KENTUCKY: Presiding Bishop brings message of reconciliation on three-day diocesan visit

May 30, 2008

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, during the third weekend in May, crisscrossed the western half of Kentucky, speaking with the people of the Diocese of Kentucky who greeted her with an abundance of joy and thanksgiving at each stop on her three-day visit.

From May 16-18, accompanied by Kentucky Bishop Ted Gulick, Jefferts Schori traveled by car and then plane from Louisville to Paducah at the far western edge of the diocese and back, with a stop in between for a "Tent Meeting Episcopal Style" at the diocese's camp and conference center.

All told, more than 1,600 people turned out to meet her, listen to her preach and worship with her during five public gatherings, which included two "Conversations with the Presiding Bishop" (at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Louisville, and Grace Episcopal Church, Paducah, and three worship services at Grace, Paducah; Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral and Church of the Resurrection, both in Louisville. At each location, the Presiding Bishop brought a vision of a church and its people in conversation and community.

The "Conversations" were held on the first and second evenings of her visit. Moderated by local news media personalities, the Presiding Bishop was asked a series of questions -- ranging from the tensions within the church to her prayer life and vegetarianism -- that had been submitted in advance by email as well as presented during the forum.

When asked the first evening to comment on the amount of in fighting within the Episcopal Church, Jefferts Schori replied that fighting only takes place in an institution "centered in power."

"There is no need to fight if we continue to ask 'how can we serve the poor?'" she said, adding that churches focused on "serving the least among us" thrive.

Having just come from a summit on domestic poverty, Jefferts Schori reported that a major conclusion reached at the conference was that when Christians focus on the needs of others, the Lord's work can be done and community can be built among those doing that work. She noted the example of people from conservative and progressive congregations who work together in New Orleans to provide relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. "The growing parts [of the church] are focused on loving God and their neighbors. And when we do that, we can have different opinions about things and do the work that God sets before us."

Questioned about whether lawsuits are the way to resolve disputes, she explained, "The role of the Episcopal Church as a denomination is to support dioceses in their mission…We will support the actions of local dioceses when they are faced with a situation like this." While some people believe the church should not go to court, she said, "there is often not a choice in the matter" and noted that the denomination has a "fiduciary and moral responsibility to see that the legacy of this church is used for the purpose for which it was given." She noted hopefully, however, that "we're finding that the bulk of this work is behind us."

At the start of the St. Matthew's forum, Jefferts Schori, at the request of Gulick, spoke briefly about this summer's Lambeth Conference, which every 10 years brings together the bishops in the Anglican Communion.

"Communities of faith are places where we spend time and come to know each other intimately," she said. Just as the forums offered a place for conversation between her and the people of diocese, she said, Lambeth conferences are places for the leaders of Anglican provinces to have "deep, leisurely" conversations that can lead to transformation. Their mornings are devoted to Bible study, and later in the day they "gather in groups to converse about some particular issues." However, legislation, which is "not a community-building exercise," is not a part of their plan, she said.

"I think we are very hopeful because more than 600 of the more than 880 bishops of the Anglican Communion with full time episcopacies will be there," she said. "Yes some primates are not coming, but some bishops are registered from those provinces."

Responding to questions at the second forum about the future of the Episcopal Church, Jefferts Schori said the church "is going to look less and less like most of the people in this room. The growing parts of this society are immigrants, people of color, even in Kentucky. People are coming from Mexico and other places [such as] south Asia. Three of the four people we baptized this morning were Chinese... We have to wake up to that. We have to recognize that the Episcopal Church is not going to just be Anglo. We have not done a good job of evangelism by reproduction, and there are important reasons for that... We're going to have to do our evangelism in other ways and again that means thinking outside the door."

About 600 people filled the parish hall and overflow areas at the St. Matthew's forum and more than 300 attended the forum at Grace.

The most different and arguably most glorious venue for her visit was the tent meeting, which brought about 325 people on a picture-perfect, blustery Saturday afternoon to All Saints' Episcopal Conference Center on Rough River, about 80 miles southwest of Louisville. Throughout the service, a gentle, but constant breeze breathed life into the huge, five-peaked white tent, nudging hundreds of origami cranes into motion, as Jefferts Schori preached and presided over the service. She baptized five, confirmed 35, received one, and reaffirmed the faith of two that afternoon.

In her sermon, Jefferts Schori emphasized, as she did many times that weekend, God's unfailing love. "What happens when we begin to live out this awareness that God really loves us beyond our imagining?" she asked. Reconciliation, which means "coming together to take counsel," is about "conversation" and being aware that "whatever we do, God still loves us and will continue to love us, even when we're not feeling so loveable," she said. "Reconciliation is in the deepest sense about healing a broken world. It's about bringing people back to that remembrance about how God really does love us. The baptism and confirming we are doing this morning are a reminder of that. When a person stands up and says, 'Yes, I will with God's help'…we are confirming this. We are saying, 'Yes, I love the world…I will go and do the healing work everywhere I go in the world. I won't do it perfectly. But I will keep trying."

At Evensong later that day at Grace, the Presiding Bishop reiterated her message of God's love for all creation and shared her belief that the Trinitarian God offers Christians a model for relationship and community. Through our baptismal vows, we declare this understanding of the Trinity, she suggested. "We recognize that deep down when we welcome another into the community of the body of Christ, we are acknowledging that we depend on each other and the presence of this new member will change the rest of us," she said. More than 300 attended the service and stayed for the second "conversation."

The next day she was greeted by more than 200 at each of the two worship services she led in Louisville. At the cathedral, she preached and presided over the Eucharist and dedicated its magnificent new altar. At Resurrection, she was introduced to an ethnically diverse congregation of Anglo, Sudanese and Burmese Episcopalians, whose Sudanese Youth Choir jubilantly danced and sang hymns in Dinka and its adult choir presented her with an original hymn about her ministry.

Her visit officially ended that afternoon with a tour of the Episcopal Church Home, where she visited with about 100 residents, board of directors' members and retired clergy during a reception. She also met three young African American photographers, invited by the diocese to document the reception. The youths are members of a photography class offered at the diocesan-supported St. George's Community Center, which has an active educational program for inner city youth and is a nationally recognized Freedom School site. The students have achieved local recognition for their work and are now being asked by area non-profit organizations to photograph special events since the publication of their calendar, "the Doors of St. George's," which they presented to the Presiding Bishop. The calendar, a fundraising project, features their photographs of the doors of the Episcopal churches in metropolitan Louisville.

Gulick asked the presiding bishop at her first public meeting to "lend us your eyes" and help us see what you see. During the weekend, she complied and taught, among other things, the Zulu word, "ubuntu," which she translated, "I am because we are." Ubuntu expresses the concept of interdependence, which she said is "fundamental to our understanding of the body of Christ. When one part of the body suffers, we all do; when one of us rejoices, we all do."

She encouraged the diocese to "know something about ubuntu -- your work in Jubilee ministries, your focus on the Millennium Development Goals…You're beginning to know yourselves as Koreans, Sudanese, Karen, Chinese as well as Anglo…If we as individuals and as a community want to participate in God, then we too will be restless until all are at rest and comfort and healing of that holy community of God."

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