Saturday, December 12, 2015

In anticipation of the December 13th meeting

Please join us this Sunday, December 13 following our celebration of the Holy Eucharist for a special CONGREGATIONAL MEETING to discuss Bishop Michael Smith’s offer of Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) for St. Stephen’s.

This is a very IMPORTANT MEETING and your feedback is important to us.
In anticipation of this meeting, it is important that we clear up some misconceptions as well as list pros and cons to consider prior to the meeting:

First of all, and very importantly, it must be clear that we are NOT “breaking away” from the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota. We WILL remain of a full-fledged member of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota should we accept the offer of DEPO. This is a very important aspect of our understanding of the DEPO process. We will still be contributing members of the Diocese. We will still paying Our Fair Share to the Diocese. We will still attend Diocesan Convention and ministers’ conferences. Ministries that are headed by members of our congregation such as the Guatemala Medical Mission and the East Africa Fund will continue to be diocesan ministries. By all outward appearances, little will change on that level.

+ It is important to remember that it is Bishop Smith who is offering us this option of DEPO and that we are responding to his offer.

+ If we choose DEPO, it will sever our professional relationship with Bishop Smith. If we accept his offer, Bishop Smith will appoint Bishop Carol Gallagher to have official Episcopal oversight of our congregation. This, however, does not mean that personal relationships with Bishop Smith will be severed. We are asking all people to be respectful to Bishop Smith at all times.

+ St. Stephen’s might be the only congregation in the diocese to actually accept Bishop Smith’s offer for DEPO. This will no doubt make us feel alienated at times.

+ There are no doubt unforeseen circumstances that we have not yet considered. We trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us during this time.

 If the Vestry votes for DEPO…

+  we, as a congregation, will continue to  live out the ministry we feel we have been called to do as a congregation. We see this as an extension of a ministry based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Baptismal Covenant of respecting the worth and dignity of all people, as we see it and have discerned it for ourselves.

+  St. Stephen's will, at this time, be the only church in the Diocese where marriage rites for all people no matter their sexual orientation can be performed. I will be the only priest in the Diocese allowed to perform such rites, and will be allowed to do so for couples from other Episcopal congregations in the diocese (though not in their church buildings).

+ This is not the first time St. Stephen’s has been at the forefront of such stances. St. Stephen’s was the first congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota to have a female Warden. It was the first congregation in the diocese to have female acolytes.  And it was the first congregation in the Diocese to call a female priest to head a congregation, as well as many other “firsts”  including being the first congregation to being an Open and Affirming Congregation of Integrity.  Our acceptance of this offer is very much in line with our long-lasting commitment to being a fully inclusive congregation for all people.

 + HOWEVER, this will be more than issue of being allowed to perform marriage rites equally. It will be a clear statement to the diocese and to the larger church that we are following our conscience, our conviction and our commitment to serve all God’s people in an inclusive way.

+ We are aligning ourselves squarely with the larger Episcopal Church which approved equal marriage rites for all people this past summer at General Convention.

+ Probably the most important aspect of accepting DEPO will be the fact that by doing so we will actually make a difference in our congregational life, in the life of the Church and, most importantly of all, in the lives of people who need us to be the Church for them.
Ultimately, outside of these issues, nothing really changes. We will still be the congregation we have always been. We will still practice the radical love, acceptance, and hospitality for which we are known.

As for what others may think of us: people who look at St. Stephen’s differently have already been looking at us in such a way for many years and for issues other than this.   The reality is that we are simply aligning ourselves with the larger Episcopal Church. And, in three years (or six years), the stance we are considering making tomorrow will be the norm throughout the entire Episcopal Church.  

ABOUT THE MEDIA: The media has been aggressively interested in this meeting. The Wardens and Vestry are asking that all members of St. Stephen’s refrain from speaking to the media about this meeting on Sunday December 13 pending the release of a statement from the vestry and me following the meeting. We wish to conduct this meeting prayerfully and with dignity, as well as respect for all opinions of our members. We are asking that the media respect the complexity of this situation for us at this time so our members can feel comfortable in sharing their opinions and concerns honestly and openly.  Again, a statement will be released following the meeting which should summarize the meeting and any implications of our final vote.

Most importantly, we ask for your prayers at this time. We ask for prayers for The Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota, for Bishop Smith, for Bishop Gallagher. And we ask your prayers for St. Stephen’s. We ask that the Holy Spirit may be present with us at this time, to open our hearts to love and our minds to consider that ways in which we have been called to live out the Gospel of Christ and the Baptismal Covenant to which we are bound as Christians.

Please know that I am personally grateful for each of you. It pains me deeply to know of the divisions and the personal pains these situations have long caused in our church and with each of you as individuals. My prayer is that we may proceed unified and as a congregation committed to the Gospel of Jesus and the worth and dignity of all people.  

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