Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Grace and peace be with you in the Christ whose coming we await!
As promised, I've had Vestry Conversations with 28 of our 36 Faith Communities since June. I've listened to you share what God is up to in your neighborhoods. You've shared your gifts, challenges, and possibilities. You've provided me a glimpse into your lives as Disciples of Jesus, the Risen Christ.
One of the common themes that has surfaced in our conversations is summarized by the following question (or some variation of) "How do we get more members?" At our Annual Diocesan Convention, you were invited to adopt the Five Marks of Mission as a framework to engage God's mission.
The Five Marks of Mission are:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth
In my commitment to find resources that assist in implementing and living into each one of these Marks of Mission, I'd like to share the following. Let's start with resources for Mark 1...to proclaim the Good News of God's Kingdom. This is the work of evangelism, sharing one's faith story in such a way that it is received by another as a gift, an invitation. Please consider and review the following two resources.
In November, the Episcopal Church sponsored a gathering in Texas entitled EVANGELISM
MATTERS. On the website are videos of several keynote presentations, including one from
our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, along with all the panel discussions and workshops. The URL link is www.evangelismmatters.org. It is a valuable resource for your use in ongoing formation and commitment to Evangelism.
INVITE / WELCOME / CONNECT
Recently Bishop Duncan Gray, who has agreed to serve as my coach for my first three years in ministry as your bishop, introduced me to another resource. It is called INVITE / WELCOME / CONNECT. I've spent several days reviewing the resources on their website. The URL link is www.invitewelcomeconnect.com. It is a process of training and instruction to prepare each of us to be more intentional in the work of Evangelism. If there is an interest, I would be happy to follow up with Mary Parmer, who developed this process, by inviting her to offer a series of workshops here in Northern Indiana.
If any of you are aware of additional useful resources in the work of Evangelism, please forward them to me so they may be shared it with others.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Douglas Sparks
Serving as the 8th Bishop of Northern Indiana
9 December 2016
Grace and peace be with you these Advent days...
This Wednesday, 14 December, is the fourth anniversary of the Sandy Hook School Shooting. On that day, 20 children, ages 6 and 7 years, along with 6 adult faculty and staff, were killed. This event initiated millions of people to take action on behalf preventing gun violence by urging state and federal legislatures to pass sensible gun legislation.
Stephen Miller and his wife, Joellen, who are members of the Episcopal Church in Northern Indiana, are traveling to Washington, D.C. along with many other survivors, this coming week to participate in a Vigil at St. Mark's Episcopal Church from 14 - 18 December, during the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath. Please uphold them in your prayer.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Douglas Sparks
Serving as the 8th Bishop of Northern Indiana
1 December 2016 The First Week of Advent
ON MARRIAGES AND BLESSINGS
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Grace and peace be with you in Jesus, whose coming we await!
After prayerful and respectful conversations with our clergy, the members of the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council during the last six months, I have decided to allow same gender marriages and blessings to take place within our diocesan borders. The actions taken by the General Convention 2015 in Salt Lake authorized same gender marriage and blessings beginning on the First Sunday of Advent, 2015 throughout the Episcopal Church and trial usage of marriage and blessing rites “under the direction and with the permission of” the Diocesan Bishop.
During my first six months, I have been asked by ordained and lay leaders in some of our Faith Communities about the possibility of implementing a process which could lead to adopting a Marriage Policy (that would include both Same Gender as well as Opposite Gender Marriages) by the Rector, Wardens and Vestry. It is in response to this pastoral concern for the people of our diocese, that I have made this decision.
I would like to describe the process of implementation that I am asking all of us to adopt. Let me share it by way of two scenarios.
A priest in our diocese is asked by a gay or lesbian couple to witness their marriage. The couple have made plans to be married at the Century Center in South Bend and would like the priest to witness their marriage. As the Church canons require prior to their marriage, the Member of the Clergy shall determine: a) that both parties have the right to marry according to the laws of the State and consent to do so freely, without fraud, coercion, mistake as to the identity of either, or mental reservation; and b) that at least one of the parties is baptized; and c) that both parties have been instructed in the nature, purpose, and meaning, as well as the rights, duties and responsibilities of marriage. Furthermore, if one or both of members of the couple have been married before, an application for remarriage must be submitted to the Diocesan Bishop. While it is not required by our canons, I have asked clergy who witness same gender marriages or blessings to let me know about it as a matter of courtesy, given the sensitive nature of this matter.
A gay or lesbian couple who are active members of one of our Faith Communities (Congregations) in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana ask their priest to witness their marriage and to have their marriage take place in the church or chapel of the congregation. Given the sensitive nature of this matter and because of my commitment to engaging in prayerful and respectful conversations around this topic, the priest will bring the couple’s request to the Wardens and Vestry. The priest will facilitate a process of discernment and reflection, utilizing the material prepared by the Episcopal Church. This process may (or may not) lead to the adoption of Congregational Guidelines for Marriage. This time of discernment and reflection should include conversations and forums in which all active members of the Faith Community (Congregation) are encouraged to participate. I have encouraged our ordained and elected leaders in our Faith Communities (Congregations) to avoid having an up or down vote on the matter but rather to utilize a consensus process that I have found from experience to be most helpful. This process of discernment and reflection will take time, but I believe it is time well spent in deeply listening to one another as God’s Holy Spirit guides and directs your conversation.
If the Rector / Priest in Charge, Wardens and Vestry of that Faith Community (Congregation) adopt a Marriage Policy which includes witnessing the marriages of same and opposite gender couples, the same canonical requirements apply. The Member of the Clergy shall determine: a) that both parties have the right to marry according to the laws of the State and consent to do so freely, without fraud, coercion, mistake as to the identity of either, or mental reservation; and b) that at least one of the parties is baptized; and c) that both parties have been instructed in the nature, purpose, and meaning, as well as the rights, duties and responsibilities of marriage. Furthermore, if one or both of members of the couple have been married before, an application for remarriage must be submitted to the Diocesan Bishop. Given the relational nature of our diocese, it is my expectation that I will be involved in conversations with the clergy and lay leaders of Faith Communities who want to be engaged in a process of discernment and reflection.
I would like also to directly address the question of respecting theological diversity on this matter. Quoting from the resolution, “that this convention honor the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality; and that no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities, as a result of his or her theological objection to or support for the 78th General Convention’s action in this resolution.” From Canon 18.7, “it shall be within discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to solemnize or bless any marriage.” It is a privilege and responsibility to serve as your bishop. I take seriously our baptismal commitment to respect the dignity of every human being which includes honoring the theological diversity among us.
Will there be challenging situations or circumstances for us? Absolutely. Is there a-one-size-fits-all pattern for these conversations? No. But together, we can demonstrate our reliance on God’s grace and manifest a generosity of spirit as we strive to live out the commitments of the Baptismal Covenant as members of the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement!
A WORD ABOUT BLESSINGS AND LIFELONG COVENANTS
There are often reasons why persons choose not to be married but have made a decision to establish a committed relationship with another person for the rest of their lives. This is true for both opposite gender couples and for same gender couples. Among the resources authorized for use in the Episcopal Church is a service entitled The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant. This liturgical rite can be used, if requested, as a way of pastorally addressing the desire of a couple who are active members of one of our Faith Communities (Congregations) to have their relationship blessed by God in the midst of their Faith Community while not having a civil marriage. The Member of the Clergy must obviously exercise great care and sensitivity in responding pastorally.
The opportunity to bless a couple who have a civil marriage also continues and a revised liturgical rite has been provided by the Episcopal Church. Resources for engaging in a process of discernment and reflection are available on the Diocesan website. The Liturgical Resources approved by General Convention 2015 are already available on our website.
Be assured of my ongoing prayer and support for you as you prayerfully consider how best to respond to the working of God’s Holy Spirit. If I can be of any assistance to you, please call on me.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Douglas Sparks, Serving as the 8th Bishop of Northern Indiana
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Grace and peace be with you in the Risen Christ whose coming we await!
As we gather around various tables the next few days, be assured of my prayer and support. I am honored and humbled to serve as your bishop.
As many of you know, I have used prayers from various resources and would like to share two collects from a resource called Celebrating at Home by Payden and Loving copyright by United Church Press 1998. One is for Thanksgiving and the other is a prayer for the end of the Church year.
I offer them as a gift of Thanksgiving while we also end one Church year and begin another...
Gracious Provider, it is from you that all good gifts come. Hear our grateful praise to you this day. Send your Spirit to join us in our feasting and celebration. And when this day is done, remind us to be a daily reflection of your gracious compassion and steadfast love. By our words and deeds we witness to your way and truly give you thanks. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
Prayer for the Reign of Christ
Timekeeper of eternity, we come to the close of another church year. It has be a year filled with joy and sadness, with possibilities and dashed hopes, with hope and despair. As we have journeyed through this year, you have been our constant mark, our compass leading home. Guide us again in the time before us. Help us to keep the rhythm of the faith, day in and day out. May we mark the seasons not by minutes, hours, days or weeks, but by words said and deeds done on behalf of Christ, our Sovereign and Savior. Amen.
As you gather with your families and friends for various activities - such as serving at a local food pantry, with your Faith Community on Thanksgiving Eve/Day, OR on the First Sunday of Advent - would you please take some pictures and forward them to Missioner Michelle Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org? We would love to assemble a collage of thankfulness images to share.