The Bishop’s E-pistle: Abundant Thankfulness

I know it’s Lent, but I think I can give myself dispensation to say on behalf of our diocese: “Hallelujah”!

I am writing from Kanuga, where I am attending the House of Bishops, a bi-annual gathering of all my new colleagues in the Episcopal Church. The whirlwind of the consecration weekend has paused to allow me some rest and reflection with people who know much more about “bishoping” than I do.

And as I take that breath — I am full of gratitude. Gratitude to all of you in Arizona who called me as your bishop, to the Holy Spirit for descending so palpably on Saturday, and especially to the hundreds of people who made the Consecration possible.

Brother Dave Hedges of St. Michael’s and All Angels (Tucson) coordinated the liturgy and was willing to engage all my complicated requests for a liturgy reflecting the linguistic and cultural diversity of our diocese. He did not do so alone — but every aspect of the liturgy, from the music to the furniture to the movement of each group came under his aegis and was executed flawlessly.

The Rev. Winnie Varghese preached a sermon to challenge all of us about how to redeem this time in which we live with courage and creativity, inviting Wisdom into our lives. The Transition Committee coordinated many aspects of the service, personnel, reception and gifts.

And so very many of you served as volunteers: singers, ushers, vergers, acolytes, altar guild, testimonial readers, parking attendants… the list goes on and on. Thank you.

Your diocesan staff have been extending themselves above and beyond the call of duty for months now, and there were events this weekend most of you didn’t see — a Friday night dinner with visiting bishops featuring fried rattlesnake… a Saturday breakfast with those same bishops to sign and seal my Consecration certificate featuring a blown power fuse, and subsequent candlelit breakfast. The staff rose to each challenge, and I am so proud to be their colleague.

Finally, I have a particularly profound gratitude for Bishop Kirk Smith. He has been so graceful and supportive as I take on this new role, and I am so pleased to have found a new mentor and friend. There are many dioceses in which a bishop transition is fraught with hard feelings. This was not the case with Kirk and me. He has been a good and faithful bishop to you for 15 years, and my earnest prayer is that my time as your bishop may be as marked by love and health.

People have been asking me “What was most meaningful about the service for you?” I admit that I am planning to watch the video on YouTube soon, so that I can refresh my memory — because I’m sure I did not observe all of it as it was happening! But two moments landed quite deeply in my soul:

First was the blessing of the four sacred directions by The Rev. Canon Cornelia Eaton, The Rev. Canon Debbie Royals, Armida Cervantes, and The Rev. Vivian Winter Chaser. This could have been just a formality, but in the moment I found it to be so moving, partly because it was evidently moving to the women leading it. I look forward to working with Canon Debbie and the rest to understand more about our Native American communities, and how to honor their wisdom as we grow the church in Arizona.

(Photo: David Schacher Photography, LLC)

And the second was the Veni Sancte Spiritus, when all the bishops huddled around me as all of you called down the Spirit. I closed my eyes, and could hear three distinct voices of friends and mentors in my ears, connecting me to their love and support. And then when they all laid their hands on me, they put the full weight of the church on my shoulders! I admit that I wobbled. The yoke of Christ may be a light burden, but they let me know with their physical force that the office of bishop is substantial. Yet that force also bore the reminder that I do not bear that weight on my own. Jesus is always with me. The wisdom and support of colleagues, both in Arizona and around the country, will guide me.

(Photo: David Schacher Photography, LLC)

Thank you for your prayers and your faith in me. May God grant us courage and wisdom for the living of these days ahead.