Thursday, April 28, 2016


I sometimes hear the disgruntled question, “what is the diocese doing for us?” Or I hear, “We aren’t sure we are getting our money’s worth from the diocese.” That’s kind of discouraging to me – not because I think we are doing such a great job, but because the very spiritual level of that question is strong evidence that we are not doing so well. There are much better questions we could be asking.

But let’s start with the question people are asking. To answer it, we need to clarify a key term. Who is the diocese that is supposed to be giving people their money’s worth in this question? I assume they mean Wendy (Finance Officer), Michelle (Administration and Communications Officer), Canon Catherine and me.

Wendy works tirelessly not just to keep our diocesan finances and Camp Galilee finances well ordered; but also to help parish treasurers and wardens to keep things right. She is constantly on the phone with them and sometimes travels the state to help our parishes with their accounting. When parishes have insurance claims, Wendy helps them get reimbursed. When clergy or parishes need help with Church Pension Group, she is the one who gets things straightened out. The annual reporting to The Episcopal Church is her job, which involves gathering and compiling al the data from the parishes.

Michelle is the information clearinghouse of the diocese. She produces the weekly E-Announcements, the weekly Clergy Flash, the Nevada DJ (our diocesan journal), the prayer list, and special communications. She maintains, the diocesan web site, Face Book page, and Twitter account. Michelle is the coordinator for all sorts of events – Diocesan Convention, Priests Conference, Deacons Conference, and training events like the recent Preaching Workshops with Prof. Judith McDaniel. Recently she has been hard at it arranging for us to host the Province VIII Deacons Conference in 2017 and the All Our Children Regional Workshop (on equity in public education) in Fall, 2016.
She schedules and arranges Canon Catherine’s and my visits to parishes, prisons, and outreach centers. And Michelle is the basic place people turn to figure out how to get done whatever it is they need. She is the ombudsmen red tape cutter for parishes.

Canon Catherine is usually on the road. She visits parishes to help them explore their vision and mission – sometimes as part of a clergy search process or at other transitional points. Catherine is our Transitions Officer; so she is a headhunter finding clergy to serve in Nevada parishes and a talent agent helping our clergy who need to relocate find new ministries. As Transitions Officer she assists parishes in their profile and search processes so they do not have to hire consultants to help them maneuver their way through the maze of clergy deployment.  She visits congregations to preach, celebrate, facilitate conversations, and teach. At this writing, she just offered her first session of Celtic Spirituality at Epiphany. It was attended by 50 people, 35 of whom were visitors. Right now she is gearing up for the second session, and two congregations in the Northwest have asked her to reprise her course there. She oversees our ministry development for lay and ordained ministries, serves as Individual Discernment Guide to some in the ordination process, and advises the Commission On Ordination & Licensing on the progress of those seeking ordination. She recruits people (including me) to teach our postulants various subjects and leads a group spiritual formation process so our new clergy will bring wise hearts as well as clever heads to their ministry.

These are just a few of the things the diocesan staff does. As for me, “those who seek to justify themselves do not convince.” So I won’t try to persuade you I earn my pay. If you wonder what I do, I’ll just give an example. Last weekend was pretty typical, I had meetings with two aspirants for ordination, met with a grant writer looking for a way to save our building in Virginia City, worked with the lawyers on that same project, attended the Preaching Workshop at Trinity, celebrated and preached at St. John’s in the morning and St. Nicholas (Northern Nevada Correctional Center) in the afternoon, and held a forum on national and international shifts in the Church. On Monday, I spent half of my day “off” driving home, and then joined six of our congregations for a Nevadans For The Common Good meeting that night.

But I really believe all of that is going to answer the wrong question. A mature spirituality would ask something else. Let me give you some facts that lead toward that question.

Last week, when I was at St. John’s, the Women’s Group from St. Paul’s, Sparks were there. They had been having a retreat at Camp Galilee. More and more of our Nevada parishes are sending groups to Galilee for retreats and workshops. We have worked with the Galilee Board on shifting their mission in that direction and we have increased our diocesan support of Galilee by 1,600% since I have been here. That’s one place “our money” (a theologically problematic term) goes. Aside from the fun and formation Galilee offers our children and other children, this is one way Galilee serves parishes. And St. John’s is serving them too by providing Sunday worship in an incomparably beautiful setting.

Holy Trinity, Fallon has become a major supporter of St. Hugh’s Outreach Center in Silver Springs. While I was celebrating at St. Nicholas (in the Northern Nevada Correctional Center) last week, we consecrated additional elements for St. Thomas the Believer (in Lovelock Correctional Center) so the inmates there can have Public Communion Under Special Circumstances. Deacon Marla from St. Paul’s, Elko goes once a month to lead worship for St. Barnabas, Wells. Priests from Fallon and the Pyramid Lake congregations travel to Yerington to serve at St. Alban’s.

St. Martin’s, Pahrump has a line item in their budget to support St. Mark’s, Tonopah and sends Bob Greene twice a month to lead worship and to train a Worship Leader/ Eucharistic Visitor in Tonopah to help them stand on their own feet. Grace in the Desert has begun a program called Travels With Shannon And Sherm. Their priests take turns leading delegations of laity from Grace to visit small congregations, particularly those who do not have priests so Shannon and Sherm serve as celebrants.

We just conducted training in community organizing skills to be used for building bridges between the Latino and English Speaking members of All Saints, Christ Church, and St. Matthew’s. Epiphany hosted it.

Lay and clergy leaders from Trinity, Epiphany, and Grace are serving as stewardship consultants to seven congregations using the new Project Resource model for their parish stewardship programs.

The point: more and more of our congregations are dropping the passive dependent question, what is the diocese doing for us? and putting together this missional statement/ question combo: We are the diocese. What can we do for each other in the name of Christ?

Thursday, April 7, 2016


Dear Southern Nevada Clergy,

         I write with a request – short and simple – and an explanation – not as short or simple.

         The Request: that you use all means at your disposal to bring a strong contingent from your congregation to OUR FAITH IN ACTION: OUR DEMOCRACY AT WORK at the Cashman Center, May 9, 6 p.m. – the 2016 Convention of Nevadans for the Common Good.

         My commitment to this broad-based community organizing effort is not a personal idiosyncrasy. Today, one has to be trained in this practice to get an M. Div. at CDSP. One has to have this training to be ordained in many dioceses from Olympia to North Carolina. This is the CPE of today. So I challenge those of us who were trained in the old style priesthood to at least check out what is happening today.

But why is it happening? Properly done, this will grow your congregation and strengthen your lay leadership to do a better job of what they already think of as Church. Michael Gecan[i], Organizing For Congregational Renewal. This is a strong tool for congregational development. But somehow we want more.

I was at a TEC task force meeting recently in which the group spoke mockingly of the idea of “getting our theology straight” before taking action. True, we often need to take action (praxis) and do theological reflection (theologica) simultaneously but the reflection is necessary. So why is the Church today so invested in broad-based community organizing?

         There are several good books directly in point.

Luke Bretherton[ii], Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, & The Politics Of A Common Life

Luke Bretherton, Christianity & Contemporary Politics

Charles Mathewes[iii], A Theology Of Public Life.

Caveat. This is not light reading. It is academic theology. Another book is older, not quite as directly in point, and by a philosopher instead of a theologian, but is more accessible:

         Jean Bethke Elshtain, Augustine And The Limits Of Politics

I want you to see and understand that this is not just a political thing. It is not something for “the outreach committee.” It is at the heart of Christian faith and spiritual practice. The resources I have given you will explain it more deeply but here is my simple take on it.

Christianity consists of participation in a network of relationship.

For Paul, salvation (which includes our becoming whole) comes from our being together “in Christ.” It is not a matter of having the right theology in our head or the right emotions flowing in our bodies. It is not doing the right ritual the right way. Salvation is effected by a particular kind of relationship with each other. Communion ritually expresses it. But the relationship is most often called being “in Christ” or being “the Body of Christ.

Eucharistic Prayer B says:

In him you have delivered us from evil and made us worthy to stand before you.

In him you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.

After receiving the sacrament, we thank God for

   . . . assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son . . .

As clergy, you well know that Christianity is not a private possession. It isn’t coming “to the garden alone.” It’s relationship with each other. “Anyone who says he loves God and hates his neighbor is a liar for how can he love God whom he has not seen and hate his neighbor who he has seen.” 1 John 4: 20.  We find God first and foremost in the place where God has imprinted his image, in human beings. Christianity consists in our mutual relationship as the Body of Christ.

The Body Is “Of Christ” If It Lives By Christ’s Spirit

Any collection of people from a scouting organization to a bowling league could be considered a “body” in that people are working together for a common goal. The electorate is “a body politic.” But what makes a body “of Christ”?

A body is “of Christ” if it is animated by the same Spirit that animated Jesus to continue doing what Jesus did. “Christ” means anointed. We are Christians (little Christs) if we are anointed with the same Spirit that anointed Jesus to do what Jesus did. What is that? Jesus answered that question as he began his ministry.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captive,
recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.
                                                      -- Luke 4: 18

 Bishop Curry calls that The Jesus Movement. I have been calling it The Kingdom Mission. It’s doing what Jesus did in our context – together! If we are not engaged in that Mission, if we are just doing our ritual on Sunday followed by coffee hour, that does no harm but it does not constitute the Body of Christ. It takes more than eating the bread to be the Body.

Serving Others, Sure. But Why Broad-Based Community Organizing?

The problem with politics today is that it divides people into opposing camps in which our camp winning is more important than solving problems for the common good. This year, those divisions are taking particularly hateful and sometimes violent forms. It has become a blood sport.

Issue-based organizing collects people who agree about an issue then charges to the barricades. Introducing issue-based organizing in a congregation usually divides the congregation along the same partisan lines that control their associations and disassociations outside the church.

Broad-based organizing connects people who simply live in the same community. They share stories, identify concerns, and do research to find pragmatic ways to solve problems. Nevadans For The Common Good has found allies across the political spectrum and helped them work together to solve problems for the common good. Instead of dividing people up according to their political ideologies or opinions, it brings people together, teaching them how to have relationship-building conversations – the basic process for forming the Body of Christ.

This is hard work. It requires patience, sacrifice, empathy, and flexibility. Compromise, to us, is not a four-letter word. In order to do this work, we have to grow a character. Developing the capacity for this work is a process of spiritual transformation, of spiritual growth.

Charles Mathewes writes of a political ascesis in which we engage the world for the common good, succeeding sometimes, failing sometimes, but always learning and growing. Relying heavily on St. Augustine, Mathewes emphasizes that we are not going to construct the Kingdom of God (the Heavenly City) in our lifetimes. But, still relying on Augustine, he says that this work we do in organizing is how we are prepared to “bear the weight of glory” in the age to come. Or in William Blake’s words
         We are put on this earth for a little space
         That we might learn to bear the beams of love.

We struggle faithfully to change the world in a godly way; but as often as not, it is we ourselves who are changed by the struggle.

Elshstain (relying on and quoting Augustine) said:
         The life of the saint . . . is a social life. We are with,
         and among, one another . . .. . If we are to “promote the
         well-being of the common people,” we much love God
         and our neighbor, and the one helps to underscore and
         animate the other.

Note: our active love of neighbor drives us to God as well as vice versa. If we would love God, this is the starting place.

I know some say the Church should not concern itself with such things. It might be easier to look away. But God did not order Moses to tell the Israelites to bear their burdens patiently and hope for heaven. God sent him to Pharaoh (the government) to seek freedom and justice. God did not send Elijah to Nabob’s widow to assure her she’d get her husband back someday. God sent Elijah to King Ahab (the government) to condemn the rich plundering the poor. God did not send Martin Luther King, Jr. or Desmond Tutu to offer spiritual counsel on how to live meekly with segregation/ apartheid but to confront the principalities and powers of this present age (the government) with God’s demand for kindly and decent treatment of one another. There is no one and no sphere of power exempt from this demand.

The Ask

Please look at the attachment to this letter to see the kind of work we have been doing in collaboration with churches, synagogues, mosques, and non-profits in our community.

If you are already on board with this work, I look forward to seeing you May 9. Please bring as many people as you can so that they can get a sense of what this about and make an informed decision as to whether they want to be a part of it.

If you are not already with us, please come and check it out. When you do, bring a few friends so you can learn about this together.

                                                                        Blessings always,

                                                                        Dan Edwards

[i] Community Organizer in New York and Chicago

[ii] Anglican professor of theology at Duke Divinity School.

[iii] Roman Catholic theology professor at University of Virginia and advisor to the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops.