Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Dog-loving Bishop

The spark of reading the excellent new book by Larry Witham, A City Upon A Hill, How Sermons Changed the Course of American History, has rekindled my interest in the history of the Episcopal Church in this Country, as evidenced by my obsession with Arizona Missionary Pioneer Endicott Peabody (see the entry below).

It is amazing how much interesting material is available on the Internet, thanks to such sites as Project Canterbury. This weekend, I stumbled across a great picture of the Rt. Rev. William Doane, who was the first bishop of Albany. He also was for a time the rector of St. John's Church in W.Hartford, where I was curate back in the 1980's. I found on-line a contemporary biography which included a poem he had written about his St Bernard dog, Cluny. It's not bad theology, and is a great picture, both of which I share with you here. Could Bishop Doane ever have imagined that his work and likeness would be found in an electronic archive and flashed around the world 150 years later?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas Message

A Christmas Message from Bishop Smith

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.

---Philips Brooks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

“Be born in us today.” This is my prayer for all of us in the Diocese of Arizona this Christmas season. As followers of the Christ Child, our celebration is far more than just a commemoration of a stupendous act that happened long ago. Our calling is rather to reflect in our own flesh and blood the reality of God’s becoming flesh and dwelling with us as one of us. Just as God took our full humanity in Jesus, so he expects our humanity to reflect his divinity in all that we do. If God was incarnate in Jesus, that means that Jesus can be incarnate in us. We become the means through which Christ is born into the world.

How would those around us know that Christ is born in us? Simply through the countless small ways that we reflect God’s love for all creation. As St Francis used to say, “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, us words.” They would see it in the way we treat each other, in how we spend our time, with what we do with our talents and possessions, and above all in our willingness to share the Good News with others.

As I have traveled around the Diocese this past year, I have witnessed countless ways in which Arizona Episcopalians have birthed Christ into the world. I have seen a new courage among church members to share their faith with others. I have been impressed with the growth of programs for children and youth. I have rejoiced in a renewed concern for creation and especially for the needs of the desperately poor of the world.

Of course, we still have along way to go. Our growing State needs more communities of worship. Our country needs to learn from us what it means to care for the stranger in our midst. Congregations need to understand that mission to others, not maintenance of the status quo, is the essence of our baptismal promise.

It is well neigh impossible to ignore an impending birth. That baby is coming, ready or not, whether means being born into a sterile hospital, the back seat of a tax cab, or into a feeding trough in a barn. God has been born into our world. That is a fact we cannot igmore. Now it is time for him to be born into our hearts.

May you all have a blessed and holy Christmas season!

Icon image copywrite: Laura Fisher Smith

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Beowolf and Hollywood

Last week I had the opportunity to see the hit movie Beowolf. As a sometime medievalist and Anglo-Saxon period history buff, I looked forward to this special effects treatment of the earliest English writing. As pure entertainment, I would give it an A, but as history or literature, an F would be generous. The story as told by Hollywood has only the slightest resemblance to the great 8th Century poem. What was intended as a epic portrayal of the struggle of good and evil has been turned into a predictable sentimental love triangle. Gone is the poetry,the mystery; what remains is bland dialogue and Angelina Jolie as a naked water demon in stilleto heels.

What was especially disappointing was how Hollywood has turn a Christian story into an anti-Christian polemic about how the age of heroes has been replaced by simpering Christian whimps. It is hard to believe that the writers ever even read the original story!

But my biggest sadness is that now millions of young people will think they have seen and understood the story of Beowolf without ever experiencing the brillance of the original epic. Do yourself a favor, rummage through your old college textbook collection and enjoy it all over again.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Internet: An engine for schism?

I have just finished reading Alex Wright's fascinating history of information management called Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages (Joseph Henry Press, 2007). In it, he examines human attempts to organize information from prehistoric beads, ancient libraries, monastic proto-bloggers, Thomas Jefferson's Library, and the Dewey Decimal System, all leading up to a history and critique of the World Wide Web.

It is no surprise that he has some thoughts on how the web affects human consciousness.

Before the age of television, many historians believed that the spread of literacy signaled the forward marc of technological progress, in which human civilization was moving inexorably forward toward higher degrees of social complexity....Recent history, however, seems to support an alternative view that in our modern technological era human culture may not be moving unidirectionally at all, but rather multidirectionally. The notion of inevitable progress towards hierarchical complexity began to fracture in the 1960's, with the rise of the great modern liberation movements:civil rights, the antiwar movement,feminism, sexual liberation, gay rights. All of these social movements also happen to coincide with the spread of electronic media. p. 236.

In short, the web is a corrosive force for any centralized authority. I don't think is much of a jump to apply his conclusions to our Church today. It has often been pointed out that before e-mail, no one cared about the World Wide Anglican Communion.
What the American Church was up to was unknown to the African Churches. Now, with every action of every bishop instantly analyzed and criticized by millions, and self-appointed bloggers emerging as the semi-official spokesperson for any given theological view, the ecclesiastical world has changed.

Where Wright takes this idea deeper is in assertion that web cultural represents, in spite of its written form, a new "oral" culture which tends towards tribal self interest.

Fueled by the growth of personal computing and network technology, many organizations have since had to come to terms with the ongoing transfer of power, away from the old central planning hierarchies and towards increasingly self-organized groups of individuals. p. 238

I suspect we have seen these forces at work with the dissident movements within our own church--witness the continued fracturing of those groups leaving TEC--as well as the more positive "emergent" movements both within and without our existing organizational structures.

For a culture which is essentially a 19th century informational book culture, I believe we ignore the impact of the digital age to our own peril.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day

Greetings to our internet friends!

We attended services at the cathedral this morning
where I preached and celebrated. Earlier, we helped at
the annual cathedral breakfast for the homeless.

This afternoon we will be with some friends at their
home in Tempe. They are both gourmet cooks, so the
fare will be spectacular.

In the midst of the abundance we enjoy, let's not
forget the hungry, especially those recovering from
the typhoon in Asia. The attached picture was taken
there yesterday as women line up for the small amount
of food that is there.

You can help in these an other places by contributing
to Episcopal Relief and Development ( or
other charities of your choice.

May you all have a great day with those you love!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Endicott Peabody

One of the privileges enjoyed by an Episcopal Bishop is the ability to add to the liturgical calendar those local “saints” worthy of veneration by the faithful of the diocese. This is the first step towards eventually having that person’s name added to the liturgical calendar of the National Church, printed in the Book of Common Prayer.

In my time as Bishop of Arizona I have been struck by the contribution of two outstanding missionaries. Padre Eusebio Kino, the 17th Century Italian Jesuit who explored Arizona and northern Mexico, and the Rev. Endicott Peabody, who, before his over 55 years as Headmaster of Groton School in Massachusetts, founded in 1882 St. Paul’s Church in Tombstone, the oldest Protestant congregation in the state.

As I announced in our recent Diocesan Convention, I intend to add the commemoration of both these men to our liturgical calendar, beginning this year.

On Saturday, Nov. 17th at 11 a.m. at Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix I will celebrate and preach at the first such service for Endicott Peabody. This is the anniversary of his death on that day in 1944, and it also marks the 150th year of his birth. You are all welcome to join members of the Peabody family, former Groton School headmasters, and members of St. Paul’s Church, Tombstone for that service.

Having read most of Dr. Peabody’s correspondence with the first Bishop of Arizona, his friend Julius Atwood (in whose former house I now live), as well as his biography, Peabody of Groton, I feel a certain spiritual kinship to this great man. I am certain his life will continue to be an inspiration to future generations of Arizona Episcopalians. In addition, should his name be added to Book of Common Prayer calendar, he would be the first head of an Episcopal School to be so honored.

I have attached propers for this special day below and invite you to use them in your own parish celebrations on, or near, that day. Padre Eusebio Kino will likewise be remembered on Mar. 15, 2008 at Tucumcacori Mission, near Tubac. Propers for that service will be forthcoming.

I hope that you will join me in honoring the witness of these two great missionaries and important figures in our Arizona history.

Monday, October 29, 2007

One of my favorite hobbies

Every so often I volunteer time a the Arizona Science to help operate their amateur radio station, W7ASC. Not only do I get to operate their equipment (far better than mine) but I also get the satisfaction of talking to school kids about radio. Its a great hobby and I highly recommend it. If you want to find out more, take a look at the information from the American Radio Relay League

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Vitality of the Gobal South

As I visit the parishes in this Diocese and talk with them about the future of the church, I often remind them of the tremendous vitality being displayed in the Anglican Communion in Africa and Asia. I like to contrast my experience with Confirmation services with that of my African collegues. The greatest number I have ever confirmed at one service was 45. One bishop I know reported a seven hour service at which almost 5,000 new members were welcomed. He was so tired that he had to have his assistants hold up his arms.

I like to point those interested to the excellent studies of Philip Jenkins and his conclusions that the future of Christianity lies in the Third World.

However, there is also an important corrective, picked up this week in the The Daily Episcopalian.

"'Global South' implies a monolithic body when in reality the group's membership appears to be porous, driven by a small number of special interest advocates primarily in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and their American franchise holders. Membership and financial data about the group is as difficult to come by as that of a Cayman Islands registered corporation. The organization projects a billboard slogan North-South divide. Northern churches are cold, dwindling in numbers, and ignore the Bible. In contrast, the growing South is energetic, biblically correct, and the home of ready judges waiting to declare what is acceptable practice throughout the Anglican Communion.

This slick North-South divide is no more accurate than numerous other discredited religious clash-of-civilization comparisons that have appeared and disappeared during recent centuries. Amartya Sen, the Pakistani-born Nobel-Prize-winning author, has warned about the dangers of such distorted religious reductionism: 'The hope of harmony in the contemporary world lies to a great extent in a clearer understanding of the pluralities of human identity, and in the appreciation that they cut across each other and work against a sharp separation along one single hardened line of impenetrable division.' (Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence, The Illusion of Destiny (New York: Norton, 2006), xiv.)

You can read all about it over at Episcopal Life Online here

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Church in Decline?

In the last few days there has been considerable discussion on the national church's listserve about whether or not the Episcopal Church is dying. I won't get into the statistical arguments (my view is there is both good and bad news), but I will share a comment made by one of the delegates to our Diocesan Convention which was held this past Friday and Saturday:

We rejoiced today at the Diocesan Convention in Arizona with Christ Church of the Ascension in Paradise Valley and its new priest -- it's the parish which most definitely did not leave. We accepted as a companion the Diocese of Western Mexico with great opportunities for mutual support as together we straddle the border.And we accepted as mission congregations the three start-ups of the last couple of years, one of which is a Sudanese congregation -- the first in the country, we were told, to have its own church building.We passed a budget with .7 % for the MDGs and encouraged all congregations to do the same by 2009.

I would simply add, Does this sound like a church in decline?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Courageous Parish in Cave Creek

Good Shepherd Church in Cave Creek, just north of Phoenix has for some time been assisting migrant workers in their day workers program. Every weekday morning the parish provides workers, most of them undocumented, with food, counseling, and referrals for work. They have been furiously resisted by local citizens and the County Sheriff. Tonight on "Nightline" (Channel 15 at 10:30 PM in the Phoenix area, others check local listings), you can learn all about their struggle.

You may also read about it here.

Kudos to the parish and to their rector, The Rev. Glenn Jenks, for their courageous support of people in need.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Science and Religion

The Dean of Trinity Cathedral, the Vy. Rev. Nicholas Kniseley is a scientist by training and so devotes a lot of his excellent blog, Entangled States ( to issues of science and religion. This is also an interest of mine, although I am not nearly so qualified, being more of a dilettante and (very) amateur astronomer. Still, discussions of the intersection of the two disciplines always sparks my interest, as did this recent comment from English Rabbi Jonathan Sachs in the London Times. It was reported by Nick and I am reprinting it here:

"Any account of the human condition that reduces the human spirit to an accidental by-product of evolutionary pressures tells less than half the story of who we are. We may be — on this, the Bible and neo-Darwinism agree — ‘dust of the earth’, the reconfigured debris of exploded stars. But within us is the breath of God. Scientists call this ‘emergence’: the process whereby systems of self-organising complexity yield something new, more than the sum of its parts. That is where religion and science both began: when life became conscious, then self-conscious, then able to ask the question: ‘Why?’
The current argument between ‘religion’ and ‘science’ is deeply unnecessary. It involves a caricature of religion and a parody of science. It is structured around a set of absurd oppositions, between science and superstition, reason and revelation, knowledge and wishful thinking, as if scientists and religious believers were incapable of realising the limits of their respective domains. We need both: science to tell us how the world is, religion (and philosophy) to tell us how it ought to be."

Monday, October 15, 2007

An ancient art form for a modern church

My wife Laura has become quite an accomplished iconographer. She has recieved a number of commissions for her work, and her license-plate even reads "Ikon" (this is the Greek spelling!).

Icons aren't painted, they are "read" or prayed. Many people from a variety of religous traditions have found meaning in these "windows into heaven."

Today she will be giving a class about them for the Episcopal Church Women at Church of the Advent in Sun City. More importantly, she will be helping them to try their own hand at this form for devotion.

For more information see Laura's web site:

Some feedback from the Digital Generation

Last week I visited with the students of our Canterbury Group at the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff ( Over dinner, I asked them however many of them had their own blogs (about half). How many of them read other peoples' blogs (about half). I thought that number low and asked how come. "You need to remember, Bishop Smith," said one, "Your generation things all this web stuff is exciting. We just take it for granted as part of life."

There is some truth there to be sure. But if the next generation takes it for granted, that it even more reason for us old foggies who are now running the church to make sure that we are technically savvy, not because it is the cool thing to do, but because it is expected.

The church no longer has a monopoly on information about religion and spirituality. The spiritually hungry person can find anything they want on the internet. Hopefully what they can also find an effective presentation of the faith as we understand and value it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Bishops in the electronic age

My Cathedral Dean, Nicholas Kniseley, has done a great job of helping to move the Diocese into the Digital Age. He has recently conducted a series classes for the clergy called, "Blogging for Jesus" which prompted your's truly to get into the act.

I thought you all might enjoy a picture of several bishops at a recent gathering in Spain all busy with their laptops attending to business back home. What would we do without our computers?

Some Ancient Advice for Modern Pastors

This past week, we celebrated the feast day of Robert Grossteste, medieval Oxford scholar and later Bishop of Lincoln (+1253). It is often pointed out that his name means literally “fat head,” but he was anything but that, being noted in his own day for his keen intellect (he was especially interested in scientific topics), his pastoral care, and his efficient management of his Diocese. In one of his writings he gives us one of the most succinct descriptions of a pastor’s duties that I have found anywhere:

The cure of souls consists not only in the dispensation of the sacraments, in singing of the hours, and reading of masses, but in the true teaching of the word of life, in rebuking and correcting vice’ and besides all this, in feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, housing the strangers, visiting the sick and prisoners—especially those who are the parish priest’s own parishioners. By such deeds of charity, a priest will instruct his people in the holy exercises of daily life.

Those are words I would like to have framed and hung over my desk as a reminder!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

E-pistle Text for 10.6.07

This past month one of our largest parishes has gone through some major changes.

Many of you know that the clergy and a sizable group of parishioners at Christ Church
of the Ascension in Paradise Valley have found themselves at odds with the Episcopal Church since the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. I sense that some of those people also viewed the action of the 2006 General Convention as a departure from an “orthodox” understanding of Scripture and Church tradition.

This unhappiness has over the years resulted in a lack of participation in the life of the Diocese, and even discussions of how that parish might leave the Episcopal Church, taking the parish property with them. By now I think you know that in our system of governance, all parish property is held in trust by the congregation for the Diocese. That has not stopped some dissatisfied congregations around the country from challenging that rule in court, but to date, with no success.

Ever since I began my time as bishop, I have tried to make it clear to the unhappy members of that parish that I valued their presence in the Diocese, and that they were welcome to their own theological understandings. You have heard me say many times that our church is a big tent, and that anyone who wants to be an Episcopalian should be!
One of the ways I did that was to arrange for them Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) in which I invited the Bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande to become their Episcopal visitor. This system worked for a while.

However, with the announcement by the rector, Fr. Ken Semon, that he was leaving to take an interim position in that Diocese, things quickly changed. Many vestry members resigned, a new “moderate” vestry was elected, and a small group of about 75 people (out of a 1000 member parish) announced that they were leaving their home on Lincoln Drive to start a new church. This group, calling themselves “Christ Church Anglican,” has affiliated with an Anglican archbishop in Africa, in violation of not only the Windsor Report, but also the ancient canons of the church. I am sorry that they felt they had to take such a drastic step, but I wish them well in creating a place where they no longer have to feel angry and oppositional to the mission of the church.

Back at Christ Church of the Ascension, parish life continues. I have appointed the Rev. Philip Jackson, formerly leader of one of the largest and fasted growing parishes in Detroit, as Priest in Charge Under Special Circumstances, which means that after one year the vestry may, if its wishes, call him as their permanent rector. Fr. Jackson is traditionalist in his thinking, but he is also loyal to the Episcopal Church. He began his duties on this past Monday, October 1st. My assumption is that his parish will continue to be a home for those who describe themselves as conservative, but who value their historic connection with the Diocese, as I value their connection with us.

It is always sad when members of the family leave home—and I want to say to them again “the door is always open.” But I am also heartened to know that Christ Church of the Ascension has begun a healing process that will allow it to remain an important part of our Diocese as we work together to do the Lord’s work.

A Final Thought.

I have received lots of letters since I wrote to you after the recent gathering of the House of Bishops last week. I also discovered an excellent article which summarizes my feelings about where we are now. It is called, “Keep Your Eye on the Prize,” and it is written by the Dean of the Cathedral in Syracuse:

I attended seminary in 1978-1981. Thus, I was in seminary when the 1979 General Convention passed a resolution stating no persons having sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman should be ordained to any order in our church. This resolution was largely seen as a reaction to Paul Moore's ordination of Ellen Barrett, a lesbian, to the priesthood in 1977. It sent shock waves through my seminary, Nashotah House, and not just among the gay or lesbian students [And yes there were both there in those days.] One student, a gay man who I thought had great promise as a priest, decided that he needed to leave seminary and cease being in the ordination process. One of the results of that resolution was that a new organization called Integrity, and a charismatic leader named Louie Crew, became emboldened. I heard Louie preach at St. Francis House in Madison, Wisconsin in that time frame and he was compelling.What if instead, Louie Crew and many others had simply left the Episcopal Church? What if Gene Robinson, when he clearly did discern that he is a gay man, had decided to leave? On one hand our Church would have deserved it. But thanks be to God they stayed and taught and talked and built relationships, in what must have surely have seemed like a frustratingly endless basic tutorial on human sexuality and the Bible.In 2003 the General Convention gave its consent for Gene Robinson's election to be a bishop. That was 24 years after passing a resolution saying he shouldn't even be a priest. In the lives of people living in history, 24 years is a long time, a generation. In the scope of Christianity, 24 years is nothing, not even the blink of an eye. Even in the history of the Episcopal Church, it is not that long a period of time. When Gene's election was confirmed we thought that in many ways that the struggle was over, not completely, but much closer.But then we were reminded that not only are we not a congregational or presbyterian church, we are not merely a national church. We are an episcopal church, and bishops by definition are symbols and even means of unity across the globe. When first Barbara Harris and then other women were ordained to the episcopate we faced the global challenge that people, serving in an order one of whose purposes is unity within the church, would not be received by many within our Communion. We entered a period of "impaired Communion" with many of our dioceses throughout the Anglican Communion. Yet in that case, we could look to resolutions from prior Lambeth Conferences which stated that there were no theological barriers to women being ordained.When a gay man was elected a bishop in our church, we thought this would be similar, but we were wrong.We were reminded that – legally and constitutionally – we are part of the Anglican Communion. We were reminded that unlike the ordination of women, Lambeth had said "no" to this move. We have repeatedly been told, and I believe the bishops heard again, that to continue down this path would mean that we have decided to leave the Anglican Communion.For us to ordain to the episcopate people whose "manner of life" causes a problem for the rest of the Communion [and since I am divorced I may be included in that group] until there is a change in the consensus of the Anglican Communion is to, in effect, leave the Communion. For us to authorize rites for blessing same-sex relationships [something I have advocated for twenty years] until there is a change in the consensus of the Anglican Communion is to, in effect, leave the Communion. My prayer, my hope, and the thing I work for, among others, is the full participation of gay and lesbian people everywhere, and especially in Christ's One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, including the Anglican Communion.I think that the best thing in the long run is to refrain from acting, but to be a powerful and strong voice for advocacy, as Integrity has been within the Episcopal Church. We need to try to have openly glbt people representing the Episcopal Church on the Anglican Consultative Council. We need for our Primate and Bishops to be fully present voices within the councils of the Communion. I think that the Cathedral Deans need to become more creative about building relationships with other Deans and cathedrals across the Anglican Communion, so that the gays and lesbians among us may be heard and seen.We need to be realistic that all this may take another generation, but I do not think we should walk away from the challenge of transforming the third largest body of Christians in the world, and I believe it will happen. I say all of this realizing that as much as I may preach and teach and advocate, as a married, straight male I am not paying the cost for this journey the way glbt people are. Only the glbt among us can decide if they want this journey and if they are willing to pay the cost. I hope for the sake of God's Church, and even more for the sake of God's Dominion, that they will find the ability to do so.About the Author: The Very Reverend G. Thomas Luck is Dean and Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Syracuse, New York.

Monday, October 8, 2007

This is my first experience in the world of blogging. The Dean of our Cathedral, the Vy Rev. Nick Kniseley has given the clergy of the diocese some lessons in "Blogging for Jesus." I hope to use this as a tool for reaching those in this Diocese and beyond.