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Western Kansas: Milliken consecrated fifth bishop, looks ahead to new avenues of ministry

[Episcopal News Service] The formal seating of the Rt. Rev. Michael Pierce Milliken on Feb. 20 at Christ Episcopal Cathedral in Salina as fifth bishop of the Diocese of Western Kansas concluded a weekend of festivities that made history.

Milliken, who was consecrated a day earlier at the First Presbyterian Church in Hutchinson, Kansas, will become the diocese's first bishop to continue to serve as rector of a local congregation.

"Our new structure in Western Kansas is, partly, a response to the financial realities of the diocese," said Milliken, 63, in a Feb. 19 email to Episcopal News Service. "But more than that, we feel that using a bishop who is also a parish rector will allow us to find some funds for new ministries in the diocese."

"In the near future we will be looking for ways to enhance our lay ministry in the diocese while also raising up and training men and women for ordained ministry in many of our small communities," added Milliken. He has served as rector of Grace Church in Hutchinson since 1998. He was elected bishop Aug. 21, 2010.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who served as chief consecrator, said the new arrangement, in a sense, reclaimed a portion of the church's past.

"You have claimed something old and something new in electing a bishop who will also remain in congregational ministry," said Jefferts Schori, preaching for the first time in the diocese.

"The first bishops in the Episcopal Church also served as rectors of congregations, and that, too, was a response born of a need for leanness," she told about 400 worshippers who gathered for the celebration.

She added that the "willingness to risk trying this model strikes a balance between the forms of episcopal ministry of two of our full communion partners. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America elects bishops to oversee far larger territories than this one -- sometimes several states -- and the work of their bishops is far more about administration and crisis management than it is in this church.

"The Moravian Church elects bishops who remain local pastors of congregations, or are even retired, and their ministry is primarily about sharing spiritual wisdom as they visit other congregations and in council with the larger church. This Episcopal Church is beginning to explore a number of different models along that spectrum or beyond it," the presiding bishop said during her Feb. 19 sermon.

"Above all, your incarnate exploration is going to require an ongoing conversation among friends, and a continual reminder that this is shared ministry," she said.

Co-consecrating bishops included Dean E. Wolfe of Kansas, Larry Benfield of Arkansas and Vernon Strickland, assisting bishop in Wyoming, who retired in 2002 as the third bishop of Western Kansas.

Other bishops attending included Edward J. Konieczny of Oklahoma, Dena Harrison, suffragan of Texas, C. Wallis Ohl of Fort Worth and Martin Fields, bishop-elect of Western Missouri, according to Sally Russell, a member of the diocesan consecration planning committee.

Milliken has been active on the diocesan and provincial levels. He has served as acting president of diocesan council and chair of the diocesan stewardship committee. He has served on the Province VII council and as the commission on ministry network chair, according to a statement released by the diocese.

A native of Lexington, he is a 1970 graduate of the University of Kentucky, and earned a master of divinity degree from the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Kentucky in 1973. He holds a Master of Arts degree in theology from Xavier University in Cincinnati, where he also taught theology. He also taught courses in Old and New Testament at the Hutchinson Community College.

He was ordained a deacon May 26, 1973 and to the priesthood November 30, 1973.

He served as vicar of St. Matthew's Church in Lexington, and as rector of Grace Church in Florence, Kentucky, for 21 years before moving to Grace Church in Hutchinson in 1998.

He has served as director and chaplain for summer youth camps, and as spiritual director for Cursillo weekends and retreats. His local community involvements include his present role as vice-chairman of New Beginnings Inc., a homeless ministry in Hutchinson.

He also is vice-president of the board of directors for St. Francis Community Services, the largest private provider of children's services in Kansas.

Milliken succeeds Bishop James M. Adams, who resigned in 2009 after serving eight years. Adams left to become vicar of Shepherd of the Hills Episcopal Church in Lecanto in the Diocese of Central Florida.

Milliken and his wife, Kathy, have been married for over 40 years. They have one son, who is a National Park Service Ranger in Alaska.

The Western Kansas diocese encompasses about 2,000 Episcopalians in 28 congregations across in 31 counties over 55,000 square miles.

-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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