Bishop's Remarks to the House of Bishops
The Rt. Rev. James B. Magness To the House of Bishops Kanuga Conference Center Hendersonville, NC On March 12, 2013 Good afternoon. Jay Magness: Armed Services and Federal Ministries.
I want to use the next few minutes to update you on some things I am doing and in which my small staff and I are engaged. For the benefit of those of you who are new to the House, I was elected three years ago at the spring HOB meeting in Camp Allen, IAW Article II, Sec. 7. of The Constitution of TEC: "It shall be lawful for the House of Bishops to elect a... Bishop (Suffragan) who, under the direction of the Presiding Bishop, shall be in charge of the work of those chaplains in the Armed Forces of the United States, Veterans' Administration Medical Centers, and Federal Correctional Institutions who are ordained Ministers of this Church."
This is my episcopacy on federal lands in this and in foreign countries. Having been elected by the House, I make periodic reports to you on the ministry you have called me to do in support of my Priest/Chaplains who serve in the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs and in the (Federal) Bureau of Prisons. In the interest of time, let me tell you a story. In the 1970s I served at one of my first parishes which was in this county of this diocese. The parish, St. Paul's, is about 15 miles north east of here. St. Paul's is surrounded by some beautiful commercial apple orchards. In the autumn each year thousands of tourists frequent the area to buy apples and see the fruit laden trees.
On one warm sunny September afternoon a man and his wife from Atlanta in their long black Lincoln were driving past one of the local orchards when they saw a very peculiar sight: a farmer standing beneath an apple tree with a pig upon his shoulders which pig was eating apples off the limbs of the tree. At first the man and his wife passed by, but upon doing a double-take had to return to check out this strange sight. They pulled up beside the man with pig, rolled down the driver's side window to inquire about what the man was doing. The quick and curt reply was, "The pig was hungry." The man from Atlanta, who fashioned himself as having great knowledge of how to do things in the most efficient way, said, "Wouldn't it take a lot less time if you just put the pig on the ground and shook the tree so the ripe apples could fall within snout's reach of your hungry pig." The farmer, without so much as a slight pause said, "Time don't mean nothing to a pig."
When I came into this episcopacy I reasoned that I had plenty of time to do what we needed to do to perform our highest priority task: recruiting priests and seminarians to serve as military, VA and Bureau of Prisons chaplains, but particularly military chaplains. I have since determined that time is not on our side. Recent events have demonstrated that we are in a dire need to increase our numbers of very capable and thoughtful clergy of this church to serve as chaplains within the branches of the armed forces. Why, you might ask, do we still need more clergy to serve as chaplains when we have shut down the war in Iraq and are winding down the war in Afghanistan.
Though I could cite many, there is a primary reason. Even though Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan is drawing to a close, my chaplains are serving in an environment that is increasingly dominated by severely conservative to fundamentalist clergy, who are on one hand bent on expressing all of what they see as their First Amendment liberties to impose their version of the Christian faith upon everyone with whom they come into contact and also who embrace a sense of imperialistic nationalism by means of which they are eager to bless and condone almost any expression of armed warfare in any situation. In contrast, our clergy offer a very important reasoned influence to the environment. That influence is increasingly important because in all of the military services, not only are chaplains expected to provide pastoral, liturgical, and sacramental care to service members and to members of their families, also chaplains also expected to provide advisement to command leaders. When more so than ever before our military units are being employed as agents of international stabilization and diplomatic power projection, it is very important to me, and I hope to you and the people you serve, that their senior command leaders have the best moral and spiritual advise that is available to them.
Last year for the first time we recruited more chaplains than we lost. Though it took us longer to change the loss trend, a trend that had been in place for the last 6 to 8 years, now we have the momentum to move forward, and I do not want to lose this momentum. This week we have talked about grief, pain and catastrophic personal loss. I can think of few environments where such loss is any greater. We need your best and most capable young priests. We need bright and young seminarians who can enter our student programs. While I am very thankful to all you who have supported this episcopacy, please continue to send us the excellent applicants. My second point is to let you know how much I appreciate your collaboration in receiving active duty military chaplains of other faith traditions through Title III, Canon 10 and enabling them to transition into the priesthood of this church. This is a crucial part of our recruiting effort. Currently we have 5 other-faith-tradition military chaplains in 5 different dioceses who are in some stage of transition into Holy Orders in The Episcopal Church.
I recognize how difficult this can be for you and your Commissions on Ministry. I can and will assist you through this process. We know how the military system works and what is crucial for the soon to be priests to function in their operational environments. Call me and I will help you. You do not need to do this in isolation. Finally, very recently the Presiding Bishop received an email through the TEC web-site from the rather disgruntled spouse of a National Guard officer. Katharine passed the email on to me so I could contact the woman.
To make a somewhat long story short, during her husband's second 14 month deployment to Southwest Asia she became very frustrated and hurt that she had become invisible to her parish priest as she struggled to be a working mom who was raising two small children on her own. After talking with her I got in touch with one of you, her priest's bishop, and we worked through the situation. What I found that what this young wife and mother wanted more than anything else was for someone to compassionately listen to her, both while her husband was away and after he had returned home; she did not need to be "FIXED," but to be heard. She wanted, as my former bishop Ted Gulick taught me, to carry her and her needs on my heart. In the end, this problem ended up being something we could work with and help.
My take away is that some of the most invisible sacrifices in these long and tragic wars are being made by Reserve and National Guard service members and members of their families. Barry Bisner, who was for many years a National Guard chaplain, undoubtably can give you many examples of such situations. Unlike their active-duty counterparts, hometown Guard and Reserve people don't have the luxuries of being near large military installations with many family support resources. Please encourage your clergy to identify the Reserve and Guard families in their congregations and to monitor them. I know that it is important to remember that for these folk the war will not be over until long after the last round is fired and the last service member comes home. Many have experienced some horrendous sights and sounds, and have done some unthinkable things. The afterlife of their pain will endure for months and for years.
Trust me, as a Vietnam veteran I know. In closing, more so than ever before I am fully aware that I can't do this without you. The work of Armed Services and Federal Ministries is a collaborative effort I do with your assistance and cooperation. Thank you for all you are doing to support the people you have asked me to serve.