Barnstorming through Western Kansas

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wraps up her 3-day 15-town tour of western Kansas today. As reported by The Hay Daily News she’s been well received, and has not sugar-coated difficult subjects:

The audience [Monday night], which was about 75, questioned her about the best way to minister to rural, western Kansas.

“The question is whether a full-stipend priest is really needed or appropriate in a town of 400 when the congregation is 12,” she said. “There’s not enough for a priest to do there. But that said, there’s important ministry to do in that place — sacraments have to be provided.”

Perhaps a priest could minister to several congregations. Others, she said, have forgone owning their house of worship, instead choosing to meet in people’s homes or rented space.

“I think there are many answers that have to grow out of local context,” Jefferts Schori said. “The biggest challenge is often just opening our minds to new possibilities. The church doesn’t have to continue to look like it did 50 years ago.”

The Rev. Dennis Gilhousen, pastor in Norton, said Jefferts Schori’s visit is important — not just for her, but for the people in the diocese.

“We’re sort of out here, stuck in our isolated place,” Gilhousen said. … “But with this visit, the presiding bishop actually came to spend time with the people of this diocese where we are, instead of at a gathering someplace,” Gilhousen said. “It gives us a genuine sense of being cared for and cared about.”

Jefferts Schori suggested the diocese could care for additional members, including non-English speakers.

“They may not look like many of you, but that is the field that is ripe for harvest out there,” she said. “I think the core of the Episcopal church is about living together with diversity, honoring that diversity and claiming it as a blessing. Many of the approaches we may take have to do with changing our ideas about what a normative Episcopalian looks like.”

Jefferts Schori said the community benefits from having members that speak different languages, have skin of different colors, have different ethnic background, and who represent a different social classes and ages.

“When most of our members are senior citizens, we tend to focus less on the needs of those less represented in the congregation,” she said. “My sense is that the young people are less well-represented than the other end of the spectrum. One reason is that Episcopalians do not do evangelization by reproduction. We also don’t do a terribly good job at retaining the offspring we do produce.”

Lifelong member of St. Michael, Jim Brooks has not been present at a presiding bishop’s visit before Monday.

“It is very easy for people to be kind of isolated out here,” Brown said. “I think we got to hear her pastoral heart and her heart for evangelism and the heart of the church not only for now, but for the years to come.”

Conservative blog readers, though, were not open to seeing the positives in the visit. And the Presiding Bishop’s visit is not without controversy. The Hutchinson News (February 10, 2007) did a good job of telling that story. Some excerpts:

The Bishop of western Kansas has invited the highest-ranking official of the Episcopal Church to visit.

But not before receiving letters and phone calls from congregations making it clear they didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

The invitation and the bishop’s response came on the heels of a letter sent by Adams, saying he did not agree with Jefferts Schori’s philosophy or the direction she is leading the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Dean Wolfe of the Episcopal diocese of Kansas…said it was wonderful the presiding bishop was making herself available. “It’s a big deal for a couple of reasons,” Wolfe said. “She comes from a smaller diocese, she more than others has an understanding of smaller and rural parishes.”

Wolfe said her leadership shows a concern for the middle of the country, not just both coasts.

An earlier article in The Hutchinson News in January of this year spelled out Bishop Adams’ pointed views:

Bishop James Adams has caught the attention of the newly appointed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori with a letter stating he disapproves of her theology. In response, the first female primate in the 500-year history of the Anglican Church has offered to visit the Western Kansas Diocese, which has about 2,500 members.

The next move in their exchange will be up to Adams – under church protocol, Jefferts Schori cannot visit unless invited.

“I don’t deny she is the presiding bishop; she was duly elected,” Adams said. However, in his letter sent to Jefferts Schori, after her installation in November 2006, he denied her authority over him.

Adams struggles with Jefferts Schori’s theology, worried that she and some others in the church seem to give up the claims of Christ to avoid offending anyone.

Adams may think he understands her theological positions, Jefferts Schori said, but “I have a broader understanding of how salvation works.”

“It’s not that she is not talented or smart,” Adams said, “but she has little experience in the church.”

He said Jefferts Schori had been a priest only since 1994, and never a rector before she was appointed bishop in 2000. During the 75th General Convention in June 2006, she was elected the 26th Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church.

“I didn’t vote for her. That doesn’t mean I don’t like her, I just don’t think she’s qualified,” he said.

16177_512.jpgTuesday she joined actor Steve McQueen, John F. Kennedy and all the company of 80 others when she was made an honorary sheriff of Dodge City. Of course, it’s not the badge that makes the sheriff. It’s the respect you earn and the hearts you win. [Photo credit: Dodge City Daily Globe]

The AP has also covered the visit.

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