NORTHERN MICHIGAN: Rayford Jeffrey Ray consecrated as 11th bishop

Diocese poised for mission, creating new community
May 22, 2011

The Rt. Rev. Rayford Jeffrey Ray was consecrated the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan during a May 21 celebration of baptismal ministry held on the campus of Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

"It was an exciting time and I am humbled by it all," Ray said May 23 of the celebration at the university's Vandament Arena attended by about 450 Episcopalians and interfaith and ecumenical guests.

"The whole focus on baptismal ministry is a very important part of who and what we are in the diocese," added Ray, 54, who has served in Northern Michigan for more than 20 years, working as a ministry development coordinator in the south central region of the diocese.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was chief consecrator during the ceremony, centered around a "huge" baptismal font with flowing waters from the three Great Lakes, Michigan, Superior and Huron, which surround the Upper Peninsula, he said.

The font symbolized "that we're all part of the living waters, we're all connected as people of God. It was a celebration of our baptismal life as we continue our journey together as part of the Episcopal Church," Ray said.

He said the diocese, which traces its earliest roots to the 1760s when Anglican chaplains served the British garrison at Fort Mackinac, an outpost overlooking Lakes Huron and Michigan, is poised for mission.

"Our focus is to go out and create new communities in the Upper Peninsula in the next few years. We've created ministry support teams and teams to work with communities in terms of learning. Now we're going to go out. We're looking at emergent churches and house churches," he said.

Co-consecrators included bishops from neighboring dioceses: Robert Gepert of Western Michigan; Wendell Gibbs, Jr., of Michigan; and Todd Ousley of Eastern Michigan, as well as Bishop Thomas Skrenes of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Also serving as co-consecrator was the Rt. Rev. Tom Ray (no relation to Rayford Ray), who retired as ninth bishop of Northern Michigan in 1999. He had served as assisting bishop since the death of his successor, Bishop James Kelsey, in a 2007 car accident.

Ray said that other bishops attending included: David Bailey of Navajoland; Catherine Waynick of Indianapolis; Russell Jacobus of Fond du Lac; Alan Scarfe of Iowa; Martin Field of West Missouri; Dan Martins of Springfield and William Persell, retired diocesan of Chicago.

Included among the guests was Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, who is a member of the Diocese of Michigan, as well as local Roman Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Baha'i representatives, Ray said.

Fredrica Harris Thompsett, the Mary Wolfe Professor of Historical Theology emerita of the Episcopal Divinity School, was guest preacher. She and the presiding bishop also were featured speakers a day earlier at an educational forum at St. Paul's Church in Marquette.

"The presiding bishop shared what was going on in the Anglican Communion and Fredrica Thompsett talked about baptismal ministry," he said. Thompsett has enjoyed a strong relationship with the Northern Michigan diocese, which encompasses a wilderness of nearly 20,000 square miles.

As part of its mission outreach the diocese has engaged a billboard campaign recently, Ray added. "Our commitment is that there are no outcasts in the church, everyone is welcome. We've been using that theme for an advertising campaign throughout the diocese, on billboards that say, ‘God Loves You, No Exceptions'," he said.

Ray, a four-time deputy to General Convention, was elected bishop Dec. 4, 2010, and also served recently as an adjunct instructor at the Episcopal Divinity School.

Born in Heidelberg, Germany, August 30, 1956, he became a U.S. citizen on his 18th birthday. He earned a bachelors degree in history and language arts from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma. He was confirmed at age 24 at St. Andrew's Church in Lawton, Oklahoma.

A former middle school geography, social studies and American history teacher, Ray is a 1986 graduate of Nashotah House. He served congregations in Oklahoma until 1990, when he moved to Northern Michigan.

He was ordained to the diaconate on June 21, 1986, and to the priesthood April 1, 1987.

He is married to Suzanne Ray, also a priest in the diocese. The couple lives in Rapid River and has three sons and four grandchildren. Since the diocese has no cathedral, there will be no formal seating, he said. He will continue to live in Rapid River and will maintain offices in Marquette and in Escanaba, he added.

The Diocese of Northern Michigan had been without a bishop since 2007 when Kelsey died. In February 2009, the diocese elected the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester as bishop, but he did not receive the approval of a majority of diocesan bishops and standing committees within the wider church to be consecrated.

Founded in 1895, the diocese encompasses 27 congregations and about 1,700 Episcopalians in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.