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KANSAS: Bishop tells convention to persevere in diversity

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

The Rt. Rev. Dean E. Wolfe  

[Episcopal News Service] 

The Episcopal Diocese of Kansas, meeting as its 147th convention October 20-21 in Overland Park, heard its bishop call for perseverance in a changing world.

"Though the winds of change sweep round about us, we are still here. We have a reason to be," said Bishop Dean E. Wolfe. "Though we are challenged by shifting population patterns and by a culture that values the easy answer over the hard question, we are still here. We have a reason to be. Though mean-spirited websites and vitriolic emails conspire to twist our theology and besmirch the reputation of our beloved denomination, we are still here. Though priests and bishops, foreign and domestic, fail to observe the most ancient courtesies and call that 'conservatism,' and risk the unity, doctrine and discipline of the Church and call that 'orthodoxy,' we have a reason to be."

The diocese has seen its share of conflict. In April 2005, the diocese concluded a long-running dispute when it and the rector and vestry of Christ Episcopal Church of Overland Park jointly announced that Christ Church parishioners have approved an agreement to separate from the diocese and the national Episcopal Church.

Wolfe told the 2006 convention that the diocese is "still here because we believe the Episcopal Church has a unique and critical contribution to make to the broader Christian endeavor. We are still here because we do not trust the shrill voices of intolerance and schism. We are still here because there is no work that is nearly as hard, or half as satisfying. There is no other work on the face of this planet nearly as important as spiritual transformation: transformed minds, transformed souls, transformed lives."

The convention's theme -- "run with perseverance the race that is set before us" -- comes from the Letter to the Hebrews, and Wolfe echoed it in his address, saying modern-day Christians are humbled and challenged by the endurance of their early ancestors in the faith.

"We have needed, in this season, to become very focused about our ministry. We can't be spending too much of our energy contemplating what might or what might not happen in the worldwide Anglican Communion," he said. "It is not that we don't care, it is that we just don't know what will happen. I am consistently surprised by what I read and hear, and I don't think anyone knows enough about the future to be able to predict what will happen over the next couple of years. But I do know we don't have the next couple of years to wait around to see what's going to happen."

"Now some people become Christians in order to see the world more simply. But your faith, as Episcopalians, will make you see more clearly the complexity of all things. It is not just a matter of, 'The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it,' although that sounds really nifty," he said. "We take the Bible far too seriously for such talk."

"We live in a complex age, and we are believers in a God who is more substantive and richly textured than any cheap slogan might suggest. We need to be able to operate within that complexity skillfully, artfully, faithfully. There is a streak of dogmatic intolerance among some that diminishes the ability of the Church to embody a wide range of thinking on a variety of matters. That is not true Anglicanism. It has never been, and we need to know the difference."

Wolfe said that in a time when conversations over theological doctrine have become "increasingly shrill" and "mean-spirited," it might seem "provocative to suggest that the Christian faith is a celebration of the triumph of the multiple hues of complexity over a monochromatic simplicity."

"Yet, one of the core doctrines of our faith is the doctrine of the Trinity; a reminder that the central metaphor for God for Christians is a diversity, encapsulated within a unity," he said.

"In this diocese, as long as I am your bishop, there will be a place for conservative Christians. In this diocese, as long as I am your bishop, there will be a place for liberal Christians. In this diocese, as long as I am your bishop, there will be a place for all of us who find ourselves somewhere in between and haven't the foggiest notion what to call ourselves."

Wolfe said the Church has always debated and argued. "We simply don't have the luxury of waiting until we are all on the same page before we start doing our ministry," he said.

Wolfe reiterated six "achievable objectives" which he outlined at last year's convention and upon which, he said, "we are becoming more and more focused."

They include:

  • congregational development within existing parishes;
  • planting three new parishes over the next nine years;
  • focusing on children, youth and young adults;
  • helping parishes achieve their potential in terms of stewardship and development;
  • maintaining the diocese's congregational facilities; and 
  • committing to outreach.

The convention did not consider any resolutions.

The Diocese of Kansas comprises about 14,400 Episcopalians worshipping in 50 congregations in the eastern 40 percent of the State of Kansas.