Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I hope that you've all had a good Advent this year. Like many of you, my colleague Wally Jensen (my XO) tells me that Advent is his favorite season of the church year. If I've got it right, to Wally Advent is a season of penitential reflection without all the guilt of Lent. I get his point. Like Wally, this is one of my favorite seasons. I enjoy the emphasis upon disciplined reflection. One of my disciplines is to read The Anglican Theological Review. I'd be curious to know how many of you subscribe to (in paper or electronic form) the ATR. I find it to be a stimulating alternative to some of what we read that may be passed off as theological writing, when really it is a devotional exercise. Don't get me wrong. I know there is a place for devotional writings. I read them as well. However, I know myself well enough to realize that I need to do ongoing theological integrative work. In a recent issue (Spring 2011, V. 93, No. 2) I read an article by Jesse Zink about the work of Bishop Stephen Bayne who in 1959 was chosen to be the first Executive Officer of the Anglican Communion. One of his important tasks was to help the Anglican Communion confront their wistful legacy as somewhat ethnocentric missionaries from the west and to shift attention to very real mission challenges that confronted them. I have a couple of major take-aways from this well written article. The first is that Bishop Bayne was convinced that the Church exists for mission, and not the other way around. In other words, the church did not discover mission. Quite the contrary; because a mission oriented structure or organization was needed, the church was established. Look at the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. Congregations grew up around the idea of living out the mission of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. The second take-away is that his words have been largely unheeded, at least until recently. Within the past decade or so it seems that everywhere I look people are talking about reclaiming the mission of the church as the primary reason for the church to exist. As I look at the writings of people who talk about the mission oriented and the emergent church (Brian McClaran, Phyllis Tickle, etc.) it is clear that this theme has a new life with a new urgency. Perhaps there has merely been a time lag between the utterances and taking Bishop Bayne's words to heart. I've often wondered if at times a visionary prophet can only be heard decades after uttering the prophesies. Perhaps we're being motivated to heed this all because we have reached the point of realizing that we are in the midst of a moment of crisis. The application of these mission oriented approaches to our federal ministry environments is at the very least a significant challenge. Yet, these challenges might well be easily met. For years it has been clear to me that in the federal entities in which you serve there is an ongoing challenge to be, in essence, missionaries. In the tradition of Bishop Jackson Kemper, first missionary bishop of The Episcopal Church (about whom I'll write on another occasion) and the Apostle Paul, your mission is to go to people and places our church and society have forgotten. You do this as members, at best, of the diaspora. Within the organizations where you serve you have little, if any, entitlement and you don't expect to be entitled. Unlike many of the chaplains with whom you work, you understand the dynamics of the Constitution's First Amendment and that you are not entitled to impose the Good News of Jesus on every person whom you meet; that you pray in Jesus' name when you are engaged in worship within the Christian worship community and OUTSIDE of the public square. Yet, you still know of and experience the passion to share and live out the essence of Christ's story with all the people whom you serve. In most of your federal ministry settings the body of Christ will never be formed in the same way it is formed in civilian congregations. So what differences are there between the ministry environments of civilian and federal cultures? I am aware that this week many of you are in the process of completing your Christmas Eve or Christmas Day sermons - as I am for a sermon I will preach on December 25th at Yongsan Garrison in Korea. How will your sermon differ from a sermon that you would preach to a congregation in your dioceses of canonical residence? What unique words and phrases do your people need to hear from you? How does your hermeneutic differ from one that would be applied within the diocesan congregation? I really would like to know, as would many of your colleagues. On this blog site it would be helpful and informative to read your comments and reflections. May the blessings of this Advent and the anticipation of the Nativity be with you. Bishop Jay

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