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MINNESOTA: Brian Prior consecrated as ninth bishop in diocese's 'next chapter'

Three-day celebration includes youth lock-in, First Nations supper, Sunday 'seatings'

[Episcopal News Service] Several thousand well-wishers packed the Minneapolis Convention Center Feb. 13 mid-way into a three-day celebration of the Rt. Rev. Brian N. Prior's consecration as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Minnesota, in a ceremony rich with diversity and rife with history.

Fragrant smoldering sage filled the convention center as Ojibwe and Dakota Native Americans drummed and danced. A variety of musical traditions were represented, including Hmong choristers, Fran McKendree's four-piece folk rock ensemble, and a 200-voice "Massed Intergenerational" choir as well as a hand-bell choir from local congregations.

Prior, 50, paid tribute to that history and diversity. "I know I stand on the shoulders" of many who preceded him, he told the joyous gathering. At his request, the service was crafted as a celebration of the diocese's next chapter, not just of its next bishop.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori presided over the consecration. During the service retiring Bishop James Jelinek placed the Bishop Whipple pectoral cross, named after Henry Whipple, Minnesota's first Episcopal bishop, on Prior.

"Every bishop since the 1860s has worn that cross," Prior had said in an earlier interview. "I feel incredibly blessed to be able to serve here. It's a phenomenal place. It's got such a richness of diversity, and the history is amazing."

Prior's gold, green and blue vestments symbolized the plains, the forests and the waters of the state, whose name derives from the Dakota language and means "sky water" or "cloudy water." It refers to the state's more than 11,000 lakes, rivers and streams.

Retired Bishop Robert Anderson, one of the longest-serving bishops in the Anglican Communion and bishop of Minnesota from 1978-1993, was among a delegation of bishops who participated in the consecration. Retired Bishop Daniel Swenson of Vermont (former assisting bishop of Minnesota) also joined the celebration, which included numerous ecumenical guests and local dignitaries.

The Rt. Rev. Edna Bavi "Nedi" Rivera, provisional bishop of the Diocese of Eastern Oregon, was preacher at the consecration, webcast to more than 20 countries.

President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson, among those presenting Prior for consecration, also preached at St. Mark's Cathedral in downtown Minneapolis, at one of two Feb. 14 official "seatings." Typically, a new bishop is seated in the cathedra, or bishop's chair in the cathedral, a symbolic welcome to his new ministry. He has served as vice president of the House of Deputies alongside Anderson since 2006.

"We have all been given the gifts we need to be the ministers of the church," Anderson said, emphasizing the ministry of all -- laity, clergy and bishops. "We need each other to be able to respond fully to what God asks of us." She called upon the gathering to work together as ministers of the church.

A similar seating service was held at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault, about 50 miles south of Minneapolis. Originally Bishop Whipple's church, it is considered the historical cathedral of the diocese. The Very Rev. George Werner, Anderson's predecessor as president of the House of Deputies, served as guest preacher.

Prior's vice president position became vacant on the day he was consecrated. Since there is no canonical provision for filling that vacancy until the first day of the next General Convention, Anderson has said she will nominate a clergy deputy who, if elected by the House of Deputies, will serve as vice president for the 77th General Convention only. At that convention, which will he held in the summer of 2012 in Indianapolis, the deputies will elect a vice president to serve during the succeeding triennium.

A celebration for everyone
Celebrations of Prior's consecration actually began Friday evening, with a Feb. 13 lock-in for diocesan youth in grades 6-12 and a dinner hosted by the First Nation's Kitchen.

In addition to fun, food and games, the overnight retreat included a discussion of the role of bishop, preparing youth for the consecration and a focus on community building, according to Wendy Johnson, diocesan communications director.

Prior, who has been a girl's varsity basketball team coach, has said his early Episcopal camp experiences fueled his own youth ministry vocation. He had served as executive director of Camp Cross in the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane from 1990 to 1999. He had also served as the diocesan director of education and development from 1990-1996 and as Province VIII youth ministry coordinator.

Another Friday celebration included a diocesan sponsored People's Consecration Party at Gethsemane Church in downtown Minneapolis. The First Nations Kitchen, a ministry of All Saints Mission in Minneapolis, where the Rev. Robert Two Bulls serves as vicar, provided the meal. The First Nations soup kitchen regularly offers hospitality along with healthy, organic indigenous meals to the community on Sundays.

Prior said he will miss the House of Deputies, "because there's so many phenomenal people there, incredible leaders of the church, who value the ministry of all the baptized, and are taking their place in the leadership of church."

But he is excited also about serving in a new capacity, particularly with a new mission strategy report recently produced via a series of conversations throughout the diocese.

"They've come up with very clear directions, which are very forward-thinking in mission. I'm looking forward to working with them and moving to the next step, especially how we continue to become the next generation of missionary diocese," he said during an earlier interview.

"Mission and the missionary approach to ministry is in the DNA of this place," he added.

A Spokane native and "the first bishop to be elected out of there," Prior most recently served as rector of Church of the Resurrection, a congregation he founded in 1996 in that diocese. He was elected Oct. 31, 2009, on the fifth ballot to become the ninth bishop of the Minnesota diocese, which was founded in 1857.
  
He succeeds Jelinek, who is retiring after 17 years in the post.
    
Prior received his M.Div. from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California in 1987. He has been married to Staci Hubbard Prior for 23 years. They have two teenage sons.

-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is an Episcopal News Service correspondent.

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