Consecration of the New Bishop of Idaho

Cathedral of the Rockies, Boise, ID, 11 am
October 11, 2008

If you look around and talk to people you might get the idea that this is something of a reunion for members of the Canterbury House community at Oregon State University from the 1980s. Brian was a member of that community, Deacon Scott Ellsworth was as well, Fr. Stan Tate was chaplain there for some of those years, and the then-new Bishop Ladehoff was a strong supporter of campus ministry. It’s also a reminder how significant such communities can be in encouraging and inviting vocational discernment, and not just for ordained ministry. It is fertile soil that must be tended, and that is the task of all of us, across the church.

There are several other convergences going on here today as well. The gathering of bishops from across The Episcopal Church to join in laying hands on Brian says something very important about our interconnections. Idaho is not alone in this ministry, and Brian will not be alone as he becomes your chief shepherd. In the same way that Bp. Bainbridge and Bp. Thornton before him represented connections to other parts of the church, Brian does as well. Your retiring bishop represents an abundant legacy coming from West Virginia. In recent years there have been at least five active bishops whose ministry also has roots in that place – Bishops Brookhart of Montana and Waggoner of Spokane among them. You called a bishop from West Virginia because of some similarities in perspective – a mostly rural environment, an economy often based on resource extraction, and hardy people frequently living in difficult circumstances. The kind of servant leadership that’s been formed in West Virginia has been embraced across this church.

This diocese is built on the labors of others from across the church. The first church in Boise, that later gave rise to your cathedral was built by, and named for, Fr. St. Michael Fackler, who held the first Episcopal service in Oregon territory in Oregon City, in 1847. He came here in 1864.

Oregon has sent your new bishop, albeit quite a few years ago, as that diocese also had something to do with shaping and sending your 11th bishop. Indeed, Oregon, thanks to the ministry of Bp. Ladehoff, has helped to form and send at least six bishops to the wider church. Many have gone to western dioceses or other resource-challenged parts of the church (SW Virginia, Alaska, Northern California, Nevada, and twice to Idaho). Those leaders have been characterized by careful pastoring, shaped by the example of Bp. Ladehoff. That is no accident, for he was a quietly firm shepherd in that place, helping to heal some badly broken relationships.

Idaho has returned the gift, in sending Bill Spofford to Eastern Oregon, and now Dan Edwards to be bishop in Nevada, albeit via Georgia. Their ministries have been shaped by your realities, particularly those related to a large Native American presence. Idaho’s gifts are widely recognized and the rest of the church is abundantly grateful for your willingness to share them. Bp. Bainbridge’s witness and ministry as Chair of Episcopal Relief and Development has helped to shepherd that organization through a period of immense growth and increased effectiveness around the world. He has also challenged you to be more serious about caring for the communities around you.

Your first bishop, Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, was also bishop of Utah and Montana; he was later Bishop of Missouri and the 13th presiding bishop until his death in 1923.

Shepherds are of great importance, and bishops are meant to be an example of good shepherding. The reality, however, is that Jesus expects all of us to share in the shepherding. We are all sheep, but we are also all pastors of the sheep. Bishops are here from many parts of this church to remind us all that we share this ministry with the whole people of God.

That’s really what the prayer of Jesus in the gospel is about. Jesus is claiming his pastoral role. He is saying here, “I am the shepherd,” in the same way he says in other places, “I am bread, living water, life, truth, way, vine.” But he doesn’t stop with himself. He goes on to say that he is sending his disciples as God has sent him – to care for the flock. We’re all supposed to be shepherds, too, and to model the kind of shepherding that Jesus did.

What do Jesus-shepherds look like? Perhaps most importantly, Jesus in human flesh represents God’s self-emptying. Jesus is humility personified. He has no need to lord it over others, to be called master, or to be the center of attention. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he waits for the wolves and jackals to invade that place, he prays for his fellow shepherds. He accepts the limits of being fully human, including death. He calls his disciples friends rather than servants. This shepherd works with other shepherds, and sees his role as expanding their capacity for shepherding, rather than retaining all authority for himself – he gives it away, and he prepares others for ministry after he’s gone. The other primary characteristic of a Jesus-shepherd is working to gather an ever-increasing flock. His prayer is that they may all be one – not identical or uniform, but together in one body – in all their diversity, spotted, striped, dark, light, young and old. He also prays that sheep that haven’t heard his voice yet, will.

What does that servant-leader, gathering kind of shepherding look like in Idaho? The broad strokes are pretty well defined in that reading from Isaiah: shepherds don’t have faint hearts or dim spirits – they’re persistent, particularly in the cause of justice: healing the blind and bringing prisoners out of dark dungeons. What prisons do you know about around here? Poverty, hunger, the hopelessness of many native American communities, the literal jails and penitentiaries, unemployment, discrimination, immigrants trying to adapt to a new language and new culture – any of those prisons around here?

Your new bishop is inviting you to think boldly about organizing a few prison breaks. He is encouraging you to think in new ways about how shepherds can gather up the sheep and find new and healthier pasture, to take the risk to explore new frontiers and old fence-lines and ask hard questions about the reasons for those fences. This prison-breaking work needs the gifts of the whole flock – the wisdom of elders, the fearlessness of youth, the creativity of lock-pickers, and the endurance of lifers. But this work of delivering prisoners is not just up to the Diocese of Idaho. You have partners out there. Call on them; call on us.

You may discover that a Lutheran can get into some prison you don’t know well enough. Or a group from Eastern Oregon or Spokane has access. Maybe it’s a group of Spanish-speakers from El Camino Real or Los Angeles. The offering we collect this day is going to open prisons for hurricane victims in the Diocese of Texas. Amazing to think that shepherds in Idaho can care for folks in cattle country!

What shepherds are being formed in your midst today? How is your own shepherding going to bless the larger community, in Idaho and beyond? Give thanks that Brian has answered the call to be among you as chief shepherd. Give thanks and remember that he is going to pester you to be shepherds as well. Shepherds of the whole flock, here in Idaho and around the globe. Thanks be to God.