Jim Kelsey and the challenge of “baptismal living”

Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook and Fredrica Harris Thompsett quote Jim Kelsey, the late Bishop of Northern Michigan in an article about the ministry of the baptized for the Alban Institute:

“This is something I have found to be true without exception: that when we, any of us, focus on things in our lives that are passing away, we get scared, we get anxious, we get depressed, we lose hope; and when we focus on things that are being birthed and are coming newly into creation, we get excited, we get imaginative, we get optimistic, we feel drawn closer to one another, we feel as if we have meaning and purpose in this life, and we have joy. . . . we are given change as an ingredient in life. We can be frightened and anxious and resistant to it or we can embrace it as a tool to transform us.” —Jim Kelsey (1952–2007)

When the late Bishop Jim Kelsey spoke these words in 2007, he was commenting on institutional change and its impact on congregations and judicatories. Many places throughout the Christian church are faced with hard realities such as declining membership and financial shortages. “The way we have always done it before” was never realistic for those locations challenged by geography, poverty, and low population, and it is becoming increasingly unrealistic for other, more prosperous and populous regions. The need for systemic change throughout mainline denominations has been verified through a number of studies as well as the experience of congregational members themselves. Jim Kelsey believed that the task at hand is “a matter of letting go of the familiar and being opened to new life—new surprise—new birth which God does have in store for us.”

Often, in the Episcopal Church, we look to large urban-centered dioceses with significant financial resources for leadership. But Kelsey was the bishop of the numerically small and geographically vast Diocese of Northern Michigan. It is there, and in other rural dioceses, such as Wyoming, that ground breaking work on baptismal living is being done.

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