Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bishop & Dean

To: Members of the Diocese of North Dakota

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The Diocesan Council met last weekend and I am happy to report that they decided to concur with the Cathedral Chapter about my proposal to serve as Dean for the Cathedral as well as Bishop for the Diocese as a one year experiment. I am grateful for the overwhelming support for this proposal as reflected in the votes of the two bodies and their willingness to take risks and try new things as we seek to live within our means for the sake of the Church’s mission and not merely its maintenance.

The conversations and deliberations of the past three months have yielded, in my opinion, a better version of my original proposal. The approved experiment is as follows:

• For one year, the bishop will serve on a 38% time basis for the Diocese as the
episcopal minister and a 62% time basis as the dean of the Cathedral.

Serving with me as part of a pastoral staff will be:

• A full-time Administrator for the Diocese;
• A full-time Secretary, serving the Cathedral primarily and the Diocese as a Receptionist;
• A 1/4-time minister or two 1/8-time ministers for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral;
• 1.875 (FTE) ministers serving the Diocese as the Bishop’s Diocesan Ministry Team (the three current Canon Missioners and the Bishop’s Executive Assistant).

In addition, I have appointed an Evaluation Task Force comprised of Canon Zanne Ness as Chair with John Baird, Sandi Meyers, Rob Odney, Margie Bailly, Brett Shewey, Bart Davis and Carmine Goodhouse as members. The charge given the Evaluation Task Force is:

• To report to the Diocesan Council and Cathedral Chapter in November 2011 with a plan for evaluation for approval by both bodies;
• To conduct the evaluation December 2011 through February 2012;
• To report in March 2012 with recommendations based on their findings to both bodies.

It is my sense that there are valid concerns about whether under this plan the Bishop will have enough time for the Diocese; and whether the Dean will have enough time for the Cathedral; and whether I will have enough time for the Diocese, the Cathedral, my family and myself. I don’t think we will know the answers to these questions until we try it out. I look forward to all of the things we will learn during the coming year.

May this approaching Holy Week draw you more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. I am,

Yours in Christ,

+Michael

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sermon preached at Gethsemane Cathedral, Fargo yesterday

I don’t know about you, but I have known better weeks than this past one. Dean Sellers’ resignation and subsequent announcement that he is seeking ordination in the Roman Catholic Church have caused quite a stir. Responses have been varied and all over the map: from anger to serenity; from a sense of betrayal to a sense of relief; from shock to acceptance.

I hope everyone understands that the road between Canterbury and Rome is a two-way street and oftentimes quite busy. I personally know more Roman Catholic priests who have become Episcopal priests than I know those who have gone the other way. I wish the timing of the announcement had been handled differently, but I hope eventually everyone can join me in continuing to care for Steve and Dixie, praying for their continued service of the Lord and their growth in discipleship.

Once when one of my daughters was getting ready to head off to college, she confided in me, warned me really, that she might check out other churches while there. It seems the Book of Common Prayer wasn’t “doing it” for her. (Secretly, I was relieved that she wanted to be a Christian of any kind.) I told her that I believe it is important to be part of Christian group where Jesus Christ can be most real to a person; where one’s faith can become alive. And I believe that. I also told her she was always welcome to return to the Episcopal Church if she wanted.

It is important to be in a community where a Christian can become more than a nice person, more than a good person, more than a church member. As good as all those things are, the Church is here primarily to make disciples – followers who are under the discipline of Jesus Christ. Ultimately that is what our beautiful church buildings and our traditional Book of Common Prayer and our inspiring musical traditions and our historic church order are designed for – to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe I have been able to become a better disciple in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition. I hope you can say that as well.

In these confusing and troubling times, it is essential that we not forget the basics; that we not forget who and whose we are; that we not forget the foundations upon which we serve God. We are reminded of them in the scriptures heard today: We are called by the prophet Micah “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8).

In the Gospel we are reminded by Jesus that our focus is to be on the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger for and thirst for righteousness. We remember that one day roles will be reversed and that when God the Liberator comes, those who know need now will have plenty on that day. Blessed, happy indeed will they be!

We recall that we, Jesus’ disciples, are to be merciful; we are to be peacemakers; we are to be reconcilers; but we are also warned that we will become victims of gossip and know hardship, estrangement and loneliness when we attempt to do these things.

You might not have realized it, but that is why we worship here at Gethsemane Cathedral. This is the kind of fruit that should be growing in our lives.

In this time of uncertainty and cynicism, I share with you words attributed to Mother Theresa of Calcutta. I believe they reflect the spirit of today’s bible lessons and are important pieces of wisdom for us at this Cathedral community as we look forward to our re-birth and new future:

"People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway."

Friday, January 14, 2011

A New/Old Model of Episcopate for North Dakota?

To: Members of the Gethsemane Cathedral Chapter and the North Dakota Diocesan Council

From: Bishop Michael Smith

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We in the Diocese are beginning to become familiar with the term “Fresh Expressions” of Church. It is a movement that seeks to meet the increasing secularism in our culture and institutional decline in the mainline denominations with new and creative ways of engaging in the ancient ministry of the Church. Almost all agree that the old ways of doing things are not working anymore, and that a renewed manner of functioning and organizing for mission is necessary if our expression of Christianity is to live much beyond the next generation.

No doubt you are aware of the recent announcement of the resignation of the Dean of Gethsemane Cathedral, effective March 15. We are grateful for the ministry of Father Steve Sellers and his wife, Dixie, and offer prayers for blessing on the next chapter of their lives. This approaching vacancy at the Cathedral provides a rare opportunity for us to seriously consider what may be a “fresh expression” for the Cathedral and the Diocese in moving to a Bishop/Rector, or in this case a Bishop/Dean, model of ministry.

Such a move would actually be a return to the original practice of The Episcopal Church where all bishops served as rectors of congregations. There was even a discussion about such a possibility for North Dakota during the search which led to my election in 2004. This conversation, however, was cut short because it was understood by some that the national canons would not allow such an arrangement. Given the recent election and consents for the bishop-elect of the Diocese of Western Kansas, a diocese numerically similar to ours in size, the Bishop/Rector model has been given the blessing of The Episcopal Church.

What I am proposing is consideration of the following:

• The bishop serves on a 1/3-time basis for the Diocese as the episcopal minister and a 2/3-time basis as rector/dean of the Cathedral.

Serving with the bishop as part of a pastoral staff would be:

• a full-time Administrator, serving both the Diocese and the Cathedral;
• a full-time Secretary, serving both the Diocese and the Cathedral;
• a 1/4-time Minister or two 1/8-time Ministers for Pastoral Care serving the Cathedral;
• 1.875 (FTE) Ministers serving the Diocese as the Bishop’s Diocesan Ministry Team (the three current Canon Missioners and the Bishop’s Executive Assistant).

If there is a will to move in this direction there is a way. The current budgets of both the Cathedral and the Diocese would allow for such adaptation. Therefore, to further this discernment, I will be presenting to the Chapter revised cathedral budget recommendations at its February meeting and revised diocesan budget recommendations to the Diocesan Council at its March meeting. Obviously, both bodies must agree if such a model is to become a reality.

Your prayerful consideration is requested. Realizing that there will be many questions, I invite you and others beyond the Chapter and Diocesan Council to post comments and/or questions here in hopes of engaging in an online discussion. (If you have difficulty posting, contact me at bpnodak@aol.com and I’ll post for you.)

May God bless you, my sisters and brothers, as we seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance for our life together. I am,

Yours in Christ,

+Michael

Monday, November 1, 2010

2010 Bishop's Address to Diocesan Convention

Bishop’s Address
To the Fortieth Annual Convention
of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota
October 30, 2010

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

We have heard Jesus say: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2). Indeed one of our needs in this Diocese is to recruit fellow laborers to work with us in the plentiful harvest fields of North Dakota. Jesus says in another place: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt. 18:20). You see it doesn’t take very many laborers to make a difference. For the quality of the worker, not the quantity, is the issue.

Asset-Based Community Development

A number of us have been involved in training sponsored by the national church known as Asset-Based Community Development or ABCD. One of my takeaways from these trainings has been its focus on “opinion vs. motivation to act.” All of us have many opinions about a number of things, but not all these opinions are equal. Some of them are passions that actually motivate individuals to act rather than merely talk about an issue. ABCD asks the question: Is that only an opinion or is it a passion on which you are willing to act? Two or three people with passion, ABCD teaches, are enough to make a difference. In biblical language two or three disciples or two or three laborers are enough to make a difference in the worlds in which we find ourselves.

I have seen this principle in action recently. Brock and LuAnn Baker are a young married couple with a new baby at the Cathedral. They have a passion for the needs of the people of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe Nation where Brock has roots. One Sunday, at announcement time, they shared with the congregation their idea for a Thanksgiving project at St. Sylvan’s Church in Dunseith. Some in the congregation were obviously inspired by their passion. Within a few weeks they had raised $1,500 and gathered 10 adult volunteers to work with them on this project. Two or three disciples with a passion can make a difference.

Fresh Expressions

I hope you were able to participate in the Fresh Expressions workshops yesterday led by Professor Philip Harrold. He reminded us of five values of a mission-shaped church: A missionary church is focused on the Trinity, incarnational, transformational, disciple-making and relational. Although the culture in England is further down the road of secularism and institutional church decline, the Fresh Expressions of church movement there has been encouraging us to make changes now while we can. It only takes two or three disciples with a passion to make a difference.

Young Adults

Last weekend at Richardton, Julie Helgaas of Grace Church in Jamestown and the Cathedral in Fargo, shared with those lay leaders and clergy gathered, some of her learnings from the recent Episcopal Network for Stewardship conference. Julie has a passion for what she learned about those under the age of 35 and their views of and relationships with money. She reported that researchers are discovering that young adults, with some good reasons, are very suspicious of institutions, including the church, and are not likely to “pledge” payments of money as we have been accustomed in the past. They are, however, interested in ‘making the world a better place’ and will invest their money in projects they see as such. These young adults don’t carry much cash, it seems, and prefer to contribute using their credit cards. Accordingly, Julie is working to make such payment options available at the Cathedral and for the Diocese.

Young adults are among those who largely identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” They are demonstrating a hunger for spirituality and for many of the traditions of the church we aging baby boomers have taken for granted and even reacted against. I think it essential for us to focus on the recruitment of disciples under the age of thirty-five as part of our “fresh expressions” of church. And if we are going to recruit them, we must be ready to teach and train them in the spiritual and corporal disciplines of the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Doctoral Studies

A priority I have seen is a need for continuing education for our clergy and lay leaders and formation for those in our local ordination processes. With those needs in mind, several years ago I began to encourage our canon missioners to work on their Doctor of Ministry degrees. The idea is for them to serve as a kind of “seminary faculty” or providers of theological education for the Diocese.

Every teacher knows that he or she is best when the teacher has energy and passion for the subject being taught. I think we have experienced that at the monasteries in Richardton, only last week, learning from John Floberg, Julie Helgaas, Zanne Ness and myself; and the one before that from Steve Sellers and Kevin Goodrich; and a good number of others before that during the deacon formation program. I, myself, have begun a Doctor of Ministry program this fall and can report that I have done valuable reading and study I would have never found the time to do unless I had a professor challenging me with deadlines. I am also learning how to facilitate and deliver online theological education via the internet. This is the wave of the future and we must not be left behind.

My hope had been that more lay ministers would join us for these educational and formational opportunities in Richardton, but this has not been the case. Therefore, I call your attention to p. 16 of the Pre-convention issue of The Sheaf and the schedule for the 2010-2011 North Dakota School for Ministry. If lay leaders will not come to Richardton, we will come to you. Among this school year’s offerings are workshops and courses in Jamestown, Grand Forks, Minot, Bismarck and Fargo. Our people deserve the best theological education available. Education is a good investment for the Diocese.

Restoration of Episcopal Priesthood

One of the things we learn from good theological education is that the church is a community that participates in and continues the reconciling work of Christ. In fact, the Book of Common Prayer teaches that the mission of the Church is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP 855).

Today it will be our privilege to participate in an act of restoring the Rev. Cherian Mathew as a priest of The Episcopal Church. We have worked through the canonical processes and are ready to celebrate his restoration as he makes the Oath of Conformity with you as witnesses.

Cherian will be assigned once again as a part of the ministry team in Dickinson where St. Paul’s Independent Episcopal Church and St. John’s Episcopal Church have merged as one congregation. In this time of ecclesiastical chaos where splitting and litigation seems the order of the day, this story coming out of Dickinson is indeed good news and should be celebrated and shared.

Anglican Communion Covenant

Finally, a few words about the Anglican Communion Covenant and the resolution before us today: Resolution 3, “affirming the principles of the Anglican Communion Covenant” marks the culmination of a six year process begun in 2004 when the Windsor Report was released.

I have friends and colleagues who believe that the Anglican Communion Covenant is essentially about the exclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons from the Church. There are those who assert that women would never have been ordained had a Covenant been in place during the 1970’s. Others state that the idea of a Covenant is somehow “Un-Anglican.” It will come as no surprise that I disagree with all three of these assertions.

In my view, the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant is about keeping disparate voices and conflicting theological views at the same table long enough to think and pray through issues that threaten to divide us permanently. Those on both extremes, the Left and the Right, are already moving in their own directions, splitting from one another, confident that their causes are just and the will of God. Those who support the Covenant tend to be the moderate Liberals and moderate Conservatives who don’t claim to know all the answers, but are convinced we need opposing views to discern the whole truth. This “diverse center” of the church is comprised of those who are willing to wait on one another as together we discern the mind of Christ.

To my friends who say this is about excluding gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons I say I have never heard anyone in the Diocese of North Dakota argue that anyone should not be welcome in our churches. To the contrary, everyone must be welcomed with open arms. The essential theological question about which there has been almost no discussion is not “inclusion,” but rather “Christian marriage.” We need divergent views and voices at the same table in order to help one another understand this matter more clearly. This is what the Anglican Covenant seeks to commend.

To my colleagues who assert that women would not be ordained today had there been a Covenant in the 1970’s, I refer you to the Windsor Report where the controversies around this matter are cited as an example of the healthy functioning of the Anglican Instruments of Communion. In the end, without splitting apart, the provinces of the Communion agreed that this was an area where we could “agree to disagree” and a period of reception of this new practice began.

To those who say the idea of a Covenant is “Un-Anglican,” I say that every living organism must adapt or perish. To say “we’ve never done it that way before” is to ignore the signs of the times. No, we are being invited through this proposed Covenant to become part of a new and invigorated Anglicanism and called to participate in global mission with the third largest group of the world’s Christians.

An important part of a bishop’s ministry is to “guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church” and with my fellow bishops to “share in the leadership of the Church throughout the world” (BCP 517.) I have worked diligently the past six years on local, national and international fronts, laboring to keep Conservatives in the Episcopal Church and working to keep Liberals in the Anglican Communion. Today I ask you to stand with me in this endeavor by urging the General Convention to adopt the Anglican Communion Covenant for The Episcopal Church.

Monday, September 20, 2010

House of Bishops Presentation


I one time heard a comedian speaking about Canada, but his words apply equally to North Dakota: North Dakota is kind of like your attic. You forget it’s up there, but every once in a while you stick your head in, look around and say, “Hey, there’s some really cool stuff up here.”

The Great Commission of Matthew 28 is crucial for our context. However, rather than North Dakota going to the nations to make disciples, the nations have come to us.

We begin with the First Nations of the land. There we have six congregations on four reservations serving the Arikara, Dakota/Lakota and Ojibwe peoples.

Then, in the late 1800’s immigrant populations from Russia, Germany and Scandanavia, especially from Norway, descended upon us and are still with us today.

We built churches in anticipation of their arrival, especially for the Lutherans who we expected would become Episcopalians, but to our dismay brought their pastors with them. (As a result we have contributed a number of quaint stone churches for service as county museums throughout the state.)

And in almost every small town in North Dakota are one Roman Catholic church and several brands of Lutherans. (I have toyed with the idea of a church growth campaign with the motto: “When Lutherans marry Roman Catholics they are really Episcopalians,” but ecumenical sensitivity inhibits me.)

More recently, tribes from the Sudan have joined us. One of our largest churches is a Sudanese congregation which has three services on Sunday: one in English, one in Dinka, and one in Arabic.

Demographically, North Dakota is a very white state with over 90% of the population comprised of European Americans. In contrast, however, the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota is much more racially diverse, as evidenced by the fact the over one-quarter of our clergy are people of color, including Native, African and Sudanese Americans. This provides us with inroads into those communities that other denominations simply do not have. (We also enjoy an almost even 50/50 split between male and female clergy.)

We are being called, I believe, to grow in our own sense of discipleship as we reach out to these nations-in-our-midst with the invitation to join us as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ following the Anglican Way.

The 8th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles recounts the beginning of the severe persecution of the church, resulting in the scattering of the disciples throughout Judea and Samaria. I’m sure that’s not what the apostles had in mind when Jesus told them earlier that they would be his “witnesses in Judea, Samaria and even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1). But there you have it. The Christian Gospel was spread through traumatic circumstances.

On my better days, I am able to view the financial crisis we are all facing and the very difficult decisions we are forced to make in a similar fashion. Just maybe God is using these circumstances to push us to a place we might not have been able to go on our own strength of will and motivation.

We are very much aware of the cultural shift occurring in our time as reminded, for example, by Phyllis Tickle in her book, The Great Emergence. We have been inspired by the Fresh Expressions movement in England and are beginning to realize that people will not automatically come to us, but that we will have to go to them.

This reality requires more from our people than we’ve ever asked before. This requires that our people be willing to be transformed from mere church members to actual disciples of Jesus Christ.

I think God is willing to do the transforming, but are we willing to be changed becomes the question. In the Gospel of Luke (chapter 10), Jesus himself notes that while “the harvest is plenty, laborers are few.”

Finally, in the first chapter of Acts, Jesus tells his followers that they will “receive power” when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. In the words of our Pentecostal brothers and sisters, we in North Dakota need a “Holy Ghost anointing.”

In my opinion, only by the Holy Spirit’s power and our willingness to be used by that same Spirit, will we be able to join in God’s mission of reconciliation -- a mission that causes us to serve the poor, to work for peace and justice, and to introduce wandering people to a life-giving, life-saving relationship with God in Jesus Christ, not only in North Dakota but to the very ends of the earth.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Faith Alive

Dear Friends:

The Canon for Evangelism of the Diocese of Dallas, Carrie Boren, has recommended a Faith Alive weekend for congregations in North Dakota. Visit their website and notify Canon Kevin Goodrich OP at canongoodrich@aol.com if you are interested in hosting one of these weekends at your church.

+Michael

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Guatemala Medical Mission

The Diocesan Medical and Dental Mission Team left today, June 27, for Guatemala. Your prayers are requested for this 35-member team of physicians, nurse practitioners, med students, pharmacists, nurses, dieticians, dental assistants, helpers, linguists and clergy as they serve the people of San Marcos Parish in Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala. They are scheduled to return to Fargo on Wednesday, July 7.

+Michael

Collect for the Diocesan Medical Mission Team in Guatemala:

O GOD of all the nations of the earth: Watch over the medical mission team from the Diocese of North Dakota who are following your call to care and serve those in need in Guatemala. Protect them in their travels, guide them in their efforts to heal and help them to see the face of Christ in all whom they encounter. Increase an awareness of your love and grace in all the people this mission serves and bless, we pray, the mission team’s family members who remain at home. We ask this in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.