Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Presiding Bishop visits Dartmouth

The highlight of my time here at Dartmouth has been, more than even the New Hampshire primary, the presence and community of the Edgerton House Episcopal Campus Ministry (the “Edge”). Two weeks ago, we at the Edge were fortunate enough to receive a visit from our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, and a very special guest, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. It was a rather intimate hour with only 15 or so students and a handful of clergy present. Few events have been more spirit-filled or inspirational. Our 45-minute discussion included comments about campus ministry, evangelism, and the MDGs, as well as questions about prayer and Lambeth.

(I'm the bearded collarless guy next to Bp Robinson on the right.)

+Gene spent the weekend showing the Presiding Bishop around the Diocese of New Hampshire. After what I assume were typical liturgies and/or Q&A sessions in Concord and Claremont, ++Katharine came to Hanover and turned the tables to spend an hour asking about our lives and listening rather than answering and speaking. +Gene mostly sat in the background, interjecting only occasionally. He told the PB that he loves being able to step out of the spotlight for once and wishes she could stop by more often.

++Katharine is an amazing woman. We all know this from her resume – PhD in oceanography, flies her own planes, expert on adult education and baptismal ministry – but what’s truly amazing is how much her intelligence shines through the very second you meet her. Whether you’re familiar with her background or not, after spending just five minutes sitting in her presence, watching the way she holds herself and leans in to listen, you are blown away by how obviously remarkable she is. What’s more, she would often when speaking refer back to comments made by students 25 minutes earlier. Her heart was fully engaged in her listening.

She asked what the church needs to do to reach out to young folks, and what sorts of events and community we foster here at the Edge. We told her about this building’s many uses and roles: this 24/7 refuge or study spot, this home base for young alums, this wonderful community. Our student minister, Liz, made the point that it is so helpful for our ministry to have a physical plant; that’s something the other campus ministries lack and they do suffer for it. Liz also impressed upon both bishops the need to find more money, whenever and wherever possible, for more ministries and facilities such as this. One of my favorite comments came from an evangelical student who only just began attending Episcopal Churches this summer. She told ++Katharine how wonderful it is to come to a Christian environment and be welcomed for who you are rather than feeling pressured to mimic a very specific subculture, and to be able to have friends from other faith traditions (or none!) without feeling like you had to bring them to a Bible study. No proselytization quotas here!

(Update: Despite what the "Stand Firm" blog would have you believe, the above paragraph does not mean the PB or those of us at the Edge shun evangelism. It merely means that we here at the Edge take things quite seriously when we say, "The Episcopal Church welcomes you!" The Diocese of New Hampshire, like Christ Himself, stands for radical hospitality.)

There was also discussion about the impacts, both positive and negative, that +Gene has had on the church, but I’d like to keep this blog post focused more on campus ministry than on the typical controversies. My own response to the question of how to attract young people was, “You’ve already started.” I thanked her for the church’s focus on social justice and the MDGs, explaining that every time I told liberals in DC or NH where I worked this past summer (the Episcopal Public Policy Network), I was met with speculation and animosity – “Oh, so, you must be pretty anti-gay than, right?” or a snide “Oh, Christian policy – where do you stand on immigrants?” People were always surprised, and intrigued, by the church’s (generally liberal) approach to justice. In a media environment dominated by the religious right, it’s easy for people to forget about Christ amidst all the “Christianity.” TEC’s focus on the MDGs is helping to counter that. ++Katharine was excited about the EPPN internship, and told me that she hopes to broaden our focus in the next few years to include domestic MDG-style goals. The one example she gave, which thrilled me to no end, was American Indian reservations. The poverty there will blow you away – it’s easy to forget about it given the casino affluence a few tribes have, but some reservations don’t even have running water, and the health rates are staggering. I hadn’t even told the PB that I am a Native American Studies major yet, and yet it was the first example she brought up. I guess her visit to South Dakota reservations in June left a real impression on her. I asked her to keep sexual harassment and abuse in mind as she goes about that goal, given that 1 in 3 Indian women are raped, compared to 1 in 6 for all races nationwide. She made a non-committal remark about, “Well, we’ll know who to come to for passion!” But at least she heard me.

Later on, during a lull in the conversation, I asked about prayer. As someone who doesn’t do mornings and whose academic schedule changes every three months, I find it almost impossible to pick one time for daily prayer and stick with it. My prayer life lacks discipline and has absolutely no structure; it is often limited to two minutes in the shower and a quick plea whenever I hear sirens. ++Katharine smiled and said her schedule is never the same from one day to the next, and a lack of structure is completely ok. She uses her body to pray – she goes running whenever she can, and prays with the rhythms of the jog. This was something similar to what my own bishop, the bishop of Spokane, once told me – that it isn’t about structure. I think God is using these two ministers to tell me something, don’t you?

Next, Liz asked the PB about Lambeth, and her answer focused not on the state of the Communion but on the success of the study groups and Indaba groups. She told us about her own and the diverse group of people it brought together. Those relationships, she said, have continued well past Lambeth, and will help us stay in a calm, spiritual dialogue with one another. Her answer was quite deep, but alas, when one takes two weeks to make a blog post, one forgets many vital details. She also spoke, when told that the Edge is almost a priest factory with two folks in the discernment process now, about the importance of vocational discernment within the context of our baptismal vows rather than ordination.

I was particularly impressed with a sophomore from Virginia, one of the few conservatives in our little community. After a few students made somewhat liberal comments (including my own described above), she pointed out that those who are conservative hold their views and fight for them out of true sincerity, and she wasn’t sure those voices were always heard within The Episcopal Church. ++Katharine took on a very warm and knowing look, leaned in toward the sophomore (who was sitting next to her), and made a beckoning motion with her hand as if to say, “Out with it, honey, it’s ok.” The student, in a very polite and respectful way and with +Gene Robinson sitting right there, talked about her views on ministry and the state of the church, focusing on some of her deep concerns. About half way through she started to stumble, and ++Katharine made the welcoming “out with it” gesture again. Afterwards, I told the student how impressed I was that she would take her concerns to the church's absolute top dog and that she would do it so respectfully. She told me that she hadn’t quite realized what she was doing until halfway through, which is why she suddenly got nervous and stumbled. Needless to say, we are all quite proud to have her as one of us!

Everyone later agreed that it was a moving, intimate, and spirit-filled hour. If nothing else, it was a wonderful blessing for our ministry and our community to be able to circle up and pray with such a remarkable woman.

One final note about Bishop Robinson. We exchanged e-mails this summer, before and after Lambeth, and I told him he I really hoped he would come to Dartmouth so I could give him a hug. He replied with the news about his coming visit with the PB and told me he would be sure to collect on that hug. Well, collect we did - my that man can hug! He gave everyone a hug before he left, but I am pleased to say that I got my own hug before the big round of hugs, and that it was three times longer than anyone else's. Quite strong, as well. Am I bragging? Well, perhaps, but one can't help but feel all snuggly upon receiving such a big hug from such a big hero. :)


Anonymous said...

So Jefferts-Schori "cares" about native peoples, and she's aware of the extreme poverty they suffer from? Really... so the fact that she closes down the Episcopal churches on their tribal lands (in South Dakota), because they don't raise enough money to send to TEC, and that she sold tribal land, held in trust.. what does that show us about the woman's true values and intent?

She visited their church, and instead of talking about the poverty, the suicide rates, and finding a way to help them, she spoke about her two pet issues.

The tribe is suing her.

As to Christ, frankly, she doesn't act like someone who strives to follow Christ's example. Jefferts-Schori hates anyone who refuses to be exploited by her.

And what does that say about you, considering your sitting in her pocket? Are you seeking to exploit the indigenous as well?

P Mixter said...

NE, great story! Thanks for sharing. I had a very similar experience under very different conditions. I would have loved hours or minutes to converse, but we had very few words together. However, I too was impressed with her openness to the Holy Spirit as a listener. Her shout-out to campus ministry in Boise is part of her own story, as someone who left the church as a young woman, but was drawn back in by a fellowship of those asking hard questions. I was lucky to catch a glimpse of that kind of community that has formed life-long committed Christians, working to follow Jesus.

You were treated to a special moment with Gene+ and ++Katharine. Savor it!

Nathan Empsall said...


From my understanding of what little I've read about the Pine Ridge churches so far, it was not the PB who closed those churches, but the bishop of South Dakota. If you are going to blame her for his actions, then you must blame her for every failure, as well as every success, of every autonomous bishop and diocese in the country, and I think you know full well that that's not how this province works. But that aside, I share your sorrow and agree that the church closings are an unwelcome and harmful move, and that the bishop's refusal to accept the letter was extremely arrogant. I don't know much about what's happened beyond what ELO reported, but I do plan to read more about it and blog on the issue before too long.

As to your final paragraph, it speaks very, very poorly of your character that you would make such a slanderous suggestion about someone based on nothing more than a blog post such as this one, with no other knowledge of that person whatsoever. I would argue with you and defend myself, but I feel no need to answer to someone willing to sink so low while cloaked in anonymity.

Nathan Empsall said...

Yes, Phil!
Thank you! :)

Nathan Empsall said...

Anon, I should add, if you have any relevant links about what's happening in SD, please send them my way. I need and want to read more about the issue.

But, do so in a respectful tone, for there's no reason to be hostile here.

traditionalanglican said...


has a good deal of information about the Episcopal Church in USA and the closing of reservation churches.

It should be noted that the national church under Dr Schori intervened in the affairs of Virgina but claims not to be able to do so with respect to the reservation churches.

Nathan Empsall said...


Thank you for that link. Someone at Stand Firm passed it along as well, I'll check it out soon.

VA is an entirely seperate issue. That's a number of parishes attempting to leave the diocese and church, not the diocese making a decision about what to do with its property. Parishes hold property in trust for dioceses which do so for the national church, and in VA, you had a breakdown in that line of trust holders. No one is removing themselves from that line is SD.

James said...

Good article, my friend! Don't let them get you down.