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John Shelby Spong
An Open Letter to My Readers

This week, my column takes the form of a letter to my readers. It is an unusual format, but it speaks to the unusual occurrences in our nation this past week. I hope you will read it. I hope you will respond to it.

Dear Friends,

I am just back from a lecture tour of Europe with a focus on the launch of a French translation of my book: Born of a Woman: A Bishop Re-Thinks the Virgin Birth and the Place of Women in a Male-Dominated Church. It was an exciting and stretching trip about which I will be writing in future weeks.

I returned home, however, to one of the most extraordinary weeks in the life of our nation. So I wanted to use my column this week to reflect on these historic events.

First, there was the cruel murder of nine worshipers, including the pastor at an AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This horrendous act, motivated as it was by overt racial hatred, seemed, in almost a miraculous way, to bring the latent racism present just beneath the surface of this nation’s life to a head. More than that this act even appeared to “lance’ that residual racism as one might do to a boil, allowing the infection to drain and assisting the healing process to begin. Perhaps it was the witness of the grieving members of that Charleston Christian congregation, who offered both their forgiveness and God’s forgiveness, to the willful killer of their loved ones that did it. In any event, across the South, politicians began to say that it is time to remove the Confederate flag from public places. It is time to stop efforts to make minority voting difficult. It is time to remove the remaining vestiges of slavery from our society. Perhaps this was best symbolized when South Carolina’s Republican State Senator, Paul Thurmond, who in calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol in Columbia said: “I want to be on the right side of history.” He is the son of former United States Senator Strom Thurmond, one of America’s most overt racial agitators and perpetrators in the previous generation, a fact that was not lost on his audience. President Obama, in his role as “pastor in chief,” then spoke to a grieving nation at the funeral in Charleston, in which he brought history and healing together. He never looked or acted more presidential, even as he led the congregation in the singing of “Amazing Grace.”

Second, there was the 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to uphold the Affirmative Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.” Without endorsing every proviso of this now established law of the land, what the Court did was to make it clear for the first time, that health care in America is a right of citizenship, not a privilege for those who can afford it. It was an amazing moment. That principle finally aligns the United States with all of the other developed nations of the world. It was, thus, a signal victory for a caring society.

Third, the next day the Supreme Court, this time by a 5-4 majority, confirmed the fact that every citizen in every state of this nation, regardless of their differences in sexual orientation, has the same guaranteed right to marriage and family life. No state can now deny either the privilege of marriage, or any of its obvious legal advantages, to any citizen. It was a decision that declared that from this moment on, before the law and the Constitution, there will be no second class citizenship.

When I heard the breaking news announcing this historic decision, tears literally flowed down my cheeks. Memories of a struggle long engaged flooded my mind. I hope you will indulge me as I share some of these with you.

When I was the Bishop of Newark from 1976-2000, I worked, together with the clergy and the people of that diocese, for this day to come. It was a long but tireless struggle. A task force in our Diocese, headed by the late Rev. Dr. Nelson Thayer, an Episcopal priest and a member of the faculty of the Theological School of Drew University, called for this step to be taken as long ago as 1985! After a year of study in our congregations our diocese then affirmed this step by majority vote of its clergy and lay people in our convention of 1986. Our clergy from that moment on were encouraged to “bless the sacred vows of gay and lesbian Christians,” at a time when the State of New Jersey would not allow that to be called marriage. That was also a time when the larger Episcopal Church still sought to discipline or remove those clergy who dared to take these steps. Those years were the context out of which I wrote my book on changing attitudes toward human sexuality, entitled: Living in Sin? A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality. That book, commissioned by Abingdon Press of the United Methodist Church was then dropped under pressure from conservative Methodist sources just four weeks before its publication. It was subsequently picked up and published in September of 1988 by Harper/Collins. In the first six months of that book’s life it sold more copies than every book I had ever written before had done in their total published life. It also helped to fuel the debate that began to be engaged in all of America’s churches.

On December 16, 1989, I took the next step in what I believed was a prophetic witness. In a packed All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Hoboken, New Jersey, encouraged by the leaders of this diocese and on behalf of the clergy and people within it, I ordained the Rev. Robert Williams to the priesthood of my church. He was the first openly gay man, living in a publicly acknowledged and committed partnership, ever to be ordained in the Episcopal Church or in the Anglican Communion. It was a courageous and an obviously controversial decision. To conduct this ordination service we had to walk through lines of angry, shouting, placard-carrying picketers. The loudest and angriest of these picketers was a Pentecostal preacher. We also rode the storm of controversy in the aftermath of that ordination. It came from both ecclesiastical and political sources. The next day this action and our diocese were covered in front page newspaper stories across the land. This ordination played every thirty minutes on cable television’s Headline News channel for twenty-four hours. The next week it was the national religion “story of the week” in both Time and Newsweek. The presiding bishop of my church, the Right Reverend Edmund Browning, responded by writing me a condemning letter, despite the fact that I knew that he agreed with me on this action. From January until September of 1990 my wife and I crisscrossed this nation, appearing on every radio and television show to which we could secure an invitation and being interviewed by the print media wherever possible. It was a specific effort to build public support with which to counter the leadership of my church. I used every available political tactic to win this ecclesiastical battle.

In September of that year in a vote taken at a meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops in Washington, D. C., my diocese and I as its bishop, were officially condemned for taking this action. The vote, however, was a startling one to those who were so deeply upset and angry and it was also a turning point. The resolution of the bishops “to disassociate themselves from the Bishop of Newark and his Diocese for carrying out this ‘irregular ordination” was only passed by a vote of 78-74 with two abstentions! That was far closer than anyone had believed possible. I was one of the two abstentions. I guess I did not know how to vote on whether I wanted to associate with myself or not! Following that vote, by a previous arrangement with the Presiding Bishop of my church, who had by now voted for me rather than against me, I was recognized to speak. I did so for forty-five minutes. It was purple-passionate oratory in which I traced my own changing attitudes from the overt homophobia taught to me by the church of my youth and undergirded by quotations from the Bible lifted primarily out of the book of Leviticus, to the place where I was willing to put my career on the line in order to be an advocate for the full inclusion of homosexual people in the life of both our nation and my church. I asserted my firm belief that the only “sin” of which homosexual people might be held to be guilty was that they were born with a sexual orientation different from the majority. Homosexuality, I informed my fellow bishops, had come to be newly understood by me, chiefly through the work and the friendship of Dr. Robert Lahita, a member of the faculty at the Cornell School of Medicine in New York City. I now saw it as a “given” not a “chosen.” Homosexuality, I continued, is something that one “is” not something that one “does.” Homosexuality thus was no different in its moral character from being left handed or having a particular skin pigmentation or a particular eye color. To discriminate against other human beings because of a “given” in their lives could never be moral. As a Christian I too sought to undergird my new attitude with biblical quotations. Jesus was quoted in the Bible as having said: “Come unto me all ye.” He did not say: “some of ye.” No one was ever portrayed in the Bible as rejected by him. Jesus was also quoted as having said: “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.” No one can give life by being prejudiced against who or what a person is. The world might judge a person’s doing, but not a person’s being. No church should ever sing: “Just as I am without one plea, O Lamb of God, I come,” unless the members of that church are prepared to welcome those who presented themselves in response to this invitation. Anything else is sheer hypocrisy.

Following that speech, between ten and twelve bishops crowded around my desk to tell me that if they had heard what I had to say before they voted, they would have changed their vote. At that moment in September of 1990, I knew that the majority of the Episcopal bishops had now walked beyond this dying cultural prejudice. That majority has never been lost in the House of Bishops from that day to this. Later that night, two bishops came out of the closet to me. Both of them were married. One had voted to disassociate from me. The other had voted against doing so.

When I retired as the bishop of this diocese in 2000, I had thirty-five out of the closet, ordained gay and lesbian clergy serving in the ranks of our priesthood. Thirty-one of them lived openly with their partners. They were wonderful, effective, loving priests and pastors. I was proud to be their bishop. I still am. They helped to make me whole.

So, on June 26, 2015, by a majority vote of the highest court of this land, the struggle for full equality for the LGBT community has now been established. The question is now asked as to whether clergy will be “forced” to do gay marriages. In the diocese I once represented but which is now under the leadership of our bishop, and my close friend, the Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith, I think the world can be certain that the Episcopal clergy there are ready, willing and able to offer the sacrament of Holy Matrimony and all of the other ministries of the church to all our people without exception. The Christian Church is and must always be a “Come as you are” party. This prejudice of the ages has now been thrown onto the scrapheap of history.

It was a very good week for our nation. I rejoice in it, welcome it and give thanks to God for it. The world and the church have the opportunity today to be more profoundly Christian than we were able to be just last week. That is a powerful and a welcomed realization.

John Shelby Spong

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Courtesy and Joy at Nashotah

Friday, May 2, 2014–Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori joined in Morning Prayer, attended classes, held a discussion session, and delivered an Evensong sermon during a visit to Nashotah House Theological Seminary on May 1. It was the first time since Jefferts Schori was invested as Primate of the Episcopal Church in November 2006 that she has been to the historic Anglo-Catholic institution.

Courtesy and even joy prevailed, especially among Nashotah House’s growing presence of women students. The Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, Jr., dean and president of Nashotah House, encouraged all students and faculty to attend unless their sponsoring bishop forbade it.

While serving mostly aspirants to priesthood in the Episcopal Church, Nashotah House has also opened its doors to other Anglican groups, a number of whom have broken away from the Episcopal Church amid theological disputes. In recent years Nashotah House has also promoted itself as place where mutuality, cooperation, and theological diversity are part of the school ethos, which it calls Pax Nashotah.

Three Nashotah House students — Izgy Saribay and Tanya Scheff, and the Rev. Terry Star, a 40-year-old deacon of the Diocese of North Dakota who was studying for the priesthood — were primarily responsible for prompting Nashotah’s board of trustees to discuss a possible invitation to the presiding bishop.

The presiding bishop’s visit to Nashotah House was already scheduled and announced when Star died overnight on March 4, making a tribute more appropriate than a more general homily.

“You could not say no to Terry,” Saribay, said adding that Star convinced her to write to the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, Bishop of Springfield and president of Nashotah’s board.

Saribay grew up in a nominally Islamic household in the Middle East until the age of 17, when she concluded that she was a Christian. She was baptized soon after and moved to the United States. Even after Saribay joined discussion about the invitation, Saribay said she felt the idea was a “lost cause.”

“[Star] knew that it would happen,” she said, “and it taught me a valuable lesson: don’t give up on lost causes.”

In addition to his work with youth on Native American reservations, Star also served on the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, which functions as the church’s executive officers when General Convention is not in session. He already had developed a warm personal relationship with Jefferts Schori when he confided in her some years ago that he had his heart set on attending Nashotah House Seminary. Knowing Star, Bishop Jefferts Schori said, she expressed mild surprise at his choice. It was then that Star began urging her to welcome an invitation if one came.

With the possible exception of light rain, events throughout the day at Nashotah House went off without a glitch, but the decision to issue the invitation did not come without controversy. The 31-member Nashotah House board of trustees includes bishops from the Episcopal Church as well as bishops from a number of traditionalist Anglican groups that have split from the Episcopal Church. The Rt. Rev. Jack L. Iker, Bishop of Fort Worth, resigned from the board in protest, and the Rt. Rev. William C. Wantland, retired Bishop of Eau Claire, said he would not support the seminary under its current leadership.

In a statement released in February after the resignations became public, Bishop Salmon wrote: “We take no joy that folks who love the House are disturbed by the invitation and it was not issued in any other spirit than that of engaging in mission. The ‘Pax Nashotah’ is not going to go away. The commitment to the Anglo-Catholic vision of the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’ is not going to go away. The mission of the House, the direction of the House, the theology of the House is not changing. A visit, even one involving a sermon, will not change what has been bought at a price.”

Commenting on the unusual geology of the region of Wisconsin in which the seminary is located, the presiding bishop said that the bowl-shaped lakes, created by retreating boulders, reminded her of primitive baptismal fonts. “It’s a wonderful Easter image of stone moved and a baptismal pool remaining, in the midst of God’s wild creation,” she said. “Terry’s study here only added to his conviction about the path he was on, and he continued to push the boundaries outward, so that more might hear deeper truth. He spoke the Word with unforked tongue, challenging the comfortable and comforting the challenged.”

Saribay, who is completing the second of three years of seminary study, said she and some of the other approximately 60 students have already begun discussing how they might procure an invitation for a woman to celebrate Holy Eucharist at Nashotah House before her graduation.

Steve Waring (Image by Steve Waring/TLC)

Seminary Invitation to Episcopal Presiding Bishop Sparks Uproar

by   February 21, 2014

Katharine Jefferts Schori

Guess who’s coming to chapel?: An invitation to Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori by the dean of Nashotah House caused a stir among the orthodox Anglican seminary’s supporters and triggered the resignation of one of its trustees.

An invitation to the primate of the Episcopal Church (TEC) to preach at an upcoming chapel service of an orthodox Anglican seminary has prompted one of the school’s longest serving trustees to resign in protest.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will visit the Nashotah House campus in Wisconsin for the first time on May 1 at the invitation of Dean Edward L. Salmon, Jr.

The resignation of Bishop Jack Iker of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth (Anglican Church in North America) “was taken in protest of the Dean’s invitation to the Presiding Bishop of TEC to be a guest preacher in the seminary’s chapel,” read a statement distributed to Fort Worth clergy. Iker cited lawsuits initiated by Jefferts Schori against his Diocese and notified the Nashotah House Board that he “could not be associated with an institution that honors her.”

Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth, who was in Kenya at the Global Anglican Future Conference when an invitation to Jefferts Schori was discussed by the Nashotah House board, resigned (Photo: Episcopal News Service)

The statement was widely shared on Facebook and clergy blogs.

Iker was joined by honorary board member retired Bishop William C. Wantland of Eau Claire who sent notification that he “will not take part in any functions at Nashotah” nor continue “to give financial support to the House as long as the present administration remains.”

Diocese of Fort Worth Director of Communications Suzanne Gill told IRD that reaction from clergy to Iker’s resignation from the Nashotah House board has been overwhelmingly supportive.

“This is a tragic and unwise decision that threatens the future of Nashotah House,” ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan told IRD in a statement. Duncan also serves on the Nashotah House Board of Trustees.

Nashotah House is one of two accredited seminaries affiliated with the Episcopal Church that are regarded as theologically orthodox. In addition to training Episcopalians, many Nashotah House students are from other Anglican churches. Founded in 1842, it is the oldest existing institution of higher learning in the state of Wisconsin.

Former South Carolina Bishop Ed Salmon has defended the invitation of Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to speak at the seminary's chapel service (Photo: Nashotah House).In a phone interview with IRD, Salmon explained that the invitation to Jefferts Schori originated when Deacon Terry Star of North Dakota, a student at Nashotah and member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, shared that Bishop Jefferts Schori had advised him against attending the seminary.

Star was joined by two other female Episcopal students at Nashotah who indirectly received the same advice.

“All three said she [Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori] should be invited to come and see ACNA and TEC in harmony,” Salmon explained. “No one here is fighting with anybody.”

The retired bishop of South Carolina said that the invitation would give the seminary the opportunity to witness to the Christ-centered life.

People think that inviting her here is an endorsement,” Salmon said. “We are a clearly rooted orthodox community – rooted in Jesus.”

Jefferts Schori has repeatedly garnered criticism for making statements outside of the church’s traditional understanding of Christ. As Presiding Bishop-elect in 2006, Jefferts Schori stated “Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation — and you and I are His children.”

At Episcopal General Convention in 2009 the Presiding Bishop denounced “the great Western heresy: that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.” In 2013, Jefferts Schori baffled some in the Anglican Communion over her claim in a sermon on the island of Curaçao that St. Paul of Tarsus’ was wrong to cure a demon-possessed slave girl as described in the Bible.

Salmon, a former bishop of South Carolina, asserted that the seminary is not like a parish church with congregants having various degrees of spiritual rootedness. Instead, the Nashotah House Dean insisted “this is a deeply rooted community” and because of that rootedness, “we are not concerned about the direction of the power.”

Data provided from the Association of Theological Schools shows a total 2012-2013 enrollment of 143 at Nashotah House, with 110 full-time students taking classes. According to Salmon, between 30 and 35 percent of enrolled seminarians are from Episcopal Church dioceses, while “a significant number” of students are from other Anglican churches and many more are non-Anglicans “on the Canterbury trail.”

Top Episcopal Church leader promotes unity at Nashotah House

May 1, 2014 Nashotah — The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church toured Nashotah House Theological Seminary for the first time on Thursday in response to an invitation so controversial it prompted the school’s longest running trustee to resign in protest.

The visit by Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, whose church has been roiled by schism over theological debates in recent years, came at the request of three Nashotah seminarians who wanted their bishop to see this campus where disparate parts of the fractured Anglican Communion strive to live in peace.

One of them did not live to see it happen. Deacon Terry Star, who had worked with Jefferts Schori as part of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, died unexpectedly in March. He was 40.

“This was an act of reconciliation, and Terry was a big influence in that relationship,” said Ezgi Saribay, one of the three seminarians who asked Nashotah House Dean, Bishop Edward L. Salmon, and Board of Trustees President Bishop Daniel H. Martins of Springfield, Ill., to tender the invitation.

“Terry was a great conciliator,” she said, “and he would have loved every second of this.”

The Episcopal Church, with about 2 million members, mostly in the United States, is among the more liberal of the 39 provinces in the Worldwide Anglican Communion. And the Anglo-Catholic Nashotah House is one of the more conservative Episcopal seminaries.

Among its trustees are members of the newly formed Anglican Church in North America, a breakaway group founded in 2009 in a split over longstanding theological issues, including the ordination of women, and gays and lesbians.

But the seminary works to nurture an ethos — something it calls Pax Nashotah — in which individuals with theologically diverse views live and work respectfully together.

“The idea that no matter where you come from, we are all one in Christ, and that’s all that matters,” said Father Steven Peay, Nashotah’s dean of academic affairs, who teaches homiletics and church history. “We don’t want to let the daily politics get in the way of trying to live as Jesus intended.”

Schori, who received a gracious welcome at Nashotah on Thursday, said that is true of all Episcopal seminaries, but that she was grateful to experience it firsthand at there.

“That’s one of the gifts of bringing students together from different parts of the church. But it has been wonderful to see it with my own eyes and hear it with my own ears,” said Schori, who met with students, faculty, clergy and bishops throughout the day and took part in an Evensong service at which she delivered the sermon.

“This place has such a long tradition in the Episcopal Church,” she said. “I value that, and I want to see that it continues. The witness of this place is important to who we are as Episcopalians.”

The decision to extend the invitation to Schori prompted the resignation of Nashotah House’s longest-serving trustee, and an honorary trustee, both founding members of the Anglican Church in North America.

Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth, whose diocese broke with the Episcopal church and has been sued over church property, resigned, saying he “could not be associated with an institution that honors her.”

Retired Eau Claire Bishop and honorary trustee William Wantland severed ties with the seminary, saying he would no longer participate in its functions or contribute financially while the current administration was in place, according to news accounts.

Salmon, who took over as dean in 2011, defended the decision to welcome Schori, saying no matter what he did it would have been “problematic.”

“I’m interested in inviting people to see Nashotah House and what it stands for,” Salmon said. “If we stay here, off to ourselves, how can we extend the mission of the house?”

Terry Martin preaches at funeral

Terry Martin preaches at funeral


Dcn. Star continued in this faithfulness of following God’s call first begun by the House’s founders. On Thursday morning, March 13, the community of Nashotah House gathered in the Chapel of Saint Mary the Virgin to sing the Burial Office for the Reverend Deacon Terry Star. The celebrant for the office was the Reverend Thomas Buchan, PhD, Associate Professor of Church History, assisted by the Reverend Deacon Richard Moseley, and other student servers and musicians. Deacon Star’s parents, Woodrow and Charlotte, and two of his brothers joined the community for the office, as we commended our brother to God.
His eulogy will be delivered in May by the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts-Schori when she visits the campus. Deacon Star served with the Presiding Bishop on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.

The history of Nashotah House Theological Seminary has a rich and detailed history among the oral tradition of the Lakota and Dakota Sioux tribes. In August 2012, Terry left Standing Rock, North Dakota to attend Nashotah House where he was seeking his licentiate in theology.

Dcn. Star had many memories of early founder, James Lloyd Breck (1818 – 1876), a priest, educator and missionary of the Episcopal Church. In Dcn. Star’s oral tradition, Breck who ministered to the Indians of the Plains, was known in their language as the ‘Man in the Cassock.’

Mr. Breck was….a deacon in the Episcopal Church, (and)  went to the frontier of Wisconsin with two classmates, under the direction of Bishop Jackson Kemper, to found Nashotah House, intended as a monastic community, a seminary, and a center for theological work. It continues today as a seminary. One-hundred-seventy years later, a member of the Lakota tribe Terry Star, a deacon in the Episcopal Church, answered God’s call to attend as a seminarian.

In 1850 Breck moved to Minnesota where he founded schools for boys and girls such as Breck School in Golden Valley, Minnesota, and the Seabury Divinity School at Faribault, Minnesota. He also began mission work among the Ojibwa.On June 23, 1850, on top of Grandad Bluff, Breck celebrated the first Episcopal[5] Eucharist in the La Crosse area. In 1867 he moved to Benicia, California to build another two institutions. Breck was known as “The Apostle of the Wilderness.”

Breck died in Benicia in 1876. He was buried beneath the altar of the church he served as rector but later his body was removed and reinterred on the grounds of Nashotah House in Nashotah, Wisconsin. Breck is commemorated on April 2 on the Episcopal calendar of saints.

In a letter dated, April 2, 1850, Breck wrote:

The students boarding with us are all theological. They are Chiefly young men, sons of the farmers, and all communicants of the Church. Our students, like ourselves, are poor, but not the less worthy for all that. They seek the Ministry, but are unable to attain it without aid. We have a house; for this we pay no rent; it belongs to the Church, and so do we. We have land. They work four hours a day for their board and washing, and we give them their education without cost. Thus their clothing is their only expense, and to enable them to purchase this, we give them six weeks vacation during the harvest, when they can earn the highest wages….” 

Dcn. Terry is survived by his parents, Charlotte and Woodrow Star Jr., Pendleton, Ore.; one daughter, Kayrose; one son, Preston; three sisters, Melissa (Marlon) Mason, New Town, Elizabeth Star, and Alyssa (Jamarr) Breazeale; all of Pendleton, Ore.; five brothers, Woodrow Star III, Eagle Butte, S.D., Richard (Leilani) Star, Jesse Star, Carlisle Star, all of Pendleton, and Brandon (Angela) Mauai, Fort Yates; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Terry was preceded in death by his grandparents, Richard (Lillian Iron Bull) Martinez, Theresa Eagle, and Woodrow Star Sr.; four aunts; and two uncles.

The faculty of the House has decided to confer Deacon Terry Star a licentiate in theology posthumously. It will be conferred at Nashotah House’s graduation on May 22, 2014.

and here:

Star will be buried at Red Hail’s Camp at St. Gabriel’s Camp in Solen, North Dakota, where he served as a youth minister and camp director for many years. A meal will follow Star’s burial at the Red Gym in the middle of Cannon Ball, which is on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

Red Hail, a Sioux warrior who donated land so that a church could be built among his people, was Star’s maternal great-great-grandfather, according to information posted on St. James’ Facebook page. Red Hail fought at the Battle of Greasy Grass, which also is known as the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The St. Gabriel’s church that was built on Red Hail’s donated land burned in 1970, and the congregation joined St. James in Cannon Ball. The land at Solen grew into a church camp in the mid-1990s. The camp has been the site of the Diocese of North Dakota’s training of local members for ordained ministry. Seven, including Star, were trained there and later were ordained.

Star, whose council term would have ended after General Convention in 2015, was also a convention deputy. He belonged to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Star served as a deacon for the Standing Rock Episcopal Community.

White Mountain, shining face: Remembering Deacon Terry Star 

As the Rev. Terry Star is buried March 10 out of his home church of St. James Episcopal Church in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, we share the following article from fellow seminarian Benjamin Jefferies from Nashotah House who reflects on the memories and the legacy Star leaves behind.Star died of a heart attack the morning of March 4 at Nashotah House, where he was studying for ordination to the priesthood. He was 40.

ens_031014_terryStar[Nashotah House Theological Seminary] Truly, Nomen est Omen — the name determines the man: The brightness in Terry’s gentle eyes really did shine like a Star in the night sky. And what image is more apt to describe our peaceful, giant friend than his Lakota name :“White Mountain”. The impression of his calm, thoughtful, big, guileless, and playful presence is permanently etched into my memory. Although this memory-mark is indelible, how much fresher and warmer was the man himself, how much I would prefer to have him, and not just the memories.

We, here at the House, are missing him sorely. And we will miss him, indefinitely.  Although cliché, and although it seems like a small thing to say, “missing him” is the best way to put it. His faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord was manifestly evident in his life, carriage, and vocation as deacon. We thus have every available assurance that he is with the blessed souls in paradise, being drawn ever nearer to our God. We miss him like one who has gone away for a little while, but who we will see again before too long, when our time comes. After the shock, this was my second thought upon hearing the news of his death: Lucky him – who now gets to see Jesus face to face.

In his life and ministry, Death was no stranger to Terry. Although from our vantage there is a horrible, horrible, horrible suddenness to his own departure from this earth, Terry himself had no pretenses about the End that comes to us all. Three weeks ago, Terry and I were pall-bearers at a funeral of an old Son of the House. The celebrant remarked that he had buried nearly a thousand people in his time. Terry whispered to me that he had buried about that many in his time as a deacon. “Really?” I exclaimed, to which he replied that it was probably more like several hundred. Terry had mentioned to me before (We lived in Kemper hall together for a year and a half) that he had buried more of his “kids” – the teenagers he ministered to back home – than he would ever have liked. These, coupled with his parochial ministry generally, as well as recent passings in his family, brought death frequently before his eyes. I had no idea of the numbers though. But it made sense – of the light in his eyes. Only someone who has looked Death so squarely in the face could be that peaceful in Life. The next day, after he had told me about his hundreds, I told him as much, “Hey Terry, now I understand where that light in your eyes comes from – from having done all those funerals.” He smiled in that Terry way and nodded in agreement.

Deacon Terry Star (front right) serves as a pallbearer at one of the many funerals he'd attended.

I don’t know all the details of Terry’s life, but I have a few strong pictures from what he told me: There’s Terry as kid in his very tight-knit family. Upon showing me a piece of bead-work he was given as a gift, he told me that as a child he remembered sorting tens of thousands of these tiny beads with a pin at his grandparents house. As a Christian in the Native American community, Terry’s life was often one of living on borders, of liminality. In his travels throughout a predominantly White country, Terry was very frequently met with the full spectrum of racism – ranging from ignorant language-use, to stereotyping, to flat-out animosity and disrespect. In his Native community, he was sometimes eyed with a little suspicion for being a disciple of a religion not ancient to  Native people. Sometimes these two worlds would get mixed-up in odd ways: Terry once told me that at a ceremonial Native gathering, a White person who had “gotten into Native religion” approached Terry—who was wearing his alb and deacon’s stole—and started yelling at him that he was a ‘sell-out’. Upon telling me this story, before I could be empathetically appalled, he just started chuckling. It was a soft but unstoppable chuckle that revealed the outlook which Terry always had, as long as I got to be witness to his life: An outlook which was abounding in patience. In both senses of the word: A quiet suffering, which he shared with our Lord, and an understanding of the ignorance and folly of his fellow human beings, which he did not quickly hold against them.

Death. Liminality. Staples in Terry’s life which he had accepted. Lesser souls would have become depressed by such things, but Terry used them like the proverbial oyster uses the irritating sand, and it blessed us: The calm comportment he gained was a welcome blessing in a dorm hall where we young men were often losing our composure under the stress of life and school-work. He was a ballast to us – helping to keep us emotionally upright in times of trial. This ministry of presence was far from passive. About once a week Terry would make one of his marvelous stews or soups for we Kemper guys, and anyone else who happened to be passing through at dinner time. He brought his TV out to the common area, so we could all watch movies together (on weekends only, of course) – an activity that, no matter how mundane, did much to build community on the floor.

Beyond domestic life, the experiences Terry had engendered a profound intellectual life. Although classroom work was sometimes a struggle for Terry, compounded by how often he was called-for off-campus (for funerals back home, to Executive Council on the East Coast,etc.), Terry had profound perspicuity into the relationship between Christianity and Culture, arising from his reflections on ministering within a Native context. Many things he shared with us about his vision for ministry were paradigm molding. In the spirit of Justin Martyr, he wrote a paper outlining how the pre-incarnate Logos had directed the religious thought of the Dakota people to be congruous in form to the Christian message. He spoke of using Sage – an herb used by the Dakota in religious ceremonies – in a thurible, to connect Christian worship with the senses of the people-group from whence he came. And many other things like this. Terry was a paragon of keeping the difficult balance between recognizing Christian identity as first and trump, but not neglecting the riches that culture affords, nor overlooking the oppressive facts of history.

We will miss Terry. We will miss his calm. His ministry. His keen intellect. More than these we will miss his smile, that warm, generous smile, with those bright eyes. But more than all of this, we just miss him. I keep thinking of these lines from John Updike:

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop…
…The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.
         — from “Perfection Wasted”

Now, I know Terry wasn’t perfect, but by earthly lights, it still sure seems to be a waste—that his life and ministry are so soon over. But we trust God, nevertheless. Trust that this whole thing – Terry’s whole life, and death, are subject to Him, even though it doesn’t appear to be in subjection sometimes. And we trust that our loss is Terry’s gain, as he looks on the master, whose service he imitated, face to shining face.”

– Benjamin Jefferies is a senior student at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.

and here

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a statement that “the Episcopal Church has been much blessed by the ministry of Deacon Terry Star, on Standing Rock, as a member of Executive Council, and through the many relationships he had built throughout the church and beyond.”

“We give thanks for his life and witness, his prophetic voice, and his reconciling heart. All his relatives are grieving, and we pray that his soul may rest in peace and his spirit continue to prod us all in continuing the ministry of healing we have from Jesus.”

At the most recent council meeting, Star helped lead an effort that resulted in the council joining what has become a nationwide effort that has reached to the White House to convince the National Football League’s Washington Redskins team to change its name.

Star was born in Seattle, Washington. He lived on 10 Indian reservations, in part because of his father’s career in tribal law enforcement, according to information on Star’s LinkedIn page.

Lillian Ironbull-Martinez, his maternal grandmother, raised him in the Episcopal Church and, according to his LinkedIn biography, he and other members of the Standing Rock Episcopal Community liked to joke that they are “cradle-board Episcopalians.”

Sioux Episcopalians celebrate new church arisen out of arsonist’s ashes

St. James comes home to a ‘place for new memories’

 

Episcopal News Service – Cannon Ball, North Dakota] On a brilliantly bright but frigid late Nov. 23 morning here on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, the people of St. James Episcopal Church officially came home to a new church that echoes a teepee and feels as if the worshippers are gathered in a dream catcher.

The temperature hovered around 6 degrees Fahrenheit and a slight wind was blowing off the nearby Missouri River as congregation members and visitors stood in the gravel parking lot for the beginning of the service.

They sang “Many and Great,” a hymn that the Rev. John Floberg, St. James rector, said was believed to be the first Christian hymn written in Lakota. It was sung, he told the congregation, by 38 Dakota men as they walked to the gallows Dec. 26, 1862 in the largest one-day execution in U.S. history after they were convicted on allegations that they were part of an uprising that year.

“Let the door be open,” said North Dakota Bishop Michael Smith, wearing an Indian feather headdress in place of a miter and loudly pounding on the door.

When the Rev. Neil Two Bears and acolyte Mia Two Bears opened the door, Smith announced “Peace be to this house, and all who enter here,” using his pastoral staff to mark the threshold with the sign of the cross.

….The sole visible reminder of that night is the cross that hangs in front of a star quilt above the pulpit. It is made of two rugged and charred pieces of timber from the floor of the St. James Guild Hall, the only wood that was not reduced to ashes in the fire.

“It feels like a homecoming,” said Senior Warden Florestine Grant before the service began. “We’re dreaming about the things we can do here for the children, for the elders and for the culture.”

One of her daughters, Alex Spotted Elk, said that it was too bad that a fire caused the congregation to have to build a new building. But, looking up to the opening at the top of the roof, she said, “This is a place for new memories.”

The Rev. Terry Star, a deacon who grew up in St. James and is a seminarian at Nashotah House, preaches Nov. 23 during the consecration of the new St. James. Behind him is a cross made of two rugged and charred pieces of timber from the floor of the St. James Guild Hall, the only wood that was not reduced to ashes in the July 25, 2012 arson fire. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The Rev. Terry Star, a deacon who grew up in St. James and who is now a seminarian at Nashotah House in Wisconsin, recalled during his sermon how nearly 100 years ago an Episcopal bishop told the Sioux in the area they had to put away their Indian adornments in order to be Christian. That attitude is changed, Star said, as evidenced by the adornment of the new St. James.

“We can be a Dakota people; we can be who we are – that God made us to be – and still follow Jesus Christ,” he said.

Star said he hoped that the beautiful and colorful church would become a strong symbol for the people of the area.

He recalled a story that his grandmother told him of Iya, a great monster whose name literally means “mouth,” who was eating up the people, and Ikto, the trickster who flattered the monster to get him to trust him. Ikto pretended to be Iya’s big brother and asked what the monster feared. Iya said he was afraid of loud noise, of singing and drumming. Ikto went ahead to the next village and told them to start celebrating with songs and drums.

The trick worked; Iya was paralyzed by fear and Ikto killed him. When Iya’s stomach was cut open, all the people the monster had swallowed came back to life.

“We have a darkness eating up our people,” Star said. “It’s something swallowing up our people.”

A drive around Cannon Ball, Star said, shows a lack of “artwork and colorfulness,” other than the “marshmallow-colored housing” whose tints were not the choice of the occupants.

“We have an opportunity in this building and through the Gospel and through our worship in this building to bring color and celebration back into the community,” he said. “We can chase away the Iya that’s eating up our people.”

 

Rowan Williams: I didn’t really want to be Archbishop

Away from the pressures of Lambeth Palace, and back to writing poetry, Rowan Williams is a man transformed

Rt Revd Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams: ‘There was a foolish, vain part of me which said, “Ooh, an important job, how nice”‘ 
Photo: Fiona Hanson/PA

Today he is warm, welcoming and even seems to be walking taller at his surprisingly modern home in the grounds of Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he is Master. Is this life easier? “Yes,” he says, laughing. “What do you think?”

There are no acolytes or spin doctors surrounding him here as there were at Lambeth. He is just a priest, alone in a black clerical shirt, smiling through a bushy white beard, eyes glinting under those famous eyebrows as he pours the tea.

“Yes, it is a relief not to be at the end of public scrutiny all the time. It’s great to be in this kind of environment where conversation, exploration and teaching all go on.”

Lord Williams has agreed to talk over the kitchen table like this to mark the publication by Carcanet of a new edition of his poems, some of which were written during his 10 years in office. How did he find the time as Archbishop? “I had a day job, yes,” he says, drily. Surely the top day job for a clergyman? “Ugh. Don’t.”

That’s an interesting reaction. Did he not want it? “The job? Hmm. Not particularly. Why would you? Yes. There was obviously a foolish, vain and immature part of me which said, ‘Ooh, an important job, how very nice’. And the rest of me said, ‘Come on!’ ”

So why take it? “Because, I suppose, people I trusted said, ‘Give it a go’. Because if other people have done a fair bit of thinking and praying about it, I suppose you at least have to consider that it’s a calling. I went straight to my confessor when the letter came and said, ‘What about it?’ The reply was, ‘Go for it.’”

That suggests he did not feel a direct calling of his own. “Like quite a lot of clergy of my generation, there is an assumption that you are quite likely to hear God’s call from where the Church wants to send you. So I don’t think I’d have lost any sleep if it hadn’t happened. Certainly a lot less sleep than I lost in the job.”

Writing poetry was a compulsion and a refuge, often on long journeys. “Terrible confession coming up. I don’t normally carry a mobile phone. So when I am on a long train journey, I deliberately treat it as inaccessible time.”

An Archbishop travels a great deal. “Yes. It was one of the unexpected graces of a not always terribly graceful existence.”

The first collection was published in 2002, when his appointment had just been announced. So was that during the honeymoon period then? “There was a honeymoon period? Ha ha! It didn’t quite feel that way.”

Some people said he was too nice a man for the job, too intelligent and even too holy to have to be responsible for a Church whose members were capable of fighting like a bag of cats. Others thought he was too unworldly to be of any use. “I remember that, yes. It was like, ‘God, he writes poetry. How much worse does it get?’” That still annoys him. “I don’t think poetry is unworldly. It is one of the ways we relate most intensely to that much-maligned entity called the world.”

He does have clear regrets about his time as Archbishop, which ended in December 2012. Earlier this year he said that his lesbian and gay friends felt let down by him. What did he mean? “Exactly what I said.  That’s what they say to me.  And still do. There are friendships that have been really damaged by that.”

The Archbishop blocked his friend Dr Jeffrey John from becoming Bishop of Reading in 2003, for fear the appointment of a gay bishop would cause the Church to fracture. “I think people expected me to push the agenda harder than I did. But I don’t think that an Archbishop can be a campaigner in quite that sense.”

He stumbled – or was pushed – into the biggest controversy of his time as Archbishop in 2008, when he was reported as saying it was “unavoidable” that aspects of Sharia law would be introduced into British courts. The headlines were fierce, other bishops spoke out against him, and there were calls for his resignation. He felt aggrieved, having phrased his original lecture in much more careful, exploratory terms. He seemed to give up and close down after mentioning Sharia, as if assuming everything he said would be misunderstood. Is that fair? “Yes. Though it wasn’t just that.”

The Law Society has just issued guidelines for applying Sharia to disputes over wills, so the prediction has actually come true. Does he feel vindicated? “Mildly.  Ha.  Of course, about six months after that infamous lecture, the Lord Chief Justice said something fairly similar.  But no, I did feel that [the original controversy] was a rather surreal moment.”

There were at least 77 million people across the world looking to him for leadership in the old job, some expecting him to be as infallible as an old-style pope and others blaming him for everything.  Anyone would sleep more easily as Master of Magdalene. His job is to chair the meetings, oversee the strategy of the college and do a bit of fundraising, he says. “There’s a whole lot of rather nebulous stuff about making it work as a community. Getting to know colleagues and students, entertaining, being around, resolving tangles. You want to make the place flourish.”

Still only 63 years old, he also teaches and is Chancellor of the University of South Wales, as well as the chairman of Christian Aid. After keeping out of the spotlight for a while, he has just begun to comment again on national issues such as education and international development, but is careful not to get in the way of his successor, Justin Welby.  “The very last thing I want to do is to be jostling for attention or position with his priorities.”

That sets him apart from his rather noisier predecessor, Lord Carey.  But I want to know what Lord Williams says to the question of the week, raised by the Prime Minister and hotly disputed by atheists such as Philip Pullman and Nick Clegg.  Is Britain still a Christian country?

He ponders this for a moment, head on one side, eyes on the garden.  The sound of the traffic presses in, before he speaks. “If I say that this is a post-Christian nation, that doesn’t mean necessarily non-Christian.  It means the cultural memory is still quite strongly Christian.  And in some ways, the cultural presence is still quite strongly Christian.  But it is post-Christian in the sense that habitual practice for most of the population is not taken for granted.

“You need to pick your way quite carefully here,” says a man accustomed to doing so. “A Christian nation can sound like a nation of committed believers, and we are not that.  Equally, we are not a nation of dedicated secularists.  I think we’re a lot less secular than the most optimistic members of the British Humanist Association would think.”

Think of all those flowers you see at the site of road accidents, he says.  “They are one of the most interesting modern sacramentals that has developed.  I said a few years ago that we were haunted by Christianity, and that is still where I would stand.”

Surely the word “haunted” implies something that is dead?  “Ah. That is not at all the implication I would want to go with.  If I were to say, ‘That’s a haunting melody’, I don’t necessarily mean it is dead.  I mean it hangs around, persistently.”

So are we a Christian nation or not? Yes or no?  “A Christian country as a nation of believers?  No. A Christian country in the sense of still being very much saturated by this vision of the world and shaped by it?  Yes.”

Will we lose our faith altogether in time?  “Given that we have a younger generation now who know less about this legacy than people under 45, there may be a further shrinkage of awareness and commitment.”

Beyond that, he is hopeful.  “The other side is that people then rediscover Christianity with a certain freshness, because it’s not ‘the boring old stuff that we learnt at school and have come to despise’.  I see signs of that, talking to youngsters here at Magdalene and in school visits.  There is a curiosity about Christianity.”

He remembers the delight of primary-school pupils when he told them the story of the Prodigal Son, which they had never heard.  “There is a real possibility of people engaging freshly and hearing things as if for the first time.”

What should the attitude of the Church be?  “I know this sounds very Anglican, but neither complacency nor panic.  We still have a foot in the imaginative door of the country and its culture.  It is interesting that most articulate members of other faiths don’t feel all that threatened by allusions to the Christian heritage, and sometimes feel it is even to their advantage.”

Lord Carey says that Christians in this country feel like a persecuted minority.  Is he right?  “Some individual Christians have had a rough time.  There has been some real stupidity and inflexibility on the part of some organisations.  But I always step back from the language of persecution,” says Lord Williams.

“Like Archbishop Justin, I have seen persecution at closer quarters.  I have stood with people who have been shut out of their churches, people whose friends have been beaten and killed.  I’ve been in Pakistan and South Sudan.  That’s persecution.  So while I feel for those who are marginalised or insensitively treated here, I don’t think we can talk about persecution.  It’s always a bit seductive to think we are victims.”

What does he think of the Prime Minister’s recent statement of faith?  “It wouldn’t sway my vote.  Not in itself.  Not of course that I have a vote.  I am still a member of the House of Lords.”

And a poet.  It is easier to read his work now, without the distracting surface shimmer of his being Archbishop.  The poems are sometimes oblique but sometimes direct, depending on whether the lines are influenced more by Dylan or R S Thomas, W H Auden or Geoffrey Hill.  The most immediately touching are those that deal with personal events, such as a failed love affair or the landscape around him on the day in 1999 that he heard his mother was dying.

“We were on holiday in the Marches.  I remember catching a train and scrabbling down to Swansea and spending the last day with her.  My father had a major cardiac arrest the same morning, before she died.  It was a complicated day.”

They both died that summer, so neither lived to see their son, the academic, become Archbishop of Canterbury.  What would his father have made of it all?  “I think he would have been quite pleased, really,” he says, then, after a moment of silent thought, repeats himself, very quietly.  “Yes. Quite pleased.”

Lord Williams is now working on a new collection.  He writes by hand, and talks of the pain of striking out whole stanzas.  “It’s the ‘killing your children’ moment.  You think, ‘Oh, this is clever.  This is clever.  No it’s not, it’s bollocks’.”

That’s a surprise.  The b-word would be inappropriate for an Archbishop, but it feels like a warm blast of humanity from the Master of Magdalene, delivered with a smile and a shake of the head.  He is free now to be coarse if he wants to; but also to enjoy the give-and-take of conversation without the pressure to be right all the time.

He is still talking about editing poems, but I can’t help applying the words to his experience as Archbishop when he says:  “It is about recognising those words that are clever but useless.  That is really important.  And I am not always confident that I do.”

And Rowan Williams laughs at his own failings, a liberated, happier man.

‘The Poems of Rowan Williams’ (Carcanet Press; in paperback and ebook at £9.95) is out now

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory

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