Today and yesterday were festivities around the ordination of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana’s 11th bishop, Morris Thompson. View the photos at http://Flickr.com/photos/bishopmike.
Morris is a quiet, unassuming priest from Kentucky with an infectious smile. He replaces Charles Jenkins III, who replaced James Brown (no, not THE James Brown).
Yesterday, Katharine Jefferts Sciori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) met with Episcopal Bishops attending and consecrating (participating in the laying on of hands). I was honored to be invited. There were about a dozen, all amle with the exception of the Presiding Bishop. I was the only non-Episcopalian.
The conversation was very familiar. They face many similar issues, and also some that are unique to their polity. The Anglican Church has it’s global challenges as Lutheranism does. (Read http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/04/26/100426fa_fact_kramer?currentPage=all#ixzz0leqz9Aoc for interest.) I learned a lot.
Lutherans, ELCA that is, have 65 synod bishops and one presiding bishop. Episcopalians have roughly 150 active bishops and 150 retired bishops. They ordain bishops for life, so even if you’re retired you’re still in the House of Bishops and have a vote. That vote matters because decisions in the ECUSA require consent from the House. In our polity, once retired, a bishop is no longer bishop, but continues to be a pastor, if they behave. 🙂
Why so many bishops? Well their diocese are much smaller than our synods. The bishop of Lexingon, Kentucky sat across the room from me. He would preach the next day. He said he had thirty-some congregations. (We have 124 in our synod.) I believe the Diocese of Louisiana has fifthy-some. Episcopal bishops are required by canon law to be in every congregation every two years to preside at confirmations and such. Bishops were also present from Florida, Alabama, Tennesee, Mississippi, North Carolina and other places.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Sciori exudes a calm, kind, graceful leadership. Born in Pensacola, FL she was an oceanographer prior to studying for the ordained ministry. She chooses her words carefully, and laces them with wit. It’s a pleasure to be around intelligent people who know that words matter. You can read about her at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/78694_ENG_HTM.htm?menupage=75517.
Later that evening, a cocktail reception was held at the WWII Museum downtown. Arriving early I walked the museum, coming to tears several times as they took us from 1933 to 1945 with photos, paraphanalia and video. Episcopalians, lay and clergy, mobbed the place, many in Southern-style blue-and-white-striped seersucker suits, eating oysters in remoulade sauce, shrimp creole and other Cajun delicacies. Episcopalians pull out all the stops. Afterwards I dined with Pastor Ron and Debra Unger who often house me in New Orleans, always graciously.
This morning the alarm went off at 6. After breakfast at Ungerhostel I headed over to Christ Church Cathedral, a few blocks from Bethlehem Lutheran, where Pastor Pat Keen serves. Everything is diagrammed: who walks where, who stands where, who says what, who communes whom, ad infinitum. It may seem pedantic, but it brings comfort to an outsider. It was clear where I was to go and what I was to do. As a full-
communion partner, I was treated as an equal at every juncture. Never once did I feel unwelcome.
Prior to the service all Episcopal bishops and I signed the ordination pronouncement. They also sealed it with their ring-seals. Not having a ring, the guy in charge of the wax (with a Tabasco apron on) gave me a quarter to make a cross.
The Cathedral was packed. Groups elsewhere in the Diocese watched in places where the ordination was simulcast (and webcast). Everything was in keeping with orderly, liturgical, Episcopal, high-church style. The music was outstanding. The incense suffocating. They out-
Catholicked the Catholics. Compared to the Episcopalians, I felt underdressed, but no mitre-envy here. I appreciate the simple vestments of the Lutheran tradition.
Other denominational bishops and leaders were present but didn’t participate in the laying on of hands: Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans Gregory Aymond, Interim General Presbyter (PCUSA), and so on. The Christ Church organ rumbled and sang. The walls were covered with plenty of the ubiquitous fleur-de-lis.
Bishop-elect Thomson’s bishop in Kentucky preached on Isaiah 61.
Isaiah 61:4 says, “They will rebuild the perpetual ruins and restore the places that were desolate; they will reestablish the ruined cities, the places that have been desolate since ancient times.” This is an appropriate passage for New Orleanians, who are still rebuilding, and celebrating a new mayor, even as a new disaster looms in the Gulf.
He reminded us that comforting is not “soothing.” Comfort comes from the Latin words “cum and forte.” Forte, as all musicians know, means “strong.” to comfort means to give someone strength. It is to empower. Our comforting all too often engenders a “poor me” mentality.
Isaiah 61:1 says, “The spirit of the sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has chosen me. He has commissioned me to help the poor, to help the brokenhearted, to decree the release of captives, and the freeing of prisoners… He reminded us that in Matthew 25 Christ promised to be physically present when his disciples feed the hungry. He called the Church to be the Church.
Finally, he said pastoral care and doing justice cannot be separated; they are the same thing. Justice cannot be done without caring for people. And when we really love Peoe we will care deeply about their situation — about fairness.
You can view the program here: http://7600474169307188166-a-edola-org-s-sites.googlegroups.com/a/edola.org/edola/home/MorrisConsecrationFinalFinal.pdf?attachauth=ANoY7crJwxpg-QA0N7gcajQGNcXMstvPl8tND0tIS0WIMgwqgrs_wcQ-YWsZS6Pe1zj84UsLdbrOpM-LyLQrSQXyQBNtw5_OIz4BIZneoOlYTfl_FQLhHluW6crwOuWe7mXoi3L8wWhO9WTdhw7Pei_GJcbQ-EV5577oraizFxph5CGmoyWM9gJf4i1mo6diGpefjhCRsBW1McRSeKZ-9NJs0Szxatr7ow%3D%3D&attredirects=0
So, a couple of days tending to ecumenical relationships. It’s hard to break away from working with congregations for this stuff, but I know it’s vitally important. Post Katrina and Rita the places where the various denominations worked together accomplished more. We are a very, very large team when we recognize that we are ONE TEAM, that we have this in common: we are all communities committed to Jesus’ way. One Lord, one faith, one baptism… Jesus prayed his followers would be ONE. We all love Jesus, despite our various differences, and the sooner we stop needling one another about those differences and start acting like ONE TEAM, the better off we’ll be.