Ten years ago, the Regional Emergency Dispatch (R.E.D.) Center in Northbrook, Illinois installed a section of steel beam from the World Trade Center as a memorial to those killed on 9/11 in New York City, Washington D.C., and in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The installation outside the R.E.D. also commemorates those first responders killed when the WTC towers collapsed during rescue efforts. For me, this small memorial in rural Illinois unites the constellation of losses that occurred on 9/11 and the way the collective experience of that day impacted every community across our nation.
Americans in every state posted American flags outside businesses and homes. So many people purchased flags that stores sold out of them within days, and fabric stores experienced a run on any red/white/blue materials and ribbons they had. Instinctively, Americans everywhere were drawn to a symbol of national identity and unity in a time of national trauma and grief. Many young Americans representing our diverse communities enlisted in the armed forces as services were deployed to Afghanistan. The trauma and grief continued to ripple through the costs of lives and impact on our veterans over the twenty years that followed. Their service was not in vain and their accomplishments are far greater than most of us will ever know. The witness of their dedication compels us to elect civilian leaders worthy of their trust and who are committed to reasonable civil discourse, responsible global partnerships, and serving the needs of the oppressed for the greater wellbeing, peace, and freedom of all people.
9/11 was more than a moment in history or a day in time – it continues to resonate within a cultural reform movement shaping a new American identity. We continue to be challenged to move from national isolationism to global connection at every level of our society; from teaching the myth of American exceptionalism to teaching the truths about how our nation was built and by whom, removing the cracked varnish of racism to reveal the genuine beauty of strength in the patterned, colored grain beneath; from enriching the privileged few through the bloody contracts of war and capitalism to providing the opportunity for life, liberty, and happiness to all who come to our boarders seeking refuge and freedom from violence.
9/11 will and must remain with us always, with its generational lessons of courage, commitment, enduring love, humility, generosity, interdependence, and human dignity. As a country, we are still rising from the ashes. Every day and in every moment, we are confronted with choices to either fan the smoldering ruins of hatred or to love our neighbor.
The American flag doesn’t belong to the white Christian supremacists who stormed our nation’s capital on January 6, 2021, who even used that flag to beat a Capitol Police officer defending our national leaders. I’m fairly certain domestic terrorists don’t even understand the ideals and history of the diverse peoples the American flag represents. Who we are, what America is, is ours to determine and to be in each and every moment. Today, on this 20th Anniversary of 9/11, I choose to live in ways that best honor the diversity of those who died that day and those who died in the twenty years of war that followed. I will live courageously, thankfully, humbly, generously, authentically, truthfully, helpfully, and never ever forget that the American experiment is my responsibility to preserve and reform as a citizen of this nation.
A number of years ago, the Episcopal Ad Project put out a poster, a classic picture of Jesus that said, “He died to take away your sins, not your mind.” Over the past several months, I have recalled the sentiment of this poster multiple times as I have strived the navigate the social waters of the Covid-19 pandemic, the availability of vaccines that are proven to be effective, and the emergence of new virus variants that have had the opportunity to mutate within populations with a low vaccination rate.
My friends in the medical field across the country include nurses, hospice staff, respiratory therapists, first responders, laboratory technicians, clinicians, and physicians. To a person, they are tired and frustrated. I try to support them in the ways that I can by providing a non-judgmental and supportive listening ear for as long as they need it. Many of them are suffering from acute compassion fatigue and are finding it increasingly difficult to feel empathy for those who have chosen not to take steps in preventing the spread of Covid-19 and who have consequently contracted the virus. Patience is a limited natural resource even in the most stalwart of human beings. The impatience and frustration of professional healthcare workers who are enduring these times is understandable. In spite of their physical and emotional fatigue, society’s healers are continuing to do what they can – ifthey can – to save the lives of people from the devastation of a global pandemic.
Faith and science are two ways of encountering the environment in which we live. In the historical development of the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal tradition has never seen faith as being at odds with science. In fact, even going as far back as the sixteenth century Church of England, theologian Richard Hooker defended of the role of reason as one of three legs of the three-legged stool supporting the emerging Anglican faith – scripture, reason, and tradition remain foundational to the Anglican/Episcopal worldview and subsequently to the practice of our faith.
Recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, told an international gathering of faith leaders that collaborative steps to meet the challenges of the world’s current climate crisis would benefit from the relationship between science and faith. He made his comments in the first of a series of online meetings being held in advance of the UN’s COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow later this year. Archbishop Justin said that “the relationship between science and faith presents us with a very real and a powerful route to lasting, major change. Our global reach, our commitment to local communities and our hope combined with the knowledge and expertise of science can forge a powerful alliance.”
In an expression linking faith and science, The Most Rev. Michael Curry who is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, created a video of receiving his first Covid-19 vaccination earlier this year. “I thank God for all of the people who have made the COVID vaccines possible and available,” he says in the video, “I’m thankful to have received my first shot – one more to go!” Bishop Curry has since been fully vaccinated and has encouraged all Episcopalians to do the same. The Office of Government Relations of the Episcopal Church created a Covid-19 Tool Kit with ideas of how to encourage people to be vaccinated.
The Covid-19 Toolkit shares that In 2019 (before the pandemic), the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church passed a resolution stating, “That The Episcopal Church has long maintained that we are guided by faith and reason, and that scientific evidence helps us to better understand God’s creation, our place in it, and ways to alleviate suffering and pain.”
Additional language from that resolution offers excellent guidance for taking vaccines, including this statement, “The proper and responsible use of vaccines is a duty not only to our own selves and families but to our communities. Choosing to not vaccinate, when it is medically safe, threatens the lives of others.” A further statement in the resolution gives no wiggle room for non-compliance based on religious objections, “The Executive Council recognizes no claim of theological or religious exemption from vaccination for our members and reiterates the spirit of General Convention policies that Episcopalians should seek the counsel of experienced medical professionals, scientific research, and epidemiological evidence.”
Washington Governor Jay Inslee updated and extended two emergency proclamations last week that expand the vaccine requirement and the statewide face covering requirement. As of August 16, 2021 in our state, at least 69.3 percent of people 12 years of age and older and 59.1 percent of the total population have initiated vaccination. However, only 53.8 percent of the total state population are fully vaccinated.
The “Delta” variant of Covid-19 is at least twice as transmissible as the virus that emerged in late 2019. This fact coupled with the continued significant numbers of unvaccinated people, has caused Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations to rise sharply among unvaccinated populations. As a result, at least 85 percent of U.S. counties and all counties in Washington state meet the CDC criteria for high or substantial transmission.
This is not a time to eschew science but rather to embrace God’s gifts to humanity of intellect (of reason) and the skills with which we are equipped by our Creator and that are modeled by Christ in order to bring healing to the sick. Through the application of our God-given talents and divinely inspired common sense, we are commanded to live from a sacred commitment to care for our neighbor. Our common commitment to one another’s wellbeing is how we are to incarnate our love of God and God’s love for us. Truly, in light of God’s gift of community – in light of the way we have been made to live within relationships of mutual dependence upon one another – caring for the health of others in both a faithful and reasonable thing to do. We must all of us model Christ, we must all of us be healers. The burden of responsibility for the health of our communities must be shared.
I feel so deeply grateful for all the ways that members of Trinity Episcopal Church in Everett, WA who attend and shepherd our in-person services have adhered to the Covid-19 protocols that we have in place. Without this mutual commitment, we would not be able to gather for worship and visit for fellowship. I have felt blessed to see some of my parishioners again and to visit with them in person. If we can continue to model a faithful and reasonable commitment to one another, then the opportunities for gathering in person can continue – with every person making the choices they feel are most reasonable for their continued safety. As we turn to September, the traditional time of fall program startups, I encourage Episcopalians and all people of good will to celebrate this autumn as a Season of Reason. My hope is that this fall season may be a time of gratitude for all that God has given to us that informs our faith and that we bring as gifts to our relationship with God and to our Church, most especially our minds.
My seminary was a Catholic Jesuit seminary, Loyola University in Chicago. I was a Catholic lay person at the time I attended in the early 90’s. The Institute of Pastoral Studies at the University awarded me full tuition scholarships and graduate assistantships for all three years of my MDiv program. I graduated with a 4.0 GPA, was the first student in the history of the degree program to do so, and was inducted into the National Jesuit Honor Society. I tell you all this my friends so that you may have a certain confidence that what I am about to remark is intimately familiar with the history, theology, polity, and canon law of the Roman Catholic Church.
Firstly, the recent Responsum released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith represents the conservative perspective within the Church but does not represent the full mind of the Church. Secondly, the theology informing the Responsum is based in Natural Law theory, a Medieval understanding of biology that views procreation as a primary good and evidence of Divine order in creation. Thirdly, anything that inhibits or does not advance human procreation is therefore deemed sinful. The overall argument is circular and focused on preserving patriarchal constructs of theology and polity.
Much like the Eames Commission’s Windsor Report (2004) in the Anglican Communion, the recent Responsum on blessing same sex union is more concerned about enforcing union within institutional relationships at the expense of union between LGBTQ people. The current organizational dynamic reflected in the Responsum is similar to what occurred between conservative and progressive leadership in the Anglican Communion almost twenty years ago, with formal statements serving as a public institutional dialog that revealed more about the nature of the institution than about the nature of Divine or human love.
My friends, God loves you. The times when this is perceived as a radical or threatening statement are the times when people of faith must join arms, not take them up. Your love for another person already has God’s blessing as the fulfillment of Divine law – your commitment and fidelity to another person is made sacramental by the presence of your mutual love, a love intended to remind us all of God’s love. Your tears of joy or sorrow bless you with a baptism that the Church can only ever hope to emulate.
You are God’s own Beloved. The Church will be transformed by that same love.
Circles of Color sponsored six resolutions to Diocesan Convention. We led a preconvention workshop on the Thursday evening before the Friday/Saturday convention schedule. During Convention, we provided a Friday morning introductory workshop to the Circles of Color and a panel discussion on Saturday. The sum of work was intensive, but the rewards were exponential.
The overarching intention of the six resolutions was to draw collective attention to the needs for diocesan institutional reform to support the work, leadership formation, and ministries essential to the communities and people of color in our diocese. Before 2007, this work had been facilitated by the supervision of a fulltime ethnic missioner, a fulltime suffragan bishop, a full-time assistant, and a part-time dedicated communications assistant. From 2007 onward, staff cuts and budget cuts served to deconstruct the centralized programing and support that had previously existed for our Episcopalians of color. In the absence of a proactive staff presence for providing advocacy, support and connection, the recruitment and leadership formation BIPOC people suffered as did several of our faith communities of color. In short, an administrative goal to cut costs had the impact of deconstructing ethnic ministries, which had been a vital community for BIPOC people in the diocese that provided significant partnerships, education, and consultation resources throughout the diocese.
The Circles of Color resolutions addressed the importance and need to keep BIPOC concerns and needs in the forefront of diocesan mission and commitment. During our panel discussion on Saturday, we heard from a member of the Diocesan Budget and Finance Committee that a diocesan survey some years ago indicated that ethnic ministries was a low priority for our diocese. However, based on the outstanding support of members of Convention this year, I believe the sense of diocesan priorities may have changed somewhat in response to the current issues of our time – most especially the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement and revitalized interest in the intersectionality of indigenous peoples concerns and environmental justice issues.
Convention passed all six resolutions sponsored on behalf of Circles of Color. The resolutions themselves provided an important opportunity for reflection and education. They served as a lens through which to view and understand the needs of BIPOC Episcopalians. The majority of the diocese was likely unaware of the disenfranchisement experienced by our BIPOC church members and communities. I believe that I speak for all members of Circles of Color that we felt deeply grateful and were very emotionally and spiritually moved by the Convention’s support of the resolutions and by the witness and testimony provided by white allies who spoke in support of the resolutions. Many tears of gratitude were shed, and by the end of Convention we felt that we had been seen, heard, and valued. We hope that the community gift of being seen, heard, and valued will continue as we all grow in the depth of our relationships with one another in the Diocese of Olympia.
Whoever’s in Charge is Who’s Responsible
The greatest organizational challenges for needed changes are in areas of governance and leadership, getting to the heart of addressing issues of systemic racism in the church. Bishop Rickel has noted that now that the resolutions have been passed, the real work begins. From a values and community perspective, the work of addressing systemic racism is all of ours to do and rests with no single individual but with every individual, wherever we are on the organizational flow chart, however much social power we have, and whatever color we are. In our Baptismal Covenant, each of us has made the promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. Fulfilling our Baptismal promises constitutes the work of a lifetime.
However, from a leadership and organizational perspective in which the reality of church hierarchy determines institutional and budgetary priorities, the bishop and his office as well as the dean and the diocesan cathedral need to do some soul searching. People of color in the Diocese of Olympia are asking for mutuality in our relationships with church leaders, input into institutional operations that directly affect us, and pastoral responses from diocesan and cathedral leadership. Asking for mutuality and decision-making that cares for the needs of the marginalized – which are community value of our faith – is at odds with the hegemonic nature of a hierarchical institution that equates leadership with higher authority possessing greater power and control.
In terms of systems theory, it is not possible to reconcile issues of inequality within a hierarchal structure that by its nature derives authority from the unequal social strata over which it has power. The democratic principles that seemingly empower the bicameral decision making of diocesan conventions and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church may be legislative bodies that attempt to balance the hierarchical influence of bishops and other leaders. Yet, the canon law that undergirds the Church polity and empowerment of hierarchal decision making is cumbersome and time consuming to change in response to the facile and rapidly changing needs of our time – including adapting to real-time needs of our growing communities of color. Therefore, organizational adaptation is highly localized and is utterly dependent on how a given diocesan bishop or leadership system is willing to flex in the way in which authority operates on a continuum of unilateral hierarchical decision making to allowing for corporate influence in decision-making and collaborative organizational management.
Hierarchical decision-making says, “I have decided this is how it will be – you figure out how to execute my expectation and thereby you are ‘empowered’ to do things my way, and I will hold you accountable.” Whereas, corporate input into decision making that leads to genuine collective responsibility says, “We need to hear from one another regularly and intentionally so that we keep learning what we each need from a shared commitment to creating what we envision together; in this way we empower one another to assume the responsibilities we each have toward one another through our shared leadership, holding ourselves accountable.”
When hierarchical systems are incapable or unwilling to listen to the needs of the marginalized, the people will insist on transformative change, frequently perceived as a hostile corporate takeover by those whom the system genuinely empowers. Corporate challenge is the first indicator to those in charge within a system from which only the few derive authority that the system is not serving the people. Hierarchical systems rely on a system of rewards and punishments, usually generating a cosmology that promotes fear of retribution and extends relationship only to the compliant. Within a hierarchal church system, forgiveness is about successfully placating angry gods.
Fortunately, in the face of the hierarchical machinations of empire and religious institution, Jesus offers a compelling alternative.
New Testament Leadership is Corporate and so is God
Jesus and early church leadership introduced significant social and theological innovations to the hierarchical values and cultural beliefs enforced during their lifetime. Their perceived attempt at corporate takeover was considered threatening enough by those in hierarchical power to get nearly all of them killed. Yet, history shows us that good ideas are hard to entomb or coopt and have a tendency to be resurrected and liberated in successive generations. Just as creation is an ongoing phenomenon not limited to the allegory of seven days, Christ’s resurrection was never limited to just three days but continues unabated in our time.
The reality that the savior of dominant culture is an articulate, educated, brown-skinned, socially progressive young adult we know as Jesus is entirely relevant to the call confronting the Church today. Having lived his entire human life as an indigenous man living under Roman occupation and frustrated by the failure of his religious leaders to take a stand on behalf of the people in order to help mitigate their suffering, Jesus empowered others through his leadership. He leveraged whatever social privilege he held to cultivate relationships with the whole spectrum of his society, subverting multitudinous dominant paradigms with the certitude of the core principles of his faith. He elevated the law to love one another into a rallying cry for social, personal, and spiritual transformation. He seemingly challenged everyone he met to garner the fortitude to grow beyond the social limitations/expectations placed upon them like manacles, while chastising those who had created those bonds.
Jesus did not seek to overthrow but to create level ground for all. For those dwelling in high places of power, level ground was an anathema. Yet, early church writers picked up the theme of human value within corporate ways of being, and a triune God in collaboration with itself became the new model for leadership and community. In a challenge to ascribed social and religious privilege, Paul deconstructed social strata in human society and in religious institution, reframing the new community as the Body of Christ:
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Cor 13-14, 22, 24b-25).
Identifying a basis for common ground amidst social and cultural diversity, Paul also provides a basis for unity and social leveling in the idea that all social assignments that ascribe our identity – including ethnicity and gender – are subsumed into the singular identity of Christ, whose own identity in/as God transcends all:
Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:24-28)
Surely, when members of Christ’s body are hurting, we need to tend to those wounds collectively. People of color in the diocese of Olympia are hurting. Passing the six resolutions at our convention was an important beginning. Hearing Bishop Rickel state at convention that he is aware that he is responsible for causing much of the pain that was shared during the listening session panel was incredibly important. The next step is in developing mutual relationships in which people value one another through deepening trust and understanding. However, there is no program, training module, or personal inventory in existence that can substitute for doing the actual work of relationship building. One phone call at a time. One email at a time. One Zoom at a time. One meal at a time. One conversation at a time. Jesus never said the love we should have for one another would be easy, but he did say that it’s the most important work we can ever do for God.
It is laudable and appreciated that our bishop and cathedral are developing partnerships with diverse churches and ethnic communities outside of The Episcopal Church and with Episcopal leaders of color outside of our diocese. Yet, in doing so, leadership has overlooked our own people of color in the Diocese of Olympia and neglected the need we have for being in transformative and liberative relationship with our bishop and our cathedral. I hear that some hierarchical leaders feel at risk and are afraid; I hear that some of our people of color feel at risk and are afraid. Yet, I believe that all of us long for a relationship rooted on the level social landscape as Christ’s body that is Holy Ground, where “We will not all die, but we will all be changed.” 1 Cor 15:51
Throughout the history of the Diocese of Olympia, Episcopalians of color have experienced many challenges within the institutional processes of establishing and maintaining ministries that support our people and faith communities of color. For example, in the wake of 9/11, the diocesan Anti-Racism Training Task Force along with the Committee for Cultural and Racial Unity presented a resolution to the 91st Convention of the Diocese of Olympia (2001) entitled, A Call for Dismantling Racism and White Privilege in the Life of the Church and the Region. The resolution asked the Diocese of Olympia to declare that the sin of racism is contrary to Scripture and in violation of the promises of the Baptismal Covenant. The resolution further resolved that the diocese would participate in a “Year of Action Against Racism and White Privilege,” a social action and education initiative sponsored by the Church Council of Greater Seattle’s Committee for Racial Justice. The Resolutions Committee moved for adoption of the resolution.
However, debate ensued on the floor of convention as to whether or not to remove the word “white” from the term “white privilege” within the text of the resolution. In the end, Paula Harris-White, the author of the resolution, stated, “If this body is not really ready to deal with the issues of racism in an open, honest and graceful way, perhaps we are not ready to deal with the resolution at all.” She then made a motion to withdraw the resolution, but a separate motion was passed instead to table the resolution to the following year’s convention in order to allow for time for “additional work and dialogue.” The resolution was never re-introduced.
Examples of issues that are more recent include organizational changes in diocesan governance, structures, and programs that have had the cumulative effect of isolating and disenfranchising Episcopalians of color in the Diocese of Olympia. We have experienced the organizational deconstruction of the diocesan Commission for Ethnic Ministries, the defunding of three full time diocesan positions dedicated to Ethnic Ministries, the shift of programmatic focus away from ethnic ministries, and changes that have negatively affected our predominantly ethnic congregations.
The absence of proactive cultivation of ethnic ministries created a diocesan-wide diaspora of our people of color, who became increasingly isolated from one another and from the leadership decision-making stream of the diocese. In 2011, changes to diocesan canons restructured Diocesan Council that had formerly included six seats for representatives of the Commissions of the diocese, thereby removing the opportunity for appointments representing our communities of color that were once networked through the former Commission on Ethnic Ministries.
In 2015, diocesan leadership made a unilateral decision to shift the focus and language away from “Ethnic Ministries” which served ethnic communities to focus on Multicultural Competency training. While the term “multiculturalism” implies that diverse people are supported within or as a result of the training program, in reality the initiative is focused on the education of the white majority of the Church. Currently, there is no proactive diocesan strategic plan for developing ethnic ministries, growing ethnic congregations, and creating opportunities for the active participation of people of color in the governing bodies and decision-making processes of our diocese. When considered in total, the deconstruction of Ethnic Ministries and alienation of BIPOC voices appears intentional. While leadership decisions may have been intended as fiscally and organizationally pragmatic changes, the impact of de-staffing, defunding, and devaluing the experiences of Episcopalians of color in our diocese has been traumatic.
In the absence of organizational support, a leadership group composed of people of color and allies formed in the fall of 2019 to begin dreaming and planning for a genuinely Beloved Community. In the spring and summer of 2020, Ethnic Ministries Circles of Color formed as a grassroots BIPOC network. Our Circles of Color are mutually supportive communities for resource sharing, networking, personal support, addressing issues of racism, encouraging leadership development among our people of color church communities, and connecting people of color with what they need emotionally and spiritually to be who God is calling them to be.
In addition to the Leadership Circle, the Clergy Circle of Color has developed the following Circles: African/Black American Circle; Indigenous Circle, Asian Circle; and the Hispanic/Latino Circle. The Postulants of Color Circle is for those people of color currently in the formal ordination process. We are in the process of forming an LGBTQ Circle for people of color. Our allies are also forming an Ethnic Ministries Allies Circle composed of white allies who are truly knowledgeable about and committed to working in authentic partnership with people of color.
Representatives of Ethnic Ministries Circles of Color have submitted six resolutions for the 110th Convention of the Diocese of Olympia (2020). These resolutions speak to significant truths about the nature of the diocesan organization. They reflect the call to action to which we are all called in the wake of the death of George Floyd, as well as the need to transform the racist ideals enshrined in the institutions of the United States and in the Church. The Church must move beyond tokenism and the performative use of people of color to genuine and proactive partnership in every aspect of programs and governance of the diocese. We hope that members of Convention will consider the six resolutions that we have submitted as meaningful steps towards the reconciliation and authentic relationship that are foundational to realizing the Beloved Community. We welcome the dialogue that has long been needed.
The following Six Resolutions have been submitted by the convention delegates listed below on behalf of Ethnic Ministries Circles of Color, who also sign the above statement.
The Rev. Josefina Beecher (Retired)
The Rev. Carla Robinson, Priest Associate Christ Episcopal Church, Seattle
The Rev. Deacon Polly Shigaki, St. Peter’s, Seattle; Commission on Ministry
The Rev. Nigel Taber-Hamilton (Retired)
The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Everett; Ethnic Ministries Circles of Color Coordinator
The Rev. Dr. Edie Weller, Priest Associate, St. Mark’s Cathedral
Elsie Dennis, St. Matthew’s, Brown’s Point
Sylvia Sepulveda, Christ Church, Anacortes
TheRev. Canon Jerry Shigaki, (Retired)
Daren K Chidester, St. John’s Olympia
Dianne Aid, Tssf
Anna Lynn, St. Matthew – San Mateo Episcopal Church
The Rev. Kendall Haynes, St. Matthew Episcopal Church
Becky Clark, St. Columba, Kent
The Rev. Greg Peters, Rector, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Edmonds
Deborah Moore, Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett
Mary L. Lyons, St. Stephen, Longview
Nicholas J. Fuchs, Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett
Edie Carroll, Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett
The Rev. Nancy Wynen, Grace Episcopal Church, Lopez Island
Henry Lebedinsky, Christ Episcopal Church, Seattle
The Rev. Danae Ashley, St. Andrew’s, Seattle
The Rt. Rev. Sanford Z. K. Hampton, Diocese of Olympia
David Kosar, Treasurer, Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett
The Rev. Natalie Johnson, St. Paul, Seattle
The Rev. Carlos J. Caguiat, Church of the Resurrection (supply), Holy Cross Redmond (home parish)
The Rev. Anne Barton
The Rev. Deacon Pat Grodt, St. Dunstan’s, Shoreline
Hisako M. Beasley, St. Mark’s Cathedral/Ethnic Ministries Circles of Color
The Rev. M. Sue Reid (Retired)
The Rev. Dr. Paul Moore, Resurrección/St. Paul’s, Mount Vernon
The Rev. Susan C. Armer, St. Thomas, Clarkdale
The Rev. Julianna Caguiat (Retired), Holy Cross, Redmond
The Rev. Berto Gandara, Emmanuel Orcas Island
Adrienne Elliott, St. Paul’s, Seattle
The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, Diocese of Olympia
Julia Vander Vegt, Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett
Claudia Jean Swift, St James-Sedro Woolley
Cathie Knox-Browning, St. John the Baptist in West Seattle
The Rev. Canon Pat Taylor, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle
The Rev. Mary MacKenzie, St. Paul’s Seattle
Em Malmevik, Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett
The Rev. Fred Jessett (Retired)
The Rev. Patricia Robertson (Retired), St. Barnabas, Bainbridge Island
The Rev. Canon Nancy Ross, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle
Betsy Teays, St. Luke’s, Renton
Ann Strickland, Grace Church, Bainbridge Island
The Rev. Nic Mather, St. Stephen’s, Longview
Lisalynn Reed, St. Thomas, Medina
Mel Butler, St. Luke’s Renton
Kelly DiCicco, Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett
Alex Flannagan, Youth Ministry Coordinator for the Diocese of Olympia
Katharine Lamperti, Emmanuel Episcopal Church
The Rev. Gail Wheatley (Retired)
Megan Oakes, St. Peter’s Seattle
Mary Fancher Butler, St. Luke, Renton
Peter McClung, St. Marks Cathedral Parish
The Rev. Shelly Fayette, Christ Church, Seattle
James B Campbell
Katie Bucy, St. John the Baptist
The Ven. Gen Grewell, Archdeacon for Diocese of Olympia
Barbara Potgieter, St. Paul’s, Seattle
Torres Hui, Holy Apostles, Bellevue
The Rev. Richard C. Weyls, Rector, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Seattle
The Rev. Rebecca J Scott (Retired)
The Rev. Kevin D. Pearson, St. Luke Church, Renton
ClayOla Gitane, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Sequim
Ruth Anne Garcia, Epiphany, Seattle
Walter Knowles, St Paul’s Seattle, School of Theology, Sewanee
Margaret Bird, St. Paul’s, Mt. Veron
Tia Hudson, St. Hugh, Allyn
The Rev. Eliacin Rosario-Cruz, St. John’s, Snohomish
Nabatanzi Bewayo, Epiphany Parish, Seattle
The Rev Sarah Monroe, Chaplains on the Harbor
The Rev. Mary Jane Francis, St. Paul’s, Seattle
Sherilyn Peterson, Epiphany Parish, Seattle
Ethnic Ministries Circles of Color is grateful for your support. If you would like to add your name to the above statement in support of the resolutions below, please complete and submit this form.
PLEASE NOTE: Draft versions of the Resolutions were submitted to the Committee on Constitution and Canons and to the Resolutions Committee on September 8, 2020. On October 10, we posted the final version of each resolution which include revisions to three resolutions (noted below) that reflect changes based on feedback and input from members of the Committee on Constitution and Canons and the Resolutions Committee.
NOTE:The original resolution submitted to the Committee on Constitution and Canons has been expanded to include directives on how the shift to a new membership rotation would be operationalized. These changes were recommended by Canon Dede Moore.
Resolved, that the 110th Convention of the Diocese of Olympia adopt the following changes to Canon 6 of the Diocesan Constitution and Canons:
Canon 6: The Diocesan Council
The Bishop and Council of the Diocese, as hereinafter constituted, shall be known as the “Diocesan Council” and shall exercise powers of Convention between the meetings thereof.
The Diocesan Council shall consist of the Bishop, Bishop Coadjutor, Suffragan Bishops, if any, twoone members (one clergy and oneor layperson) representing each of the ten Regional Ministries, four at large members (two clergy and two laypersons), and up to six BIPOC members (clergy or laypersons) appointed by the bishop. The bishop may seek recommendation from existing Ethnic Ministry Communities as may helpful.
All regional and at large members shall be elected at the Annual Convention with one-third being elected each year. All elected and appointed members shall serve for three-year terms. No member who has served on Council for two consecutive terms shall be eligible for re-election until the expiration of one year. All lay members shall be adult Communicants in Good Standing of a diocesan parish or mission. All clergy members shall be canonically resident in the Diocese of Olympia. The Council shall have power to fill any vacancies in its membership and shall fill any such vacancies for any position if the unexpired term is more than eleven (11) months. Members thus appointed by Council shall serve the unexpired balance of the term. Absent resignation, removal from office, or death, a member’s term shall continue through the close of the Annual Convention session.
The Bishop shall be the President of Council, provided that the Bishop may delegate the presiding function at any meeting to another member of Council.
Section 45: Regional Representatives shall be elected according to the following rotation schedule (with Year One elected at the 2022 Convention).
No member who has served on Council for two consecutive terms shall be eligible for re-election until the expiration of one year. Council members who transfer outside the region they represent shall resign no later than the close of the next Annual Convention. The Council shall have power to fill any vacancies in its membership and shall fill any such vacancies for any position if the unexpired term is more than eleven (11) months. Members thus appointed by Council shall serve the unexpired balance of the term. Absent resignation, removal from office, or death, a member’s term shall continue through the close of the Annual Convention session.
In 2022, at-large members shall be elected as follows: one lay person for a three-year term; one clergy person for a two-year term and one lay person for a two-year term; one clergy person for a one-year term. Beginning in 2023, or as terms expire, at-large members shall be elected according to the continuing rotation schedule for three-year terms.
In 2022, bishop appointments shall be as follows: up to two persons (clergy or lay) for three-year terms; up to two persons (clergy or lay) for two-year terms; and up to two persons (clergy or lay) for one-year terms. Beginning in 2023, or as terms expire, bishop appointments shall be according to the continuing rotation schedule for three-year terms.
The convention Nominations Committee shall be charged with selecting nominees according to Article XIV, section 2.
The Diocesan Council shall organize and elect such officers other than the Bishop, and appoint such agents as it deems appropriate.
The Council shall support the Bishop’s administration of diocesan programs by developing policy, planning and evaluation.
The Bishop shall supervise the financial affairs of the Diocese, and shall require a proper annual audit of all receipts and disbursements of all parishes and other diocesan organizations. The Bishop shall require the bonding of all Parish, Mission and Diocesan Treasurers; the maintenance of adequate insurance for damage to all church properties; and the introduction and maintenance of the budget system in each Parish and Mission.
The Diocesan Council shall annually no later than September 1 adopt an operating budget for the subsequent year. The Bishop shall present this budget to the Diocesan Convention for ratification; the budget may be amended by the Convention on a majority vote. Any proposed amendment that calls for new or increased spending must include an estimate of the additional costs and must specify budget line item reductions or other revenue sources that would maintain a balanced budget. Any proposed amendment that calls for reduction in spending must specify the budget line items to be affected. Any proposed budget amendment must be submitted by written resolution to Diocesan Council and the Resolutions Committee at least 45 days prior to the Convention.
Said budget shall be balanced on the basis of expected diocesan income at the Assessment rate set pursuant to Canon 7. Copies of the draft budget shall be presented to the clergy, lay delegates and Parish and Mission treasurers one week prior to the Spring Pre-Convention Gatherings. Council may recommend for the Bishop’s approval any changes in budget allocations as it may find necessary.
Prior to 2011, the diocesan canons governing the structure of Diocesan Council described the Council as consisting of ten (10) members, one elected from and by each of the ten Regional Ministries, three (3) members elected by the Diocesan Convention, and up to six (6) members appointed by diocesan Program Commissions. Formerly, when the diocesan Commission for Ethnic Ministries existed, the diocesan Ethnic Ministries programs represented the work and ministries of Asian Ministries, African American Ministries, First Nations Ministries, and Hispanic Ministries. Though not explicitly detailed in Canon 6 prior to the 2011 changes, members representing Episcopal communities of color in the diocese constituted those appointed to Diocesan Council because of the opportunity preserved within former Canon 6 for the representation of BIPOC via the six positions representing the Program Commissions.
Diocesan Convention 2011 passed Resolution #5 on “Diocesan Council Restructure.” That restructure eliminated all appointed positions to Diocesan Council and shifted to a model of exclusively regional representation with all members elected at Diocesan Convention from each of the ten (10) diocesan regions.
The dominant culture model of a fully elected slate fails to appreciate the values and socio-cultural norms of our communities of color, most especially members of immigrant and relocated communities of color whose cultures include values of personal humility and relying on the invitation of elders and authority figures before assuming positions of responsibility. Additionally, a regional election process in Western Washington biases election results towards white membership, because the majority population of our rural regions are white and our communities of color are primarily urban-centered, with the exception of farm workers. The dominant culture Church must proactively invite people of color into positions of leadership in an ongoing commitment to the representation of minority communities in our organizational model of decision-making. Dedicating representative seats at the table for our communities of color underscores a diocesan commitment to empowering our diverse membership by assuring their presence in leadership.
Though the commission and committees formerly known as the Commission for Ethnic Ministries and the Diocesan ethnic committees no longer exist, Ethnic Ministries Circles of Color is a grassroots community virtual network connecting people of color across the diocese. Organized in the spring and summer of 2020, Circles of Color provides support and advocacy for Episcopalians of color that is not dependent on geographic region or constrained by the rural/urban divide. Each Circle of Color has the ability to lift up representatives from within each community and can serve as a mechanism for recommending appointments to Diocesan Council. The Diocesan Bishop would make the final determination of the slate of appointed positions in consultation with those communities.
With regard to regional representation, the Nominating Committee should strive to maintain a balance of clergy and lay nominees by working with the regions to emphasize the need to alternate between clergy and lay representatives.
NOTE: The version of this resolution shown below differs only slightly from the original sent to the Resolutions Committee. This revised version has included “neurodiversity”, which members of the Resolution Committee raised as another form of diversity. While there are many ways to frame diversity, one intention of this resolution is raise deliberate awareness of unconscious biases in appointing BIPOC to seats in leadership, fully appreciating all the gifts to be offered.The form of the resolution below is found in the appendix of The Resolutions Committee Report to Convention and will be submitted on the floor of Convention as a substitute resolution to original.
Resolved, that the 110th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia change Diocesan Canon 17 as indicated below:
Canon 17: In appointing members to diocesan commissions, committees, boards, and other bodies, and in issues of clergy deployment, the appointing authority shall give due consideration to the value of diversity in such areas as gender, sexual identity and orientation, physical ability, neurodiversity, age, race, ethnicity and income and wealth status
The proposed change makes explicit what was implicit as the Canon stood. As the Diocese moves to examine and change the lack of diversity in Diocesan structures, the specificity of the new wording can serve as a substantive reminder, underscoring the reality that in this important historical moment “diversity” requires a more exact definition.
NOTE: The original resolution submitted to the Resolutions Committee has been only slightly revised in text and includes an expanded explanation based in feedback from the Committee.The form of the resolution below is found in the appendix of The Resolutions Committee Report to Convention and will be submitted on the floor of Convention as a substitute resolution to original.
Resolved, that the 110th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia change Diocesan Canon 22 as indicated below:
Canon 22: The Commission on Ministry
Section 1 Membership
There shall be a Commission on Ministry consisting of at least ten members.
a. One member of the Commission shall be chosen by the Standing Committee from among its members. Such members shall serve a one-year term and may be re-appointed by Standing Committee.
b. Of the remaining members of the Commission no fewer than one halfthird shall be clergy canonically resident in the Diocese and no fewer than one thirdhalf shall be lay adult Communicants in Good Standing in the Diocese. These members shall be appointed by the Bishop at the Annual Convention for three-year terms. One half of the Commission’s members shall be elected by the Annual Convention for three year terms. One third of the Commission will be appointed and elected each year. No such member may serve during more than two successive three-year terms. Those appointing and electing members of the Commission, as well as the Commission itself, shall strive for the diversity described in Diocesan Canon 17.
c. If a vacancy of a member appointed by the Bishop occurs on the Commission, the Bishop shall fill the vacancy for the unexpired term. If a vacancy of a member elected by Annual Convention occurs on the Commission, the Diocesan Council shall fill the vacancy until the next Annual Convention, which will elect a replacement person to fill out the remainder of the unexpired term.
d. Beginning in 2021, the commission will begin the three-year process required to move to the above structure, with the bishop appointing one-sixth and convention electing one-sixth of the commission’s membership each year, maintaining the lay/ordained 50%/50% balance.
Section 2 Duties and responsibilities
a. The Commission on Ministry shall have the duties and responsibilities prescribed by Canons of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. It shall assist the Bishop in matters pertaining to the enlistment and selection of persons for ministry, in the guidance and pastoral care of candidates for Holy Orders, of Deacons, lay professionals, and other baptized persons, and in matters pertaining to lifelong learning.
b. It shall interview Candidates for Holy Orders and shall, upon assignment by the Bishop, conduct, evaluate, and report upon canonical examinations. The Commission shall report promptly in writing to the Bishop the results of all interviews and examinations conducted by it or for it, whether satisfactory or unsatisfactory, making separate reports upon each person examined. The Bishop shall transmit these reports to the Standing Committee, which shall in no case recommend a candidate for Holy Orders, or for ordination to the Diaconate or Priesthood, without first considering the report of the Commission on Ministry.
c. The Commission on Ministry shall have such other responsibilities as are placed upon it by the Canons of the General Convention, by the Canons of the Diocese, and as may be assigned to it by the Bishop.
The Commission on Ministry may adopt and publish rules for its work. Such rules shall be consistent with the Canons of the General Convention and of the Diocese, and shall be subject to the approval of the Bishop. These rules may include authorization for the appointment of committees of the Commission to act on its behalf.
At the first meeting of the Commission following the Diocesan Convention, the Commission shall electBishop shall appoint a Convener from within its number. The Secretary for Vocations shall be appointed by the Bishop and shall keep a record of Commission proceedings, which shall be open at all times to members of the Commission, and to the Bishop and Standing Committee. The Commission shall make an annual report of its actions and activities to the Diocesan Convention.
The Commission on Ministry plays a critical role in guiding all persons who seek to deepen their baptismal ministries and serve the church as both lay and ordained leaders. In its role in leadership formation, the Commission determines the composition of the leadership of the diocese and of the Church. Therefore, leadership identity and representation are very important in the life of our diocese. This resolution names striving for diversity as a goal of the development of future diocesan and Church leadership.
This resolution asks for changes in the manner in which members of the Commission on Ministry are chosen. Rather than the Commission being fully appointed by the Bishop, this resolution proposes that the Commission be composed of both lay and ordained members in equal numbers and that, one-half of the Commission’s members be elected by Convention. As Ethnic Ministries Circles of Color we long for the day when the leadership of our missions, parishes, dioceses, and national church begins to truly reflect the diversity of God’s Creation. We believe that the more democratic process of partial election from the Convention will provide the opportunity for diverse voices to participate in the decision-making processes that determine the composition of the Commission. The intention of this resolution is to help create a more representative membership on this key Commission.
In our diocese, there are only 8 active Black, Indigenous and People of Color clergy out of the 293 clergy resident in our diocese. In the last 12 years, we have lost too many such clergy. Changing the balance on the Commission on Ministry to include more lay Episcopalians (shifting from one-third to one-half lay representation on the Commission) facilitates the COM’s ability to be more representative of our communities of color, which are predominantly lay led while also reflecting diversity among those whom we call to holy orders.
Resolved, that this 110th Convention of the Diocese of Olympia establish a BIPOC Ministry Fund (hereafter “BMF”) to support non-stipendiary BIPOC diocesan clergy leading ethnic congregations, and be it further
Resolved, that the BMF shall be created immediately, and beginning in calendar year 2022 annually maintained using 2% of the Diocesan budget except that the Richard Young Curacy Fund and the Bishop Nedi Rivera Fund for Hispanic Ministry are not to be included in this 2% distribution, and be it further
Resolved, that funds from the BMF are to be distributed according to need, taking into consideration both the resources of the clergyperson and the resources of the worshipping communities involved, and be it further
Resolved, that members of the Bishop’s Society be contacted by the Bishop to ask if they will donate to the BMF or include this fund in their wills.
Our nation has reached another crossroads in its long history, and the Episcopal Church is a part of this moment. Within our Church, BIPOC communities and clergy continue to experience all of the negative effects of centuries of racism and colonialism, disproportionately directed at minority individuals and communities. Any genuine attempt at beginning to redress this reality will require the devotion of significant human and financial resources. We recognize that this will be challenging. We believe that – as individuals, communities, and as a diocese – we are up to this challenge.
At present, our Diocese is using the Iona School program for training for those who will exercise an ordained ministry in small, financially challenged worshiping communities. These clergy are expected to work without a salary, church-provided health insurance, or Church Pension Fund contributions. When this model is also used for training BIPOC clergy it reveals the inequity of the way our diocese is treating the BIPOC community. This fund will be a concrete step to correct discrimination against BIPOC persons and communities.
We are aware that the 2021 budget process is well advanced, and so propose the 2% usage begin in 2022. However, the need is now. We would welcome conversation to find ways to fund this program in 2021.
NOTE:The original resolution submitted to the Resolutions Committee has been modified in both text and explanation based on recommendations and input from the Committee. The form of the resolution below is found in the appendix of The Resolutions Committee Report to Convention and will be submitted on the floor of Convention as a substitute resolution to original.
Resolved, that this 110th Convention of the Diocese of Olympia directs the Commission on
Ministry to offer to each Applicant, Postulant and Candidate who is self-identified as Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Asian or other Person of Color (hereafter “BIPOC”) the assistance of a cultural interpreter to accompany them through the entire duration of their process. The cultural interpreter’s role is to interpret the cultural identity and assumptions of the Applicant, Postulant or Candidate to the Commission, and the cultural identity and assumptions of the Commission to the Applicant, Postulant or Candidate. This cultural interpreter will be approved by the applicant, postulant, or candidate and is not to be a member of the Commission. The cultural interpreter must be familiar with the Applicant, Postulant or Candidate’s culture of origin, as well as well informed about the rules and procedures of the Commission on Ministry and be able to answer the Applicant, Postulant or Candidate’s questions about the culture of the Diocese. This cultural interpreter is to accompany the Applicant, Postulant, or Candidate to any and all Commission meetings, as requested by the Applicant, Postulant or Candidate. This cultural interpreter is to be bound by any and all rules of confidentiality of the Commission. The cultural interpreter may be compensated, as would be a language interpreter, including standard diocesan mileage rates.
All persons journeying toward potential ordained ministry in the Diocese of Olympia face a daunting process as they respond to their sense of call and have that vocation tested. This process rightly should be a deep examination of their spiritual and personal life. However, BIPOC persons face cultural assumptions understood by the dominant white church culture and not necessarily understood by all who seek ordination in our church. Conversely, Commission members from the dominant culture are unlikely to recognize or understand the nature of a BIPOC culture without help. For example, the use of non-verbal communication, or the way personal skills and talents are presented differ markedly across cultures. A person discerning a call to ordained ministry may come from a high-context culture where trust and communication develops slowly, whereas the diocesan culture generally is low-context, with more direct, explicit communication being valued. The COM, while valuing the forming of community, mostly conforms to the dominant culture which values individuality. Those in process for ordination may not be accustomed to making individual decisions without consulting family and community. Each step of the process is challenging to all but even more so to BIPOC persons. To assure that BIPOC persons are not held back by unwritten cultural norms and expectations, or by simple cultural misunderstandings, an additional person of their choosing is needed to accompany them. Further, commission members need to make sure that they are communicating clearly and effectively, and a Cultural Interpreter can identify culturally informed strategies and concepts specific to the BIPOC aspirant/postulant/candidate to aid in this regard. The Cultural Interpreter has a unique role that is not the same as the role of Commission liaison or spiritual director. Adding a Cultural Interpreter to the ordination process will aid the Diocese of Olympia on it’s challenging journey to become the Beloved Community. At a minimum, the cultural interpreter should have significant cross-cultural experience and familiarity with both cultures, and may be from either or both cultures. The Circles of Color represent one resource in our diocese that can assist in identifying Cultural Interpreters. The persons in process themselves may know and be able to recommend a person with familiarity with both cultures. Additionally, the cultural interpreter may be a language interpreter, as required by the person in process.
Resolved, that the 110th Convention of the Diocese of Olympia join other Episcopal dioceses in signing Bishop Deon Johnson’s Anti-Racism Covenant of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, and be it further
Resolved, that the Diocese of Olympia adopt this covenant for promotion and education in our diocese, and be it further
Resolved, that this Convention commend it to all congregations in our diocese for study and meaningful local action that promotes further racial understanding, reconciliation, and partnership.
In response to the death of George Floyd and others in police custody, the Rt. Rev. Deon Johnson wrote an anti-racism covenant. The document includes our laments (the things we confess to doing wrong) and our covenant (the promises we make to do better).
Several other bishops in the Episcopal Church and ELCA are supporting Bishop Johnson in this action. Signing, adopting, and reflecting on the Anti-Racism Covenant provides a collective opportunity to the whole Church to move beyond a “statement” and engage in meaningful action to end the sin of racism. The nature of action may be specific to every congregation and ministry in the diocese, but action cannot happen without intentional commitment and spiritual encouragement. The Anti-Racism Covenant complements our Baptismal Covenant commitment to seek and serve Christ in all persons, by loving our neighbor as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.
Anti-Racism Covenant: A Covenant to Root Out Racism
“Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” -1 John 4:20
The sin of racism disrupts the harmony and oneness that God intends for humanity. Racism is dangerous, divisive, and damaging. Racism purports that some are deserving of dignity over others and disregards the image and likeness of God found in every human being. We are created in the image of God; therefore, to engage in racism of any form is to refuse to acknowledge the image of God in the other and the stranger. The fact that we were created in the image of God should remind us that each person is a living expression of God that must be respected, preserved, and never dishonored.
Throughout our history, courageous people of God have taken the risk of standing up and speaking out with the least and the lowest. God now challenges us to become courageous people who seek to create sacred communities of hope by dismantling the sin of racism. This work involves risking ourselves for the sake of God’s love, moving beyond ourselves in order to seek and serve Christ and one another.
As people of faith, we acknowledge our sins and our failure to respect the dignity of every human being. We have, individually and corporately, fallen short of the glory of God, and now call to mind and name the aspects of our lament.
We lament the Church’s role in the subjugation, enslavement, and genocide of societies of indigenous peoples, including Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.
We lament the Church’s role in profiting from the selling, trading, and genocide of people of African descent and the lasting effects of the peculiar trade present with us today.
We lament the Church’s complicity-by-silence in the commoditization, dehumanization, and belittling of peoples brought to this country to toil in brutal labor, including Latinx people, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and other immigrant and undocumented populations.
We lament the Church’s complicity in the historical exclusion, internment, and denial of civil rights of Asians and Pacific Islanders.
We lament the Church’s complicity in failing to honor the language, culture, and civil rights of Latinx people, both American citizens and those from other countries.
We lament the places in which we have been spectators and participants in the public and private lynching of people of African descent.
We lament the Church’s lack of moral courage to stand with and on the side of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed.
We lament the systems of white supremacy, white exceptionalism, and white privilege present in the Church that have condoned people –particularly people of African descent, –being viewed as less, inferior, or unworthy rather than as beloved children of God, made in the image of the Divine.
We lament the ways in which the stories of People of Color have been diminished or erased from the histories of our churches, institutions, and communities of faith.
We lament the collusion of the Church with systems that directly and indirectly promote racism, oppression, segregation, and disenfranchisement.
We lament the willful blindness of Christian leadership in promoting and advocating for systems of over-policing, the militarization of police, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipelines, poverty, and violence.
We lament the resounding silence and the crippling fear that often infects the Church in matters of racial reconciliation and social justice.
As people of faith, we are called to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul and with all our mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves.” Recognizing the places in which the church and people of faith have fallen short of God’s love, particularly in the legacy of racism and white supremacy, we seek to amend our lives to more fully reflect God’s dream of Beloved Community.
We covenant to re-examine the history of our communities of faith and institutions to, in tangible ways, acknowledge racist legacies and to recognize, remember, and retell the stories of Native American, enslaved persons and other People of Color, whose labor contributed to white privilege.
We covenant to engage our communities of faith, staffs, colleagues and experts in critical discourse that propels us forward.
We covenant to devise and implement standards, policies, and programs that make our commitment to diversity and inclusion a visible reality.
We covenant to invest in local businesses that are owned and operated by People of Color and underrepresented populations.
We covenant to listen to and to validate the stories, experiences, and feelings of People of Color as companions along the journey, valuing those experiences as being sacred.
We covenant to adopt an intersectional approach in all aspect of our common life, remembering that all forms of oppression are connected.
We covenant to financially support the important work of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
We covenant to work towards the dismantling of the school to prison pipeline and other systems of institutional oppression.
We covenant to stand up and speak out against everyday micro and macro acts of oppression or aggression.
We covenant to struggle and speak out against denial of civil liberties and voter suppression.
We covenant to educate ourselves, and share with others, the many places where our privilege blinds us from being compassionate to others.
We covenant to call out bigotry and hate speech in all aspects of our common life.
We covenant to gather with others, including faith leaders and decision makers, at all levels of the church, to ask the hard questions:
Does the leadership of our institution reflect the diversity of those we serve?
Are the many faces of the diverse body of Christ represented in decision-making processes?
How are we inviting and forming leaders?
Who is missing around the table?
Whose untold story do we need to hear?
We covenant that in our corporate worship; and other activities of our communities to intentionally cultivate welcome, hospitality, and participation for people of all cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds, and to include their rich musical and liturgical offerings in worship.
We covenant to invite all members of our faith communities to reflect about and seek a better understanding of racism and privilege.
We covenant to preach about, and pray together for an end to racism and white supremacy, not to bring down people of European descent, but to lift all others up.
We covenant to join with local community organizations in working for racial justice.
We covenant to…(additional context specific acts may be added or included that are specific to congregations or ministries)
Twenty years ago within the span of time from then until now, ethnic ministries in the Diocese of Olympia has experienced significant change from a highly energized set of communities of color connected through diocesan communication, full and part time staff responsible for the portfolio of ethnic ministries work, several congregations/missions founded within minority communities, diocesan programs and committees that were moderately well funded and supplemented through organized fundraising events, and driven by a diocesan leadership proactively committed to supporting people of color in the diocese and forming them for leadership in the church.
In 2007, we elected a new bishop, who was tasked with (among other things) the need to address financial management needs including bringing burgeoning costs and parochial loans under control. In 2009, the suffragan bishop (responsible for the overall supervision of ethnic ministries and execution of its organizational goals) resigned. This was accompanied and followed by a reduction in the position of Canon for Ethnic Ministries from full time to quarter time. Certain ethnic missions were closed while others were significantly altered in leadership model and form, resulting in the loss of the historical cultural identities that shaped them. Over the course of a decade, our clergy of color have dwindled from more that twenty to less than ten. The diocesan staff and central communication that went with that position were subsumed within the diocesan staffing structure, the ethnic committees, the multicultural gathering, the networks of mutual support and connection evaporated within the machinations of financial and organizational restructure. Ethnic communities and clergy of color became isolated from diocesan leadership and from one another, islands toughing it out until – after ten years of disconnection and organizational neglect (with no vision or strategic plan that sought input from the people of color the bishop’s office professed to want to serve), some of us began to reach out to reconnect in the fall of 2019. We longed to rekindle the fire, the former passion for the mission of ethnic ministries, and to envision what it would be to regather the Beloved Community and re-forge partnerships.
Then George Floyd was murdered, and the movement within civil society that followed was like a burst of sudden flame as with a bomb, back lighting just how unprepared our diocese and leadership had become; how corporately disassociated we had all become due to lack of genuine relationships and connectivity; how understaffed and without any mechanism in place to find us, to assess our needs, and to comprehensively equip prospective allies among white clergy and members of our churches.
The bishop’s office will soon respond, and many are looking for that response – hungry to be partners, longing for support and encouragement, hoping for leadership to care in meaningful and empowering ways. And that’s the critical point of why I am writing, to speak to three pitfalls into which all well-intentioned efforts (in any organization) can become trapped.
Firstly, in addressing issues of systemic racism, consultation with the people of color in your diocese is foundational for successful empowerment of them – if leadership only consults within its own bubble or with outside consultants, your target group will be excluded within the creation of vision and strategic plan; in case you wondered, that’s bad. As one African American priest in our diocese expressed, “This is my church; please stop inviting me into it through language of inclusion. I’m already here. Talk to me.”
Secondly, forming successful collaborative partnerships requires an organizational leadership model that proactively invites that collaboration. People of color must not be paternalistically and colonially viewed as the “other” that the church or its leadership needs to serve (as though in some vision of reversed positions between the privileged and the poor, in which white people become penitent servants). Rather, genuine collaboration and partnership requires the abandonment of all such hegemony. Mutuality is predicated on letting go of paternalistic and authoritarian structures, which the church – by its hierarchical and dominant cultural nature – has difficulty managing. The leader who claims to be in charge, needs to stop being in charge within strategies of mutual appreciation and organizational transformation.
Thirdly, while the spiritual work of anti-racism must by necessity include supporting and equipping white people with what they need emotionally and intellectually to do their inner work, the focus of anti-racism must be ever fixed on the experiences, perspectives, and realities of people of color. My dear white allies, anti-racism is not about saving people of color from the injustices of white society; it’s about empowering people of color to be and bring fully who they are into the shrines of American society – including government and the church – to burst the walls, change the space, make it colorful, fill it with diverse music and images of God, bless it with wild grace in the liberating tide of decolonialized forms of liturgy, worship, and leadership formation.
The development and full breadth of the work that was once ethnic ministries many years ago was driven by the vision and commitment of the diocesan bishop; the work was directed and supported by an assisting bishop or the suffragan bishop that followed; the people and congregations of color in the diocese were connected and gathered around a full time ethnic missioner who advocated for our funding in the diocesan budget as a given (not in competition through a grant process), supported our additional fundraising efforts, and was the rally point around which our committees and communities gathered regularly. There is no possible way that the burden and scope of all that previous work could be accomplished through what became a single one-quarter time FTE diocesan position. In the same way, with all ethnic ministry staffing eliminated, it is an unreasonable expectation that either the Canon to the Ordinary or the Diocesan Bishop carry the specialized and demanding work of ethnic ministries and anti-racism. The work of ethnic ministries cannot be accomplished by either wishful thinking or in isolation as a product of the bishop or his/her office. A true organizational commitment to the work of ethnic minisries and anti-racism requires a commitment of staffing and must have the infrastructural support of broad-based strategic planning and reflected as a moral priority in the diocesan budget.
If you are a person of color in the Diocese of Olympia and want to be part of creating a new vision and direction for the work of ethnic ministries (various ministries of support and empowerment of people and missions), I invite you to become a part of the visioning process and the journey towards what God is calling us to be for one another, for our diocese, and for our communities. In conversation with our diocesan leadership (and having the support of the bishop), the time is upon us all to contemplate this time of socio-cultural reckoning within our civil and ecclesiastical life.
If you would like to learn more about an upcoming visioning and planning retreat for people of color in the Diocese of Olympia, please contact me for information about “Regathering The Beloved Community.”
For now, I conclude with this Gathering Prayer from the Disciple’s Prayer Book of the Native Ministries of The Episcopal Church:
Creator, we give you thanks for all you are and all you bring to us for our visit within your creation. In Jesus, you place the Gospel in the center of this sacred circle through which all of creation is related. You show us the way to live a generous and compassionate life. Give us your strength to live together with respect and commitment as we grow in your spirit, for you are God, now and forever. Amen
We must leave both our perceived power and our perceived poverty outside of the circle in order to create a The Beloved Community of genuine mutuality, ministering side by side – in order to truly become the living Body of Christ, enrobed like Joseph in a coat of many colors.
East Wall Stained Glass Over High Altar – Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett WA
Over a period of five months in the spring and summer of 1892 [April to August], Trinity Episcopal Church grew from an idea in the minds of a few business owners into an incorporated parish with its own lumber-built church on the corner of Wetmore and California Avenues in what is now downtown Everett.
In 1911, the Trinity Vestry called The Rev. Edgar M. Rogers, who lead the Vestry in purchasing the current property at 23rd and Hoyt, breaking ground on the (former) parish hall on March 25, 1912. However, the work on building the church itself was halted as the working men of Snohomish County and many of its clergy went off to join the armed forces in support of the Great War. After Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, survivors returned home picking up the remnants of old lives and building new ones as best they could.
Work resumed on building the church sanctuary, and the first mass was held in it the Sunday after Easter of 1920 – 100 years ago today. The final dedication of the new building was held the following year, presided over by Bishop Keater on Trinity Sunday, May 22, 1921. On that occasion a plaque was placed in the original entry dedicating the sanctuary as a Victory Memorial to those who died in the Great War.
At the time when the old church property at Wetmore and California was sold, the funds helped to support the work of the architect of the new building, E. T. Osborne. Meanwhile, the stained glass windows were designed and executed by Charles J. Connock, who designed the stained glass windows overlooking our high altar. Connock designed the windows with the theme of Resurrection in mind.
The risen Christ is depicted on the center panel, with Mary his mother to the left and Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James on the outside left panel. To the right of Christ is Peter and to the far right is Joseph. The middle panel – depicting the resurrected Christ – was given by the children of the parish in honor of mothers. Surrounded by doves and angels, with Roman soldiers giving up arms at his feet, the resurrected Christ raises a hand in blessing – etched in glass, immortalized in color and light. This blessing reminds us every time we behold it that there is no challenge so great that together we cannot overcome it.
The ancestors of this place dedicated (and gave) their lives to challenging global injustice and to upholding values of international peace and unity. During the years of WWI, Trinity’s parish hall had served as an active hub for community organizing in response to the war efforts – hosting Red Cross meetings, adopting war orphans, selling Liberty Bonds, and hosting an array of guest war time speakers and faith leadership dignitaries from all over the world, including Belgium, France, Greece and Russia. We have multiple photos of rows of scowling clergy to prove it.
Over the years that followed Fr. Roger’s time, the pursuit of justice took different forms in each generation. In the 1960’s issues challenging The Episcopal Church reflected the changing times. The movement for women’s rights, social justice concerns related to in human sexuality, and women’s birth control were foremost issues in international and domestic church meetings.
Voices were also being raised in the streets and in the pews calling for the formulation of environmental laws and policies that would address the then unregulated pollution of the air and water ways – including the use of chemicals developed during wars being used commercially as insecticides and herbicides that were poisoning ecosystems and towns. The early environmental movement in The Episcopal Church was in part informed by the Scriptural tradition of the Genesis – a story we heard just last Saturday evening during the Easter Vigil service. In the Genesis story of Creation, God created the heavens and the earth, as well as everything in them, each bit of Creation concluding with the refrain, And God saw that it was good. When finally all things in the heavens and the earth and their multitudes were finished, we hear that, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
From the perspective of many faiths, philosophies, and sciences, Earth Day was a unified response to an environment in crisis — oil spills, smog, rivers and lakes so polluted they literally caught fire.
On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — took to the streets, college campuses and hundreds of cities to protest environmental injustices and demand a collective new way forward. It is still recognized as the largest civic event on our planet.
This year, this Wednesday on April 22nd, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. Every thinking person with feet firmly planted in scientific reality, comprehends that climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and all life on Earth.
The Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were created in response to the first Earth Day in 1970, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many countries soon adopted similar laws. Earth Day continues to hold major international significance: In 2016, the United Nations chose Earth Day as the day when the historic Paris Agreement on climate change was signed into force. At the end of this year, nations will be expected to increase their national commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016.
However, the Creation that God judges as good, very good, has throughout the course of human history been subjected to much human action that is bad – very, very bad.
On November 8, 2016, four days after the Paris Agreement entered into force in the United States, a new President was elected President of the United States. Only seven months later, on June 1, 2017, the new President announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.
In accordance with Article 28 of the Paris Agreement, a country cannot give notice of withdrawal from the agreement before three years of its start date. So, on November 4, 2019, the new administration gave formal notification of intention to withdraw, which takes 12 months to take effect. So, the earliest possible effective withdrawal date by the United States cannot be before November 4, 2020. [The election for the next president of the United States is to be held the day before, on November 3rd. ]
When the President made his preliminary announcement on June 1, 2017, that afternoon the governors of several U.S. states formed the United States Climate Alliance to continue to advance the objectives of the Paris Agreement at the state level despite the federal withdrawal. The formation of the Alliance was announced by three state governors: Jay Inslee of Washington, Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Jerry Brown of California. The founding statement noted that: “New York, California and Washington, representing over one-fifth of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, are committed to achieving the U.S. goal of reducing emissions 26–28 percent from 2005 levels and meeting or exceeding the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan.”
To date 24 governors both democrat and republican have signed onto the statement, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico, Minnesota, Maryland, and Massachusetts among others. Several mayors and businesses have also signed onto the agreement.
Beginning with federal withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the current administration has since rolled back 95 environmental regulations that effectively remove oversight of oil, natural gas, and methane and power production. All previous targets for standards set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been abandoned by the administration in its gutting of the environmental policies and the Environmental Protection Agency itself.
On January 9th of this year, the administration announced its proposal to obliterate the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. NEPA is the nation’s first major environmental law, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970. That law requires that our government consider the environmental consequences of its major actions, including those that impact our climate.
The current administration wants to ease up on fuel efficiency regulations and has subsequently increased the amount of permitted poisonous nitrogen oxides in the air. As air quality is goes down, respiratory illnesses go up. If the Earth is not healthy, life upon it doesn’t have a chance.
With regard to protected public lands, the current administration is responsible for the largest reduction in the boundaries of protected land in US history, including shrinking protected land at the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument, both significant sites in Utah. The changes open up both areas to mining and oil and gas development. Additionally, the administration is expanding more than 180,000 acres of the Tongess National Forest in Alaska, the country’s largest national forest, known as America’s Amazon, for logging and fossil fuel exploration and mineral extraction. The administration is actively seeking to open oil and gas lease sales in the environmentally sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The administration seeks to change the Forest Service’s Roadless Area Conservation Act to allow logging in our country’s largest and most pristine old growth forest and to allow the massive proposed Pebble Mine to move forward with catastrophic effects on the world’s largest fishery of wild sockeye salmon.
The federal administration currently managing the EPA announced that it will additionally rescind Clean Water Act protections from critical streams and wetlands. This follows on last year’s announcement by the Interior Department that significant changes are being made to the Endangered Species Act to allow for more oil and gas drilling, placing a cap on how much regulators consider the impacts of the climate crisis.
The administration has made changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has severely limited any penalties for bird deaths across the United States, allowing the destruction of millions of birds and marking a radical departure from decades of federal policy that protected more than 1,000 migratory species.
The administration has increased the allowable levels of the herbicide Atrazine, which is used commercially to kill weeds on crops and lawns and which has the proven added effect of contributing to the loss of pollinators, bird populations, and contaminating water supplies and that has been linked to reproductive abnormalities including premature birth.
While our nation reels from the coronavirus pandemic, the current administration is accelerating an agenda that is extraordinarily harmful to all life on the planet — rollbacks that dismantle critical health and environmental protections, and that will inevitably deepen the climate crisis. The lives of American citizens are being impacted right now by a vindictive leadership that seems intent on taking vengeance on the governors and citizens of the states that dared to contradict the President on June 1, 2017 by supporting the Paris Agreement in the face of federal withdrawal. I believe the administration’s actions have been and are now intentional and malicious, constituting not only crimes against humanity but crimes against all life on Earth now and for generations to come.
The sanctuary of our church is 100 years old on its anniversary today. The stained glass windows of Christ’s resurrection are also 100 years old but carry the same message for our community today as they did for those who lived through the Great War and built a new world afterwards – there is no challenge so great that together we cannot overcome it.
Though we are not able to gather to celebrate in our church sanctuary today, we yet share the greater sanctuary of God’s Creation that shelters us all. Just as we few are tasked with caring for the heritage of our church building in memory of the sacrifices of those who have gone before for principles of liberty, fellowship, and peace, so we are bound as God’s stewards to protect the sanctuary of Creation on behalf of the liberty, fellowship, and peace of all the Earth. The national struggle in which we find ourselves today is not a matter of party affiliation or religious affiliation, it is not confined to our national boarders or even to our species – what we are called to confront in this present moment is a matter of life and death – whether the Earth as we know it can survive the impact of humankind or not.
I believe this Earth is the only one we have, I do not believe in the myth of a new Earth or new Creation that is anything other than made manifest in how we live together on this one. This. Is. It. And in the one mortal life we have upon the Earth, we must chose every day whether we stand with her or against her, whether we work with God as stewards of all that God has made or whether we turn our backs on God and let the sacred earth burn with human greed, with corruption, with the unrelieved fever of human illness in so many forms that must be challenged by every generation.
This church sanctuary is very beautiful, and we care for it as those entrusted with its care. How much more should we then care for the greater sanctuary of Creation where the God that unites us by the Spirit that rejoices in all that God has made, this sacred and glorious Creation where the Spirit of God entrusted to us truly lives – still.
The yard was the original standard adopted by the early English sovereigns as a basis of calculation. Under the historical influence of the British Empire, the term “yardstick” became associated as the ideal standard for making critical judgments about a person. Consequently, “taking the measure of a man” gained more meaning than simply assessing the amount of cloth required for making him a suit.
In many ways, the yardstick by which The Episcopal Church evaluates the suitability of would-be clergy is inextricably linked to the ideology of British colonialism. The standard for measuring candidates for ordination is subsequently biased towards Euro-centric models of education, formation, and proficiency/fluency in navigating dominant culture. As a product of colonialism and dominant culture, The Episcopal Church in the United States evaluates for whiteness in its people of color.
Several years ago, when I took the General Ordination Exams, the test writers included a question that asked for candidates to reflect on how The Episcopal Church was doing with regard to racism within the Church. I heard later from a member of the examining board how surprised they were by the scathing critiques that answered that question. Nothing has changed since then, because the way the Church prepares and evaluates for pastoral competencies is gravely culturally biased. It has been my personal experience that every single person of color and white ally intending to work in ministry with communities of color is at some point asked by evaluators if they believe they are “sufficiently Anglican.”
For example, anything other than a prayer life centralizing the Book of Common Prayer is suspect. In my case, all it took for a Commission on Ministry to be concerned was when I shared that I incorporate my indigenous practices of burning sacred herbs and indigenous traditions of interacting with nature as important aspects of my spiritual practice and formation. Within a diocese with a history of Native missions, this may not have been such a concern since such a context is generally more cross cultural, with education and information flowing in both directions. However, I am an “urban Native,” and my Commission on Ministry was primarily driven by white liberalism rather than by any real knowledge of or interest in my Native culture. I was well aware that it was my burden to measure up and not their burden to alter their standard of measure.
Most recently, there has been a growing trend in The Episcopal Church in the United States to use the curriculum of the Iona Center as a standard of education as an option for local training for postulants seeking ordination. The local adaptation of the Iona material used in the Diocese of Olympia has taken the form of “The Iona Olympia School” which is self-described as “a three-year program with a rigorous, curriculum (comprised of textbooks, videos, discussion and activities, and field study) provided by the Iona Institute of the Seminary of the Southwest.” It follows “a traditional school calendar year, beginning in September” and expects paid tuition as well as participation in large blocks of time away from home, work, and family.
None of these expectations is realistic for the majority of people of color, particularly Native people. Course content is not adapted for the indigenous context or context of the communities of color with regard to types of learning and the application of experience. Ultimately, those who undertake local option training are not expected to be paid much if at all once they are ordained – being mostly either deacons or people of color who may become priests.
The argument may be that (by setting “rigorous curriculum” that includes the Euro-centric history of the Church and its subsequent traditions of worship and governance) those who graduate from local training will not be considered second-class clergy. What standard has established that concern in the first place and who yet holds that standard of expectation? White people? Western academics? Bishops? General Convention? People in the pews? All of the above?
The General Board of Examining Chaplains in The Episcopal Church is charged with creating ordination exams that test for the seven canonical areas of study as ascribed by Canons of the Church. These areas of desired proficiency include: 1) The Holy Scriptures, 2) Church History, 3) Christian Theology, 4) Christian Ethics and Moral Theology, 5) Studies in contemporary society (i.e. familiarity with minority groups), 6) Liturgics and Church Music, and 7) the Theory and Practice of Ministry.
Informing each of these canonical areas of study is a massive amount of dominant culture history, perspective, and assumption that yardstick people into seemingly “standard” units of measure. The current ordination process is not benign, and its colonial nature is nowhere more apparent than in how it forms its people of color as leaders for the church. Any training program that does not address the academic areas from a dominant culture perspective towards overlaying a dominant culture identity is deemed little more than finger painting. The “Anglican” in Anglican identity is at its core white history and white identity.
The pedagogy of the dominant culture Church seems to need to shape the foreign into the friendly and familiar, rather than taking the risk of losing a Euro-centric identity. A genuine adult learner approach to leadership formation assumes diversity in experience, perspective, and practice. Therefore, evaluators must be tasked with their own formation before becoming evaluators – they must care about postulants and candidates as people and not as potential interchangeable widgets within the machinations of the institution. Candidates should not be in the position of trying to fulfill the evaluator’s own unexamined cultural biases and assumptions.
How the Church delivers spiritual care and organizational development will depend on genuinely collaborative efforts, not just patronizing gestures of tolerance. Barriers between levels of the diocesan structure need to be replaced with semi-permeable organizational membranes through which education, formation, and cultural influence can flow in both directions. Our candidates for ordination are not empty vessels to be filled with colonized history and identity; they are unique peers, partners, colleagues, and friends who should be joining a community already committed to learning new perspectives and willing to adapt structures and expectations to reflect new and emerging truths. Traditions are not immutable and timeless or universal things – rather, tradition is best understood as the adaptive mechanism within culture that provides the basis for creative change.
There is more than one way to form a leader, just as there is more than one way to be a church within the Church. Our Church faces many challenges, and I believe that our people of color hold adaptive strategies worthy of our collective attention – they are, after all, experts in having to adapt to ways and methods not their own. It is beyond time for the dominant culture Church to learn to do the same.
House Ruins in Capernaum, Israel – in the foreground is an example of a home with added rooms (Photo taken by the author in 2017)
John 14:1-6 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The Gospel of John came into its current form between 90 AD and 110 AD. The historical context of time and place in which this gospel emerged helped shape the discourses and themes contained within it. Understanding the socio-cultural environment can help translate the use of symbols and metaphors employed by the gospel’s author in order to communicate the intended messages and teachings. This holistic approach underscores that it is not possible to understand any one passage from John’s gospel without a consideration of the way everything contained within the gospel is interrelated, internally consistent, and intentionally dialogical in construct.
The author whom Christian tradition names as “John” (although there is evidence indicating several contributors over time) is intimately familiar with the scriptures and symbol system of the Jewish faith, culture, and history. John is also familiar with non-Jewish sources of Greek philosophers and Greco-Roman mystery cults. By weaving together themes that were influential among the diverse populations of the Mediterranean, John presents an interpretation of Jesus that communicates common themes that would have been comprehensible and attractive to a wide-range of cultures and belief systems extant in the author’s time and place.
John is writing for a diverse Christian community experiencing a significant shift in communal identity as related to but independent of Jewish community and identity. The symbols and imagery evoked in the gospel open up the early Christian worldview to thoughts and influences beyond the Hebrew lexicon of stories and symbols representing the Israelite understanding of the Messiah. For John, the Messiah invites spiritual union between Christ and the individual that is unmediated and free-of-charge. This spiritual union is contrasted to the communal covenant with God requiring the fee-based mediation of Jewish priests and interpretation by Jewish teachers who have the exclusive cultural authority to do so. Liberating one’s relationship with the Messiah from Jewish mediation and interpretation is why John contrasts Christian belief from Judaism as it was identified in Judah, even utilizing messianic concepts from the Samaritan Jewish tradition.
For John, the importance of the innovation of a personal relationship with Christ is why the passage of John 14:1-6 is significantly illuminated when it is viewed in light of John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana. I believe that that the symbolic language employed in the depiction of the wedding at Cana is a storyline that is completed in the symbolic language of Christ going to prepare a place in his Father’s house for those he will bring to where he is going.
Firstly, in the marriage traditions of the ancient Israelites, the father of the groom often selected a bride (kallah) for his son, as did Abraham for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:1-4). The consent of the bride-to-be is important. For example, Rebecca was asked if she agreed to go back with Abraham’s servant to marry Abraham’s son, Isaac, and she went willingly (Genesis 24:57–59). Mutual agreement was required for a valid marriage contract.
John’s gospel uses the image of marriage at the wedding of Cana as the central image of the nature of the believer’s relationship with Christ – namely, a spiritual, intimate, and mutual union. Further, the illustration of water turned to wine at the wedding feast encodes the early Christian teaching coupled frequently in John’s gospel, linking baptism to the pascal feast – both are celebrations and occasions of our spiritual union with Christ. The symbol of wine employed in the joyful experience of a wedding is linked to the wine used in the Last Supper, specifically the cup of wine reserved for after the meal which is traditionally associated with the joyful expectation of the arrival of the Messiah.
The link between the waters of baptism and the wine representing Christ’s sacrifice can be found in the traditional preparation for the Jewish betrothal ceremony. Namely, the bride (kallah) and groom (chatan) are separately immersed in water in a ritual of mikvah, which is symbolic of spiritual cleansing. For John, Jesus has already been immersed (baptized) by John the Baptist in the waters of mikvah at the Jordan River, in preparation for Christ’s union with his Beloved, which is each of us. From John’s use of symbols, the community is to understand that baptism serves a similar purpose.
After the immersion in the mikvah, the betrothed couple enters the huppah (marriage canopy)—symbolic of a new household being planned, to establish a binding contract. Within the symbol of home, the groom would give the bride a valuable object such as a ring, and lastly a cup of wine was customarily shared to seal their covenant vows.
After the betrothal ceremony, the bride returned to her mother’s house, while the groom departed to his father’s house. This period of separation lasted about a year, providing time for the groom to add additional rooms to his patrilineal household in order for him to prepare for welcoming his bride into the household of his father. Although the bride knew to expect her groom after about a year, she did not know the exact day or hour. He could come earlier or later than was expected. For this reason, the bride kept her oil lamps ready at all times, just in case the groom came in the night (Matthew 25:1-13). It was the father of the groom who gave final approval for the time for him to return to collect his bride.
When the time came, the bridal procession was led by the sounding of the shofar to the home he had prepared for her. The final step of the wedding tradition is called nissuin (to take), a word that comes from naso, which means to lift up. At this time, the groom, with much noise, fanfare and romance, carried the bride onto the property of his father’s home. Once again, the bride and groom would enter a huppah, recite a blessing over the wine (a symbol of joy), and finalize their vows. Now in their home, the bride and groom lived out their covenant of marriage – the traditional Jewish version of “and they lived happily ever after.”
In her book, “Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas,” Elaine Pagels suggests that John’s gospel is a direct response to the emerging Christology of the community that gathered around Thomas, which is why John portrays Thomas as having a theologically challenged Christology. Now as then, different Christian communities have different
understandings of Jesus and can hold conflicting beliefs of how to interpret Jesus and the stories that are our collective legacy about him.
While both the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas value the individual’s relationship with Christ, The Gospel of John and its basic tenets seem to be in direct opposition to Thomas. John says that he writes “so that you may believe, and believing may have life in [Jesus’] name.” Thomas’s gospel, however, encourages us not so much to believe in Jesus, as John says, as to seek to know God through one’s own, divinely given capacity, since all are created in the image of God. The Gospel of John speaks from a multivalent symbol system in which there are “rooms” for each person to have a unique relationship with Christ but which are also an interconnected part of the common household of the Father. The Gospel of John, therefore, provides a foundation for a unified church, which the Gospel of Thomas, with its emphasis on each person’s search for God, did/does not.
For the author of the Gospel of John, the belief that Jesus is the Messiah is sufficient common ground for unity. Each believer is a bride to Jesus the groom, expressed and experienced through Baptism and communion. The house of Christ’s Father has many rooms, because Christ has prepared a place for each person that the Father has approved or “given to him.” When John reports Thomas asking, “How do we know where you are going?” the question represents the emphasis John perceives in the Thomasine community regarding the path of gnosis, which appears to focus on secret knowledge held by the few over belief that makes God readily accessible to all. The response given by Jesus, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” emphasizes John’s teaching on the primacy of belief. In the Gospel of John, a community of believers is bonded together through a shared belief that Jesus is the Messiah, while also making room for the validity of individual relationship with God through a shared and public belief.
For the author of the Gospel of John, the Christian community for whom the author is writing is diverse, informed by mystery traditions and covenant traditions, populated with peoples drawn from multiple faith traditions, histories, and cultures indicative of the Roman Empire. What they hold in common is a desire for liberation from tenants of the belief systems influential in their time (Jewish and Roman) that restrained them from practicing social and spiritual equality before God and with one another. Every individual in the community of the faithful has free and equal access to God, and the way to that access is by agreeing to enter a spiritual union with Christ that while mystical is not at all mysterious, and while binding is not legalistic in nature but rather a mutual commitment to love one another. Personal love for God is expressed in one’s commitment to live together in community, as represented by the many rooms in the Father’s unified house.
Throughout the generations of the church, ideas of how to achieve unity amidst our Christian diversity has been often elusive. We identify instruments or statements with which we are expected to agree, but such relationships seem always to be conditional. Alternatively, in the Gospel of John, we are all of us brides in love with the same groom, and if we are truly in love with God, then our hearts ought not to be troubled – for truthfully, in our Father’s house, there are many rooms. Within an incarnational theology of the Body of Christ — the church — the rooms are ours to build for one another. For John, the concluding line, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” is not exclusionary. Rather, the symbols used throughout the gospel convey that everyone can have access to God, if they simply believe in the love that Christ has for them and live by the wide embrace of that covenant for all people.