I am not sure we are changing the communities around us. I am not sure we are even keeping up with them. The world is vastly different than it was 10 years ago. We are decidedly living in a new century. Is the Church an agent of change today? Or are we racing to catch up? Or are we straggling behind, on our way to becoming a footnote in the history of the 20th Century?

This metaphor that may be silly but it is apt. The children’s action heroes The Transformers are “transformers” in two ways. They change their own shape in order to change the situation. They change into the shape required to confront violence and injustice. Just so, the Church can be an agent of transformation in the world only if we are willing to be transformed ourselves. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds." When Bishop Wes radically revamped our diocese almost 40 years ago, he was setting something in motion, not setting something in concrete.

Compared to some other dioceses we are doing pretty well. I am grateful for all our success. But God does not call us to “do pretty well.” God calls us to work miracles.” If “the power of God working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine,” I wonder if we are allowing God to do all that God wants in us. If we were, we’d see more young adults finding God with us, we’d be sending more mosquito nets to Tanzania, and we would be graduating more than 44% of Nevada’s children from high school.

God calls us to be transformed again so that we can be God’s change agents in Nevada today. What does that transformation look like? I honestly don’t know. All I know is that if we want to follow Christ in this new century, to carry the Gospel into this new century, to be God’s change agents – God’s transformers -- in Nevada, we have to prayerfully rethink everything. We are not here to enshrine memories. We are here to connect people to Jesus by any means necessary.

I am reading a remarkable series of books collectively called Transformations: The Church of the 21st Century. Individual titles:

Transforming Congregations
Transforming Disciple
Transforming Stewardship
Transforming Evangelism
Transforming Vocations

These books, available from Church Publishing Co., offer ways to rethink how to be Church today. All our leaders -- lay and clergy -- would do well to read, mark, and inwardly digest this series. We would do well to meet and discuss them. They are not the answer, but they could spark us to discover our own creative action for the gospel.

Two articles in the upcoming Desert Spirit offer important possibilities for congregational renewal. The first is lifelong Christian formation. General Convention just endorsed the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation. We do not send soldiers into battle without training or untrained firefighters into a fire. We cannot continue sending Christians into the world without training. Nevada Episcopalians need to know more Scripture, more theology, more church history, and more about our liturgy if they are going to share the faith in a secular society. Our congregations will soon have the opportunity to become learning communities, equipping all our members for daily life and Christian mission.

The other opportunity for change is in our Christian practice. We already do good community ministry, mostly for the homeless and the imprisoned. Today we have a new opportunity to serve children at risk in our communities. This is the most powerfully transformative kind of service we can do. And it is the kind of service that has the most power to transform us. When Louise Helton of Communities in Schools addressed our deacons this summer, there was not a dry eye in the room. We felt the call of Christ to share his love with Nevada’s children, just to give them a chance in life. We felt the power of this ministry to humanize our own lives.

I mention these two new opportunities together because transformation happens by walking forward – left, right, left right. It has a certain yin/yang balance of learning and doing, theoria and praxis, inreach and outreach, renewal and apostolate. It takes both, in balance, for healthy growth.

I cannot imagine all the new songs God will invite us to sing. I cannot imagine all the new things God will do for us, with us, and through us. But I know this much about God’s plan for us: It is life, abundant life.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Where To Get Your Car Fixed In Fallon

The story actually began last Saturday while we were driving the diocesan chariot from Carson City to Tahoe for the Frensdorff Lodge dedication. A thin strip of metal running from bottom to top along the driver’s side edge of the windshield separated slightly from the glass and frame. A long rubber string shot out from beneath the strip of metal. It began flagellating the driver’s side window like a guilt-ridden monk with impure thoughts.
On our way back to Carson, the metal separated further. The rubber flagellant was going berserk by the time we got down the hill. Fortunately, I did not live in Georgia for 18 years without learning what to do in such a situation. We went straight to Raley’s for duct tape. A bit of tape and all was well the rest of the weekend.
But today, at the highway speeds of I-80, on the way from Reno to Fallon, the tape broke loose. By the time we could get to the Pilot Travel Center in Fernley, the metal strip fell plumb off. But I knew what to do. More duct tape. Multiple long cross splices like debriding an incision. 3 long strips from the base of the windshield up onto the roof. Then more cross strips to hold it all in place. It worked like a charm all the way to Fallon.
There I attended a hard but productive meeting, got in the car at 4:00 p.m. and inexplicably but providentially turned on my lights. A senior citizen on a bicycle swerved over beside my still stationary car to tell me I had a headlight out.
I located the nearest garage – which shall remain nameless – and arrived there at 4:30 only to be told all the mechanics had gone home for the day, and no one in Fallon would be willing to help. But, the dour cashier was kind. She called blessed Dave’s Automotive and said, “You wouldn’t be able to fix a headlight would you? That’s what I thought.” But the person on the other end of the line wouldn’t let her off that easy. They wanted to see the headlight, even though they were closing at 5:00.
It was 4:40 when I got to Dave’s. Their cashier Vicki promptly took my keys and said, “We’ll see what we can do.” A bulb would have been easy, but it required a part which came from a parts store right beside the first garage I tried – the one which shall remain nameless. Vicki ordered the part at 4:55 and Ross the tall, raw boned, rough hewn mechanic waited outside in the sun for the delivery. I went outside and waited with Ross. We had a good talk. He told me about his family in Fallon and Chico, and asked me what I do. I explained my peculiar vocation. Eventually, the part arrived – considerably later than it should have. There was a glitch at the auto parts store.
At 5:20 Vicki wrote out my bill, $30.12. So, if you ever need help with your car in Fallon, Nevada, don’t waste time elsewhere. Go straight to Dave’s Automotive in the big blue building next to the bigger blue building which is the Goodyear Tire Store. It’s on the street that is really Hy 50 on the East Side of town. They are a good outfit.