On The Road in Olympia with the Presiding Bishop

April 16, 2008

The focus is definitely on the future in the Diocese of Olympia.


Youth, the emergent church, environment, and visioning for churches were among the future-thinking topics explored during the diocesan visit of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on April 9-13.

The Diocese of Olympia, based in Seattle, encompasses 102 congregations with more than 33,000 people and 384 clergy in western Washington State, and is led by Bishop Gregory Rickel.

Meeting the under-35-year-olds
You had to be under than 35 to get in. If you were over 35, the entry requirement was to bring at least one person younger than 35.

More than 200 -- mostly teens, young adults and even toddlers -- jammed an evening reception in downtown Seattle, sponsored by Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP), the Presiding Bishop's alma mater.

Jefferts Schori challenged them, "You can ask questions that older members of this church can't ask, because they don't know how to ask."

The topics throughout the lively and laugher-filled session were youth-oriented and wide-ranging-- the environment and carbon footprint ("You can begin to change your lives," Jefferts Schori said); homophobia; budgets; discernment and the commission on ministries; and contemporary music. ("Updated music, nothing with profanity, just upbeat, relatively good music," a teen offered. The Presiding Bishop understood; "U2 is my generation, not yours," she said.)

Mostly, the youth -- who are the future, Jefferts Schori reminded them -- discussed the emergent church and the many possibilities that The Episcopal Church presents for the future.

"Bishop Katharine and the other young people at this gathering spoke the truth in love to one another and to the rest of us -- challenging us to live deeply into our Baptismal Covenant and to being Church together," commented Bishop Suffragan Nedi Rivera.

Gathering of clergy
Tables and chairs were arranged like spokes of a wheel, emanating from the center altar in the church-in-the-round at St. Columba's in nearby Kent.

More than 200 clergy gathered there to pray, sing and to have a conversation with the Presiding Bishop. With the gentle noises of the church's daycare center in the background, Jefferts Schori engaged the clergy on topics of their choice: Henri Nouwen; trusting 20-somethings with the church; the Lambeth Conference; church polity; MDGs; interfaith and ecumenical relations; her recent trip to the Middle East and the Gaza strip; church seminaries; variations in church governance among the provinces of the Anglican Communion; and the passion of ministry she sees in the church, including Venezuela, Colombia and other places she has visited. "We have great gifts to offer and lots to learn," she said.

Mirroring the youth session the previous evening, the clergy wanted to know about the emergent church. "It looks different in different places," Jefferts Schori said. "The emergent church blesses and celebrates the gifts that are present."

The clergy event concluded with an upbeat, contemporary, text-driven, all-sung Eucharist in which the congregation sang, prayed, swayed, clapped and cheered along with the multi-cultural, diverse hymns.

Bishop Rickel said, "The Clergy Day with the Presiding Bishop was an inspiring day. It brought us, as colleagues, closer together in our diocese, and also closer to the greater church beyond our diocesan boundaries. I have heard from many since the day who are still giving thanks to God for the time we had together there. I am most impressed with the energy and spirit of our Presiding Bishop."

The aviator takes flight (virtually)
A tour of The Museum of Flight -- a stand-out spot in Seattle -- provided an opportunity for pilots and would-be aviators of all ages to learn about the history of air travel and a chance to land a virtual plane.

Memorabilia at the museum, which is located next to Boeing Corporation's headquarters, traces the history of aviation from its early days through World War I, World War II, the advent of commercial travel and into the space age.

Jefferts Schori -- a licensed pilot -- did well on the museum's flight simulator. Amid laughter from friends and strangers touring the museum, others in the party (not trained pilots) didn't do as well.

HOPE Conference
Today, the site is Olympic Sculpture Park, a pastoral stretch of land and trees dotted with modern sculptures located along Puget Sound, replete with people, most of them walking their dogs, enjoying the warmer weather and pleasant afternoon in the park.

Not too long ago, it was a SuperFund site.

It was in this place of recovery on April 11 that the HOPE (Healing Our Planet Earth) conference, co-sponsored by the Diocese of Olympia and Episcopal Divinity School in Boston, kicked off.

"We are being urgently asked to create a climate of change, to encourage others, and ourselves, to look for those new possibilities, and to explore them with the courage to try the untested and the unknown," the Presiding Bishop said. "The future is not a place for the faint-hearted."

Noting that all are connected, and urging the importance of working for climate change, she said, "We're going to have to work together as a community as well, to advocate for social policy that rewards green power generation rather than the old standard ways of producing power --like the ones that polluted this site. That advocacy work is going to need to extend to new building codes that require green construction methods -- and rapid and effective results. We can heal this planet -- with hope."

These themes continued on Saturday as the HOPE conference continued.

As a religious leader, Jefferts Schori pointed to humanity's connection with God's creation. As a scientist, she presented hard, cold facts about climate change's effect on the life of humans, the life of the sea, and the life of the land.

She concluded with a charge for the future of each person, and for the church of the future: "You and I are meant to be partners in God's glorious creative work," she said. "How are you going to be green, and heal this planet, and give glory to God?"

Neva Rae Fox is program officers for public affairs. She traveled with the Presiding Bishop to Olympia.

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