Monday, June 04, 2007

Two Things

I have two things to say here – which are unrelated, except that Bishop Wolfe (of Kansas) related them in an essay I read today.

When the news arrived yesterday that Bishop Jim Kelsey (of Northern Michigan) had been killed in an automobile accident, I was stunned. I certainly can't claim any personal grief in this, for I do not know him. My only and very tenuous connection was when I read his reflections about our Bishops' meeting in Texas this spring and posted long excerpts at The Episcopal Majority's site. There was an honesty and freshness in his words that impressed me.

But his sudden death also struck me because of what happened yesterday on my drive into St. Louis. I was cruising along the highway inside St. Louis County, trying to make it to church on time. All of a sudden, traffic slowed. There had been what looked to me like a truly gruesome wreck. As I got near the accident site and saw what was there, I got a big knot in my stomach. For I realized the driver of that car had probably been toodling along minutes earlier with no thoughts of mortality, when suddenly something went horribly wrong. At that moment, I remembered life can change – or end – in an instant. From the newspaper account in Michigan, it sounds like Bishop Kelsey may have had a similar experience: Going about life as usual, driving home from a parish visitation, when suddenly something went terribly wrong. And now he and the other driver are dead. I have no adequate words to say. Except it reminds me to take each moment, each day as a gift from God. "In the midst of life, we are in death."

I grieve for his family – who have suffered this horrible loss with no warning – and for the friends who did know and love him personally.

It should remind us all to take nothing and no one for granted. It can all be taken away in the blink of an eye.

Dean Wolfe, the Bishop of Kansas, did know Bishop Kelsey, and he posted an essay that I commend to you. He recalls Bishop Kelsey's life and ministry. But here's what struck me: He also talks about the relationships and collegiality among the bishops, saying things that I have never heard. I wish everyone in our church would read this – especially those of us who often get caught up in "Battlestar Anglicana." He begins and ends by talking about Bishop Kelsey. But read this in the middle:

The fellowship of the House of Bishops is a difficult thing to communicate, and because it’s difficult to describe, it remains one of the best kept secrets in The Episcopal Church. From what I heard and read before I was elected a bishop, I expected the House of Bishops to be an unfriendly place. It was the place where the bishops of our church constantly disagreed with one another, often in a most disagreeable manner. Some of these disputes acquired a near-legendary status, and I came to my first meeting of the House with real apprehension. Would I find any evidence that the House of Bishops was a group of Christian leaders who took seriously their responsibility to love one another?

Imagine my relief when I was warmly greeted by countless bishops, and when a smiling Jim Kelsey told me to call him anytime I needed help. I never expected in a million years to be met with such authentic warmth and genuine goodwill! I did not know about the camaraderie that exists between people who do a difficult job, sometimes under extreme pressures, who hold those who do the same work with respect and appreciation. I did not know that in such a pressurized environment the bonds of affection could grow to be so strong. . . .

. . . I think it is important for people to know that bishops who may disagree vehemently on the issues of the day often hold tremendous respect and affection for one another. Sometimes over a Diet Coke, or a glass of wine, or a penny-ante poker game, these bonds of affection are further knit together. This is important and holy work, because these bonds are often tested in the next day’s conversations.

I believe that if more Episcopalians knew of these friendships, they might be inspired to preserve the relationships they have with those with whom they disagree. They might come to appreciate those relationships just a little bit more.

More than 200 men and women from across the United States and 12 sovereign nations spend nearly four weeks together each year being the House of Bishops. We share meals, worship, conversation and the work of the Church. The days are often long and the process can be extremely tedious. . . .

. . . . But in spite of our differences, or perhaps, because of them, great friendships arise out of our time together.

I have come to see the extraordinary gifts so many of my colleagues possess. Many are extraordinary speakers and writers and theologians. Many are great administrators and church builders. All of them have great hearts. All of them have given the better part of their lives in the service of The Episcopal Church, and they take seriously their vows to guard and guide the Church as God grants them the grace and ability to do so.

In the reflection Bishop Kelsey posted after the House of Bishops' meeting, I sensed transparency and honesty. In his posting today, Bishop Wolfe shares a similar honesty and transparency. His description of the bishops' relationships was news to me, and I share his wish that more people could know that our bishops – while they disagree – also have significant bonds one to another. And I wish that the kind of relationships he describes could trickle all through debates that are occurring now within the Anglican Communion, the provinces, dioceses, and parishes.

I'm not doing justice to Bishop Wolfe's essay. Go here and read it all.

Without a doubt, next Sunday, when I join in praying for "Katharine our Bishop, and George Wayne our Bishop . . .," I'll be doing it even more intentionally and more fervently than I did last Sunday.

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