Issue Six: Lauren Winner on the Michael Curry She Knows

Print edition: Issue Six, for Monday, June 29

In this issue:

“Sending Us on to Galilee: The Michael Curry I Know”
By the Rev. Lauren Winner
“The Elephant in the Room: A Reflection on Race”
By the Very Rev. Phoebe Roaf, Rector, St. Philip’s Church, Richmond, Va.
“More than Just a Temple”
By Jeffrey Stevenson, staff writer and native Utahan.
A Letter to the Editor
Responding to “A Matter of Fairness”  on representation in the House of Deputies

Down the Road to Galilee: The Michael Curry I Know

By the Rev. Lauren Winner, vicar of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Louisburg, N.C., assistant professor of Christian spirituality at Duke Divinity School, and author of numerous books on religion and spirituality – most recently, Wearing God.Lauren Winner

Talking one-on-one with your bishop is intimidating. Chances are you don’t actually know your bishop that well, and chances are the whole office feels mysterious and infused with authority. This is, perhaps, the exact person who was interviewing you for postulancy five years before; this might be the exact person who determined that you would be ordained; this might be the very bishop who laid hands on you at your ordination. And then maybe you’ve been in the same room with him five times over as many years. And it’s intimidating.

I have, on average, had a one-on-one conversation with Bishop Curry once a year – conversations prompted by my need for vocational advice, or meetings I requested because I wanted him to know about a troubling situation in my family life. Every time, I have been slightly anxious beforehand, slightly anxious as I drive to Raleigh, and as I get lost downtown searching for the diocesan office, whose parking lot I always miss. Slightly anxious in the elevator ride. I don’t intimidate very easily, but this is my bishop, and talking to your bishop is, by definition, weird.

And then afterwards, every single time, I have left Bishop Curry’s office, and called my friend Cathie, and gushed: “Bishop Curry is the best ever! That was the best conversation! I just love him and he is the best ever!”

This is a seemingly small and ordinary thing to say about Bishop Curry: His priests gush after they meet with him. There are, to be sure, lots of non-small things to say. His vision is not small, and his ministry is not small. The office of bishop is, in part, an office of mission, of sending – and I think it is fair to say that Bishop Curry’s ministry has specialized in sending.

Bishop Curry has been keen, in the Diocese of North Carolina, to focus our attention on the “missionary context” of our current day, and to help us more boldly “follow Jesus out into the world.” He has encouraged us to “step out beyond [the Church’s] comfortable borders” and meet people wherever they are. Bishop Curry has called this movement into the world – “going to where the congregation is,” rather than waiting for the congregation to come to us – “going to Galilee.”Curry Shaking Hands

To speak of going to Galilee is, of course, to echo Jesus. In Matthew’s resurrection account, the key fact is not only that Jesus is risen – it is also, as the angel says to the women, that He is no longer there. He is alive; he is not dead. But he has not just risen; he has risen and moved on. At the big Easter moment – the moment at which the Marys realize Christ lives – Jesus has left the graveyard, and possibly the county. He has already gone on, down the road to Galilee. And if you want to meet Jesus, you will have to go, too. No lengthy Easter vigil, candlelight, alleluia lingering by the empty tomb – rather, “go to Galilee; there [you] will see me.”

The Easter question, then, is: Where is the resurrected Jesus now, and how can we get ourselves there, and involved with whatever it is He is involved with? That has been the question of Bishop Curry’s ministry in the Diocese of North Carolina.

I must admit, I hear Bishop Curry’s call to “go to Galilee” with some ambivalence. I don’t really want to go to Galilee. Some days, I would rather stay right here at St. Paul’s, Louisburg. This might be ignoble, and probably spiritually immature, but I became a priest because I loved all the things that happened once I walked through the big red doors into my church. I did not become a priest because I loved “going into Galilee.” So I have heard Bishop Curry talk about that movement, and sometimes I feel excited, and sometimes I feel exhausted, and sometimes I feel scared.

We have just elected a new presiding bishop who specializes in sending. This doesn’t mean, of course, that he will let the red doors and the things behind them go to seed. Rather, it means that he knows that those behind-the-red-door things – altar, sermon, bread, prayer and communion – find their truest meaning when the doors are open and when people go in and out. Or, to put that differently, I suspect Bishop Curry might say that the most important words of the liturgy are the dismissal (the word, of course, shares a root with “mission”): We do not come to the font to sit around with other shriven people, and we do not come to the table to linger with other well-fed folks. We come to church to worship the Lord, and then to go back into the world and (to echo Sam Wells’s phrasing) help the Lord make the world into the Eucharist we just received.

I love the dismissal, the sending, and I find it terrifying. I find the world into which we are sent both exhilarating and terrifying, and I find the precise place the Episcopal Church is now poised – exactly on the knife’s edge of tradition and change – to be exhilarating and terrifying, too. This is one reason I am grateful for Bishop Curry. He will send us not just into the world, into the mission field; he will also send us into our fear. And he will help us find Jesus there.

So Saturday’s election is a thing of great joy because we have elected a sender. But it is also a thing of great joy because we have elected a pastor. When I got word of Bishop Curry’s election, I didn’t, honestly, immediately have thoughts about “Galilee.” Instead, I had thoughts about those few hours I have spent in Bishop Curry’s office, unfolding a problem or a question or a concern. And I thought not “we have elected a sender,” but “we have elected a pastor who loves his flock.” We have elected someone who, when you speak to him, listens to you, and listens to God, and who always seems to have a word. You always leave feeling loved. And you always leave feeling something more of Jesus.

The Elephant in the Room: A Reflection on Race

By the Very Rev. Phoebe Roaf, Rector, St. Philip’s Church, Richmond, Va.

Phoebe RoafThese are momentous times in the life of our Church and our nation. On one hand, the pace of change is frenetic, yet, on the other hand, infuriatingly slow. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” someone once said. And so it is with the critical issue in our country: the question of racial equality.

Racism infects every aspect of The Episcopal Church because racism is embedded throughout our common lives. The election of the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry as our next presiding bishop does not signal the end of racism in the Church, just as the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 did not mark the demise of racism in the United States.

Over the years, our Church has attempted to bring about racial equality, with mixed results. An open, honest dialogue about race seems just beyond our capacity to facilitate. This is understandable, as a conversation of this nature is painful and challenging for all parties involved. And yet, as Christians, we are compelled to eradicate racism in our Church if we are serious about living into our baptismal covenant. In the book of Amos, the prophet provides fair warning: God is not interested in our festivals and solemn assemblies, as beautiful and reverent as they may be, until we “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

People of African descent have been part of the Episcopal family for generations. Those of us who count ourselves among that number acknowledge that many of our forefathers and foremothers were initially converted without consultation. Over time, the liturgies of our Church stirred something deep within their souls. Black folk remained faithful Episcopalians in the face of unequal treatment in the name of Christ.

My journey as a fourth-generation Episcopalian began like so many others, via the black colleges founded to instruct the descendants of slaves. Two of my great-grandfathers were colleagues on the faculty of St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Va., an Episcopal HBC, at the turn of the 20th century. This history is precious to me. But history can also be complex.

I serve a parish in Richmond, Va., the former capital of the Confederacy. Summers are hot and humid in Richmond, the air so heavy with moisture that it is suffocating at times. The same can be said of Richmond’s history. I find its weight almost more than I can bear, surrounded by the vestiges of our Confederate past at every turn.

The same historical facts evoke such different responses depending upon who is telling the story. Why don’t we celebrate those who have worked to promote reconciliation among all peoples with the same fervor that we recognize those whose actions divided us?

Over the years, friends of other denominations who know something of my personal journey have asked why I remain in The Episcopal Church. It is a question I have grappled with for decades. While I have been nurtured and formed in profound ways by the Church, some within the Church have conveyed – both implicitly and explicitly – that there is no room for me at the table as an African American. Other African American, Asian, Native American and Latino/Hispanic members of our Church share my experience.PB_Election

Yet I remain because of the legacy handed down by my great-grandparents. I remain because of our imperfect attempts at addressing the complex issues facing our nation. I remain because of the beauty of our liturgy, which touches me in ways mere words are incapable of describing. I remain because I believe the image given to John of people of all races, nations and languages worshipping God can be achieved today through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Above all, I remain because the God I love and serve never promised that my journey this side of the grave would be easy. The Episcopal Church is known for her love of deliberation, but the time for talking is behind us, brothers and sisters. Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston has shown that only too clearly. I stand with those who are committed to eradicating the sin of racism from our beloved Church. Will you be counted in our number?

More than Just a Temple

By Jeffrey Stevenson, staff writer and native Utahan.

salt-lake-mormon-temple7The Salt Lake City temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is truly a magnificent building. It is the fourth and largest temple of the LDS Church. The cornerstone was laid on April 6, 1854, and took 40 years to complete. Unlike Mormon church-houses, which usually have identical floor plans, each temple is unique and quite beautiful. Though there are over 100 Mormon temples around the world, the Salt Lake temple has become a symbol for the LDS faith.

The temple is considered to be sacred to members and therefore only those who are Mormon and have “temple recommend” status may enter the sanctuary. This is where members of the LDS church gather to participate in sacred ordinances (sacraments), which are focused on binding the family together for eternity.

Temple Square is more than just the Salt Lake temple. Tours of the beautifully landscaped, 10-acre property are available in 40 languages by a dizzying number of young Mormon missionaries from around the world. Each of the missionaries wears a nametag with his or her name and home country’s flag.

In the North Visitors Center, you will find the outstretched arms of Thorvaldsen’s Christus, a magnificent 11-foot statue of the Jesus beneath a dome of stars and planets. It really is quite beautiful. In the lower levels, there are a number of displays that tell the story of the Mormon Church and its beliefs.

The exhibits in the South Visitors Center focus on the temple and the importance of families in the Lord’s plan for his children. Since its consecration in 1854, the temple has been closed to the public; however, in 2010 the Church revealed a near exact, to-scale replica of the temple that remains on display in the South Visitors Center. Along with a variety of pictures and artifacts, one can get a very clear picture of just how beautiful it must be inside.

The tabernacle is a sacred site that really needs to be seen. The tabernacle was built between 1864 and 1867 originally as a meeting hall where the semi-annual General Conference was held. Sometime over the last century, the Church outgrew that space and built the conference center across the street. The tabernacle is still home to the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir, with the 11,600 pipe organ at one end.

From the manicured gardens, to the informational displays and the breathtaking statue, to the tabernacle, there’s plenty to take in at Temple Square. But most of all, I think the breadth of diversity and depth of kindness among the Mormon missionaries really speak to the international reach of the Church of LDS and the welcoming qualities of compassion it shares with The Episcopal Church.

A Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

Russ Randle writes persuasively about the issue of unequal representation of the dioceses in the House of Deputies. But do the math. Minimum representation has to be one ordained and one lay Deputy. One small diocese is Eau Claire with 2,000 baptized members. Use the same ratio for all dioceses (2 Deputies per 2,000 baptized) and you end up with about 1,700 Deputies, about twice number we have now. Some representational inequality is unavoidable.

One solution is to encourage dioceses to merge (see resolution C031). Over time the disparity in representation will be reduced.

Larger dioceses do better in the House of Bishops. By my calculations, Virginia had seven active or retired bishops eligible to vote for Presiding Bishop*.

The real issue, however, are those dioceses on the front lines of mission, domestic and foreign, who cannot afford to send a full deputation. Many of these dioceses are in Province IX (Central America). It is time to let go of this last vestige of colonialism (see resolution D038). Lets get every diocese a full deputation at the table first; then we can talk about proportional representation.

The Rev. Nathaniel W. Pierce
Executive Council, Province III
Diocese of Easton

See Russ Randle’s letter, “A Matter of Fairness: Why Should One Diocese Get 40 Times the Voting Power of Another?

*Editor’s note: Mr. Pierce refers to the Diocese of Virginia’s “seven active or retired bishops eligible to vote.” The three active bishops in Virginia are Shannon Johnston, diocesan; Susan Goff, suffragan; and Edwin “Ted” Gulick Jr., assistant. Clayton “Clay” Matthews, suffragan from 1994 to 1998, serves as Bishop of the Office of Pastoral Development. Three retired bishops formerly served the Diocese of Virginia: Peter James Lee, diocesan from 1985 to 2009; David Jones, suffragan from 1995 to 2012; and Francis “Frank” Gray served as assistant from 1999 to 2007 after retiring as diocesan of Northern Indiana (1986-2006).